[November Breaks] NOW | 17 | Brett

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SATURDAY 24TH NOVEMBER 2018

It’s a tradition now, or at least it’s the second time we’ve done it, so it feels traditional. How many years does it take to become what we’ve always done? Or what we do? And since when do I think in words like that?

Anyway.

Some of the details are the same. You brought a flask of coffee and I brought a bottle of vodka. You’re solid and magnetic and I’m a fucking mess. You still feel like dark vines creeping around my wrists and gold dust in my lungs.

A couple of things are different. You don’t have any cigarettes and I’ve stopped imagining either of us pulling the other over the edge. I miss that mental image, but I’d started to want it too much.

So we sit on the low wall at the edge of the roof, my roof, or at least the roof of the building where I work, our feet hanging free above death by gravity. This time you don’t think it’s unusual and I’m not low-key threatening to drop anything into the street. Nothing is unusual now. In the beginning, you used to watch me like you were trying to solve something. I don’t know if you thought you figured me out somewhere along the way or if you gave up, but you don’t do it so often these days.

November breaks across the evening enough that we can see our breath. You still look like you miss smoking and it’s funny how neither of us really seems to feel the cold. We pour drinks for ourselves, but we offer them to each other first. There’s a politeness to it, an honouring of something. A ritual. Vodka still tries to choke you and coffee’s still the last thing I need, but here we are.

My phone rings and when I go to take it out of my pocket, you wrap your hand around mine. I’m about to get pissed off, but the way you say, “Leave it,” turns my breath to metal and you’re the only thing in the world.

“You were meant to turn it off.” Your voice is steady, calm, and it’s an observation, not a complaint.

“I forgot.” My phone stops ringing.

“You don’t forget things.”

You’re right. I try to, but I can’t. I take the glass from your hand and replace it with the coffee cup. Both things feel so out-of-place up here, but it doesn’t matter. It’s tradition. I lift the bottle from behind me and pour until the glass is half full, a detached attempt at optimism for as long as it lasts. “I’m exhausted.”

You gesture towards the building below us, home to the most significant source of exhaustion in my life. “You should quit.” It’s gentle, but it’s a challenge and it hovers between us.

“I can’t.” 

“Why not?”

“I’m not having this conversation again.”

“Brett, you don’t need this.” You’re staring right at me, right through the collisions in my head. A whole year on and your eyes are still tidal waves.

I’m staring straight ahead for as long as I can. “I don’t need the money.” This feels like blasphemy knowing my office is in suspended animation, empty and silent below us, with no idea I’m thinking of leaving it.

“So why are you still here?” You lean over and rest your chin on my shoulder.

I can feel you smiling, trying to get me to look at you because it’ll all be over as soon as I do. So I don’t. “Because it’s not about the money. Or the resources, before you ask. Again.”

“Then what’s it about? And don’t try to tell me this place forms any meaningful part of your identity, because it doesn’t.” You set down the coffee and wrap your arms around me.

Please. Do it this time. Please. “Listen to you, telling me who I am.”

But you’re never going to pull us over. Not this edge. “Listen to you, doing anything to avoid answering a straightforward question.”

“That wasn’t a straightforward question.” I mean, you’re right. The job isn’t part of my identity. I don’t need the title or the purpose or any of the usual shit that stops people from walking out of jobs. I don’t need the financial security either. I already have that, many times over, and not only from Allegra. I’ve spent years stacking up funds in various accounts, exploiting a string of fucked systems that lacked adequate protection. I’m fine. I’m set. You know that. And I wouldn’t be bored. I’ve never been bored in my life. It’s just—

“Hey.” You kiss my neck.

The sky reaches down and twists a breath from my throat. “Yeah?”

“What are you thinking about?”

“Nothing.” I drink my optimistic vodka and sink into you. If you let go of me right now, I’ll fall. If you ever let go of me, I’ll fall. Or I’ve already fallen. Whatever.

“You never think about nothing.”

