Mr. Visconti…continued

multi-birdhouse-58a6d4f93df78c345b561a86By Attila Zønn

 

 

1971

 

 

“Welcome to my home,” the old man said, closing the door behind us. The inside of his house smelled like vanilla.

“I am Eugenio Visconti. Some people call me Gene. And you are?”

“I’m  David,” I said. “And she’s Eloisa.”

“David and Eloisa, how very nice. Come, follow me to where I make the candy.”

We followed him down the hallway to a door that opened to the basement. The steps down were steep.

The basement was one large finished room with a well worn couch, a glass top coffee table and a small TV on a stand. On one wall, there was a red flag with a prancing horse on a yellow shield in the centre. Below it, there were black and white photographs. I walked up to the wall to get a closer look. They were all pictures of old type racing cars. A car in one of the photos was zipping around a corner as the driver leaned out and it looked like the car was going to tip over.

“Who’s that?” I said, and pointed at the photo.

Mr. Visconti focused on it.

“Ah, Nuvolari!” he said like he’d just discovered a great thing. “He was the most courageous racing driver of all time.” He stood admiring the picture with loving eyes.

“He looks like he’s going to tip over,” I said.

“No, he will not tip over. He is only driving on the edge. Like always.”

“On the edge of what?”

“On the edge of victory or tragedy.”

He stared at the picture for a moment longer then laughed and slapped his knee. “Do you know what Nuvolari did?”

I shook my head.

“Back in 1935, in a less powerful Alfa Romeo, he beat the great German Auto Union and Mercedes Benz racing teams, at their home race, in front of Hitler. Hitler was so mad he didn’t want to shake Nuvolari’s hand.” He laughed again and stared at the picture.

I didn’t know anything about Alfa Romeos, or Auto Union or Mercedes Benz, but I knew who Hitler was—he was the guy in that song we sometimes sang in the schoolyard, the one where Hitler only has one ball, the other’s hanging on the wall, and his mother, who was a dirty bugger, cut it off when he was born.

“Look,” Mr. Visconti said, pointing to another picture. “Here he is again!”

In this picture, Nuvolari was driving the car with the steering wheel off.  He held it in the air.

“How does he steer?” I said.

“He used a wrench.” He laughed and slapped his knee. “The steering wheel broke off and he used a wrench. One time, he won a race and he was driving with two broken legs. What courage!”

Nuvolari sounded like a crazy guy to me.

“Is he still alive?”

“No, Tazio Nuvolari is dead now.”

I thought as much.

“But you know what? He did not die driving as fast as he could. He died in his own bed, an old man.”

Eloisa sat on the couch, huffing and sighing, and Mr. Visconti saw this.

“But enough,” he said. “We can talk about this, and many other things later. Let’s make some candy.”

He opened the door to a small room with a sink, a stove, a fridge and a table with a marble top. There were door-less cupboards high up, full of boxes and brown paper bags. He filled a small pot with water then placed it on the stove and lit a blue flame under it. He turned to us. “Would you like something to drink while you wait—some milk, I have ginger ale, Gassosa? Something?”

We shook our heads.

“I know you,” he said to Eloisa. “You are Paolina’s granddaughter. Your grandfather was Gino. But,”— he turned to me — “ you, you are new to me.”

I didn’t say anything.

“I know all the children in this neighborhood.” When he said “neighborhood” he made a wide arch with his hand. “On Halloween, everybody comes to see Mr. Visconti. You will too.”

He brought out two high stools for us to sit on. Then he grabbed a bag of sugar and poured most of it into the pot. He took a wooden spoon from a drawer and stirred the pot.

“I have made candies since 1923, July 3, it was a Tuesday,” he said. “But before that, I was a baker, in my village, since I was thirteen years old when my father took me to the master baker and said to him, ‘Teach this boy how to work.’ And I worked, in the darkness of the early morning, stoking the ovens, carrying sacks of flour, kneading the dough, shaping the loaves. In my dreams, I counted sacks of flour. Once, I had a dream that I was a round lump of dough sitting on the paddle being pushed into the oven. I woke up and thought I was on fire.” He chuckled and shook his head.

“I was doing everything that the baker did not want to do, and I learned so much, that before long, I was the Master, and the baker sat on his patio playing cards all day with his friends.” He paused and stirred the pot.

“Baking is my great joy. I can make anything from flour and water and yeast.”

“Can you make doughnuts?” I said.

“Doughnuts?” He grimaced. “To make doughnuts is nothing. You want doughnuts? Next time I make you doughnuts.”

Mr. Visconti grabbed a plastic bottle of clear liquid. It poured out like syrup, into the pot. He stirred again.

“So there I was,” he said. “Not yet eighteen years old, in charge of everything in this bakery, but I knew this was not my future and when I told the baker I was going to America, he cried and begged me to stay, that he would make me his partner, but no, I had already decided, and when I decide, I cannot go back. I came to this country and went to work in a pastry shop owned by my paisano. He filled my head with beautiful promises, how it was going to be, that there would be many rewards, but you know what he did?”  He turned to us with wide eyes. “Do you know what he did?”

We both shook our heads.

“He tried to cheat me! His promises became excuses. This man, close to our family, who when I was a little boy I played with his son—he tried to cheat me! Eugenio is not a slave or a fool. I quit, right in his face, and as I was walking along the sidewalk, thinking of my future in this new country, someone called to me, ‘Eh, paisano.‘ A large man wearing an apron, smoking a fat cigar, stood in front of a store. ‘Sei Italiano?‘ he asked me. I nodded. He asked me if I was looking for a job, that if I was, he had a very good job for me. He took me into the store, and I was struck by the most beautiful smells. This was Horst Rosemeyer, a Swiss, and he spoke Italian very well. I told him I was a baker, that I knew nothing about making confectioneries. He said, ‘A baker is a good start.’ We became like brothers. For many years I worked beside him.”

Mr. Visconti stopped stirring. He tapped the wooden spoon on the lip of the pot.

“What colour would you like to make this candy?” he said. “I have red, blue and yellow.”

“Red,” we both said.

“Of course red,” he said. “The colour of passion.”

He poured a bit of dark red liquid into the pot and stirred slowly.

“I learned this craft and earned my money, I married a nice girl, was able to buy this house and had my children, then, Horst died. One day we found him sitting in his office, dead. Now, everything Horst had created was left to his son. This same son who when he was young had to be constantly pushed by his father and Horst was thanked with resentment. Oh, the boy liked the money, but he did not want to work for it.” He shrugged. “But sometimes, that is how it is. We are all different in our thinking, and what the father thinks is best conflicts with what the son thinks he must do. I have learned this myself. Needless to say it, the business was finished in one year. Everything sold, the store closed, and Horst’s son went to sell cars at the dealer.”

Mr. Visconti shook his head. “It was a shame. We sent our candies all over. Thousands of dollars we made every year.”

“Why didn’t you open your own candy store?” Eloisa said.

“I thought about it, but by that time I was getting older, and did not have the energy to begin again.”

 

I liked Mr. Visconti. I liked his stories. I didn’t like Eloisa being there because every time we visited him, her impatience cut our time with him very short. He wanted to tell us more and I could have spent the whole day there, but Eloisa — she dragged us down. She liked his candy but wanted to leave as soon as she was satisfied. I felt Mr. Visconti’s disappointment when we had to leave.

Nonna asked me where Eloisa and I went all the time. I told her to see Mr. Visconti. She said, “Oh, the bird man.”

