Sotto alla Corona
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A very unwelcome surprise was waiting for me not two days later. Easter monday, a day of picnics, bunnies and pastel-coloured eggs.
Over breakfast I decided to download my emails using Steven's laptop and mum and dad's lousy dial-up connection.
This is the translation of an email sent by Elisa the same night of our bust-up:
Saturday 3rd April 2010, 3.23 am
I cannot believe that things got so out of hand between us tonight, it was very hurtful and very very sad.
Hurtful because after having been called a whore all my life, being called a whore from a friend has been the lowest of the lows.
Sad because I always thought we were friends, we have always been there for each other and gone through a lot of crap together, so I cannot understand why I shouldn't be honest and tell you what I think about your life choices.
I am also very saddened by the fact that you think that I am not happy for you, because in fact I AM. It's just that sometimes you can be happy for someone's happiness although you don't fully share or support their choices, as much as you can love someone and not admire his lifestyle. I don't know if this makes sense to you.
I always thought that being friends with someone means being free to be who you are and speak your mind without fear of reprisals, but I was wrong. Obviously for you we can be friends as long as I fit into your way of thinking and I don't present any challenges to your "perfect happiness".
I sincerely expected more from you. I don't give a damn about what Steven might or might not think about me, because he is a perfect stranger to me after all, but make no mistakes here: if the cause of tonight's argument is the fact that one of us has changed, make sure you realise that it's YOU!
I have nothing else to say, apart from wishing your son a happy life, surrounded by the love his parents will give him. He will never miss love, for sure, but he will always miss his mother and there is nothing neither you, nor Steven, nor anyone else can do to change this. You have shut me out because I have told you a truth you did not want to hear, this has made me in your eyes a bitch, but in my eyes has made you a coward and a hypocrite. Now, I have always been a bitch, so no surprise there, but what about you?
I had to reply immediately, and I did, but I will translate my reply and publish it into the next post. I leave to you the verdict for now.
Here is your blue butterfly dear Vilmos! At least until you show us the picture of the real thing.... All my thoughts, prayers and good wishes to you are flying over the ocean on these delicate wings.
Get well soon and keep writing 'cause it's amazing!
I still couldn't believe the scene Elisa had created. She literally jumped out of her line to hug me, and, in the best Elisa tradition, she made sure that everyone noticed the commotion.
"Erm....Hi..." I said, praying to become transparent as everyone was now staring at me, trying to make out what was happening.
"If you want we can meet up later... You know..... After you've finished with the mourning thing....." I offered, desperately trying to restore some sort of normality.
"Oh honey! I am so done crying! And that fucking veil is messing up my hair big time!" she said whilst still squeezing me in her arms.
"ELISA! For goodness sake! Have some respect! Get back in line!" her grandma Agnese reproached her. Elisa looked around and realised that the whole congregation had come to a standstill, waiting for her to re-join the mourners. Even the priest, from the front of the procession was trying to look back, all the while yelling Hail-Marys, hoping to understand what the problem was.
"Oh gran, I think this year they'll have to make do without the Magdalene...." Elisa said loudly, removing the black cape she was wearing, to reveal a dangerously low-cut black dress and adjusting what she called 'the puppies'....
"I have some catching up to do with this little shit here...." she added, elbowing me in the ribs. The nearby bystanders were aghast.
"ELISA! Are you coming or not?" another of the mourners hissed from beneath her veil.
"OH FOR GOD'S SAKE WOMEN!! JUST GO!!" Elisa shouted, startling all of us.
Agnese muttered something shaking her head in disapproval and, furiously turning her wheels, disappeared in the crowd.
"Cry, cry cry.... What's the fucking point uh?" Elisa added, as if talking to herself.
"You are talking about our Lord Jesus that died to save us!" another old woman reproached her from behind.
"HAS HE? WELL, IT DOESN'T LOOK LIKE IT'S WORKED FOR YOU, DOES IT SISTER GRIM?" she yelled back at the poor woman, that I only just realised was quite grotesque-looking....
