Katka was awake when we stepped into the living room. Her faint silhouette was illuminated by the flickering blue light from the television screen. She sat huddled up on the couch with a blanket drawn up to her chin, a rolled up pillow propped her head up.
The scent of their home hit me, reeling me back into years of suppressed memories. The Karamovs had a fragrance about them that was even more elusive than the taste of water. It hits your nostrils with a flare at first, but then just as you're about to identify the undertones, it adapts into your system. I took deeper breaths, trying to store the dissipating traces that reminded me so much of my childhood.
Katka called to her siblings in Brommin without so much as casting a glance our way. I waited for the inevitable; the moment she turned her head and noticed me standing, like a statue, outside the threshold. An unsettling feeling wrung my stomach.
I mimicked the siblings and took off my shoes at the entrance. It was surreal to find myself inside the very house I had sworn so many years ago I would never return to. The living room felt familiar, though some of the decor was new. The television drew my eyes, as well as the illuminated coffee table, but everything else was lost to the dimness.
Reality and recollection superimposed on each other like mirroring images, until it became impossible to tell the two apart. Had it only been four years ago I had been best friends with these same people whom I now considered strangers?
Katka said something in Brommin to Anja, who out of three of us was the closest to her. I had the feeling Katka was staring at me, but I couldn't tell from our distance. The side of her pale face flickered from one shade of blue to another as the images on the screen changed.
Anja chuckled at whatever Katka had said to her. She looked back at me and said, - No, he's very much real.
Katka rose from the couch but seemed almost afraid to approach me.
- Ru, she said, her expression perplexed, - what the hell happened to your face? She drew one step closer to us. Her nightgown, which had caught on the seat, came loose and spilled past her calves to her ankles. Her bangs were rolled up with a hair roller. She looked as unprepared to see me as I had been at the thought of seeing her ten minutes ago.
- Get in line like the rest of us, Yuri whisper-shouted from in front of me. He looked at Anja and said, - We'll head up to the bathroom. Get some hot water, a cloth, plaster, and the peroxide.
- Come, he motioned for me to follow him upstairs.
- Yuri–, Katka began but was interrupted by her brother's hushing. With one forefinger to his lips, he pointed his other to the hallway leading out of the living room, to where I assumed their parents were sleeping. Katka retreated her inquiry into herself; her expression falling in disappointment.
- I'm okay, I assured her. She didn't seem convinced. Her eyebrows drew together in worry.
She ended up following us upstairs. Our steps were masked by the carpet, but our effort of discretion in the cramped stairway died at the first rustle from our jackets. Yuri slipped out of his and hung it on the bannister as soon as we reached the second floor.
He reminded me that Surimna and Lopija slept in the room opposite the bathroom and that we needed to keep our voices down. I nodded in understanding. He went over to his room which was adjacent to his younger siblings' and flicked on the light. He left the door open. I hadn't understood what he was doing until he opened the door to the bathroom. That's when it clicked that the light from his room would spill into the bathroom, acting as a substitute. That way we wouldn't risk waking up the children.
I passed Katka on my way to the bathroom. Her eyes, meticulously calculating, raked over me from head to toe. I stepped over the threshold onto the cracked mosaic tiles. Both siblings followed my every move as I went over to the sink, and placed my hands on the cold porcelain before I looked at myself in the mineralized mirror.
YOU ARE READING
If We ExistGeneral Fiction
🏆A 2018 Wattys Winner🏆 Two boys, one ethnically segregated town. Two sides, one war. Yuri Karamov's existence is like Schrödinger's cat, simultaneously both dead and alive. In Ru Konstantin's mind, Yuri is still the same vibrant young man he was w...