From my bedroom window, I could see Mr. Visconti’s backyard. He had birdhouses on poles spread around the yard, and I saw him sometimes going to each pole, pull on a rope and the birdhouses would slide down. He’d put seed from a big bag into the houses then pull them up again. I thought it was a kind thing he did for the birds.

I wanted to know more about birds, so I asked Nonna if I could get a book on the birds of the world.

“We’ll get one from the library,” she said. “Try it, and if you like it, I’ll buy one for you to keep.”

The book was big, with full page colour pictures of all the birds, and I read it so much that I could identify every bird that perched on our fence or flew to Mr. Visconti’s bird houses.

One foggy morning, I saw a hummingbird outside the front window. It floated in the air, sticking its long beak into Nonna’s flowers. I wanted to catch one but it was hard to sneak up on them,  so I decided to catch a sparrow, but they too were quick  so I decided to catch a robin, but I hadn’t seen a robin in our yard for a long time so I settled on any bird.  I’d never be able to catch a bird with just my hands, so I got a cardboard box, a stick and tied a string around the middle of the stick, turned the box upside down on the grass and propped one end up with the stick. When a bird flew under the open end of the box, I’d pull the stick, the box would fall and the bird would be trapped inside.  I hid behind the picnic table, held the string and waited for a bird.

Eloisa came by.  That annoyed me. She was a distraction. I didn’t want to share my bird catch with her.

“What are you doing?” she asked coming around the picnic table. I whispered, “Shh! I’m trying to catch a bird.”

“Why?” she said aloud. She had no sense of stealth.

“Because,” I said.

“Because what?”

“Because I want to catch one. Now get down and keep quiet.” She crouched behind the table with me, and we waited. After a while she lifted her head above the table and said, “Is that going to work?”

“That’s how you catch a bird.” She crouched again and turned to me. “But why would a bird go anywhere near that box?” She had cookie breath. “There’s no bird food, or water or anything a bird might want.”

“Birds aren’t that smart,” I said. “But they’re pretty curious.” It made me think though, and I felt stupid that I hadn’t thought of setting bait.

 

“Here, by touching this,” — Mr. Visconti pushed the lute towards me — “touch it.”

I touched it.

“We have entered his life,” he said. “The energy of his life is still there.

“A man created this. Two hundred years ago. It is exquisite. There is nothing left of the man but what he made survives. You can say he made it for us. Can you see him in his workshop, passing his skilled hands over the body, feeling its smoothness, feeling its spirit, making it comfortable to hold, knowing that the person playing his instrument would enjoy every moment, and his audience would be filled with happiness?”

He stared off.

“We must always share what we know,” he said, then focused on me. “But we are not born with great knowledge or beautiful skill. We become that way because we never give up. We have passion. This Master at one time was probably an ignorant young boy, as all young boys are. It is not an insult David, it is the truth. They know nothing and plenty of it. And there were moments when his Master was not happy with him. Perhaps this boy did not understand the power he could possess through knowledge, through ability. He could not see the truth that was in front of him because he had his mind in the clouds. Oh, the clouds! But then one day, as he holds the instrument he is making, a spark! He realizes he loves what he does. There is nothing more gratifying than creating a beautiful thing. Don’t you think so?”

I nodded but didn’t know what gratifying meant.

“Now he is a man, in love with his craft. Now he wants to be the Master, creating his own beauty. Can you see him working from sunrise to sunset – focused, intent?” Mr. Visconti frowned. “Yet, can you also see him telling his children to behave as they run around and fight with each other, or as he tries to calm his wife because she complains he is spending too much time in his shop? Can you see his frustration at all the outside forces that keep him distracted from creating? Can you see it, David?”

I couldn’t see it. I was thinking of Nonna’s meatballs and fried chicken cutlets.

“Can you not see that it is important to know what has come before, and to respect it,  and know from where we have come so we can know who we are?” he said.

I knew who I was, and I knew if I stayed any longer I’d be late for dinner, Nonna would get angry,  and I’d have to eat stuck together cold spaghetti.

“I have to go now,” I said.

“Go,” Mr. Visconti said and put the lute back in its leather case.  “You go, and think about what we have talked about. It will change your life.” He smiled and patted my shoulder. “You are a good boy.”

He followed me up the stairs to the hallway.

Leaning against the wall by his front door was a big bag of bird seed. I reached into my pocket and pulled out a nickel. “Can I buy a handful of your bird seed?” I said, and offered him the nickel. He laughed.

“I will give you the seeds for free,” he said. “Why do you want them?”

“I need some so a bird will fly down and I can catch it.” He frowned.

“You…want to catch birds?”

I nodded.

“No, no you must let the birds fly. When you catch one what will you do with it?”

“I’ll put it in a cage and then it can sing for Nonna.” I really wasn’t interested in catching a bird to sing for Nonna, but it sounded good.

“No, you won’t. That is selfish,” he said. “The bird was not created for you to keep it caged. It will not be happy. It will not sing for you.  It will die.  And then you will have a dead bird in a cage. What good is that?”

“But I’ll keep it safe. If he’s in the cage the hawks won’t get him.”

Mr. Visconti shook his head. “No, no, no, no, no, no, no! It is better to be free than to be caged all your life. Let the birds fly. ”

“But the hawk will eat it.”

“The hawk has a right to eat it. It is in nature. It also must live. Listen, David. Please.” He got on one knee.  “I will make you a house for the birds. I will make you a beautiful house for the birds. You can help me.  I will show you how to make one. You can pick the colour and you can paint it and it will be beautiful and I will talk to your nonna and we will  put the birdhouse near your window so you can see the birds close.”

I didn’t need to see the birds close — I had a book with all the pictures. I just wanted to catch one.

“But, please, do not catch no more birds.”

That night I had a dream and Mr. Visconti was in it. He was a bird in a cage. His feet clasped the bars, his beak stuck out from the cage and he kept saying, “No, no, no.” I opened the door to let him out, but he wouldn’t come out. He dropped and died, lying there on his back with his feet in the air.

 

Sometimes, a young man on a burping motorcycle came to visit Mr. Visconti. The young man looked mean with his long dark hair and handlebar mustache. I saw them from my window when they sat in the back yard.  I couldn’t hear everything they said, but the motorcycle man was always angry and said “you” a lot, and pointed his finger at Mr. Visconti while Mr. Visconti sat there and looked away. Then after a few minutes, the man would  get up and leave but Mr. Visconti stayed where he was, sitting in the chair, looking up, looking down, looking at his hands.  Sometimes he’d bend forward and put his head in his hands. Sometimes his lips moved like he was talking to someone. He looked lonely sitting there. After awhile, he’d get up and go in the house then come out with his big bag of bird seed and refill all the birdhouses, then stand in the middle of the yard and look up at all the birds fluttering to the houses, and he’d smile.

 

Since my dream of Mr. Visconti as a dead bird, I stopped visiting him. I avoided walking past his house. I didn’t want him getting angry with me again. It was the middle of August now and school was around the corner, and I was desperate to catch a bird.

Some mornings, from my window, I saw Mr. Visconti come out into the yard with that  big bag of bird seed and after he filled the houses he’d look up at my window. I always stood back so he couldn’t see me. He’d come to the fence and look over into Nonna’s yard, then he’d walk back to his house and go inside.

I had to catch a bird.

I got some slices of bread and broke them into pieces, set up my trap and made a little path of bread on the grass towards the trap, went behind the picnic table, held the string, and waited.

