[November Breaks] THEN | 09 | Brett

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WEDNESDAY 15TH NOVEMBER 2017

He’s standing at the window, a lamp on behind him, and it looks like a still from an old film. All I can think about is how it would feel to have one of those huge fists crash through me and break me into a thousand pieces. There’s no shirt tonight. Instead, a sweater tight across shoulders that could hold up the world, around arms that could crush the breath from my lungs and stop my mind from racing.

The sky opens wide, a dark universe of rain, turning the street into mirrors. Still, I watch him. Still. Thunder roars and the clouds light up. He takes off his sweater, opens the window and leans out, hands on the windowsill, rain lashing against his face, running down into a black t-shirt.

He smiles and I’m drunk on it, more than I am on everything I’ve emptied down my throat tonight, chasing oblivion. He’s Hades and I’m Dionysus in a myth that was never written, a story that was never told. A prophecy. He bows his head, water dripping from his hair, and I focus the lens to get a clearer look at the tattoo on his arm. Black waves. Dark waters.

I can’t sit still. I can’t sit at all. I need to move. I need to be somewhere. Wasted on the good shit, the cheap shit, and him, I run out into the street, under the weight and electric chill of the rain. Whatever I need, I’m going to find it.

Each deep breath is blades in my chest, and my feet are soaked through from the first step. Deep puddles merge into pools that spread and melt together like a rising tide washing over the pavement, rushing into storm drains like rivers collapsing.

I don’t see the car coming. I don’t hear it. I don’t feel the ground rushing up to meet me.

However it hits me, however I twist from impact to impact, I land face-down next to the kerb like ice cracking. I spit blood onto the road and my hands are skin scraped from bone. It all feels at once too significant and not significant enough. Some part of this should have been louder. It should have been more. It’s a rush, though, a new sensation.

The car stops and rain hangs like knife slashes in the beams of its headlights. Another still from another old film. Then the engine revs and tyres skid on the wet ground as the car disappears around the corner.

I kneel on the pavement, praying to a god of death, a god of finally feeling alive. And it is fucking exquisite. Time turns and folds in on itself and I think I’m about to sober up, but it doesn’t happen. Everything makes sense and then nothing makes sense and I can’t read the world in sentences. Life sentences. Death sentences.

The rain on the ground and the reflections of streetlights are the ink of the sky and the shimmer of stars. My fingers tangle in my hair and come away dark and slick with blood, like waterfalls over kerbstones. Blood in my hair and blood on my hands. Blood in my mouth from the place where a chunk of flesh is missing from the inside of my cheek and the splitting ache from my teeth crashing together.

But nothing is broken. I think. Nothing. I think nothing. For a shattered glass fragment of a moment, I think nothing. But I think. People don’t think that they think. They just think.

It’s cold and I stand and the buildings around me and above me and the lights in their windows spin. Everything is motion and nothing is solid. And walking. A series of halted falls. But isn’t that all it ever is? Isn’t that all moving anywhere ever is? Throwing yourself forward and somehow not completely collapsing?

And I might look OK. From the outside, I mean. From a distance. Maybe I’m standing up straight and putting one foot in front of the other like everything’s fine. But I don’t know. I’m only seeing myself from the inside out and I’m inside out. I’m thinking again. I think I’m thinking.

Another car. Oil-slick and near-silent, glass-dark and fading through its own shadow, drifting against the liquid light of the downpour. It slows to a hallucinatory hover next to me and a window slides open. “Hey.”

I don’t reply, but I stop because my feet decide to.

The car stops too. And a face in the darkness. And a voice again. “Are you all right?”

My head nods itself and my vision does a somersault.

The crook of an arm and a massive rock of a shoulder and the face becomes clearer. “You’re bleeding.”

My throat lets go of a ragged, “I know.”

It looks like him. It shouldn’t, but it does. “Can I call someone for you?”

I try to shake my head, but something in my neck crunches. “I’m good.” It looks like him. It still looks like him. It couldn’t be. It’s just what I want to be true.

“Yeah, you seem good. Should I see the other guy?”

The corners of my mouth drag themselves into a smile without my permission and the rawness inside stings and it feels good. “The other guy was a car. If you see him, feel free to fuck him up. He has it coming. Listen, I’m fine. I’m going home.” I want it to be him. I want too much all the time.

He says, “Where’s home?”

