red sunsetShort Stories

The Red in the Sky is Ours

The grey rays of a tired mid-Winter early morning broke through the silver-blue clouds still pregnant with snow. Behind the frozen mist, a metallic sky hung closely to the cemented earth. Feeling my frozen fingers, I found myself in that strange crepuscular moment of transitioning to a different regime of light: although the night was slowly giving way to the day, its pale, ivory light and tranquillity dominated the pre-dawn hours that day. It felt as if time abandoned the world, and I was walking tangentially with the diminishing sands of my hourglass.

A slow vapour rotated out of my nostrils, spreading chaotically into the cold air as I tried to regulate my breathing and conserve as much energy as I could. I had to keep my body warm: I was not dressed properly for the Winter weather, darker and colder, with the temperature probably dropping to minus ten or eleven Celsius. Only a thin crème jacket was covering a cotton shirt which was buttoned all the way up. An indigo scarf around my neck; wool, but not thick enough. I felt as if I could peer through the material, like one does through worn out linen cloth, and gaze at my skeleton rattling under the cold.

My jeans were tight and stuck against the hardened flesh of my legs, providing some protection against the winter spirits harassing my body; but the defence crafted by my trousers was almost nullified by my wet feet. I lost my socks the night before, after many hours of dancing under neon lights that vomited their toxic beams on my skull as loud music vibrated through my organs, moving my heart where my stomach was and my stomach where my lungs were, replacing the internal order of my body.

It did not help that it snowed and some of the wetness was absorbed by the brown leather of my boots, forming patches of dark maroon, like a sunken cancer that kissed my toes every time I stepped, crushing in a high pitched squeak the snow underneath. Sometimes, a patch of ice would succumb to my weight, cracking like a set of teeth hit by a revolutionary’s metal capped boot.

I kept both of my hands in the pockets of my jacket, but my fingers were stiff and the skin on them turned bright pink, tightening on the clenched bones.

With a sour taste on my tongue, as one has after a night of consuming too much alcohol, and with red, tired eyes, I was walking home. A half an hour, maybe a forty-five minutes, journey from the clubbing venue to the apartment block where I rented a studio flat.

My mouth was dry, and my tongue felt like a dying slug trying to find some moisture to burry itself and regain some vitality. But my buccal cavity was so sandy that my teeth burnt, and my tongue stuck painfully to the roof of my mouth, amplifying the sour taste. I covered my lips, which cracked because of the cold and the dehydration, with the scarf, trying to keep my breath warm; the last thing I wanted was a sore throat.

Although the club, which was called “The Vipers”, was located on the main street, or the boulevard, as some of my friends called it, to get to my place, I had to walk through narrow streets where cars were parked on the sidewalk, leaving no room for pedestrians. Not only that my body was weakened after a night of drinking and was continuously shivering in an attempt to warm itself up, but now I had to focus on dodging the pointy mirrors that, when hit, even at the slow speed with which I was moving, were hurting my body like metal hammers.

The light around me seemed to get dimmer, as if the day was shy to reveal itself. The night always seemed eternal – there was no twilight of the moon, and no dawn to the darkness of the night and therefore, when the velvet blackness wrapped the world, it always felt like eternity asserted itself.

A few street lamps irradiating faint, golden beams guided my path. The time was probably almost six in the morning, but the sun was almost two hours from being up in the sky. However, even when the burning ball of nuclear matter was at its peak, a circle of fire pinned above mankind, its light couldn’t often penetrate the charcoal clouds that seemed like the sick coughs of the city: a disgusting fog of effort and progress, the result of achievements and steel.

Row after row of closely parked cars started to resemble a large, colourful chain. The white snow was now a dirty, brown mud. Puddles and ice at every step. This was a typical neighbourhood in a relatively central area inside this metropolis – a large gathering of concrete towers, glass skyscrapers and grey, gigantic, squares in which people would go and buy food and stuff, often made of plastic, sometimes of cotton and rarely of wood. Colourful advertisements for toothpaste, credit cards and the upcoming winter holidays were displayed at every corner on every street, no matter how short or narrow: every inch was owned by the so-called creative industry. Some companies had more money than others however, and their adverts were accompanied by violently pulsating fluorescent lights – red, white, green and blue, blinking spasmodically around words and drawings, highlighting the supposed happiness that would bestow upon the mind and body of the lucky man or woman who would buy and consume their products and services.

