by Emanuele Pettener
part 3 of 5
Café Bubon was enormous: magnificent halls adorned with large reproductions of seventeenth-century paintings, Murano’s bejeweled light fixtures, an explosive and a little too emphatic band that never ceased to alternate folk and opera pieces.
In addition to the ambience there was a very long, rich and wonderful buffet into which elegant and rich and wonderful ladies and gentlemen with tailcoats dove head first, shoving each other like pigs at a trough. I was really a snob.
For a moment I was able to get rid of Grassona and try to eat some leftovers of salmon or trout. Nothing. They had polished off even the decorations. The bastards.
A young petite duchess with blond hair and a plunging neckline approached me: “Excuse me, aren’t you Tom Egerri, the writer of Boca’s Boca?”
I arched my brows with undeniable satisfaction, then I looked at her as Clark Gable would have done and, whirling my fork like a jocosely moralist index finger, I told her: “And are you not too fine a lady to read my trifles, hmmm?”
“Indeed I never read them. My father says it’s rubbish and you have been described as a sycophant who makes up what he is not able to write. Goodbye.”
Nice girl. Watching her firm bottom as she walked away, I remembered the time I went fishing with Nietzsche: “Friedrich, whom do you call evil?”
“He who wants to humiliate someone at any cost.”
“And which is the most human action?”
“To save someone from humiliation.”
Grassona approached me. She wanted to dance. I looked at her, she looked at me. We didn’t say anything else. I grabbed her by the waist, supposing that a ball of fat has a waist.
Go ahead with a tango, orchestra.
It was the best tango of my career. It was not a matter of preciseness, of rapid and virile steps; it was my diabolically Andalusian look, my muscles that danced sensually, as a tango so irreverent was my answer to the mockers.
Everybody moved to the perimeter, the center of the hall became empty, and all people in attendance were dumbfounded, watching the invincible young man who made this fat woman wheel with the grace of a golden sphere. (And in those moments she returned to her youth and for the first time in her life she became thin).
The audience didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, so perfect was the fusion between this sensual and handsome young man and the fat, old, flying woman, and all the girls — maybe, who knows, even the spiteful duchess — wished to be Grassona in that moment, and they envied the way in which Grassona let herself be led, welcomed, hurled away and drawn back again, longing for my passionate tanguero’s mouth. And men — who knows, maybe even the young duchess’s father — thought: Perhaps they really love each other.
And when I dipped her and our lips were one centimeter apart from each other, all the party-goers were paralyzed by emotion, electrified by excitement, their hearts missed a beat, and I saw Grassona’s eyes languid, astonished, wide open, the eyes of a crazily loving hound, no more master but love’s slave.
And I thought again of Arthur, Suzanne and the petit duchess and all these people who laughed at me and at Grassona, and now they weren’t able to laugh anymore — and then I smiled, I gave her lips a smacking kiss, I took away my supporting arm, she fell on the floor with a loud thump, and I walked away.
I woke up feeling my desperation surfacing. Guys, it is not true at all. I exaggerated yet again. It’s my vice. I mean... Yes, the tango and all that stuff happened, all the speechless people around us, yes... But when the moment came to kiss her, thus starting a great career and at the same time leaving all dumbfounded, scandalizing them at my cost...
I had no guts. She was too disgusting, an old and drooling mouth. And when I had the opportunity to be a hero and destroy that big career of mine by letting Grassona fall on the floor in front of all of them, and by leaving the scene reeking with pride, sparkling with glory, poor, but beautiful like Alberto Sordi in Una vita difficile... Nothing. I had no guts.
There was instead a global, visceral, epochal applause. But the beauty of that tango had vanished, and I think that everybody was cheering with compassion. Everyone laughed.
Guys, pardon me, and forgive me for what happened later. Grassona was in ecstasy. She felt absolutely beautiful, I think, and admired by everyone. In that moment I thought that perhaps she had always been aware of being an old fat woman, that she knew what other people said about her, that she also knew that I would have never gone out with her if she weren’t my boss. If she hadn’t held my America in her little fat hands.
Nevertheless, in the bottom of her heart, she had never erased the hope that I — or someone like me, or anyone — could love her for what she was. Christ, one could love her only for what she was not, but there was nothing that she wasn’t: she was an old and ugly fat woman. I don’t know, guys, I was confused. I scratched behind my right ear, that was burning with shame. Grassona took my hand and dragged me out.
