Call Me by Your Name: A Novel (27 page)

BOOK: Call Me by Your Name: A Novel
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Last summer he finally did come back. It was for an overnight visit, on his way from Rome to Menton. He arrived by cab down the tree-lined driveway, where the car stopped more or less where it had stopped twenty years before. He sprang out with his laptop, a huge athletic duffel bag, and a large gift-wrapped box, obviously a present. “For your mother,” he said when he caught my glance. “Better tell her what’s in it,” I said as soon as I helped put his things down in the foyer. “She suspects everyone.” He understood. It saddened him.

“Old room?” I asked.

“Old room,” he confirmed, even though we’d arranged everything by e-mail already.

“Old room it is, then.”

I wasn’t eager to go upstairs with him and was relieved to see Manfredi and Mafalda shuffle out of the kitchen to greet him as soon as they’d heard his taxi. Their giddy hugs and kisses defused some of the uneasiness I knew I’d feel as soon as he’d settled down in our house. I wanted their overexcited welcome to last well into the first hour of his stay. Anything to prevent us from sitting face-to-face over coffee and finally speaking the unavoidable two words: twenty years.

Instead, we’d leave his things in the foyer and hope Manfredi would bring them upstairs while Oliver and I took a quick walk around the house. “I’m sure you’re dying to see,” I’d say, meaning the garden, the balustrade, and the view of the sea. We’d work our way behind the pool, back into the living room where the old piano stood next to the French windows, and finally we would return to the foyer and find that his things had indeed already been carried upstairs. Part of me might want him to realize that nothing had changed since he’d been here last, that the
orle of paradise
was still there, and that the tilting gate to the beach still squeaked, that the world was exactly as he’d left it, minus Vimini, Anchise, and my father. This was the welcoming gesture I meant to extend. But another part of me wanted him to sense there was no point trying to catch up now—we’d traveled and been through too much without each other for there to be any common ground between us. Perhaps I wanted him to feel the sting of loss, and grieve. But in the end, and by way of compromise, perhaps, I decided that the easiest way was to show I’d forgotten none of it. I made a motion to take him to the empty lot that remained as scorched and fallow as when I’d shown it to him two decades before. I had barely finished my offer—“Been there, done that,” he replied. It was his way of telling me he hadn’t forgotten either. “Maybe you’d prefer to make a quick stop at the bank.” He burst out laughing. “I’ll bet you they never closed my account.” “If we have time, and if you care to, I’ll take you to the belfry. I know you’ve never been up there.”

“To-die-for?”

I smiled back. He remembered our name for it.

As we toured the patio overlooking the huge expanse of blue before us, I stood by and watched him lean on the balustrade overlooking the bay.

Beneath us was his rock, where he sat at night, where he and Vimini had whiled away entire afternoons together.

“She’d be thirty today,” he said.

“I know.”

“She wrote to me every day. Every single day.”

He was staring at their spot. I remembered how they’d hold hands and scamper together all the way down to the shore.

“Then one day she stopped writing. And I knew. I just knew. I’ve kept all her letters, you know.”

I looked at him wistfully.

“I’ve kept yours too,” he immediately added, to reassure me, though vaguely, not knowing whether this was something I wanted to hear.

It was my turn. “I have all of yours too. And something else as well. Which I may show you. Later.”

Did he not remember Billowy, or was he too modest, too cautious, to show he knew exactly what I was referring to? He resumed staring into the offing.

He had come on the right day. Not a cloud, not a ripple, not a stir in the wind. “I’d forgotten how much I loved this place. But this is exactly how I remember it. At noon it’s paradise.”

I let him talk. It was good to see his eyes drift into the offing. Perhaps he too wanted to avoid the face-to-face.

“And Anchise?” he finally asked.

“We lost him to cancer, poor man. I used to think he was so old. He wasn’t even fifty.”

“He too loved it here—him and his grafts and his orchard.”

“He died in my grandfather’s bedroom.”

Silence again. I was going to say My old room, but I changed my mind.

“Are you happy you’re back?”

He saw through my question before I did.

“Are
you
happy I’m back?” he retorted.

I looked at him, feeling quite disarmed, though not threatened. Like people who blush easily but aren’t ashamed of it, I knew better than to stifle this feeling, and let myself be swayed by it.

“You know I am. More than I ought to be, perhaps.”

“Me too.”

That said it all.

“Come, I’ll show you where we buried some of my father’s ashes.”

We walked down the back stairwell into the garden where the old breakfast table used to be. “This was my father’s spot. I call it his ghost spot. My spot used to be over there, if you remember.” I pointed to where my old table used to stand by the pool.

“Did I have a spot?” he asked with a half grin.

“You’ll always have a spot.”

I wanted to tell him that the pool, the garden, the house, the tennis court, the
orle of paradise
, the whole place, would always be his ghost spot. Instead, I pointed upstairs to the French windows of his room. Your eyes are forever there, I wanted to say, trapped in the sheer curtains, staring out from my bedroom upstairs where no one sleeps these days. When there’s a breeze and they swell and I look up from down here or stand outside on the balcony, I’ll catch myself thinking that you’re in there, staring out from your world to my world, saying, as you did on that one night when I found you on the rock,
I’ve been happy here.
You’re thousands of miles away but no sooner do I look at this window than I’ll think of a bathing suit, a shirt thrown on on the fly, arms resting on the banister, and you’re suddenly there, lighting up your first cigarette of the day—twenty years ago today. For as long as the house stands, this will be your ghost spot—and mine too, I wanted to say.

We stood there for a few seconds where my father and I had spoken of Oliver once. Now he and I were speaking of my father. Tomorrow, I’ll think back on this moment and let the ghosts of their absence maunder in the twilit hour of the day.

“I know he would have wanted something like this to happen, especially on such a gorgeous summer day.”

“I am sure he would have. Where did you bury the rest of his ashes?” he asked.

“Oh, all over. In the Hudson, the Aegean, the Dead Sea. But this is where I come to be with him.”

He said nothing. There was nothing to say.

“Come, I’ll take you to San Giacomo before you change your mind,” I finally said. “There is still time before lunch. Remember the way?”

“I remember the way.”

“You remember the way,” I echoed.

He looked at me and smiled. It cheered me. Perhaps because I knew he was taunting me.

Twenty years was yesterday, and yesterday was just earlier this morning, and morning seemed light-years away.

“I’m like you,” he said. “I remember everything.”

I stopped for a second. If you remember everything, I wanted to say, and if you are really like me, then before you leave tomorrow, or when you’re just ready to shut the door of the taxi and have already said goodbye to everyone else and there’s not a thing left to say in this life, then, just this once, turn to me, even in jest, or as an afterthought, which would have meant everything to me when we were together, and, as you did back then, look me in the face, hold my gaze, and call me by your name.

Also by André Aciman

Out of Egypt: A Memoir

Letters of Transit: Reflections on Exile, Identity, Language, and Loss
(editor)

False Papers: Essays on Exile and Memory

Entrez: Signs of France

The Proust Project
(editor)

Farrar, Straus and Giroux
19 Union Square West, New York 10003

Copyright © 2007 by André Aciman
All rights reserved

 

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Aciman, André.

Call me by your name / André Aciman.—1st ed.

p. cm.

ISBN: 978-0-374-70772-9

1. Teenage boys—Fiction. 2. Gay teenagers—Fiction. 3. Authors—Fiction. 4. Italy—Fiction. I. Title.

 

PS3601.C525 C35 2007

813'.6—dc22

2006011720

www.fsgbooks.com

BOOK: Call Me by Your Name: A Novel
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