Unwanted items used to migrate to the dining room of my uncle Enzo’s apartment as though of their own accord. I never once saw Enzo or his wife Gabriella go in there. And so it became a shadow room whose items, in sum, cobbled together a crude portrait of our lives. On our side, however, the absences of those objects continued to exist: in my mind there remained a cavity just the size and shape of my grandmother’s entire set of tarnished frying pans, which, at any time, should I want to, I could retrieve, and repopulate with the real thing.
When I first moved in with Enzo and his wife, in order to feel myself incorporated into their household, I left my own discarded items on the dining room table—a hair clip, an old report card from my last semester of school, where on the back, the nun who’d been in charge of my advisory had left a phone number at which I could reach her—presumably her extension at the cloister—in case, she’d written, “I should ever change my mind.”
Even now I can’t quite trace what gave off the odor in the dining room—if it was the fault of the dark wood of the windowsills, long on the decay beneath their molting varnish, or if it was the collaboration of the retired work boots with the pancake make-up left over from one year’s Carnevale, the gold, pink, and blue, discs eroding, all the time exchanging more of themselves with those mountains of accumulated dust.
But then, almost certainly culpable was the towering stack of receipts from Enzo’s shop, distributed at random across the table, where perhaps a fish scale or two remained, dried up and pressed between the papers, bound to resurface in some unimaginable future as a fossil from the days when I helped Enzo in the fishmongers: when I, like him, rose hollowly to the apartment above the shop each afternoon as though summoned up by some divine hand; in my bed, laid myself to rest as though stretching out beneath the blade of someone else’s knife.
“Look at you! You’ll be my princess, okay?” An older man slurred as he slid me a beer across the table. “Look at that lovely hair, you’re like the new little queen of Grosseto.” He stepped back to admire me, and his head shone like a globe beneath the bar’s dim blue lights. I hadn’t ordered anything; in fact I’d only sat down at the table to pass the time while Enzo had gone over to speak to a friend, but he returned now, and from behind, he clapped the man on the shoulder like a brother.
“Ay! My Enzo,” the man exclaimed, his eyes wet. He rolled his head into Enzo’s chest, and Enzo, in a move that I didn’t understand, kissed his temple. Then, in a single gesture, Enzo put his hands on the man’s shoulders, forcibly turned him around, and sent him off.
“Don’t let Rinaldo bother you,” he said, taking a seat across from me. “Or do,” he corrected himself. “It’s nice, actually, to give him a little bit of attention, give him the sense that you support him.” He slid his drink around on the table. “But at a certain point you can cut him off.” It was true that Rinaldo had submitted without protest to his banishment, and had disappeared easily back into the crowd.
Enzo continued, “He’ll especially appreciate the attention from you, being new, pretty.”
He paused a moment, to consider what he’d just said and cringed. “I know that’s not fair, of course. But…”
Enzo, who was fifteen years younger than my dad, had been a father himself for only several months. You could see him, in that period, continually registering the pains that his own daughter would have to endure—the spasm of realization and afterwards, the prolonged sting of incorporating that knowledge into his world. As though someone were striking him repeatedly, without warning. It’s not like that, to be a girl, you wanted to tell him. Not every injury was logged, recorded. One had to go on living.
He was staring blankly over the bar, working through this new item of consideration when I asked if he’d had any contact with my parents. He didn’t move for a moment, as though he hadn’t heard me, and then finally he said, “No,” and tugged on the sleeve of his sweater. “I thought you guys had worked out a call schedule, or something. Between the three of you.”
“Yeah,” I said. “Certainly. We should have.”
Enzo and his wife had a wall phone installed in their house, but my parents did not. Normally our neighbor took my parents’ messages, charged them a few bottles of milk a week for the cost of the line and the human labor of delivery. But I’d forgotten to record their number before leaving. Nor did Enzo have it written anywhere, preferring to drive up to our farm in his battered car and park it there on the dirt when he was least invited.
