[November Breaks] NOW | 24 | Noah

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TUESDAY 22ND JANUARY 2019

You’re home. It’s impossible not to be aware of your arrival, marked by the crunch of displaced gravel as you almost skid to a halt in the driveway. The garage door lifts and then closes. At least you brought the car in to charge without having to be reminded.

The internal door bangs and you walk into the kitchen still dripping wet, I assume from the time you were outside between Max’s office to wherever you parked. The inside of the car will be soaking. Of course it will. I’d like to believe you wouldn’t have noticed, but I know—

“I have officially been financially advised.” You drop your coat over the back of a chair even though there’s a perfectly good hook inside the front door, open the cupboard where medications and supplements live, and take a joint out of a tube that once held soluble vitamin C tablets.

“And?”

“And what? Max is going to put together some solid options for me to look at.” You light the joint, inhale deeply, exhale towards the smoke detector, and look slightly disappointed when nothing happens. “I don’t think that works.”

“It worked when you forgot you’d put pizza in the oven yesterday and went for a run.”

“That’s why I shouldn’t cook. Look what happens. Come here.”

And I do, every time. You hold the joint to the side while I wrap my arms around you and for a few quiet, blissful moments, everything is calm.

This is as good a time as any to bring this up. “Brett, you need a car.”

You duck out of my arms, hop up onto the countertop, and continue to smoke. “I have a car.”

“No, I have a car.”

“It’s like that, is it? I thought it was our car now.” You reach a damp boot towards me, aiming a slow motion kick at my hip.

I dodge it and notice the wet footprints on the floor. “It’s not like that. It is our car. But—”

“But what?” You blow a cloud of smoke into my face.

“But you drive like—”

“Like what? I’ve had my licence since I was seventeen. I’ve never had an accident. I’ve never claimed on my insurance. I’ve never even had a speeding ticket.”

“You also haven’t actually owned a vehicle or regularly driven one for years.”

“A technicality. What are you worried about, anyway?”

“The way you drive, it’s not good for the car.”

“So you’re worried I’m going to hurt your car?” You hold out the joint to me.

I take it. “Yes. OK?” A deep inhale replaces any further explanation I might have attempted.

“Fine. Do you want to choose an appropriate car for me, or should I call Max and ask him to do it?” You sound annoyed, but there’s a smile spreading across your face and you break into laughter.

I take another deep draw from the joint. “I don’t know. Max doesn’t know anything about cars, but if you give him a budget, he’ll find someone who does. Or you could pick something yourself.”

“I don’t know anything about cars either. You know I’ll end up getting something totally impractical.” You hold out a hand for the rest of the joint.

I pass it to you. “Well then, go to a showroom, tell someone who works there what you want and let them talk you into something ridiculous. Just do it, please. Stop hurting my car.”

You shrug, smoke the joint down as far as it goes, and put the end out on your tongue, smirking at me. “All right, but I don’t want to deal with it now. After Max does the things with the money, I’ll get a car and I promise not to drive yours in the meantime. How’s that?”

“Good. That’s good. That’s a weight off my mind.”

Right now, right here, in this warm kitchen with its under cabinet lighting and stainless steel appliances, with its restaurant grade espresso machine and granite worktops, with your wet footprints on the floor and my pasta on the hob, we are almost real people.

I have almost not earned a living ten times over, putting countless bullets through countless bodies. You have almost not filled a collection of bank accounts with other people’s money over the course of your career. I have almost not slept better after feeling a heart stop under my hands. You have almost not violated the trust of everyone you’ve ever worked with.

We are almost a normal couple. We are almost not who we are.

You nod towards the pasta. “What’s that going to be?”

“Cacio e pepe.”

“Cacio e pepe,” you imitate, sounding more like me than I do. “Fuck’s sake, Noah. Just say macaroni cheese.”

“It’s not macaroni.”

“OK then, spaghetti cheese.”

“How dare you? It’s not spaghetti anything. It’s bucatini.” 

“Of course it is. Do I have time for a shower? I need to wash off all the sensible from earlier.”

“Yes. Go. Maybe don’t wash off all of it, though.” I throw you a side-eye and you catch it between the teeth of a heart-stopping grin that I should be used to by now.

You rescue your damp coat from the chair on your way out of the kitchen, trailing more wet footprints behind you and up the stairs.

I still haven’t adjusted to cooking for two. The quantities in recipes never seem like enough, so I second guess them every time and end up making too much. Whatever that’s symbolic of.

TUESDAY 22ND JANUARY 2019

We eat on the couch because that’s the mood you’re in. You inhabit loungewear with an easy comfort I envy and you make it look good. Cross-legged with a huge bowl of seriously Noah, this is just fancy spaghetti and cheese on a cushion cradled in your lap, a fork in one hand and a joint in the other, you twirl the bucatini, actually with a nonchalant expertise that suggests an adulthood filled with take-away food and the desire to dirty as few pieces of cutlery as possible.

And I still can’t get used to you being normal. I don’t mean that you, yourself, are normal, because you aren’t and you never could be. But seeing you in normal places, normal contexts, the juxtaposition of you and the everyday world of a house and a couch and a bowl of pasta.

