This is a little love story, a confection, a drop of fantasy wrapped in foil for you to savor and experience a small moment of sweetness, maybe with bittersweet lingering notes, in the way that the memory of mid summer is perfected by regret.
This happened during the time of COVID to a friend of mine, Michael, who took a villa in a little town in Greece and had a romance with a girl, Katerina. I say romance because that is what it became, although it didn’t start out that way.
Michael at the time worked some job that he could do remotely, exactly what he did is not important. What is important is that Michael at this point in his life was a “complete animal for pussy,” and not merely an animal in the way that guys in their 20’s usually are, but he longed for it like a wounded animal weak with blood-loss longs for water.
So when the country went into lockdown in March of 2020, mere weeks after moving into his rented villa, he was like a caged lion. He’d call me, frustrated, complaining about the pandemic, about how to meet girls. I had been supposed to join him, a bunch of us had actually planned to visit. “Mike’s got a sweet setup in Greece, vineyards, mountain views, a saltwater pool.” Our plans would be impossible now, but Michael told me he was unwilling to leave. Really the only place he could go was back home, and for now this was impossible for him: his old apartment was stamped with the memories of his ex.
So by day he’d work poolside, in the afternoon he would work out, and at night he would stalk the halls of his rented palace, alone with his desire. I advised him to try dating apps. He wasn’t interested in them.
“I want something live,” he’d tell me. Michael has funny notions sometimes, reads weird books, does things in the most challenging way possible.
“Well that’s going to be pretty hard to do with the lockdowns right now.”
“I’ll figure something out,” he’d tell me. I believed him. He had sworn off pornography as well. “I don’t want to blunt my edge.”
Life in those weeks was narrowed, like looking through a straw, in the sense that all realities were abruptly cut off for the sake of the virus, the whole world restricted to screens, even one’s breath constricted and sucked through masks. All concerns were centered now on the grand theater of the pandemic. The sense of unreality was extreme. Previously unremarkable career health bureaucrats catapulted to stardom, national COVID briefs twice a day. Very serious discussion of charts and graphs, projections. Internet dashboards with bright spots and jaggering lines in red and yellow on black background. We were all in the crisis response center with the world’s top scientists; everyone had a front row seat for the apocalypse. “The virus is novel,” they said, “we have no defense, the elderly and the immunocompromised are at risk.” They were very serious. We were introduced to new and exciting techno-health vocabulary : “r transmission rates, MRNA, social distancing, flatten the curve.” Just like the movies. Soon we were are all experts, we were participating, we were doing our part. Vacations, weddings, school, church, elections: cancelled; even the local bar was cancelled. Lockdown orders marched across China, then Europe, then everywhere else, and one day we woke up and the horizon for most people in the world extended no further than a few kilometers from home.
So Michael begins to run. He is compelled to leave the house; the air stifles him, he waits for dusk and laces up his running shoes and one night he steps out into the cool air of the evening and plunges immediately off the roads into the fields and orchards. He is looking for well worn paths that track beside olive groves, that wind through vineyards. He is avoiding detection, he is not sure if exercise is even legal (he does not speak the language, the restrictions are confusing and badly translated) and besides he does not wear a mask. So he wears dark clothes and moves like a Spartan youth, slipping between the trees, a shadow. The going at first is very difficult; he has been a runner before, but many years ago. There is nothing that feels so foolish as starting a new physical regime, and as he climbs the Arcadian hills his breath labors in his ears. He feels distressingly slow and weak, but as he returns home wearily he finds a kind of triumph. He has not been caught.
The next day he runs again, and the day after that, and then the following day. Soon two weeks have passed and he runs now with strength. He grows bolder and runs in the daytime, soaking the sun on his body. His whole world is the back trails, the fields with their golden waving grasses, the hum of insects, his friends the magpies. As he pumps his legs down the back-country roads he imagines Achilles racing down the sand to slay Boagrius, light and fleet of foot. He runs on the balls of his feet, head held high, drinking the air like wine. All of this is his domain, in weeks he has not seen a single other soul. He feels as if the world has been depopulated and delivered to him alone, and this is very good, but as he sinks wearily into his bed each night he does not find rest, he has not found what he is looking for.
One day, he is running further than ever from home, he catches sight of a girl, likewise running, coming towards him, but along a trail curving down along a stream. He is on the other side, they are running parallel to each other but in opposite directions. As they pass they exchange a look but no more. He sees she is not wearing a mask, he has a flashed impression of graceful limbs and pretty face, large eyes. Michael runs on, soon finds a bridge, crosses the stream and doubles back. The trail winds into a small valley shaded by pine trees. The shadows lengthen. There is no sign of her. He turns back.
