My Own Desert Places, Pt. 25 (GPT-3 fueled short)


To attend her writing class, Alazne had decided to walk up to the library in old town alone, as part of her intention to feel more resilient and confident and free me from some of her troubles. I’m mostly proud of my girl, but on the other hand I dislike that for her growing up means spending less time with me. She agreed, though, that we could meet in the street after her class ended. This time I wouldn’t wait at a nearby coffee shop in old town, nor even in the commercial area of the city. I’m three streets away from our gated community in the outskirts of Hondarribia. I had walked around for a while to locate some bar or coffee shop where I could sit outside, to then torture myself by writing down my experiences as a woman who died twenty years ago and who later on stole a guy’s body to date the woman of her dreams.
This whole area of Hondarribia is composed of quiet, modern-looking residential buildings for young couples who intend to reproduce. The right area for Alazne and I to live in. I found a colonnade under a pristine white, three-story residential building, where an almost deserted coffee shop had set up tables outside. A breath of fresh air. I hurried up to sit near the balustrade, facing a view of the hilly countryside as well as, farther in the distance, the biggest mountain in that direction. I still don’t know its name, nor care. A few cars are driving around a roundabout decorated with a grove of skinny trees, but otherwise there’s barely anyone walking around. The sun is shining brightly, and the leaves of nearby trees remain still.
I pull out my laptop, which belongs to Kateryna because the one I bought I gave to my girlfriend, and set it up on the table. As Windows loads, I look over my shoulder to find out if any of the employees of the coffee shop have noticed me, but behind the tinted windows I only spot a young woman in her twenties who is mopping the bar. I sigh, then walk inside to order a coffee with milk. She tells me that she’ll bring it over to my table.
Once I’m sitting back at my chosen chair, I insert the pen drive where I pasted lots of albums, and I open the Word document that holds my confessions. I feel myself relaxing. I may end up delving into harrowing memories, but at least I’ll get to listen to my favorite songs and write at my leisure. Life has been treating me so well, it’s hard to believe that this new existence of mine started with a cheating bastard steering his Škoda into oncoming traffic.
After I shove the earbuds into my ear canals, thinking about my twenty years as a ghost has made me melancholic enough, so I play Laura Marling’s ‘Always This Way’. That lady’s voice often sounds as if she’s about to break into tears.
The cursor is blinking under a paragraph where I explained how I killed myself and then abandoned my hometown. I don’t want to reread that, maybe ever. And now how can I explain twenty years of delirious experiences as a ghost? Alazne already knows that I travelled around for quite a bit during the first few years. Trying to remember all the ghosts I got to meet, a miserable shadow comes to mind. I smile to myself, then get to work.
I probably shouldn’t jump straight into talking about the last person stuck in the afterlife that mattered to me, when I have written barely anything about my many years as a ghost, but I will write what comes to mind, and therefore was important enough to remember. I can always restructure the text later if necessary. Although if you are reading this explanation, I must have considered that moving stuff around in my memoir was too much of a hassle.
Yeah, that’s a whole lot of words and I still haven’t mentioned my friend.
His name was Iñaki. He must have died far earlier than I did. I wouldn’t be surprised if he existed for more than a hundred years. He was haunting, or I guess merely living at, a half-ruined farmhouse in the hilly outskirts of Irún, in an area that even most of the residents don’t know. How did I meet this guy, you might be thinking? Ghosts get bored. One of the main sources of joy, or I guess Kateryna would call them distractions, is snooping into things that don’t concern them: the busy, frantic lives of breathing people, or random buildings that those ghosts haven’t explored yet. Wouldn’t you want to do that as a living person, just wander into crazy places to figure out what’s there? As a ghost you can do that without repercussions, other than cranky shadows yelling at you. I have seen so many people fucking. They get so creative with how they use their holes. I also learned that farting is a worldwide pastime of which nobody is proud, and that even in the afterlife, in which all smells are muted, some people’s guts are seriously rotten. Anyway, Iñaki. This guy was as miserable as they come. He usually did little else than read the same pages of the books that happened to be lying open. He could perform some interesting feats as a ghost, like project his voice clearly into recording devices, or even force the living to hear his footsteps. But instead of going around freaking out people, he remained at his ruined former home as if he was guarding the place, and I guess he was. Guilt chained him to that ruin.