"Eli, that was a tad overdone don't you think? I mean..... That poor woman.... Your gran must be pissed..." I said in a small voice
"Oh she'll get over it..... They'll all have to.... At least I don't speak behind their backs.... I still don't know why the hell I've let gran convince me to do this in the first place...". She concluded, adjusting her glorious wine-red hair. It never occurred to me in the past that Elisa could be so arrogant.... How much did she change during these past seven years? I couldn't wait to find out.
After the commotion subsided and the procession returned to its appropriate sombre tone, Elisa decided to join me and Steven for a night drink at the local Pub (yes, they DO have a pub... Back in the nineties, all over the province, Pubs started popping up everywhere as cool, new drinking joints, were one could sample an infinite variety of lagers and have the fortune read once a week by the resident psychic, usually a ghostly-pale girl that spent her teenage years sulking, dying her hair jet black and listening to Black Sabbath).
The fact that Elisa could speak english quite well was a definite bonus, rescuing me from looming hours of tedious simultaneous translation.
It was nice going back after so many years. The place hadn't changed a bit and I easily found what used to be our favourite spot, its table still showing mine and Elisa's initials, carved out on the corner.
"I want to order my usual..." I said
"Red Douglas and cheese fries!" Elisa exclaimed clapping her hands "Do you remember what mine was?"
"Erm.... Stella Artois and a bit of fondling with the new waiter?" I said scratching my head
"You bitch!" she exclaimed, laughing out loud.
She knew I was right though.... Elisa used to be quite predatorial with men. Of course, Dina always preferred to use the not-so-subtle term 'nymphomaniac', leading to even more fights between us.
But that was Dina.
And so, over some beer, cheese fries and cigarettes, we began catching up.
"Tell me everything!" she enticed, with a glint in her eyes
"Oh...Wait, wait, wait! You first!" I answered, taking a long sip from my glass
"Uh! Ok.... Nothing much really..... I fled this God-forsaken place, as you well know, went to Milan, blah blah blah, got a job in a magazine and I have been there ever since, worked my way up, blah blah blah and now I am assistant fashion editor with my name credited on page three of every issue....." she concluded, snapping her fingers.
Some more time was spent discussing various fashion editorials she coordinated and my own exit from Gucci after eight years, but then she dropped a bomb, casually, as if hoping not to be noticed:
"Uh...And there's another thing, but nobody knows just yet, so keep it a secret ok?" she whispered, leaning across the table towards us.
"Have you finally found someone special?" I asked, winking at her.
"Yes! Yes I have! To be precise, I did.... But... We are no longer together...."
"Awww... Why?" Steven asked
"Because I thought he should've divorced his wife and he felt otherwise... Bastard..." she answered, lighting up a cigarette.
"No....Nobody special yet... But soon there will be...." she hinted.
"What? What do you mean?" I was genuinely lost.
"Marco..... I am pregnant!" she said hiding her face in her hands.
I felt my jaw hit the floor.
"You whaaaat? Are you serious? How much pregnant? Who's the father?" I asked in rapid succession.
"Alphonse.... Alphonse-Marie Mancini.... The French guy I was just telling you about.... You know.... The married one..." she answered, still with her face in her hands.
"But...but.... And what did he say... I mean.... He is married right? What does he think about this.....Is that why you two split up? OH MY GOD ELISA! HE DOES KNOW DOESN'T HE?" I blurted out, unaware of my raised tone.
No answer from her....
"He doesn't.... He doesn't know does he?" I just stated, falling back into my chair.
Steven was just staring at the table, unwilling to comment.
"What am I supposed to tell him? Uh? 'I am carrying another of your unwanted children?' he would just ask me to terminate the pregnancy, as he did before...." she dismissed me with a brisk hand gesture
"BEFORE? How many times before Elisa?" I dared to ask
"Twice.... Two abortions.... And if you tell anyone I fucking kill you!" she hissed, now showing the cracks under the seemingly super confident surface.
