Kian hung his coat on the coat rack next to his door as he kicked the door closed with his right foot. His movements were mechanical, as were his thoughts, which led him first to remove his shoes for the sake of not leaving wet footprints in the hallway and then to subsequently make his way into the kitchen where he took out a two pint canister of milk and drunk from the bottle until it became uncomfortable for him to swallow the contents. This was the point where variation could kick in, if it wanted to. Necessary procedures had been enacted and now he was free to use the evening as he would. But it was just another evening, and so he made his way into the living room, checked that the television remote was in arms reach, and slumped down on the sofa. He knew that he would be there for the forseeable future – or at least until he was hungry again.
He hated himself for this routine. The sky was dark and grey outside, which justified his coming straight home from work – he needn’t feel guilty about not spending the evening outdoors. And yet, he still felt that he was allowing something vital to slip ever more gradually from his grasp. The sense of dripping was intense – almost palpable as he watched his life slink away from an over turned vase – progressing slowly but steadily towards the table’s edge and then down – drop by drop – onto the floor, never to be seen again. What a waste. To think of the untold trillions that had never been born – never had their vases filled in the first place; or the endless and ever growing list of those whose vases had run dry and who were now in the ground — or not even there – no longer in existence, anywhere. Gone to the world. He was not, he still had time; but this was how he spent it. Dulling his brain and waiting for work tomorrow.
The thought depressed him and yet he found it did little more than inspire him to continue to sit back and watch television – if it was all meaningless and transitory then why even worry? He may as well try not to think about it – he enjoyed relaxing in front of the television, didn’t he? It was such a contrast from the mental strain of work – that was a good thing, surely. And so he sat back – not really believing his rationalising, but trying not to think about it. He’d do something else tomorrow.
After a couple of hours (judging by the television programmes that had aired from beginning to end), Emma came home. Her return lit a spark in Kian that he hated. Or rather, he resented it – it felt good, excitement and happiness that the girl he loved with all his heart had come back home; back into his life after a long eight or nine hours out of it – but at the same time miserable, for he knew that the feeling was unique to him: people didn’t feel like that anymore, not normal and healthy people in any case. It was anachronistic to love someone with all your heart, just as it would have been to have had children with Emma at only twenty seven, or to have expected that they’d be together for longer than the standard rate of time – in at most ten to fifteen years; she’d be gone.
Kian knew that these feelings that he suffered were a special and individual case and the shame ate him up inside. He felt old fashioned – more relevant to the society of his great grandparents than his own. And so he denied them, as much as he could to himself, and entirely to the rest of the world – and to Emma. She would never understand – he’d be a freak to her – and a pervert for what he yearned for in his deepest and most private moments. “Hello” she said as she walked into the living room having kicked off her own shoes, leaving them on the floor in the hall. She looked pleasant, with a smile best described as ‘kindly’. “Hello” replied Kian as he looked back at her. He tried to emulate her manner as much as he possibly could – taking cues for his own behavior as much as he could from hers.
Having waited for a moment to see if he was going to say anything further, Emma turned and made her way into the kitchen. As she walked, she shouted back to Kian “how was your day?” The question was predictable and he was fully prepared for it when it came. This was always the sequence of conversation at the end of the working day when they remet each other in their small terraced house. “It was fine” he replied – hoping she wouldn’t ask further questions on the subject. “You didn’t go anywhere after work?” came Emma’s reply after a brief pause while she rifled through the fridge looking for something quick and easy to eat. Kian paused for a moment before giving the reply that he knew would arouse the least suspicion: “…no, I was with a woman – just one from work.” “Ah, thought it had been a while” said Emma, still sounding as if she were searching through the shelves in the fridge – there were only three, how long could it possibly take to find something satisfactory as an after work snack? “And you?” Kian replied “I’m guessing the same given timing”. He didn’t want to know – didn’t want to hear that the one he loved had been with some other man, had had his hands all over her most intimate parts, felt her sweat against his skin and experienced the rush that came from experiencing her body. But he had to ask – he didn’t want her to know what a backwards and sentimental fool he was. “Yeah – friend of a friend” she shouted back as she returned from the kitchen.
