From the dark, weathered heights of the old city walls it was freezing. This high above town there was no warmth, no cover, no respite against the chill bite of December. Even Tammy’s leathers were no defence against the merciless cold. She couldn’t imagine how Jake felt.
It was all so breath-taking. From their vantage point, the entirety of the high street sprawled out before them, a landscape of flickering lights across the blanket of night. Ruby reds, verdant greens, glinting golds, all of them dancing on and off, as random and indeterminate as the weather was cold. She’d lived her whole life in Southampton, had never ventured more than a few miles from the city, and yet here she was, staring down at it all through a perspective previously unknown.
And it was unknown, she realised, as a hundred tiny lights waxed and waned in the darkness. This was more than coffee shops and motorbikes and rundown terraced housing. It was more than money and old people and Christmas. It was beautiful.
‘How did you find this place?’
From beside her, Jake shivered into his jacket. The city below reflected in his bright, wide eyes, which stared off into middle-space. He shrugged non-committedly.
‘You know,’ he started, ‘I read in a newspaper that more than five cups of coffee a day and you start hearing things.’
‘Bing Crosby, to be precise. White Christmas.’
A hundred different festive songs played out in Tammy’s mind, heard by her during her past few weeks at Revive, and she suddenly felt somewhat concerned for her health. ‘That would explain a lot.’
‘They found...that...’ Jake scrunched up his face with the effort of concentration. ‘They found that people who were more stressed and counted high levels of caffeine in their bloodstream experienced psychosis-like symptoms. Basically, they went crazy.’
‘Hearing Bing Crosby in their heads... Yeah, they went crazy. I wouldn’t worry,’ he added, catching her concerned face, ‘you’re hardly on five-a-day. Not just yet, anyway.’
Smiling to herself, safe in the knowledge it was dark, Tammy turned back to the city. If she looked to her left, the high street stretched on like a glittering runway, ready and waiting for Father Christmas to bring down his sleigh, but if she looked to her right, she could see the docks. They too stretched on, all down the coastline; the bay where the big, expensive boats – worth more than her whole street combined – were moored, the marina, where the comfortably rich could eat and gamble, and then the water itself, a vast spill of deep blackness. She could hear the little waves as they slapped against Southampton, and it occurred to her that while the sea was black at night, it was not the same black as the filter coffees they served at work. This black was different; it was inky and fluid and somehow more mysterious to Tammy. Much more like the oil that sometimes leaked from her bike and the way it would occasionally ripple when it caught the light. Once more she realised it was beautiful.
There was nothing beautiful about the filter coffee. That black was hollow and lifeless and dull.
‘I’d just finished one of my first few shifts,’ muttered Jake absently, his words almost snatched away by the buffeting winds. ‘Couldn’t have been more than... I can’t remember, I guess it must have been ages ago now. But I remember feeling tired and lost. The alley, where Revive is... Coffee Cat was there, the first time I saw him. But the alley, it’s the wrong end of town. Anyway, I ended up here. Thought I’d be able to get my bearings, get left and right and up and down sorted in my head. So I took these stairs – it was cold and slippery then, too, perhaps I was a Christmas temp? – and here I was.’
‘What’s it actually called?’
‘A turret, I think. A part of the old city walls. Mostly tourists come up here, to look around and read up on history. My mum took me on a tour, when I was about ten.’ He tapped an information stand, to his left. ‘All I know is, now I come here to clear my head.’
‘Well, it was nice of you to show me. It’s... It’s lovely.’
The shivering silhouette that was Jake moved, half-turned in the darkness. ‘That’s what I figured. And no problem, always happy to help. Merry Christmas, Tams.’
This excerpt comes from Thomas James Brown’s self-published novel ‘Revive’, released this month. To read more and purchase a copy, visit www.tbrownonline.com.