I am tired but no longer hung-over, and I think a cup of tea might do me good. I turn the kettle on, and take a small bag of Earl Grey from the tea box, waiting for the water to boil. I have been home for an hour. Sonya’s not here, she’s at a gig she found out about only this morning – minutes before I apologized for not getting in touch with her last night and answering any of the six calls she made. I was exhausted from the sun-soaked excursion and I literally passed out in the room after a few stiffer-than-expected drinks at the party. It’s perfectly fine, she said, she doesn’t know why she called that many times. She then added the gig should be over close to midnight and that we’ll see each other then, before wishing me a safe trip.
I hear a click, followed by the sound of rumbling water trying to escape its metaloplastic confines, and I pour it over the tea bag. I bring the cup over to my desk, cooling its contents with restrained blows. On the desk is a piece of paper I had taken out of my jeans, and on it are the childish scribblings Nataliya and I produced during today’s lecture on mindfulness, which concluded the teambuilding process and preceded the ride back. Some of the stuff induces a smile, some induces a mild cringe, but the overall content appeals to my hoarding nature and I start looking for a place to keep it in. I decide to take a suitcase from under the bed and place the piece of paper in one of its compartments.
A minute later, the doorbell sounds off. I hear the key turning in the lock and I complement its movement by pressing the handle from my side of the door. Sonya comes in; her microphone-stand folded and packed in a bag on her back, her make-up slightly smeared the way it always is after a gig in an indoor crowded venue, her hair and clothes smelling of passive tobacco smoke. Our lips touch and I help her get the bag off her back.
“Not even a hug?” – she asks.
“Just wanted to take this off first.” – I lower her bag to my feet and give her a hug.
Her body is drenched in sweat. I say nothing out loud, but she steps away from me and tells me she has to shower. As she makes her way to the bedroom, I ask her if she had a tough time performing tonight and she tells me she had a great time. She’s taking her clothes off now and I remind myself the cup of tea must be getting stone cold.
I am sitting on the living room couch, rereading the same paragraph of a five-year-old issue of GQ, as Sonya sneaks up from behind and puts her hands over my eyes.
“Guess who?” – she says.
She takes her hands off, stepping around the couch, facing me.
“Is that what you think of me?”
“That was supposed to be a joke.” – I say, “I was about to add how you promised to let me stay up after midnight as soon as I start high school.”
“Staying up late doesn’t seem to be your strength anyway.” – she says and takes a seat next to me. She only has a towel wrapped around her body.
“So you do have some issues with last night?” – I ask.
“I’m just not sure I believe you.”
“Suit yourself.” – I say, putting the magazine aside. “Are you hungry?”
“No, I ate at the gig. It was a wedding. What do you mean, suit yourself”?
“I can’t make you believe me if you don’t want to.”
“So now you’re saying I don’t want to believe you?”
“I don’t know, Sonya.” – I say. “It’s just tiring, that’s all. And I’m really not looking for a fight.”
“We haven’t fought for some time now.” – she says.
“Well maybe that’s a good thing.”
“With you, I’m not so sure.”
I say nothing.
“When was the last time we had sex?” – she then asks. “I don’t even remember.”
“A couple of days ago I guess. Our schedules are not really working to our advantage.”
“That was never a problem before.”
“I suppose so.” – I say, taking the last sip of the tea. “But it’s natural for things to change a little.”
She moves closer, throwing her leg over me, straddling me. The towel comes off and her breasts are leveled with my eyes. I can smell the coconut lotion on them.
“What are you doing?” – I ask.
“What does it look like, genius?”
“I know what it looks like… and it’s nice.” – I say. “Just, not now.”
“I’m going to make myself another tea, you want one?”
“I want you to tell me what’s wrong with you.” – she says.
I move aside and go to the kitchen. My back is turned to her and I can hear the towel being picked up and wrapped again.
“Are you stressed because of something at work?” – she asks.
“I don’t know, I suppose so.”
“Why don’t you just quit?” – she asks, getting up from the couch and walking toward me. “I mean, that’s how we got here in the first place, isn’t it? You’re the one who convinced me about the senselessness of it all, and I feel better now. Much better, about everything… except you.” – she gives me a kiss. “I want you to be happy again.”
“I would have to think of something to do before quitting.”
“Well you always wanted to write, why don’t you write?”
“I haven’t written a word in almost a year.” – I say, and hear the kettle sounding off. “And writing doesn’t pay the way singing does. You’re sure you don’t want some tea?”
