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a perfect halo

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i. Я знаю свій текст (мені й одному добре)

These are his words.

Generally speaking, he’s not in the habit of sharing. Sure, he’ll announce the band and stumble through his own name (there’s too much of him anyway) but let’s be honest. If he could, if anyone— they’d take everything away and sit on the pile of gold for all eternity. Like, we are all dragons in our hearts.

But he took what he had, made an effort and here you go.

He looks at the first draft in a room full of people, people full of opinions. The edit cuts the sentences in two and he puts his foot down: no, that’s not it. That’s a mess, that’s different. That looks— Fine. It looks fine, it looks amazing they keep telling him.

And he texts her “sorry.” He means it too. The thing is— it looks like it’s true.

The other thing is: he can’t hear his voice.

The headphones and the stereo and then his headset at home, all functioning equipment, but he can't hear it right and it feels shitty to be incapable to do his fucking job. Takes him back a hundred years. (Okay maybe like fourteen but if anything should feel like a hundred it’s the way you slowly give away pieces of yourself to the unyielding beast of fame.)

Again, people settle on it’s fine, it’s good, it’s really fucking good, you fucking did it this time (they always say that, it’s clutter at this point).

Sure, he remembers pitching it with a “you’ve got the high keys.” Remembers signing off on LA’s vision of who’s the main voice here. Yet he should be able to dial it down and hear his part, and he— can’t.




ii. Гримаси на цьому обличчі (незвично)

There’s a point of no return for a person: you forget how to be you when around others.

He can feel his skin crawling as she watches him. He’s used to be right in the middle of every space, but she clutches onto him with her eyes. He feels observed, uncomfortable, feels the need to shake it off. And then he starts watching her.

She has to unlearn something and he can’t pinpoint what, where. Here, he offers. No, been there. Not it, try again. Her pieces fit together neatly yet he went and scripted her to unravel in four minutes. It’s something she’s long since taken apart.

She has to break out of herself to get to a place where she’s this.

Every time they go at it, words easing into a pattern, she holds herself different. He thinks it’s all ought to come apart at seams, he thinks he shouldn’t have offered this to her, he’s panicking— and then she finds her footing and steals the show.

There’s honest and then there’s this, which is just unfair. She’s all edges and no mending, and the unformed, unnamed thing between them comes to light in all its misshapen glory. It’s too raw to try and fix it up so he leaves it be. Her power is absolute.

(And that’s just a rehearsal.)

It’s so abrupt, she must have changed tactics, she must’ve— His mouth falls open. Oh wow. You are copying me. He points it out, points a finger at her, presents her to the world with both hands: look, she’s doubling over. Look, look at that restraint, the hand gestures, the staccato half dance. Look! It’s me in her— ouch.

Anyway. By the third run her face shifts into a feral thing, a hilarious approximation of a lion grin, but on her it’s good, it’s fun, it’s teasing. It makes him want to— not share the stage. She shakes her head, her hair a perfect halo, and the sheer wildness of the gesture takes him aback. Would you look at what I’ve done.




iii. Під шквали акордів не встигнеш пробачити

Stop trusting me, he’d say. This is hardly a time and a place for speeches though. She’s here for one day and they need to wrap it up. They’ve been at it for seven hours and he’s only now coming into the frame.

I’m not— Look at this earth. (And by earth I mean land and by land I mean country). Look at us. Look at you. (You and your wonderful hands and the voice I apparently stole.) Look at me giving you orders. “Higher,” “more,” “turn around,” that last one from the Stas whose directing style is decidedly more innuendos than subtlety. They need takes, “something to work with here.”

So he approaches with exaggerated slowness, as in character as he can manage, a perfect equivalent of hands raised with a bright white flag in them: not me, this isn’t me, you’ve heard Stas. He can feel the heat radiating from her skin. It’s cold in here, but he sees the goosebumps explode on her arms and— it’s so visceral a reaction. She turns her head to him, almost in spite of herself. Her eyes flash with terror for a split second before her face breaks into a smile and she laughs it off.

He’s the one left standing there like a fool. She’s playing at something. She’s brilliant at it.

