NARRATOR: "Some days later, I spot Rin and Sae standing together in front of the gallery as I walk down the street toward the gallery. They seem to be talking to each other while Sae has a smoke."
HISAO: "Good afternoon."
NARRATOR: "I say this even though it's not really afternoon any more. I came a bit later than usual since I got caught up doing homework. It's going to be dark soon."
SAIONJI: "Hello there, Hisao. Came to visit the little kitten again?"
NARRATOR: "Rin makes a face at the nickname. I guess she doesn't like it. Ironically, the way she wrinkles her nose like that really does make her look a little bit like a cat."
NARRATOR: "Sae turns back to Rin, to continue the conversation they were having."
SAIONJI: "So in other words, everything is going well enough?"
NARRATOR: "Rin makes a difficult expression and turns her face away from me, for some reason."
RIN: "It's difficult. It's like I'm missing something. But I will do it."
SAIONJI: "Work hard, and it'll be fine. I'm going to have to start working on my part of the preparations. I need to do a sales catalogue, invitations, decorations, advertisement and so on. I need the names for your works, and we also need to think up the general theme for the exhibition."
RIN: "They don't have anything like that. I'm not very good with words so I don't use them. If I can not use them. I mean sometimes I have to but I think this is not a time like that at all."
HISAO: "You don't like naming your works?"
RIN: "I don't like it."
HISAO: "Well, I guess it's hard to come up with a good name for something like this."
NARRATOR: "Rin shakes her head vehemently."
RIN: "It's not like that. It's like if I paint a cloud and call it an octopus, people will think about it differently than if I paint a cloud and call it the end of the world. Every name is wrong. Nothing ever explains what I feel like when I make a painting. It's not a word thing. The only thing would be to come up with new words for everything, but would it help at all?"
HISAO: "No, I don't think so."
SAIONJI: "Then, the paintings would go with just “Unnamed, number one” and so on? It's a bit inconvenient, but..."
RIN: "That's no good. “Unnamed” means that you just didn't come up with a good name. And Unnamed is a name, like that Greek guy with the sheep and all."
NARRATOR: "Sae thinks about this for a while, furrowing her brow as she keeps looking at Rin's serious face."
SAIONJI: "So you're saying, your artwork should be completely without labels."
RIN: "I think that's what I'm saying."
NARRATOR: "Sae lets out a dry laugh, the kind old ladies who smoke too much always seem to end up with."
SAIONJI: "Let's hope your art will never end up in a museum. The curators would explode."
NARRATOR: "She takes a contemplative puff on her cigarette, which has worn down not much more than the butt. Then she drops it into an ashtray affixed to the wall next to the door."
SAIONJI: "Then again, it could work."
HISAO: "What do you mean?"
SAIONJI: "This namelessness, this rejection of labels, it works. It's a good unifying theme, and something people can grasp onto easily. Allows for a lot of room for interpretation. It gives a good impression. Think about it. All sorts of associations can be made, starting from identity and self-definition, all the way to whatever you want to think about it. We could call your exhibition “Nameless” and build it on that theme. How does that sound?"
NARRATOR: "Rin thinks about this for a while. I'm not sure how Sae managed to get so fired up by Rin's reluctance to apply names to her works. It feels like she might be extrapolating too much, but it's a pretty impressive-sounding idea."
RIN: "I don't think it's a bad idea."
HISAO: "For what it's worth, I have to say it sounds pretty good to me, too."
NARRATOR: "Sae reaches into her pocket for another cigarette, lighting it with a neon green butane lighter. Her forehead wrinkles, and she rubs it as she appears to furiously think more on this idea. She doesn't say a word for a little bit, but every now and then she takes a sharp drag from the cigarette."
SAIONJI: "...Yes, I think this would work out pretty nicely. I'm going to take this as the starting point, and work from there. I'm going in to work on this. You go back upstairs and try to find your missing ingredient. I'm sure it'll come to you sooner or later."
NARRATOR: "Rin doesn't reply, so Sae takes one last, long pull from her cigarette and drops it in the tray, to join with others of its kind. The gallery owner turns to head back inside, but is stopped by Rin just as she reaches for the door handle."
SAIONJI: "What is it, kitten?"
RIN: "Can I have some cigarettes?"