My route home was surrounded by apartment blocs that were utterly Soviet: dim-looking monsters of concrete, with acute angles that looked like horns and a thousand black eyes that lighted a bright yellow as the dwellers turned on the light in their small apartments. The balconies, paralysed mouths on which frozen clothes, plastic chairs and some dead plants hung depressingly. A terrifyingly large prison with tiny windows that stared at another prison, which faced another such construction and so on for miles and miles – that is what a city is: a wide, economic penitentiary.

After zig-zagging through the slender streets, dodging the cars and focusing on how I placed each step in order to avoid slipping and breaking my hand or ankle, I finally got to the door of the apartment bloc where my studio was located at the fourth floor. I pushed the door. It screeched terribly, echoing a high pitched sound on the entire ten level staircase. From the darkness of the bloc, a cold scent of piss and old cigar smoke hit my nostrils. I gaged.

The elevator was broken, so I had to go up the stairs. After the first two flight of stairs, just when I reached the first floor, I heard a violent commotion coming from somewhere above me. A man roared at a woman, screaming to get out, calling her names and throwing some heavy object against his apartment door: the thud echoed through the stairway like a thunder. I looked up for a moment, but I had a mild headache and as I turned my head upwards, the pain stung my eyeballs, forcing me to keep my head down and focus on getting to my studio.

The shouts went back and forth, the woman was now accusing him of something unjust while he was doing the same thing. As the communication broke down, the door from the apartment opened. For a moment, it was total silence. I even stopped to allow the seducing calm awash over me. My body felt soft, like a feather. I felt as if I could lay on my back, but, as I closed my eyes, instinctively my hand grabbed the red, plastic banister. I opened my eyes and took another step, reaching level two.

Another savage scream. I could tell that the man shouted at the woman to get out. It was a badly pronounced sentence, in range, maybe drunkenness. The door then closed shut, allowing the same silence, but this time stronger, to settle over the darkness of the bloc’s staircase.

After listening for a few moments, to see if the woman was going to head down, hearing nothing, I made my way up to the third floor. It was then when I began hearing timid steps coming down from the fifth level. Despite the not-so-mild hangover, I made the connection instantly: what happened was that my neighbour who lived just above my place had a prostitute over and now that the show was over, he raged and kicked her out. He used to pay women for sexual pleasure almost every weekend. Therefore, the fact that this altercation happened was nothing new – however, the ungodly hour at which it did was uncommon, and it was the novelty of it all that bothered me the most.

My neighbour was a single man in his late fifties, based on the look of his body for I had never spoken with him. He used to work at the post office, unloading parcels from dirty trains and trucks into another stinking warehouse. Despite living there for some years, I had not bothered to get to know him – in fact, I didn’t meet any of my neighbours. Such was the way of the city: modern life imposed its own rhythm on us, eliminating such luxuries as meeting and greeting the humans that ate, slept and died next door. 

I only met the man who lived above my studio a few times and always in a rush to get to work or to enter my place and close the door behind me, quickly, as if a demon was hunting me. I remember that his face was fat and dry skin covered it. Green, tiny eyes and even smaller lips that probably hid bad teeth, or so I imagined.

The woman made her way down to the fourth level. I too reached my door. She was behind me, slowly heading towards the next flight of stairs. I didn’t want to turn and look at her: why would I? Whatever happened it was none of my business. Plus, I was tired and slightly annoyed that I had to put up with all that noise in my weakened condition. I put my key in the lock and, with a smooth move, I turned it twice to unlock.

However, just as I opened my door and got in, I turned my head to just glance at this prostitute. A freezing current stroke my entire body, rooting me in place: I knew this woman quite well…from high school.

