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Authors: Manuela Pigna

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BOOK: Training in Love
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“I’m
undecided…”

I
don’t want to know about his most beautiful moment, I don’t need to know at
all, so I have no idea why I’m asking him, “Between what?”

When
he hears my voice he moves his ice-blue gaze to me. “Between the birth of my
sister and the first time I made love.”

“Ah.”
I don’t know what to say. I’ve never had either of the two experiences. I
suspect that my cheeks are starting to go into spontaneous combustion. But
despite the fact that I can almost feel the smoke coming from my burning face,
I can’t bring myself to take my gaze away from his.

He
speaks with indifference, as though he was calculating the lean body mass and
body fat and how many kilos I still have to lose. “The birth of my sister was
something incredible. I was six years old, and when she came home, in those
first days, I was crazy about this tiny pink ball… she smelled good… And then,
one day she wasn’t there and the next day… puff!... a tiny little girl squealing
and snoozing in the house.”

“Really?
I’ve always heard that the old siblings are usually jealous…”

“Oh
yes, I was jealous too.” He laughs saying this. “But not in those first few
days. The first days I wanted to hold her all the time and give her kisses on
her soft cheeks and smell her hair.”

Oh
my God, I’m melting.

“And
then, that was a beautiful moment that I’ll always remember fondly, while…”

I
believe that my ears perked up by themselves – I don’t know how – but I felt a
movement.

He
looks away, staring at the trees. “The first time I made love… I’ll never
forget what I felt, the strong sensations, the intense emotion, but what came
after…” He shakes his head, closing his eyes tightly. He seems lost in his
memories, in his thoughts. “I’m not saying that it ruined the memory of that
moment, but… I don’t know, now that I know what happened afterwards, all the
pain and drama… I don’t deny anything, ah, but it does influence my memory of
that moment a little. I can’t seem to think of it as being one-hundred percent
beautiful anymore.” And he says these things staring at me in a disconcerting
way. “It’s still a great moment, though, even if it’s not in first place…”

I
look away, clearing my throat and standing up. I shrug and brush my backside
and legs to clean off any eventual dirt and leaves. When I straighten up, I see
that Andrea hasn’t moved a millimeter and he’s still looking at me.

Without
leaving my eyes, he slowly gets up, takes a step towards me and I find him
directly in front of me.

My
heart starts beating furiously.
Kiss me
, I think crazily.
Kiss me
because you want to and not because of a stupid joke. Kiss me for real.

“This
evening?” He asks, brutally shaking up my fantasies.

“Huh?”

“The
program for this evening?”

I
blink rapidly and furrow my brow, surprised and confused. “What program?”

“You
wouldn’t have me do anything embarrassing tonight?”

“Oh!”
I exclaim, finally getting it. I was so taken by my utopia that I completely forgot
about the Week of Power. “No, this evening you’re free. Today’s program is
over. Wasn’t it enough for you?” I add with a crooked smile.

He
raises his hands. “No, no, absolutely, it was enough.”

I
laugh softly, in a low voice.

“So…
will we see each other tomorrow?”

I
nod. “Be in the parking lot of the cafè at two.”

He
widens his eyes with a mock expression of terror. “We’re going in your car?”

“Exactly.”

“Oh
no…” He murmurs, rubbing a hand on his forehead. The gesture makes me laugh and
he smiles.

I
decide to leave right away, during this semblance of normalcy, before going
back to ridiculously hoping for something impossible. And most of all, before
transmitting it with my eyes to him again. I take my leave without looking at him,
yelling “bye” and waving, while I walk hurriedly with my eyes locked on my
yellow Cinquecento.

I
hear him say, “See you tomorrow!” And then, finally, I’m free to go back to
visualizing this morning in my mind for another billion times without fear that
the subject in question is able to read it on my face.

***

When I
get home, I unexpectedly find my mother.

“Mom!”
It’s truly the only thing I’m able to cry out. I think this is the first time,
in years, that she’s at home during the week before eight in the evening.

She
gets up from the sofa and comes to meet me. She looks me over from top to
bottom. You can tell I’ve just been doing exercise. My T-shirt is soaked with
sweat. I must still be red in the face and some hair has slipped out of the
ponytail and is sticking out in all directions.

“Where’ve
you been?”

I
don’t feel like answering, but what can I say? “At the bike track,” I finally
say, reluctantly.

She
raises her eyebrows in surprise and, when I see the look of happiness appear
slowly in her eyes, I swing  around and run up the stairs. She follows me.

