“You hurt me by not letting me hurt myself.”
For once, Zacharie looked up from the ground as he spoke – briefly, admittedly, as he was busy lighting a fresh cigarette. Alfonse met his gaze for only a second because he too hated eye contact. Zacharie said that as Alfonse was preparing to leave for work, and that was another thing he hated.
“Can’t we talk about this later?”
A sigh. He glanced back at Zacharie but the man had seemingly lost all interest in pursuing the argument.

Whether what was happening within Zacharie was some revolution or whether the revolution had already shed its blood and what remained had to rebuild, Alfonse came to despise that new Zacharie – but that new Zacharie was not new at all because, ever since the beginning of their relationship, Alfonse had realised that Zacharie was not one man but a collective of multiple men, each seemingly in direct opposite to the rest. Every now and then some war would occur and Zacharie would change and every now and then Alfonse would hope for something to happen and for Zacharie to change again. He missed the man he fell for that time, the man with the face almost as sad as his own and with the same lack of understanding towards the world.

Alfonse was ready for work after the daily dose of deep breaths and mental repetition of meaninglessly optimistic mantras. As usual, he also made sure to take his coat off and give it a good shake to try and remove the smell from Zacharie’s habit of chain smoking indoors and without opening the windows. The newsstand opened with the station at six, Alfonse’s shift began at eight.

You hurt me by not letting me hurt myself.

Zacharie’s words interrupted Alfonse’s daydream hauntingly. He snapped away from the usual dead-eyed staring at the coming and going commuters, the back and forth movements of trains, to travel back in time to that morning. Overcome by a sudden confidence, he held his head up high and looked at Zacharie from above. He realised he had nothing to say and the confidence faded away like the smoke Zacharie breathed out – and a customer interrupted that daydream, pulling him back to the present.
“A copy of…”

Elections for mayor were happening around that time. Alfonse would not have noticed were he not surrounded by newspapers daily, but noticing was as far as his involvement went. The city’s mayors for as far back as his memory went had all come from the same party. There was no competition. Those that opposed the party did not bother voting because they knew they were a minority, whereas those that supported it won because they collectively decided they would win and, thus, did not bother voting because in their mind they had already won. Alfonse did not care to understand politics and assumed his interpretation must be accurate. Zacharie did not understand politics either, but he voiced his queries and sometimes asked Alfonse complicated questions he decided he could not answer before the questions were even asked. Alfonse never bothered reading the newspapers around him. At most, he would sometimes do the crosswords on their final pages – mentally, of course.

You hurt me by not letting me hurt myself.

Maybe Zacharie’s words had been a paradox or riddle rather than something else. They were not meant to be answered but deconstructed, preferably mentally, with the stoic gaze of a Greek philosopher’s bust. If not allowing a masochist to hurt himself would hurt him, then was there any point to stopping him in the first place? Ultimately he would either hurt himself through hurting himself or hurt himself through not hurting himself. What a disaster, the logic behind it alone tired Alfonse. Had the sentence referred to a more concrete idea, as he had initially suspected, maybe Zacharie had meant it as a scold – but that idea offended Alfonse, who did not want his lover (a questionable choice of term) to think of him as a nagging parent. Especially because Zacharie hated his family.

The kinds of hurt Zacharie inflicted upon himself were many and varied and Alfonse only recognised most once they had long since happened. They were emotional and mental tortures, thoughts he would focus on until sick enough to shake and run off to vomit. Sometimes they would anger him to such extent his features shifted, became more angular, more intimidating, and those times Alfonse was almost scared. Zacharie would sit in front of his typewriter – the one Alfonse was forbidden from so much as touching – and type until his fingers cramped. He would smoke compulsively through it all. Walking up a flight of stairs made him feel out of breath and his breathing sometimes turned to wheezing like that of a brachycephalic dog. That was the hurt Alfonse would sometimes ask him to stop, but Zacharie made a scene of ignoring his every advice.

The newsstand closed before the station did, six as opposed to midnight. The restaurant Zacharie worked in closed much later, especially on weekends and holidays when, as Zacharie had eloquently explained, the bastards work you to the bone. Alfonse was usually either asleep or about to fall asleep by the time Zacharie returned. Their bed was tucked in a corner of the studio to make the rest of the flat seem more spacious; Zacharie slept on the side close to the wall and usually climbed over Alfonse to get there, waking him up in the process though Alfonse did not mind.

You hurt me by not letting me hurt myself.

Zacharie had just crawled under his share of the blanket when Alfonse travelled back in time for the third time that day. He turned to face Zacharie’s back and inched closer, until he could press his legs to the man’s and wrap an arm around him.

“What did you mean this morning?”
A pause. Under his arm, Alfonse felt Zacharie’s lungs expand and shrink to let out an inaudible sigh.
“You feel hurt knowing what I do.”
Alfonse’s silence indicated he wanted a further explanation.
“If I hurt myself you feel hurt, but if you tell me not to hurt myself I feel hurt which in turns makes you feel hurt too. Regardless of what you do you feel hurt. So might as well stop wasting time.”

Regardless of what you do you feel hurt. Alfonse hated that sentence more than anything else and hoped that whatever person Zacharie became next would not say that again.