“Hey.” Enzo took my hand and beamed at me with intentional warmth. “I’m glad you came. We’ll have fun.” The music in the background of the bar grew louder. Enzo’s face retained such buoyancy, his muscles so eager to change formation, to shape-shift to your every need, that sometimes he reminded me of the boys at the companion school to mine, who we’d all flirt with poorly in the parking lot of our shared church. Just as easily as I remember Luca or Martino struggling to use a lighter, I could imagine Enzo into that dirt lot, sitting atop the hood of a car laughing generously, doing the same.
I too, in that parking lot, would have been cycling through my many masks, hoping to impress both the boys and myself. Only months later, in Grosseto, from behind the glass display case, did the thought of any of them produce a flicker of appreciation for those nights in the parking lot, or else by the muddy pond where we’d all swum in our underwear once, having disregarded the simple fact of our discomfort with our own bodies and with each other. If I were to encounter Martino in the street tomorrow, knowing him as poorly as I do, I would still feel a closeness to him—almost as though I’d been in his long froggy arms, which of course I had not.
Aside from that one night, when we got together we did little more than wander through ours or a neighboring town, our only entertainment the rotating formations we took, the thrill of coupling and re-coupling—forever calculating the distance between us. Still, the loneliness produced by our awkward attempts to connect shrank in the face of that strange sensation, in the back seat of someone else’s car, once we’d finally given up and turned back home. That feeling that I was being driven away from some great possibility, gawky and artificial as it had been.
I would think of those nights sometimes from behind the counter of the fish shop, and feel a fondness—that was the only word to describe it, a warmth that fed on distance—for those inland friends around whom I had always felt like an imposter of myself. Slicing a hake into a pair of thin filets, my eyes stinging from the stench of brine cut through with bleach, I would imagine them as a chorus of floating heads, paying witness to the ease with which I commanded the blade, the new way I wore my hair: up in a twist, as Enzo’s wife had taught me to do, for cleanliness.
“I’m a little surprised, Camilla,” Enzo said as he hacked a cut through the center of a swordfish. “He’s eccentric, sure, but he’s generally thought to be very respectful.”
“It’s not that he doesn’t respect me,” I said. I had my back to the counter and had just finished telling Enzo about how Rinaldo, that morning, had—after sidling up behind me—slipped beneath the grating as soon as I’d unlocked it, then, inside the shop, flicked on all the lights. He’d waited, drumming his knuckles against the display case, until the day’s catch had been delivered. Then he’d packed himself a container of shrimp, blown me a kiss, and left.
“Listen, don’t let him in if he makes you uncomfortable,” Enzo said. He began slicing a flap lengthwise to pull out the spine. Swordfish, with its tough flesh, occasionally proved difficult even for him. He went silent for a few moments and I watched the pink tips of his gloves move. Nearly every morning, when the shop was barely open, Rinaldo passed by on the way home from his and Enzo’s favorite haunt, having stayed an extra few hours after close to help wash and dry each of the glasses. I’ll say it again: he was not employed at that, or any bar.
Much later, I was loitering in front of the shop to get some air, when Enzo came out to smoke. From behind me, I heard, “I’ve been considering what you told me about Rinaldo…” He paused. “I’m sorry, Camilla.” Then he said, “Listen, shall we just cut the cord, do the inevitable, and turn the business over to him?”
When I laughed, the sound that emerged from me felt so physically different from what I’d known as my laugh that instinctively I brought my hand to my stomach.
“Hey, are you okay?”
“Oh yeah, don’t worry,” I said. “Everything fine.”
“Listen, go home if you need to. I can take it from here, we’re almost out of everything. And that tuna will have to be given away anyway.” He kicked one foot up against the facade of the building. “It’s too old to sell, I wouldn’t feel good about it.”
Later, in the shop, once we’d finished for the day—the last quarter kilo of scallops had sold, and we were just waiting for a friend of Enzo’s to come by for the tuna—Enzo began rehearsing his bid for a seat on the town council. He’d placed himself up on the raised step in the back of the shop that led to the freezer, and I watched him from the customers’ side of the counter.
“Thank you all for being here today,” he said. We’d turned off the lights in the front of the shop to communicate that we had closed, but the back lights remained on as we cleaned up, and so he stood there, lit like a real politician atop a pedestal.
“Camilla, I feel ridiculous.”
“You seem very professional.”