I have already listened a few times to Laura Marling regretting someone’s death. I put on her best album, as far as I’m concerned, ‘I Speak Because I Can’, starting from ‘Rambling Man’, of which I’m particularly fond because it’s one of Alazne’s favorites.
As I was preparing my fingers to type again, a coffee cup lands softly next to my hand. Oh yeah, I had ordered coffee, hadn’t I? What the hell was this waitress doing? Whatever. I barely nod towards her as she walks back into the shop. At least she’s not like that blonde waitress with the bubbly ass and who wanted me to read Camus. That French philosopher was murdered by the KGB. He won’t have to push a rock uphill anymore, unless his ghost is still wandering around and was granted poltergeist powers.
But why on earth would I have befriended that Iñaki guy? Because I was lonely. You see, ghosts are the fucking worst. They know they lack a future, they know that death has sterilized them, and that unless they figure out how to move on to the beyond to discover what awaits us there, if anything, they will be damned to drift for eternity. The lucky ones go insane to an extent that it renders their regrets void, so they dissolve into nothing. I used to hate the wailers, those pathetic ghosts who just roam around in a daze while yelling without a care in the world. People can hear you, assholes! Sometimes they came up to me just to certify that someone could still see them. I could both see them and hear them, and so what? We were still stuck in a nightmare that we couldn’t even see nor hear nor taste nor smell properly. Congratulations. Now fuck off and leave me alone. But I admit that sometimes I got so lonely that I simply needed some other ghost to listen to me. During those periods I would have given anything for any shadow to talk to me, to confide in me, to make me believe they could become my friends. I remember degrading myself, grovelling in such ways that I don’t know how I retain any self-esteem. But Iñaki was different. Although he preferred to be alone, he welcomed me hanging out with him. He was a big old tsundere about it, because he pretended I bothered him, but whenever I visited him again I could tell he had missed me.
I sniffle, and quickly wipe my eyes with my sleeves, as if I fear embarrassing myself. Do you see, Iñaki, you rotten idiot? I still remember you.
I had already come across you, Alazne, and I had fallen in love with you, when I witnessed the fated last day of Iñaki in the afterlife, or maybe anywhere. A group of ghost hunting idiots broke into the place and strutted around while kicking Iñaki’s books and setting up their arcane equipment to intrude upon our ghostly lives. You know those types, they don’t respect anything. Well, we ended up giving those motherfuckers quite the show. I possessed one of them, a dude in his early twenties called Jokin, and destroyed his knuckles against a wall. I’m quite sure they recorded most of it, so I’m surprised it didn’t become national news. I haven’t even come across the footage on YouTube! Maybe they were so stupid that they lost the recordings, or couldn’t figure out how to upload it. Or maybe they were so traumatized by the experience that they offed themselves. No, I’m sure the footage is out there in some corner of YouTube, but I guess these days anything can be faked, so people just shrug and whatever through everything. Those supposedly true filmings of UFOs released by the US navy or whoever look lackluster to me. In any case, the average taxpayer won’t find out what the fuck truly goes on in this world. Hey, or maybe those ghost hunters got sent to some mental institution. There are still mental institutions around, right? I like that. They were the investigators in some Lovecraft story, and Iñaki and I were the Great Old Ones that those fuckers were incredibly unlucky to gaze upon. It did make me feel powerful at the time, and you need such ego trips to counter how impotent one feels as a ghost in the afterlife.
I was taking a sip of my mostly bitter and too artificial tasting coffee when I realize that someone is standing on my right. He has placed a hand on the back of the empty chair, and it lingers there as if the guy has asked something. What a bother. In the middle of Marling’s ‘Darkness Descends’ as well. I gesture towards the chair.
“Sure, buddy, grab it. I’m not using it.”