Patience is an important thing to have when you’re trying to catch a bird. Crows came and sat on the fence, but I hoped they wouldn’t come down because of all the birds I wanted to catch, a crow wasn’t one of them. Since I saw a movie where birds attacked people, and the scene where one man had his eye’s eaten out, crows have scared me. I was thinking about that movie when — “David! What are you doing? Don’t catch birds!” I looked towards the back fence and saw Mr. Visconti’s head peeping over it. “You are bad! You are bad!  I will smash your box!” I hurried to the trap, quickly wound the string on the stick, then took the box in the house. I looked out the screen door towards the back fence and saw Mr. Visconti’s twisted face.

Five black-capped chickadees flew down and ate the bread.

Now I had to make sure Mr. Visconti wasn’t home when I set up my trap. He was constantly in his yard, frequently coming to our fence and looking over. There had to be a time when he had to go out—go to the store, by food, buy sugar for his candy — a time. He couldn’t stay at his house forever.

The morning arrived when Mr. Visconti came out to feed the birds and he wore his grey hat. He also had on a tie.  After he’d gone in his house,  I ran downstairs and out the door, down the lane and hid behind the hedge. Mr. Visconti came out his front door, dressed like it was Sunday, opened the gate and walked away down the sidewalk. I ran back to the yard, set up the trap, dropped a bread path to the box, grabbed the string, crouched behind the picnic table and waited.

The sky was a clear blue and there was a slight breeze. It was a wonderful morning. I felt good.

My reason for catching a bird had evolved. I wasn’t interested in caging it anymore. Mr. Visconti was right. It was cruel to keep a wild bird in a cage. Canaries and budgies were for cages, but I wanted to accomplish a catch. I could see it all happening in my head: the bird would go into the box, the box would fall, but then I’d lift the box and let it free. I had done it. I had caught it and that’s all that mattered to me now. I even imagined that after I freed the bird, it would fly onto the fence, look back, and nod a thank you that I had let it go.

The morning wore on. My knees got numb from crouching so I sat on the ground. There wasn’t a bird anywhere. I was disappointed because soon I’d have to give up — Mr. Visconti wouldn’t be gone all day.

From behind me, I heard Nonna whisper, “I’ll make lunch soon.” I looked back and saw her smiling face through the window screen. I nodded.

All this time, Nonna was okay with me trying to catch a bird. I think she was happy that I had something to focus on, that I was hanging around the house where she could keep an eye on me.

Then, like I had just wished for a miracle to happen, a red winged blackbird touched down on the grass. It hopped to the first morsel of bread, ate it, then hopped to the next piece. I had longed for this moment but couldn’t believe it was happening. As the bird hopped closer to the trap, I got nervous. My hand holding the string trembled, my heart raced.

The bird was just outside the box, eyeing the shade inside, eyeing the bread.

It was ready to hop in.

It was going to hop in.

My hand was ready to pull.

— A howl came from the back fence.

The bird flew into the sky. Laughter. Evil laughter. Mr. Visconti’s head was laughing at me from over the back fence. He laughed like a madman—laughed and wagged his finger at me.  I picked up the box, ran towards the back fence and  threw it at him. I didn’t hit him but it made him step back and stopped his laughter.

Me and Mr. Visconti were enemies now.

Up until that moment in my life, I had never had a true enemy. There were some boys in school I had fights with, but I had never thought of them as enemies, but this old man was my enemy. He had no right to watch everything I did, to stop me doing anything I wanted to do. I had liked him so much, but now I hated him, and all because of some stupid birds.

I had to get back at him.  I sat by my window many days, watching his yard, trying to think of a way to ruin his fun.

And I was at my window the morning the motorcycle man came by. He sat on the deck steps drinking a beer while Mr. Visconti talked, but I felt the motorcycle man wasn’t listening. He didn’t respond to Mr. Visconti’s words. He looked away as he sipped his beer. But then he turned sharply at Mr. Visconti and yelled, “I need it!”

Mr. Visconti went into the house, the motorcycle man downed the last bit of beer then looked at the bottle. Mr. Visconti came out. The motorcycle man got up. Mr. Visconti smiled and handed him money, patted the motorcycle man’s arm, then stood like he was expecting a hug, but no hug. The motorcycle man handed him the empty beer bottle instead, counted the money, nodded and left by the gate. No goodbye. Mr. Visconti stared after him. He stood there holding the empty beer bottle, then wiped his eyes and went into the house.

He came back out hugging his big bag of bird seed. He walked to the edge of the deck, came down one step, but when his foot came down on the next step, his knee buckled and he fell forward onto the concrete patio, with the bird seed under him. His head bounced off the slab. He rolled onto his back and tried to get up, but fell back and his head hit the concrete again. Then he lay motionless.

Birds came down and picked at the spilled seeds but Mr. Visconti didn’t move.

I laughed. My vengeance happened and I didn’t have to do a thing. I laughed. All he had to do was drop the bag of bird seed and stretch out his hands to cushion the fall, but the birds were more important than hurt. I laughed. I laughed. I laughed.

I heard footsteps on the stairs. It was Eloisa.

“What’s funny?” she said and came to the window. She looked out.

“What’s he doing?” she said.

“He fell.”

“Why doesn’t he get up?” There was blood coming from Mr. Visconti’s head now.

“He’s hurt!” Eloisa cried. “We have to tell someone! We have to tell someone!” And ran out of the room.

 

Night came — a night Mr. Visconti would never see again. Raindrops against my window. Raindrops Mr. Visconti would never hear or see or feel anymore. His house was dark. The street light shone a wet gleam on his driveway. The rain—tears for Mr. Visconti.

I didn’t feel anything.

The sun came out the next morning. Nonna was taking me to buy stuff for school today — clothes, books, paper, pencils. As I pulled on my t-shirt, I walked to my window and saw the  motorcycle man in Mr. Visconti’s back yard. He walked in a circle around the spot where Mr. Visconti had fallen, then sat on the deck steps and put his head in his hands. He pounded his thighs with fists, then put his head in his hands again.

 

 

Copyright©Attila Zønn 2019

Mr. Visconti

Bird-housesBy Attila Zønn

 

1971

 

I woke up in the morning to an argument. Two women were yelling at each other. I went down to see what was going on and found Nonna sitting at the kitchen table with another old woman, dressed in black, sitting across from her. They weren’t arguing. They were just talking—loud.

Eh, giovanotto,” the old woman said when I walked in.

I didn’t understand.

She spoke to me again but I didn’t understand.  She spoke again and when I didn’t answer she reached over and grabbed my ear. I pulled away. Nonna said something to her. The old woman in black had one straight eye, the other eye was staring at her nose. She had a stupid face.  I didn’t like her.

I backed away towards the stove and that’s when I noticed the shiny black buckle shoes under the table, white socks, some skin, and then the hem of a blue dress.  I wanted to see who was under there so I crawled in.

There was a girl under the table.

There were two red die with white dots on the floor. I picked them up to get a closer look when the girl lunged at me, grabbed my hand and bit my arm. I slapped her and sent her back towards the old lady’s legs. The die fell to the floor. A rush of heat came up from my chest and into my head. I was ready to slap her again when she covered her face with her hands. My trembling hand closed into a fist.

She fanned out her fingers and looked at me. I lowered my fist. She picked up the die and offered them to me but I didn’t want her stupid die. I got out from under the table and was headed for the back door when Nonna said, “I’ll make you breakfast in a few minutes.”