He looked out over the empty shop and continued, “As I think we’ve all become aware, there’s a drastic inequality on the rise in Grosseto. We’ve all seen the Ferraris and Lamborghinis zooming down the Via Roma. They’re alluring, sure. We may even hunger for one ourselves—I have. And yet, are these the sorts of things we will let ourselves be tempted by?”
Just when his voice managed to break through to a formal register, it dropped back into the tone he’d used at the bar. He cleared his throat.
“Big business is forcing our prices down. My own shop saw its first month in years in the red. People are selling their families’ jewelry just to put food on the table, all while we’re seeing new gold pile up around the same few necks.” He flashed a smile; he was beginning to enjoy himself. “I ask you, isn’t it time we put a cap on greed?”
As Enzo went on with his speech, I watched the tuna that we’d set aside for his friend drip blood into a fresh bed of ice. Flake by flake, the pink spread itself to the far edges of the tray. And then the chorus of heads emerged above me again; Martino, Luca, Catia, Carlotta. Even Gianni made an appearance, and I was surprised by the warmth with which I received him, that clown-turned-amateur-thug of my old town.
They hovered there, crude observers of the scene.
I imagined them impressed less by the spectacle of the fish shop than by the simple fact that I had been capable of remaking my life. For years I had imagined myself a stone lodged firmly in the mud of my town. The longer time ran its course the more calcified we became—both the town and me. I could never have blamed my friends for thinking of me the same way, and yet now, imagining Luca as a prefect at the boys’ school, making announcements during morning prayers, eating at the far end of the lunchroom near the clergy and our teachers—of course we did not eat together, and so here I’m remembering the geography of my school lunchroom, not his—I felt as though I were watching the mud set around him. Carlotta, and Catia too had become prefects. When the quiet hours piled up in the afternoon and there was such time to wade through, I would circle back to this, to being a stone: sometimes I wondered if it could really be true, that of us all, I was the one who had pried myself free.
When Gianni and his friend approached me, I had been walking to my parents’ house, crossing through the lot of the movie theater which, since movies were rarely shown, was more commonly used as a bar. That afternoon, a man had been sitting on the steps drinking a beer. The sun rang off his bottle. It was the beginning of spring.
“Camilla—” Gianni swerved in close to me and pulled me over behind the building. His face hovered just above mine, and though the maneuver had been executed with force, his grasp on my arm remained respectful. I wondered for a moment if he was approaching me with some proposal more intimate than I had imagined. Briefly, I thought, Will I? With Gianni, amateur thug?
But it was Gianni’s friend who began speaking; it was he who outlined their proposal, the sum of money that they would pay me if I took responsibility for their scheme once it was inevitably discovered by our town police. The friend spoke in long, emotionless sentences. When he swallowed, the wiry muscles in his neck wriggled like worms beneath the skin. Gianni, who from afar had always seemed so electric, so combustible, instead stood back from the confrontation. A nervous hand floated up to his face to flick away some phantom fly whenever his friend paused to ask, “Can you confirm for me that you’re keeping up with this, Camilla?” The first time he’d said it I had nodded, and he’d added, “I can’t keep going until you give me a ‘yes.’”
“You don’t need to let us know right away,” Gianni cut in as soon as the explanation was finished.
“Though it would be very useful to us” his friend said, “if she could tell us soon, even now.”
“Of course we’ve spoken to Luca too. And Martino. They didn’t tell us ‘no’ in the moment, but they seemed a bit put off by the whole thing,” Gianni said, striking another imaginary fly from his cheek.
I snorted. “Of course they did.”
The friend’s face rearranged itself then, and his lips slunk into a smile. I felt his eyes relishing this, the ugly part of me. And I thought, Will I? With Gianni’s friend, semi-professional thug?
“So what do you think, Camilla,” his friend asked. “Say yes and you don’t have to do anything until someone catches on to us. On the day you turn yourself in, no later, we’ll pass you the money.”
Enzo and his wife Gabriella were sitting on white plastic lawn chairs planted around a flimsy outdoor table. A floral tablecloth had been tossed over it somewhat carelessly, and a corner dragged on the ground, collecting dirt. To celebrate my six months at the shop, we’d gone to have lunch at a country property that belonged to Enzo’s friend. Rinaldo, who’d been invited reluctantly, puttered around in the small stone hut that stood behind the table. From outside, he could be heard shuffling around plates, making noises that suggested the place’s inadequacy.