“You have been wonderful, oh, you have been wonderful. Oh, I knew it. I knew it. I’ll never forget what you have done for me tonight. We’ll do big things together, you don’t have to worry. You must let me guide you, my love. Oh, my little one, quick, switch on the engine and tonight I’ll switch you on. Quick, let’s go home...”
I felt like a mouse in a trap. I was sweating and I was scared. I was rigid with fear of what was ahead of me, and I had no way out. The tuxedo was glued to my skin, and she continued to blather, she was a happy child, in the seventh heaven. She was dripping with excitement and her eyes were shining an unnatural gray, an iron-filings gray, a diamond-dust gray, a clean-combed-rat gray. I feared she would cry for that overflowing joy of words and promises and future and pride and... love.
I was driving. I was trying to think, but I still had a neurotic sensation all over me, like when something happens to us and we would like to forget it, but it pervades our every cell. I was driving. Grassona leaned her muzzle on my right arm, she felt like a high-school girl with a cardigan and bobby socks, a fresh peppery high-school girl with well proportioned breasts sculpted in granite. Christ... I wasn’t even hungry.
We arrived at her house. I had already been there twice. And both times I had been able to escape. I had told her that I suffered from a strange kind of sexual impotence every time I was with a woman that I was really interested in and whom I felt to be superior to myself in money and social position.
“Then I will make you a rich successful man,” she had said. She had bought it. But then she had added: “A kiss at least, eh?” and dangerously she had come closer to me, curling her lips and squinting as if a lemon had squirted into her pupils.
Come on, Tom, what’s a kiss? Conquer your disgust, come on. You have already told her extraordinary bullshit about the mysterious shape of her eyes, about the sensual grandiosity of her breasts, the delicate grace of her little feet. You have already whispered in her ear your curiosity about her being always so sure of herself and so sweet at the same time, that her iron fist charms you and her clear diamond voice excites you. Her clear diamond voice excites you, Christ, Tom, you know how to bullshit!... And you are not able to give her a kiss?
Well, no. I have an amoral soul that does not care about anything, and even enjoys the bullshit I can invent, without an iota of remorse. But I have an ethical body. It is a conscientious body, clean and sane. It does not tolerate being slimed by Grassona’s saliva.
“Please...” I had said complaining, “it would not be right for me and neither for you... I have to feel it, you understand, feel it... help me feel it.”
Guys, I need coffee. I’ll make a coffee and then I’ll tell you. My career is practically over even before it started. A writer who can’t kiss his publisher’s mouth is really worthless. A writer who would rather kiss his worst enemy’s mouth is a failed writer. This does not mean I am not a wonderful kisser, guys, and my coffee is the best. Well, where were we? Ah, we were getting to her house...
It was a marvelous house, the house of a little pasha, but to me it seemed like Polyphemus’ cave. It was a Polyphemus hungry for love, anyway, the one that was switching off the lights and was ordering me to sit among the colorful pillows on the Persian rug in front of an unlit fireplace and a lit candle holder.
A romantic atmosphere slapped me all over. Old Poly was taking out a bottle of her best champagne and some caviar from her cellar. Then, in a luscious voice, she said she would be back in a minute and she caressed my head. Did she have to go to the bathroom? Would she come back naked? Could I bear that vision? It was worse.
She arrived wearing a very short white sweater and black stockings, with a garter belt that was squeezing and suffocating her fat flesh — happy are those who don’t have a sense of ridicule. She perched herself on the rug on all fours and crossed her short legs; her sweater was drawn up; she pulled it down, biting maliciously at her lower lip.
“Will you pour me some champagne?”
I poured it for her. She drank, then she mewed: “I’m already tipsy” and she laughed turning over on her belly (her breasts dilated monstrously, flattened on the floor)
“Do you like me?” she sighed.
I hated her. She turned over again, this time on her back, leaning on her elbows, raising her little legs one foot from the floor, moving them rhythmically and alternately: “Do you like my legs?”
The suffused light of the candles lit only the circle where we stayed, but the little light there at the end made me guess the door, a beautiful closed door that I longed for like a convict. Here the smell of incense tightened my throat and the halo of the candle looked like the walls and ceiling of an invisible spherical cell, beyond that door there was a world where breathing and living were free.
“Come on, relax” she said, and she came closer — and she came so close that all my body froze in disgust — and she put her hand on my leg, and she took my hand and she put it on her breast, and with her hand on my leg she began to move up, to move up toward my frozen groin and... she arrived there. I abruptly jumped away, almost in prey of convulsions. I wanted to cry, to shout, to split her head: “I’m... I’m sorry, I’ll have champagne...”