I
feel her presence at the entrance to my room while I prepare a towel and clean
pyjamas to put on after my shower. When I have everything ready under my arm, I
turn to her and say, “What do you want?”

She
shakes herself and straightens a little. She looks away and says in a low
voice, “Nothing, um… what would you like to eat this evening? I’ll have it
ready as soon as you get out of the bathroom.”

I
lift my eyebrows. I don’t smile but, really, if I had known that it was enough
to lose a few kilos to see another person emerge, so much nicer than the
previous one, I’d have done it sooner.

I
think for a minute more, then I realize that… naaaah, I wouldn’t have done it
sooner.

And
then there’s always another explanation, the one I personally consider more
probable – an alien has taken possession of my mother’s body and she is now
wandering around in space in the body of an alien. I hope they only give her
pills the flavor of unseasoned boiled zucchini to eat.

“Pizza,”
I answer impudently, raising one eyebrow.

She
nods without saying a word, without making a face. “I’ll call as soon as you’ve
finished then. Cold pizza is awful. What kind do you want?”

Seriously.
Where is my mother?

“A
cheese one.” My voice is diffident, skeptical and she nods, her shoulders
falling; she finally frees up the doorway.

After
having taken a quick shower, I tie my still wet hair in a ponytail and go down
to the kitchen. The vision I find in front of me is incredible. I’m almost not
able to describe it rationally. My mother is waiting for me, seated at the
kitchen table, with a pizza in front of her and one in my place.

I
freeze for a second.

“Come
on Olly, it’s just arrived and it’s still hot.”

I
sit down. I have to understand more about these extra-terrestrials that are
silently taking over the Earth.

I
get knives and forks and begin to cut the pizza, lifting my eyes to look with
suspicion at my mother from time to time. She seems unaware, completely unaware
of all my thoughts. She cuts her pizza and even has a smile on her lips.

I’m
about to say, “Who are you?”, when she beats me to it. “How long have you been
working out?”

“For
a while,” I answer reluctantly.

“Alone?”

“No.”

I
stay silent, then I hear the sound of the fork put down on the plate with a bit
of force. “With who?”

I
look at her, undecided whether to answer or not and in the end say, “Andrea.”

She
doesn’t comment, but takes a piece of pizza in her hands, folds it and takes a
bite.

I
begin to eat slowly, without saying a word until, once again, she breaks the
silence, “How did you meet this Andrea?”

I
sigh, closing my eyes. “I met him through one of the twins. He’s helping me to
work out.” I don’t want to tell her that I pay him. I don’t want to be judged.
I don’t want to hear her comments about it.

“Really
very nice of him…” She murmurs softly, looking at her pizza with a strange
smile on her lips.

“What
do you mean?” I ask, immediately on the defensive.

She
looks up, surprised. “Nothing Olly, only that it’s nice of him to dedicate
himself to training-” She stops with a lost look on her face.

I
swallow a bitter bite of pizza. “Dedicate himself to training?”

She
shrugs her shoulders. “A girl, like that, by chance? Someone he just met?” She
concludes with a tone more interrogative than affirmative.

With
my eyebrows knit I direct my gaze towards my pizza. I lift my shoulders.

“Doesn’t
it seem strange to you?”

“He
likes doing sports, and he’s doing me a favor,” I grumble, cutting another
slice.

“Men
aren’t that generous…”

“What?”
I ask looking up. She quickly puts down the slice she was bringing to her lips
and sighs, looking at me with odd eyes – halfway between hard and sad, between
bitter and savory. “I said that men aren’t that generous,” she repeats more
loudly, looking at me.

I
feel uncomfortable. I swallow a couple of times.

We
continue to look at each other in silence for a few seconds, then she sighs and
drops her shoulders, her gaze on her slice of pizza. “Forget it.”

“Why
are you like that Mom?” I ask after a while. And for the first time in years I
realized I’ve used a normal tone of voice.

“Like
what?” She asks, looking up surprised.

I
shrug. “So cynical… so negative…”

She
lets out a laugh without a trace of mirth. On the contrary, it makes me want to
cry. She doesn’t answer right away. She takes her time and then lifts a
shoulder. “Life, experiences…”

I
hesitate only for a second before saying, “Dad?”

Her
bitter smile disappears completely. She drops the piece of pizza she has in her
hand and leans back in her chair. I really think we’re both coming close to
having our appetite disappear thanks to these happy topics of conversation.

“Of
course,” she answers finally. “But it wasn’t only him, even if with him… With
him it was really hard.”