“Ok, I’ll have some of the damn tea.” – she says.
I pour two cups and return to the couch.
“I think I should work on mixing things up somehow…” – I say, sitting down.
“You know, I hear so much of I this and I that.” – she says. “You should try switching that up with we sometimes, maybe you’d feel better.”
I shrug my shoulders, eyes pointed at the turned off TV.
“Are you sure all of this is not because of someone else?” – she then asks.
“Some other woman in your life.”
“We already went through this. I told you I would never cheat on you.”
“That does not mean there’s no one else.”
“If there was, I’d tell you.” – I say.
“What about… Nataliya?” – she asks. “The one from your work.”
“Didn’t we already talk about that as well?”
“Well you used to mention her a lot in the beginning, saying how she was one of the few people you actually like talking to over there, but I haven’t heard you say a word about her in a while.”
“That’s because your irrational jealousy taught me it’s better off that way. She is married Sonya, she has a child. Let’s not get crazy.” – I say.
“I don’t know any longer…”
“Look, maybe we should try and chill out a bit.”
“What does that mean?”
“Let’s not focus on problems that much, you know. Let it go for a while, and then see if everything continues to be the way it seems to you now…” – I say, setting the cup of tea on the floor. “It’s just a fucked up period, everyone is bound to go through it.”
“But you’re the one who always stresses how important it is to be honest and talk about everything.”
“Yes, I do, but I don’t have to be right all the time.”
She looks at me with suspicion.
“Plus,” – I continue. “Even though we’ve been spending a lot of time apart, we’ve also been spending a lot of time together. If I’m not at work and you’re not out there performing or rehearsing, we’ve only been spending time with each other.”
“So you’re saying we should spend even more time apart?”
“No.” – I say. “I’m simply trying to kind of illustrate the whole situation. Give it a bit of context.”
“And you’re not being manipulative at all.”
“Ok, let’s calm down.” – I say. “How about we go to sleep? I have to get up early for this fucking job again and I didn’t even have the weekend off. Maybe all of this will look different in the morning.”
“As you wish.” – she says and turns her head away, bringing her legs tight together.
I go back to the kitchen, put the cup in the washing machine and tell her that I’m going to brush my teeth.
“I’m not sure this is just a fucked-up period…” – I hear her say from the living room.
I respond nothing, looking at myself in the mirror. I think of Nataliya at her home, her daughter tucked in bed for the better part of the last two hours, and her having a drink with the husband on the terrace. Oh, what an exhausting 24 hours, I can’t believe I had to drive there and back in two days, I see her say. Still, at least I got a good night’s sleep, more than if I was here waking up for the little one, she says, smiling at her husband, petting his hand on the armrest. I missed you, he says and kisses her. She kisses back but says nothing. I spit out the foam, rinse my mouth, and sense words forming, formulating in a whirlwind. I look for a piece of paper to project them on but find nothing in my sight. I then take my phone and write in a hurry. It’s short and I am not sure I like it and I name it ventriloquist blues. I undress down to my underwear as Sonya enters the bedroom. She watches me put a clean t-shirt on, and taking the towel off, asks for one herself. I lie down and watch her put it on in front of the mirror. She gets into bed next to me and I switch the light off. She’s lying on her back and I rotate to her side. I see her eyes are open and I wish her good night as I close mine.
The alarm clock awakens me from a deep dreamless sleep. After swinging my legs over the side of the bed, I rub my eyes and turn around to see Sonya’s head buried in the pillow. I get up and go to the kitchen, fetch a new filter, dump two scoops of coffee in it, pour four deciliters of water and turn the machine on. I go to the windowless toilet, flick the light switch, lift the toilet seat, and urinate. While struggling to keep the stream neat and reduce its bounce rate, I think of how there was no need for me to open my eyes until now. The coffee-machine has started making familiar noises back in the kitchen. I take two cups off the shelf; pour a drop of regular milk in one, and a splash of rice milk in the other. Coffee comes on top until there’s a centimeter between the liquid and the edge of the cup. I bring the rice milk infused one to the bedroom and rest it on the nightstand above Sonya’s head. I then make my way to the living room where I turn my laptop on and drink coffee in silence. The music will wake her up if I play it. Opening the browser, I see the same centrifuge of headlines spinning across every news page I scroll through, thus causing the nature to call once again. I answer by moving to the toilet, setting the laptop on a little table preinstalled for this purpose. A shower is next in line and that is where I find myself when I notice Sonya is awake. I can see this since the shower itself is a part of the bedroom; a project of my bachelor imagination from the time I moved in.
