By Attila Zønn
Lorenzo’s house was a little bungalow with two large bow windows and the front door recessed and centered between the windows.
I rang the doorbell.
I heard faint quick steps coming to the door then an old woman with a dour face opened the door.
I said, “Good morning, I’m here to see Lorenzo.” Her eyes looked me up and down.
“This is Lorenzo Ascari’s house?”
“Is he around?”
She gave me the impression that she recognized me from somewhere and was trying to remember where we had met.
“You go in the back,” she finally said, “ Lorenzo in the back.”
I went to the side of the house and pushed open a black iron gate leading to the back yard where I found Lorenzo, still in his pajamas, sitting at a round pedestal table and poking at his cell phone. When he saw me he smiled and stood and said, “Welcome David. Welcome to my house. Thank you for accepting my invitation. It warms my heart.”
I shook his hand.
He went to a stack of white lawn chairs, lifted one off and brought it over for me.
I ran my fingertips across the tabletop and said, “Nice. Granite?”
He smiled. “It is.” He rapped twice against the table. “Very hard. I like to have durable things.”
At the center of the yard there was a pear tree; the pears were abundant but small and green.
I said, “Bartlett?”
“Anjou, but I haven’t loved this tree enough for it to bare good fruit. In a few weeks they will all fall down and make a mess. It has been here since I buy the house.”
“Cut it down.”
“I do not dislike it enough to kill it.”
Lorenzo looked tired. In all the years I’ve worked with him I’ve never seen him look so beat. His hair has always been an outstanding presence. It was salt and pepper; a proud mane always neatly coiffed; bold to match his square jaw and his always determined expression. This morning his hair was disheveled.
I said, “Did you just get up?”
“I’ve been up since five o’clock. I was tossing and turning. Thinking.”
“What’s the matter?”
“The matter is… I have been seeing this woman for a couple of months. She is nice. She actually make me think I could stay with her for a long time. I am so comfortable with her. I even bring her to my house once. So she is special. But last night we was making love and she just lie there like a dead fish. I don’t know what was her problem. I try many things to bring her to life but nothing. Naturally, I don’t want to waste the opportunity, so I mount her any way. Maybe this is what she need; a good penetration.
“I keep it going for one hour and a half. I know this because she have a clock radio on the night table. When I start to fuck her it was nine o’clock and I finish at 10:30. But when you hold for so long, when you finally do climax it is no longer a shout but a whisper. Then she look at me like she was not fulfilled. I’m sorry. It’s not my fault. I try. For one hour and a half I try. Now she text me. She ask, ‘What happened last night?’ What happened last night? That is what I should ask her. Very disappointing. Now I don’t know if I should continue with this woman. Last night has left me too uncomfortable.
“I wouldn’t worry about it. Maybe she was tired or had a lot on her mind.”
“But it was she who smile and take my hand and lead me into the bedroom. Its obvious what she want, no? I don’t desire sex every time I am with a woman but sex is a bonus. I ask her what’s wrong but she won’t tell me. So I left.”
“So you’re not going to see her again?”
“I don’t know. That is what I am trying to decide.”
“Who’s the woman who answered the door?”
He smiled. “That’s my sister. She live here too. She is a nice woman. She got a good heart. I love her very much, but in case you haven’t noticed… she is ugly. That is the curse of the women in my family. They are ugly. Hard to find husbands. There was one boy, long time ago, who love her. They was gonna get married. His name was Flavio. He was a student in Bologna. He was gonna be an engineer. He was gonna build roads, and bridges and tall buildings. He was gonna take the lean out of the Tower of Pisa. There was many afternoons we sit, drink wine and talk about many things. He was a very smart guy. A nice guy too. Maybe too nice for his own good. A good looking guy. He was fair with wavy brown hair, and he have these blue eyes that penetrate you. And he always make me wonder what he see in my sister because there was nothing feminine about my sister. I love her but the truth is the truth. She have no shape, her voice was loud and hard. She walk around like she’s wearing heavy boots, with her shoulders down, like the weight of the world was pressing on her. But… when she walk with Flavio arm in arm down the street, it was like her feet never touch the ground.”
He turned to the house and called out, “Graziella? Graziella?”
The woman appeared at the back door.
“Due espresso per cortesia.”
The woman nodded and disappeared into the house.
I said, “So this thing that happened last night has got you so down that you’re not going to bother getting dressed?”
“Oh no, on Saturdays I am always in my pajamas. I don’t go anywhere. Saturday is the best day for me, and Saturday mornings with my coffee is beautiful. Everyone should have one day when they do nothing.”