"Two abortions..... Elisa..... Why did you let this happen?" Steven butted in, leaving me open mouthed
"Because I loved him..... I loved the way he made me feel.... When I was with him I felt..... Beautiful..." she replied in a long sigh.
"But he is a married man Elisa! You don't get involved with a married man and get pregnant three times!" I exclaimed
"What about the child now? What are you planning to do?" Steven asked
"I AM KEEPING THE BABY!" she shouted, but luckily the music was still louder than her voice
"I am keeping the baby this time.... It's my baby.... I am 35 this year with no significant other on sight, this might be my last chance to become a mother... " she stated, in a resolute tone
"Elisa, I didn't even know you ever wanted to become a mother..." I just said, looking for an explanation
"And what would you know uh? The girl you used to know seven years ago has grown a little..... When was the last time we spoke? You don't know what I had to go through to make it out of this shit-hole and make a career for myself... You don't know the loneliness I had to endure in a big city that wasn't my own.... Don't talk like you know my thinking process, cause you don't know..." she replied abruptly, almost as if trying to justify herself and leaving me speechless for a while.
"I am sorry.... You are right.... But... What about Agnese? This is why you accepted to stand in for her tonight at the procession right? You're going to tell her before you return to Milan..." I gathered
"Yes... I am planning to.... She won't like it...." she said, and I knew what she meant.
"Well, she has raised you as her own daughter... Why wouldn't she be supportive of your decision?" I asked
"Marco, ever since my mum and dad decided to split up and make a life for themselves without me in it, she has always struggled to give me a normal upbringing.... I know that she only wants the best for me, she has always perceived me as a casualty of a broken family.... Somehow I know that she dreams of a white wedding for me and of a marriage that will last..."
"Elisa, your gran loves you.... Don't take away this joy from her.... Besides, don't you think that once the baby is in the world, you will need her help and support? Having a baby it's tough business but it brings such joy....." I said
"And how would you know exactly?" she said, distractedly, as if to dismiss my input
"Well, as you asked, this brings me to the following topic of the evening....." I announced solemnly, reaching for Steven's hand under the table.
"Wait! You are not going to tell me that you are one of those freaky gay couples that want to have a baby are you? Are you doing a Ricky Martin on me?" she said in an amused tone.
I remained silent, my face totally screwed up in an expression that betrayed the hurt I was feeling....
"Oh shit!" Steven whispered from behind his beer glass. He tried to keep hold of my hand, but I snatched it off his grip.
I became dead serious and as a result, Elisa's face collapsed and her bemused expression was quickly replaced by a purplish tinge of embarrassment. She lowered her eyes and fumbled for another cigarette.
"And what do you mean exactly by that?" I asked
"Oh... Nothing.... Just having a laugh...." she tried unsuccessfully
"Elisa, don't blow smoke up my arse, what do you mean? Me and Steven have a baby boy, almost one year old, his name is Gabriel and he is now asleep in mum and dad's house...." I carried on, trying to get a reaction.
"ARE YOU FUCKING LISTENING TO ME?" I shouted
"Yes.... That's wonderful.... You two must be so happy...." she just said, without even looking at me
"Yes.... Isn't it just? WONDERFUL ISN'T IT?" I shouted again.
"Let's get the fuck out of here...." I said to Steven "This evening was a waste.... Actually no.... It wasn't..... Now I know what seven years in Milan can do to a once sane person...." and I grabbed my jacket to leave
"WAIT!" Elisa said "Wait.... Please... I am sorry.... This came out all wrong..... It's just that..." she stuttered
"WHAT?" I asked, without sitting down
"This is new to me.... I will need time to get my head around this.... I need to get to a conclusion over this..... You know..." she said
"To a conclusion? As in 'I need to determine if two faggots can raise a child' type of conclusion? " I taunted her, my eyes swelling up with tears
"Marco, come on, we are friends.... I find it absurd not telling you what I think...." she just answered in an atrociously resolute tone, sitting back in her chair.