He begins to visit this area more. Sometimes he sees her, always alone, always at the stream. She runs towards him, he gives her a wave and a smile, she smiles back, he makes for the bridge and by the time he doubles back she’s begun to really kick her long antelope legs, she is flying away. Sometimes he can see her, half turned, looking over her shoulder, amused, before she disappears behind the pines into the hills beyond.
Michael’s speculation is intense. He daydreams about her, calls me for advice.
“What do you think she’s doing?” he asks. “She’s always there but never lets me catch her.”
“Maybe she likes this game where you greet each other, but doesn’t want to take it further. Maybe she has a husband, or boyfriend. Maybe she’s just shy.” I tell him.
“I’ve got to talk to her.”
“Do you even know if she speaks English?”
“I don’t know, I’ll figure something out.”
In truth Michael knows that he must talk to her, something in her look spoke of invitation: the way she’d meet his eyes and smile, then look away, hiding amusement, maybe attraction. Laying in bed he’d try to reconstruct her face, her body: dark ponytail, tanned skin, tiny waist. She was certainly younger than he was, maybe early 20’s. So light on her feet. He knows he could pick her off the ground so easily. God her eyes were so pretty. He had no idea what he’d say to her, if they even spoke the same language. He had horrible visions of spilling his spaghetti, that he’d catch her and say something irrecoverably dumb; the anticipation was too built up and he was profoundly aware that the whole thing was a little ridiculous, he didn’t want to expect too much, it was likely she was already paired off or maybe they would meet and have their connection marred by awkwardness, and then their little unspoken game would be over.
When he finally meets her it is the most natural thing in the world. He had set out that day along his usual route, on back roads and along stone walls throwing off the heat of the day, then under cool green tunnels of interlaced greenery, long stretches on deer paths on open hills among the grasses. He arrives to the bridge, is disappointed not to see her, crosses it, and doubles back and down along the opposite path that follows the stream down into the little valley.
Then there where the stream lingers and spills wide over rocks among the pines he finds her kneeling, splashing water down her face and neck. She looks up and smiles and they fall into conversation. “I’ve been trying to catch you” he tells her, and she says “Well here I am.” He realizes she speaks English, a shock of relief. She tells him the water here is good, you can even drink it. Her name is Katerina, her family comes here every year, she finds their house stifling, she likes the solitude of the trails among the hills, “This is the most beautiful place in the world,” she says.
He tells her he’s a stranger here, just visiting, marooned by the pandemic. “Have they ever caught you?” he asks. She smiles. They never have and never could. She knows every fold and footpath. He can’t take his eyes off of her. “You’re pretty fast,” she says. He notices her glance at his bare chest, his legs beneath his black shorts. Time stands still, they talk about nothing, and then Michael is aware of the setting sun and the moment is over. Katerina is leaving. “I’ll see you again,” she says, and he knows she means it. Soon she’s gone beyond the trees and he is winding his way back home, triumphant.
A new and nascent romance is a secret carried in the chest, a little flutter of fire that one doesn’t dare to tend too closely, lest it blow out, but nonetheless throws its light on everything, making a new hearth, a new center, a new way of seeing the world. This is how Michael felt in the weeks that followed. Despite his desire he didn’t want to rush this. He didn’t even ask for her number; he felt that they were building towards something momentous, like two enormous armies preparing for war over the course of years; the violence of their eventual confrontation made all the more satisfying because of their initial abstention.
So each day he drudges through his work in a state of distraction, finally slams his laptop shut, throws on his running clothes and takes off for the hills with great loping strides, the miles which had made such obstacles before now melting beneath his feet. He meets Katerina and they run together, coursing beside each other over the open hills, down through deep laurel ravines and along stream banks loaded with hyacinth and myrtle. All of these she knows intimately, she shows them to him by name. She has a preternatural ability for finding plants, mushrooms, little artifacts; chips of pottery, copper coins among the stones of a stream-bed, an overgrown shrine. Through her eyes he sees the terrain alive with secrets.
He finds that he is faster than she is, considerably so, and sometimes when the landscape calls, a long straight stretch beside marching cypresses, he finds reserves of stamina, exuberance, that carry him high on his feet into a swift and steady sprint. It’s after one such sprint that she catches up to him, laughing, and he takes her hand, pulls her into the deep grass and kisses her and they are in each other’s arms under a May-blue sky.