“Sunday would be better for that.”
“No Sunday is not peaceful, because you start thinking about work again, and the things that have to be done on Monday morning. Saturday is better because you still have one day to cushion yourself from Monday and you can relax.”
His phone jingled.
He picked it up from the table and slid his finger across the screen.
“I have a Match,” he said smiling and poked the screen a few times. “Let’s see what this one is all about.”
He looked at his phone and started nodding.
He handed me the phone and said, “What do you think? She’s nice?”
I looked at the picture. It was a head shot of a decent looking woman. I skimmed across her profile.
“She’s old,” I said.
“Old? What are you talking about? She’s forty-five.”
“That’s old for me.” He took back his phone and shook his head.
“David, she’s not for you. She’s for me.”
“Then she’s too young for you.”
“David, the woman should always be younger than the man. Ten years is a good difference. You see, unfortunately for them, the women don’t age very good. The man is different; with grey hair, a nice sport coat, nice shoes, he is distinguished. The woman…if she’s forty, she’s look fifty. If she’s fifty, she’s look sixty. Ten years balance everything. This woman? She’s perfect for me. She got a nice face. She look like she got nothing to hide. That’s really something if you plan to date on the internet. I show you.”
He held the phone so we could both look at the screen and tapped his finger on profiles he had viewed.
“Okay, this one. Instead of a picture of herself she put a poem. It is a nice poem, but so what? Where is the person? What does this say, that she love poetry? Okay, I like poetry but why would I put it instead of a picture? Look at this one. Her picture is a rose. Are you kidding? Or this one; her picture is a beach, and that thing that look like a log in the distance, that is her. Really? There are lots who are wearing sunglasses, sitting on motorcycles. This one sitting in a Ferrari; look, what is she telling me? That she is exciting? She is sexy? Wants the fast life? Is going to be expensive? And you know she is probably none of those. It is a fake. Sometimes I want to shout at these profiles, ‘Be yourself!’ This one, she say her body type is athletic, but since when if you are fat can you call yourself athletic? And they all looking for an ‘honest guy’. That perfect honest guy. The dream of every woman. But are they honest?
“You are lucky David. You are young. You are in the prime of your life. The woman you meet will not have baggage. But at my age, all the women carry a big wardrobe. If you find one that doesn’t talk about her ex, oh, then you got something. You should give her a chance. At least she is moving forward.
“When I first start to date I meet this woman for coffee. She talk too much about her ex. She tell me her sad story. She come home one day and find a strange woman sitting on her couch. The husband tell her, ‘This woman is my lover. We have been seeing each other for two years and I am leaving you now.’ Then they walk out and leave her alone in the apartment. She have a breakdown. Now she is on Prozac.”
“Wow, quite the asshole.”
“Why you say that?”
“That’s a cruel thing to do.”
“But you don’t know what their marriage was like. Maybe she was cruel to him. Maybe he need to do that to satisfy his emotions. David, hell is a woman who does not allow you to be a man. And the same can be said for the woman. She must never be the servant of the man. They must be equal or it will all fall apart.
“I already decide that this woman is too fucked up for me because while she is telling me this she is scraping nail polish off her fingernails and making little piles on the table. Then she ask about my ex. I tell her I don’t want to talk about my ex. She is not a part of my life. ‘Why?’ she say. ‘Its good catharsis.’ Is it? To dwell on past injuries is good catharsis? For me it is pointless.” He sighed. “It is a terrible thing what man and woman do to each other.”
He looked at the picture again. “I think this woman is honest. She is a little bit heavy but I don’t care. At this age that is to be expected. Looking for perfection is like looking for the impossible. ” He poked the phone again. “Oh,” he said and stared at the picture. He frowned.
“What’s the matter?”
“She’s got a little dog.”
“I don’t like little dogs.” He put the phone down. “I don’t like cats either. They have fur but to me they are slimy and this remind me of a terrible time I have a few years ago.” He sat back and started nodding.
“There was this woman. We write back and forth for two weeks then we meet. It was a strange day. Everything happen fast; we meet for coffee, then we go to the movies, then we go for dinner. After dinner, we are standing in the parking lot. She say, ‘How about a kiss?’ So I kiss her.
“She almost faint in my arms. I have to hold her up.
“When she regain herself she smile and look at me with sexy eyes. She say, ‘Why don’t you come to my place?’ So I follow her to her place. She have a nice apartment on the third floor. I sit on the couch, she get a bottle of wine. Suddenly I am surrounded by five cats; slipping between my feet, behind my neck like snakes. ‘Oh,’ she say, ‘they like you. They don’t like anybody. When people come over they hide.’