I didn’t say anything. I just walked out into the backyard, and that’s where stupid Dingo was, and as soon as he saw me he started barking. My head was going to explode. I wanted to hit something, really hard, lots of times, and if I’d had a stick I’d have pounded that little dog into a pulp because it wouldn’t shut up.

I covered my ears and screamed, and blacked out.

 

I awoke in a strange room, full of old dark furniture, and black and white pictures on the walls. I heard voices. Nonna was talking to a man somewhere close by. The man’s voice was deep and vibrated and bothered my ears. .

I was in that room off of the kitchen—Nonna’s room. I wasn’t allowed in here but here I was. I looked around the room, to figure out what was so special that I couldn’t come in here. It was just a small room. The furniture was too big for the space. There was a big wooden crucifix with a Jesus hanging on it on the wall above the headboard. On the wall at the foot of the bed, there was a picture of a woman with a hood on her head. You could see her heart. It was bright red with a sword through it.

I got off the bed and went to the door.

“There he is,” Nonna said. The man sitting at the table turned and said, “Hello young man,” and stuck out his hand. I looked at his hand then looked at him.

“David, this is Doctor Rizzardo,”  Nonna said. “He say you gonna be okay.”

The doctor took back his hand and shrugged. I didn’t like his face. I started for my room, taking a quick look at the floor under the table to see if that girl with the black buckle shoes was still there.

After the doctor left, Nonna called me. I came to the top of the landing.  “Everything gonna be okay, David,” she said. “Next week we go to a special doctor. Come down, and I make you something nice to eat.”

 

Nonna put Dingo in the basement and said I could go in the backyard to play. I didn’t have a ball or anything so I didn’t know what I was going to play with. To me, Nonna’s yard was a jungle with all its plants and flowers. In the very back, she had a vegetable garden.

I thought, okay, I’ll try to name all the vegetables—I got tired of that quick.

In the corner of the yard, she had sunflowers and they were all staring at me. I went over and reached to touch one of their faces. A girl’s voice said, “Hey.”

I looked around but couldn’t tell where the voice came from. I stood there for a moment but when I didn’t hear the voice again, I turned back to the sunflower and was about to pull a seed from its face when that same voice said, “Hey!”

The voice came from the back fence.  I saw a shadow through the gaps between the fence boards. There was a knothole on one of the boards so I looked through and saw an eye.

“Can I come over there?” the girl said.

“Who are you?”

She stepped back.  It was the girl under the table.

“Why did you bite me?” I said.

“I’m sorry, but you were in my special place. I won’t bite you ever again. I promise. Can I come over and play with you?”

“There’s nothing to do over here.”

“There’s always something to do. If I tell my Nonna to phone your Nonna for me to come over, I know your Nonna will say yes. I heard them. They want us to be friends.”

 

I guess she was about my age. She had straight brown hair with straight bangs across her forehead and wore a blue hair band that sparkled in the sun. Her name was Eloisa.

“You don’t look sick,” she said.

I didn’t know what to say to her. I’d never played with girls before. In school, you’re supposed to chase the girls off your turf, but here, in Nonna’s jungle yard, behind her high wooden fences, as long as nobody saw me, it felt okay.

“The neighbourhood is a fun place to go exploring,” she said, “but not today. It’s getting late. We could go tomorrow. Do you want to go tomorrow?”

“Okay.”

“Then we’ll go tomorrow.”  She swung her hips. Her dress flared out.

“You’re mother and father are dead, aren’t they?” she said.

I didn’t say anything.

“I know because they were talking about you this morning,” she said. “I live with my dad.”

“Did your mother die too?”

“No. My mom ran away with a man named Amadeo. She wasn’t happy. She was always calling my dad a bastard.”

“What else were they talking about?”

“Nothing much, same old stuff. My nonna was mostly talking about my mother. How she ruined my dad’s life.”

“You understand them?”

Eloisa nodded. “Do you want me to teach you?”

“Okay,” I said.

“I’ll teach you. But not today. It’s getting late.”

She told me she understood a lot of Italian but didn’t let on because her grandmother would want to talk to her and Eloisa didn’t want that and if she knew Eloisa could speak that language she wouldn’t get away with so much.  “Nonna hits.”

She said her dad was a nice daddy but he was always tired. He worked for a man named Jurgen and Jurgen was a cheap kraut prick. Daddy had a girlfriend. Her name was Min Li and she was Chinese. Eloisa had gone lots of places with her dad and Min Li but she wasn’t supposed to tell her nonna about Min Li.

“Daddy said Nonna won’t understand and she’ll get upset.”

We sat at the picnic table under Nonna’s awning and she talked and talked and talked. At one point Nonna appeared at the screen door and told us Eloisa’s father was working very late that night and Eloisa was going to sleep at her grandmother’s. Then she asked Eloisa if she wanted to have dinner with us. “Oh, that would be very nice,” Eloisa said. Nonna looked at me and smiled.

 

“You’re not going to wear that? It doesn’t match,” Eloisa said. I wore a blue T-shirt and brown corduroy shorts.

“My mother told me clothes have to match or there’s no point getting dressed,” she said.

“I don’t care,” I said. “If you don’t like it, go exploring by herself.”

She walked away and I thought that’s that, and turned to go back in the house.

She said, “Are you coming?”

 

We were walking down the laneway when she whispered, “I found a gun.”

“What kind of gun?”

“Shhh—it’s our secret.”

We made a left turn past the laneway and were going up an incline when she stopped.

She walked over to the curb and sat down in front of a sewer grate. “It’s down there,” she said.

I got on my hands and knees and looked into the sewer. It was dark down there but if I concentrated I could make out a few things.

“Where?” I said.

“Can’t you see it?” she said, got on her hands and knees and put an eye against the grate.

“It’s right there. Don’t you see the white handle? It’s like a cowboy’s gun.”

I looked harder but couldn’t see this gun. I saw some twigs, candy wrappers and there was even a toad jumping around down there. I wasn’t happy that there wasn’t a gun. I thought this girl was trying to trick me, so I sat back on the curb and that’s when I saw the skinny old man coming up the sidewalk.

He wore a grey hat and his dark blue jacket was folded over one arm. He stopped where we were and stared at us.

Eloisa kept going on, “It’s there, I see it, right along the wall,” while me and the old man stared at each other. He turned and opened the chain-link gate of the house we were in front of, went up the walk, opened the door, and went inside.

“It’s as plain as day,” Eloisa said. “I don’t know why you’re not seeing it.”

“There’s nothing there,” I said.

Eloisa grabbed a pebble from the road and said, “I’ll throw it to where it is.”

The old man came out of his house carrying a wrinkled brown paper bag.

“Hey, kits,” he said. “Look what I have for you.” He handed me the bag.

I looked inside. It was full of pillow-shaped candies, all different colours. I stuck my nose in the bag and the smell made me happy.

“They taste better than they smell,” the old man said and smiled. “I make them, in my house. If you like, then maybe one day you can come to my house and I’ll show you how I make them.” He walked back towards the gate, clicked it closed and went into his house.

I knew not to eat candies a stranger gives you, but Eloisa said, “He’s not a stranger. One time I saw him talking to Nonna over the backyard fence. So we can eat the candies.” She took the bag from me and reached in, grabbed a red one with yellow stripes and popped it in her mouth.

“Oh,” she said. “Oh, that’s good. It’s so good. Ummm.”

I reached for the bag but she stepped back.

“I’ve never had candy that tasted so good,” she said.

I grabbed the bag out of her hand and walked back to Nonna’s house.