Instead off fucking off, whoever that guy is pulls the chair out and sits down. Annoyed at this person’s gall, I lift my gaze towards him as I frown. He’s in maybe his mid twenties. He crosses his arms in a defensive posture as he taps on the ground nervously with one foot. His hair is light blonde, combed over his forehead in a way that reminds me of Roman portraits. His eyes are emerald-colored, pretty for someone who in a second gave me the impression of being skittish. He has a scar with the shape of a slim crescent moon under his right eye, as if someone socked him a good one years ago. His skin looks tight over his blocky skull. If I had to hang labels on him, I’d say he’s a nerd who didn’t grow up right.
This guy is gawking at me as if he wants to glare but he doesn’t dare. I take off my earbuds. As I open my mouth, I’m interrupted by the sound of someone pulling out the empty chair on my left, and I recognize the guy who plumps down heavily on the chair. It’s Oleksiy, the Eastern European prick who punched me in the guts.
“Hey, you again!” I say, irritated. “The guy who says ‘fucking’ all the time and who gave me diarrhea.”
“Diarrhea?” He frowns with disdain, and looks towards the waitress behind the tinted windows. “I guess I hit you hard, huh?”
The last time, Oleksiy was wearing a cheap T-shirt and pants stained with paint, I suppose because he works in construction or something related to buildings. Now he’s wearing a pine green jacket over a white T-shirt that shows that he either works out or he uses his muscles a lot in his job. For pants he’s wearing black denims. This bastard’s eyes are pale blue, but I notice a resemblance with the new Eastern European guy sitting on my right.
I gesture towards his companion.
“Who’s this?”
“Someone else who wanted to speak with you. Hadeon is the name.”
I turn to this supposed Hadeon. His irises are trembling. He’s either naturally anxious or I frighten him.
“Is that true?” I ask the guy. “You are called Hadeon?”
“Yes.” His voice is as tremulous as the rest of him.
I return my gaze to Oleksiy, the clear leader of this pair of clowns.
“Alright, it’s been a while, Oleksiy. I remember your name and everything, but then again few people have flattened my intestines. Let me recall, because it’s been a while… You knew Asier– I mean, me, and you were angry at me for something.”
“Yes. I would do it just because you are an asshole, for starters.”
I frown. I don’t like to be sworn at, not more than the average person anyway.
“Did it bother you that much that you caught me fondling myself in public? I mean, we have a penis because touching it grants us a break from this nightmarish world.”
Oleksiy smirks for a moment, but then shakes his head as if he doesn’t want to deal with me.
“Ah, true. Fondling yourself in public. You are a right bastard, my friend.”
This guy won’t get rid of his accent even if he spends the rest of his life here. I also don’t like one bit that his jaw looks like it could take a pro’s uppercut. I want to be the only woman around commanding a man’s corpse that happened to have grown a chiseled jaw.
“I didn’t know you were there,” I say, then sigh. “Anyway, what was your gripe with me again?”
Oleksiy takes a deep breath and narrows his eyes at me as if scrutizing my expression.
“Still the fucking memory man, huh?”
I point at the ugly disfigurement near my hairline.
“As in I have close to no memory of my previous life before the accident that gave me this scar.”
Oleksiy was about to talk when Hadeon interrupts him with a much softer voice.
“It doesn’t seem like he’s acting. He didn’t recognize me at all.”
I turn my head towards him, even though I feel I shouldn’t lose sight of the far more dangerous Oleksiy. Hadeon’s eyebrows are thin and slightly arched, and his mouth is fuller and softer-looking than I would have expected on a man. I hadn’t paid attention to his clothes, but he’s sporting a crimson red hoodie with a big drawing of an anime girl. I think it’s some psycho from ‘My Hero Academia’.
“I did tell your pal Oleksiy that I suffered a car accident,” I say, “although I’m not sure if I added that it was bad enough that I died for a few seconds. So when I tell you fellas that I have no fucking clue who you are, I’m not joking in the slightest. Well, I now know Oleksiy, because he harassed and assaulted me, which didn’t leave me with a good impression of him.”
“You are a strange man,” Oleksiy says with a hint of bitterness. “I don’t know how you do shit.”
“I’m not sure what you meant with that last sentence. But I recall that you intended for me to get on your 4×4 so you could drive me somewhere. Assuming that rape wasn’t in your mind, what did you want to explain to my amnesic self?”
