[November Breaks] THEN | 06 | Noah

📝 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


I’ve always preferred the beach in autumn. The chill in the air never bothers me and I’d rather have solitude than crowds. I’ve been trying to find my way into more casual clothes lately, into a less formal version of myself, but I can’t do without my coats. Some things become part of you. Besides, it’s the perfect season for a good coat.

The tide’s high and the weather carries in winter. It’s all grey, the horizon vanishing with no clear division between water and sky. Two things merging, neither becoming the other, both shifting together into something else.

I don’t know if that’s how I’d usually think of it, but the name of the coffee shop on the corner got into my head. It’s called Alchemy, and it has a good feeling about it, a sense of being slightly out of time. These days, I can’t help feeling drawn to things time doesn’t have too tight a hold on.

I’ve been getting my coffee to go—a double espresso in one hand and an americano in the other—and sitting on the harbour wall with it, sucking down caffeine, having my apparent midlife crisis faster and with more energy. But sometimes the drizzle drives even the most hardened souls and cynics indoors.

Another reason I like this place, as well as the name and the excellent coffee, is that no-one here watches me like I’m a threat. I appreciate it, partly for its novelty and partly because it’s good to be reminded there might actually be a place for everyone somewhere.

I take a seat at the bar and order a double shot. The guy making it gives me one of those looks, something like recognition. He’s been working before when I’ve been in, but he’s never served me. We’ve never spoken.

“This is totally going to sound like a line,” he says, “but have I seen you somewhere before?”

It does sound like a line, but I don’t mind. “I’ve been here before, so probably.”

“I don’t mean from here.” He frowns, trying to focus, to look at me from some angle that might trigger a memory I hope he doesn’t have. “I know I’ve seen you here, double-espresso-and-americano-to-go. I mean somewhere else. You seem familiar.”

“Apparently, I have one of those faces.” Truth is, no-one’s ever said that to me, but I don’t like anyone trying too hard to figure out where they know me from. Besides, I’ve always looked exactly how people like me are supposed to look. Maybe I haven’t side-stepped that as effectively as I hoped. Brand identity. Aesthetic over product.

“If I saw faces like yours in here all the time, I’d be in a much better mood.” He sets the double in front of me and his hands have a few healed burns littered across them. Funny how there’s no kind of work that doesn’t end up leaving you with scars.

“That was a line.”

“OK, that time it kind of was.” He takes a pack of cigarettes out from under the counter, puts some cups away, then pats his pockets and finds a lighter. “I’m going for a smoke. You want one? You’re staring pretty hard at those.”

“No, but thank you for the offer. I’ll just watch from here with a pained expression of nostalgia and unfulfilled longing.”

“When did you quit?”

“A while ago, this time. Cold turkey.” Not a happy recollection. “I still miss it.”

“Want another shot before I head out?”

“It’s all right, thanks. I’ll wait till you get back.”

People always say when you stop smoking you start hating the smell, but I haven’t. I’ve become more sensitive to it, though. Even with him standing outside in a damp mist, the smell of smoke still makes its way close enough for me to notice. It’s still good, still tempting, still attached to other things I keep telling myself I don’t do anymore.

Some reflex in my brain, some tangled neural pathway, leads me to the memory of a struggle fading to stillness and the extra weight that finds its way to a body as its last breath leaves it.

He comes back in and pours me another shot. “Are you sitting at the bar because you’re OK for some chat or because there’s not enough leg room at the tables?”

“Bit of both.” It’s mostly because of the leg room. I never feel like I fit right in places and I don’t know how much that even has to do with my height. Chatty guy seems nice though. Actually nice, not nice the way people say it because they can’t be bothered to think of another positive adjective. We’re not of the same species, he and I. We never will be. I don’t think he realises that, but I do. I’m under no illusions about what I am.

“Good. It’s a bit quiet in here and as much as I appreciate the great scenery, some conversation would brighten up my day. I’m Perry.”

“Noah. And I’m great scenery?”

“Oh, you know you are. You look like an advert for everything you’re wearing. Holy shit, are you a model? Or were you? Is that where I know you from?”

“You got me. I used to be a model.”

“Seriously?” he says.

“No.” I drink the shot.

“So, what do you do?”

“Nothing at the moment. I suppose I’m having a career change.”

“From what to what?”

“I haven’t decided yet, but from security.”

“What, like burglar alarms?”


“Things with computers?” He leans his elbows on the bar and his chin on his hands, settling in for the game.

“Not that either.”

“Are you going to make me guess?”

“I’d rather you didn’t.”

His eyes widen. “Now you’re making it sound mysterious and exciting.”

“I was a security consultant, but it’s time for a change of pace.” None of this is untrue.

“Security consultant still sounds mysterious and exciting.”

“It’s not what you think.” For many reasons.

“You live around here?” He seems genuinely interested, as if this isn’t just small talk, and it’s refreshing.

“No, but I’m starting to think I might want to. I like the sea and the city’s getting to me.”

He looks at my empty cup. “You want another?”

“Make me something else.”

“What kind of something?”

“I don’t know. Surprise me. Impress me.” Don’t require me to make decisions.

“Any allergies or dietary requirements?”

“No. Just be creative and keep me up all night.” The appeal of consistently getting a healthy amount of sleep is waning. I can’t shake the feeling that something is getting away from me, something I’m supposed to hold on to, except I don’t know what it is.

“You put those big blue eyes away when you say that or I’ll get the wrong idea.”

It’s not entirely the wrong idea, but I’m not going there. Not yet, and not with him. I sit back and watch him work. He has a zen kind of concentration I can relate to, although for vastly different reasons.

He pours a shot of espresso into a mug of filter, adds a shake of vanilla sugar and sets it in front of me. “A sweet shot in the dark.”

“Aren’t they all?”

“Some are sweeter than others.”

We talk for a bit about the shop, sales and suppliers, seasonal shifts in business. He knows his shit, and it’s good to listen to someone talk about something that isn’t what everyone else I know talks about.

He keeps casually coming on to me and I keep pretending not to notice. He doesn’t know what he’d be getting into with me. No-one ever really does and I figure he deserves better. Most people deserve better, except the ones who don’t, and something always nudges them towards me, eventually.