“Did you expect to find yourself in a world-class kitchen, Rinaldo?” Enzo’s friend called out. “My apologies.” He turned to me and explained that his parents, ages ago, used the building for making wine. Then he grinned. “But you can’t make wine from dead vines,” he said, and gestured to the land that stretched beyond the house.
Enzo shook his head and laughed, “You lazy ass.”
“You should check to make sure they’re really dead,” Gabriella said. “We know someone who’s had his vines for… how long?”
“A thousand years,” offered Enzo, then let out another peal of laughter. He sealed a cigarette. “God, I don’t know, don’t trust us,” he said. “We’re fish people, that’s all.”
I’d offered to take the baby for a while so that Gabriella could relax after lunch with the rest of them. Briefly, I’d entertained her with a series of piggybacks circling the hut, and then we’d both tired of the activity and I’d planted her on the ground beside me, where she sat yanking up tufts of grass. Plumes of smoke pooled over the other side of the valley. Someone had begun a controlled burn of their land, and for the rest of the afternoon, the air smelled faintly charred. I watched the baby’s face, tracking the rapid evolutions of her mood. Constantly, I alternated between sympathizing with her and perceiving her as a foreign object whose impulses I would never understand.
“Camilla, no need to stay at the kids table, come over here if you prefer,” Enzo called out after a while. “I’ll take our little bunny.” He cooed at the child and reached out his arms.
And so I deposited her with Enzo and took a seat at the table. His friend poured me a glass of wine. I listened to the three of them for a long time while Rinaldo popped in and out, presenting plates first of salami, then cheese and some olives, always haphazardly arranged. At one point a particularly thick cloud of smoke drifted over us and the baby began sputtering out little coughs. Enzo stood up, stricken.
“Gabriella, let’s go,” he said, bouncing the child around on his hip.
“They’ll be done in an hour,” his friend said. “Maybe less. Relax.” Enzo had already gone for his jacket, which hung on the back of Gabriella’s chair.
“So soon?” Rinaldo called out when he saw Enzo collecting his things.
“I’m not taking any chances.” None of us moved. “My love, amore, please, come on.”
In the end, Gabriella had to pry the baby free from Enzo, who continued to protest. After fending off Rinaldo, who had offered to “bless” them both, she disappeared into the kitchen, and when they emerged, the baby was asleep, head on Gabriella’s chest. To ease the tension, Rinaldo began clearing our glasses one at a time, just to wash them and then return them to us. When he came for mine I refused on principle.
“No need, Rinaldo. It’s only appropriate that I clean my own,” I said, and took the opportunity, in the kitchen, to swipe a bowl of walnuts that still needed to be cracked and removed from their shells. With the task as an excuse, I settled back on the grass to watch them from a distance.
“Take a look at those vines, though,” Enzo was saying, having calmed down. “They’re not many, but they could make you a few hundred bottles of wine, probably. Enough to sell.”
His friend shrugged.
“I don’t mean to promote myself too much,” Enzo began, “We don’t know what will happen in the elections after all. But what we’ve been saying,” he looked to Gabriella, who squeezed his hand, “is that it’s time to extend a few more protections for our small businesses in Grosseto.”
His friend took a gulp of wine and swallowed.
“Really,” Enzo continued. “If you wanted to sell, to get something off the ground, these are the sorts of small changes that could help you out.”
His friend nodded, out of obligation, it seemed, and then his expression turned opaque. He looked away from Enzo, back toward his vines.
That week the purple flowers had returned, our harbinger of spring. Their scent sliced through the open windows of Enzo’s car as we drove inland, back to my town, to deliver a special order of hake. Sweet at first and then, at the last moment, somehow antiseptic, the smell was so distinct that it could not be confused with that of any other bloom; that short season with any other time of year.
But the afternoon with Gianni and his friend had corrupted the scent for me. For the first year, at least, it conjured only the walk home from our meeting. In those undeveloped, infantile days of spring, the warmth of the sun would extinguish itself so quickly. The day, by its close, reduced back to cold and shadow. We, too, reduced back to our winter selves, would forget what the afternoon had offered: that small window of time in which we’d lived in the new season, extended ourselves a bit more into the future.