I
raise my eyebrows, surprised. “You’ve had other relationships?”

She
smiles. “A few. Not many.”

I
open my mouth. I’m in shock. Total shock.

She
laughs, but the amusement disappears right away.

“I
was never aware of anything!” I exclaim, shaken.

She
nods. “I know, I did it on purpose.”

My
mouth remains open. I’m without words. “Why?” I ask when I finally manage to
recover.

She
shrugs her shoulders, starting to play with her fork. “I didn’t want to have
you meet someone if I wasn’t sure that they’d stay. I didn’t want you to get
attached, I didn’t want…” She stops, looking up fearfully before continuing, “I
didn’t want to see you suffer again… in that way.”

Suddenly,
I feel a cold shiver and I hug myself, looking away.

“Are
you shocked?” She asks me in a small voice.

“Yes!”
I cry sincerely, looking up and nodding vigorously.

She
laughs, but it’s a sad laugh. “Are you sorry to know?”

I
frown. “No… No, in reality, I’m not sorry.”

I
could be mistaken, but she seems to be breathing easier now.

I
play with my pizza in silence. “Why are you telling me these things?”

She
sighs noisily. “You’re the one who asked me why I’m like this, and I’m the
result of my experiences.”

I
reflect. “Perhaps.”

“How
do you mean ‘perhaps’?” She responds sharply.

I
lift my shoulders. “Perhaps there are different ways of reacting to experiences
and you’ve chosen this one.”

She
is speechless. She looks at me open-mouthed. I let a giggle escape. “Now it’s
you who are shocked…”

She
laughs softly too. “I believe... I am.”

I
smile at her. I am smiling at my mother. I-am-smiling-at-my-mother. Or at the
alien in possession of her body, of course.

In
this state of shock and confusion we finish our dinner, speaking civilly and
about different subjects, like two adult people who converse pleasantly while
sharing a meal.

 

16.

 

Saturday
evening. Andrea is changing in my bathroom.

“You
got too small a size for these pants…” He huffs from inside.

“No,
I assure you that the clerk told me that they’re supposed to be that way!”

“I
can’t get them on!” I hear his exasperated tone.

“Take
a deep breath!” I tell him encouragingly through the door.

“Take
a deep breath where? Am I supposed to breathe with my legs?” Maybe he’s not
amused, but this comment really makes me laugh. Then I hear other noises,
grunts, movements…

I’m
already ready for the cafè’s summer party. Every year, the week of June 21
st
,
Leo throws a party on Saturday evening. He rents, if you can say that, the space
outside the shop from the city. We put out tables, leaving more room inside. We
prepare drinks and appetizers and put on music. Whoever wants to can dance. Then
on Sunday we’re closed, to the great joy of the weekend co-workers who do a
sort of
tour-de-force
on the Saturday in question, working from the
morning until practically the middle of the night.

I’ve
put on a pair of comfortable jeans, a simple (close-fitting!) black tank-top
and a pair of flip-flops. I have a ponytail and I’ve put on a little more
makeup than usual as my single touch of glamour. This evening is still
partially work for me and the other girls employed at the cafè. It’s still us
that have to prepare, set up, answer and serve if someone asks for something,
and then we have to put everything away.

Andrea
finally comes out of the bathroom. “This shirt is missing buttons…”

When
I see him I laugh. The effect is astonishing. If the boy with the nice blue
eyes comes tonight, he’ll pounce on him… I’ve bought him a pair of skin-tight
white jeans, a shiney fuchsia shirt with a big, loud pinapple print covering the
left side of his chest and part of the shoulder. It is also really tight with a
deep V-neck… The first button is practically at the level of his navel. I look
him up and down and, if it weren’t for the color of the shirt, the piece of
tan, hairless chest would be heart-stopping.

I
take a good breath, as though an arduous task awaited me. “Well, now we have to
complete your look!”

“More
complete than this?” Andrea retorts with a grimace, indicating himself with a
hand.

From
behind my back I pull out an earring in the form of a cross made with fake
diamonds.

Andrea
pulls back shivering. “I don’t have piercings!”

“Don’t
worry, this is with a magnet…” I push him in the bathroom and make him sit on a
stool which I occasionally use to apply makeup. I put the earring on him and
then wet his hair and add some gel to slick it all back. “Jesus…” I hear him
murmur from time to time. His closeness and touching him makes me feel
agitated, so I continue to giggle nervously. I need to calm down.

I
take a step backwards and look at him. “And now… the final touch!”

