It was already the start of December and I was wondering if I was the only person who noticed that although it was cold and the leaves had turned into crispy rolls and fallen to the ground, not a drop of rain had fallen since that storm. I was aware that I had been waiting for winter to arrive, but like all British seasons it had crept in without anyone realising.

The mornings were so beautiful that I looked forward to walking to the station with the ground sparkling under my office shoes. I loved the sharpness of the air in my mouth and the skeletal trees spread like veins on the clear sky.

It was such a contrast to the office with its repressive atmosphere, the grey dullness permeating me as soon as I stepped into the building so it was as if I’d never left.

It didn’t help that every morning when she got in, Kim had started singing to Young Nathan. The first one was Last Christmas, then Silent Night, then Deck the Halls. I thought of that story about a kid in a chemistry exam who poked two pens into his eyes and slammed his head against the desk.

I decided that I would steal a new pen from the box up the back for every time I had to listen to it.

The day of Santa Baby, I stole three.

I started to eat my lunch outside, amongst the blackened trees and the frosty white grass in the green space down the road. Because of the phones, I was always alone, and sitting in the office while everyone carried on typing around me didn’t feel like a break.

Sometimes when I’d finished my sandwiches but didn’t feel like reading, I’d sit with my hands in my coat pockets, waiting for time to pass until I had to go back to work.

Sometimes I decided that there had to be another life out there, waiting for me to step into it like a new shoe. My life felt as if it didn’t match me at all, as if I’d picked up the wrong one by accident. I’d arrived here by mistake, taken a wrong turning on the map. I imagined that I was a character in a video game, and there was a button for a trapdoor, to take me to the next level, somewhere else, anywhere else, and all I had to do was find it.

I looked at the cloudless sky and wondered if the season had been sent to us as a last reminder of beauty before a huge black storm gurgled out of the sea and swallowed us all whole.


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