By the time I parted with Gianni and his friend, the day was already beginning to erase itself. At my neighbor’s property I stopped, and sat down on the stump of a tree that he’d slain in order to extend his fields. The smell was sickening. I didn’t understand why the neighbor would have gone through all the work of clearing more land if he was only going to let the flowers invade. That was months before I would work at the fish shop with Enzo and my hands were soft, not yet scarred by salt. I let them roam mindlessly—pinching at stems, fixing my skirt—and by the last, residual light, examined the person I’d allowed myself to become.
“I appreciate you coming with me, Camilla,” Enzo said against the wind that ripped through his wide-open windows. “I know you might not have wanted to come back here so soon, but you know me,” he said. “I’d already be lost.”
I laughed. “Enzo, you’ve been there a million times. I wonder if it’s a question of paying better attention.”
“Yeah,” he said, “but it’s those two turns that kill me. The first one with that strange grove of trees in the middle, you know which one?”
“Of course. And at the second one with the gas station, I noticed you panic.”
“That gas station looks like another gas station I know.”
“And which direction do you turn at the other gas station?”
Enzo narrowed his eyes without taking them off the road. “This really seems like a trick question, Camilla.”
Ultimately, Gianni and his friend went ages without being discovered—they lasted all the way through the summer, until September. It was only once they’d stolen empty bottles from every vineyard in the area that the owners began alerting first one another, and then the managers of the local wine bars, where the first bottles cut with water were uncorked.
I imagine I was supposed to have waited for some sort of sign from Gianni and his friend, but the way that it happened, I was walking past the supermarket when I saw Catia’s father, the manager, standing out on the pavement, speaking to the police. Some of the faulty bottles had been distributed to his shop. As he talked to the policemen, he hurled his arms around with abandon, spewing defenses. Without much thinking about it, I walked up to the scene and told them I’d done it.
Gianni and his friend, in any case, were laying low. Though they had told me they would get me the money immediately, I heard nothing from them for several days following my afternoon at the police station. My school was contacted and Sister Lucia, who was in charge of my advisory, had promptly sailed through the door. My father too had been called. Through the window in the police station, I watched him drive up, clobbered with dirt, in the tiny, three-wheeled truck he used for transporting materials around the farm. To all of them I repeated the explanation the way that Gianni had instructed me: I’d wanted to make a few extra dollars. I had stolen the empty bottles at night. I had bought a case of wine and then each original bottle I had redistributed across three of the stolen ones, filled them the rest of the way with water, and inserted a cork. A poor boy from town had delivered the watered-down wine, but he was not to be blamed—he was a middle man. I had created the false distributor, and the idea had been mine alone.
Nobody believed that I’d done it, but after several hours of questioning and my practiced responses, they had little choice but to participate in the charade with me. The police claimed to feel uneasy arresting a minor with no record, just as Gianni had predicted they would. Instead, they passed on the responsibility for the punishment to my school, where I was offered two options: part with my classmates and join the cloister, or leave.
By the time Gianni’s friend showed up outside my bedroom window, cash in hand, my parents and I had already come to the agreement that I would relocate to Grosseto. It was late at night. I was in my room, assessing my belongings. When his face floated before my window, pale and expressionless as an empty dish, I thought, Will I, just before leaving town, with Gianni’s friend?
The money had never, of course, been the reason I’d accepted their proposal, and so it seemed natural to reject it.
The day that I left was unbearably humid. I had to wipe the steam from the window of the bus in order to wave to my father, who waited outside his car, watching me. Eventually, we pulled out of town and the bus slung us all around endless curves as it pitched toward the coast. Even as the headache surfaced, I remember feeling a sort of wild happiness—relief, I think, at having refused the money, as it had cleared the way for me to leave town honestly.
The boys’ school had placed an enormous order—eighty hake filets—for a Good Friday meal to be shared amongst the prefects, the professors, and the clergy. When the order was phoned in, I’d been working in the back, organizing the knives during a lull in business. Enzo went quiet for a while, listening to the caller, and then I heard him ask to confirm the quantity several times. He hung up and turned around to look at me, his face flicking through a series of illegible expressions.
