K is woken hours later by a cursing F, crashing into the bureau on his way to the bathroom. He raises a finger to his lips and mouths the word quiet. He urinates loudly and — she is listening — does not wash his hands. He stumbles out of the bathroom — his belt is unbuckled and his trousers are around his ankles — and toward her.
You’re here, F says. K turns on her side and does not respond. I’ve never been happier to see you, he says. She sees his hand slowly stroke her cheek in the bureau mirror. He kneels to the floor and waits by her side. I knew you wouldn’t do it, he says. She sees him lean closer to place his lips on her cheek. We’re fine, babe, we always have been. He runs his hands through her hair. Trust me. She turns to face him and says, How can I? He does not respond. She asks again. How can I? He does not respond.
All things come in wrappers. At first, because the world is new and unknown, one does not notice the wrappers but only the thing that lies beneath, set alight by the flame of curiosity. Rain turns the dry earth to mud, but the mud is not simply wet dirt or filth; it is the squelch of boots, a brother’s cry of surprise as he is pushed into it, the flight of a ball as it interrupts raindrops on their way down, down. Sadness, anger, love, hate — each is the same. Each begins definitively in passion and ends definitively in passion too; nothing hesitates or lingers. The world is weightless; the wrappers are thin peels that impede nothing. All motion is ceaselessly forward.
And then, at some later time, things are abruptly obscured by their wrappers. The flame of curiosity is dampened by habit and hesitation. The thin peels quickly thicken and hide what lies beneath and all that one sees is the wrapper. A tree’s life, its heart — what makes the tree a tree — is lost beneath the bark. There are those who are content with only the wrappers, a life in the shallows; but for the rest, the challenge of life, insurmountable, is to claw back beneath the surface to that world where mud is more than dirt and emotion is more than thought, where all things are pure instinct, all action, and the wrappers are so thin they may as well be invisible.
Tonight, F insists on going to the pub. He puts on the clothes he thinks he looks best in, buffs his shoes, and combs back his hair with gel, and he places himself firmly at the foot of their bed. What’s the point of coming halfway across the world if you’re just going to stay in the hotel? he says.
K does not answer; that coming halfway across the world may have, in fact, been pointless; that the room’s polished edges make it feel like all the other hotel rooms she has ever been in and will ever be in; that the blankets are heavy enough to displace all sensation of the outside world; that the glow of the television is warm and comforting; that a tight, nauseating embrace has drawn her in and refuses to let her go — and that she has not yet found it within herself to ask to be let go either — is too honest to say out loud.