There is a moment between sleep and waking that the quiet inhabits. I do not want to sleep. But like a warm blanket on a cold night, it envelopes me. There is an ache, dull and somehow sweet inside me. I have been shattered. And I look at her who lies beside me.
I meet her again at a New York City gallery. The exhibit belongs to a friend of hers. I am there because John suddenly gets called to a business conference so I am left to amuse myself on our vacation. I remember telling him I understand. We are alike, him and I. We need structure and roles to fulfill. I am fulfilling mine.
....And then there's her.
“Ran, how long has it been? Ran, I can‘t believe you‘re here.” She’s been repeating my name for the past half hour. I do not mind. I’ve been repeating hers.
We are in a little corner, away from the crowd, cocktails in our hands. I smile. She is as how I remember her -- glorious in her self-absorption, fascinated by things only she can see. She is Kaye.
“So this is where you’ve always been?” I ask, looking at her dear face. She looks more Western now than I remember.
She nods, grins, tosses her hair (She has grown it to almost the same length as when we were in high school). Then, to my amusement, she adds, “Don’t tell Erica.”
Kaye is both fierce and brittle. Almost like a child really -- brave, volatile, yet very, very self-contained, the sort of person who can stand among crowds and still remain essentially herself. I love her almost from the first moment I see her. But it is a formless kind of love; I haven’t allowed myself to be selfish.
In my brief stay in New York, the two of us catch up. It seems to me that Kaye knows all the little places and she takes me to them with obvious delight. Perhaps it is the distance. Or the lapse of time. It has been ten years since high school. The memories are almost like a dream. But suddenly I have come within her vision, without my meaning to.
(Once, a long time ago, she says to me, ‘I hate your strength.’)
As if by silent agreement, we do not talk about the Now. We carry on as if the ten years have not passed. She does ask me how I have come to be there, and I tell her the truth: “I’m on vacation.” And she seems to accept this without asking, ‘Why New York? With whom?’ In return, I do not ask her about her people.
Minutes, hours, days pass. All the while something throbs in the wide quiet between us. I have no name for it. The spontaneity of her liking, old feelings resurfacing. We have not been deliberately talking. It speaks without words. This continues until the day I leave for home, the day she whispers to me in that deep, meaningless voice:
“Be carefree with me soon.”
Once back home, things quickly fall back into routine. I immerse myself in work and family. The children are about to start kindergarten. Our firm has a new client and there are paperwork. On Tuesday evening, Erica invites me to a ladies’ night out. More paperwork. Friday -- Victoria asks for my opinion on a dinner-party she is hosting. Saturday morning, I bring John the paper. And then Kaye calls.
I leave the breakfast room to take the call in the parlor.
She is in the city, on an unexpected trip -- some writers’ conference, which she is attending as a last-minute replacement for a sick colleague -- and do I mind if I see her before she flies back to New York? The way she says it makes it sound like she’s leaving that very day. I tell her I have brought home a lot of work and that I am running against a deadline. (‘I want to see you.’)
“Hmm-mm,” she hums lightly, humorously.
And I find myself saying, “Why don’t you drop by the house?”
She comes by with her laptop in one hand and a bonsai plant in the other. At the sight of the merry plant, I start to laugh. She narrows her eyes at me, mutters a warning, then proceeds to shrug. "Don't ask. It's a very long, very boring story."
Later, I serve her tea and pastries. We talk. I don’t remember what we talked about. She is there, in my living room, smiling that smile she smiles, brown eyes flashing, and behind her on a mantelpiece are the framed photographs of my family.
Am I not allowed to be selfish?
“Ran," she says my name, and I turn to her with the motion of a flower.
I suppose I could have turned the other way. Like I always have. I am not wanting. (She is the closest thing I have to that fragile something.) But with the light of her full gaze upon me, I am -- strangely -- free. To new depths of intimacy, almost like pain, and consequences.
"Ran." That voice again. So simple, so like a child in its expectancy. "Why can't you look at me?"
I have been shattered. How can I? Yet I turn to face her and /stop/ breathing.
There she stands in the doorway, hair flowing. There is something terrible and wild in the way she looks right now. I realize right then that I have come on her in a moment of disarray, but it has been so long since I saw her so pale and altered that I almost do not recognize it.
"I've been shattered," she says quietly, sadly.
I do not know how I am able to breathe. “Yes.” Looking at her, watching her draw back into herself, I feel a curious start. But it is only the last quiver of my egoism, and she is as she has always been. (I am the one altered.)
She smiles faintly. “Be selfish with me, Ran.”
I complete the final step forward, and lean on her as if with a drop of tired wings. I feel her heartbeat in rhythm with mine. After a moment, I draw back, and with a little smile of warning -- “You will grow to hate me,” I tell her.
“It would certainly be a great risk,” she answers in a voice filled with irony.
And I shatter into a laugh.
She is my sin.
NOTE: stream of consciousness, using dialogue to break narrative