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The calm before the storm smelt like cod liver oil and herbs. Like my aunt's home; like childhood. The landscape was a tug of war between mind and matter against a background of knitting needles scraping against each other—at interludes overshadowed by Viktor's rendition of Bach's Fugue in C major on the Bosendorfer in the living room.

- You used my shampoo, didn't you?

Adriana's latest attempt to bring me out from inside my head, from the awareness of time itself, was to get a rise out of me. It was working.

- Ouch, I grunted when her oily fingers, carrying the stench of the herb-scented squalene, slid across my bruised cheekbone. I pulled away from her hold on my jaw.

- The green bottle is mine. You smell like me now. You smell like a girl. Why didn't you use Viktor's?

Not a second of sympathy was spared for the tears that were welling up in my left eye from the pungent ointment, or the bruises that she was exacerbating rather than healing—which was the whole point of her smearing fish oil on my face.

- I used your toothbrush, too. Now get off, I snapped. I rubbed my jaw where I still felt her nail marks pulsating in sync with my pounding headache. I leaned away from her torso and glanced up just in time to catch her triumphant grin.

She laid a hand on her cocked hip. Her white tank top, which she wore under a snug, lime green cardigan, hiked up her stomach, exposing the slants and curves of her lower belly. She wore flared jeans which she had accessorised with a blunt-studded, white belt. Her whole outfit, though not the least bit unusual in Dronesk, toed the line of immodesty. I could only imagine the row she must have had with her mother that morning. It seemed like every time Adriana returned from her boarding school in the East Villages, she did so with an attitude tenfold her usual.

I should have said something about the way she dressed. Everything from my aching bruise to her defiant smirk taunted me to do it. I was sure that if Mikhail Konstantin's larger-than-life portrait on the wall could talk, he would have commanded that I pull myself together and act like a brevidije mal. But what was it I could have told her which couldn't be directed back to me? I was hardly the person to be taking advice from.

- Get off, Adri. I'm not joking, I said. I tried pushing her back, but she wouldn't budge. Had I put an ounce of effort into my movements, she might have taken my threat for what it was. Instead, she batted my hands away and moved closer.

- Oh, come on. Cheer up. What's the worst he can do this time around? Her big, hazel eyes were begging me to crawl out of my anxiety and talk to her.

The inside of my head was filling with cotton balls that were sucking up cerebrospinal fluid, closing the gap between my brain and skull. My brain felt like one of the Vizslas' toys; a ball caged inside a bigger ball. Bouncing against its confines. Ringing.

There was no way out.

I slumped back against the backrest of the leather sofa. The cushion next to me sighed under Adriana's weight.

- Tell you what, she said, - if he takes your phone away, I'll let you have mine while I'm away at school. Two weeks tops, what do you say?

- Assuming he has it. He doesn't. He lost it. The last sentence was uttered with disgust that Petra normally reserved for when she was asked to throw out edible left-overs. Adriana's head oscillated between the two of us; me next to her, and Petra seated in the armchair to our left. At first, I mistook her silence for being taken aback by Petra's tone. I quickly realised that that wasn't the case. Adriana had been spared Petra's half an hour-long tongue-lashing in the dining room earlier. This was new information to her.

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