His heart sank and tears forced their way into his eyes. Quickly he swept them away as Emma made her way towards the living room from the hall. It was of the highest imperative that she knew nothing of his feelings – for her disgust and embarrassment would be too great to bear. As she entered, he turned to her and smiled as pleasantly as he could manage. “Your eyes are red” she said, cocking her head slightly to the left. “Yes” Kian replied, “it’s bloody freezing outside, it’s given me a cold”. Stupid excuse, but enough – he knew she wouldn’t question him further – what did it matter to her why his eyes were red?
For a while they sat in silence, letting the television flow over them like a luminescent opiate – so relaxed and unconcerned – unfeeling and unconscious. Kian found himself lost in his own thoughts and every now and again, when he knew she wasn’t going to notice, he stole a look at Emma. She was beautiful. Truly and utterly beautiful. Her skin was alabaster – so perfect that it almost seemed impossible for an organic being to be encased in it. Her face was gently rounded, with soft curves and the ever-so-slightest hint of plumpness which betrayed the youthfulness from which she’d come. Her eyes were large and deep. They glistened and twinkled like stars in deep space on dark, warm summer nights. He loved her with all his heart.
They’d been together for a year now. They had another year of living together before marriage – assuming they could cohabit amicably. Then they would stay together until Emma was thirty or so, about four years hence – and then, assuming all had gone pleasantly, they would go to the clinic and Emma would be made pregnant by Kian. That would commence a ten year minimum agreement, but fifteen years as standard, in which their marriage would stand as legally binding; for the sake of the child. At the end of that period, their marriage would automatically void and they would continue living however they wished – as individuals, perhaps as friends – perhaps not.
Kian remembered his own fifteenth year, when his father had moved out and into a house a few towns away. It had made him sad in a way that seemed primeval and intrinsic, but he had said nothing to anyone about it. His mother had already been bringing other men into the house for some time, whom his father would politely drink with once they were finished, and likewise his father had been going out regularly to have other women, presumably, when the need took him. Thus things progressed as they did for everyone – the contract was completed and his parents went their separate ways. His school teachers interpreted Kian’s sudden lack of attention and drop in grades as the onset of some latent learning difficulty – assigned him special educational needs assistants and dropped him to the lowest academic sets. He didn’t care.
Was this what was in store for him? Yes it was – and the idea horrified. He didn’t want to lose Emma in fifteen year’s time. He didn’t want to be embroiled in some hideous mutually agreeable arrangement which allowed them to raise a child without ever engaging as truly devoted lovers. He wanted what his great grandparents had had – true, eternal love. But was that genuine anyway? Didn’t they marry in their early or mid twenties in those days? Weren’t they just complying with a status quo that had long since been proven incompatible with a human nature which can, and – yes, so they say – should put itself above all else? Why was he like this? Backwards.
Kian looked over at Emma again. The flickering lights from the television played off her skin like water been agitated this way and that. Was this really what she wanted? Kian wondered if perhaps she was just like him – after all, nobody would know that he felt the way that he did – he would never allow his true feelings to be made public, the embarrassment and shame would be unendurable, and so perhaps she felt the same way but was just too afraid to let him see it. In fact, maybe everyone felt that way. Maybe it was all a big tragic act, with everyone too ashamed to admit to anyone else that they wanted real love; real devotion; the same things that so-called liberals and progressives railed against as symbols of an oppressive past. Maybe the world of meaning was still there – under a clammy layer of superficial decadence that nobody dared pierce.
But this, of course, was wishful thinking. It was just him. He was the pervert and he couldn’t excuse himself with fantasies of others oppressing their true feelings. He didn’t deserve to be with Emma – people like him belonged in institutions; or at the very least alone with only their backwards thoughts to get them through the lonely nights. He loved her – in a way that didn’t belong in the world anymore. What’s more, he wanted her – in a way that no man should want his partner. He wanted to share his body with her; as he would with a nobody – as she did with other men. It was disgusting and yet it felt like an extension of his love for her. He was sick. He stood up, walked into the wall and put on his coat and shoes.