Her blue eyes spotted me, but she didn’t seem to recognise me. Or, if she did remember me, she was too ashamed or hurt to say anything, for she bowed her head slightly and wanted to keep walking when I whispered:

‘Veronica?’

She stopped and looked at me once more. A subtle but forced smile creeped across her pale face. ‘Hey…’

A salute without any energy, without any force to conjure any more feelings and show that she cared – politeness was a luxury for those in the corporate world, not for us, the maggots of everyday life.

Her thin crimson dress hung over undulated white shoulders that prolonged into two pale arms with long fingers. A blue nail polish and a faded lipstick in hues of bright red stood out against her pale skin. Veronica was carrying her cheap-looking winter coat over her left arm, hanging like a dark shadow, while holding with a tight grip a shiny black bag in the right hand.

The very next thing I said was “do you want to come in?” I do not know why I said it, but the words seemed to escape my mouth without my brain being able to control them. For a moment which felt heavy and as long as an entire day, Veronica stood there, perhaps thinking this over.

It was indeed a very unusual situation. We had not seen each other in many years, and now our lives intersected in the hallway of a dirty apartment bloc, at the crack of dawn on a dim Winter day, herself a prostitute and myself even worse: a worker at a supermarket chain a few kilometres away.

‘Yes.’ Veronica whispered and walked towards the door which I pushed wide open as if a large creature was going to pass through it. I invited her to sit down at my kitchen table which was also part of the living room. She sat down and placed her coat on the third chair, next to her left. On the table, Veronica let go of the blag bag, which she pushed slightly to the left, towards the coat, as if the two were part of a set.

‘I suggest you keep the coat on you,’ I said without taking off my jacket. ‘It gets cold in here as I have not paid the heating this month.’ I spoke the last few words from my room where I changed my socks. Clean, dry socks put a slime on my face. I felt more human.

When I returned to the kitchen slash living room area, Veronica had the coat around her. Her eyes stared at me intently, following my body as it tried to contained the shivers: it was already too cold for me as my weakened state amplified the impact of the low temperature.

‘Coffee?’ I asked while starting to pour some water in a kettle. ‘Yes, thank you.’ Veronica replied with a soft smile. A creeping sign of politeness: she must feel safe, I thought.

Her eyes kept following my every move. I could feel them caressing the contour of my body. Two icy blue balls of pure energy, like bright stars rotating deep in the darkness of the galaxy.

The blaze on the cooker burst with a loud puff: blue and red flames engulfed the kettle. I left the water to boil and sat down across the table from Veronica. My mind was blank. She was looking at me, tired but happy to see me. At least that is how I felt the energy coming off her radiating face. Then, examining her body more closely, I noticed a purple mark under her small chin. A smudge of indigo that, in part, turned into a painful black. She noticed my eyes fixating on the aftermath of violence and said calmly:

‘It’s part of the job. A hazard of my profession. Don’t worry.’ I nodded and moved my eyes away from the scar. ‘How have you been?’ Her sweet voice broke the invisible barrier with that question.

‘Good, I think. I have been good,’ I said, putting my hands together on the table, as if I was praying. ‘Nothing too special, you know…work, going out sometimes, reading, not much travel, the usual I suppose.’ I wanted to ask the same question but feared that her life would be an uncomfortable topic for her. However, Veronica’s immensely beautiful eyes begged me to ask it and I did, on the same tone that an academic questions reality.

‘Just living. Doing the best I can to be a decent human being. I know it may not look like it right now, but I try.’

‘Please, you don’t have to explain anything.’ The water began to boil. I stood up and put six heaped tea spoons of coffee into the bubbling kettle. The hot vapours eradiated warmth underneath my hands. It was a pleasant feeling: the opposite of dying.

I swirled in the black tar for a few seconds then shut the cooker, took the kettle on the table, placed it on a circular mat made of wood and put a small plate on top of it to let the coffee brew. I then took out two small cups of coffee from the cupboard above the cooker and offered one to Veronica and placed one down for myself.

‘We should let the coffee brew for a moment before we pour.’ She agreed with another smile.

