[November Breaks] THEN | 08 | Noah

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“I thought you’d quit.” The voice is familiar, but it takes me a couple of seconds to place it. Perry.

“I thought I had too. Some things are easier to give up than others.”

“I’m heading into work. Can I tempt you with a shot in the dark?”

“You can. I’ll be in when I finish this.” I nod towards the cigarette, half-smoked, casually resting between my fingers as if it isn’t the most important thing in the world. As if it isn’t slowly killing me. As if everything isn’t.

He leaves me looking at the water, trying to shake the feeling that I want to stay here. I don’t mean right here on the wall, but near the sea, out of the city. A little farther out than this, perhaps. It’s quiet here now, but it won’t be come summer.

I want somewhere out of the way, along the coast, a single-track lane leading to a garden lined with trees on one side and open to the beach on the other. As for the house itself, as long as it’s in a decent state of repair, that’s all that matters. I’ll rip everything out anyway and replace it all with stainless steel and glass and granite because I’m a hideous cliché and I don’t care. I’ll forget to turn on my phone for hours after I wake up and it won’t make a difference to anything.

In the depths of December, I’ll wrap myself in my warmest coat, walk down to where the sea meets the sand in salt-frozen darkness and blacken my lungs with toxic chemicals. Sometimes I’ll soothe my soul in ways cigarettes can’t reach and I’ll dispose of the evidence in the quiet of early morning. Then I’ll sit on the deck with clean hands and a cup of coffee and be at peace.

When I imagine the future, it is always winter. I need to move. I savour the last draw and wish it didn’t taste so good.

When I walk into Alchemy and take a seat at the bar, Perry smiles, but he looks subdued. He makes a shot in the dark and sets it in front of me. “Enjoy it while you can. They’re selling the place.”

“Who are they?”

“The couple who own it.”

“Why are they selling?”

“Don’t know. Doesn’t matter, I guess.”

“Do you know if they’re selling the business or the property?”

“All of it, I think. I mean, the property with the business. Or maybe the property, but it has to stay something commercial like this. I’m not sure. They inherited it when someone died and there was a whole thing with planning permission. As far as I know, it is what it is, and it’s not about to become another block of cardboard apartments, but it’ll probably end up being taken over by some generic bullshit franchise and I’ll be out of a job anyway.”

“Unless someone buys it and keeps it the way it is.”

“Yeah. Fat chance, though. Sorry, I only found out an hour ago and I’m not exactly at peak customer service right now.”

“Don’t apologise. You don’t have to be anything.” Throwing yourself into turmoil is one thing, but having someone else do it for you is a shock to the system.

“I guess. I need to sort some stuff in the kitchen. Anna’s coming in at twelve and I get to tell her the news, so I figure it’ll soften the blow if she doesn’t have much work to do for a bit.”

After he goes into the kitchen, I message Max. I think I’ve found something. Small business, going concern, comes with property and people. Research needed. If it looks do-able, I’m moving to the coast. Just so you know. I hit send and close my eyes, taking in the atmosphere of the place. It’s still good.

My phone vibrates. When did this happen?

There’s no point in being anything other than honest. Also, the suddenness will absolutely destroy Max’s sanity and it’s worth it just for that fleeting entertainment. A few minutes ago.

I can almost sense his anxiety levels rising. Right now, I have no anxiety. Not about this. Not about anything. Some things feel right and this is one of them. Max doesn’t need to know about the others. No-one does. The seen and the unseen parts of me are drifting farther away from each other and that should be important, but it isn’t.

My phone vibrates again. Your midlife crisis is bigger than my midlife crisis, OK? Gather the details and come in on Thursday, 2pm.

I reply and wait for Perry to come back from the kitchen. I think about having another cigarette, but it’s starting to rain and I don’t feel like standing around in it.