[November Breaks] NOW | 30 | Noah

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THURSDAY 7TH FEBRUARY 2019

There’s an expectation that I visit these places between tenants so I can sign a piece of paper to say everything’s all right. Outside of that, the agency handles everything. I have no interest in any of it. I don’t care who lives in any of the properties as long as the rent gets paid and someone who isn’t me deals with the admin.

I dropped you off at Allegra, then drove out to the suburbs to walk around an empty flat and make sure everything is exactly as clean and perfect as I already know it is. I saw this place once before I bought it. Dinah Ford found it and insisted that I at least visit in person and make a fully informed decision. I would have been happy for her to make an informed decision on my behalf, but she refused. That probably says something important and positive about her as a person.

This flat feels like nothing. I know someone was living here until two weeks ago, but it doesn’t seem like it. There’s no footprint of life at all. It’s a blank slate waiting for someone else to move in and barely live here. The decor is inoffensively neutral. The furniture makes slightly more of a statement and it’s not a million miles from what I would have chosen for myself, from what we did choose for ourselves. Am I still a terrible cliché? Are we? Does it matter?

I close the door quietly on my way out and lock it behind me with the agent’s keys. Some lingering misrepresentation of my own existence hovers at the back of my mind and I should feel like a ghost, as if leaving in silence, unwitnessed, might mean that I was never really here. I would have felt that way before, but now it’s just a shard of residual unease gradually being expelled from my skin in a place I can’t quite reach.

The drive to the city is soaked in grey with reflections of car lights running down windows. The traffic isn’t too bad, but it’s more than I can be bothered with. I don’t think I ever noticed it when I lived here, or if I did, I didn’t care. Sometimes you only start to see things when you aren’t looking at them every day.

I pull into an underground car park and get in a lift that feels half like an operating theatre and half like part of a space station. When I get out, the carpet in the hall is soft, thick, clean on a level that I appreciate. I only saw this place once too before I bought it. Again, Dinah insisted. She’s basically impossible to say no to. I understand why she and Max work so well together.

I unlock another door with another set of agent’s keys to another home that is not a home. It’s a series of empty rooms with high ceilings, gleaming appliances, glass and metal and black leather furniture. It hangs in a state of suspended animation until someone else starts to sleep here between their fourteen hour work days. Before they stand on the balcony with the rise of double-height windows behind them and stare out over an endless sea of luxury prison cells, telling themselves they’ve made it now. They’ve achieved, succeeded, and it’s all going to be OK.

Everything is clean here too, perfect, pristine. Suddenly, I’m tired. Everything feels heavy and my eyes are closing whether I want them to or not and I need to stop. I drop onto the couch and press the button on the side to recline the seat. I don’t think I can sleep. I don’t think I want to. I just need to rest for a few minutes. I need to be a cold, empty space in this cold, empty space. I need to be a blank slate.

The rain falls like a lullaby. Time could be passing outside at a thousand years every second and I would have no idea. This could be hibernation or a coma. It could be a gentle drift into death and if it was, it would be more than I deserve. In my head, behind my eyelids, the world crumbles in accelerated decades, leaving only this towering mirrored monument to meaningless aesthetics and false progress standing like a beacon in the ruins.

You should be here. I don’t want time to collapse into forever without you. I don’t want death to find me, in a gentle drift or otherwise, without you. I’m starting to feel lonely. No. Not lonely. Alone. I can see more and more clearly that I felt this way before, always, but I didn’t realise until it wasn’t true anymore. And that thought comes back. Sometimes you only begin to see things when you aren’t looking at them every day.

I don’t see the empty spaces anymore. I see you, in all of them. You’re a drug. The not-so-accidental overdose someone takes because they need to feel that good once more before the end. How many more times will I watch you talk someone towards their last breath, half wishing you were doing it to me?

I remember you telling me you think things like I think, and how apparently people aren’t supposed to do that. You told me you feel like an observer in your own head, watching and analysing your mental processes. Now I think and I wonder and I watch myself thinking and wondering. Somehow we are becoming each other in small ways I never would have expected. And I think, I wonder, do you notice it too?

My phone rings. It should surprise me. I should startle and snap to awareness, but very little has the power to do that to me.

It’s you. “Hey.”

“Hey. Is it all sorted?”

“It is. I’m done.” You sound done.

“I’ve only been to two of the flats. I still have to go to my old one. Do you want to come with me?” Nostalgia. I think and I notice and I feel. I remember you saying you’re going home and I’m coming with you.

“Yeah. I guess we’re all about the old times’ sake today. I’m at the first bar we went to together. Want to come here, get some food, then do the flat?”

“You’re at the bar?”

“That’s what I said.”

“You aren’t supposed to be drinking.”

“I’m not supposed to be drinking vodka. I’m not drinking vodka.”

“Brett, don’t—”

“Listen. It’s fine. I am completely sober, I promise. I’m drinking coffee, all right?”

“All right. I’ll get locked up here and head straight in.”

“Noah?”

“Yeah?”

“Are you OK?”

Am I? “I think so. Are you?”

A pause. A sigh. “I don’t know.”