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die welt ist fort

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The building is as quiet as ever when Yuri gets back home; there’s only the sound of her high heels echoing in the empty corridors to fill the silence. There’s something haunting in the stillness of it all, but she has learned to take comfort in it. She likes to imagine that it’s the safeness of her home—that relief she only feels after closing the door behind her— that has burst out of her apartment and invaded the rest of the floors to come welcome her and escort her the way up.

The elevator ride always takes long. She gets off, and pushes the door to her apartment to find the place almost in darkness. It’s that time of the day when the natural light is at the same time too much and not enough. Outside, the city view is fading into constellations of neon lights that faintly map the urban landscape. Against the picture window, she can make her husband’s silhouette hunched over the table in concentration.

“You are back,” he says, as she steps out of her shoes and hangs her coat in the entrance.

“You are going to hurt your eyes working in the dark,” she turns the lights on and heads to the kitchen. “Water?”

“No, thank you,” he says, rubbing his eyes in exhaustion. “How was your date?”

“Oh, you remembered?” she says as she opens the fridge to investigate.

“Of course I did,” she hears him say from the other room. “It sounded like you really liked this girl.”

There’s barely any food inside—just some beers they bought last week and a couple of lactose-free yoghurts Keiju probably forgot he had bought. This place default state is still bareness. Its emptiness is a weed that always sprouts back if they stop paying attention.

She pours a glass of water for herself and takes one of the few apples left in the basket over the counter. At least today she doesn’t even have to wonder if Keiju skipped his dinner again.

“It was nice,” she says, heading to the living room and flopping by his side. “We watched a new film from a director she liked, then we had dinner at that restaurant I told you about last week, though I didn’t have anything to drink, since I was driving.” 

It came off wrong, she realizes belatedly. She made it sound like a list of chores she had to get through instead of a date. But she had enjoyed herself. Yuri had been perfectly happy just half an hour ago, thinking about stolen kisses and linked arms, before all that giddiness and excitement had got lost on the way home like some missing luggage.

If Keiju picks up on it, he doesn’t let it show. He seems too focused on his work to notice, anyway, since he doesn’t even look back at her when he smirks and says, “sounds like a total success.”

She leans closer to him to take a look at his papers. “School work?”

“Yeah,” he smiles, a bit apologetic. “I binge-watched that show you recommended me and ended up falling behind.”

“Oh, my,” she laughs. “Sorry about that.”

On normal circumstances, Keiju is not the type to binge do anything—self-control incarnated as he is. That’s why she always recommends shows to him without giving it much thought, since he will probably never watch them anyway. But stress can turn anyone into strangers, and the end of the semester is always the worst time of the year for him: these weeks in which he’s trapped between all the stress from the past months and the promise of a break that seems farther the closer it gets.

She can’t even remember which show he's talking about, but she doesn’t ask. She takes a sip from her glass, her eyes focused on some imaginary horizon.

“This girl from today,” she says, almost to herself. “She didn’t know I was an actress.”

“Really?” he asks, skeptical. “How is that possible?”

“She doesn’t watch TV, apparently.”

“I should learn a thing or two from her,” he says, and Yuri laughs at the blatant misery of his tone and rubs his back to offer some sort of comfort. She remembers the clinical cleanness of the kitchen, and wonders if dinner would do the trick.

“I think you would like her,” she says instead, hopes.

She met her over a month ago, in a photography class Yuri had just enrolled in. She caught her eye from the beginning, with her brooding yet assertive air. It hadn’t been hard to get her attention, that first day, after playing the damsel in distress card with her new camera that was truly too complex for her anyway. Yuri enjoyed her anonymity and let her do most of the talking the first times they went out drinking. And it had been nice, in a way she had forgotten things could be.

Her cover did get blown, though, eventually, when the rest of her classmates finally gathered the courage to ask her if she was who they thought she was. It made no difference: all she got from her was a shameless smile and an accusation of being a sneaky fox. And Yuri had liked that too. 

She takes a bite off her apple, hoping to stop her train of thoughts. She can feel Keiju’s gaze studying her, and she waits in silence for him to voice whatever he thinks she sees on her.

“Does she know about me?”

She stares back at him then, defiant. It’s the most present she has felt in the past hour. It takes her a few seconds to resist the urge to hurt him back. It’s just that—why is he still asking these questions? Isn’t she worthy of his trust? She sighs, closes her eyes. This is important. In this, they can’t afford misunderstandings.