NARRATOR: "She looks at Rin incredulously, clearly not having expected such a direct request. Not that I did, either."
SAIONJI: "...Don't tell your teacher."
NARRATOR: "She stuffs the packet in Rin's pocket along with the neon-green lighter. The day is already folding into dusk when we climb up the dark stairs leading up to what is now basically Rin's atelier. As we go inside, Rin doesn't seem to be able to settle down. She keeps pacing around the room like a caged animal, looking through the skylight at the burgundy-colored dusk. The last light of the sun's advance across the sky reflects from the clouds floating over the town, filling every corner of the atelier with blazing orange light."
HISAO: "So painting is going well?"
NARRATOR: "She blinks, then relaxes her muscles. I didn't even realize how tensed up she was until now."
RIN: "Not really. I haven't painted in three days. I'm going in squares."
RIN: "If you say so. I tried doing things a bit differently but it doesn't work. And now the old way doesn't work either. I need something more. It's not enough like this."
NARRATOR: "Rin's response gives me pause, since as usual I can't exactly understand what she means. Although really, I shouldn't have expected anything else: she either says nothing at all, or too much. Trying to comprehend and follow her train of thought feels like wading through the jungles of Borneo equipped with a wooden spoon and a map of Hokkaido. It's annoying how her thoughts are both laid out in plain sight and hidden from view every time she opens her mouth."
HISAO: "What “more?” You said that to Sae as well. A missing ingredient?"
RIN: "I think I have to destroy myself."
HISAO: "Okay, that sounds unnecessarily grim. What do you mean?"
NARRATOR: "Rin's shoulders slump, and she turns to face me directly."
RIN: "I have to change. I've tried, but this is not enough yet. I have to destroy myself first, I think."
HISAO: "Just be to be clear - you are speaking metaphorically, right? Like, learning to paint from scratch again or whatever, so to speak?"
NARRATOR: "She shrugs her shoulders as if there's no difference."
RIN: "There is no difference."
HISAO: "So... you are going to start... by smoking a cigarette. For inspiration?"
RIN: "Maybe. I've never tried this before. Have you?"
HISAO: "No, can't say I have. Still, I'm not really sure if having a smoke is the best starting point."
NARRATOR: "She responds to my words with another nonchalant shrug. I open the cigarette pack and look inside. It's almost full."
HISAO: "Smoking is bad for you. But that's the idea here, I guess?"
RIN: "Yes. I need to do something. I want to paint. I need something more."
HISAO: "So okay, fine. What's after smoking a cigarette, then? How do you intend to “destroy yourself?”"
NARRATOR: "Rin thinks for a split second, averting her gaze like she does when she doesn't want to get distracted."
RIN: "I don't know yet. I'll decide later."
NARRATOR: "Rin bends down to pick out a cigarette from the end. She raises her head with one between her lips and turns to me, eyebrows curved into two arcs challenging me to respond. With a sigh of resignation, I pick up the lighter and raise it to meet the cigarette. I can feel Rin's warm breath against my quivering hand. The flame flickers to life on the third strike of the flint and I try to aim the dancing fire at the end of the cigarette. An amber-colored glow spreads into the wrapping paper and tobacco as Rin inhales the first smoke. It seems to relax her significantly. To my surprise, she doesn't cough, despite telling me that she's a first-timer. Rin seems to remember that it's hard to blow the smoke out without spitting the cigarette out as well. She quickly sits down on the floor, bringing her foot to her lips like a circus contortionist and expertly picks the filter between two toes. I get down on the floor as well, and we both lie down almost simultaneously while Rin blows a steady stream of smoke towards the dim sky beyond the glass of the skylight, looking after it thoughtfully."
NARRATOR: "The thin haze of steely blue smoke slithers towards the ceiling in fish-like movements. It billows in the stagnant air of the atelier, twisting and turning around its own immaterial body until it dissipates in thin air."
RIN: "What's the word for smoke that looks like that?"
HISAO: "There is no word for that."
RIN: "We should maybe come up with one."
NARRATOR: "Rin takes another quick, experimental drag."
RIN: "It's not very tasty. Feels like inhaling the dust lying on top of a forgotten book about the memories of a dead kingdom. Do you want to try?"
