I’m standing up, fully dressed, in front of a mirror. My zipper is undone and I’m staring at space. He crawled out without drawing any attention. I don’t know why but I never realized it before. I understood how interested I am in him just yesterday. I systematically ignored him, as he was not there or, worse, as he did not belong to me. However, he was always there, the most natural and forgotten thing in the world.
I went up the stairs to the room I am in, dragging my feet as if the air suddenly became too thick or my joints became too stiff, and yet I was in a hurry.
Today was a weird day. I went to the doctor and much had changed. Miss Claudia has a new puppy. She had a black poodle before and now I saw a white Pomeranian running around in the courtyard. Moreover, the third-block tenant sublet to a Jehovah’s Witnesses family. I know it because they left leaflets everywhere. So, today was not weird. It was terrible.
It’s late in the afternoon and I’m standing up, in one of the guest bedrooms of our apartment. Last floor, joined terraces. To purchase the place, my mother caused a rumpus but now we can parade a plethora of rooms, each with its own queen-size bed and private bathroom, two doors and a mirror. Pity the opportunities to have guests are not as many. However, nobody pays attention to it. So, I come here to hide. I can stay for hours, no one would find me – if I hear somebody approaching, I will simply move to the next one.
I’m standing up, fully dressed as I watch my reflection in half of the mirror. I would love for somebody to be on the other side, but the door is open and the place is deserted. I decide to shut it, at last. And I focus on my face, on something I know.
Maybe it would have been better if the doctors at the hospital really did what they were talking about, but my mother opposed, saying I was still a little girl, I will have to decide on my own.
I hate having too many opportunities, I feel like I am pressured in taking a decision and I don’t want to. Choosing always means giving away something. My mother should have done it. I would have preferred to be involved in a serious accident or in a precise one. But that was not going to happen, we went home in my father’s black Volvo, as nothing occurred.
When we got home, my mother asked me if I cared for some tea and I said yes, just to be polite, but all I wanted was to run up here to be on my own. Those were the longest twenty minutes of my life, I swear, in front of that cup that was not getting any colder.
They thoroughly checked me. Everything was all right, according to them. Everything was going as it should. I am developing, they said. I am well-proportioned, not one organ is suffering. Very good, I could have gone back home without any operation or scar or surgical seam. Yet again. I look at him. I want to remove him with a pair of pliers to study but I can’t. I just feel his distant presence, so close to me and yet so far.
I barely remember when I discovered him, when I realised he was something neither my mother nor my sister had. However, nobody seemed to care so I learned to do the same and I forgot about him. Until now.
When we had to take a bath, nothing unusual went on. Anna and I were rubbed at the same time, with our pink towels – under our armpits, our chins and between the legs. At that time, he was nothing more than a puffy nipple and I called him “The Tortoise”. He was special. He was what I took the most comfort in: an incontrovertible symbol of my being different from all of them or, at least, of not being totally part of my family.
Maybe I studied him back then, when my mother explained me how to clean it but then I forgot about him. Now he pops out of my clothes with all the might a figure can have and I stand here, looking at him from a distance, in the mirror. On the rectangular shape, me, my eyes, my hairs, my neck, my shoulders and him, we all reflect. I’m sure he is not noticeable under my jeans. The problem is I fear touching him.
I can barely touch him lightly when I am in the water and I spent months without cleaning him which led to an infection and a fit of rage of rage by my mother. Maybe the fact that, in my house, everything has always been natural, logical, understandable is a problem. Nothing really upsetting has ever happened in my family and I could certainly not be the one. I will come down now. Enough with it. I am bored by the whole situation.
I gaze at my reflection on the glass window which runs around the staircase. Everyone says I am very pretty, very feminine. I know it. However, next time I will take off my clothes.
During break, Greta disclosed to me that women have no real need for a zip-lock to close their pants. It’s redundant, we are used to it just because we started wearing male garments. She seriously used “garments”. I was a bit impressed by it. I did not revealed to her that I find it quite useful and I wondered how she peed but I am not so close a friend with any girl to ask something like that or to go to the bathroom together, and my sister has her friends.