Opening her leather bag, Veronica stuck her had inside it as if she penetrated the open mouth of a giant toad, took out a thin, white pack of cigarettes and popped one out. Gently, she placed the tobacco stick between her frail, dried lips which seemed to tremor as if her body struggled to muster the strength to keep the cigarette in place. After two tries with an old lighter, the tobacco began to burn, letting out a thin, grey fume that smelled like adolescence. She asked me if I smoked and pushed the pack towards me. I said that I did not but instinctively took one out. The contradiction did not seem to have any effect on the beautiful woman sitting across the table. I lighted up a slim cigarette and inhaled the smoke: even though it was one of the lightest tobacco products, the drag felt rough on my throat and struck my lungs with the force of a powerful punch. I enjoyed it. Death can be so delicious, I thought.

‘I haven’t seen you since high school,’ Veronica said, letting out a smooth trail of smoke.

‘That was the last time I smoked as well,’ I replied smiling and raising the cigarette as if I was giving a toast.

‘How long has it been? Ten years?’

‘Twelve, I think.’ I poured us some coffee. The scent of caffeine and the nicotine in the air complemented each other perfectly. The brown glow of the coffee bubbled into small globes of air that floated on the hot, black puddles in our cups.

‘I don’t have any milk, but do you want some sugar?’

‘It’s fine, thank you.’ Veronica took a sip of the coffee and, as she did not say anything about the drink, I assumed at least it was not terrible. That was good enough for me.

‘Twelve years…what did you do after that? I went to visit my friend back home but the day I arrived he died in a car accident. A lorry hit him from the side. He died instantly. Fractured his skull.’

I noticed how Veronica’s shape was brighter than the gloomy colours in the background: my studio was shrouded in the typical murky light of a Winter morning. Shades of grey and violet mixed together as if we are at the entrance of a cave. I turned my gaze towards her blue eyes that appear to be two piercing dots against a velvet night.

‘Adam died?’ She nodded, inhaling a long smoke. ‘I didn’t know. I’m sorry to hear that, even if is twelve years too late.’ Veronica looked at me, saying nothing. ‘I got a job after high school, some sort of administrative position in a small, local shop. I now work in a similar sort of administrative position in a bigger, global shop. I take care of shipments and sometimes I have to carry them myself, to make sure items get deposited in the right place.’

I did not want to ask what Veronica did for work. It felt too taboo, even if we met after she had been kicked out like a dirty whore from an even dirtier man’s apartment. She noted my reticence but did not hold back.

‘At least you don’t get thrown out at the crack of dawn on a cold day.’ Outside, the pale light of the early morning began to establish itself, revealing the depressing landscape of an industrialised, international city: a mix of Soviet apartment blocs, tall and dirty, surrounded by glass towers, bars and hotels, of different colours and shapes, presenting their brands and labels in bright letters on billboards and decoloured advertisements at the edge of mucky roads which were, for the most part, silent – it was still very early: a carnival of flesh and drunkenness took place the night before and most of the city’s inhabitants partook in it. Their bodies and minds needed rest, although their souls were forever lost at the edge of progress where a sea of needles and used condoms suffocated all our dreams.

A stray dog was licking a dirty puddle. Surrounding the brown-ish water that smelled like meat and suage, a crust of blue ice and some white snow that somehow managed to stay clean amidst the economic activity around attracted a rat, and soon a raven too. Thirst brought together the beasts just like the bars did a night before.

‘When did you move here?’ I asked while also trying to sip some coffee. My cigarette was burning itself without being smoked.

‘About a year ago. My mother died of cancer, and you remember about my father…he left when…’

‘…when you were five, yes.’ I took another sip of coffee, feeling how my heart rate was increasing. ‘I came here maybe five years ago. And just stayed. Don’t know why, but…’

‘You don’t like it here?’ Veronica posed the question with a slightly annoyed tone.