“You’re up?” – I murmur through the water dribbling over my mouth.
I can’t hear her response and so I ask once again.
“I haven’t slept at all.” – she says, getting out of bed.
“I brought you coffee.” – I say.
“It’s with rice milk.”
“Thanks.” – she repeats and leaves the room without taking the coffee.
I towel off and put on a pair of dark blue jeans and an olive-green shirt. In the living room, Sonya is standing next to the terrace, looking out the window.
“Why couldn’t you sleep?” – I ask.
“I was thinking about us.”
“About last night?”
“And the night before.”
“It’s strange. I feel betrayed somehow.”
“No one betrayed you Sonya.” I say, rolling up my sleeves and looking for my wallet. “You’re being overly emotional about all this.”
“Maybe I am.” – she says and comes closer to me. “You’re leaving already?”
“Well it’s half past eight. It’s what I do at this time.” – I say, faking a smile. “What are you up to today?”
“I don’t know, catching up on the lyrics for the band’s new stuff I guess.”
“You want me to bring some food on my way back from work?”
“Yeah, that would be good.”
“Yeah, that’s okay.”
“Okay.” – I fake another smile and give her a quick kiss before picking up my keys from the table. I tap my pockets on the outside to check if everything is there and head for the door.
“See you then.” – I say, looking back.
“See you.” – she says.
Outside, I start walking up the street in order to reach the wide Kneza Milosa Boulevard, 74 steps away from my building. The owner of the small shop at the halfway point wishes me a “good morning neighbor” and I do the same. Then I reach the boulevard and see the lady with the dog. As on cue, she goes by me, never glancing away from the ground, her season-immune pitch-black sunglasses reflecting the greyness of the cracked sidewalk and the red of the stretched out leash. The plentiful hair of the dog resembles the owner’s own hairstyle. Their age seems proportionate as well, and I think about the odds of them crossing the finish line together. There’s an aroma of mildew and brandy in the air as they go by. The security guard in front of the Italian embassy is taking his cigarette break. He’s struggling with a box of matches in his hand, flicking and missing the coated sand paper. Frowning, he gives me a nod of the head. The bus station on my right is crowded with people dressed as if they’re anticipating a significant drop in temperature as the day progresses. Honk. An old-enough-to-vote Mitsubishi doesn’t appreciate me ignoring the pedestrian red light. I lift my hand and go through the motion of apologizing. This was the last side street and soon I will cross to the other side of the boulevard. I can see the office building rising with every step I take and I’m trying to distinguish the people on its rooftop terrace but I can’t.
The receptionist in the lobby greets me as I make my way to the elevator. It’s time for the silent prayer of no one joining me for the ensuing wait. The gods disobey right away.
“How’s it going?” – he says, coming up from behind, the guy I sat next to during the screenings.
“If it was any better, it wouldn’t be good.” – I reply.
“Haha. So you managed to bounce back from the weekend I see.” – he says, then adds, “Now that I think of it, I only saw you at the start of the party.”
“Yeah, I guess the whole treasure hunt and driving did it for me.”
“Oh come on, you’re trying to tell me you didn’t go for some one on one counseling with those Montenegrin assistants?” – he grins. “Talk about a handful.”
“I wish I did man.” – I say.
One of the Partners comes in just as the elevator doors slide open, and the three of us are now punching in our respective floors.
“At least the weather’s as good as it was in Slovenia.” – the Partner says.
“Mhmm…” – I sound off.
“We should’ve stayed there for a week.” – the Partner says, emphatically. “And next year I’ll see to it that we do.”
The elevator dings. It’s floor number 4.
“But when there’s work to be done…” – he lifts his briefcase up to his chest, taps on it twice, and waves us goodbye. The elevator doors close.
“So… you had a good time over there, huh?” – I ask.
“I tell you man, if you’d just seen the red haired…”
Ding. Floor number 5.
“But yeah, keep it quiet…” – he says, stepping outside of the elevator, winking at me. I make a zipping motion across my mouth, and the doors close again. It’s floor number six now, and after leaving the elevator behind and scanning my company ID, I am given entry to the open office space and inner workings of a corporate law firm. I ask myself why is this the place in which I will be spending the next nine hours, but then I remind myself of my age and monthly earnings, and the thought is pushed aside.