Things progress quickly from there. She asks to visit him, arrives with bags. They are sitting on his couch, they kiss, immediately he is carrying her upstairs. “I have to have you right now,” he says. They go to each other’s bodies like those dying of thirst beside an oasis, plunging in again and again until their desire is relieved. For him it is ecstasy to see her beneath him on his bed, hair spread like a carpet of flowers, breasts heaved like hills, lips parted. She runs her hands all over him, she wants to touch every muscle, feel the power behind his neck, cup his face beneath his jaw and pull him close where he is lost in her hair, floral with deep smells of crushed foliage; in his moments of release he sees endless glades, nameless shades of green, rolling hills, infinity.
When they finally rest, late at night, she says curled against him “You feel so relaxed now, like all your strain is gone.” She looks very pleased with herself. Michael smiles at her, pulls her closer, and they drift off together into a profound sleep.
They settle into happy routine. He works, she spends her days sunning by the pool. In the evening they have dinner, drink good wine. They get to know each other. He finds she is American but her mother is French. Her parents are separated now. She was educated in the US, speaks English with a very slight accent. She is a little vain, which Michael finds endearing. She is strangely knowledgeable about certain things, plants, some kinds of art, the local area, but is otherwise profoundly incurious. She is very good with languages. In the first few weeks of their romance, when they would meet to run together through the hills, Michael had really idealized her, imagining her like some forest nymph, but now he sees her as a young woman, she’s girlish, flesh and blood and naïveté. She pouts, she giggles at his jokes, sometimes she’s strangely shy. When she wants to get her way she drops into a child-like voice and maybe pesters him to put his work aside, to dance with her. She has an obsession with Louboutin shoes.
They fuck constantly. Alone in their bubble together, the house becomes an environ for a kind of primal domestic bliss. They are in their 20’s and tan and fit, they delight in each other. At any moment some mundane conversation could be interrupted mid sentence with a stare held for four long heartbeats, she with lowered gaze, lips parted. A silent invitation, a dare. The air grows hot and still. Michael moves with slow and deliberate movements, in a moment they are conjoined, maybe where they stand, or maybe she is carried up the stairs and thrown on the bed. She relishes in his strength. She likes when he tells her what to do. She has had other lovers before but none like this. Michael’s titanic desire has met its match in her and the result is a sustained erotic explosion contained in the pressure vessel of legally-enforced worldwide lockdown, love in the time of COVID.
At some point in the visit Michael notices her rush off to the shower again after one of their couplings. “Stop that. What are you doing,” he says. “I’m just going to take a shower,” she demurs. “No. Come back here. Now is the time to be together.” He gestures back to bed. She relents, slips beside him, and Michael pulls her close. “I want you right here with me.” Her demeanor softens, she is tracing her fingers along his chest, she is pensive. “I’ve never had anyone say that before. I’ve always tried to avoid catching feels.” After this their relationship takes on a new character, a glow of affection. Katerina cooks for him, will sometimes seek him out just to plant a kiss on his cheek, and many other small gestures too over a series of weeks, too many to count or describe. They continue their runs together, they swim in the ocean, in the evening he reads aloud to her, sometimes she sings in languages he does not speak but understands. Each night they fall asleep face to face, breathing each other’s breath, and in the morning they wake to each other’s lips, they are already twined in embrace. They are plunging deeper now.
Have you ever swum in champagne seas? Crisp wave breaks, webs of foam, body pulled and turning, you are in, sucked beneath the gold horizon, relieved of gravity and all the interface between skin and water, dissolved. Here there are only flows, only continuities, you are in the infinite delicious blue, and it is in you. You are home.
This is what it was like for them.
* * *
Michael begins to contemplate a future together. He sees all these elements clearly: they are under the spell of a new relationship, they are biased by availability, maybe their mutual physicality came too quickly, was not bought with patience. Then there are other red flags too. Katerina has expressed certain resentments towards her family, her father in particular; this is not good.
Once also they went through each other’s Instagrams; he didn’t like how she was dressed. He is particular about this too. “You should be more modest,” he told her. This upset her at the time, but when they’re alone together at home he doesn’t mind when she’s dressed up only for him, he enjoys it even, so the matter dropped. On the subject of class, she’s not unpolished but he does see differences, he thinks about how she would be received by his mother, his sisters. He comes from a religious upbringing, she does not. He wonders how her dresses would go over at Thanksgiving dinner. She is really simply a little wild for his settled life back home, less a nymph than a maenad.