“Don’t you want to see the gun anymore?” she called after me.

We settled into Nonna’s backyard where I dumped the candy onto the picnic table and counted them out. There were twenty-one pieces.

“I get the most,” Eloisa said.

I counted out eleven pieces for me, and ten for her. She said, “Hey!”

It was the best candy I’d ever had. Some pieces tasted like strawberry and others like lemon, and orange and lemon-strawberry, and cherry, and even with these flavours there was another flavour, common to all of them, that I didn’t recognize. They had a hard shell and if I sucked them instead of crunching them, the hardness melted away and the centre was chewy.

We decided to visit the old man the next day to see if he’d give us somemore.

 

We stood for a long time in front of that old man’s house. Eloisa wanted to give up.

“He’s not home,” she said, “We can come back tomorrow.”

“You can go but if he gives me more candy, I’m not sharing it with you.”

She slapped her arms against her sides and sat on the curb.

I concentrated as hard as I could, thinking I could make the old man open the door and after a few minutes, the curtains on his front window parted and the old man stood there for a little bit, then was gone.  The front door opened and he waved me to come over.

“He wants us to go in his house,” I said.

Eloisa came to stand beside me. We looked at each other.

“Come inside,” the old man called out. “It is okay. I show you some nice things. I make fresh candy for you.”

 

Copyright©Attila Zønn 2019

Sarina

Screen-shot-2011-06-03-at-10.15.58-AM

By Attila Zønn

 

 

1955

 

 

By the time Sarina turned nineteen, she was already considered a spinster in her Sicilian village.

There had been suitors since the age of fourteen, and her widowed father Gennaro, a butcher, had filtered many suitors, bringing only the best prospects before his daughter.

And Sarina evaluated:

Gaspare, but he was too short.

Turiddu, but he was too tall. An awkward young man — awkward in walk and awkward in talk.

Vituzzo, the shepherd — “Free cheese and ricotta for the rest of our lives,” Gennaro said.

“He smells of sheep,” Sarina said. “No!”

Bastiano — his eyes were too far apart.

Sariddu — his eyes were too close together.

Giovanni — big nose.

Gerolimo — pig nose.

Seraino — too many opinions.

Filippo — a shadow.

Then there was Giuseppe, a handsome man, much older, perfumed, whose black hair glistened in the sunlight, decorated with a fat gold neck chain and a fat gold watch — too vain. Sarina could never be with a man who put so much importance on his appearance.

So she was left with nothing — no husband, no future.

Sarina argued that she didn’t need a husband. She could stay close, continue to work alongside papà and care for Gennaro in his old age.

Gennaro smiled and hugged his daughter. But there was a problem.

Cara figlia,” Gennaro said. “Your sisters,” — younger sisters Rosina and Pippinedda — “have found men that please them and will want to marry but they cannot until you do. Please consider your suitors with one eye closed.”

Iaga, from a few houses down, said she had a cousin in America who was looking for a wife.

America!Gennaro said. He turned to his daughter. “It’s like winning the lotto. You would be set.” His eyes sparkled. “America! America! Nuova York. Broccolini.

“No,” Iaga said. “He is in the America they call Canada. In Toronto, a city by a lake.”

“Canada?” Gennaro thought a moment then shrugged.

“It’s not the America,” he said to Sarina. “But it’s close. At least it isn’t in the America to the south, that poor America — Argentina. I waved goodbye to an uncle who left for that place and never heard from him again.”

“His name is Angelo,” Iaga said. “Here is his photo.”

Angelo didn’t smile in the black and white photograph.

Why not? Sarina wondered. Maybe his teeth are rotten, or maybe he has no teeth at all, or his character is morose. He looks like a man who doesn’t know how to laugh. Sarina was about to discard Angelo as she had discarded all the others when she saw her father’s hopeful gaze. And she thought of her two sisters whom she loved very much. She sighed, looked at the photograph again and closed one eye.

Angelo wrote wonderful words. After a few weeks, his letters arrived every day. Sarina had Pippinedda write her letters back because she felt her handwriting wasn’t attractive. Angelo had a wonderful, but suspiciously feminine, flair with his characters—an artistic man, she thought. His grammar was precise—an educated man, she thought. Angelo wrote poems comparing her to flowers, and the ocean, and the sky and the stars. She became hopeful that the photo she scrutinized every day was just a split second askew of Angelo’s real persona.

After months of letters, plans were made for her departure for America/Canada. Angelo paid for her fare. Angelo had suggested that they should marry by proxy, but Sarina needed to see flesh and not commit solely to wonderful handwriting on paper.

How will Papà function without her help at the shop? How could she leave him? Since the age of twelve, she had helped him slice and debone, mince and fillet and accompanied him during that busy week before Carnevale when everyone in the county wanted Gennaro to cut the throats of their fattened pigs.

In that last week before her journey, she tried to observe and retain the vista of her native land—Sicilia. Would she ever return? She observed with fresh eyes it’s sun-dried terrain with sheep on the hillsides, its cacti abundant with prickly pears, its vineyards, its old men sitting in the shade of oaks, hands lapped over canes, with no more experiences to fuel their stories, only reminiscences left to them. She felt the sun on her face and the heat on her body. She was told it would be much colder in Canada. And snowy. How would she bare it? She had never seen snow except on mountains in the distance. She would miss her father. Yes, she would miss her father. Would she ever see him again?

The night before her departure, Gennaro sat his daughter down and said, “I know you are a strong woman — I am proud of you — but now you leave my house, and you should know that this behavior must change when you have a husband. You must never walk in front of your husband, yet never walk behind him. You must walk the road with equal steps. Never disagree with him in public. Wait until you are alone and then let him know that he is wrong. You must be the captain of the ship inside the house, but he must always feel like a man outside of it.”

Signor Grammatico, the proprietor of the market in the village, knew some English from his time spent as a prisoner of war in England. On sheets of paper, he wrote all the phrases Sarina might need on her way to Toronto. He also owned the only automobile in the village, and for a few lire chauffeured Sarina and her father to Palermo, where after many hugs and a tearful goodbye, Sarina boarded the Vulcania.  A stop in Lisbon, then across the Atlantic to Halifax, then a train to Toronto, and she was there, and so was Angelo, wide-eyed and hopeful as she stepped off the train.

He was stocky, short and dark. He was a disappointment. However, he did know how to smile, and though his teeth weren’t the best, he appeared to have all of them.

Introductions were made.

His diminutive father stood behind Angelo’s squat, big chested mother. She did not smile. Angelo took Sarina’s hand. His mother slapped his hand away and said, “Not yet.” Then she straightened his tie and told him to follow as she lead Sarina off the platform.

It was all moving too fast. There were too many cars on wide roads — huge cars the size of ships. She saw many storefronts with the word SALE on the glass and assumed that Toronto must be the salt capital of the world. (Sale is Italian for salt).

She felt disembodied by the foreign air, claustrophobic among the crammed bodies in the car. They tried to engage her in conversation. They were loud. She didn’t understand them. What language was this? – part Italian, part something else.

Sarina thought of her papà and wanted to go home…

 

Copyright©Attila Zønn 2019

 

 

The Book

5ac68944edc103a9cc9b2982caf63e97By Attila Zønn

 

 

“I don’t know what to do,” Karen says.

“Why? What’s wrong?” Joanne says.

“I don’t want to get into it. It’s so upsetting.”

