[November Breaks] BEYOND | Noah

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SATURDAY 30TH NOVEMBER 2019

Hail pounds the roof like a herald of the apocalypse and you stand outside, barefoot and statuesque, laughing with ice in your eyelashes. I would call your name, but you’re too caught up in challenging the wildness of the weather. Again, forever, I can’t look away.

[November Breaks] BEYOND | Brett

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SATURDAY 30TH NOVEMBER 2019

The wind whips the sea into peaks and trails angry clouds across a dark sky that begs for a storm. You, a mountain with a funeral smile, watch through your reflection in the window until thunder rolls and lightning splits the night. Destruction, your bliss and your calling.

[November Breaks] NOW | 32 | Noah

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MONDAY 11TH FEBRUARY 2019

“This car is actually not as ridiculous as I expected.” It really isn’t, and you look happy driving it, more at home in it than you ever looked in mine.

“You mean compared to what you expected when you literally told me to let someone talk me into something ridiculous?” You pat the steering wheel of the compact SUV affectionately and rev the engine with a smirk.

“Compared to what I expected when you threatened to choose something totally impractical.”

“Excuse me, that was not a threat. It was a prediction, albeit an inaccurate one. I even surprised myself. As impulse buys go, this isn’t bad. And it can live outside instead of having to be brought into its cosy stable every night and charged at the wall with a blanket over it.”

“I do not put a blanket over my car.”

“You would if no-one else would find out about it. You’re weird about your car, Noah.”

“I’m careful with it.” No-one else ever had an opinion about how I treat my car. No-one else ever witnessed that aspect of my life, though. You witness everything and you have a lot of opinions.

“You’re weird about it. Accept it.”

“Fine. I’m weird about it. Stop here.”

You park in the first empty space you see, get out and lock the car. Its lights flash a chirping goodbye. “Right,” you say, walking around to meet me, “if he’s not on his own, we give him back his wallet and leave?”

“Yeah. No point in complicating things. There’ll be others.” It’s late enough to be dark, but not late enough to be deserted. It doesn’t matter. We’re returning someone’s lost wallet. We are helpful. We are good people.

As luck or whatever morally void force is on our side would have it, he arrives at almost the same time as we do, walking up the other flight of concrete steps at the opposite end of the low rise block. We hang back a little while he unlocks the door, goes inside and turns on a light. There’s no-one else in there. Perfect.

You knock on his door and I stand just out of the way so you’re the only person he’ll see, at first anyway. He answers with no security chain. Everything is working in our favour.

You smile that incredible smile of yours. “Sorry to bother you, but are you John Morris?”

“Who’s asking?” He sounds suspicious already. He has cause to be, but probably not the cause he assumes.

“Great, it’s the right address. I found your wallet.”

John Morris holds out a hand and I step around into his line of sight, blocking any view from elsewhere of your foot now wedging open the door.

Your voice shifts gear and my heart swallows itself whole. “Open up. No fucking around. We’re going to come in and you’re going to keep your mouth shut.”

John Morris tries in vain to close the door, but your boot holds solid and you shoulder your way through. He momentarily falters, and it’s all we need. You push him back inside and I walk in calmly, as if we’ve been invited, closing the door gently behind me. You walk him backwards into the living room and through into the kitchen at the rear of the flat, where no-one passing by will see or hear anything.

You don’t even have a hand on him, and it’s beautiful. Your let-me-in smile has become something more coldly determined, and the steadiness of your breath holds the quiet threat of a ticking clock. This is resolute control, and death walks with measured steps, wearing the face of patience.

John Morris is terrified. “Did Izzy send you?”

It’s funny how often they make the wrong assumption about who sent you. These are the moments when you find out who a person has hurt more than anyone else in the world, who they’ve taken the most from, who they owe the most to. We aren’t here to restore any equilibrium though and no-one sent us. We’re here for ourselves.

You walk him back against the kitchen wall. “Why would Izzy send us?”

“I don’t… I mean… I didn’t…”

“You didn’t what?” You open a drawer with a gloved hand, close it, open another and take out a knife, swinging it elegantly and pointing it at his chest.

He looks at the knife and then back at you. “Whatever she said, I didn’t do it.”

You take a step closer and hold the edge of the blade almost touching his throat. “Are you sure?”

Not trying to move, take the knife off you, or fight in any way at all, he gestures towards me with a careful nod. “Why’s he not talking?”

You lean in a little closer, and your voice drops to a whisper. “Because I like talking. He’s here for something else.”