I approach my desk and see Nataliya, already in her place, to the left of my own. She does not turn around until I take my seat, and I do so unnecessarily loud. I throw my phone and wallet in front of me and switch the laptop on.
“You do know that the other name for open space is quiet space?” – she says, facing me.
“It’s about time they oil these chairs.”
“Let’s go for a smoke.”
“That kind of a morning, huh?”
“No different from any other.”
“I’m going to get some breakfast first.” – I say, swiveling around and getting up from the chair. “So feel free to wait up.”
“You’re a bore.” – I hear her say to my back as I leave.
I enter the office kitchen and find a single bag of oatmeal left in the cupboard. I pour hot water from the dispenser over it and take one of the little spoons from the drawer. The spoon looks like it went through its very own Shawshank redemption, and so I decide to wash it after a glance at the drawer tells me I won’t be having much success with any of the other ones as well. I’m done with washing and I’m standing in the kitchen, stirring the mushy contents in the bowl, convincing myself this is a healthier option than a bacon & egg omelet, hearing my stomach growl in response. People’s voices are getting louder and so I start back to my desk, bowl in hand, and cross paths with two of them on the kitchen’s doorstep.
“Hey, how’s it going?”
“Hey, how’s it going?”
Nataliya is not in her seat and I eat my breakfast on a pile of scattered papers I haven’t looked at and don’t intend to any time soon. It’s Monday and I know there are only two things people expect to see from me today, drafts of internal and external weekly highlights as they are called, and which take me about an hour to write. They think this takes four or five times as much, and so I’m left to my own devices in figuring out what to do with the remaining time. Today’s inclination is geared toward reading about Mars exploration and the history of Earth’s missions related to it. It started in 1971 with two Soviet probes that contacted the surface but failed to achieve a proper landing, according to Wikipedia. The first data transfers occurred some 5 years later, courtesy of NASA’s Viking orbiters. I think of the space race paradox and how it was born as a mere afterthought of the nuclear cock contest.
“Oatmeal, really?” – Nataliya says as she takes her seat.
“Metrosexual breakfast of champions.” – I reply. “How about that cigarette now?”
“I just went for one.” – she says. “Oh sorry, did you think I was going to wait for you?”
“No, although I think there’s nothing smarter you can do right now.”
“But there is. Alicia has me booking hotels for her New York visit next weekend.”
“It’s good that Oxford equipped you with the knowledge for such challenges.”
“I’ll be upstairs.”
The smoking terrace is on the top of the office building and I am glad to see no one on it as I light my first cigarette of the day. Most of old Belgrade’s rooftops, lonely in taking a stand against the widespread urban cloning and still providing the city with a solid postcard identity, can be seen from here. The cigarette tastes awful after the oatmeal and I put it out before it burns half way, once again reminded of how healthy-unhealthy pairings cannot work. I head downstairs. Between floors 8 and 7, I feel my phone vibrate. It’s Sonya. My first instinct is not to answer, let it ring, and tell her later I was in a meeting. But it’s rare for her to call me while I’m at work, and so I decide to pick up.
“I think I’ll be going to my parents’ place.” – she says.
“Did something happen?” – I ask.
“I don’t know.”
“What do you mean, Sonya?”
“I mean I’m going to my parents’ place for a couple of days.”
“And is there any reason for that?”
“I don’t know, I feel like doing that.”
“All right, if that’s what you want to do.”
A short stretch of silence.
“Ok, just wanted to let you know.” – she says.
“Cool.” – I say. “Have a good trip and text me when you get there.”
The line clicks. I was doing the talking on the way to my desk, and the end of the conversation finds me sitting in my chair.
“Sonya?” – Nataliya asks.
“Yeah.” – I say. “Calling to say she’s going to her parents.”
“Don’t tell me you broke up with her.”
“But you definitely plan to?”
“I see no reason to stay with her.” – I say, and lower my voice. “It’s a different situation from your own, you know that right?”
“Let’s not talk about this here.”
“Fair enough.” – I say and turn to my sleeping computer, logging in. I am not surprised to see that no new emails have arrived in the meantime, and I go back to the Mars missions tab. As soon as I start reading, I see my phone vibrate and rattle across the desk. It’s Sonya again. I stand up and make my way to one of the empty conference rooms to answer.
“Are you serious?” – she asks as soon as I pick up the phone.
“Serious about what?”
