part I: chapter 9

Soundtrack: Derek Hough “Hold On” (click here to listen)

Gaia had been staring detachedly out of the window of her apartment for a very long time now. There was a feeling she couldn’t name whispering deep within her that caused her skin to crawl, and she couldn’t get rid of it. Sleep had turned out to be unattainable last night, which seemed to be a constant theme in her life as of late, and as a result she had called in sick this morning. There was nothing and no one in this world that could force her to put on a mask of normalcy and keep said mask on for an entire day to interact with people. Gaia knew that she would get bombarded with questions of concern the moment she stepped into the studio, she had seen her reflection in the mirror, which was why a day off from work – from life – was what she needed. I will be all right tomorrow, she told herself over and over. She had to believe this affirmation. She had to. But she didn’t. She couldn’t.

She had taken up the job at the mask studio a few years back not because she adored masks and the process of making them, but because she hated spending days aimlessly. She had needed something to do. Anything to keep thoughts at bay. One day she had walked by some mask maker’s studio in Dorsoduro, noticed the advertisement in the window announcing search for a sales assistant and she had opened the door to ask if they would take her. She had acted on impulse and expected to be turned away, but the owner – Lucrezia – had given her said job, although Gaia still had no idea why. However, that had saved her. In the years after the accident, permanent reminder of which was on her left wrist, which she hid beneath a wrist warmer in winter or a bunch of various bracelets during warmer weather, Gaia’s life had lost any sense and purpose. She had previously tried her hand at working in an office and at being a waitress at her cousin’s restaurant, but both had turned into a massive disaster, so that stroll into Lucrezia’s studio on a glum afternoon in early spring had become a blessing.

The accident. That had to be the strangest part of Gaia’s life she could think of. Even the ghostly visions and Damiano’s invasion of her senses, strange and scary as they were, didn’t measure up to that. As much as Gaia knew people usually spoke of their life before and after cataclysmic events, but all she could speak of was her life after the disaster. There was no before. Her mind was a beautiful, perfect and completely blank space when it came to the first however many – 19 it was claimed – years of her life. Amnesia. Her doctors had been of the same opinion about it. Memories would return in time, they had said, yet nobody could tell her when that would happen. “Eventually” was the word used most often. As weeks, months and after that years, nine in total, passed by and there were still no memories in sight Gaia had simply accepted what she had been told – her name, that she had been in an accident that had killed her parents, Gino and Grazia Bragadin, names that, to her horror and confusion tinged with the ever growing guilt, triggered no emotions, good or bad, that her memory was lost (long-term or short-term, nobody knew for sure), yet there was no physical damage to her body except for a pattern of strange scars on her left wrist. 

After a few days spent in hospital she had been picked up by a guy about her age who had introduced himself as Enzo and told her he was her cousin. He and his family, supposedly her only relatives, had taken her in, and made sure she lacked for nothing. They had told her of her life before the accident, about her parents, but the stories felt more like conjurings of somebody’s creative mind rather than reality of her life and caused no emotional reaction. Enzo’s family had introduced her to this city, shown her how things were done. She had had no friends she could name, so his friends had become her friends. In time she had fallen into a routine of daily tasks and errands. In time she had found love, or so she had thought. In time life had become… normal? The only thing that had remained constant till this very day was lack of memories of her life “before”. Did I even have one? I should have had one. Right? I couldn’t have fallen down here from space. 

Last night’s events in Dorsoduro had shaken Gaia. Something had cracked in her very core. She couldn’t pinpoint what or why, but everything around her suddenly felt different as though there had been a a very subtle, barely noticeable, yet extremely important shift in the fabric of her life. The concept seemed ridiculous, ripped from a book of fiction. She had spent every moment since bracing herself for another onslaught of the same sensations, but nothing had happened. It doesn’t mean it won’t, her inner voice kept on repeating like an annoying drone stuck on the same track.

Yes, the panic and fear had vanished inexplicably right after Damiano’s voice went silent in her head, but the memory of them and of his presence had remained. The knowledge that she had felt his touch so vividly and heard his voice so clearly as though he was standing there, right next to her… There was something extremely disturbing about that and yet something enticing to the same degree. Part of her found this invasion of her privacy, her person, absolutely unforgivable, and she felt so violated, however, another part of her had – disturbingly and to her horror – welcomed it with such astounding surge of joy as if it had been some essential part of her life, her being, that had been returned to her after an eternity of absence. This whole thing was torturous and unfathomable.  

“Am I really that obsessed with a complete stranger?” Such a possibility seemed ridiculous. 

