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.
He’s half woken up by a noise. The first thing he’s aware of is his own body. His cock hard, throbbing. Desire overwhelming him, a wave, he enters her, pulling her buttocks towards him. She utters a slight, short moan, which brings him to the verge of madness. At that moment there’s a knock on the bedroom door, short, urgent, compelling. His wife enters. Behind her, in the corridor, Amber and Lily.
“Hi, honey,” Rebecca groans in a sleepy, husky voice, pinning his leg, moving her body down. He thinks he’s dying. He sees colours, of which he doesn’t remember the names, which is strange. They don’t exist, these colours, and yet he sees them. And then everything is scent. Her perfume. Bought in an old perfume shop in Firenze’s historical centre, by René. Dead René. Must have bought it when he was still alive. Is this his heart skipping a beat or two? She’s moving up again. Then down. Should he make another appointment with the university heart unit? Yesterday papers announced all emergency services would be centralized into one unique number. Everywhere in the world. You’re having a heart attack paddling a canoe over the Orinoco? No problem, call 1-2-1. These days nobody should die of heart failure. Dying of heart failure was so 80s. It was like stumbling over a child’s rattle, then bumping your head against the stove. Dead. Bugger. Quite un-heroic.
“Hi, honey.” That husky voice again. The tone is downright indignant now. Like from someone in an office. The Department’s head. You enter, he says “Hi, Ben”, you don’t answer, then he repeats, commandingly, “Hi, Ben”. But this is “Hi, honey”. And it’s Rebecca’s voice. Rebecca, who’s going down again, her back grating against his belly. He’s wondering whom she’s addressing. Maybe she’s looking at the door, where Marjorie is standing, arms akimbo. (Marjorie?) Maybe she’s still half asleep. He doesn’t know for sure. She’s moving up and down his cock – that he knows for sure. He drifts off, with her. “Marjorie…,” he moans. So much he wants to tell her now – that he loves her, that there has been so little time last months, years… They should do something about that, get closer again, talk to each other, touch, kiss, feel - but time is lacking, again, and he drifts off, further and further away, until she’s only a distant spot – grey, anonymous. Then, from afar, an impossible, almost extraterrestrial distance, the sound of a slamming door is oozing through, while he explodes into Rebecca.
She’s still asleep when he’s preparing eggs à la bavette, she prefers them that way. He slices pineapple and mango and presses grapefruit. He fries toast and Italian sausages. He washes cherry tomatoes. Cold and medium cold water, still and sparkling. Then he tiptoes into the bedroom, puts everything on a side table he’s rolled in. The wheels squeak, so he carries it to the bed.
Finally, he sits next to her, watching her while she’s asleep. That little animal. He wants to touch her cheek, caress her arm, hidden half under the pillow, propping her head. But he doesn’t, it would wake her up. The window ajar, twittering birds in the elm trees, the waves murmuring, her breathing. This moment is meant to last forever. It might be the best of his life. The best he remembers, anyway. If he could choose one… he would choose this and freeze it. His belly, his legs - feel empty. He sighs. His hands tremble. He kisses her forehead.
She wakes up, blinking her eyes. She stretches, a kitten, then says “I’ve got to pee.” She patters out of sight. She doesn’t shut the toilet door, she’s making a terrible noise. She comes back, kisses him.
“This looks terrific,” she says. “What a beautiful morning.”
“… says the man in the tower. You sound like Big Ben, darling.”
“I am Big Ben,” he says.
“He’s big, honey, but not that big,” she says. They move to the window, they’re having breakfast.
“The other day when I came back from work,” she says, smearing butter on toast, “the first thing I saw was his blue-yellow striped bag still laying next to the kitchen table.” She’s telling it in a way like there hasn’t been a night and all kinds of other details happening in between. Like, probably, the end of his marriage.
“I don’t understand, as, in the morning when I’d left, we’d agreed he would pack his things and leave.” Toast cracks then grinds between her teeth. Strawberry jam on her chin. Red teeth. He’d read somewhere – in a magazine he thought – coffee beans were carcinogenic. Maybe strawberries too, who knows. Honey was 80 percent sugar, and the glycaemic index, this scientist said, varied from 55 till a quite detrimental 80. The one in real white sugar was about 65. This summer he’d look at those buzzing bastards with a completely different eye.
“He was still asleep on the couch,” she says, she had forbidden him to follow her to bed. But the couch was empty now, so she runs up the stairs, shouting his name; she feels something is wrong. The door of her bedroom wide open, he’s lying on the bed. His shoes are still on, unlaced.
In the hospital his stomach is drained; forty pills are saved from their fate of digestion. A couple of hours later he’s dismissed; he’s okay and there’s a lack of hospital beds.
“He looked so vulnerable.” She pitied him, wanted to protect him. After all, she kind of understood him. She wanted to make him happy. This was typical her: she wanted, fundamentally, people to be happy. The more of them the better. If she could contribute to a person’s happiness, she was happy too. Then the world was a better place.
“Are you happy, Ben?”
“I’m happy now, darling.” He touches her hand.
“That’s so great, Ben. That makes me happy too. I’m so happy, darling.” They look into each other's eyes. He almost starts crying.
“Anyway,” she says, licking a speck of strawberry from her lips, “there was something about him touching my heart. He looked so pale, so alone. I felt so sorry for him. Maybe I even cared about him. I do about you too, you know that, don’t you?” She takes his hand.
“Of course I do,” he says.
“That’s so great. It’s wonderful. I’m so happy.”
“I am too, darling.” The birds in the trees, silent. The waves murmuring. A breath of wind stirring the leaves.
When they came home from the hospital they made love, she says.
“That happened six weeks ago. I’m six weeks pregnant now, Ben. God this jam is liquid. Do you have a napkin, darling?”
He runs into the kitchen, fetches some kitchen roll. Dabs her tights while she’s finishing her toast.
“Do you make it yourself, this jam? Then don’t forget to use gravy-thickener.” She suddenly pulls up her skirt. “Can you see it yet, honey? Have I gained weight?" She shows him a picture. It's taken four months ago.
"What do you think?”
She’s about to take a shower, he’s sitting by the window, looking out over the garden. He hears thumping noises, produced by the installing of perfume bottles and creams in his wife’s kingdom: the bathroom. Sixteen years ago they tiled it, together, Amber was on her way. It was only two years later the money started coming in, suddenly, in big waves, bringing along an army of plumbers, interior decorators, Feng Shui consultants and mindfulness coaches, and the end of their Early Romanticism.
(to be continued in couple of days)
Take a look at
the art network on Instagram.