I realised, going down the stairs and saying hi to Lucia, that I understand him a little better, I feel him looking around while I walk. I feel him in front of me as he is protecting me. Lucia the housemaid’s real name is Svetlana and I do not understand why she insists in calling herself Lucia. To me, it’s stupid and weird and I keep calling her with her real name but she gets annoyed and never answers when I do it.
Whenever she gets the chance, she asks me if I have a sweetheart. Sweet, she says, bothering me more than I can bear. But I like to appear polite. “No, Svetlana”, I say even though I already had my experiences with boys but all they try to do is to fondle tits and to stick their tongues inside a mouth. Needless to say I am not a fan of both of those things.
My mother is in the living room with her friends and all I can hear are slices of apathetic speeches on the entirety of human knowledge: from stem cells to molecular gastronomy, from nuclear disarmament to the latest Jennifer Egan book. Have I ever seen my mother reading a book? No. While I mess around with those fancy but useless questions, I go into the kitchen to make myself a sandwich, hoping nobody will notice me, feeling the need to talk to me.
From the table, all I see is a sequence of chubby elbows resting on armrests, some of which are turning red. I cross my legs and eat. I should study fifteen pages of earth science but I know I won’t. I like feeling the jeans seams between my legs while I rock on the chair.
I skipped the monthly doctor visit and I decided not to wear underwear anymore. Latest news. Underwear is actually useless – as stockings are – and I like it when my skin rubs on my clothes. Svetlana takes care of the laundry so my mother will never realise it. And she is the one not wearing underwear in the first place.
Four weeks have passed since I started going to the Zoonie with Cami. The courts are looked after and the whole structure is brand new. Cami is far from being the best tennis player in history but I have to improve so she will be more than enough for the time being: she has no problem in playing with boys and she always pays for the taxi. I do my part bringing the tennis ball cans.
To me, is a matter of principle: I hate playing with those 40 cents balls bought at the shopping centre. They are only good for feet massages that my mother and her friends do during their postural classes.
Anyway, Camilla is not one of my classmates. She is one year ahead, because she started school earlier. I like going back with her by taxi, avoiding using the green line – because it is always overcrowded at that hour – and I like Camilla too. Her father works in the pharmaceutical area and she always receives free make-up. I can borrow it after we train so, when I go back home with shiny lips, darker eyes and my hair down and slightly sweaty, I feel truly independent and I pretend I do not have a family.
During the taxi ride, I imagine giving a different address to the driver and ending up in a house full of life, completely different from mine, ready to welcome me. However, I only have vague ideas about my life, I really do not know what I will do. During the ride, Cami and I eat lots of candies. We spend all the change from the hair-drier to buy candies and we get out.
– Hey, Giuli, – she unexpectedly mumbles, – will you come to my house with me?
– Sure, – I say after a while. I was still thinking about the last set I won.
– So I can give you back that towel I borrowed last week. My mother had it cleaned. –
That was not necessary. I find myself thinking that we could suddenly transform into our mothers and I try to focus on what is going on outside the window. Camilla keeps rummaging through the candy bag and she appears hesitant to tell me something or not. Then she turns towards me for a moment and whispers: – I have something else to give you as well. – What is it? – I ask unconvinced.
– A book, – and, after an accurately calculated pause, she adds, – about sex. You’ll see. I found it in my parent’s library and they did not realise it, – she winningly smiles and I do not know how to express my enthusiasm as usual.
The truth is I don’t like the word “sex”, it makes me feel uncomfortable. However, I improvise a smile, also because I’m curious to see the inside of her house. I keep looking outside the window while she finishes the candies, until we eventually arrive. Camilla’s building looms over us, in all its grey magnificence. While we wait by the intercom, I realise I’m much taller than her. The door opens and we get in, the lobby is cool and the elevator light is flashing at the end.
– I have to tell you something, – Camilla says, – Do you remember my brother? Peter? He can be a bit weird. –
I stop reading the elevator safety rules. – What do you mean “a bit weird”?
– Nothing, you know, just that he can be a bit odd. So, if you see him doing weird thing, simply look the other way, it’s his way of being, – Cami does not go on and I am supposed to understand what she meant. She then proceeds to stare at the button with a black 8 on it. I am worried by what I just learned but I try to fake it. I look at my shiny lips in the mirror, avoiding anything else.
