Sleep was near impossible that night, although it had already become an arduous task for Li since the botched surgery years before. Her eyelids enveloped their sockets like they were roaming sand dunes, warping themselves into a different contortion every day. Every now and then one would quiver while the other remained stagnant, and on those occasions her foster mother would joke that she was a malfunctioning doll. She then learned to sleep with her eyes open and allow the banal and the tangible of the everyday to leak through her eyelids and infest her dreams. Soon she could see ultraviolet as clearly as she could see any other colour, read radio waves better than she could read notes on sheet music, witness background radiation flood every crevice of her being as they whittle down her mortality, and if she was astute enough to not teeter over the edge of her lucid dream she could watch time unravel as it oscillated between seconds, decades and fortnights, first stretching its limbs into a millennium, and then just as quickly curling them back into the tight coils of nanoseconds. The doctors would laugh and assure her that these were just floaters, faults in the vitreous humour of her eye that should simply be ignored, and of course the overactive imagination of a young lady. But Li persisted with the voyages, hungry for them to reveal to her some uncharted greater knowledge, some kind of new pigment which she could grind to irreducible dust, or perhaps bleed into an essence, or at the very least suspend in some kind of thick oil. She thought she was like a magician with her hand dipped into her hat, and in it was her rabbit eagerly waiting to be unveiled to the rest of the world.
When Li came to, she flushed as she saw that Ryoei must have been awake for hours. He was dressed again, and sober. He had also morphed into another animal, pacing about her makeshift studio with the studied tension of a predator on a hunt, and training his eyes on each piece with a politeness that made her feel naked. In the first piece, a seduction of light. In another, a seated man caught the fall of his head with his hand. She had rendered the old man’s eyes old and forlorn with the weight of wisdom, as if it was a wisdom which told him that he would always be late for life. Ryoei knew that all Li could see was not a labour of love on her part, but studies of human vulnerabilities for his taking. For he had once fallen from grace, but while other fallen men would have clawed airlessly to the heavens, he made his own hell and waited there for gravity.