John Morris looks like reality just fired a warning shot at the back of his head. “OK, I’m sorry. All right? Tell Izzy I’m sorry. Tell her you scared the shit out of me and I’ve learned my lesson and I’ll never do it again. Tell her that was the last time, I promise. Please?”

You raise your voice to its regular level again, still comparatively low because that’s how you always speak. You make people stop what they’re doing and pay attention. You make them shut up and listen. “Have you got anything to drink? Anything strong?”

“You want a drink?”

“I didn’t say I wanted it. I asked if you have it.”

“There’s rum in the top cupboard, the one in the corner.”

I open the cupboard and take out an almost-full bottle of some corner shop poison that barely qualifies as rum.

You take half a step back and swing the knife around again, before holding the point over his heart. “Are you on any medication, John Morris?”

“What the..? Why?”

“Answer. The. Question.” You tap the blade against his chest to punctuate each word.

He swallows heavily. It’s the sound of someone doing their best not to vomit. “If you want drugs, they’re in the bathroom cabinet. Sleeping pills and painkillers. Strong ones. Lots of them. Take them. Please. Take them.”

You tilt your head from side to side and your neck cracks. I can’t remember if you did that when we met or if it’s another place where we’ve merged. “Lots of them. Good. Let’s go into the bathroom.”

He leads the way, your hand on his shoulder and the knife against his back. The bathroom is small, so you follow him in and I stand at the door.

“What are you going to do to me?” he asks, voice shaking.

“Nothing, technically,” you tell him. “Now, get those pills and take all of them. Every last one. Right now. Wash them down with water from the sink where we can see you.”

His eyes widen in realisation. “But that’ll kill me.”

“Probably. It might not, though.” Your lightning-strike smile is back and I want to freeze every part of this experience in my mind so I can walk through the memory over and over again forever. “Let’s find out.”

He panics and tries to run past you, avoiding the knife. You let him, because stabbing him is not part of the plan and it would be too much to clean up. He makes it to where I’m standing, but there’s no getting away. I catch him and hold him firmly by the face. “Either you take the pills yourself or I’ll break your jaw and force them down your throat. Those are your options.” I’m not going to break his jaw. It wouldn’t fit with the narrative we’re creating for whoever finds him. But he doesn’t know that.

He starts to cry and I have to fight not to roll my eyes because it would ruin the whole aesthetic. I grip his face harder. Not hard enough to bruise, but hard enough to hurt. “Take the pills, John.”

You open the mirrored cabinet above the sink, lift out three bottles with prescription labels, and hand them to him. “Do it. You never know. It might not be enough to kill you. Or we might let you go in time to get help. But you have to take them. Swallow like a good boy.”

He starts pleading, and it’s pathetic. It’s boring. People don’t realise how dull it is when they think they’re saying something you’ve never heard before. No-one begging for their life is ever particularly imaginative or original.

You sigh, the mask of patience slipping for only a fraction of a second, long enough to reveal the pure, dangerous core of your potential. “Take the pills or I’ll slit your fucking throat right here and you’ll never get to find out if we would’ve let you go in time if you’d done what you were told.”

Finally, he nods and cries and nods some more, then gulps down handfuls of pills and water from the sink between sobs. “OK. There. I’m sorry. Please. Tell Izzy I’ll never do it again. Just let me go. Please.” He’s a broken record. Maybe we’re doing Izzy a favour, but I don’t care and she’ll never know. Still, the result is the same. Everyone gets something out of this. Except for John Morris.

I open the bottle of rum and hold it out. “Here. Drink this. Slowly, so you don’t throw up the pills.”

“No, please—”

“Drink it,” you instruct, and your voice is stunning, captivating, everything. It melts me.

John Morris takes the rum and swallows it like someone well accustomed to consuming large quantities of cheap spirits. By the time he reaches the bottom of the bottle, he’s swaying on his feet and you only have to make one quick movement in his direction for him to fall backwards into the bath, cracking his head hard on the tap on his way down. As with Alan Gerrit, there is no physical contact. You don’t push him.

In the view of whoever finds him, this was an accident. During a suicide. Either twice the tragedy or no tragedy at all.

He lands in the empty tub with his chin pushed against his chest, compressing his airway. Even if he’s still breathing after the pills and the rum and the head injury, he won’t be for long. And this. This is what I’m here for.

You put the knife back in the kitchen and I kneel beside the bath and wait for John Morris’s heart to stop beneath my hand. When I stand up, the world is finally steady again. He isn’t breathing, but I am. I can.

You’re waiting for me, watching, and I memorise in as much detail as possible how I look in your eyes before we leave.

