Over the next few weeks the chest lurked at the back of Hajimeís mind, his thoughts continuously returning to the painting with its faceless faces and the one black face and he would wonder what lay in the other cases. He would think the other people in his office to be larval entities that moved like a mass of maggots in the dark by-passing him oblivious to his existence. These were the days when he wanted to go home and stay there, perhaps forever, with his new wife making love in the new apartment and baking cookies in the kitchen. Nowadays his wife was asleep when he got home and the only thing that was in the kitchen was leftover dinner. They hardly spoke nowadays.
One night when his dinner had been cold and his wife oblivious, Hajime returned to the chest. In the moonlight he removed the false panel and pulled it out. He went through the cases, avoiding the one he had opened. On another case a black silk lock fell away. The caseís leather felt clammy, like dead flesh, as he opened it and spread the canvas out to stare.
The painting was of a golden birdcage, painted with a childís preciseness. Inside the cage was the white silhouette of a bird frozen in flight, a puzzle in mid-air, for it was dissected, wings and head placed like separate pieces for the main body. White feathers battered themselves against the bars. White feathers and a golden cage, on a background of deepest red. The paint must have been oil based, because it glistened in the moonlight as if still moist. The red was painted on unevenly and thick, in some parts congealed and dripping. It looked like blood.
With a cold shiver down his back, Hajime put the painting away and went back to bed. His sleep however, was plagued by dreams, the kind he had not had since he was a waking adolescent. In the morning he had woken late and his wife was making breakfast.
"Youíre finally up," she said crisply. She was putting on the kettle and wearing a lavender robe over her nightgown. "I hope you realise that youíre going to be late for work."
Hajime stood in the door and gazed at her blankly. She ignored him and turned to get a mug out of the cupboard. She had to bend down to do so, and Hajime found his eyes tracing her curves.
"Youíd probably want to run off soon, so Iíll just make you coffee." She banged a mug onto the kitchen bench and looked for the sugar. "I take it thatíll youíll be late tonight. Again. Iíll leave you dinner in the fridgeó"
Hajime crossed to the kitchen and grabbed her arm. Before she could shout at him in outrage, he pulled her into a fierce kiss completely unlike the ones they had shared when he had been a shy student courting his classmate. She made a startled sound against him, then pressed closer. He slipped her robe off her rounded shoulders and reached for the tie of her nightgown as she pushed a hand up under his shirt.
Hajime didnít go to work that day.
He didnít know what on earth had driven him there, but it was a minor detail, something that had been quickly forgotten as the other had tried to protest Ė violently Ė first against the invasion of his home, and then against his invasion of his body. Or maybe it hadnít been an invasion, since the other had submitted to his first kiss and allowed his defenses to be stripped away easily enough. He had tried to be gentle, he really had, but whatever had driven him to see the other ever since that first meeting in the wake of the buildingís destruction turned him into a beast, and the coupling had been fiercely passionate.
Afterwards, the other had pleaded with him to stay. Of course, he didnít. He had left the otherís home that he had so easily entered and fled to his. He had hauled out the chest and brushes and without even changing his clothes, still soiled with the otherís scent, covered the new canvas in red. The red was slathered on in sloppy strokes and had taken most of the day to dry enough for him to apply the white and gold. There had been arousal when the bird was painted, and only when the silk was sealed and the painting locked from view did it go away.
He would return to the otherís home many times after that. There was something lacking in these subsequent visits. No matter how many times he tried he could never quite reach the intensity of that first visit again. Brilliant while it lasted, afterwards he was left distant and strangely hollow. The young man, overwhelmed after these sessions, could not help, if he even noticed anything past his own pain in the first place.
Still, he always returned and tried again. The demands of the body never needed a reason.
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