NARRATOR: "My hesitation unintentionally surfaces again, making me freeze in the face of a rather trivial and commonplace challenge. Rin's ability to take everything so coolly is something I'm a bit jealous of."
HISAO: "All right."
NARRATOR: "Taking it from her, I have a drag on it, fighting against the sudden choking feeling in my lungs as they fill with smoke."
NARRATOR: "To my embarrassment, I fail, wheezing and hacking my lungs out. I feel flustered, but maybe I haven't lost too much face in Rin's eyes."
NARRATOR: "It's less unpleasant on the second try, but I still pass the cigarette back to Rin. We're like a pair of budding delinquents in middle school, sneaking their first smoke out of sight of their teachers and parents. Well, I suppose it's not “like”, that's exactly what we are."
NARRATOR: "After a while, the cigarette has shrunk most of the way down to the filter. Rin is still looking quietly out of the skylight. With her looking out there, the silence inside the atelier seems to deepen even more. Are the cogs of creativity turning behind those eyes right now?"
RIN: "Do another one."
NARRATOR: "I mechanically pick another cigarette, light it and place it on Rin's lips. She takes a few quick puffs and moves it awkwardly around with her lips."
RIN: "Fhake if."
NARRATOR: "Not understanding her garbled words, I glance over at Rin. It looks like she's having trouble with the cigarette."
NARRATOR: "I pick the cigarette from her lips and place it on mine, abandoning common sense and good reason while I do so. The first one should've been enough for me, but I take another drag, still coughing a little at the unpleasant sensation of smoke invading my respiratory organs."
HISAO: "I remember doing something like this before."
RIN: "So you have smoked? Doesn't look like it, though."
HISAO: "Nah, lying on my back and looking at the sky with you."
NARRATOR: "The sky on the other side of the glass is slowly growing darker. It's unreachably high, even if the shimmering smoke seems to make it closer. I return the cigarette back to Rin's mouth. It feels bad, somehow. The space between us, less than arm's reach, is still there. It's the distance between us, the immeasurably wide chasm of thoughts and feelings that separates us with graver certainty than even light years of physical distance could. By saying the right words, there might be a way to make that chasm narrower, even if it's just a little. I tried to cross that gap with one big step, but Rin turned me back. I glance at her out of the corner of my eye."
NARRATOR: "Rin is staring upward through the smoke-filled ceiling and the skylight at the darkening sky above us. It's almost like she is sleeping even though I know she isn't. Her eyes are open, as is her mouth."
NARRATOR: "I take the cigarette from Rin before it falls on her cheek. She doesn't react to my touch in any way. So, this is where we are now. I wonder if we can ever be closer than this."
NARRATOR: "I take a drag of the cigarette and blow a thin stream of smoke upwards."
NARRATOR: "These indirect kisses are the only things that connect us right now. The taste of Rin's lips on the filter, mixed with the ashen taste of the smoke. Her soft lips against my fingers as I press the cigarette on her mouth, as if she was placing kisses on them. The ash, softly falling on the floor between us like snow."
NARRATOR: "As the second cigarette is being finished off, I'm already lighting the third one."
NARRATOR: "The only thing breaking the stillness of the atelier is the inaudible sound of smoke floating towards the first stars blinking overhead. Light nausea hits me by the fourth or fifth cigarette. Before long, the shape of the waxing moon appears in the skylight, shedding her wan light down on us. It'll be full moon in a few days."
HISAO: "It'd be nice to be able to fly."
NARRATOR: "I flinch after realizing it was my own voice that gave birth to the remark, the bastard child of the almost inebriating smoke and tiredness."
RIN: "You can't?"
HISAO: "You can?"
RIN: "Sometimes I feel like it. Like I can do anything."
HISAO: "I wish I felt like that too sometimes."
NARRATOR: "I wonder if she hears the bitterness seeping into my words. The vicious cycle of unrequited feelings is poisoning me, even now. I try to push the grim thoughts aside. My efforts meet with little success as my mind keeps swirling around what-ifs and if-onlies. Watching the moon slowly creeping higher, I realize that a long time has passed since I came here. It sobers me somewhat, but also reminds me of the sad status quo we're in now."
HISAO: "It's late. I'd better get going back to school."
Next Scene: Reverse Escapism