She’s very tactile too, all arms and shoulders and hugs, high fives and her hand on his knee. Every time they’re in on a joke together, she does that. It happens a lot, which, admittedly, his fault. Compatible personalities and whatnot, but he runs his mouth, makes puns, and soon it’s what they are. Friends. Friendly.

He wants to reason with her: stop smiling at me like that. I’m dissociating. I haven’t learned who you are yet, I’ve never talked to you outside of this. I don’t know what you’re comfortable with, I don’t know how to be polite and tell you to shut it.

He’s riled up. He takes the thing she leaves him with (sweaty palms, inconsistent speech patterns, mouthing her words at her) and turns it into irritation real fast. He’s got good at it over the years, irritation he can use. What she gives him is plain dangerous.

As a group, as a people, we’re always trying to be better at everything but that’s not— She isn’t helping: I’ve been brought up in a system. It’s difficult to unlearn that you smiling and me here doesn’t mean what I think it means. What I want it to be. What people have always told me it’d be— yet here you are: you and your son and the life that’s been eating away at you (must have felt like a hundred years).

Compared to you I’m a fucking ghost.

Compared to you I’ve never been here at all.

So here’s my son, here’s my family, why won’t you come in and meet the real people behind the words. Would you look at all the things you have no intention of corrupting— that’s exactly what you’ll do. And then there’s your laugh (your hands on my knees) and, come autumn, your Sunday’s engagement on Танці з зірками that I want desperately to make fun of but shut my mouth.




iv. “fuck me.” “fuck you too.”

He tries not to engage with the narrative around it. That’s like a poorly written fiction, flashy excerpts on yellow pages and shiny screens. Clickbait titles he’s grown numb to on day three. He’ll notice, maybe, and he’ll file them away. It doesn’t bother her so why should it bother him.

(“She gave him her voice.” At least it’s better than “the voice he stole.”)

(“Her first” has a ring to it but then they aren’t seventeen anymore, they aren’t even thirty. It wasn’t funny at seventeen either.)

She’s very vocal about it too, which— why would you. She talks about that raw thing between them that he still doesn’t touch on. She talks, looking like she does, looking at him like she does. “I had to sing at you,” she clarifies in an interview, “And my heart went— oh.”

Now that’s a blatant lie, she is coming back before she knows it. Then, perhaps, to her, it’s not a lie.

Katya asks who caved in, who took more, and something inside him wants to give in and give her the fight she’s digging for.

At the finale of Голос Країни they share a couch on stage, slowly moving down to the floor. He can handle that, that’s nothing— he goes down on the carpet, her head on his shoulder, eyes closed. It’s— okay. Okay.

After, the greenroom’s empty and they catch their breath. She slumps down on the couch and goes straight for her shoes.

“Damn it, I’d like to lie down every time, it’s exhausting in heels,” she says, struggling with the lace threads around her ankles.

He scoffs at her and she glances up at him from the edge of the couch. You can’t translate the level of fuck-you on paper, but it’s seeping out of her. She looks stage-polished, shiny. Incredibly bright, but then he’s tired and his eyes are getting worse by the second so what does he know. She’s always like that.

He crosses and uncrosses his arms, still catching his breath. She’s so put together and he wants to see her unravel off stage for once. Stop playing at it, there’s no one here, all that. If it was ever true, that tension he taps into every time, then he shouldn’t be a stranger anymore. Don’t do it for my benefit. All I want is for you to scream.

He takes a step in her direction, a dare, so obviously a dare, push me away.

She raises an eyebrow at him, hands coming up from her feet to the hiked up dress. Goddamn, please push me away. She stares at him like it’s still nothing. Like it doesn’t matter.

Like it’ll never fucking matter.

So he tries to make it past that sorrow, that no before the question. He leans in.

He’s in her face now and all it earns him is a disinterested blink. He looks down at the red of her lipstick, cause that’s what goes for subtle around here. It still works. She stops breathing.

It’s not new, and it shouldn’t be as much of a metaphor with the lungs and the air but what do you want from him, he’s a poet. He’s been trying to do anything but kiss her and right now, as he inevitably stumbles, he does his best not to call it that. It’s all about air and lungs. She’s holding her breath and he doesn’t have much time.

