by Emanuele Pettener
part 1 of 5
It was a really bright bad morning, full of sun and the rejoicing of little birds and linen to wash and I was feeling wonderful, I must say — give to Caesar his due — so I would have liked to remain in bed at least until noon to cultivate sweet memories of infancy and to decide what to eat for lunch, but the telephone rang and I had to get up.
Passing the mirror, I uttered a giggle of satisfaction.
I hardly had time to say “Hello!” when a voice sounding very much like Polyphemus when Ulysses stuck a red-hot log of olive wood into his only eye, erupted:
“And I am Tommaso Egerri, nice to hear from you.”
“Don’t kid with me, Tom, don’t kid with me, stupid little boy...”
It was Grassona, of course. She said that if she didn’t see my story on her desk by Saturday I could consider my adventure at the Weekly Boca’s Erotic Mouth over — the sexiest magazine on the planet, all your dreams, all your unrealistic perversions, all your disturbed obsessions laid down in writing, sex as art, as rebirth, as spiritual growth, as reunion with the Universe: in short, a solemn piece of rubbish to which I brought prestige and dignity with a short story on the literary page every Saturday.
“Mmm, my dear, you know how artists are. Think of Michelangelo, think of Leonardo...”
“Are you telling me that you’re gay?”
“No, no! I am Italian, you know.”
“Damned idiot, either this time you pull a decent story out of that useless little brain of yours or I’ll send you to scrub toilets!”
Would you like me to wash your back with my candid little Italian hands, sweet old Grassona? But I didn’t say anything else except “OK, you’ll receive the most exciting short story of all time by next Saturday, baby.”
Sweet old Grassona.
I let her speak to me this way because it’s clear: Grassona is in love with me.
There’s nothing better than a little coffee — a little coffee is good for your blood — to recover both my morale and the right concentration to write. A luscious coffee in a green-golden cup, with a drop of fat cow’s milk — Grassona, what a bore! — and I went ahead with my work.
But early midday came, the sun showed its burned and grazed hair among the white and azure tongues above, and so far I had only written this line: “It was a beautiful day, it was raining, snowing, hailing, and he woke up excited, or better yet bored, and he called Janine, or better yet Paulette, or better yet he didn’t call anyone.”
Honestly I like to consider all the possibilities before choosing.
But I was hungry and I went shopping.
I opened the door, the daylight overwhelmed me, I got on my blue bicycle and I headed towards Publix. I had a feeling of voluptuousness, pedal after pedal, while diving through Boca’s lucid streets, long like dancer’s legs, in her skies chock full of blue, like the eyes of someone who doesn’t love you anymore, pedal after pedal, in her silent heat that slipped under my t-shirt.
The sun was hot and flooded the empty sidewalks, the white little houses, the green gardens perfectly tended, the palms, the stones, the sand, the dust. Ask the dust how it feels. But nobody would answer. Boca is silent, Boca is a woman without a soul. Ah, Boca! Why don’t you speak to me? Why don’t you kiss me? Tell me your secrets!
But nobody answered, and I parked my bicycle in front of Publix.
I entered. The shop assistant is in love with me.
“Oh, the Italian guy!’
We talked more with our eyes than with words. Anyway, I purchased a bottle of Concha y Toro, peppers, and eggplants. She kindly helped me to put all the stuff in the bags, and with a hint of admiration she said:
“Oh! Italiano mangiare perfect!”
She was seventy-seven years old. Undoubtedly, she didn’t look her age. The fire was still smouldering under the ashes. But she could not be the inspiration for my short story, so I dragged my beautiful body outside Publix and came back home.
I chopped a clove of garlic very, very fine. I placed it in a pan full of very, very hot olive oil. I added the peppers crumbled by hand, as all Italian grandmothers teach us, and the little chunks of eggplant — I cooked everything very, very slowly, adding pepper, salt and more olive oil, and, after almost an hour later, I mixed everything with fettuccine (well, I really don’t have to explain how to cook fettuccine, I hope).