But they also mend each other’s hurts. The way they go to each other quenches some deep need they both have. Yes their relationship began and is centered in many ways around sex but she responds to him as a woman and it’s clear that she in turn delights in his relation to her as a man. He knows this kind of mutuality is very good. She is affectionate and kind, much more so than any other woman he’s dated. He knows this is even better. So he thinks about how to proceed.
He remembers one particular episode, early on after she visited for the first time. Katerina was feeling restless, “Michael let’s just go somewhere. Just take me out.” He knew that everything was closed, but the spirit of adventure seized him. He’d figure it out. Katerina went to prepare.
The vision of her as she came down the stairs was more terrible than an army. Short red dress, smoky eyes, black strap heels, wavy hair now ironed flat and making a silk-stranded horse’s tail halfway down her curving back. My God, he thought. Around her left upper arm was a coiled gold snake. A queen. A warrior queen. Where the fuck am I going to take her.
They drove low and slow into the waiting night. Michael smoked a cigarette, one hand on the wheel, one on the stick. She leant into him. “Where are we going baby?” she asked. “You’ll see. The rough parts of town.”
They are going to a zone on the outskirts of the city, where apartment blocks pile up against car dealerships, train tracks, tile-lined cantinas with florescent lighting and peeling paint. This is the Europe of dust, of unemployment, of TV antennas. There are no dreams here, but there is life. Here in the cracks between development zones and tourist precincts lies a repository of existence whose concerns are these: daily sustenance, blood ties, cheap liquor, and the boredom of each week extinguished in the oblivion of a Friday night. Every city has a world like this, away from the bright lights. So Michael drove the roads and listened for music. Soon enough they heard thumping in the distance.
It came from a garage attached to a condo, one of dozens pressed up against each other. The shades were drawn but he heard voices. Men and women. A good sign. “Stay here, I’m going to check it out.”
He knocked, a man answered, about his own age, maybe a few years older, balding. He squinted at him with dis-recognition. American hip-hop blared through the open door. With his broken Greek Michael made himself understood, proffered a liquor bottle he’d grabbed from the fridge before leaving. “You are American?” They’d found an English speaker, brought him to the door. “Yeah. I’m looking for a party. We like to party.” Katerina had by now come up behind him, slunk under his arm. She gave a few words in Greek. More people came to the door, women too. No one was wearing masks. They eyed them up and down. The men waved them in. “They wanted to know we aren’t cops,” Katerina explained.
Inside the lights were low. People sat in plastic furniture, the air thick with conversation; Greek, Russian, other languages too. A bunch of Turks sat clustered around a hookah pipe in the corner from which they filled the air with thick clouds of smoke.
They were overdressed, and foreigners, the center of attention. Michael poured out cups of liquor and soon they were surrounded by a small knot of party-goers, he was making conversation with a pair of English speaking Russians. They offered him coke. He declined. Over their shoulders he had one eye on Katerina. She was across the room, laughing already with a group of women. She speaks the language, knows how to get people talking about themselves.
In truth she was being a little cool to him. They’d been fighting in the car. Her dress was too short. This argument again. He was trying to explain it. “Look, it’s fine tonight, yes you look gorgeous. Yes it drives me crazy. Still I want you to be careful about what you wear.” He smiled, tried to soften it. “I want you only for me.” She did like this last idea, of being his, she really did, but was still essentially indignant. “Ok you have to understand that I’m not like some crazy feminist but I was raised to do anything I want, wear anything I want Michael. My parents always told me that. I have to think about this, and now you’ve made me all self-conscious.” She was upset. “I don’t know what you expected,” he shot back. “You say that you like that I’m dominant. You love it. You say you like that I’m not afraid to tell you no. Where do you think this stuff comes from? Do you think it’s all an act? That I’m doing it all for show? You want the caveman sex but you don’t want the cave man. How does that work? No, listen I’m not telling you that you can’t do whatever you want, but when you’re with me you get the full package.” She was silent then, looking out the window. After a minute she snorted, “We’ll see.” He snapped back, heated. “We’ll see WHAT Katerina?” She smiled sweetly at him. “We’ll see if you really are a cave man.”
