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.
The next day two things happen. In the morning his wife is calling him. The conversation starts quite encouragingly, her voice is mellifluous, almost sweet even, she says, “Look Ben, I’m going to do you a favour…” His heart skips a beat.
“Oh darling, that’s so grand of you, I knew you’d understand. After all, it wasn’t what it…”
“… I’ll give you seven days instead of four, to get the fuck out of the house, taking your personal belongings, strictu sensu, with you, foremost amongst which, that blonde bimbo you were… who was… accompanying…” Now her voice starts trembling. He especially doesn’t like the strictu sensu.
“Come on Marjorie, there’s no need to exaggerate things, nothing much happened and I can…”
“That’s your opinion then. You’ve never been very devoid of opinions, have you, Ben? I’m so tired of these opinions of yours. Now let’s see if the judge shares this one after he or she’s seen the little movie Lily has made of your… performance.”
“You’re an old dinosaur, Ben. Time to admit it. Some Krakatau eruption will do you good. The fact apparently has eluded you, but youngsters are filming everything nowadays, old chap. I’m glad you’re still alive, by the way, considering that rather… outwardly grimace you were producing while we were standing in the doorway. She’s good, isn’t she, Ben?”
“… Lily? My little princess? Is she there? Pass her, Marjorie.”
“There’s nothing to be passed, Ben. Your little princess has been traumatized. She’s under treatment by Doctor Kropotkin. Correction: under very expensive medical treatment.”
“We’ll see what I can and cannot, honey. Not that your opinion matters a lot. Seven days, Ben. And don’t try to get near the children, it might be interpreted as harassment.” Click.
And the second thing: in the hospital, everything is confirmed, the embryo is sound and well. Afterwards, she drinks coffee with two nurses in a room with all kinds of utensils. Every couple of minutes a surgeon running in and out.
“Giving birth seems such a lot of fun, darling. These guys can’t stop joking about it. Think one of the nurses was in love with the tall one though. Brown hair, rather athletic. Yummy indeed. She couldn’t stop repeating his jokes. But the screaming! One of those ladies seemed to be half dying! Now really. But this brown-haired cutie said this wouldn’t happen to me. I’m made to give birth, he said. It’s about the curve of the pelvic bone and cavity. Too complicated to explain he said. Anyway, he studied mine and I’ve got nothing to worry. Nothing at all. Isn’t that wonderful news, darling?”
“Terrific,” he says. Rambo also told her “it was only a matter of weeks before she would be able to have a look at the little devil". She's all excited. "They’ll even show me her beating heart.”
“Her,” he says. They are sitting in a café, she’s ordered a cappuccino with soya milk. She insisted on this, real milk being very bad for babies (another thing the nurses had told her). Then she fixed her lips with a Labello stick.
“Yes, her. It’ll be a girl. A woman feels this,” she says, putting her cup down.
“You’ve got a moustache,” he says.
When they walked the street together, she and the boy, she says, wiping her upper lip with a napkin, nobody seemed to notice the age difference. Only when they came very, very near one observed some tiny wrinkles around her eyes. When he introduced her to one of his friends, this boy, a law student, had asked her what her final asignment would be about. She was 38 for God’s sake.
“Do I look 38? Tell me the truth. I can take it.”
“You look 30, darling. At the utmost.”
“Then you look twice as old as me. I like that, baby.” She puts her fingers around his wrists, then leans back. In the street a woman pushing a pram passes. “Let’s go and buy some baby clothes,” she says.
Endless summer mornings alone in the house. Empty rooms, empty corridors, empty kitchen. The wall with the coloured marks, and the children’s writing: 1.05, 1.23, 1.45. The family’s growth curve. Lily, worried, staying a little behind. The children’s books, the first bike with training wheels, the scribbling on bedroom doors. Drawings ‘Daddy is my hero’. ‘I love Mum.’ Burnt pans. Marjorie had never been a kitchen goddess.
His wife allowing him to stay a little longer. A month, “maybe two”. He perceived a certain relief in her behaviour. A tinge in her voice, tender, mellow. A ray of sunshine peering through low cloud cover. But then, all of a sudden, she forced him to sign a paper, drawn up by her lawyer, containing three full pages as well as a list of things belonging to her. His vinyl records amongst them. Every one. A collection he started when he was in secondary school. He remembers pulling nails out of old boards for three full weeks, helping his dad, baking on roofs, shivering in wet basements. Then payday, running off, boarding a train, not towards a city but towards the record shop. The sanctuary, the place of pilgrimage they’d spend the whole afternoon in. Mich, the village postman’s son who helped him pulling out nails, accompanying him. In the shop Mich starting at the A, he himself working backwards, from the Z. “Hey, ZZ Top has a new one,” invariably used to be the opener after crossing the Holy Threshold. Or: “Hey, ZZ Top doesn’t have a new one”. Once the shop owner shouted back: “Yes they do, but it’s sold out.” This they found very funny because ZZ Top didn’t interest them in the least. Actually, ZZ Top sucked. The thought, even now, painted a big smile on his face. What could have happened to Mich? Where would he be?
The smell of a new record, on the train…
“You can’t take away my records, Marjorie, – please. Take everything but not these records…”
“We’ll see, Ben, if I can’t take away your records. Lily likes them.” She threatened again to use the little movie.
He had never seen somebody feasting on victory the way Marjorie did when they were gathering in the public notary’s office in order to sign the documents. When she bent over the notary’s desk, pen in the present, almost bursting out of her red suit, he had to think of the leopard. She was devastatingly pretty, and he suddenly remembered why, many years ago, he had fallen in love with her.
“Now your turn,” she said, straightening her back, handing over the pen. Their fingers touched. Chewing gum breath. “Make it a beautiful one, darling.” He couldn’t stop thinking it might as well have been the last time their fingers had been touching.
When they left the building, on the parking lot her lawyer was putting his hand on her shoulder. In the car, Lily was waving at him. He cried all afternoon.
At seven in the morning, Rebecca took a bus in The Hague, a three hours drive. He would pick her up at the station. It was drizzling. “A bit of geographic distance will do me good,” she’d said a couple of days earlier, and so they’d been exchanging messages about having three or four days off to Spain. Andalucia. He’d suggested a small family pension in Marbella’s casco antiguo he’d stayed at years before. The top floor room had stairs leading to a small private sunlit terrace overlooking the old town’s white houses. Silence evaporated out of these small cobblestoned streets. From the terrace, one could smell the Mediterranean. She would be able to think over there.
But he caught a fever and plans were cancelled, and there she was now, a spot of light undeliberately showing off against the grey backdrop of the station. A tight blue woollen dress, short leather jacket with strappings.
(to be continued in couple of days)
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