"Friends? What friends? How do you expect me to sit here and tell you all about the most amazing thing that ever happened to me and my partner, knowing what you really think? How can I be friends with someone that does not share my happiness?"
"BUT I AM HAPPY FOR YOU!" she shouted
"Elisa, this is how little you know about happiness.... Happiness is an absolute, without reservations, you cannot be happy for me with half your brain and with the other half still investigate if I am committing a crime towards nature..... You cannot give me support with one hand whilst throwing your doubts on the table with the other......Save your lies for your gran...." I was trembling
"Well..." she interrupted me, "It's just that, two men having a baby.... It is kind of.... Unnatural.... I mean, not that two men cannot raise a child, but, you know, the fact that this child will never know his mother..... You two guys are great, don't get me wrong, it's just that... You know... The female figure and all that...." she carried on, always without looking at me
"STOP THIS!" I shouted "I suppose that you would know what it's like to grow up in a fucked up family, but we are not that type of family! This child was wanted and loved from the very first time we even discussed the possibility of having a child.... It took us three fucking years to become parents and every inch of the way, in our hearts, we were aching to have him in our arms.... HE IS NOT THE RESULT OF A RECKLESS ONE-NIGHT-STAND ELISA!", I went on "What about you then? What about your child? Are you going to tell him that his dad didn't want him, as much as he didn't want you? Are you going to have this child because you really want to be a mother or because it represents a sort of alimony for you? Is it healthy, natural and honest to bring a child into this world with these premises? IS IT?" I banged my hand on the table.
"THIS IS INSANE! YOU ARE NOT MAKING YOUR SITUATION ANY MORE JUST BY COMPARING IT TO MINE! I AM FUCKING ENTITLED TO MY OPINIONS!" Elisa yelled, standing up
"YOU ARE!" suddenly Steven shouted back "As much as we are entitled to tell you to go fuck yourself AND your opinions...."
"Let's go..." he just said, taking my arm and walking me out of the pub.
"I'm sure you don't mind settling the bill..... You probably know the waiter....." he sniggered at her whilst pushing me out of the door.
I was in tatters. There are some bullets you can't dodge, and for sure, I have never been able to dodge a friendly fire.
After a quick dinner that excluded any sort of meat because of Good Friday, we decided that the evening procession was not going to be a good environment for a 10 month old baby: too crowded, too late at night and too confusing, so we left him home with mum and dad and ventured down the village on our own.
Steven tried to insist for us to take the car, but I had been looking forward to a nice walk for so long that I was unshakeable in my intention to get there on foot.
"See you later mum! Call me on my mobile if you need anything ok?" I said whilst walking out
"Don't worry.... We will be just fine, I don't think Gabriel is planning to wake up before tomorrow morning..." she answered holding up the baby monitor, showing my son fast asleep.
The walk to the village was very pleasant, nobody on sight, everyone was probably cramming the church by now, but that was a part we decided to skip.
I ended up walking with my husband down the same street I used to walk down to every day on my way to school as a kid.
How funny can life be sometimes... Who would have thought that thirty years later I would be walking again the stage of my teenage misery with the man of my dreams by my side.... I wish someone had told me that everything would have been alright at the end...
We passed by the news stand where I use to buy stickers to exchange with my friends in class, then by what used to be a bakery, where my recess snack was purchased every morning, hot from the oven and finally walked along the school building, still the same brick red colour, still full of memories. Peeping through the windows on the ground floor, I even showed Steven my first classroom, where I sat at the age of 6 on september 1981 for my first day of school. The tables are still facing the same direction.
So it happens that we arrived at the village gate (yes...it really has a gate from medieval times and they lower it at night to keep homosexuals from getting in...No... Just kidding..... They lower it to keep the homos from running out..... Kidding again.... The gate is always open...).
