“I know it’s late.”
The paper in his hand. The program, flat and uncreased, and on the edge a line of kanji inked in ballpoint pen. Carefully formed. Nothing else in this room is real now. The phone is cold against his ear.
Her voice is blurred and sharp with fear. What time is it in Hasetsu? Late enough for a phone call to feel like an emergency. He turns the phone to show her the writing.
“Yuko, please. I can’t read it.”
Time stopped mattering this afternoon. After the exhibition skate. Between the press and the party, time dissolved into a noise of people. After competitions he always stayed with anyone he could find until he couldn’t stay on his feet, one way or another, because the aftermath always hit like undertow, and a hotel bed alone was no alternative.
But tonight they were sitting side by side at dinner. Chairs almost touching. Yuuri held himself alert, not eating, but looking at the room and the people around them. He was not talking beyond shared congratulations. They had hardly spoken to each other since the free skate. People must have talked to Viktor, but he could not remember. Only the music starting under the tide of voices.
Yuuri was pulling away from the table and catching his eye, not touching him but waiting at the edge of the floor until he came level. And they were dancing, Yuuri in black jeans and a shirt as dark as his costume that day.
It was not what he expected, dancing with Yuuri. They were aware of each other, responding to slight movements, and he was answering the clean line of Yuuri’s footwork, intent on Yuuri’s motion more than his own. The music shifted to a local band rapping in a Beatles harmonic, and Yuuri was letting the beat roll down his body from the shoulders, turning himself into one wry question, asking the music to give him something to move to. A lyric spun by, qui me rendait si gai, and their eyes flicked together with an instinctive shared laughter that kicked him in the chest as it ebbed.
It was not the Eros he had choreographed or the one he wanted to improvise here and now. But he could enfold himself in the music and the light, blue, violet and silver on the open neck of Yuuri’s shirt. Time did not exist.
When the music was turned off, Viktor surfaced out of it like sleep and did not want to stand still. Walking between the long tables while the DJ coiled mike cables, he said “Will you remember this?”
Yuuri half turned to brush his hand down an empty flute glass and flick his fingers away.
He only laughed tonight when I offered to get another bottle. I wanted to toast him. Endlessly. What will he take from me now?
They were walking together under the arches along the Barri Gòtic, along stone-paved arcades and narrow sidewalks. Up a crab-smelling alley where the back doors of restaurant kitchens let out draughts of warm air spiked with garlic and olive oil. Walking as though they could hold onto the night as long as they kept moving. And then the sound of the surf slid under their footsteps, and the sidewalk ran out along the sand. The street lights over the water were easing off. And Yuuri stood still beside him, in a wind stinging with grit, to watch the light on the horizon touch the long undersides of the clouds. The glimmer pulled toward them across the water.
“Can we walk forever?”
Yuuri, looking out at the sunrise, said, “Listen to the gulls.”
Their creeling sheered across him. He would have stood there until the tide soaked him. But the first painful shifting that started them moving again might have been his.
Cul-de-sacs blurred. Light hit red roof tiles. Narrow curbs and tall, tapered windows still lay in shadow. They found the plaza somehow, and the street, and the hotel, and they fumbled up the stairs. For a few steps Yuuri’s shoulder touched his. It takes this kind of weariness to set him off balance.
They came in, and the room was still dark. Viktor was lying on his back, half undressed, when Yuuri knelt on the edge of the far bed, intent over the paper on the bureau between them.
Viktor closed his eyes to see more clearly what he had seen since the afternoon. Yuuri flying, the glint on his finger, his hands rising slowly up to his throat like wings. And when he opened his eyes again he saw the sheet folded back on the bed and the sheet of paper flat on the dresser, and that was all.
Yuko is silent. He hears her take a quick breath.
Hotel rooms always feel unreal, wrapped in plastic like American toys. Leaning into the chest, he picks out points of reality. Yuuri’s robe lying across his pillow, the edge of his compact suitcase just visible on a chair, and the postcard of the Parc Güell Viktor laughed at him for buying for his mother the night they flew in — just text a photo.
Yuuri said “Yes, that too,” and handed Phitchit his phone to take one of them together, jet-lagged and leaning over the salamander, their fingers linked on the mosaic tile. Viktor felt his body orient to that light contact. The ceramic felt cool under his hand, and the night was sliding sideways. He was unmoored, and they were laughing. And the ring. He could feel the ring as though it was all he had on. As though it circulated his blood.
It feels so long ago now.
He turns the phone to see Yuko’s face, and something in his seems to touch her tight expression.
“It’s tanka. Verse. They would be exchanged —” she breaks off, and the discomfort in her voice is making him flush, not only because he thinks he knows when and how they would be exchanged.
She says, “this is private. You should ask him.”
Now he is silent. The phone pressed into his forehead.
Her voice comes back to him in the empty room with a touch of humor.
In her tone the question is simple, sharing a quiet concern, and he is surprised by a sense of gentleness. I don’t know. Five years younger than anyone at his own party and he can’t even legally drink — and I don’t know where he is now. I was right in the music.
He says in the same key, “You should ask him.”
“He’ll want to know you saw him.”
