I walked carefully down the cobbled path under the giant archways of the Byker Bridge. I had started to think of them as Mindfulness Cobbles, since I always had to concentrate when walking on them. It was good practise, brought me right into the moment. My stomach lurched as I rounded the corner and the seats came into view. I was late and Adam was waiting for me.
I walked back to the flat in a daze, mind on a loop trying to work out how I’d missed Adam and how fast you would have to walk to disappear that quickly, unless he was going round behind the farm along the river, perhaps that was it, I’d have to check, when I nearly ran into Jonah. He was hanging about on the corner opposite The Ship, wrapped up in his duffel coat and evidently waiting for me.
I sat in a pool of sunlight pouring through the long Velux, amplified and focused by the glass. Propped up on a cushion, struggling to keep my back straight, I fidgeted and rubbed my knees. I was supposed to be watching my breath. Adam said I could count them if it helped, but I kept getting lost. How could I lose count when I’m only counting to ten? I looked at the dust encrusted smudges on the window vaulting over my head and fought the urge to jump up and get out my cleaning kit.
Adam wasn’t there when I arrived at the concrete seats. I leaned over the fence and watched the river tumble by, my breath condensing in the frigid air. A polite cough sounded behind me and I turned. Adam was sitting on one of the seats dressed in his usual exquisite tailored suit, having made no concession to the weather. I blew into my gloved hands and sat opposite him.
I slammed the front door behind me, swept through to the living room, and flung myself on the sofa. Jonah was composing on his synth at his computer in the corner, headphones clamped to his ears. He slipped them off and spun his chair to face me.
‘What happened?’ he said, looking worried.
‘He’s a nut job.’
As soon as I walked through the supermarket doors I wanted to turn around and walk out again. I was still feeling jangled from my latest encounter with weirdness, like my skin had been pulled off. It was early, so Morrisons wasn’t too busy, but the light still hurt my eyes and the vacuous music still made me want to shove radishes in my ears. I couldn’t filter out the noise like I normally would. I couldn’t filter anything out. Walking down the aisles was an assault course, stacks of products all screaming for attention, arranged deliberately to confuse, so you end up buying stuff you don’t want, let alone need. Nobody needed this much choice. It was a conspiracy of consumption. It was unhealthy.
Fragmented images flashed and swirled about me, none of them lasting long enough to decipher. It was the tail end of a convoluted dream that had confused me even while I was having it, and I wanted to wake up and get back to reliable, linear reality. At last, I struggled into consciousness and lay with my eyes squeezed shut. I wanted to be awake, but didn’t want to get up. The weather had been frigid lately, and I knew once I emerged from the duvet, bits of me would start to freeze. The acidic tang of coffee hit my nose and made me think I was lying on the sofa downstairs. Disoriented, I opened my eyes and saw an envelope with my name on it leaning against a steaming mug on the floor beside the futon. I frowned at it, utterly baffled, until I remembered it was Christmas Day.