“About wishing me a nice trip.”
“I don’t see what’s wrong with that?”
“If I leave now, I’m not coming back.” – she says.
“Didn’t you say it was only for a couple of days?”
“You said many things too.” – she says, her tone bordering on crying.
I let a couple of seconds pass. I hear unsteady breathing on the other end of the line.
“Look Sonya, maybe it’s best if we do take a little break.” – I then say. “I think it can help.”
“A little break?”
“Yeah, as you said, a couple of days.”
“I knew it. The only person you want to help is yourself. You fucking bastard.”
The line clicks. I exit the conference room and go back to my desk. I take a seat and Nataliya rolls her chair closer.
“Sonya again? What happened?”
“Now we broke up.” – I say, turning to face her. “Actually, I hope we did.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because it would be a load off my shoulders.”
“It’s sad when things end up that way.”
“It was a long time coming.” – I say.
“Let’s have lunch somewhere today. What do you say?”
“I say that’s a splendid idea.”
“Do you think we need to bring someone along with us?” – she asks. “So it doesn’t raise any suspicion?”
“I think our morale will not be questioned because of a single lunch.”
“I think I’m getting paranoid.”
“Relax and book those hotels.” – I say. “We’ll go eat around one.”
I spend the rest of the noon moving on from space missions to the Tsar bomba, followed by two hours on IMDB going through random filmographies and message boards, before Nataliya’s hotel booking activity reminds me I should perhaps cancel the accommodation arrangements for the trip to Italy this summer. Sonya and I were supposed to go to Milan for the Springsteen concert, and I already planned out a road trip involving a couple of agriturismo visits on our way there, but now the possibility of having to devise a new, looser plan, excites me. I realize I may also have an extra concert ticket now, and that gets me thinking about potential companions, causing me to look at Nataliya. She’s biting her lips, eyes locked on the screen.
“Come on, you’re hungry.” – I say.
“Yes, I’m dying.”
“We don’t have any problems overstating things, do we?”
“I don’t know who you people are, but I’m dying.”
“Hurry up then.” – I say. “Third world problems never get solved by themselves.”
“I have to send this e-mail first.”
“I’ll wait up in front of the building.” – I say and head out.
Downstairs, I light a cigarette, finding no trace of the oatmeal aftertaste left, watching the trams go by and clatter away at the surrounding buildings. Hidden behind sunglasses, my gaze follows the rushed movement of a middle-aged woman wearing a white shirt and a grey jacket and skirt across the street. She drops a pair of keys and kneels down to pick them up, revealing more of her bright pink underwear than she intends to. I feel a pinch on my back.
“Where will we eat-” – Nataliya asks, cutting herself off at the end. “I almost called you darling just there.”
“Mr. Freud would be proud of you.” – I say, stepping on the cigarette.
“I think he already is.” – she says, looking at me. “So where will we eat?”
“I’m fine with anything.”
“Me too, pick something close by.”
“How about that place with the garden?” – I say. “It’s nice outside.”
“I don’t really like that place.”
“Okay, how about that pizza place next street?”
“I’m not too big on pizza.”
“Okay, how about we hop on a plane to Paris for some oysters?”
“Let’s give that pizza a try.” – she says. “It’s closer.”
We walk toward the restaurant, side by side, while she tells me about the latest assignment she got from Alicia. As we approach one of the nearby consulates, I listen for just enough details to come up with timely responses, otherwise focusing on the glass window of a guard booth in front of us that’s populated by our augmenting reflections. I almost put my arm around her, going as far as to start the motion that I then turn into a stretching move, an act that goes unnoticed on a crowdless street.
The waiter welcomes us to an empty dining hall, letting us know we are free to choose our own table. Nataliya proposes the last, cornered one, and I go along. We take our seats and the menus are planted in our hands.
“I think I’ll go for this chicken salad.” – she says.
“What happened to trying out the pizza?”
“Pizza sounded like the thing to say.”
“It’s better eaten than said.”
“I’m on a diet again.”
“So,” – I say. “You saw that pregnant picture of yourself again?”
“Shit, I showed it to you, didn’t I?”
“Yes you did.” – I say. “But you knew I was never going to be attracted to you anyway.”
“Fine, let’s split a pizza.”