He exhales noisily through his nostrils.
“The four of us went to a few matches to see the Real Sociedad. That doesn’t ring any bells?”
“Asier– I was into football? Let’s forget for a moment that we are three people and you mentioned four, I haven’t felt any urge to waste my time watching some overpaid pricks pursuing each other as they kick a ball. I bet even ghosts wouldn’t bother, and they tend to be bored out of their minds. If this body did accompany you gentlemen to witness football matches before I suffered my horrifying accident, I guess my brain is now doing its job of protecting me from those awful experiences.”
“You weren’t such a smart ass before the accident, for sure,” Hadeon says. “But you were a big fan of football. I don’t like it either. You got into uninteresting arguments with Oleksiy about players’ performances and how the teams performed in the rankings. Oleksiy mostly obliged you, because he’s all about the Real Madrid.”
Oleksiy smacks his lips at Hadeon.
“Now I’m not sure who either of you are anymore. I thought you wanted the Real Madrid to win, Hadeon.”
“I do. Because otherwise you get angry.”
“You know what? Just forget it,” Oleksiy says, then turns his head towards me. “So you don’t care about what you used to care the most about. It’s like we are talking to a whole different person here.”
“Pretty much,” I say.
“Yeah, I’d say the new you is better,” Hadeon says, but then he looks down guiltily. Maybe he regrets his own words.
“Hadeon is my little brother,” Oleksiy says while staring at me as if his words should wipe the soot that blocks out my memories.
“Alright, I see the resemblance. I suppose that one of your parents had emerald eyes and the other pale blue.”
I opened my mouth to wonder out loud whether their mother had an affair and cucked their father, but I doubt it would contribute to keeping them calm.
To my confusion, Hadeon’s face turns beet red as he keeps looking down. I don’t know if it’s because of anger or embarrassment. Maybe he doesn’t like that Oleksiy brought up their familial tie.
“Last name’s Zaretsky,” Oleksiy adds, his voice getting raspy. “Does that say anything to you?”
“It’s a cool last name, but only tells me that you guys aren’t originally from here. Which I already knew due to your accents and your generally slavic look.”
“You’re an idiot if that’s the only thing you could say,” Hadeon says.
I’m surprised that this Hadeon guy had it in him. He seems scrawny under his hoodie. He must be used to Oleksiy protecting him, and probably punching in the gut the people who have a problem with some of Hadeon’s comments. He may be trying to look tough, although he’s also fidgeting with the slightly raised metallic edge of the table.
“Yeah, I know I’m an idiot,” I say as I let my gaze linger on the nerd before I turn to Oleksiy again. “So where are you guys from, originally? Or are you the types that get mad when people can tell you weren’t born in the country?”
Oleksiy smirks and shifts his weight in the mostly uncomfortable coffee shop chair as if he were some oligarch sinking in his leather armchair.
“Wouldn’t bother me to talk about my home country. I always want to. Mighty Ukraine, that’s where we are from.”
I raise my eyebrows.
“That’s funny, I know someone from Ukraine. You guys have the most gorgeous women in the world! I don’t know fuck else about your country, but the women, top-notch.”
Hadeon’s emerald gaze intensifies as he gives me a look like I’m talking nonsense and I should shut up. I don’t know what’s up with him.
“Is that so?” Oleksiy says, lowering his voice. “I am proud about that, sure, but I can’t say I want someone like you bringing it up.”
I scratch the bridge of my nose as I try to connect other facts swimming around in my brain to the notion that a country named Ukraine exists.
“Ah, you guys also had that nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl. World Guiness Records stuff. Nearly killed the whole continent.”
Hadeon shoots me a fearsome glare that I wouldn’t have expected in a smaller guy who wears anime merchandise.
“Fuck you. We had nothing to do with that.”
“Are you sure?” I ask him.
“Jesus,” he says as he throws his hands up. “Why are you such a dick?”
“Hadeon.” Oleksiy sighs. “Your language.”
“Guess I’m just a dick by nature,” I answer. “Or only since the car crash. But I’m sure that if something bad happened in your country even a thousand years ago, or your countrymen were responsible, the people who are born there must lower their heads and keep apologizing for it for eternity.”
