Lain puts her hands down on the table and it feels almost like wood, and her hands almost like hands. This time Alice is wearing her school uniform again, but the tie is blue. She looks happy, as if she is thinking of something, something Lain didn't even put into her mind.
At that thought, Lain grips the table, which is scarred with graffiti.
The number is too big or too small, but Lain has pretended to stop counting.
"What's wrong?" Alice asks, just like Alice would.
She shakes her head. "Nothing..."
Then there is food of some unidentifiable kind, and Alice's hand reaching across the table. Lain tries to take comfort in the warmth of the flesh, the texture of the skin, the memory. But she wants all this to be more real, and it's all just off enough to bother her. It should all be exactly what Lain wants, but then is it really Alice?
"You--" Lain begins, and watches Alice smile. It's all sweet and clear and like a dream, but not enough like a dream come true. Now Lain says the word "true" over and over inside her head until it loses meaning.
Everything loses meaning if you repeat it often enough.
She closes her eyes but when she does she sees the exact same thing, Alice in her uniform with the red tie her head tilted just so, waiting for Lain's words. That's wrong, if she closes her eyes Alice should disappear. And then she does.
Close this world...
Alice is wearing her yellow tie and her knapsack is over her shoulder. She has her cellphone out and is sending a message to someone; Lain watches her fingers work the keys and sees her secret smile as she types. She almost asks who she is talking to, but remembers in time that there may not be enough of an answer. When Alice moves her hand Lain sees the words on the screen.
The Greek metanoia is an uprooting, but the Hebrew teshuva is a turning.
Lain reaches across the table and strokes Alice's hair; it's an odd thing to do in public but no one else seems to be here.
Don't remember that.
Alice's hair is like fine thread, thin between Lain's fingers, and the cloth of her jacket is rough. There is a scent like lavender.
"I love--" Alice begins, and watches Lain smile.
And now Lain can remember, the people and the city and the birds against the blue sky, and it's all right. Alice is wearing her green tie and the floor is checkered and if she walks out there will be cold ground and train tracks and the telephone wires stretching into the distance.
But something is draining, and disappearing, even as Lain thinks. She puts her head down on the table and it's all gone.
Open the next.
It's a nightclub, now. They are both wearing dresses, and Alice's is white velvet and shows her delicate limbs and small breasts molded under the fabric. Now Lain can feel her own body's response and that's a bit more real, isn't it?
Alice is whispering into her ear, leading her into a darkened corner of the club, kissing her. Lain opens her mouth to her lover's tongue, presses against her, and this is right. It has to be, this has to be exactly what Alice would do and precisely what would happen when she did.
Don't consider whether there is really an Alice.
Lain needs more, and not just the feel of Alice's neck under her lips, not just Alice's hands tracing down her back. She needs the smell of smoke, a crowd of nameless boys staring, consequences, society. Action and reaction and laws of physics and everything that will make Alice's lips under hers be exactly that.
In the bricks behind Alice's head there are words.
Alice was married when you saw her, wasn't she?
Now suddenly Lain is remembering too much, though really perhaps she can't remember enough. If she walks out of the club there is no city to be lost in, no other person to take comfort in, possibly even no Lain. No, wait, there is far too much Lain. She can feel the wetness of tears now. It isn't fair. All she wanted was a night that didn't end; all she wanted was Alice.
Teshuva is not turning oneself, it's turning the entire world until one is facing the right direction.
Their room is small, with a warm bed with smooth cotton sheets and wood with real grain. Lain loves to touch it, and loves to touch Alice. Today Alice is cooking breakfast, a traditional meal that they will eat painstakingly, feeling the food in their mouths and talking about the taste.
Alice is the one she loves; that's the only part that needs to make sense. If they don't go outside it's only because they don't need to; if they mention no one else it's only because that doesn't matter.
Lain does have a family; if she tries hard enough she will remember them, but she doesn't want to try. And if she asks Alice, then she will hear about friends and school and a silly crush and it will all be real but Lain won't bother asking today. Alice doesn't mind.
She comes into the bedroom, which is very real, and takes Lain's hand. Her skin feels like snow and smooth cloth and that's correct, and her hair is exactly the right color.
"I--" Alice begins, and Lain smiles. The walls are a beautiful white and unless Lain stares very hard she will not see the wires. And there are no numbers anywhere.
I'm too big, because I'm everything... Please let me be small again.
She curls up in the bed and closes her eyes, settling for the feeling of Alice's hand on her back. She doesn't have to open her eyes, not if she doesn't want to.
Alice, I never meant to leave you behind.
Lie very still here with me and do not think about turning or the world.