I poured the wine a little bit in the glass and a little bit on the tablecloth, I ate and — half drunk — I returned to work. Grassona called me at four o’clock, she was as sweet as sugar. Disgusting. She asked me how I was doing with my writing.
“Good, my God! I am inebriated like a Swiss seal or an Austrian camel, I will give handfuls of golden dust to my readers, I will satiate them with cream and ink chocolates and they will go to bed like happy little pigs...”
She murmured with kind authority: “Well, then I invite you to dinner tonight.”
A moment of embarrassing silence and the recovery of popular wisdom: never exhibit your own joy, you will lead people to believe they can ask you anything.
“Damn...why are you telling me this only now? The fact is, I really cannot put it off... I really cannot...”
“What, what is it that you can’t put off till later, what are all these commitments? Be careful, because I can’t stand you anymore, be careful, or I’ll leave you with your ass on the floor, impotent little boy full of complexes!!! Be careful, because if I discover that there is another woman I’ll cut you in pieces!!!!”
“No... now you hurt me. It is not nice to hurt me, you know how I care about you, and you know how I’m hurt now...”
“On Saturday. The short-story on my table.”
That bitch — Grassona!
In the evening I went to the swimming-pool and I set my record for laps, twenty-two, eighteen of which were breaststroke, two backstroke, one crawl and one — very slow — floating on my back. All these things in the first ten minutes because in the last half hour I remained hanging on to the inner tube to observe a girl who swam back and forth without a break.
You could not say she was beautiful: on the contrary, she was almost ugly: snail’s eyes a bit vague, little teeth a bit prominent, a bit like a beaver, a little bulbous nose, subtle sides but a butt that swelled like a river — a beautiful river, by the way. Nevertheless I found her exciting, charming. Maybe it was the grace in her swimming, perseverant and feminine; perhaps those two breasts, perfect, firm and round under the wet swimsuit, still more striking on a body that was nothing special, like two diamonds among shoddy goods or two needles in a haystack.
Surely non-beauty, when it is not displeasing as in the case of the damned Grassona, is more sensual than beauty. Perhaps she carried her defects with discretion. Perhaps sensuality hides better in a less beautiful body and so is more appetizing, less obvious, more intriguing.
The point is that in the only break she took, I lavished my most boastful smile: “You’re working out, mmh?”
“Yes...” She smiled, turning red, and I became hard.
“Yes, yes. Yes-yes-yes.”
“But you’re not swimming very much...”
“Well, my dear, I have already set my record in the first four minutes, twenty-two laps: eighteen breaststroke, two backstroke, one crawl and one floating on my back. Very slow, this last one.”
She laughed: “You’re so nice... ”
I was really hard. I hedged: “Yes, well, thank you very much, you too, you know...”
“I already swam 45 laps,” she said, without malice.
“Ah. Well, good. Not bad for a girl eh? Who knows how many lengths I would have swum too if I hadn’t had to reflect!”
“Reflect?” she asked, amazed.
“Well, I am at the heart of my new novel, and a dilemma of an artistic nature is tormenting me and following me everywhere: does she want him or not?”
“Oh, I think she does!”
Girls who are listening: you are fantastic. I love you all. With only one phrase you make life worth living, thank you, girls. I don’t know how you get to experience this, but for us it’s like the world humbled itself and a divine hydromel spilt in the loins, and rainbow-parrots sang a popular song, and the essence of happiness drove nerves and marrow crazy.
I felt the water along my thighs, brushing bristling little hairs like drunken gnomes, lustfully enveloping all my stuff. I floated blissfully, my eyelids closed at half mast, my mouth similar to a horizontal slice of moon.
“So beautiful, you write!”
“And how do you live?”
“Well...this is really beautiful, yes.”
“Well, I’m going out.”
“Well... you have to go too, your hour’s up...”