Oleksiy’s top lip trembles. It seems that the whole Chernobyl fiasco really bothers him, or maybe just being accused of it.
“It’s that how it works, huh…?”
“Those are the rules,” I say calmly.
“Quit talking nonsense,” Oleksiy says loud enough as if to force me to focus my attention on him. “I don’t give a shit about radiation, it’s got nothing to do with me.”
“It’s got everything to do with you, it’s caused by the weak nuclear force.”
“What? Whatever. Point is that I’m Oleksiy Zaretsky, that one there is Hadeon Zaretsky, but there was… a third sibling.”
Hadeon groans, and then he scratches the floor with the legs of his chair as if he intended to spring to his feet, but only shifted his weight violently.
“Don’t tell me you forgot her, asshole! Nobody would forget her in a million years!”
Oleksiy is frowning, but he gestures with his hand for his brother to lower his voice.
“Calm down.”
“Everyone will forget everyone else eventually,” I say. “And each of us will one day be thought of for the last time. Isn’t that a horrifying notion? It really puts in perspective the absurdity of being alive, I think. But who is this missing Zaretsky sister of yours?”
“Say her name!” Hadeon shouts at me tearfully.
I briefly look over my shoulder as if I wanted to spare myself some second-hand embarrasment, but the rest of the tables are empty. Inside the coffee shop I can only make out a blur of the waitress as she holds open a door, that maybe leads into the kitchen. I’m sure she has noticed that these two guys are bothering me and being loud, but she won’t get involved. They are the kind that invite random people to get on their 4x4s to rape them, after all.
“Hade,” Oleksiy says, “stop it.”
“No! Kateryna! You don’t forget Kateryna!”
I gasp as I snap my head back.
“Of course! You guys are Kateryna’s brothers! There must not be that many blond-haired Ukrainian guys around, I guess.”
Oleksiy shakes his head at me, and I feel as if this is one of those moments in which I could either make a new friend or alienate someone important to me. These Zaretskys seem the type to hold grudges.
“Well, how are you guys doing?” I ask cordially. “Is life treating you well?”
Hadeon seems confused, but then he slumps down in his chair and turns his head away from me. His eyes are getting watery.
“Life’s a bitch.”
“Hade…” his brother says.
“It is! She’s a bitch, because she took Kat away!”
These poor bastards. The torture that exists in the wake of losing a loved one is a pain for which nobody can prepare you. I’m sure that our beloved Kat had thought that she had scored a stable life with a handsome enough rich guy. I bet she started out cheerful and caring, just a joy to be around, only for Asier to run over her life by cheating on her obscenely hot and naïve self. He must have broken Kateryna’s ability to trust in humanity, to the extent that she decided to exit this nightmare through the emergency door. My dear friend… I know damn well that it could only take a second of truly wanting to die for her to pull the trigger, or kick the stool from under her, or take a step into the void. So these two motherfuckers approached me because Asier was the last person who dealt with their lost sister. They keep fighting for someone who is already dead.
“I’m so sorry, my friends,” I say, and I can’t prevent my voice from trembling. “I can’t imagine what you two are going through.”
Hadeon lets out a muffled sob, which makes Oleksiy uncomfortable. He touches the table near my laptop as if to attract my attention.
“So you remember Kateryna, even though you forgot us. What do you remember of her?”
“Quite frankly, I only started getting to know her when I had to pretend… I mean, ever since the accident. I don’t hold any memories from before. But I know she’s lovely, a beautiful woman and a caring friend.”
Oleksiy frowns and shakes his head slightly, as if unsure if he has the right information but at the same time he’s getting tired of this.
“What would you learn after the accident? By then, Kat was already…”
Oh yeah, I only know her ghost self. Although in my mind I have managed to manifest a mental image of Kat’s voluptuous, living self on top of her bubble of cold air, I technically never met her when she still commanded a flesh and bone robot.
“Fortunately I can tell you guys that Kateryna is doing great!” I smile at the brothers. “Sure, being stuck on that dreary plane has dispirited her from time to time, but she’s a tough girl. We also keep her entertained with our antics, as well as playing music and movies. So overall I’d say she’s been in a good mood recently.”
