Excerpt from “The Universal Store”
When the woman leaves the flat, the man returns to the large window overlooking Vilnius and peers out. Many of the lights of Old Town begin to go out, though in the outskirts of the city they continue to burn by the thousands in the Soviet-built cooperatives, until lights that remain in the city and sky appear as two halves of the same dark, glimmering body. The point of light the woman has said belongs to Diana’s flat goes out, too, and more go out citywide until the sky above the city grows brighter than the city, until the light of the sky has overcome the light of the earth.
Before the man retires to the woman’s state bed, he finds her housecoat hanging from a yellow-painted, rusty hook on the doorframe of the water closet. It is an old housecoat, plain, with a blood-red tie threaded through three loops at the waist, ends hanging low, touching the floor. The lapels of the housecoat are faded, threadbare and tattered, curled slightly outward, revealing the austere nap of raw, bone-gray terry threads.
The first time he removes the housecoat from the hook by the door, he quickly replaces it. The second time, he holds it by both shoulders and examines the collar. The third time, he raises the gray housecoat to his face, brings it closer, and inside the collar inspects thin brown lines of discoloration, faint rings of sweat—then he quickly presses the collar to his face and nose. A long time he keeps the garment like that, eyes closed, robe held tenderly in his hands over his face, breathing desperately through its fibers until her essence is unmistakable.