Well, shit. Isn’t that the question? I know what he means, but still. “Not far.” And I walk again. Or I fall without completely collapsing.

The car starts moving alongside me and I want to get a good look at his face, but if I stop staring straight ahead, I don’t think I’ll be able to stay upright. I think I don’t think.

His voice is firm, calm, like someone who might be useful in a crisis. “Are you sure you’re able to get home?”

The pavement swims at my feet, and a deep breath of air stabs its way into my lungs. “Yeah. Thanks.”

“Well, all right,” he says, and the window slides closed and the car vanishes and he vanishes with it. Was it even him? Was he here? Am I?

And the back of my skull has its own throbbing heartbeat. And the warmth of the blood congeals in my hair. And this is not yet the beginning of our story.

THURSDAY 16TH NOVEMBER 2017

Sometimes the city starts to piss me off. This is one of those times. Everything feels small, too small, claustrophobic, like there’s no way out and I’m going to die here in this office, suffocating in a fucking suit like every other waste of genetic material clogging up the concrete beehive.

Today’s one of those days and I don’t know. I don’t know. This chair cost more than a small car and it’s supposed to be good for my spine, but my spine doesn’t care. I keep waiting for it to fire a lethal dose of electricity through me and I kind of wish it would.

Running my fingers over my desk, all I can think about is what it would feel like to smash it. Except it’s toughened glass, so that wouldn’t work. But I can’t stop imagining pulling my hands back through the shattered edges and peeling the skin off my fingers. Not imagining. Seeing. Feeling. Maybe all those things at once and not really any of them. It plays on a loop and I’m half sick and half disappointed that it’s not actually happening.

My head hurts.

My head hurts again.

My head still hurts.

Tapping on the desk now, one finger at a time, counting to five.

Eyes closed, I can see my office, my cell in the hive, covered in blood. Not oozing out of the walls like some shitty horror film, but thrown hard against every surface like art. I open my eyes and nothing has changed. Because nothing ever changes.

Byron walks in without knocking, because he always does. “Jesus fucking Christ, Archer, what happened to your face?” Anyone else would sound worried, but not him. He’s the only person I’ve ever met who can be this confrontational over someone else being hurt.

“Hit by a car.”

“When?”

“Last night.”

“What the fuck are you doing here?”

“Working.”

“At least you’re not on the fucking roof. What did they say at the hospital? Should you even be here?”

“I didn’t go to the hospital. I’m fine.”

“No, you fucking aren’t. Obviously. If you drop dead from a brain haemorrhage, I will not be impressed.”

“I won’t be impressed either, but I’m not planning on it.”

“Fuck’s sake, Archer. I don’t say this often, but go home. Don’t walk out in front of any cars. Put your feet up for the weekend. Do whatever you do to relax and come back when your face doesn’t look like that anymore.”

He leaves me alone and what do I do to relax? There’s no answer and a fall of panic, the kind that starts in your throat and sinks to your stomach like a stone. I don’t know. I don’t know. And I keep trying to remember if the person who stopped to see if I was OK was really the guy from the window, but the more I think about it, the less I’m even sure anyone stopped at all. I can’t see it clearly in my head. It’s an overlay on an overlay and nothing’s in focus. I don’t know what’s real anymore on so many levels.

I call Jordan in and tell him I’m going home and everything can wait until Monday. I’ve never done that before. I’ve never not been contactable. He’s worried, which is fair enough because I look like I grated my face off the road. Which I did. I tell him it’s only superficial damage, although I’m not totally sure. He smiles, but it’s awkward. He’s uncomfortable, and it’s my fault. Usually I’d be fine with that, but today it doesn’t feel right.

I flex my fingers to feel the scabs on my knuckles stretch and split. It calms my nerves, but not enough. Nothing’s enough and it’s becoming a problem. My face feels like it looks. A fucking mess. The outside matches the inside. I need to run. Or walk, at least. Burn off some energy, do some thinking or some not thinking or whatever and it doesn’t matter.

I leave my office, leave the building, and my jacket’s crushing my ribs, so I take it off and it should be cold without it, but it isn’t. Or it is, but I’m not. Walking feels good. It hurts, but it feels good too. Or it feels good because it hurts. I don’t know anymore. I don’t know.

There are so many cars and a deep, heavy need and I wait for the swerve, but it never comes and a storm in my skull and the pounding of waves and the sea.