Hadeon has become paralyzed, and is staring at me with a grimace of shock. Then from my left I hear Oleksiy exhaling like a bull. He has opened his eyes enough that the white over his irises is showing, and one side of his mouth is raised as if he’s smelling rotten meat.
“What in the fuck are you talking about?! Kateryna is dead!”
“Oh, that’s right…” I nod while stroking my chin. “I mean, apart from that.”
“You’re telling us you’ve been interacting with Kat’s ghost, and that you’ve been keeping her… amused?” Hadeon mutters in a hollow voice.
Oleksiy has turned white and is looking straight through me with those pale blue eyes. He seems ready to break something.
“That’s one way of putting it, but also the correct one,” I say cautiously. “I’m sorry if it’s a bit strange to hear…”
“Strange?! It’s fucking unbelievable,” Hadeon says. “Asier, I don’t give a shit if you’re mentally unstable. I want to know what happened with Kateryna. What did you do to her? Did you kill her?”
I open my mouth and I’m about to fumble some words when Oleksiy stands up from his chair enough to grip my shoulder closest to him with his left hand, then with his right one he strikes my abdomen with all his might. A star of pain explodes in my guts.
“You… fucking bastard,” he hisses through gritted teeth as his eyes twitch. “You don’t fucking joke around with our Kat. If you hadn’t met her, she would still be alive.”
Oleksiy bashes me again in the guts, and I fall off backwards along with the chair. While my conscious mind tries to float over the sudden burst of pain in the lower half of my torso, I see upside down that the young waitress is turning away from this pitiful scene, and loses herself in whatever room exists behind the bar. She doesn’t want any part of this. I don’t blame her. I doubt she will call the police either.
Before I can react, Oleksiy grabs my wrists at the same time that he lowers his foot against one of the front legs of the chair, and I end up sitting straight as if nothing had happened, except for the burning pain in my intestines. A surge of nausea shoots up from my stomach, but I gulp it down.
“If you don’t talk and tell us the truth, I’m going to break both of your fucking arms and cut off your ears,” Hadeon threatens like a bomb about to drop. His eyebrows are furrowed, his gaze fixed on my eyes, his nostrils flared. “What did you do to her?!”
“Shut it, Hade,” Oleksiy says firmly.
I cough.
“You really have something against people’s intestines, Oleksiy,” I struggle to say through my dry mouth.
He merely glares at me with naked disdain as his pupils dilate. My abdomen burns like there’s a white-hot poker inside. I don’t feel like I need to shit myself this time, maybe because of the angle from which the punches came, but I feel my skin getting clammy.
“Ah, people keep uncomfortable truths to themselves because someone might cause them physical pain otherwise,” I add. “No wonder this world is fucked.”
Oleksiy remains quiet and backs away from me a little. The scrawny sibling looks down at the floor, then back at me. A tear has left a trail as it ran down his cheek, but now he’s mainly angry.
“You’re going to have to tell us. You know the rules of this world.”
It fucking hurts. But even in the middle of this pain that is sending alarms throughout my body, and that may have caused internal bleeding, I get to remember that if I was still a ghost I wouldn’t experience this. My insides hurt because I’m alive.
“Tell you pricks fucking what?” I ask, annoyed. “I have only known Kat ever since the accident. I have no clue why she died. I’m sure that Asier was a bastard to her, but I wasn’t responsible for it!”
Oleksiy leans forward and stabs me in the chest with his finger. My heart is pounding as he puts pressure on my sternum.
“Is this what the amnesia bullshit intended to cover? So you can fucking say that you weren’t responsible for ending our Kat’s life?”
Hadeon sobs, then pounds on the table with his fist, spilling some of my coffee, while tears jump from his eyes.
“Kat was the light of everyone’s life! She would never kill herself! And if she did swallow all those pills willingly, it’s because you made her do it! It must have been your fault!”
Oleksiy stops pressuring my chest and instead turns to address Hadeon.
“We’ll get through this together, brother. We always have, we always will. You know that you shouldn’t cry in public.”