“I’ll try to help if I can, but if you don’t want to talk about it—”

“I felt sick. I wanted to throw up. The man I’d been married to all these years—”

“Did he cheat on you? The bastard. I always—”

“No, it’s worse. Oh, I don’t think I’ll ever get over this. We’ve had our troubles, and we’ve worked them out, but this—”

“Take a deep breath, and tell me.”

Karen raises her hand and summons the waitress.

“Can you top up my coffee?” she says to the waitress.

“So tell me,” Joanne says.

Karen holds up a hand and looks around her. She whispers, “Let’s wait till she brings the coffee.”

The waitress returns and fills their cups.

Karen watches the waitress walk back to her station then leans across the table towards Joanne. Joanne leans towards Karen.

“You know Tom thinks he’s a writer,” Karen says.

“You told me he writes.”

“Yeah, he writes, all the time. Comes home from work, goes into that room, and I don’t see him again til bedtime, maybe.”

“He’s dedicated.”

“Is he? Or has he got something else up his sleeve?”

“What do you mean?”

“He doesn’t show me what he writes anymore. He used to, and I was happy to read it. If that’s his dream, I want to help him. English was my best subject. I didn’t want to be critical, you know, but he had run on sentences all over the place and spelling mistakes galore. I’d point that out, and he’d get upset. ‘Overlook the spelling and grammar,’ he said. ‘I fix that later. What about the story?’ The story. Right. The story. One story was about a woman drowning her retarded kid in the bathtub. Another one was a woman who’s husband blamed her because she wasn’t watching their daughter and the kid gets run over by a car in a parking lot. They divorce, then two years later, the lady gets a phone call in the middle of the night. On the other end, she hears, ‘Mommy?'”

“Sounds interesting.”

“Yeah. Interesting, but weird. Not Tommy-ish as I’ve known him. He’s got a story set in the 1800’s about a deformed man, who all day just thinks of the many brutal ways he can kill his old father because the father beats him all the time.”

“Hmm.”

Karen laughs. “He has a story about Elvis, still alive and living in a trailer park, afraid to go out on August 16 because he thinks people will recognize him. Elvis has a cat, and the cat tells Elvis he has to man up,  go out, and get him some cat food. I laughed at that one. I couldn’t help myself. It was so funny. Tom ripped the papers out of my hands and said, ‘It’s a fantasy, not a comedy.’ He hasn’t shown me anything since. I felt bad. He’s never been touchy about anything in his life, water off a duck’s back, but he’s somebody else with his writing.”

“The burgeoning artist.”

“Burgeoning, right. I felt so bad about laughing at his story I wanted to make it up to him. While he was at work, I thought I’d give his writer’s room a dusting. He’s got the shade pulled down in there, and there’s papers all over the desk, and it smells.”

“Smells?”

“Plates of half eaten food are piled up on a chair in the corner. I opened the window and started straightening out his desk, and there it was, under all the clutter.”

“What?”

“The book.”

Joanne gives Karen a quizzical look.

“There was a book,” Karen says. “Titled The Demon Haunted World.”

“And?”

“My husband’s a devil worshipper!”

“No way! Tommy? I don’t believe it.”

“Then why does he have this book?—and it’s written by somebody named Carl Sagan. Sagan. Right, like that’s going to fool anybody.”

“How do you mean?”

“Sagan? Satan?”

Joanne smiles and reaches out to hold her friend’s hand. “I’ve heard of Carl Sagan,” she says. “He’s not Satan. Did you open the book?”

“I wouldn’t touch it with a ten-foot pole. There might be images of human sacrifice or blood drinking. The good Catholic woman that I am? That would ruin my day.”

“Maybe he’s doing research. Writers do research so they can get their facts straight.”

“Or maybe he’s a devil worshipper, and this book is a manual on how to become the king wizard.”

“The title of a book doesn’t mean anything. You have to look inside.”

“He goes out in the evenings. He never used to do that. He used to come home, we’d have dinner, then watch some TV. He doesn’t tell me anything about where he goes. Once I caught him at the front door putting on his shoes. He looked guilty about something. I asked him, ‘Where you going?’ He said he was blocked—what does that mean?—and needed to free his mind. He said driving around helps him ‘unblock’. Ever since he started this writing thing, he’s not the same man. His mind’s always some place else.  I feel alone. I feel like he’s cheating on me with his thoughts.”

“You should talk to him.”

“He scares me. I’ve seen Rosemary’s Baby. It was on the other night. I asked him if he wanted to watch it.”—Karen nods and winks—”Just to see if I’m on the right path. He said, ‘Why? I’ve seen it. It’s all bullshit.’ It’s all bullshit because he knows better now. They say the smartest thing the devil ever did was convince us he doesn’t exist.”

“Talk to him. Do you want me to look at this book?”

“Would you? I can’t. I just can’t.”

 

 

Copyright©Attila Zønn 2018

 

Pulling Knives

00small16781648By Attila Zønn

 

 

It was Grace’s request to be wheeled in front of the tall arched window in the reception area on sunny mornings so she could see the world shining outside. Her arms were in constant motion, throwing insect-like shadows on the oak strip floor as she pulled knives from all parts of her body,  her voice in conversation with the air.

“And Reginald—he was Mumma’s brother. He died in the war. Juno Beach. They said he made it to shore then was cut in half. Mumma cried and cried that she missed her little brother. It was just the two of them you know. Mumma was five years older, and after Uncle Reginald passed, their family was never the same again. It was incomplete. Mumma used to say there was an important part missing. Mumma used to say a family was like a living thing travelling through time and space. When parts of it went wrong, it lost its way. She used to say when Buddy and I used to fight, that she didn’t understand how brother and sister or mother and daughter or father and son could ever hate each other. We were the same kind and lucky to have each other and should put away our differences. ‘Getting along,’ she would say with tears in her eyes, ‘Is much more fun than fighting.’

“I found Buddy on the doorstep one February morning. There was blood everywhere, and a large knife lay on the snow beside him. He was as naked as when he was born. He’d become such a sad young boy. He wanted to be with God so much. He missed Daddy so much. The police said he went all the way to the park and sat on a bench, and there he cut his wrists with that knife, but then he must have panicked, and came running home—there was a trail—but by that time he’d lost so much blood he didn’t have the strength to knock and died right on the doorstep. That did Mumma in. At the funeral, she cried up to the sky that it wasn’t fair that this gentle family should be punished so much. I felt then what Mumma must have felt when Uncle Reginald died. I felt guilty.  I was still alive. It wasn’t my fault, but there is such a weight on me some days. My husband left me. Do you see my children here? They call me crazy. I know I’m not pulling real knives, but it feels good to pull them out and hear the wounds close.”

 

Copyright©Atilla Zønn 2018

Reconnecting

DSC_0091by Attila Zønn

 

 

“Excuse me?”

I turned to the woman.

“Nuno?” she said.

“Yes?”

“Is your last name Garrett?”

I hesitated then nodded.

“Did you go to Secord Avenue Public School?”

I nodded.

“Oh, my God,” she said and covered her mouth.

I squinted at her.

“Don’t you remember me?” she said.

Her name tag read Sherry W.

I didn’t know who she was. I had known no Sherries.

“It’s Darlene,” she said.

The past came rushing at me then—yellow school buses, bullies, teachers with bad breath leaning over me, pedagogue sadists corrupting malleable minds, and Darlene Coogan

I smiled. “How are you? Geez. Small world, eh?”

“It is a small world,” she said.

We stood with smiles on our faces and expressions of amazement at how life had brought us back to the same space. I pointed at her name tag.