We make the orders and go into talking about the kindergarten hunt she is currently involved in. I am marginally surprised by the number of such private institutions in a city like Belgrade. She wants to send her daughter to one of the two French ones; she wants her to start learning the language from an early age. She will be under the watchful eye of a certain Madame Marie in that case. Nataliya has met her and liked her, but is afraid the whole concept might be a scam to rip off money from the city’s well-to-do parents. I am the first one to tackle the cloud of the Sonya development, as the waiter serves us food.
“I wonder if she’ll be home when I get back from work.” – I say.
“I still don’t understand why you moved in with her that soon.” – she replies, then looks down at her plate. “But hey, who am I to talk about what’s soon.”
“So what will you do if she’s there?”
“I would much rather she wasn’t.” – I say. “It would be better for her that way.”
“Well for one, it would be a boost to her self-esteem. You know, the whole I left him thing people get off on.” – I take a bite of pizza and chew it down. “Two, it would prevent me from having to tell her the whole truth, which is good, because doing that could really hurt.”
“You’re not thinking what I think you’re thinking?”
“It has nothing to do with you.” – I say, looking for the waiter to ask for some pepperoncino. “It has to do with what makes sense for a person to hear.”
The waiter comes over and pulls a bottle of spiced olive oil from one of the shelves on the wall, resting it on our table. I pour it over the sidelined pieces of pizza crusts in my plate and ask Nataliya if she’d like some. She says she only wants a couple of drops and I pour them for her.
“Enlighten me.” – she says, as the waiter leaves.
“Maybe it’s just the way I look at it,” – I say. “But with break-ups it all comes down to what people take with themselves going forward. If she leaves of her own accord, she can make whatever she likes of the entire story. That way I can be the asshole who started acting weird, who couldn’t appreciate everything she had to offer, who will now suffer for the rest of his life, you know, et cetera.”
“I still don’t believe all of this is so easy for you.” – she says.
“It probably wouldn’t have been, if it wasn’t half a year in the making.”
“Ok, tell me more about number two.”
“Once in the morning and once after coming back from work.”
“Oh, you mean number two as in she’s home when I come back?”
“Yeah, that number two.”
“That means I will have to look her in the eye and tell her I am no longer attracted to her.” – I say. “Can you name a single person that can go without permanent damage after hearing that? Everyone can pretend to be unscathed, of course, that’s what we do, but the truth is that coming to terms with that kind of information must fuck you up for life.” – I wipe the corners of my mouth with a napkin. “And I see no reason to do that to her.”
“You will get no argument from my side.” – she says, forking the last piece of the slice in her plate, folding it in half and bringing it closer to her mouth. “But I still think breaking up a relationship hurts more than you’d like to admit.”
“It’s a different situation from your own.”
“I don’t want to talk about that.”
“Fine.” – I say, “But I think we’ll have to, and soon.”
“You haven’t told anyone I hope?”
“Not a soul.”
“Please don’t tell anyone.” – she says.
“I won’t.” – I say.
Back at the office, I start on the weekly highlights, compiling them in under an hour, before sending them to the Senior Partners for approval. A couple of smoke breaks and New Yorker articles later, it’s almost five and the said approval is in my inbox. I relay the task of distributing the highlights to the designated authorities in charge of this, around the same time when Nataliya informs me her husband will be picking her up in front of the office. They have neighbors coming over for dinner and there’s something they have to do beforehand. Soon the bottom right corner of my screen lets me know it’s 17:00. Nataliya and I leave at the same time; she takes the elevator and I take the staircase. I reach ground floor, say goodbye to the evening receptionist buttoning her uniform, and head home.
Walking past the bus station, I recognize some of the people from this morning, their jackets still on their backs for some reason. On the pavement in front of my apartment building, the sunlight peers through the branches and leaves of Linden trees, forming indistinct shapes of shade. I push the heavy steel door and climb to floor number 1, floor number 2, floor number 3. The door in front of me is engraved with my last name. I put the key in the lock, turn, press, open. It’s quiet. I move toward the living room and I see that it’s also clean, much cleaner than it was this morning. Checking the bedroom, I come up with the same conclusion. She is no longer here. No trace of her is here. The hangers that carried her dresses, the drawers that hid her underwear, the perfumes, the make-up, all gone. I walk back to the living room, then kitchen, and see a note on the fridge. “The keys are in the mailbox. Sonya.” That’s all it says. I open the windows to let fresh air in, and take a seat on the couch. Looking around, the words of one of my favorite Serbian authors come to mind. What remains after love? Nothing, shit. I can’t place where exactly it’s from. I sit and think of her singing.