[November Breaks] NOW | 31 | Brett

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THURSDAY 7TH FEBRUARY 2019

This is both the same place and somewhere completely different. It’s when you went home and I went with you the night after we met. It’s your iceberg blue digital clock and morning cigarettes at the living room window. It’s you grinding coffee beans in the kitchen and me dealing with work on the phone and doing my best to avoid dealing with it in person. It was your couch and now it’s a couch. Your shower. A shower. Your bed. A bed.

It was the wall next to your front door and your hand around my throat and your teeth sinking into my lip and it still is, now, tonight. Officially, we’re here to check everything is where it’s supposed to be and nothing has been damaged before someone else moves in. You’re supposed to sign something about it. You’re supposed to be more interested than you are.

You pull back. “Brett?”

“What?”

“You’re miles away.”

I snake my arms around your neck. “I’m right here.”

You lean your forehead against mine. “You aren’t.”

You’re right, kind of, but I’m about ten more seconds of unresolved need away from not giving a shit that it isn’t your bed in the other room anymore. Although technically it is, I guess. You still own the place and everything in it, even though you don’t live here now. I try to nudge you towards an insignificant confrontation, because I know where that leads. “Stop projecting.”

“Yeah.” You stand up straight and take a step away. “You’re right. I’m projecting. I’m distracted. I don’t know.”

Fuck. That backfired. This is one of the very rare times when I don’t want to be right. Today has already been clouded by unmet expectation, and I’m frustrated and pissed off. People don’t think I’m frustrated and pissed off. People don’t think about what they’re thinking. There are too many layers to this. I’m doing it again.

And the meetings I didn’t have the patience for earlier and the closure that didn’t come. And that table in that bar and dinner with you and the drive over here and how close you were and how much every cell in my body was reaching for you the entire time. And now. Now we’re here and you’re fucking distracted.

I curl my fingers into the front of your coat and pull you towards me. It echoes endless stolen moments, a tradition that began the first time you came to Allegra and we walked to the lift following a casual handshake as if you were there about work. Then the doors slid closed, and I did exactly this thing with my back against the mirrored wall and an eyebrow arched over your shoulder towards the security camera I knew was there but didn’t mention to you. You probably knew. We both knew, and neither of us said anything.

Anyway.

This is all going exactly where I want it to until you pull back again and I swear to god—

“Let’s just do what we need to do here and go.”

“Aren’t we already doing what we need to do here?” It’s worth a try.

“That’s not what I meant.”

“What did you mean?”

“I thought it would feel different, being here.”

“Doesn’t it?”

“It’s different from before, obviously. But I thought it would feel different from how it feels now.” You sigh deeply. “It feels empty.”

And I get it. “Everything changes, but nothing changes enough.”

“Something like that.” You hold out a hand.

I take it. “Do you want to stop on the way home and walk?”

You lead me into the living room. “Where?”

And the kitchen. “Anywhere. I don’t know. Park up somewhere and walk around until we don’t want to walk around anymore.”

And back through the living room. “Why?”

And into the bathroom. “Because. Burn off the emptiness.”

And the bedroom. “You’re being very sensible. Balanced, even. It’s not like you.”

I look at the bed, then at you, then at the bed again. “How much do you want me to be like me right now?”

You smile, and it takes the weight of years off your face. “Come on. Let’s go. Drive and walk. That’s what we both need.”

You lock up and we leave and get in the car. You watch the empty road and I watch you.

After a while, you ask. You finally ask. “Is it because of Stefan?”

“I don’t think so. Maybe, but not like that. Not because I’m sad about it or I feel like I should be or anything. I can’t explain it.”

“And officially leaving work?”

“Perhaps that more than Stefan.” The buildings are lower now, less glass and more brick, more potholes in the roads. The houses are small, interspersed with blocks of flats. “Here. Park here.”

You pull up in an empty space in an area that serves as residential parking and we get out and walk. Neither of us says anything, but there’s still a connection in the silence.

Up ahead, a man and a woman argue as they make their way towards a bus shelter. Their voices get louder and the man’s wallet falls from his pocket, but he doesn’t notice. Then the bus arrives at the shelter at the same time they do and the woman gets on and yells something as the doors close. The man stands and shouts at the closed doors, then at the side of the bus, then at the taillights as they swing around the corner.

I stop and pick up his wallet and we watch him walk away as I open it and take out his driving licence. We both read his name and address. I put the piece of printed plastic with the unflattering photograph back into the compartment I took it out of. “Him.”

You know exactly what I mean. “Why him?”

I tuck the wallet into my pocket and reach for your hand. “Why not?”

[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.”