“Sherry W?” I said.

“Oh, that’s who I am now. Sherry Wild. New life, new name.”

Darlene looked good. She was a blonde now. I remembered her with a mushroom cut, dark brown hair and green eyes. Her eyes were still green, but they didn’t pop as much with the blonde hair.

“So, do I call you Sherry or Darlene?”

She laughed. “Darlene. You’re part of the past so it’d be silly to ask you to call me Sherry. So,”—she gave me a nudge on the arm—”how’ve you been?”

“Good. Still alive.”

She nodded and kept nodding.

We stood in the hall of a highschool, taking a break from a writers’ workshop.

“How do you like the workshop?” she said.

“It’s good.”

“You want to write Romance?”

“No, I just saw the ad in the paper and wanted to see what a workshop was all about.”

“And?”

“It pretty much expresses what I already knew.”

“Yeah, they’re pretty much all the same. If I had the credentials, I’d probably run one. You make more money teaching how to write than you do writing. This is my tenth one. It promises you great things, but in the end, you end up discovering how it is on your own. It’s all about…forging ahead.”

“So you’re a writer.”

“No—but I like words. And I like being around people who like words. I don’t know if I’m really a storyteller.” She shook her head. “That’s too much work for what it’s worth. I like being surrounded by creativity though. It helps with my songwriting. You know, the creative vibes? They’re catchy.”

“You’re a musician?”

“No—but I’m becoming one.”

Darlene, now Sherry Wild: this hearkened me back to grade three. She was my first girlfriend. I didn’t know she was my girlfriend until we went on a field trip to Old MacDonald’s Farm. I was sitting on the bus with my best friend Stanley. She came down the aisle, grabbed his arm, yanked him from beside me onto the floor and took his place.

“Why’d you do that?” I said.

“Because you’re my boyfriend, and boyfriends and girlfriends always sit together.” Stanley stood up and wanted to wallop her, but the teacher was coming down the aisle counting heads.

Old MacDonald’s Farm—that’s what the teacher called it, but I knew she was lying because when the bus drove up the gravel road towards the silo, I saw the mailbox and the name on it was The Smythe’s. This was really Old Smythe’s Farm. But Farmer Smythe wasn’t old.

His wife came out to greet us. She cradled a baby girl, and there was a  snotty nosed blond boy holding onto her dress.

Farmer Smythe didn’t wear a farmer’s straw hat. He had on a Toronto Maple Leafs baseball cap and wore fluorescent orange rubber boots.

An icy wind blew that morning, and everything was wet. We saw some pigs and chickens, then the cows in the barn, and when a cow shit a big cake, all the girls went, “Ewe!”

Farmer Smythe’s snotty nosed son followed us around, laughing. He acted like he’d never seen kids before.  I felt sorry for him. It must have been lonely living on a big farm with only animals and your parents to talk to.

At the end of the excursion, the teacher—I can’t remember if it was Miss Arrow or Miss Roberts; the teachers all blend together from back then—wanted us to go into Old MacDonald Had a Farm. Darlene ee-i-ee-i–o-ed with the other kids but I wasn’t interested. I felt silly singing this silly song in front of the farmer who looked like he couldn’t wait for us to leave. As Darlene sang, she kept wanting to hold my hand.

Farmer Smythe’s wife had baked some bread, and before we left, we all got a slice of fresh bread with fresh butter. It was so good I devoured the slice in three bites.  Darlene nibbled at it, turning the square slice into a circle and all the way back to school the circle got smaller—it annoyed me. When it got down to nickel size,  she put it on the tip of her finger and offered it to me.

“I left the best part for you,” she said.

“I don’t want it,” I said. She sat back in a huff and put on a pout, and held her finger in the air with that piece of bread on it.

I had known Darlene until the end of grade five. Then we moved to Don Mills, and I didn’t see her again till a few months later, just before Christmas, when we were back in the neighbourhood to visit my aunt. I went for a stroll, back to the schoolyard, and I saw her walking up the street. I called her name. She looked over her shoulder at me and kept walking. I didn’t know it then, but all the women in my life would look over their shoulder and walk away.

After the workshop, we planned to go to a Tim Horton’s on the corner.  It didn’t cross my mind that this reconnecting might lead to more than a few “remember when’s” and ending with “nice to see you again”. We laughed as we reminisced about old teachers and old classmates.

I drove her to her place.

Her apartment was a tight abode on Victoria Pk. She liked nick knacks, I assumed—porcelain, crystalline, wooden—strewn about the place on shelves and end tables, but curiously she had an illuminated curio cabinet with nothing in it. There was an acoustic guitar on a stand in a corner.

“Do you play?” I said, pointing to the guitar.

“I’m learning. I know enough to accompany my singing.”

We sat on the couch and updated each other on our lives since grade five.  I told her of that day in December when I saw her on the sidewalk by the school and called her name. She didn’t remember it.

I told her I’d been married for about six years, but now it was over. She listened and looked genuinely interested, which made me feel good.

“Yeah,” she said. “We’re brainwashed into believing that marriage is more than it really is. Kudos to those people who can stick it out, but I don’t think humans evolved to be with just one person all their lives. It’s a social construct.”

I didn’t agree with that, but it was her turn to talk.

She had been married until last year. Her husband had been a good guy.  “A good guy, but he wasn’t…exciting!” she said. “He felt boring sometimes—too predictable, too reliable, too responsible.”

“That’s what you want in a husband, isn’t it?” I said.

“That’s what I wanted once, but now I want something else. One day I was sorting out some old boxes, and I came across a picture, and that changed me.”

“A picture?”

“Of an old boyfriend.”

I nodded but wondered how a picture of an old boyfriend could change anything.

“Yeah, it made me think of how my life used to be, ten years ago, when I was really happy. I mean, you’re never really happy, not all the time, but the days seemed sunny and carefree back then and seeing that picture made me pine. I got so depressed.  I realized I didn’t want this life with my husband. I wanted to be with Michael again.”

Michael, oh, Michael—how she missed him. She couldn’t understand why she wanted to be with him again after all these years.  He had always been “unreliable”, “selfish”, “condescending”,  but God how she wanted to see him again. “If only to relight the flame.”

“Michael could make the cows come to the fence,” she said. “Once, we were driving back from Wasaga. We stopped by a pasture and he called the cows over. That’s what was in the picture I found—Michael standing by the fence, and cows at the fence and Michael doing a ta-dah!”

He always made her laugh, but he also gave her anguish.

“Sometimes he scolded me like I  was a child. Kind of like my dad used to do when I was a kid. And when he complimented me on something he’d say, ‘Wow, sometimes you’re really smart aren’t you?’ But his most favourite saying of all, when he’d lost an argument was, ‘Shut the fuck up.’ ”

With a wry smile, she said, “That meant  he’d  been defeated.”

I sensed she felt some pride in defeating him. But I thought if the relationship was strife with conflict, why was she pining for it?

“And you know what? I didn’t mind,” she said. “Isn’t that sick? What’s wrong with me? I married a great guy who called me his ‘baby’ when we made love, but now I’m desirous of a guy who treated me like shit and called me a slut when he fucked me.”

She looked at me, perplexed.

“It always had to be his way,” she said. “There were times when I couldn’t reach him for weeks, and then he’d show up, out of the blue, and be the tenderest most caring person in the world, and then we’d fuck, for days.