I know. I try to, but I can’t. “I’ve been so tired for so long that it’s part of who I am now. I don’t know how not to be tired, but I need it because it means I’m doing something. It means I’m moving.”

“Running on the spot isn’t the same as moving.” That’s not so much a bitter pill to swallow as it is medicinal cyanide. Fuck you for knowing. Fuck you for being right.

I shuffle back a little from the edge, swing my legs over to the roof side of the wall, and stand up. “Come here.”

You turn to face me, almost reaching for me, but not quite. “What for?”

“You know what for.”

“You realise this roof is in no way hidden from view, don’t you? There are taller buildings all around us with lights on.” You get up anyway and take a step towards me.

“And what? There aren’t any lights on here.”

You shake your head, as if this isn’t exactly what you should expect from me by now. “You’re…”

“I know.”

SATURDAY 24TH NOVEMBER 2018

Afterwards, sitting on your coat, leaning against the wall, a third coffee and a sixth vodka, our hands tangled between us. Your shoulder beneath my head is rock wrapped in cashmere and I never learned to identify any constellations apart from Orion. Hunter or reaper or something else entirely, depending on whose mythology you read.

You stroke the palm of my hand with your thumb. “Can I ask you something?”

I drink shot number six and retire the glass in favour of the bottle. “You just did.”

“No, I mean—”

“Something you don’t think I’ll answer, so you have to preface the question with a less threatening introductory question?”

“Yeah. That.”

“Shoot.”

“How much have you made?”

You don’t mean my salary. You would never be so crass as to ask that of anyone. In the year we’ve known each other, I’ve never heard you talk about money in anything other than abstract terms or as a practical necessity in specific and limited contexts. I know what you’re asking, but I don’t get your timing. “Where did that come from?”

“You never talk about it.”

“Do you want to know the answer, or are you trying to make me talk about it?”

“I’ve never tried to make you do anything.”

And you haven’t. You haven’t needed to. It just happens. I just do things. “This isn’t going to be the answer you want, but I don’t actually know. And I’ve never accessed any of it. It’s all there, in a bunch of different places, but I haven’t touched it.”

“Do you ever feel like you shouldn’t be doing it?”

“No.” I feel old though. Right now, out of nowhere, I feel old. Like a whole part of my life is over and there are entire segments of culture that will never include me, specifically because of their newness. This has nothing to do with anything.

“Why not?”

“I don’t know. Because of who I am as a person. What did you expect?” We’ve talked about it from this angle before. Haven’t we? More and more lately, I feel like I’m remembering conversations that might not have happened.

“Do you ever think about where it comes from, or who it comes from?”

“I guess so. It’s impossible not to, but I never felt bad about it if that’s what you’re getting at. I never really felt anything about it in those terms. I still don’t. Why? Are you growing a conscience-by-proxy?”

“You think I don’t already have a conscience of my own?”

“I know you don’t. It’s an absence we share.” A plane passes overhead and somewhere, however many storeys below us, glass breaks. The two events are not connected.

“And you would put us in the same group of people?”

“You wouldn’t?”

You pause for a deep, cold breath of revelation and your voice is the expanding space between divergent tectonic plates. “There are things you don’t know.”

I don’t understand how you still believe that. “No. There are things you haven’t told me.” On some level, I’ve known since I met you. It’s something in the way the tension never fully leaves your hands.

“It was just work,” you say, and your lie is an obsidian scalpel.

“It wasn’t.” And I split apart, cell from cell.

I lift the bottle to my lips, but I’m still counting shots in the swallows. Seven, eight, nine. I offer it to you and you take it, put on the lid and set it on the other side of you, out of reach. My indulgence, your denial, our covenant. Possibility and opportunity turn my face towards yours. “We wouldn’t have this roof anymore, if—”

“If what?”

“If I quit.” Orion. Osiris. Alignment and rebirth and afterlife.

“We wouldn’t need it. The world has no shortage of heights and temptations, and no shortage of views.”