We open our columns to talented new voices, who can send in (short) stories.
The first one is a short story by Eduardo Riccardo. It was some 30 pages he said, but now he tells us 'it would be more something like 50, even 60'. Hm. Okay. Only because we pity guys living on goat's milk and mountain herbs.
We publish it the old fashioned 19th century way: episodically.
They've booked a hotel in Amsterdam. Weather is boisterous, streets are empty, night has fallen. Between two showers of summer hail she’s looking out of the window, stooped forward, down into the street. Voices of scarce late passers-by, evaporating. It’s windy. Then she turns around and says, Now i know, Ben. She’s caressing her belly, both hands, she’s thrusting it out, showing off her pregnancy.
“There’s nothing to see, really,” he says. They both burst into laughter. “It isn’t funny,” she says. Then they laugh again, leaving them with tears in their eyes. She tiptoes towards him, thrusting him, tickling him, pushing him against the wall. Kisses him. She hitches up her short sleeved ochre pullover, inviting him to caress her belly.
“I’m keeping it,” she says. She looks at him in what seems a significant, even slightly challenging way. Suddenly she’s proud to have made a decision. Her look is defiant.
“It's as flat as le plat pays,” he says. “I love you though, you sneaky little bastard,” he says, bending over, kissing her belly. He pours another glass of chardonnay, only for him because the baby can’t stand her drinking, she says. "I'll be a good mother, not like mine, Ben." She’s lowering her pullover, but it’s crawling up again, shrinking, and the white flesh reappears. She’s caressing it again.
“And i’ll be a good father,” he says. She kisses him. “I know you’ll be, darling,” she says.
Later she’s taken the stairs, he hears things rattling in the bathroom, then water running, she’s having a shower before going to bed. But suddenly the water stops, footsteps descending the stairs, she’s standing next to the couch, her hair dripping, bath coat hanging open, panicking.
“Look how swollen I am,” she says, almost yelling. “It ain’t normal, I’m only ten weeks. Ten weeks!” She looks down at her belly, then at him with a questioning look.
“Look lower,” she says, eyes turned upwards.
“You had too much pasta,” he says, looking down. There’s nothing to see. Nothing at all. “You’re only ten weeks. It’s nothing. Nobody can see any difference.”
“No,” she says, “no, no, no, Ben. It’s going too fast. It’ll be a monster.” He has to calm her down.
“It’s the pasta,” he says, “don’t worry. Just the pasta.” He caresses her hair. She pulls away from him.
“It can’t go on growing like this,” she shouts, running up the stairs again. “I won’t be able to take it. My body won’t. It will explode.”
Nights, black orchids after a tropic rain shower: they open dark, mysterious, moist. The hours before love making he’s her instrument, to be stretched, tightened, stringed. A bow. He keeps his distance then, until her eyes become fluid, her pupils wide, living. Nights of unity, their souls melting together. The pleasure is almost unbelievable, immeasurable, he ravels in the delights of her flesh, her senses. She doesn’t even have to touch him. Under the sheets shuffling near, their legs bent, parallel lines, he feels their warmth but their knees don’t touch. They lay breathing like this, for minutes, a quarter of an hour, maybe hours – afterwards he can’t remember. Her breath in his neck, the warmth he feels, of her lips in the downy hairs behind his ears.
One of those mornings after, they’re having breakfast. She’s had a good night’s sleep, even though she'd woken up in the middle of the night, sweating. A bad dream. There had been five of her friends claiming the child was theirs, five! It was preposterous. A big hoax. With a spoon she’s tapping the egg he’s boiled her. It’s still watery, she says. But he likes it that way.
“You’re not the center of the Earth, Ben,” she says, throwing accusing glances. “Unboiled egg is fucking dangerous for the baby, can’t you see?” She pushes away egg, spoon, cup,everything. Coffee spilled.
“Can’t you think of anybody but yourself? For once? Is that so difficult?” She’s caressing her belly, tenderly. He runs around the table, sits next to her on the low pew he had to paint pink, for Lily, years ago. He puts his hand on hers, she pushes it away.
“Sometimes I think you’ve got a hidden agenda,” she says.
“Don’t tell me you had a goodnight, he says, because I can see you haven’t.” He’s worried. Then suddenly she kisses him.
“You’re a fool,” she says. Everything is allright again. “Anyway,” she says, plucking the egg, “it was George’s. The child I mean.” George, her artist friend, in a Jackson Pollock kind of way dripping paint onto a canvas laying on the floor. Sometimes he just sits in his studio and stares at them, all day long, without touching. He has a camera with a delayed action shutter to capture these moments.
“And know what?” she asks. His family was the only one accepting her. In the dream. “Can you believe that? Four families rejecting her, and the baby wasn’t even theirs!” It was George’s. And they accepted her. A thin stripe of egg-yolk running down her chin.
“It’s outrageous,” she says. A ray of sunlight falling in, setting her eyes ablaze. She turns towards the window, he looks at her, a sunflower. She’s frowning, furrows running over her forehead, she’s pondering over the significance of what she has been dreaming. Then, suddenly, she’s asking what he thinks of it. At first he doesn’t know what to say, but then he’s wondering why she’s dreaming of being rejected. And why it had to be George’s, too, the child. And why she doesn’t feel rejected by George’s family. It’s all very complicated.
“Well?” she asks.
“I dunno,” he says.
“Come on,” she says, “there are things going on up here.” She reaches over the table, putting her index finger against his head, the way you put a gun.
“Bang,” she says. “Now you have to tell, otherwise you’ll bleed to death before having come up with an answer. Wait.” She’s dipping her finger in the cherry jam, spreads it over his forehead. “Lots of blood,” she says. “Better tell quick.” She’s licking her index.
“I don’t know,” he repeats, his left beetle brow sticky, “it’s like you want the child to have a dad. I mean, a real one. You don’t want the child to be rejected. You don’t want to be rejected yourself.”
She’s looking at him in a strange way. The jam is still there, on his forehead. It feels right. Everything is all right.
“I don’t get it,” she says, after a long pause.
“Well,” he says, “the child is George’s, and George’s family is the only one not rejecting you. So it’s pretty clear, no?”
At night things go awfully wrong. He’s in his first sleep when he hears a voice. He’s reaching for the nightlight but can’t find it. It has to be there somewhere though. He’s drifting, he’s not yet in the real world. He has been prowling at the outskirts of the consciousness, where there’s no difference between oneself and the surroundings. A sweet melancholia dawned upon him; he wants to go back where he just came from, he didn’t want to leave for one thing. He had a sense of belonging there. But then this voice again. This voice isn’t coming from where the door is supposed to be. Apparently he’s in his room, laying in his bed. It’s her voice, she’s standing in his room.
“Please, Ben, help me,” the voice says. “I can’t look at my foot.” The voice is reedy, violent. Now he’s awake.
“Darling,” he says, “it’s you. Come here. No need to be afraid. Come.” He’s tapping on the blanket. Then it dawns on him the room is still dark. He grabs but still doesn’t find the nightlight. Maybe he’s wrong side up. He’s groping about in the dark. Things are not where they’re supposed to be.
“Of course you can’t see your feet, darling. It’s dark,” he says. His voice husky, like it isn’t his.
“You don’t understand, Ben. You have to help me.”
(to be continued in couple of days)
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