“For days—I couldn’t get him off me. I’d get so sore. But if I ever said no, I don’t feel like it, he’d pout and ignore me, and then he’d be talking to me like I wasn’t as smart as him, and then he’d be gone for weeks, and then he’d pop up, and it started all over again. He was so…aggravating.

“I once made the mistake of calling him Mike. It was like a cloud came over his face, and he walked right up to me and said, ‘My name’s not Mike. Mike’s my old man’s name, and I hate his fuckin’ guts.’

“I tried finding him. I went to Wasaga—walked up and down and every time I heard a motorcycle I’d look to see if it was him.”

“You don’t expect him to be the same person after all these years?”

She smiled. “Trust me, I know him. A guy like that doesn’t change. That’s why I want to see him again. He’s like a capsule in time.”

“You want to relive a younger time?”

“It seems like that, doesn’t it? Though I’m happy with who I am now. I am.”

“Why would you want someone like that? At this time in your life?”

She shrugged. “I don’t know. I just…want to see him again, that’s all, and if I don’t like it, I’ll let him go and carry on. I want to be excited. I want to be on the back of his motorcycle again.” She laughed. “He terrified me when he popped wheelies. He was good. He could make his big Harley pop a wheely. One time I almost fell off. He laughed and said I was a typical woman—light on the brains and full of emotion.”

“Great guy,” I said.

She nodded.

“Sounds stupid,” she said. “Anybody else would have left him, but it invigorated me. And him calling me stupid sometimes, brought us closer together. Know what I mean?”

I didn’t. “How?” I said.

“It’s like two buddies calling each other asshole or moron, and they laugh it off, ’cause they’re so close words don’t hurt.”

“You like bad boys.”

“No, I liked that bad boy,” she said. “I met him when I was nineteen. He was twenty-five.”

“So now he’d be thirty-five?”

“No, now he’d be closer to forty. I was with him for a few years.” She paused. “I think…that’s funny, isn’t it? Life. All these moments seem like big chunks of life, but really if you break it down, it might have been a year or two, in a whole lifetime, but they stay with you forever.”

“Yeah,” I said.

I looked at my watch. “I should go.” I stood.

She grabbed my arm and said, “Tell you what. You read me your stories, and I’ll play you my songs. We can critique each other.”

I’ve never been good at critiquing. I’m too kind. And if the work doesn’t interest me, my mind wanders, but I said, “Okay.”

“Let’s start now,” she said and got the guitar. I sat down.

“Some people have told me I sound like Joan Baez,” she said.

She made a dry run of some chords then began:

If you were my lover, you could never be my friend.

If I let you love me, that would be the end.

Love turns into boredom, and then we must pretend.

That love is what we live for.

Love is what we give for.

Love is what we die for.

If you were my lover, you could never be my friend.

Her hesitant chord changes were excruciating and her voice—there was neither a Joan nor a Baez in her voice. Instead, it made me think of a lonely cat yowling in the night.

As she sang,  she looked at her chording hand. It wasn’t helping. And the strum was a monotonous down-stroke: down—down—down.

“B7 is a hard one for me right now,” she said. “But eventually I’ll get it. What’d you think?”

“Very distinctive.”

“Really?” That seemed to please her. “Yeah, I’ve got my own sound. It’s a little rough because I don’t want to come off polished.”

There were no worries about that.

“Woody Guthrie wasn’t a great singer, neither is Dylan,” she said. “They had the voice of the people, the everyday guy, telling life like it is. “

Behold! Guthrie. Dylan. And now—Sherry Wild!

“How do you spell Wild?” I said.

“W—I—L—D.”

“You should add an E.”

“No, I don’t want any artsy fartsy connotations. I want it to be WILD! Like WILD animal because that’s how I feel about myself. WILDE is too polished and poetic. I want to be rough and rustic, a creature of the earth, free spirit, running free against the wind of responsibility. You know?”

“Well, you’re on your way,” I said.

“I am. I feel it.” The guitar slid to the floor. I reached to grab it.

And that’s when she grabbed me by the shoulders and pulled me towards her and clamped her mouth onto mine, and that confused the shit right out of me, and then she had a hand on my crotch.

She backed off violently, curled up against the corner of the couch and looked back at me with wide eyes.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I’m so confused.”

I was about to say that it was alright, I understood, when she was on me again, breathing heavy and trying to rip the lips off my face. Her tongue came at me.

She untucked herself, took my right hand and slid it up her blouse. I held her breast in my hand.

“Caress it. Squeeze it. Suck on it. Do whatever you want,” she said.

I was willing, I was there, but I never had a woman throw herself at me. I needed a moment to catch my breath. I took my hand from inside her blouse and adjusted myself on the couch when she stopped pulling on my lips and sat back. “What’s the matter? Don’t you like me? If you don’t like me just say so.”

I was on a ride, but I wasn’t going to let this opportunity evaporate.

I fucked her on the couch.

She moaned. “Call me a slut.”

I did, but I wasn’t convincing. Insults during sex isn’t my strength.

“Fuck me like you hate me,” she said.

I tried, with my best hateful thrusts, and during the ecstasy and the moaning… she called me Michael.

And that was it—my dick melted out of her…

 

Copyright©Attila Zønn 2018

 

 

Nocturne

pexels-photo-104707.jpegBy Attila Zønn

 

Midnight descends like the blade of a guillotine.

Once those lethargic arms reach the pinnacle and administered the twelve tolls, the night mutates into instant deformity.

I,

Walk the streets at night, ready to play the game,  and ready to kill. Kill I must, and it doesn’t matter who, nor does it matter where, but the moment must be right, and it will always be at night. Easily concealed by the shadows, I skulk in lonely corners or dark alleys filled with the stink of piss and yesterday’s festering refuse.

The streets glisten with anxious sweat. The air hangs stale and thick; the panting respirations of fleeing souls—those that know of me, the smart ones who sense my proximity and find safety behind the locked door of a well-lit place.

From below these streets, the sewers exhale like the foul breath from the simmering underside of a damned society. They make it so easy for me because despite the demons that cavort in men’s minds, nothing can prepare them for me—a creature so starved and so void of the virtues of godliness that I live solely to suckle the breast of murderous opportunity, and devour the body of innocence.

I appear from nothing; from above you or below you, from beside you or—from behind you!

And my shape is inoffensive….at first. I could be anyone. I could be a man, a woman, a child, your loving grandma or dear old granddad, and I reveal myself from the fog, or the raining night, or the blinding sting of wind hurled snow.

The seasons don’t stay my lust for cutting, nor impede my hunger for the hunt.

I’m smiling when you first see me, and I put you at ease because that’s my way. I may ask you for the time of day, or the location of some silly place, or cry like a lost child, but when you are least suspect, when your good sam overpowers your instinctive distrust…I bite!

My blade is clean and sharp, and it gleams a flashing silver as I raise it above me, and with one quick, graceful stroke I sink it deep into the warm tense flesh of my game. I feel it travel unobstructed into the body; through lung, through heart, through liver. The body wants to repell it, and the mouth wants to scream, but my hand holds back the cry.

My blade pulls free and glides across the convulsing throat, opening it and freeing the gasp, and the red of shortened years and unfulfilled dreams, running through my fingers with warmth and substance; thick and sticky, down clothes to splatter on shoes and lay waste among the cracks of a dirty street.

The body succumbs to the relaxing hand of death, and I feel renewed, and my dominance is not questioned, and my frustration is soothed. The killing is effortless, and the game plentiful, and the threat of discovery is extinct because no one cares—out here there is no mercy.

 

Copyright©Attila Zønn 2018