We had nothing left.

            It had been that way for some time already, though everything still seemed fine on the surface and there was no apparent reason to question life as a whole.

            But that one spring evening—that was the moment I realized it had all been utterly, irrevocably destroyed.

            The snow had melted away, puddles shimmered outside, a fresh breeze rattled in the darkness. On the outskirts of the capital, the relatively new housing estate had settled down for the night. Identical terrace houses loomed amid a saturated field like frozen livestock waiting for twilight to turn everything off. The dull roar of traffic came from the highway, alders and birches clacked in a thicket nearby. Such evenings were not unknown to me; those dark hours that press you inward. Nothing in your surroundings helps to draw attention elsewhere. A damp cubic meter of void glows around the streetlamps, moonlight slices contours into the edges of the expanse, but it’s just an illusion, a mirage. And encircling you inside those walls is all that clutter, like a lackluster reflection of your pathetic mental landscape.

            We were sitting in the living room. The TV played softly—some nature program about monitor lizards that lay on a coal-black volcanic beach, licking their chops with draconic tongues. A couple of hikers tried prodding them with sticks to get them to move. I was listening to Schubert’s Waltzes through headphones. Someone on TV shouted “Look out!”, penetrating the music. My gaze snapped into focus and turned towards Diana for some reason. She was reclining on the couch with her computer in her lap, tapping away in her chatrooms with headphones on as well. I stared at her from the armchair and suddenly felt as if I was truly seeing her for the first time in ages. Abrupt, heightened concentration dissolved the veil of habituation that had formed over the years, and there she was: blondish-white hair; a vacuous, expressionless face; bristly faint eyebrows; a dull gaze; a shapeless mouth parted like a tiny beak, supplying her enormous frame with oxygen. Diana’s diet had lately consisted entirely of little cakes drowning in pink frosting and savory pies dripping with fat, and she had gotten severely obese.

            True, it was simply a symptom . . . a symbol?

            Only later, once I myself was tumbling through the dark maelstrom to follow, did I slowly come to realize that Diana’s indiscriminate gluttony was nothing more than a replacement for something that had long since crept out of her life.

            But that evening . . .

            I heard her wheezing inhales and exhales over the melancholic thudding of piano keys in my ears, and I wondered: “Who is this person? No, seriously, who is she?”

            Diana was working at a wholesale logistics center, even though she had a degree in sociology. I dimly remembered having once had the arousing revelation that from a certain angle and with a particular expression on her face, she was the spitting image of Marilyn Monroe. The comparison now seemed nearly misplaced, though its recollection still reflected some long-forgotten sense of clarity and warmth that we’d probably called “love” during flashes of intimacy. No, it was love, naturally—we used to have it all.

            I was employed at an architectural bureau at the other end of the city. My department handled mapping.

            At home we communicated like cavemen, using only grunts and gestures.

            “The kids? Huh?”


            “To the store, mhm?”

            “Mm-hm, that’s, yeah . . .”



            “Hmm . . . “



            A kind of resigned disillusion had sprung up in place of love, one that at times swelled into something resembling disdain. Yet even that emotion was utterly passionless—monotone white noise to which we’d been accustomed for a very long time.

            I’ve had a thing for art since I was young. I can honestly say that I have a rather refined taste, and beauty has always been a source of comfort—paintings, music, sculptures. And not just superficial beauty—no—but any composition on the whole, even if it’s cerebral. Even if it’s the subtlest allusion to the possibility of harmony of any type.

            This, however, was total deformation.

            And to be clear up front, I myself was no better than she was. Not one bit. It felt like even my most minor of merits had simply trickled away over time like water leaking from a barrel. And now, I felt as if the barrel itself was starting to disappear, too. I was turning invisible, into a gray figure, into the blunt-edged stencil of a middle-aged man with saggy cheeks, brown marble eyes that looked like they’d been borrowed from someone else’s head, a balding skull, and a gut that bulged over my waistband. I usually wore an absent, somewhat astonished expression in the photos taken at company parties—jaw hanging slightly open, eyebrows raised. I was trying to smile but ended up giving the impression of someone who had received a terminal diagnosis just moments before.

            We had mutated equally over the course of our lives together.

            So why were we here together, anyway?
            Our kids?

            A boy and a girl.

            Was it for the kids?

            Out of habit?


            I occasionally felt myself to blame when resent led to depression, and I suppose I wished—I believe I truly just wished—for someone to think of me as a good person.

            That’s always motivated me, that pitiful . . .

            “You’ve got to be a good person.”

            You’re paralyzed by fear and unknowing. The anxiety drives you mad. You want to scream, to bellow, to smash everything to bits and dig your fingernails into a wall, but you’ve got to be a good person.

            Diana and I no longer slept together—that had long been off the agenda. But I had stayed loyal. There wasn’t another woman and not even the prospect of seeing any change in that department, as I was constantly surrounded by the same type of people—at work, at the grocery store, on the street. Drained looks and mundane topics. No spark, no unexpected sense of recognition that could ignite something dynamic.

            I reckon that as things went on that way, I did become more withdrawn and started spending more and more time on the internet.

            At first . . .

            At first, I was looking for beauty; for something to stimulate not only the body, but the soul. I found artistic poses and stylized erotica. Black-and-white visuals, beaded water on the curve of a hip, a fig leaf on a partly concealed breast, you know—relatively harmless, playful fantasy that culminated in an innocent moment of gratification.

            But then, rather swiftly . . .

            I went further, needing an increasingly concentrated dose; an ever baser, more agonizing, more boundless kind of touch.

            And suddenly, that new world revealed itself to me—all those pages, that gasping and sweating, moaning and sucking, utterly free and equally filthy sanctuary devoid of doubts and taboos, unbridled and direct. I’ll admit it probably was the polar opposite of refined taste, but that’s where I’d ended up. It was a secret club that was always waiting just a couple clicks away.