“Of course she does,” she says, putting her hand over his. “I wouldn’t date someone who is not okay with us.”

She knows it can look weird from an outsider’s perspective: a married woman openly dating other women while having zero intention of leaving her husband. It had been a challenge to explain to people that yes, he wasn’t her romantic partner but no, they were still together on their own right and there were no divorce plans. It turned out to be a deal breaker for many. Yuri had let those people go. 

Whatever, she couldn’t care less about how it looked to outsiders. But sometimes, when her cynicism is at its peak, she can’t help but bitterly remember how she’d had an easier time when people had thought she was cheating. The world is full of lies. But that’s how people are, so easily satisfied with fake things. 

She likes to believe she is different now.

“You do know I won’t give you up for someone else, right?” 

“I know,” he says, taking her hand to his mouth to kiss her knuckles. “I’m just trying to understand why, if the date was so good, do you look so sad?”

So, he did notice. Any remnants of her resent anger finally leave her system, and all that’s left behind is guilt. She feels tears pooling in her eyes and quickly hides her face behind his shoulder.

“Today is the 20th.”

“I know.”

“Well, I didn’t,” she snaps. “I forgot. I forgot and I scheduled a date. On the 20th.”

She sits back abruptly, putting some distance between them. She can’t handle his proximity when she just to confessed to the only person who can understand the extent of her sin. The only one who can absolve her, and the only one who can pass sentence on her.   

Because it’s been almost twenty years, twenty years that could be a month or an eternity. She’s not sure there’s such a thing as time in a world that is no more. Twenty years, and she’s scared of how far she has come. But she still clings to her wounds, and she can’t let them close now. She can’t have Momoka knocking at her wounds to find them close. That’s the only thing that still ties them together. Because after twenty years, there aren’t even loose ends left to hold onto.

“There’s nothing wrong with that,” Keiju tries, caressing her hair with a timid hand. “You have had dates on the 20th before.”

“Self-destructive flings are different,” she says, almost feral. “This was an actual date. With someone I like. And I forgot,” her voice breaks this time. “I don’t want to move on, Keiju. I hate this. I don’t want this.”

It takes one sob to have Keiju wrapping his arms around her. And weak as she is, she lets him. But she shouldn’t, this is not what she wants. She wants to be punished—she deserves to be punished, not to be embraced like this.  

“Yuri,” he says, so soft, like a prayer. “You don’t have anything to prove. The day Momoka died, is the day we started dying. This pain is a part of us, and the best we can do is let the parts that are still alive live their lives. Let yourself be happy, she won’t go anywhere: she’s here in the love we have for each other.”

She wants to be punished, why isn’t he punishing her? She had promised herself she wouldn’t let herself be comforted by empty words. What a hypocrite she is, just like him. He who is always so collected, telling lies he is not strong enough to make come true. But she is even worst, because after all these years, she still believes him. He makes it so easy, and she feels so safe between his arms.

If he’s lying—she wonders if she can do this for him, being strong enough to let herself be happy. Then maybe, just maybe, she will make it possible for him too. 

They stay like that for a while, even after she stopped crying. She wipes the drying tears from her face with the back of her hand and slowly disentangles herself from him.

“I made you waste your time again,” she says , her voice thin, and points vaguely to his papers.

“Not at all,” he offers weakly.

She hates how seen she feels in the silence.

“Well, look at you,” she says, a pitiful attempt at a smile on her lips. “All mature and level-headed.”

Keiju gets the sign, and she can see in his eyes the moment he puts the mask back on.

“What can I say?” he asks, and laughs. The hand she had held just moments before scratches the back of his head in faked shyness. “Love changes people.”

Maybe he is becoming a bad liar, because it does feel like he’s only half joking. Yuri clings with her nails to the half that means it and keeps it close to her heart in case she needs it later. But she doesn’t dwell on it now, not when she feels the knot on her throat tightening again. Lord—if this isn’t why she hates crying. She still hasn’t learned how to stop hating this type of weakness.

So, she turns her hands into fists and kisses the crown of his head instead.

“I’m going to sleep, don’t stay up too long.”

“I won’t,” he says, and gives her one of his small reassuring smiles. 

Yuri doesn’t go to bed immediately, though. First, she scrolls down her phone until she finds a delivery place that sells a curry with plenty of potatoes and no carrots, just how he likes it. It’s still curry day after all.

That night, she goes to sleep hoping that his love will change her too, one day. Hoping that maybe, as sleep comes without struggle, it has been changing her already.