I cough in my hand. Cold sweat is running down my neck. I open my hand expecting to see blood, but there’s none. I doubt it confirms that I haven’t suffered serious damage, because the pain suggests it. I shift my torso on the chair to a position that diminishes the pulsating pangs running inside my belly.
“Didn’t you guys go to the police already?” I ask in a thin voice. “I mean, someone of authority must have looked into Kat’s death.”
Oleksiy shakes his head as he avoids looking at me.
“The police? What the fuck will those people do? They find a woman dead in a bathtub because she swallowed a load of pills, they find out that you weren’t in the house at the time, so it’s suicide. That’s what they concluded.”
“We don’t trust the cops,” Hadeon says as he wipes his eyes with his sleeves. “Not when it comes to this.”
I look from Hadeon to Oleksiy and back to Hadeon. I blink to disuade a bead of sweat from irritating my eyeball.
“So what do you want me to do exactly? I truly don’t remember anything of this body’s relationship with Kateryna before the accident. You know more about how she died than I do!”
Oleksiy snorts. He has lowered his head, and as the color returns to his face, he looks like he regrets his outburst. It won’t take away how much my guts hurt.
“The point is that you must have led Kateryna to suicide,” he says quietly, as if trying to calm himself. “Either by something you told her, something you did to her, or a combination of both. That makes sense to you for sure.”
I rub my eyes as I control my breathing. Asier’s relentless cheating had fucked with Ainhoa’s mind, making her doubt herself, her body, her place in life… But she’s tough and dignified. Even though I didn’t know Kateryna before I stole Asier’s body, she’s carefree and a bit naïve. She may not have believed that there could be any monster out there that if she truly loved the guy and was fair to him, the guy would in exchange cheat on her with multiple women. Also, Ainhoa said that Asier acted with them like a bastard afterwards. And now I’m wearing that shithead’s body… Maybe I should start flagellating myself.
I pull out my wallet and extract the folded note that the doctor printed. I hand it to Oleksiy.
“Read that, please. Written by a doctor while they were treating me due to the car accident in which I died for a few seconds.”
Oleksiy reads the note. He frowns.
“Memory loss caused either by head trauma or not enough oxygen getting to the brain when the patient’s heart stopped for too long.”
He looks at me, then hands the note to Hadeon. He reads it, and reads it again. He lowers it slowly until it rests on the table. I grab it and slip it back into my wallet.
“It does look legitimate,” Hadeon concedes.
“Listen, guys…” I wiggle my ass until it doesn’t feel as if I have a burning, solid object lodged above my genitals. “I don’t remember anything about my experience of dating Kateryna. That’s even more tragic still, because the Asier who witnessed her final days, and who understood Kat’s reasons, is gone forever. I haven’t recovered any of the memories. So we will never know…” I shake my head, then lift my gaze to Oleksiy, who seems conflicted. “Wait a second, did Kateryna leave a suicide note?”
Oleksiy shuffles his feet.
“No, according to you.”
“And the police didn’t find any either? They were the first on the scene?”
“They were,” Hadeon says, his voice trembling. “Or so they believed.”
I rub my chin. I can’t imagine any version of Kateryna wasting the opportunity to leave a suicide note. She’s always eager to open up and chat with others. Did Asier cheating on her supermodel self destroy her to the extent that when she found out, she just filled her stomach with random pills and then lay down in the bathtub? The same bathtub where I ate out Alazne and she jerked me off. I hope Kateryna didn’t consider it an insult.
“It’s not just that we can’t imagine our beautiful Kateryna killing herself for any reason,” Hadeon goes on somberly, “it’s that after her death you acted real shady. It seemed as if your grief was fake. You could just be a bastard, for sure, but we know one thing: you didn’t return all of her stuff.”
“Really? What stuff was I withholding?” I ask with curiosity.
Hadeon lowers his head and rubs his eyes as if he’s about to start sobbing again. Oleksiy has been eyeing me differently since he read that doctor’s note. It’s like he understands now that he’s dealing with a different person than the one they were harassing.
“A laptop.” He sighs. “One that Hadeon bought for Kateryna shortly before you started dating her.”
Hadeon’s shoulders are shaking, and I can see underneath his hands, with which he’s covering the upper half of his face, that he’s clenching his teeth.