The place looked very picturesque at night, some torches were already burning on the buildings walls in preparation for the candle-lit procession.
As I was anticipating, the closer we got to the church, the more people we began to meet.
How on earth is it possible that in 22 years of my life in the village I was rarely stopped in the street by someone that wanted to know how I was, and now that I have been living in London for 13 years I come back and can barely walk a hundred meters without being mobbed by somebody that used to know me once upon a time? Tragic.
It was funny in a way though. First I introduced Steven as my husband to EVERYONE. Upon hearing the word 'husband', somebody ignored it and carried on talking, somebody else congratulated me ('Good for you!' and a pat on the back...), some other old virgin that knows my whole family (shame you cant read this and you will never know I called you an old virgin... and a bitch...) did the sign of the cross and walked away leaving us in giggles.
My giggles were all due to nerves. I have to confess. Years of bullying don't disappear just because you get what you want in life.
I still felt vulnerable, observed and talked about. That bitch Dina was right. I do care about what people think of me, always have.
I had my cake, but there is always been this annoying fly buzzing around my head, distracting me from the hard-earned pleasure of the first bite.
I hope one day I will get over it.
Anyway, we were now struggling to walk against the current of people the church was regurgitating into the tiny cobbled street. It was almost nine o' clock, the mass was over... The magic began.
The old church bell clapper started its sad job of announcing Christ's death. Three....Two.....One..... Darkness.
Then as a a thousands candles lit up, Jesus was carried out of the church, draped in black cloth, followed by his poor mother, gorgeous in her grief. The antique black lace dress offset by the mass of jewellery in her hands and pinned to her skirt.
Why would any woman go to a funeral covered in jewels is a mystery to me.... But then again, they were Jews weren't they?
It was a spectacle, it truly was! Obviously I did not stop to consider the fact that I should've educated my husband on how to behave in such particular occasions.... I was soon to learn the sad consequences.
The body of Christ was preceded by a brass band, all in silence at first, but then, as soon as the procession entered the Via Vecchia, they exploded in a loud and pathetic music.
I think Steven was not expecting this and, caught up between the anticipation, the stifling crowd, the candles and the music, he also exploded in a loud cheer.....
"WOOOOO HOOOOO!!!!" he shouted clapping his hands.
The entire congregation turned towards us open mouthed, so we had to duck down to avoid all the disgusted looks thrown in our direction.
"What the fuck are you doing!!!!!!!!!" I snapped at him incredulous
"What? Why?" he laughed
"We are not here to see Jesus on a float at the carnival! HE IS DEAD! D-E-A-D!!! What the fuck is there to cheer about? Why don't you also get up there and lift Mary's skirt to look underneath, as you are already half way through to getting us stoned to death?" I ranted
"Well... Jeez.... If it's so serious, why do they have a brass band at the funeral then? This is not freaking Louisiana is it?" Steven carried on clearly amused
"Steven you are going to get us mob-lynched, nailed to the church door and I guarantee you that there will be some evil fucks charging people money to come and see us and even more evil fucks paying it!.... SHUT IT!" I retorted pinching his arm and trying to stifle a bemused smile
"OUCH!" he screamed
"SSHHHHHHHHHHH!!! FOR GOD'S SAKE HAVE SOME RESPECT!" an old woman in a wheelchair in front of me nudged me in the groin with her knitting needles.
"LADY! Are you insane? Oh My.... AGNESE!!!" I exclaimed with a broad smile "Is it you? Do you remember me? I went to school with your granddaughter Elisa!"
The old lady lifted her head to look at me and laughed "Dear heavens! I should've known it was you... Always laughing in church! What are you doing here? Give me a kiss!" and she hugged me as I lowered my head towards her.
My heart filled up with such joy! Agnese was Elisa's grandmother, she practically raised her and I used to spend so much time in her house that mum was convinced me and Elisa were doing the dirty and were going to get married one day. She kept banging on about it to Agnese 'You must be prepared.... These two are dangerous...'
