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My Own Sin

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From the moment she saw her staring out the window, Varvara knew something was wrong. She began a slow approach, hand raised as if to touch Katya's shoulder, then stopped, opting to sit across the living room instead. God only knew what would happen if Katya were startled, and Varvara was prepared to go to any length to ensure neither one of them had the chance to ask Him directly—not for many years, at least.

"Katya, are you well?"

At hearing her name, Katya slowly turned her head. She was beautiful, Varvara saw—she always did—but a single glance at the storm raging in her friend's eyes instilled in her a fear of God no church ever had.

Katya blinked, and it was over. She frowned; turned her attention to the opposite wall. "I used to dream, you know."

"Didn't we all?" Varvara laughed—a harsh sound, they both knew, but they had spent their lives learning when not to speak, and it went decidedly unacknowledged.

"Yes, I... I suppose we did."

And, for a few moments, that was that. Then, slowly, Varvara began to notice things: the slight tremble in Katya's dry hands; the strain of the windows against the wind; the slight shift in the expression of her mother's illuminated portrait of Jesus Christ (or so she thought). It wasn't until Varvara felt her own hands begin to shake that she realized: Katya's storm was not gone. No, it was far from that. It had been released into their house, and every part of it was pushing out out out, rattling the very structure of their home. Varvara had never felt so frightened, nor so understood.

Varvara gripped the couch harder, harder, harder, as Katya's gaze tore through her sense of self, Varvara's grip growing stronger yet as her sanity slipped from her ears, her eyes, her throat.

"Katya, I—"

"Every night, Varvara. Every night, I see—hands, or– or arms, or eyes, or—and they don't stop, Varvara, they never stop."

"Katya, that's—"

"It's not, it's– it's a sin, and I don't– I love my husband, but-"

"Katya..." Varvara fought to stand, to go to her, to place a hand on her shoulder—

"Don't touch me," Katya growled, twisting from her grasp, "your mother knows I'm made of dirt. You would do well to learn from her."

"Katya. Your sins, they're- they're not yours. Not alone, at least." She clasped one of Katya's hands in both of hers, praying for a swift death, "I... I know how you feel."

"You can't. You're unmarried, Varvara, you don't know what it's like, to- to dedicate your life to someone, then realize you deserve him even less than you had thought. And worse still when this new man, he- he's real, Varvara, and I feel his presence every moment."

He.

"He?"

Katya's eyes cleared, slowly. "You were expecting...something else?"

"No, I- of course not," Varvara's entire mind shook, wind-whipped to oblivion with images of the previous night's dreams; of those from every night before it. She stumbled into her own body, felt her legs sinking into the wood beneath her. Funny, she thought, how this should be my downfall. Every night, a woman condemns me to Hell, yet I still am destroyed by a man.

"Varvara, if–"

"It's nothing. I– we should both rest. The heat is clouding our brains."

"Okay, but–"

"Separately."

"Yes. Right. Of course." Katya's eyes softened, "Goodnight, Varvara."

They made eye contact for a moment, and the house dismantled itself to the beat of Varvara's agony.

Katya blinked, and it was over, and she thought she heard a mumbled "goodnight" leave her friend's mouth as she slipped up the stairs, but she couldn't have been sure. Neither of them ever were.