“There was this little dog walking around. It have a punched in face, with the eyes; one look this way, one look that way. I don’t like the look of this dog. It come over, sniff my leg and start to growl. Then it start to bark. She is trying to quiet him but he won’t stop so she put him out on the balcony. She say, ‘I don’t know what’s wrong with him. He’s friendly with everybody.’
“‘Its okay,’ I say, but I don’t want to see this dog no more.
“Me and the woman sit on the couch. We drink some wine. She get very close. She say, ‘Do you think it is too early to go in the bedroom?’ I say, ‘It’s never too early to go in the bedroom.’ So we go in the bedroom.
“Now, before they take off their clothes, the women must prepare you for any imperfections that might appear when they are naked. Like this one, she say, ‘I have had two children by caesarean section and I have a scar across my stomach.’ I tell her, ‘I don’t care.’ I raise my hand. ‘I don’t have a pinky.’ She say, ‘Oh, that’s wild! I didn’t notice. What happened?’
“So I tell her; it was the first hour of the first day of my first job. A man start the chainsaw, give it to me and say, ‘Go cut down that tree.’ But he don’t show me how to use this tool. He don’t say, watch out. If you do this, the saw will do that. I was a kid. I nod my head, go to the tree, make my first cut, the chainsaw come back at me and cut off my pinky. In one split second the direction of my life change forever.
“Before I could finish, she jump out of her clothes and was lying on the bed smiling at me. So we roll around on the bed. I kiss this, touch that, I warm her up very nice and then we make love. In between the sex this woman start talk to me. She say, ‘You ever wish you could replay your life?’ What? I don’t wish things like that. You cannot replay your life. It is what you have made it. Move on. Then she say, ‘Am I going to see you again after tonight?’ I tell her, “I’ll be honest. I don’t know.” She say, “Honesty is good, but sometimes I want to be lied to.’
“She keep talking. She want to know more about me. She say, ‘Who are you?’ But I don’t want to talk. She is boring me. I start to touch; I caress her breasts, caress her ass, then I start to pleasure her down there. She stop me. She say, ‘That’s nice. I appreciate it, but sometimes I just want the dick.’”
He smiled and nodded.
“Any way, I see this woman a few more times. Every time I walk in the door her ugly little dog is barking at me. I was so fed up. Oh, I want to kick this fucking dog across the room!
“One day I go to a pet store and I buy him a chew bone. Next time I see him, of course he is barking. I take the chew bone from my pocket and roll it towards him. He start barking at the chew bone. He attack it. He got it in his mouth and shaking his head and growling. Finally he calm down, lie down and start chew on the bone. The woman is so happy with me that I was thinking of her dog.
“That night, after we fuck a few times, she want me to stay the night. I never stay the night with these women. Because after you are all fucked out what you gonna do then? Talk? About what? Replaying your life?
“I tell her I think about it.
“So we drink some more wine, she talk in my ear. I don’t remember what she was talking about. Maybe about when she was a little girl. After a while I start thinking maybe I have too much wine. I decide to stay.
“When it is time to go to sleep the little dog jump on the bed. I push the dog off the bed. The woman say, ‘Please don’t do that. He sleep on the bed.’ I look at her. I say, ‘In Italy, the dog sleep on the floor.’ She say, ‘In Canada, the dog sleep on the bed.’
“It was not my house. How could I argue? So we go to sleep with the dog in between.
“During the night, the dog come and lie on top of me. I push him off. A few minutes later, he lie on top of me again. I push him off. A few minutes later, again, he is on top of me. This time I push him to the bottom of the bed and kick him off with my foot. I hear a thump. A couple minutes later I feel his weight on my leg, then I feel wet. I turn on the light.
“The little bastard piss on me!
“Oh, I want to choke him now. I jump from the bed and chase him. He run in the hall. I turn on the light and I see him run for the living room. I turn on the living room light. There he is under the coffee table with his chew bone. He look at me like he is surprised to see me. I try to grab him. He run. I block him. He go another way. I block him again. He go this way. I go this way. He go that way. I go that way. Finally I have him in the corner. He cannot escape. So I did the only thing I could do.
“I piss on him.
“He start to howl. The woman come from the bedroom. She scream, ‘What are you doing? Why you piss on my dog?’ I say, ‘It is justice! He piss on me in the bedroom!’ She say, ‘It was an accident. Little dogs have accidents.’ But I don’t want to talk no more to this silly woman. My head is boiling. I get dressed and go from that place.”