However, Damiano’s appearance in her life had shifted the focus of her thoughts to many things she had previously downright refused to acknowledge. And as dawn kissed the rooftops a few hours back a realisation had crept upon her that she had never… felt desire for any man. Ever. At least during the life that she knew. There had never been any urge in her to be close with somebody in that special way. Yes, she had loved Giorgio, madly at that, she had kissed him, but she had never had that lover’s craving for him. She had never fantasised what it would be like if his hands – and other body parts for that matter – reached places reserved only for that special someone. His touch had never sent shivers of excitement all over her, a reaction she had always imagined her body would have to her beloved. Their whole relationship had been a pretty chaste affair. So much so that Gaia wasn’t entirely sure to this day if he had had any intimate experience with a woman before her for he had never even attempted to show any interest in taking her to bed. Gaia smirked. Yes, they had slept in one bed, yes, they had kissed while being in that bed, however, their kisses had always been only sweet and playful and never ever with any hint of passion to them and they never strayed anywhere from the lips. Never. Not once. They hadn’t even gone as far as cheeks or neck. In fact, each time they shared a bed it had always felt like a sleepover with her best friend rather than sleeping with a lover. Yes, that’s what we were – two friends whose lips touched now and again. And that friendship-love had lasted three years before it had gone sour and mute and one-sided and torturous for another two hellish years, when Giorgio had decided to behave as though she didn’t exist.

Three years had passed since the end of that torment, since she had finally gathered the last scraps of self-respect, dragged herself out of the swamp of misery and built the invisible fortress around herself becoming ice cold to the very core in the process. Three years that she had spent barely living. No. Who was she kidding? How could one live with such constant emptiness inside? How could one live with a soul crushing sense of uselessness, of being out of place everywhere? How could one live after being destroyed by someone just for shits and giggles? How could one live with a realisation that being alone for good is a cold, hard certainty? Living like that shouldn’t be possible, yet here I am. However, that hadn’t been and wasn’t living. She had been dead all these three years. Maybe even longer. 

And then, of course, there were her darknesses – two of them – inside of her. One that was soothing, inspiring, uplifting. Her dark light that filled her with peace of mind and serenity, that sent her wandering through dark calles in search of vanishing dreams. This was the darkness that she loved, the darkness that she treasured and cherished. It enveloped her in dark tabarro of dreams, invincibility, and fearlessness, making her believe she could do it all. 

And then there was another darkness. One that ripped away her precious tabarro, hiding it and leaving her apathetic for days in face of it’s sadistic sneer as it ambushed her in the most unexpected places and times. One that poisoned her thoughts, sheltered her bastard self hate monster and stuck acid blades into her soul. The one that brought her to her knees, drowned her in misery and delighted itself in watching her squirm and scream in agony that seemed unbearable at times. After a while it let go of her and left, pretending not to care, pretending to be bored with Gaia, to have forgotten her. She knew better. She knew this one would return. And she hated it. So cunning in its deceit, this one. It was the one she fought. Constantly. She had to. There was no other way, no other choice. Perhaps pushing this abomination into the one place it hates – out from it’s precious hiding place in my silence – would be my remedy. But how and where was she to find the words for said self-exorcism? How was she supposed to perform it? Or was she meant to find someone who would do that for her? Am I to be a ditzy damsel waiting for her saviour? She’d never wanted one. There was no place or need for one in her castle maze.

And now… there had been a shift in how Gaia felt. Her ice fortress was starting to thaw. Insistently and irreversibly it was threatening to fall apart around her ears. She had no idea why. Besides a new sensation had entered her world over the last few days – she was no longer terrified to look at people, no longer felt the paralysing fear of being looked at. That was puzzling. There was no reason for that to happen. No reason she could pinpoint or define for herself. She had been wallowing in self-loathing and misery as usual. And yet it seemed said wallowing now required much more effort than she was used to and her self-hate monster had been silent. Suspiciously so. No, in fact, she could no longer feel its presence in the shadows of her subconscious. And all these changes had one common denominator – Damiano.

Sometimes it seemed that thoughts of him triggered some phantom undercurrent in her subconsciousness that pushed her deep into a vast, black ocean, making her gasp for air as she fought its waves. The world as she knew it had began to blur and ripple as though something was trying to rip apart an invisible curtain, and sometimes she could swear she caught echoes of some long forgotten conversations and sensations slipping through said curtain. It was beyond confusing. Perhaps it was time to take that step that scared her so utterly. Perhaps it was time to let sensations take the place of the maddening, unstoppable current of thoughts she was so used to.

Buzzing of the intercom yanked Gaia out of her maze of thoughts.



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