When we met, I couldn’t have pictured this. Even at the beginning, when you slept in my bed and got up in the middle of the night to work obsessively on whatever it was you shouldn’t have been doing, even when you drank my coffee and set the cup directly on the glass table instead of the coaster, I couldn’t picture this level of regular, mundane existence and you. With you.

I hold out a hand, and you slide the joint between my fingers. I didn’t use to smoke this much weed, but now I do because you do and also I’m starting to feel like it might be what I need. There are too many things I can’t switch off, can’t push down, not entirely. It’s been a long time since I’ve killed anyone and even thinking that, so blatantly and non-euphemistically, feels wrong. Now I can smoke it into mist, into fragments, into almost-fiction. The only thing that’s real is here, now, you, us. When did that happen? How?

“Noah.” You set your empty bowl on the floor and wave a hand in front of my face.

“Mmm-hmm?”

“You finished that whole thing.”

I didn’t notice. You’re right, though. “Sorry.”

“Don’t be. There are more pre-rolled in the kitchen. I’m organised like that.”

“No, I mean sorry I’m…” My words float away, hollow and echoing, and I’m distantly aware that my thoughts sound like your thoughts and I don’t know how that’s possible or how I even know. “Do you ever feel as if you aren’t really there?”

“Where?”

“Anywhere that you are. You go somewhere and do something and you aren’t completely positive that it’s real. Or you aren’t completely positive that you’re real.”

“I don’t know. Sometimes I don’t remember enough about things I’ve done to fill the length of time I know I was doing them. There are gaps where I was on autopilot, or some part of the memory didn’t take right. Is that what you mean?”

“Kind of.” Everything feels disconnected in my head and I can’t articulate any of it the way I want to. “It’s more a sense of appearing and disappearing. Arriving for jobs in silence, in darkness a lot of the time, like a designed and manufactured version of what I was supposed to be. And then when I left, I vanished. I just stopped being.”

You lift my empty bowl out of the way, turn sideways and lie with your head in my lap. “You’re here now. You haven’t stopped being.”

“I know. But before. And maybe still now, but with everyone else. On some level, I think I cultivated it, consciously or not. It was part of the job. I became it, or it became me, and I let it. Or at least I accepted it when it happened.”

“Don’t you accept it anymore?”

“I don’t know. It is what it is and I never look it in the eye, not really.”

“Does anyone ever look every part of themselves in the eye? Perhaps other people see us differently from how we see ourselves and no-one fully knows what’s true, who’s there or who isn’t.” You sit up and kiss me and it’s almost enough to melt away the impending existential crisis.

“You do that when you don’t know what to say.”

“I do that because you’re there and I want to.” You shrug and kiss me again.

I don’t entirely want you to stop, but I want to know what’s in your head. “Don’t. Tell me what you’re thinking. Stop distracting yourself from things you don’t want to deal with.”

“You say that as if distracting myself with pleasurable experiences isn’t basically who I am as a person.”

“How about right now? Right this second, tell me what you’re thinking.”

“All right.” You slide back down and rest your head in my lap again. “You’ve always felt so solid to me. You’ve always been so completely there, even when I haven’t. And now you say you feel like you aren’t really anywhere and it’s jarring because you’re the most here person I’ve ever met. And then I started thinking, I wish he’d shut up and stop being so fucking serious because it’s getting boring.”

I slide a hand across your throat and lean into it. “Did you really think that last part?”

You sigh like a distraction. “Course I didn’t. But if you’re going to force me to talk about something I don’t know how to put into words, I’m going to be an asshole about it.”

“I don’t believe you’ve ever met a concept you couldn’t put into words. You don’t see things from the same angle as everyone else.” Am I making sense? “It’s something you do with the details.”

“True. It makes me useful. People will overlook all sorts of fucked up shit as long as you keep being useful.” You close your eyes for a long blink.

“Do I do that? To you?”

“Not you. It’s just a theme in my life. I’m not sure I ever thought about it as much as I should, but since we’re all about the uncomfortable introspection today. Thing this, I do the same thing to other people. I know I do. I’m a massive hypocrite.”

I lean my palm against your throat again. “It makes sense though, as a pattern. You’re not useful to me at all and I’m painfully aware of all your fucked up shit.”

Without a moment’s hesitation and quick as a flash, you grab my wrist and hit me with the back of my own hand, then melt into a ripple of laughter. “Fuck you.”

“Fuck you too.”

Your laugh twists through my lungs and we share it, warm and softly electric. Here, now, I can see everything we are and I look it in the eye, unblinking and wholly accepting. The essence of us curls like smoke into the shape of an anchor, dropping through dark waves to the calm of deep ocean below.

You sit up, a sudden jolt, and look at the window, then at me. “It’s stopped raining. We should go for a walk.”

“Where to?”

“I don’t know,” you say, sounding exactly like you know and this is all part of a plan, because isn’t it always, with you?

I blink and seconds, minutes, days pass. “Along the beach? The way we used to when we first moved here?” We did that all the time and we don’t do it as much anymore. I didn’t realise. We don’t. And we should.