I leaned back, as if I defended myself, and, frowning my eyebrows, I began explaining what I believed to be a balanced assessment:

‘Given the world we live in, this place has its advantages. For one, it is big, and this means plenty of economic opportunities. It is also international, which can be quite fun sometimes, especially when meeting people from worse off parts of the globe. But it has no personality of its own. No identity. The history of this place has all but sold to big corporations and foreign governments. It feels sick, plagued by some sort of strange disease, like a putrid force that drains everyone of energy. Since I moved here, the only sentiment which I have felt persistently has been one of fatigue and suffocation, at the same time.’

Veronica did not disagree with what I said and the way she put off her cigarette confirmed this.

We spent more time talking, walking down the memory lane, gazing at places that now only lived in our recollections. When we both talked about the same thing however, it was brought back to life in very different, almost unique, ways: I highlighted certain features and Veronica described others. The same bench where we had our first kiss was remembered differently by the two of us. The same bed in which we made love and felt our warm bodies becoming one, the same words we whispered to each other, the same shops we visited, the same forests we walked through, even the same dreams and visions we built all those years back were now recalled differently. Through us, reality gave birth to itself once more, like a broken recycling process.

Our conversation continued all throughout the morning. It started snowing outside. Large, round snowflakes fell fast like meteors on the pavement, on the parked cars and on the coats of those who got out of their modern caves. Above, a nickel sky hung heavily above the city. The light was cold, and the air was still. The icy calm of death flooded the streets. Who could be mad or upset when nature was disembowelling itself in such a gentle spectacle of frozen water?

I realised that the time was now close to one in the afternoon. I offered Veronica something to eat: fried eggs and toasted bread. She thanked me and had a few more cigarettes and another half of cup of coffee while I cooked.

We ate two eggs each as we talked some more, making jokes about how silly we were when we were young and wild. We had not however reached the present: the dark moment in which our eyes had met on the stairway outside my studio, the story behind her walk of shame, the deep tentacles of my frustrations, the plague of professionalism and progress that forever destroyed the role of man in the world, none of these were even brushed. We stood far away from those dangerous pits of hell for we knew that what was about to come was far more painful.

As the afternoon draped over us, we felt more comfortable and began shifting the conversation away from the light-hearted topics to more serious items. An invisible agenda was unfolding according to plan, or so it felt.

We went into the only other area: my bedroom. A bed, neatly made, was surrounded by old books, mostly bought second hand as I had no money for those newly printed. The majority of those books were literature: I could not read anything that had a direct reference to the real world. Data, I hated. Political affairs, I found silly and evil. Any form of economic or scientific analysis attempted to narrow down the world to exact formulas and information, which was too tasteless for me. I needed to feed my soul something that was not as ephemeral as the world around me or as its by-products. Literature, good quality literature, with its timeless lessons and many realms that were indirectly connected to society, provided the right nutrients to feed upon in order to not go mad or commit suicide.

Veronica looked at the stacks of books surrounding my bed. The night drawer from which I got clean socks were closed only half way.

‘Please, sit down.’ I invited her with a hand gesture. I brought one of the two bottles of wine which I had in the fridge and two glasses. It was sweet red wine. I didn’t like to drink it at room temperature. It burnt my throat.

I poured Veronica a glass and myself one. I sat down next to her, on the bed and placed the glass on a stack of books, on top of Mishima’s Patriotism – a short play about the beauty and meaningfulness of ritual death, the opposite of suicide.

My guest did the same: she placed the glass on a stack of books, on top of Dostoevsky’s The Karamazov Brothers. The black-red liquid swirled gently inside the transparent elegant container and a small drop of velvet fluid fell on the old cover of the book, being instantly absorbed by the printed face of one of the brothers. A purple, sugary mark on that tome of mighty Russian literature.

‘That stack is with books that I still have to read.’

‘Oh, you haven’t read The Karamazov Brothers? You must. It was one of the best books I read.’

I was surprised – not that she read the book; Veronica had always been, or she seemed so in my tired eyes, a more intelligent person than myself. Although, now that I look back, it could had been that she was more sensitive, and I had confused the additional empathy in her blood with intelligence.