Such fun I had with Elisa. She was crazy-funny. How I loved laughing with her when everybody else was laughing at me.... Blessed times the eighties... How many times we put on a hair band and some fluorescent leg-warmers and pretend to be dancers on a stage, choreographing our butts off around her bedroom.
How can I explain to you Elisa...
Well, Elisa is the one that taught me not to be ashamed for wanting to play with dolls because Barbie is far more fabulous than any miniature police car or locomotive money could buy.
"What the hell is there to do with some stupid little car? Aren't you tired of pushing it around to the sound of 'vroooom vroooom'? Gosh, that's boring.... Come, let's make some evening gowns for tonight's Oscars before you turn into a little turd like your so-called friends...".
How could any little insecure boy resist the rescuing hand of such a blast of a super confident little girl?
Elisa used the word fabulous way before the fabulous WAS fabulous. We were barely six years old.
Elisa was the only one in school that used to tie her white and navy polka-dot bow around her head rather than around her neck as the uniform rules commanded.
Elisa used felt-tips as pretend cigarettes and strutted her stuff in the class room like a diva and, when everyone else frowned and laughed at her, I used to look at her in a trance, totally dazzled.
Elisa was the first person I told I was gay and her answer was "Does that mean that I finally get to teach you how to pluck your eyebrows correctly? Christ! You are a shame to the gay community with those two hairy caterpillars on your forehead..."
She made me smoke grass for the very first time and kept me walking when all I wanted to do was throw up.
She hilariously divided the world's male population into two categories: too small to be taken seriously and too big to be taken.
Elisa is somebody that, like me, wanted out of the village and went on to work for a fashion publication in Milan as vice fashion editor and everyone thinks that she can afford expensive shoes because she is whoring her way to the shops with some rich industrialist. In this case though, reality is far more interesting than gossip.
I used to love Elisa. I still do, even if I had not seen her for at least seven years. Before that night.
Elisa.... Definitely more than any well balanced man could bear, but still worth it the chase. And boy she has been chased!!
I used to fall in love with every other guy she used to cast off. I was such a saddo.
She used to tell me "Darling, there are two things in life that you don't pick up once they are dropped: somebody else's dirty knickers and somebody else's ex boyfriend..... Besides, they both can give you crabs....".
I was smiling to myself remembering all this.
"Where is Elisa? Is she here with you?" I asked Agnese eagerly
"Believe it or not, tonight she is standing in for me... Over there.... See the mourners behind the Dead Christ?" she pointed vaguely her knitting needle at the procession
"ARE YOU SERIOUS? I thought that only being at a stone's throw from a sacred image was enough to send your granddaughter up in flames..... Is she really doing this?" I sniggered
"Well... I can't really walk anymore my darling... Wait! There she is... Look!" she insisted
"Agnese... I can't make her out from the rest of them... They are all wearing those black lace veils..." I protested, but then, glancing at the floor, among a stampede of black, sensible, 'lesbian-nun', as Elisa would put it, type of footwear worn by the mourners, I spotted a single pair of heels... Not just your average pair of heels of course, something perfect for the occasion: black satin strappy slingbacks, heels high up to heaven, dangling with jet-black crystals. I could barely make out the dark red nail polish.
All hail bitches. It was her.
"ELISA!" I shouted from the crowd, my whole face lit up
"SHHHHHH!!!!!" another old woman snapped at me bringing a finger to her lips with a disapproving look on her face.
Elisa turned around and lifted her veil.... She saw me straight away and, unfortunately, had the impulse of jumping out of her line and dive towards me yelling
"DAAAAAARLIIIIING!!!!!" whilst knocking the veil off the head of a couple of her fellow mourners and pushing aside several other people.
I think that even the Dead Christ Himself lifted his head up to have a look at the commotion. I simply wanted to shrivel up and die, but I was also far too happy to just drop dead.