I
take my makeup case out of the cabinet and pull out a black eyeliner pencil.

“What
is it?” He asks with horror.

I
take off the cap and get closer. He pulls back and I lean closer, until I’m
practically straddling him. “Just… a little line… under the eyes…”

He
tries to grab my hands and I snatch them away, putting them over my head,
behind my back, to the sides. Trying to avoid his constant protestations. “Quit
it!” I say a little breathless, mostly because of the close contact. Suddenly
he grabs my wrists firmly and I look at him, pretending to be annoyed by his
insubordination, but we are very close…his eyes are close to mine, his mouth… I
make an effort to keep my breathing under control. “It’s my Week of Power! You
can take it off in… less than five hours,” I say, glancing rapidly at the clock
over the bathroom mirror.

He
makes a face, staring me in the eye. “Are you trying to get me picked up by
every gay man in the area?”

His
breath is minty. “Are you homophobic?” I ask, freeing my right wrist from his
grasp and nearing his left eye with the pencil.

“No,
but that doesn’t mean I want to be hit on by a man…”

I
free the left one with a jerk and hear him sigh. He’s giving in. “Stay still!”
I suggest without looking at him. He really is too close.

I
go to work, concentrating on the tiny piece of his eye that I have before me,
that is, the inner edge of his lower eyelid, excluding all the rest – the skin
on his face that I’m touching, the color of his iris, his mint scented breath,
the hardness of his thighs under my backside… I shut out everything, because if
I surrender to the trembling I feel in my innards, I risk blinding him in an
eye.

When,
with an immense effort at concentration, I finish my task, I lean slightly back
and take a look at my work. I’m the first one to be left with my mouth open.
“My God… you look great with makeup! It’s something incredible!” The black
pencil echoes the black of the pupil and creates a fantastic chromatic contrast
with the light blue of the iris.

Andrea
turns towards the mirror on his left and murmurs, “My God…” But in a different
tone from mine…

“It’s
almost over, it’s almost over…” He chants in a low voice.

I
observe him as he looks at his reflection with an unsettled air. I feel like
laughing, but almost immediately I’m distracted by the scene we form together.
My smile disappears from my face as I try to memorize everything. My head is slightly
above his because I’m sitting on him, my hair is darker, his left arm is
resting on the bathroom cabinet but it looks almost as if he’s holding me close
to him, his face is so close to mine that… it would be so beautiful if I could…
All of a sudden I wake up from this daydream. He is watching me in the mirror.
I don’t know how long I’ve remained immobile, with the pencil still open in my
hand and an expression of heart-wrenching, unrequited desire written on my face!

I
jump up huffing and quickly tear my eyes away from his. “Come on, at least
admit that you had fun yesterday…” I say, looking to change the subject.

Yesterday,
the next-to-last day of my Week of Power, I organized a party for Elenina and
some of her friends; they were a total of six little girls, and I made him
provide the entertainment. At the beginning he protested, but as with all the
other programs for this week, he then entered into the spirit of it and the
children were even able to make him laugh. He was their slave, but for most of
the time took turns being Prince Charming for all of them. All of a sudden, Elenina
exclaimed, “Andrea, when I grow up I’ll marry you!” and  set off such an uproar
that it took me the better part of a quarter of an hour to calm them down,
because the other girls were not pleased with Elenina’s plans. Andrea even
manages to make eleven-year-olds argue and have fits of jealousy.…

“I
didn’t think I’d be able to say something like this, but I believe that, in the
end, the best day was the one with the movie…” He meditates, furrowing his
brow, while I hear him get up from the stool.

“You’ll
like today too. Other than having you go out dressed up like this, I haven’t
planned anything, so you’ll have fun at the party, you’ll see,” I encourage him
without looking at him. I put away the pencil and the makeup kit and glance at
the clock. “Come on, let’s go.”

As
we descend the stairs (thank God it’s so early that my mother hasn’t come back
from work yet), Andrea asks, “Whose car are we going with?”

“Each
with his own. At midnight you’re free,” I tell him smiling. He nods without
commenting.

We
are very early to help out and set up, but the people start to arrive around
nine, including Marco, Linda and Nic, who seeing Andrea bursts out laughing so
hard his stomach hurts. The person who has had the most fun this week is
probably Nic.