‘I will never remember the story about the Grand Inquisitor, told by Ivan Karamazov.’ Veronica paused because she did not want to spoil it for me, but my curious gaze told her to continue: ‘Ivan refuses his ticket to heaven if the price is the suffering of one innocent child. You see, it is a question of the nature of evil: whether it exists and how does it exist if God is all knowing, all powerful and all loving. His younger brother, Alyosha puts the blame of evil on our free will – we are the gates to hell and through our deeds evil manifests. But Ivan refuses this line of argument, asking about the suffering of innocent children: why is that permitted?’

I took a sip of wine and listened intently as Veronica explained. I saw her hand reaching towards her bag, perhaps to take out another pack of cigarettes. The last one finished as she smoked the final stick of tobacco right after dinner. I gestured Veronica to continue as I reached for her bag and stuck my hand in there to find the packet.

‘Ivan counters Alyosha’s arguments with his story of the Grand Inquisitor. Christ comes back – the second time – but it is not the rapture. He returns during the time of the Inquisition.’

I found another pack of cigarettes, among plastic squares that contained unused rubber protection. The pack was half empty. Veronica took it from my hand without interrupting the story:

‘And so, the Son of God is locked in a prison, which is more akin to a dungeon than to what we have today. The Inquisitor questions Christ, asking Him all sorts of questions about freedom and our nature. The priest clergyman claims that He…’ Veronica lighted up another cigarette. ‘That He was wrong about how people are like. Freedom, you see, is not something we can bear. We cannot even contain our intellect and we misuse our free will too often. The story ends with Christ kissing the Grand Inquisitor on the lips: that is His only response to the barrage of questions and observations made by the clergyman. A kiss that, as Dostoevsky says, “burns within his [the Grand Inquisitor’s] heart, but the old man remains with his former idea…”.’

At the back of my throat a stinging sweet aftertaste from the red wine created a mild discomfort. My neck was tensed. The next line came out almost instinctively:

‘Do you think we are free?’

‘Only when we do evil.’ Veronica replied without hesitation. Clearly, I thought, she had been thinking about this question for at least as long as I had.

‘Is evil even real? Objective? Aren’t morals just some fashionable opinions of the time? What’s evil today may not be so tomorrow.’

‘You are thinking about ethics, about what is wrong and what is not. Indeed, what is wrong today can change tomorrow, for this depends on the definitions of human beings who are, at least in part, subjective in their perceptions of nature. Evil however surpasses the notion of wrong: evil is evil no matter what we believe.’ After a small pause during which she dragged a long smoke, Veronica continued without any breath in her lungs: ‘Evil is real, but it is not a dethroned angel, it is us.’

The dim sunlight of the afternoon was bleeding out on the unwashed windows: a grey, sick sky seemed to peer into the bedroom with a sadness that was characteristic of all big cities – nobody wanted to acknowledge that they were nobody, alone and forgotten, and yet, everyone knew that. This sorrowful dissonance mixed with the pale sun beams and reflected inside my studio.

I stood up and walked at the window. Below, the street was muddier and busier, buried beneath a moving crowed of people all dressed in dark shades of green, crimson and grey. A few black coats and not a single dash of bright colour. A grim tremor traversed my body. I then turned towards Veronica and whispered:

‘Do you remember us? How we were? Noticing this sea of nothingness that modern life is, drowning in the anxiety and tension of this reality, one which I never wanted and it has always seemed that it never wanted me, makes me wonder: what if…what if we took the right turn instead? What if we went home that night rather than the party? What if we powered through the difficulties?’

‘Powered through?’ Veronica interrupted me with a thundering voice. ‘Do you want to know the truth?’ I stood against the neon light like a shadow, unmoved, and waited for her confession.

‘I was pregnant, and we had nothing: no qualifications, no money, no house, nothing but the delusion of happiness. As we sat on that bench, under that sunset awaiting to go to that party, you said to me: “The red in the sky is ours” and then pointed towards the melting orange sky that was glowing in a crimson light. You took my hand and kissed it. Of course, at that moment in time it was all romantic but that second of perfection was crushed as the world asserted its foot on our necks. I found out I was pregnant after we broke up. I tried to call but I thought that it was better if I did not. Nor sure why, it just felt right at the time.’

