[November Breaks] NOW | 25 | Brett

📝 View November Breaks’ information and table of contents here
☕ If you enjoy this story and would like to buy me a coffee, you can do that here

TUESDAY 22ND JANUARY 2019

I’m not motivated by the experience of walking or even by the beach at night, as necessary as both of those things are. I want to see you out here, staring beyond the convergence that would be a clear horizon in daylight. Moving away from something and towards something else. Being between. I want to see you at the empty house, communing with absence or loss or whatever part of death it is that slows your breathing, gives you calm and reminds you of who you are.

We walk at a slow, hazy pace, connected by a slide of palms and a grip of fingertips as swaying steps carry us closer, then farther away, then closer again. And you stare at the place where the frozen velvet of the sky reaches down to the bottomless ink of the sea, layers and textures of darkness and distance held in the sweep of your gaze. And I stare at you.

I can barely remember what it felt like for you not to be the first thing I thought about when I woke up. I don’t know anymore what used to occupy the space in my head that is now full, overflowing, with the line of your jaw, the set of your shoulders, the cold silence, the unexpected warmth, the persistent control, and the brief, flickering moments when you forget yourself and—

You derail my train of thought. “What?”

“Nothing.” I want you to give in.

“It’s never nothing.”

“It’s nothing this time.” I want you to break apart with need.

“I don’t believe you.”

“You never believe me.” I want it to be my fault. No. Not my fault. My doing.

You stop and so do I. And so does everything. And your hands at my throat and the hitch in your breath and the spinning ground and the elastic stretch of time and my pulse. And my pulse. And my heady, cyclonic, weakening, hungry pulse.

When you let go, I hold my lungs aching empty for as long as I can until you reach for my hand again, as if I didn’t just almost lose consciousness. As if I didn’t want to. As if it wouldn’t have been only one more small step until there was no turning back. As if you aren’t finding it harder and harder to stop. As if that isn’t what I’m tempting you towards.

“Come on,” you say, half casual and half ominous. “We’re almost there.”

I take your hand in mine and fall into step beside you, as if everything isn’t about to change.

We sit on the driveway sheltered dry by the wall of a building with no soul left inside, and I take a pack of cigarettes out of my pocket. I know you quit and you might even mean it this time, but I need to see sparks ignite and flash reflections in your eyes, stars born and dying in the seconds it takes you to pull fire through toxic chemicals and hate yourself all over again. Whatever it is in me that has always been and will always be wrong needs to watch you do that and needs to be the cause of it.

This is what happens. This is me without structure, already. But you knew. Of course you did. You knew and you know and it gives you the perfect excuse. I am compulsively, consistently, as much as I’m ever consistently anything, the perfect excuse. I’m no good and I’m no good for you, but it works both ways. There is no goodness here, only a vague and occasional impression of it. You know that too. We’ve both known it the entire time.

Anyway.

I peel off the cellophane, flip the lid and hold out the pack to you, offering you your silver lighter. I carry that lighter with me always. You never know when something might need to be burned.

“Did you get these for me?” Your hand hovers above temptation.

“I felt like you wanted them.”

“That doesn’t mean I should have them.” As you take one anyway, you mutter under your breath, “This is going to kill me,” and I don’t know if you mean the cigarette or me. Maybe both of us. Because aren’t I also a poison you can’t live without?

I take one too. I still don’t smoke, but I still don’t not smoke either. “Everything’s killing everyone all the time.”

“That’s a very you thing to say.”

“Doesn’t mean it’s not true.”

You take the lighter, whether you want to or not, and small flames flare between us for a moment until you hand it back to me, accepting of the situation but not fully committing to its potential. Then you inhale deeply and breathe out a lungful of smoke and relief towards the sky, watching it swirl and dissipate. I almost say something, anything, but the silence doesn’t need to be filled. Not yet. It’s waiting for you. A pause holding a promise.

“I think it might just be what I do. Who I am. Not smoking. The other thing, I mean. And not in an honourable way. I’m not serving a higher purpose or doing it for the greater good. There’s no question of it being right or wrong and it doesn’t matter. People can see it in me and sometimes that makes me tired, but sometimes it’s fine. And no matter how hard I try or how many times I go over it in my head, I still don’t know how to explain it better than that.”

I know exactly what you’re talking about. The one time I didn’t ask, and you answered. “So how do you do without it?”

“I don’t know.” Another breath of smoke and you’re watching the place where stars would be if the clouds hadn’t gathered so thickly.

“Do you miss it?”

“I shouldn’t. But I do.” And there it is. Not only the truth, but the truth you didn’t want to tell. The truth you had to drag out of yourself.

I’d like to take credit for that, but I can’t. Not completely. “Are you going to do it again?” Not do you want to? Not do you think you will? But are you going to? That’s solid. That’s a foundation. And it’s taking everything I have to stare straight ahead, to not look at you, to not risk putting a sideways glance in the way of you finally saying what I’ve waited to hear. I slide the moment into a frame and polish the glass to a high shine in the part of my memory that deals with reluctant revelations.

Another breath and you rest your free hand against the ground.

Another breath and you turn to look at me.

Another breath and I look back.

And I wait.

And you say it. “Yes.”