So he gave her a little space, he’s not going to puppy dog, but he kept one eye on her. She is probably going to play a little jealously game on him. His conversations were interesting but a little tiresome, he was sharing cigarettes with some Greeks. They flexed for him, wanting to arm wrestle. Their cousins, Sophia and Maria, hair dyed blonde, giggled and egged them on. Now the music changed, reggaeton, a sinister calypso melody with booming four-four beat. He looked over at Katerina. She was surrounded by Greeks, laughing and smiling. One guy was trying to get her to dance. She was not accepting, but was clearly enjoying the attention. Not good. She looked at him, amused. She knew she was pushing it. Michael could tell. The blood rose in his ears.
Later Katerina would describe it back to him “As if there was some force that parted the room.” He pushed through the crowd, he took her hand. One guy, the hopeful dancer with zoomer perm, tried to protest, “Hey man we are having a conversation.” Michael had 30 pounds on him, shoved him easily, didn’t look back as he fell to the ground. Michael and Katerina are on their way to the dance floor.
He pulled her close, groin to groin, led her into the beat. The music blared but there was a cone of silence around just them, made by their eyes. This was his territory now. Michael is actually quite a good dancer, he’s spent time in Colombia, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, he’s learned a few things, not just how to move his body, how to lead, but how to feel the blood in his chest, the pride of the Latin heartbeat, his heel planted like a caudillo, as if capacity for violence was only temporarily sublimated into dance. Katerina, matching him, was very serious, they danced forehead to forehead, every gesture, every step now a matter of life and death. When he spun her she took his impulse, turned, and whipped her face around, as if she did not want her fierce eyes to leave his for even a single instant, and soon, as they conformed themselves to each other, dancing close, she was smiling. Everyone watched them now but they did not notice, they were on another plane of understanding, plunging deeper.
That night when they get home Michael went to her like a freight train. She scratched bloody streaks along his back, the stripes of those condemned to love. In her ecstasy she urged him on. “Michael I want a baby. Put a baby inside me. Just do it. Please, Michael. Please.” He knew this was impossible. She was on birth control. Still he was driven mad. She had never said things like this before. He was a raging bull, a minotaur, and in this moment of mutual insanity maybe they could both make a total devotion, dying the petit mort together for the sake of a miracle.
As they drifted off to sleep Michael remembered a conversation he had with someone at the party, taken during a break from dancing. An old man had complimented him and laughed. “That woman man,” he wheezed, “She will kill you.” He could barely get the words out through his hilarity. “She will kill you!”
* * *
So Michael sees unfolding before him what it would be like to be with her; a years-long race in a red Ferrari 812 Superfast, a long demand. The moment you let up on the pedal you are fucking done. You either rise to the challenge or die trying. In the logic of his new madness this idea appeals to him immensely.
One day she has a surprise for him. She’s smiling, excited. They set off with a picnic lunch, driving some miles at her direction down long winding roads to the sea. The windows are down, and the music is up. They chat about their future together. Fields of orange and plum flash by the windows. It is the kind of morning where everything they see is blessed with perfect clarity. The land here is divided off with long walls beyond which are orchards of long lines of trees bearing oranges and plums, flash past the windows, everything is within their reach. Finally they turn down gravel roads, navigated more slowly. They park, the road is deserted. Katerina leads him through a hole where the wall has collapsed to rubble and is inexpertly repaired with chain-link fence. “This land belongs to a local family. We have to walk now. It’s a secret place, it’s better if they don’t see us.” Michael is intrigued, Katerina won’t tell him what lies ahead. “You have to see for yourself.”
They hike for some time through orchards, scrambling over low walls. Ahead is a copse of trees, cypress, laurel, and olive. The breezes are fragrant, they carry the air of the sea. Then Katerina pulls aside branches to reveal a fold in the terrain. Structures, painted columns, the remains of walls, clearly ancient. The stones tower over them in mute formation. Insects hum. Michael is stunned. He is no archaeologist, but he knows that something like this should be a major dig. “This site is so well-preserved. Is this a temple? A palace? Is this being excavated? Do you see these traces of paint?” Katerina shrugs her shoulders. “People don’t always like bringing in the government to mess with their land. It shuts things down for years, even decades. Sometimes they even cover them back up.”
She takes his hand. “I want to show you something.” They worm through bushes against a low slope of earth, moving on hands and knees. Katerina’s movements are deft. A corner jutting out from the ground, near the top of the mound. A hole in the stonework, she disappears inside. Michael follows, slides down a spilled mound of earth. Darkness, a flare of light. Katerina has struck a match, gives him a lighted candle. His eyes adjust, and in the flickering light Michael begins to discern wonderful things. Faces, eyes, bodies, animals and reaching limbs, swaying trees, sylvan scenes of marvelous beauty. Men women and gods, some chasing each other or dancing, some lying in repose among fields of fantasy, vivid greens and reds and skies of airy blue and pink. They seem to move again in the light of the flame, they have been brought to life, their subterranean imprisonment lifted for a brief reprieve.
