At 5:24pm a year ago yesterday, I hit ‘Send’ on the last email I would send as a digital account manager. It made the cute sound of an aeroplane taking off, lifting my trepidation about the future with it on a journey into the big blue digital sky. I then navigated to my email settings and composed an Out Of Office auto-reply for the rest of all time. It said:
“Carpe Diem, bitches!”
And with that, I threw on my coat, strode into the hall and prised open the lift doors with my bare hands, sliding down the cables and arriving at the foot of the shaft with the faintest of squeaks. A roundhouse kick sent the ground floor doors flying.
‘Sorry about the mess,’ I drawled as I stepped through the dust.
The receptionist laughed it off as she usually did and threw my rhinestoned cowboy hat into the air. I caught it on my head in one deft motion, like a salmon leaping from torrid waters. Time slowed so that the universe could savour the moment that little bit longer.
The silver coins in my back pocket tinkled lightly as I hit the ground and kicked my heels once – twice – three times. Clasping the brim of my hat, I gave it a tip in the receptionist’s direction. ‘See ya later, kiddo,’ I smiled, strutting into the sunset, ready to toast the world; to toast myself. The light reflecting from my hat was blinding, bringing all of Deansgate to a standstill.
The pub was a new place I’d heard about called The Dreamer’s Pillow, about 20 minutes’ walk away. It stood on its own on the outer fringes of Manchester’s Northern Quarter, where the cosmopolitan centre brushes against the city’s abandoned industrial past. It was covered in reams of ivy shivering and rippling in the evening breeze. I thought of fish scales glinting underwater, and looked at the dark windows for a moment, before stepping towards the entrance.
The battered wooden doors gave a groan as I pushed against them, first with my hands, and then with my whole weight behind my shoulder. It yielded eventually and I stepped inside. The lights were out. The only sounds came from the street.
I struck a match on my thigh and held it up slowly, to see what had happened.