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5.14am by Dan Brotzel

The first time I woke, I surreptitiously lit up my watch to see it was 5.04am. Knowing that my watch is an hour out (I never changed it after the clocks went back last time), plus an extra five minutes fast (supposedly to stop me being late for things), I make a quick calculation and decide 4.09am is too early to get up. ‘Never get up before five’ is one of my little rules.

So I attempt to doze, and when I look again the real time has turned into 5.14am and I slip out from the under the duvet. Stealth is essential. My wife can be relied on to sleep through my stirrings, but I sense that my seven-year-old son joined us in the bed at some point in the night and he has the nocturnal Ninja alertness of a cat. He is a notoriously light sleeper and early riser, and will gladly join me downstairs at this hour if he picks up on the slightest sound. These, then, are high-stakes moments.

My glasses click as I try to pick them up silently from the bedside table. The clothes dryer creaks as I sway past it. The floor is cold and I would like to hunt for my slippers, but the risks of detection are too high. My son sighs in his sleep. I slip out of the bedroom door, careful to pull it to (to minimise any noise I make downstairs) but also not to let the wood come into contact with the frame.

No matter where I put my feet, the stairs creak and my bones click as I step down to the ground floor. I try not to creep; it would only sound louder. Just slip down is the best way, as quickly and rhythmically as you can.

Down and safe. Base camp established. I make sure to close a couple of strategic doors before I turn any lights on. I am mostly only thinking about the coffee machine right now, though I am also aware that two black cats are lying in ambush for me somewhere down here too.

The cats are brother and sister. Sometimes they are asleep, and can only be identified by the trained eye as two curled-up piles of deeper black in the dark of the living room. Other times they are hungry, and wait for me by their food cupboard, ghosting around my legs with silent reproach.

Sometimes they come to life as I start to write. I might hear noises from the room next door, and I’ll assume it’s my son creeping about, as he likes to do. But if I’m lucky, it’s only Charlie playing with his catnip mouse toy, or Lulu scratching her claws on an old wicker chair that she has worked hard to ruin over the years. A reprieve.

The order of things is important. I want to check my phone, but the things I find there – emails, tweets, texts, web pages – can, while not especially important, easily lead me down a rabbit-hole that eats up valuable minutes. I switch the computer on first as it’s an antiquated PC that takes a while to come on properly. (The fan in the hard drive has also taken to whirring noisily on activation, an alarming development in itself and an especial nightmare for the early-morning stealth writer.) I get the coffee going, then I allow myself a quick glance at my mobile’s home screen.

Coffee made and phone put down again, I head off to the screen and – assuming my son has still not heard me – now comes the most important moment of all. What happens in the next few seconds determines the success of the whole enterprise.

The siren calls of distraction sing loudly in my ears. I know, for example, that there are various early writing groups on Twitter, who all like to greet each other at this hour and encourage each other’s writing; for me such groups, while admirable, could easily become a replacement for doing actual work. There are news stories to read, new books I’d like to know more about, football reports to scan, Twitter and Facebook and even LinkedIn to browse. My coffee is finished already; perhaps I should make another? My phone blinks at me beguilingly from the table.

But no. Get thee behind me, all of you! I open a page of a story I’m writing, and I begin typing. This is all I need to do. It doesn’t sound much, but I know I’ve already won if I reach this point. I know that as long as I actually get to the point of opening the page and starting the work, my interest and attention will take over, and words will get written.

Out here, in the post-Her world, the very air stung. People went about their daily business, indifferent to his pain as they wheeled grating suitcases along gum-spattered pavements and ran clunkily after their errant toddlers. A sign attracted his attention. It said simply:

‘Daddy. Can I have some multigrain?’

This is not what the sign in my story said, of course. It is what my son, who has now appeared in his Spider Man pyjamas and is absent-mindedly teasing the cats, is requesting breakfast.

The early-morning writing session is over. Fully seven minutes and forty-three words of progress. It’s not much, of course, not as much as I’d hoped although about as much as I’d expected.

But no matter. Because there was a moment there when I was in the flow of my thing, and that moment was why I write. Because that moment felt, fleetingly, infinite.

Dan Brotzel

Dan Brotzel