Michael lifts the candle. At the far end of the room are painted a man and woman, he in armor, she in flowing robes. Their portraits are life-sized, standing together. The faces are rendered with such skill, the set of the eyes, the luster of the skin, that Michael cannot help but see them as living people, something in their affect, their posture, is so lifelike. The abyss of time is collapsed, they could turn their heads and speak at any moment, but they do not meet his gaze. It seems they look out into the room, the last corner of what might have once been a great domain, with perfect contentment. Their dominion has risen, run its course, and fallen, and they are satisfied to guard their secret world for eternity; they have each other. “Who were they?” Michael asks. Katerina tells him, “Surely they were a king and queen.”
They emerge back into the light of the late afternoon. They eat lunch, they drink wine, they make love, read poetry. They watch the setting sun paint the sky, a fantasy of orange clouds and smokey rays thrown out into the humid air. “That’s where we’ll live,” says Katerina. “In a palace in the sky. Every morning you’ll go down to earth and and every sunset you’ll ride the sunbeams back home, back to me.”
Then with wind in their faces with the smell of the sea they see a kind of vision against the clouds. It’s a man and woman, warrior and wife, magnified, he in helmet and armor, she with lyre. Michael and Katerina look at each other. “Do you see it too?” he asks. “Yes,” she says simply. There they stand abstracted, watching. Here it seems that earth and sky are joined precisely at the union between the man and woman, a communion that grows and overflows, their righteous love pouring out like streams of water to quench the earth and make it fertile for every good and growing thing, a garden without end. They have the sensation of standing on holy ground, a kind of vertigo; something profound has been revealed to them.
“Who are they?” asks Katerina. “Are they gods?”
“No they’re not,” says Michael. “That’s us. That’s who we’re supposed to be.”
“I see it too,” she says. They regard each other, as if for the first time, and do not speak again until long after the sinking sun has disappeared beneath the horizon of the Aegean sea.
* * *
The months pass, restrictions begin to lift. Katerina goes back to New York to continue her studies. They date long distance for a while, visiting each other, then she breaks up with him.
“It’s too much pressure Michael. We built it up too big. I know I did it too but it’s too much. I’m so young. I don’t know what I want.” Michael sees her soon after with other guys on Instagram.
He is disgusted, it’s so predictable, so trite. He feels betrayed, to end things so conventionally after everything they shared. The pain for him is excruciating. He lets her go with a simple goodbye text, wishes her well, and goes home to his empty bed.
He calls me, we talk through it. “I know what it was, just a long fling, but it still sucks. I know these things happen, I know it’s good that people show you who they are. It doesn’t change that I’m really hurting here bro.” He is in the middle of lifting weights, he knows he must keep moving now or he’ll die.
“You’re better off without her,” I try to reassure him.
“I don’t know. Of course you’re right. My body doesn’t see that. That’s the problem.” A long pause for another set, short sharp exhalations. “I know 100% that she’ll be back, and when that happens I don’t know what I’ll do.”
Michael resumes his life. He changes cities, takes on a new job, makes new friends. Slowly he finds his way out of the wilderness of post-togetherness. Sometimes he is happy, and sometimes a song or particular mood will bring her presence rushing back to him and he cannot help but be overcome with longing. He has not contacted her, he’s put away or erased all traces of her, he knows he must move on. This is the way things should be done; one must be tough.
* * *
And indeed a few months later, Katerina texts him one night. She wants to send him a letter. He receives it, she’s effusive. She regrets how it ended, she didn’t realize how special their connection was, she thinks about him all the time, she misses him, she knows now that she loved him. “I have known many men, and they have known me. They’ve counted all my bones but none were like you and now I’m trapped under ice. I want to come back to our private kingdom. I want to come home to you.”
Michael lights a cigarette. He holds the letter in his hand, thinks about how to respond and looks at the sky.
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"in his moments of release he sees endless glades, nameless shades of green, rolling hills, infinity."
Looking at this again, I'm struck that you wrote it in the present tense. Normally, I'm rather hostile to the use of the present but I didn't notice on my first read-through! Everything has its place and here, in a prose trance, you made me feel like I was not immersed but submerged in the narrative.