“Kateryna… She was the sweetest, most beautiful girl in the world. Why did you have to die? You can’t be dead.”
I swallow. This guy’s grief is genuine, and I realize that he must have been thinking of little else since their sister died. What a fucking nightmare.
A cold shiver runs through me. Oh fuck. Kateryna’s laptop is open right between her brothers.
“What excuse did Asier– I give to keep her laptop?”
Hadeon removes his hands from his face. His eyes are red and puffy, and snot is running down his nose.
“You said that you didn’t have it… That she must have left it somewhere.”
I don’t like this one bit. Why would Asier have lied to these guys about Kateryna’s laptop? It seems that he returned the rest of her items. And he had hidden the laptop in the attic, behind piles of boxes.
“When… When I got back from the hospital, I found this laptop at home. Is this the one you bought for her?” I ask Hadeon as I turn the laptop slightly towards him.
Hadeon gasps and nearly jumps out of his chair.
“Oh shit, it is!”
He grabs the opposite sides of the screen, then he touches its frame and the keyboard as if the laptop were a precious memento. He starts crying again, his face twisting in grief.
I look away from him. My gut is already killing me, and I don’t want my heart to start hurting too. Apart from that, I will be able to talk to Kateryna about this regrettable incident the moment I get home.
“W-why did you h-hide it…?” Hadeon manages to ask.
“Hade… he doesn’t know,” Oleksiy says softly.
The older brother looks beaten, sick of everything. For a few seconds I only hear the sound of cars driving around the roundabout, birds chirping, and Hadeon’s muffled sobs.
“I’m sorry about everything,” I say seriously. “I’m sorry that Kateryna died, but I’m even more sorry for the two of you, because Kat… Wherever Kateryna is, I don’t imagine that she’s feeling as terrible as you guys have since she’s been gone. I don’t know the kind of person I was before I lost most of my memories, but if I could go back in time as the person I am now, Kateryna would be here with us.”
Oleksiy lifts his weary gaze to mine.
“We are leaving with the laptop.”
“Sure, it belonged to Kateryna. But let me please copy in the pen drive the Word file I was working on. Just that.”
“Yeah…” Hadeon says.
He wipes his tears with his sleeve as I orient the laptop’s monitor towards me. I save the file, close it, cut and paste it into the pen drive, and take the device out.
“Alright, that’s all. Ah, and grab its bag as well. It has the charger and everything.”
Oleksiy holds the bag open while Hadeon, still gritting his teeth out of grief, places the laptop inside. After the big brother closes the bag, he stands up, slings it around his shoulder and looks at me with a sense of finality. Hadeon stands up slowly as well. He must not have a tissue, because he’s drenching his sleeves.
“You are going to call the police, I guess.”
I wave a hand to dismiss the notion.
“As much as my intestines hurt, I understand your predicament. I also feel terrible about what you guys have gone through. I’d rather just leave it be on my part.”
Oleksiy sighs without hiding his relief.
“Something must have happened to you and Kateryna that she ended up killing herself. I can’t forgive you for whatever it is, even if she just felt bad because of some argument. But I guess this is all. Kateryna is dead and we’ll have to live with that.”
Hadeon sniffles and puts on his hood to hide his face. The brothers turn and start walking away.
This isn’t right, is it? Kateryna’s mind has survived. Can I allow her brothers to believe that she’s fully dead, when her ghost remains? I truly don’t want to see these guys ever again, but I fear that I will feel responsible for their unending pain.
I stand up and call out to Oleksiy. He turns with a confused expression.
“Listen, we are tied to this thing, you guys and I,” I say. “I think that at least we should exchange phone numbers. You never know.”
Oleksiy shrugs. Hadeon keeps showing me his back, but I don’t blame him. The big brother pulls out his phone, and we even do that ritual of calling each other’s number to make sure that we weren’t deceiving the other. Then we say our goodbyes and they go.
The pain in my belly is seething, but I can finally relax my shoulders. I wipe the sweat from my forehead. I stand there to make sure that those two get in their brick red Toyota 4Runner 4×4 car, which they had parked close by, and drive away.

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