But my anguish annulled any effect of the alcohol. She still came closer, she came closer, she was almost on top of me, the dark shadow of her size looked upon me, I didn’t see the candles anymore, I didn’t see the door, I didn’t see anything...
And it was then that I felt a flabby and enormous tongue pushing between my teeth — “NOOO!!!” I shouted like a tortured body. With both of my hands I pushed her away and the desperation of my gesture was so strong that she overturned on herself and ended up with her bottom in the air as her garter belt came undone: I suddenly jumped on my feet, almost bitten by a tarantula, and the sounds of a butchered veal came out of my throat: “I... I don’t... I can’t... I’m sorry... I’m sor... I can’t do it.”
Grassona had wide eyes. She was sitting on the floor and she looked up at me, mute, dazed, suddenly annihilated. I ran away. I ran to the door, past the door to the car, I ran home by car, I ran from room to room in my house with a trembling glass of whisky in my hand.
A day has passed. Grassona hasn’t called. I’m probably fired. My career has already ended.
On Friday morning I was already on my fourth coffee. I was also without a job. I looked at 17th street outside the window, full of sun and not a soul around: the sky was azure like the mantle of the holy Virgin. It is typical of Florida to have these mystical skies: when the sunset arrives, Florida skies become red and purple like the vestments of a bishop; and when the big night comes, Florida skies fill up with bright stars that look like a crowd of happy little nuns.
I don’t want to leave Florida. I met a lot of friends here. Tom, Suzanne, Alice, Walt Whitman. I don’t want to go back to Venice as a loser, without success, without money. But, if I have to be sincere while I caress my three-day beard, I must confess there is another reason why I don’t want to go back. I like to write.
I know, I know, I’m sorry. I discovered this vice here, I had never thought about it, I swear. I tried to convince myself that I’d do it only for the money: it is not true, no more hiding, I like it. When I sit in front of my computer and I begin to write, the perfect absurdity of life suddenly appears like a light game. I don’t know why! Maybe because of these books I read! I knew that I should have been more careful. I always detested people who write. Today, everyone who has nothing to say and doesn’t know how to say it, writes it. Journalists, politicians — even women...
At that moment the telephone rang. It was Arthur. He was happy.
“Tom, I wanted to thank you. Now I know Susanne will never betray me. Thank you, my friend.”
“Well, at least you’re happy. Instead I will lose my job because I did not succumb to blackmail, I didn’t sleep with my boss. Tell Suzanne and let Kelly know too.”
“Ah, Suzanne, Suzanne... Yesterday we went for a picnic and she prepared a potato salad. If you could see how she looked at me... tell me, Tom, how could I have suspected her?”
“Arthur, I’m telling you I’ll be fired and you’re speaking about potato salad. Can’t you commiserate with me a little?”
“But it is not a problem for someone like you. You’re cool. Do you want the truth? This job was not for you. Suzanne and I always thought it... Instead, look, I should not tell you but I will, since you are like family: Suzanne and I made a historical decision: guess!”
“What do you mean it was not the job for me?”
“Enough about your job. You’re so annoying sometimes. I’m sorry but I have to tell you, always work-work-work. Suzanne and I are worried about you.”
“Arthur, Christ, they will fire me. I am worried about me. Not Suzanne and you. Wait till I tell you how things went...”
“No, don’t think about it. I’m saying this for your own good. Come on, guess what Suzanne and I have decided!”
“A baby? A new car? A dog? A thermos? A mosquito screen? A nice collective suicide?”
“Listen, I’m your friend, and I understand it’s not a good day. If you feel better getting angry at Suzanne and me, then do it. It will not keep us up at night, because we have other things to do at night, my dear, and now we even have a TV in our room. Here, here. This was our decision. I told you, now thank you for ruining the surprise.” Click.
People are crazy. I went to prepare my fifth coffee.
Outside, summer was playing its game. An audacious sun was shining, but my career was in pieces. I had no job, no job no visa, I should look through the classifieds. Perhaps I should become a model. I’m good at it. But I am a writer, and one can hardly escape his nature.
I checked my short story. I reached the fifteenth line. I read it. It was terrible. But nobody will read it anyway. I don’t know which of the two things depressed me more.
To be continued...
Copyright © 2008 by Emanuele Pettener