We reach the eighth floor. Her house door is slightly open and a gentle push is all that it takes to get in. Camilla goes through the doorway, leaves her bag on the floor and then vanishes in the dark at the end of the hallway. I don’t know what to do, follow her or wait here, all alone. I sit down with my backpack between my leg. Since Camilla has not come back yet, I begin to explore the living room.
Amateur imitations of great classic European paintings are hung on the walls, but I only recognise Degas and Monet. I think her mother painted those. The furniture looks quite expensive and everything is very baroque. Everywhere looks like it is one of those museum houses where the tenants live in the small kitchen on the ground-floor. A crystal ashtray and a vase with fake flowers which looked real from a distance – I checked – are located in the middle of the main table
I leave my backpack under the chair and examine the orchids. The trunks look real but the flowers appear to have been applied with small, black pins, similar to hairpins. Suddenly, a woman’s voice yells from afar: – Camilla, is that you? – I remain silent but I don’t hear any answer. The living room is no longer interesting to me, so I decide to open another door.
I appear to have entered what looks like the office of the head of the family, complete with a very heavy mahogany desk and a diploma-papered wall. After having inspected all of those diplomas, to avoid making any noise which would betray my presence, I step back leaving the door slightly opened and I go back to where Camilla left me. After a brief period of time, a housemaid appears, offering me a towel.
– Thank you, – I say, – Do you know where Camilla is? –
I am not sure she understands English, because she just nods and smile. Then she leaves. I wait a little longer but I already read everything that there was to read: a fashion magazine from last month, the senders’ addresses of the mail left on the coffee-table, the different Made in Italy written under the pottery encumbering the glass showcases and a concert program for Fidelio.
I think about living but I can’t find anything to write on to leave a message and leaving without warning would be very rude. So I stay there, paralyzed from the embarrassment and the need to pee. I imagine the doomsday repercussion of me peeing on a chair, on a rug or just in my pants so I decide to risk everything looking for a bathroom.
It looks like the kind of house that has a guest bathroom, as our has. Even though, our house is much more sober. I avoid the office door and I find a falsely tidy closet which looks familiar. The second door hides a nice, pink room, the second-to-last chance of the hallway. The last is the door to the kitchen, which has another door inside. I open it because I’m almost having trouble walking.
My belly hurts and everything burns, I can’t hold it any longer but I appear to have found a bathroom. It is perfect, incredibly clean, peach-smelling and, between the towers of towels, there is a guy. I do not recognise Cami’s brother at first. He has his trousers wrapped around the ankles and his briefs left a red mark on his thigh.
He holds something in his right hand and he is shaking it stronger and stronger. His head is resting on the blue tiles and his mouth is slightly opened. It appears he does not know I’m here yet. What he’s doing makes weird sounds but he does not seem to care, as if everything around him disappeared: the heart-shaped soaps, the candles and bathroom salts, nosy housemaids or his sister’s friends.
He seems in a real hurry, as if he has to complete the most important task of all. He keeps squeezing, the tips gets shiny. I can’t look away so I stay there I can’t even say for how long. Sometimes, slimy stuff drips on him. Suddenly I remember I absolutely have to pee so I take a step back without turning and I shut the door on my nose. Something is pulsating between my legs so I pee in the vase of an authentic Ficus Benjamin, which looked like the only bathroom available. Then I go back to my chair and I wait, as nothing happened.
– Why haven’t you come? I was waiting in the other room, – Camilla says, holding two soda cans, – Don’t worry! Come! – and she nods with a motion that starts from her hair. I automatically follow her. I try to appear interested but I really am far, far away. What happened made a million worlds explode in an instant and, when she shows me the best part of the book she was looking for, the best I can do is just uttering a feeble “Ah”, shoving the book in my backpack and go back home.
And here he is, now. I’m standing up, naked, in the middle of the room, in front of a mirror. My zipper is undone and I am holding it in my hand. Something to hold on to when falling. I grab him at my groin level and now that I have him too and I can use him I feel so relieved that I feel a sweet sensation in my mouth. Because grabbing and rubbing is all that it takes. Grabbing and rubbing.
Translation by Francesco Piccoli
Photo by Francesca Iovene