The back door opened and Lorenzo’s sister came out carrying a silver tray with coffee cups and two glasses of water. As she placed the cups in front of us, Lorenzo said, “Graziella, this is David. He work with me at Federico’s. He is a good guy.”
She smiled and nodded at me. I said, “Hello.”
After she’d placed the coffee and the glasses of water in front of us, she took the tray and clutched it against her breasts. She stood there for a moment looking at me, still with that expression of someone trying to remember where they had seen me before. She turned to Lorenzo and said, “ I am making lasagna. Is David going to stay?”
I said, “ No I–.”
“Yes. Yes he will stay.” He reached across the table and touched my arm. “Spend some more time with us. Please. You are good company.” I looked at him then I looked at her and I nodded. She smiled and went back in the house.
“She’s younger than you?” I said.
“No. She is older, by two years.”
“That guy that wanted to marry your sister. What happened with that?”
“Oh, that is a very sad story. Very sad. It bring back terrible memories.”
He picked up his coffee, downed it in one shot then set the cup gently on its saucer. He took a sip of water, folded his arms and looked towards the house.
“Flavio was traveling from Rome to Bologna on the train. Halfway there the train go off the tracks. He was thrown, through the window, into the ditch. Break both his legs. When the rescuers came he tell them, ‘Leave me. I am alright for now. You go see to the worst ones.’ As I mention before, he was a nice guy.”
He adjusted himself in the chair, reached towards his glass and took a sip of water.
“This is what they tell us; as soon as the rescuers move away, there was an earthquake. The train car, which was leaning, tip over and crush him. Then to make things worse, when they try to lift the train car with the crane, the cable break, and the train car come down and crush him again. Needless to say it, of Flavio there was nothing left recognizable that his mother could display in the casket. The only way we could know that this was Flavio was by his jacket. He always wear this jacket. He love this jacket. It was green velvet. My sister have this jacket. She keep it in a window box in the house. I see it once. It still have some green but mostly it is black.
“When the news come that Flavio was no more my poor sister cry, cry, cry. She cry so hard she could not breathe. My mother? She was worse. She start to slap herself and she put her hands in the air and she scream, ‘Oh my God! Oh my God! Who’s gonna marry my daughter now? Gesu in Heaven! Who’s gonna marry my daughter now?’ And she throw herself on the floor and beat the floor with her fists.
“It was at that moment that I became a man.
“Because… it is only when the child can recognize the defects of the parent that they can call themselves an adult. I realize at that moment that my mother was very defective and this trouble me much. Suddenly I became dissatisfied with my life. I did not want to cut down any more trees. I did not want to live in this worn out village full of nosy people and I did not want to live with a crazy woman. So I gather those few things that were important to me and I say, ‘Ma, I go on vacation.’ I get in my car and I start to drive.
“I drive and drive, with no decision on where I was going. All I know, I was going north.
“You know, David, it is a fantastic sensation to have the open road in front of you and the rest of your life to discover. And I ask myself this question as I drive, ‘Where is my life going to take me?’ Yes, I ask this question, which is pretty incredible for a kid of twenty.
“I remember that moment. I remember the smell of the gasoline I had just put in my car. I remember my hands; one on the steering wheel the other on the shift, the feel of the road, the angle of the sun, the window down, the wind against my hair, and the happiness I felt.
“I was driving into the future!
“I was so full of optimism. And I remember the promise I make myself; the promise that I will always make good decisions. That also is pretty incredible for a kid of twenty.”
“And did you always make good decisions?”
“No.” He shrugged. “It was a fanciful dream in the mind of a kid who has just freed himself from his family. It did not take into account the experiences I lacked dealing with a world I knew nothing about. Of the stresses on my emotions that would come, of the dishonest people who would try to take advantage of me, of the uncertainties that would arise when one is trying to make a living. I was a kid for fuck sake.”
His phone rang. He picked it up, looked at it then rolled his eyes.
“Ciao, bella. Come stai?” He listened.
“I have company.” He listened. ” No, he is a young man who works with me.” He listened. ” No, today I am very busy. I call you tomorrow. There is nothing wrong. I am very busy today.” He put the phone on the table.
“Now she want to talk. Talk. Talk. I don’t like to talk. This means she is going to be critical of me.” He looked at me. “When a woman want to talk she want to change something about you. The man never says we need to talk. It is always the woman. I think my days with her are finito.”
He straightened in his chair and nodded. “Yes, finito.”
© Attila Zønn 2015