But this is tanka. Viktor puts down the phone. The letters feel cool under his fingers. He can feel the indentations from the pen. And he is lost in the night that word first surfaced from the endless conversations he and Yuuri spun, cross-legged in the spa’s sage green bathrobes. His would find reasons to slide off, cant up. It became a game of folding. The early nights when they were making excuses to find each other in the small hours, solemnly debating what Eros meant.
He was sitting on the lip of a heated pool, his feet in the water and night air cool down his back, alive in each flick of heat in the boy he had not learned to read, hungry for each shift in his eyes from earnest professional dedication to straight-faced laughter to triumph.
That was the night he finally thought to say Eros is Greek. Maybe we need another name. How would we translate him? And Yuuri told him about the court poems of Heian-kyo, a thousand years ago. The messages of love. The poems of meeting and parting, in five lines, 31 syllables.
Yuuri read to him from Ono no Komachi, the genius of her age, giving the meaning as he read … this floating, sea-foam body that waits for your gathering hands … until he lost himself in the original words. He was flushed and lithe. He was the man who stepped onto the ice yesterday. The fluent syllables quickened as he spoke, and he made them his own.
He read until his voice shifted and shook and finally slurred as he spoke into Viktor’s bare shoulder, into his neck, drawing his head down with one insistent hand, telling him the rule of tanka — no one is supposed to sleep on the first night when they are given.
Viktor is still holding the paper, still leaning into the chest between the beds and holding it in his hands, when the door eases closed, as though it might wake him. He hears the soft sound of shoes removed and the steps across the carpet. They pause at the foot of the bed. He waits for what has been long in coming — the few steps more that would stop at his shoulder.
But they pause, and he turns and says “I’m sorry.”
Yuuri is standing straight and taut, and tired. He looks drawn and almost swaying on his feet.
And Victor holds out his hands to him. “What is it?”
The ache comes into his voice. The old lightness has left him, the warmth, the set-them-at-ease calm. Whatever it is, I would ease it for you. If I could. If I can.
Yuuri looks from him to the paper, as though to redirect the question.
He says, “It’s only — I — didn’t want to forget.”
Viktor moves toward him, his hands still held out. Yuuri takes the page from him. He strokes the characters with his thumb. His head inclines, and the shadow of his hair falls across his hands, and he is standing almost within touch in his drawstring pants and his bare feet.
Viktor has to swallow before he can say “Will you read it to me?”
Yuuri’s voice is husky, and he seems to hold each word, one at a time, as though not sure he wants to let it go.
When I hear the gulls’
long call again, each wave lifts
to a rim of light
His voice breaks. Victor feels himself listening for the lightest roughening or intake of breath. For the pause on light and the tremor in it. He is listening with the back of his neck and palms of his hands. He is listening full-body for everything he would not have heard through the phone. Everything that would have been lost in translation. Yuuri’s voice is raw and low.
the sky opens and opens
He looks up.
I dream the sun in your arms
The paper is shaking in his hands.
And Victor is caught in images. Yuuri on the beach in Kyushu, and tonight, this morning, his sleek shirt rucked in the wind, the curve of his body unconsciously echoing the swell of the water. Yuuri holding a shining disk above his head.
I don’t understand. Is it a wish, a future? But ‘your arms’ … the sun in my hands? It would mean nothing without him.
Victor feels tears on his chin and damp on his neck.
How can he tell me to end this and then write such a thing? Is it a dawn goodbye? How can I answer him … like Ono no Komachi waiting in her chamber for the man who might not come.
He remembers her. Her words in Yuuri’s mouth — when my desire grows too fierce. He remembers her movements in the poem. She was playing on a folk belief, Yuuri told him, when he wanted to know why she —
Viktor looks away from his discarded shirt and feels for the robe lying across Yuuri’s bed on the folded sheet. He lifts it carefully. He turns the right arm inside out. And then the left. And wraps it around him, inside out.
It’s supposed to be a nightgown. This will do.
He is holding it against his forehead, the scent of salt water and laundry soap, sesame and sweet resin that will always indefineably be the spa at Hasetsu, and pressing it into his eyes.
He says, “So I can dream.”
Hands take him by the shoulders.
He opens his eyes. And he sees what he has been closing his eyes all night to see. Yuuri is looking at him, steady and vulnerable and clear. And close. Close. His voice ripples in that one word like the night in the hot baths, and as Viktor surfaces with the scent of the spa on his skin he hears the rhythm of that night again, and it is the same as this morning, the same stroke and rise and fall on each word, and he realizes that Yuuri’s slowness as he read aloud was not hesitation. Yuuri was finding the English words.
It’s a translation.
Viktor isn’t breathing. In English the order of the words changes the meaning. But in Japanese it would not. And in tanka, words can pivot. From one meaning to another. The last syllables realign for him. And he says them aloud.
In your arms I dream the sun.
They are wound together, his arms in Yuuri’s sleeves drawn across Yuri’s bare back, tight and trembling.
Yuuri strokes his hair. He is saying “I don’t want to forget. Anything.”
That’s what he meant. Why he wouldn’t take more champagne last night. Because he wants to remember this time.
Viktor says, “I will remember. Always.”
His hands find Yuri’s hip and draw-string.
Each wave lifts.
And Yuri’s hands are unfolding against his chest, at the neck of the robe, sliding the cloth away.