In the end he remembered that he had a close friend in Grosseto who had also grown up in my town, and who had maintained an amicable relationship with the school, dropping in on the brothers often to share lunch, a cup of coffee.
Enzo nodded energetically, “It will have been Stefano. God, yeah, that’s so nice of him.” His chin bobbed up and down. “Eighty filets, that’s so much business. I’ve got to phone the boat, they’re not going to be prepared.” Then he dropped the pad, passed by the phone, and went straight to the freezer.
“Enzo?” I called.
“A cod,” he replied, without turning around. “To thank him.”
When we got out of the car, the back lot of the school was silent. Inland, the air rested still in a way that it never did in Grosseto, where around every corner there seemed to be another Rinaldo, peddling his skills. A door to the school had been left open, though all you could see was a flight of stairs going down to the basement. It felt as though we’d intruded upon a painting. At last a few birds passed overhead, rupturing the scene.
“Do you hate it,” Enzo said. “Being back here?”
“No,” I said. “I mean, I’m not sure that I would use the word ‘hate.’”
“Right, yeah of course.” He nodded, shoving his hands in his pockets, and looking around. “You never hated it.”
“No but…” I stopped. A head emerged at the foot of the doorway, and then a body rose up the steps. I nodded at him and Enzo turned around.
“Hi, good afternoon,” Enzo called out as he approached. “We’ve got the fish. For your lunch today, we’ve brought the fish.”
I shouldn’t have been surprised, of course, to see Luca and Martino amongst the prefects who followed the priest up the stairs. Like the rest of the boys, they were dressed in their tunics and cassocks, having come directly from mass. The priest greeted us each with a kiss on the cheek, while the boys went to unload the coolers from the trunk of our car.
For me it had functioned as some reassurance that Luca and Martino had also been approached about serving as Gianni’s front. If our friendship ended, I’d thought, it would be the result of circumstance; never could they, having listened to the same pitch, consider me a criminal. At least on my end, never had I, over the course of those many months that I’d pictured them hovering above me in the fish shop, imagined them looking upon me with scornful eyes. And yet, in their presence, I briefly doubted my own innocence.
It’s important, I believe, to include that at the time we had just entered the phase of the afternoon when the sun intensified. That same period of the day in which Gianni had pulled me aside behind the theatre, when the heat practically tempts you into exaggeration. The boys’ arms, threading around the coolers, writhed before me in an image that failed to resolve itself: as though they were both the net and the fish.
From the moment they’d emerged from the basement, both Luca and Martino had ignored me. I’d watched their eyes intentionally skate around the scene, never staying in one place for too long. But it was Luca in the end who broke. Just as the boys began edging towards the back door of the school, he lifted his head, and this time his eyes did not equivocate—they went directly for me. His expression was, more than judgmental, hard. All his features cemented into place.
Then they scuttled away, Luca, Martino, and all the other boys, their white tunics disappearing down the stairs, back into their hole.
“Let me tell you something,” Enzo said, beside me, once they’d gone. “Of all the cruel, all the insensitive things I’ve done in my life…” He trailed off.
I looked over at Enzo, his face deformed by lack of sleep and that constant, unflagging concern for his daughter. His eyes scanned the grounds. “None of those things I would take back if it meant that I had to spend the rest of my life chained to a place like this.”
When I was a child and he would come over, despite his kindness to me, he had always left a sort of bitterness in the air upon his departure. I wondered if bringing that sensation into our household could be what he was referring to, an example of one of his cruelties.
Enzo and I stood around for a while, caught in the clutches of the afternoon. Now, when I think about the moment, I imagine what it must have looked like from above, from one of the curtained windows of that school building, us standing down there, in the parking lot. It’s what Gianni’s friend must have seen before he came barreling down the stairs at us.
“Eh, coglione,” he grunted, moving steadily towards Enzo. “You dickhead piece of shit.” The red hem of his cassock flapped around his ankles.
“I’ve been looking for you,” he said. “And then I heard that you might come by. I thought, fantastic, I’ll wait.”
