Though you suspect she would much rather spend her weekends and evenings convalescing at home, you ask her to meet you in city plazas and parks, insisting that fresh air will do her some good. To your surprise, she accepts your invitations—the springtime atmosphere of warmth and wildflowers perhaps too pleasant to pass up even in her despondency.
During your outings with her, she makes for dreary company, mopey and taciturn—gloomy, like you’re walking down sunlit streets or through verdant landscapes with a gray cloud floating alongside you, always on the cusp drizzling. But companionship isn’t the point of these excursions.
When meeting her in the open, busy spaces you’ve selected, you always arrive early, so you can see her approaching from afar and furtively point the telephoto lens of the psychoscope at her. It’s supposed to be used only at work—and even then, just for approved projects—but you are driven by concern (and admittedly, curiosity) to discreetly keep an eye on her broken heart; to track the reassembly of the sundered pieces—to make sure they are in fact reassembling. And over successive rendezvouses with her, you confirm that, to your relief, the cardiac fragments are indeed drawing closer together, albeit very gradually.
Your surreptitious surveillance of her metaphysical anatomy continues to be reassuring, until you see that its slow rate of reconstitution is allowing her heart to reorganize out of order, with self-concern and cynicism heading for the center of the new arrangement.
You monitor the situation closely as these two shards of her character vie neck and neck, locked in a sluggish jockeying for the position of greatest influence over her life. Rooting for self-concern, you grow ever anxious about which contender will triumph, what her new psychological regime will be built around.
To your dismay, cynicism wins this slothy race and seizes the crucial spot, dashing your hopes that there would be at last an era of her life when she treats herself with utmost importance. You brace for an epoch of distrust and acrimony.
But even with this mental preparation, being around her is an incredible drag. She is always moody and brooding, unmoved by beauty, barely responsive to kindness. When she does say thanks, it sounds like her gratitude is being relinquished oh so begrudgingly. Little things set her off: cars parked too close to lines marking lot spaces, posters advertising beauty products in subway cars, people who walk in the very middle of the sidewalk making it difficult for her to pass them.
Still, you try to accept her for who she now is and channel your pessimism into conversations with her, which is surprisingly easy. There’s always something you can glibly complain about, and the effect of voicing your dissatisfactions is immediate. As though you’ve flipped a switch in her mind with your judgmental words, the camaraderie of negativity turns her more talkative—sometimes garrulous—in your company. The two of you are soon disparaging all manner of things: insipid mainstream movies, the shoddy state of public spaces downtown, the inflation rate, the overabundance of refined flour and sugar in the local foodshed, the excessive fixation upon—if not outright glorification of—romantic love in pop culture. Riffing off each other’s rants ultimately leads the two of you to rail against the human experience itself: riddled with cognitive biases, feral propensities and other historical cruft, the common enemy you can pin everything on.
All this vehement denigration cements a vigorous rapport with her but one that weighs heavy on your psyche, making it ache with despair and longing.
“I’m sorry, but I can’t do this any more,” you finally say to her.
To pace out the words you’ve prepared, you take a moment to look at the wind filtering through the bright, fresh leaves of the maple trees across the meadow. You’re glad that the bench you’ve chosen faces such a calming view and allows you to say these words as though to the landscape.
“I thought the darkness would be manageable—tolerable if it kept us close. But it’s exacted more of a toll than I thought it would.”
Unsurprisingly, she responds by unleashing a torrent of spite, declaring that everyone proves to be unreliable, untrustworthy and self-serving given enough time. You find it encouraging—almost touching—that her bitter words are leveled entirely at humanity, only falling upon you as they rain down on all humankind. But ultimately, her vociferous sentiments affirm your decision. You just cannot partake in (nor of) this misanthropy indefinitely. So once she’s said everything she must, you tell her to take care of herself and that you hope to see her again under different circumstances. With unexpected ease, you rise from the bench and take the wooded trail that will bring you to the river.
A few days later, you drive to her neighborhood and park down the street from her place, in a spot that will afford a clear view of her leaving for work. When she steps out the front door, you train the psychoscope on her just as you have so many times before. You recoil at what it shows you, then readjust the focus several times as she walks down the sidewalk, until there can be no mistake. Her heart has splintered apart.
You set the psychoscope down on the passenger seat, trying to make sense of this. Are you the culprit this time? It never crossed your mind that you could have this kind of effect upon her—any such thought at least miles away as she wielded scorn so mightily. Behavior you now know you should not have taken at face value. The psychoscope would no doubt have shown you her heart’s persisting, underlying fragility, and you would not have mistaken voluble rancor for true vigor.
You start the car while your mind extrapolates the future: the next rearrangement (no doubt already underway) will run its course, a new order ultimately establishing itself. You won’t watch that hierarchy form and will instead study it covertly when her heart is once again whole. Or simply adhere to the company policy that prohibits the use of equipment for personal reasons, affording her and yourself space. Either way, you will miss her—more than you already have.
Soramimi Hanarejima is a writer of innovative fiction and the author of Visits to the Confabulatorium, a fanciful story collection that Jack Cheng said, “captures moonlight in Ziploc bags.” Soramimi’s recent work can be found in The Best Asian Speculative Fiction 2018, KYSO Flash and Book XI.