Her fingers fold on his arm (push me away) and she opens her mouth.

The air around them feels electric, her nails dig into his skin through the shirt. He presses closer to her, small frame, muscle and skin. He’s a bit tired of this. He’s at the point where everything that had to happen already happened, and what little hadn’t, shouldn’t. He’s had enough of everything. She—

She wraps her hands around his waist and he stumbles on the couch, one knee between her legs. Her legs, right there. She’s kissing him like she knows exactly where this could go. Now that’s a twist: she wasn’t pretending when she said she’d thought about it. Maybe later, he’ll want to double-check and she’d arch an eyebrow and say “I’ve told you that a million times.”

He just thought she was lying.

His hand comes up to her chest, circling her ribs, the stitches of her dress biting into his palm.

There was no lock on the door. He presses his hand into her side, tries to angle her to where he’ll have enough space to settle on the damn couch and stop hovering, to where he could try and—

She breaks away from him.

She gets up way too fast, her head obviously (obviously) spinning. He’s left sitting there uncomfortably, staring up at her as she goes up to the mirror.

There’s something unforgiving in the set of her jaw. Fuck me, he thinks. Hands bracing the table, she glares at him in the reflection. Fuck you.




v. Мавкa

She asks him to come over, and come on, let’s not kid ourselves, he knows the meaning of this form the get-go. He says sure and she texts him the address way too fast, iPhone suggestions or a typed in message, who’s to say.

She opens the door (hair in a ponytail and barefoot) and instead of instantly snapping into it, he retreats, takes a literal step back before coming in (come in and meet all the things you have no intention of corrupting).

He traces lines on the walls with his fingers walking down her corridor. She hasn’t specified what room’s at the end of it. It’s early summer, everything so warm and impossibly white. It’s middle of the day bright in here. All this space and her. She looks— clean, just like her apartment. Don’t make me into dirt, he wants to ask.

She follows him into what can only be described as a halfhearted attempt at a dining room. It’s white and unwelcoming, a faulty exaggeration of minimalism. He turns around, if only to interrupt his forming an opinion on her design skills. She’s not wearing heels, he notices, again. That’s as close to undone as he ever saw her.

“Do you want—“ she starts and cuts herself off, letting out a resigned sigh. Pushes herself off the doorframe, and moves across the room to where he’s standing. He’s hungry, he wants and she should have finished her sentence because it’s ringing in his ears, do you want, doyouwant, doyouwa— like, of fucking course he does, I’ll take everything you’ll give me. Now come over here and give.

Her nails rake down his neck and she kisses him, hot mouth and lips that for once won’t stain him lipstick red.

She’s smiling against his mouth and he bites into her. His hands circle around her waist, hiking up her shirt. Let’s set all of this on fire.

She pushes herself up and on the table, the movement sharp and almost mean. It’s not fair how she gets to be violent here. He deserves none of that. He's not the one to blame. She said yes (on her birthday no less). She invited him in just now. She came in for the recording sessions, ten of his crew against one of her, and won them all over, and made a wreck of his spring.

He kisses her neck and she throws her head back, defenseless. He sees her mouth move, the hollow of her collarbone, the bend of her fingers. The problem with her has always been that she doesn’t hide. She plays with the truth, folds it into patterns that’ll go over neatly in the narrative of her life. But she doesn’t hide.

He gets to his knees. Hands grabbing at her hips, angles and pressure points and all that, he opens up her legs, pushes up her skirt. He runs his hand up the inside of her thigh. It’s about as far as this can go, he thinks. That’s not, like, an invitation, it’s a death sentence to whatever could have been.

She arches her hips and he pulls down her underwear. That’s it. That’s the first and the last of it, and he puts his mouth on her. The heels of her feet dig into his back.

When he looks up at her, she’s grinning. He thinks, and what does it even matter now, that she takes more from him than he from her.

(“It’s all your fault,” she’d said to him at the premiere.)




vi. «Співайте, співайте!» (будь ласка)

On stage, on tour, he sings half of it at most. She’s not here now so, technically, he’s got his words back. But, like. They aren’t his words anymore.