“Ah, yes... time flies... oh... what’s your name?”
“And I am Tom Egerri. I am Italian, you know. Niiiiiiice to meet you.”
I laid my hand on hers, she shook it and then she left. I watched her getting out of the water, dripping, with the swimsuit that gripped her buttocks as I would have like to do, perhaps nibbling at them starting from the pink little calves all covered by prickly goose bumps.
While she was leaving she turned back for a greeting, to which I answered almost waving my arms wide. I remained in the water for some minutes still in order to cool my senses and become presentable again. Oh guys, what an adventure!
I woke up with a pounding headache. But I had to work. I had already written the third line, and that morning I had reached the fifth. I felt really exhausted. Outside the sun widened, shining over the entire town, on the flowers on the window sills, on the dust of the road, on the handles of the car doors. There was a good fragrance.
Grassona hadn’t called yet, the event had to be celebrated. I fixed myself a sandwich with cooked ham, gherkins, fried green tomatoes, French camembert, fried onion, garlic against the vampires, black olives, clove-trees, clams, spinach, sorrel’s roots, Dijon mustard, anchovies, capers, decoction of nettles, walnuts sauce, ginger, basil, sage — and a beautiful slice of lard. A can of beer, and I felt like a king.
On television there was a show in which ordinary people told exceptional tragedies under the eyes of a suffering and omniscient emcee. It was really a wonderful day, I thought, but in that moment the door bell rang and I lifted up my eyes to the sky. It was my friend Arthur.
But Arthur didn’t even answer and hugged me.
“What’s the matter, Arthur?”
But Arthur began to cry and sank in my fuchsia armchair. Damn Arthur, always ready to ruin your lunch with his complaints, with his carpenter’s hands in his little sparse curls, with his sense of anguish over the betrayal of his wife.
“Suzanne’s cheating on me, Tom.”
“Oh no, no...”
“Yesterday I found her...”
“In bed with another man???”
“Oh no, no...”
“On the phone with her lover???”
“Oh no, no...”
“I found her with her friend Kelly.”
“Damn... I must confess I’d always thought you were slightly paranoid, but now I have to admit you were right, super-right, damn it, my poor friend; damn, I’m really sorry, I mean, it’s one thing if she’s cheating on you with a man, but with a woman, my God, that’s really disquieting, porca miseria, Suzanne a lesbian, Suzanne and Kelly lesbians. Hmm, what a tragedy, all naked on your living room carpet, obscenely rolling around, hmm... Excuse me, I have to go to the john.”
“But what are you talking about? They were only drinking tea.”
“Did they not roll around on the floor?”
“Were they not naked?”
“No! But they were laughing scornfully like damned fools. And just as I entered the living-room, they suddenly stopped — suddenly you understand, purple like leeches ready to burst. It was clear they were laughing about me, behind my back, you understand. Suzanne was probably telling Kelly about her last lover...”
“Or about the last time you made love.”
“Oh no, what are you talking about, why would they laugh so hard?”
“You are right, they’d have cried. But even if they were talking about sex, maybe it was Kelly who was confiding in your wife.”
“No, you don’t make any sense, if it wasn’t about me why would they have laughed and why would they stop so abruptly?”
“Well, and what did you do, Aristotle?”
“And then did you ask Suzanne the reason they were laughing?”
“Of course not, she would have eventually found an excuse. But I’m thinking: she has always confided in you, hadn’t she?”
“Against my will.”
“Well. You have to go to visit her, to trick her with your strategic arts, and — without letting her realize that I sent you — make her confess.”
“No, I beg you, don’t do this to me, I must work, my career is in danger, my life is hanging by a thin thread, one hour with your wife could cause grave damage to my nervous system. I don’t even have time to breathe, I have to pay the rent, I am depressed, I hate your wife...”
Arthur began to cry once again. Damn Arthur. Even the sandwich went down the wrong way.
To be continued...
Copyright © 2008 by Emanuele Pettener