The fashionable ethics revealed themselves in the regret betrayed by Veronica’s voice.

‘And we – our relationship, based on stories and ideas – broke, crushed like a bug under the heavy boot of flesh and time.’

She then told me how the pregnancy was terminated, in a hospital, eight hours away by train so that nobody would know. I was not upset. In fact, I felt nothing when Veronica told me this in a tone akin to that of a deep confession. I knew that the normal thing to do was to feel some emotions of distress and anger, but nothing of the sorts manifested inside me. Instead, the confession seemed so ordinary, and my moral compass was so relativistic that I had nothing with which to examine it critically. Besides, death before being born in this world so dull and, at times, deadly evil was not the worst thing that could happen to a human being.

Two long tears lingered on Veronica’s white cheeks. Her dry lips, from smoking and the dehydration caused by the alcohol, were wetted by drops of salty liquid. I walked back towards the bed, zig-zagging through the little towers of books, trying not to demolish any of them. Reaching the woman, I kneeled next to her and kissed her hand, like I did on the bench. Her blue eyes gazed at me, piercing my entire being like two bolts of frozen fire. Inside those two blue circles, I saw the whole universe collapsing and emerging again, like a mythical phoenix. In that split second, my entire being changed: I felt the sadness that I ought to had felt as Veronica told me about her pregnancy, I felt the melancholy of days lost in “what ifs”, I felt the sting of life penetrating my rib cage and pulling out my heart and offering it to the abyss.

I approached her face which I could not see clearly: a strong emotion that was pounding in my chest and weakened my knees blurred my vision. I could feel her warm breath and could smell the saltiness of her tears. Like a plastic capsule that breaks with a soft but recognisable pop, I too broke that moment in half when I crossed the line that no mortal should ever cross: with a single, gentle, kiss on Veronica’s left cheek, I propelled myself into the past so forcefully and so vividly that the past threw me back far into the future, enabling me to gaze back at the present moment as if twenty years had passed and my lips were still touching her warm skin.

Without a doubt, Veronica was the person to whom I offered to share the red in the sky, the most sensual and delightful moment of any sunset: death’s own spectacle of amorous movements on the celestial vault.

We made love on that bed, feeling our bodies close, as we once did. I was not repulsed that she shared herself with other people, for what I craved was not her tender flesh but the soul that was trapped inside that rib cage protected by two small breasts that moved energetically as the performance went on.

Night arrived over us totally unannounced. Veronica was resting her head on my naked chest. Our bodies were covered by an old blanket. The heating was not working properly, and the air was chilly, but neither of us minded the cold. Together, we emanated enough heath to protect ourselves against the world around.  

I was gazing at the blueish-grey ceiling. To my mind, up there was an ocean. I could see the waves moving, hear them wash up on a beach, hitting the rocks, I could sense the depth of the water and the bright abyss underneath it. In that night, full of illusions and shattered memories, Veronica whispered:

‘I am lonely. Like a meteor in the sky, in a world full of distances.’

 ‘I too am lonely. People like us are lonely, trapped in this aesthetically unpleasing world. We have a thousand faces, and none of them human.’

‘How can we escape it? Or overcome it?’

I caressed her soft hair which smelled like tobacco and sweat mixed with a sweet, flowery perfume. ‘We escape and overcome it when we die. That is why it is important to learn how to die. But this too is a lost cause for us, for we live dishonourable lives. And I do not refer to your profession – not that mine has any nobility in it – but the rhythm of our lives is disharmonious. It violates…no, it rapes, the fabric of nature. It offends Divinity.’

Veronica let out a short sigh. Silence fell over us like a soft blanket. Cold air and calm wrapped around us, as if we were laying in a catacomb.

‘Even if this is all so tragic, I will always have the red in the sky,’ she said while hugging my naked body with both her hands. Minutes later, we fell asleep.

Categories: Short Stories

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