“Hey, hold up,” Enzo yelled, taking a few steps backward. Then, without the same force, he said, “I don’t understand, okay? I don’t get it, I don’t understand.”
“Suspend your campaign.”
“Your town council campaign, suspend it.” Gianni’s friend continued, “I assumed that you would know that we have businesses in Grosseto. I’ve always thought of you as very inner-circle in your town, but maybe I was wrong. Well, whatever. No problem, my friend. As it is, it’s not really your town anymore.” He was taller than Enzo, who was flattened against the car anyway, and so his jaw clacked around Enzo’s temple like a snapper coming in for a bite. “Your little tax breaks, these socialized programs—none of it can happen. A revenue cap—” he paused, and then he looked down at Enzo nearly plaintively. “Unthinkable, my friend, just unthinkable.” He backed off a little bit, adjusted the sleeves of his tunic, and resumed some measure of composure. “We’re making a profit in your area, okay? Maybe you’d even be interested; I can’t imagine that you’re making too much at your shop. But at least,” he said. “Don’t mess it up for us.”
He began backing away from the car. “Hey, Camilla,” he said, as he passed me, the words limp, careless out of his mouth. When I followed him with my eyes I saw Gianni in his robes, leaning up against the school building, watching. He waved.
“End your campaign—” Gianni’s friend called out once more. Then his hands came to his heart, and his head bowed for a moment in mock-deference. “—my friend.” At that he turned around, and disappeared around the corner of the building, Gianni behind him.
The last time that I’d come anywhere near my town had been several weeks before, when we’d had lunch at Enzo’s friend’s property. That afternoon, on the way back to Grosseto I had closed my eyes, and for a moment I’d been able to imagine that I was in my parents’ car, listening to a pair of muted voices drone on in the front seat. So many times I had woken up in the back of their sedan, and in a semi-conscious state had endured that dizzying blend of sounds, in which no track separated out from the other.
Living with Enzo had inflamed the connective tissue of my previous life—suddenly it struck me as remarkably respectful, that act of my parents’ which I’d never before considered. As the car descended to the coast, the loss of altitude tugged on my stomach. And it registered with me that we’d driven inland without having bothered to see them.
Back in Enzo’s apartment, once everyone had peeled off for their nap, I lingered in the hallway. I thought again of my parents sitting in the front of the car. They had spoken so quietly—there was no way that they could have actually understood each other. I wandered down the hallway to the kitchen, and stood in the doorway for a few minutes, but there was nothing for me there, and my eyes rested nowhere. Only when I turned to leave did I remember the dining room, our place of discarded items. And for a moment I imagined opening the double doors to find my parents there, having waited for me, resolutely, for months. I let out a burst of laughter. It was ridiculous, but then—this was the sort of thing that they would do, my parents!
My own disappointment shocked me. Their absence, when I pushed open the doors, was a sudden blow. The room was unchanged, and it stank, as always, of rot and fish. I hung around in the doorway for a while, eying my own contributions to the table. Eventually the whole thing began to seem silly again, but this time, when I brought my hand to my mouth to stifle a cackle, the laugh failed, and caved in on itself. There was no way to avoid that a moment ago I had been hoping to find my parents silent and sequestered in my uncle’s back dining room.
As soon as Enzo had recovered from his panic attack in the parking lot of the boys’ school, we left. We drove more than halfway back to Grosseto without speaking, Enzo making both turns without consulting me. Finally, he pulled over at a lone bar by the side of the road. “I’ve got to piss,” he said, as he switched off the car, then went inside. I waited for him at a table out front, and when he came out to meet me, he had two beers in hand. Enzo sipped apathetically, his chin resting first on one shoulder, then the other. Those pliant features of his had all gone formless, rupturing the absurd illusion of his similarity to Luca and Martino. I considered then, which heads, if any, would continue to look over me when I returned to the shop—I struggled to imagine Catia and Carlotta appearing without the rest. He must have been crying for a while by the time I noticed him wipe his nose on the back of his hand. Oh Enzo, I thought. Just imagine growing up in that town.
Moira McCavana's work has appeared in The Harvard Review and The London Magazine. She is the recipient of a 2019 O. Henry Prize and is represented by Katie Cacouris at the Wylie Agency.