***

The
evening passes in the blink of an eye amid laughter, drinking, conversation and
a few dances. That is, a few for the others, not for me who never dances. I
made Andrea do YMCA, but it was the one and final rotten trick of the Week of
Power and, if I can say so, I think he even had fun with it. I saw him laughing
a lot with Nic, and drinking, and… Yes, he really seemed to be calm, relaxed
and carefree. At least, even if he attracted a lot of looks because of that
abominable shirt, we ended this absurd week in a way that wasn’t too cruel.

Leo,
as always during this particular evening, was slouching around like a pasha,
drinking at a table outside. The other girls and myself took care of
everything, but I always do it with pleasure. At a certain point he made a
gesture for me to come and sit near him. He offered me what was on the table, I
pretended to accept and he, a little drunkenly, thanked me. “Olly,” he said,
“maybe I’ve never told you how happy I am to have you.”

“Oh
Leo…”

“No,
let me finish. It’s true, most of the time I’m a bear closed up in his kitchen,
but I wanted to tell you this evening… when some lucky library takes you on,
I’ll kill myself. Or I’ll close the cafè.”

“Oh
Leo, please!” reddened slightly and put a hand over my eyes.

“You
always get here before you have to and everything you do… you do with love –
regarding the people, regarding what you’re doing – and you can see it.”

Tears
almost came to my eyes and he must have noticed because he leaned over, he
caressed my head, pulled me over with an arm on my neck and kissed me on the
forehead. “Thank you, little one.”

Sniffing
I answered him, smiling, “Only you can call me little one!” Then I freed myself
from his embrace and ran to the bathroom to blow my nose and tidy myself up.
Andrea joined me before I entered the ladies’ room. “Further harassment?” He
asked, joking, but when I turned around he immediately became serious. “Hey,
what’s happening? Why are you crying?”

“I’m
not crying, I’m just a little emotional,” I answered, quickly hiding my eyes. “Leo
gave me a beautiful thankyou speech.”

“Oh,
that’s a relief…” He said with an odd tone.

When
I came out of the bathroom, we had the YMCA moment which right away brought
back my smile.

It
is now a quarter to twelve. I’m leaning against the wall near the entry-way,
inside the cafè. I was about to join the others at the table inside where they
settled to talk, drink and rest for a little bit I think, when I paused to
observe them. Because the image of them, so beautiful and smiling, stopped me
for a moment. Nic, seated between Marco and Andrea, is saying something and the
other three are listening to him with smiles on their lips. Linda occasionally
shakes her head. The interior of the cafè is dark, but I turned the light on,
only over their table, so that they could see each other just a little better.
Now Marco has intervened, speaking, and the others are listening.

Andrea,
seated on the outside left, leans around Nic to say something to Marco. Nic
intercepts my gaze above his blond head and – perhaps mirroring my expression –
smiles a slow smile.

“Excuse
me?”

I
turn around. A very tall, blond girl with long hair and a black dress is speaking
to me. She’s stunning and I’m certain that she’s just arrived, otherwise I
would have noticed her before. “Yes.”

“I’m
looking for a tall boy, really tall,” she gestures with her hands as she
speaks. In one of the two she holds a black clutch bag, very elegant, in
perfect harmony with her dress. “Blond… With blue eyes…”

“Andrea
Colucci?” I ask, still smiling, because I’m always really slow understanding
things.

“Yes,
that’s right.” She answers with a white smile surrounded by full, pale rose
colored lips. “Have you seen him? Is he here? He told me to come here at
midnight, but I don’t see him…”

I
attempt to control myself, but the smile disappears from my face – just like
that – immediately. I instinctively turn towards the table in question. Nic is
still watching me while the others talk amongst themselves. Nic’s face, still
mirroring mine, is now serious, concentrated. I stare at him, a little stunned.
“He’s there,” I tell the girl, blinking quickly and pointing to the table. “With
the pink shirt.”

She
follows my finger and my gaze and exclaims, “Oh my God! That’s why I didn’t see
him! I couldn’t imagine that the one in that shirt was him!”

Nic
looks at me, serious and silent. He looks at the girl and then, without
dropping his gaze, gives Andrea a light slap in the head. Andrea turns towards
him massaging his head on the injured spot and Nic doesn’t answer. I see him
tighten his jaw.

“I
hope he changes… I really don’t want him to go out with me dressed like that…”

I
sense that Andrea is about to turn around and the last thing I’d like is for
him to read the expression I have on my face right now. I’m afraid it’s too
obvious. I turn to the girl. “He has a change of clothes. He’s dressed like
that as a joke.”

“Good
thing…” She murmurs. She thanks me briefly since she is already walking towards
the table.

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