I stare at the blank sky through the window, distraught, then I get ready numbly, leave my room and knock on Alaia’s door. No answer. I knock again, wait, turn the handle and peer in. Her bags sit just inside the door, all packed up and ready to go. I am just about to turn away, when I realise that the bed is not where I saw it when I tuned in to her yesterday morning: instead of being against the wall beside my bed, it’s over there by the window. She must have moved it yesterday. That’s odd, though. I can see she might prefer to have a window view from bed, but why did she wait a week, until yesterday, to act upon this preference, and then pack up all her things anyway?… Now that I consider the room as a whole, however, I realise that in fact this current arrangement must be how the Metropolitan staff keep the room. The arrangement I saw when I tuned in to her was the temporary one.
I start to ponder this as I head down the marble staircase, but am startled by Marc’s voice from the hallway below. I’d completely forgotten he was coming here today from New York. “Jaymi!” he booms, striding over to the stairs and extending his hand to me with gusto.
“Hi Marc,” I murmur, trudging down. I feel like no match for the Albright whirlwind this morning.
“Excellent news! We now have a date for our third broadcast event…” He trails off, fixing his shrewd regard upon me: sensing change, no doubt.
“I have a confession,” I say sadly. “First, I succumbed to the temptation of leaving the Metropolitan. I know you didn’t want people in town spreading it that I was down here, but that wasn’t the problem; that never happened. What happened, nobody could have predicted…”
I wander through the open door of the breakfast room and find Alaia sitting alone on a window-seat, drinking coffee. “Oh! Good morning,” I say.
“Hallo.” She looks at me with a strange mix of sombreness and febrility.
I pull the door closed behind me and approach her. “Well … I assume you overheard all that?” She nods. “So we’re meeting him at two. I wonder—d’you think you could call Bedford Pickering III and tell him what’s happened? I don’t think I can deal with him at the moment. He should phone Marc right now, before we get there.” She takes her phone out. “Thanks.” I sit down beside her.
After ten minutes of her talking on the phone, during which I stare at the white wall opposite me as if I’m in a trance, she ends the call. “How d’you feel?” she asks me.
“Flat,” I state. “Clear, dry, colourless, inert. Like a fact or a number.” I take the mug from her, have a sip of coffee and return it. “Thanks for coming with me on this strange journey.”
“Thanks for having me!” Then without warning she reaches up and strokes my face, very gently.
I stare at her in surprise.
“Bold action,” she murmurs.
“Jaymi … d’you remember my statue of black icing-sugar?”
I laugh aloud. “How could I forget it?”
“You came to visit me in my clearing and … it was beautiful together. Remember?”
Her eyes are clear and calm and warm, from close.
She rises to her feet, my hand in hers. “Let’s go for a walk,” she says.
I stand, and she leads me across the breakfast room.
For more about "The Imagination Thief" by Rohan Quine, see
For some great reviews of it, see
And to pick it up from whichever retailer you may prefer, the retailers’ links for the paperback are at
and for the ebook at