Translation By Sally McCorry
The first of January is always a special day. It’s as if everybody is suffering from a delicious jet lag to enjoy slowly. I, on the other hand, left my house at eight thirty in the morning, I don’t know why. Perhaps I just wanted to do things I’ve never done before. So I looked for a bar that was open. The only one I found was the Tropical Paradise, a bar owned by Chinese people. When I went in two Chinese children stared at me with wide eyes, I smiled at them and they carried on staring at me. I waited for a few interminable seconds for something to happen, then the larger child – he could only have been seven or eight – said ‘coffee.’ I nodded. The coffee pot was too high for him to get at properly, he could only just reach to fill the moka. Then he said something to the boy, who I think was his little brother, he helped him clamber on to his shoulders, and they got busy around the coffee pot. At a certain point the smaller child overbalanced backwards, and they both fell to the ground. I was worried for a moment they had hurt themselves, but then, as if nothing had happened, the smaller child pulled himself back up onto the shoulders of the larger one. After a few minutes the kids gave me my cup of coffee. It was disgusting, full of lumps, I don’t even know how that was possible. They, on the other hand, looked pretty pleased with themselves. The smaller one even gave the other a pat on the shoulder. I left them a euro and I didn’t want the change. It was just half past nine, and I didn’t know what to do. I left Tropical Paradise and waited for something to happen, but sometimes, truly, nothing happens. I could at least have had a bit of a headache, but no, nothing. So I promised myself again that I would count how many cigarettes I smoked. I didn’t want to smoke more than five a day. I went back home. G told me I was a bollocks because I woke her up. John Connor was snoring peacefully, you could hear him from the living-room. I settled down on the sofa pretending I was processing the jet lag that I didn’t have. By midday I already had three smokes. Then I went to sleep so I couldn’t smoke any more. I dreamed I had won the Olympic bronze medal for the 200 metre backstroke. I was thrilled and didn’t want to wake up. John Connor woke at five in the afternoon. He couldn’t speak and his hair was all messy and standing up, stiff with gel. ‘Que mierda,’ he slurred as soon as he saw me, and dived into the shower. Afterwards he put more gel in his hair and went back to sleep. G, in the meantime, was staring out of the window. ‘Where is everyone?’ she asked me. ‘I don’t know,’ I answered. I cooked a plate of pasta and olive oil. In the evening I watched that documentary by Herzog, the one with airplanes taking off and landing under the sun of Sub-Saharan Africa. I found it really moving. It had got dark outside. G and I screwed – actually I screwed while she lay unmoving, thinking about something else. ‘S,’ she said to me, ‘I don’t want you to take me for granted.’ We fell asleep in each other’s arms.
Total cigarettes smoked: 6.
G and I went to IKEA. Outside it was drizzling sadly. I scraped the side of the car along a fence when I parked. I didn’t get angry though, I didn’t feel the need. Inside IKEA everything looks like it works really well, we take for granted that man has become definitively free. G wanted to buy a lamp. I was confused, why would she want to buy a lamp? I felt somehow inferior so I tried to be ironic. I started speaking in a Scandinavian accent. ‘Will you stop that,’ G asked me. I stopped that. We left after four hours with an energy-saving light bulb, a sofa cover with a moose on it, a kind of folding structure that was supposed to be a lamp, and potato fritters that I didn’t have high hopes for. I spent forty-five euro fifty cents altogether. On the upside I only smoked three cigarettes. I saw an old man fall over in the car park. He tripped all by himself and fell flat on his face. When he got up again he reassured everyone, ‘I’m fine, I’m fine.’ He actually looked a little bit dopey and fell over again not long afterwards. G told me she thought what had happened to the old man was a solitary flashmob or something like that, only we didn’t know the context or the finale. Maybe he only wanted some attention. ‘Our generation is too shrewd,’ I said to her. G told me she felt like part of a mechanism that carried on going round even if everything was out of kilter. I told her I didn’t understand, even though really I totally understood.
John Connor was still recovering at home from the drinking session two days ago. ‘Que mierda,’ he said, then ran into the bathroom to vomit. He came back into the living room and we assembled the lamp thing we had bought. It took seven hours because John Connor reckoned he knew alternative methods. He phoned IKEA but of course they couldn’t understand each other. Whatever, in the end it worked, well, the light turned on. We stood and stared at it in silence. We ate boiled potatoes watching that lamp, as if we had done something great for all humanity. I had smoked twelve cigarettes by eleven that evening , it was probably the lamp’s fault. I fell asleep watching the documentary about the airplanes landing and taking off. It was less interesting from an intellectual perspective, yet I was struck by the colours of Sub-Saharan Africa. In the end it wasn’t exactly an intense day, from any standpoint.
Total cigarettes smoked: 13 + half a joint.
G and I packed our suitcases. I wanted to go away for a while. I told her I didn’t want to see the sky through the window any more, and she said, ‘so let’s pack our bags,’ so we packed our bags. I thought we could go into the mountains. She, on the other hand, had only been packing her bag to humour me. ‘I thought you’d get it out of your system,’ she told me candidly. I didn’t speak to her again all day and I went back to looking out of the window. In the meantime John Connor burnt himself on the radiator. I don’t know how he managed that. Now he is lying on his bed crying with a wet towel on his back.
G stopped taking the pill recently, she says it makes her arse too big. Right now I really want to screw. So I went to buy condoms, I always look for Skins or Ultraslim rubbers like that because I usually feel fuck all with a condom on. However, we screwed even though the condom was too tight and it dried out almost immediately. At one point I was on top of her and really couldn’t feel anything. I was thinking about other stuff I realised. I was thinking about football and Torino’s midfield. ‘Don’t you like me any more?’ she asked, a little out of breath. ‘No, I like you.’ And I carried on pushing mechanically, like an unsatisfying and repetitive job. ‘Fuck it,’ I said to myself, peeled off the condom and went on without it. I came on her belly and fell asleep. That’s all. G wouldn’t let me watch the documentary with the airplanes landing and taking off, she insisted on watching a Virzì film. It wasn’t bad but I would have preferred to watch the documentary with the planes landing. It was one of those days where you feel you have to try and work out whether or not you did something wrong.
Total cigarettes smoked: 9.
There was some space left over so I glued in this picture of the poster for the film with the airplanes taking off.
G woke up irritated because she couldn’t access Facebook. Actually, last night I told her she was like a sister to me and I think she was offended. Whatever, it is sunny outside and I decided to go cycling in the hills. I sweated a lot. When I came back G was trying to change the settings on my computer, I don’t know why. We have all been a bit nervy this week. This evening is John Connor’s big moment, he will be on the television programme A Minute to Win on RAI 2.
From what I understand, he has a minute to play some stupid games and if everything goes well he will win 500,000 euro. John has spent the last month practicing, doing things like popping the top off a bottle and making it land directly in the waste paper basket, or building pyramids of glasses, or putting a biscuit on his eye and, without touching it, flipping it into his mouth. Before leaving for Milan he hugged me. He was sure that somehow he was going to turn his life around.
G and I sat down in front of the TV at nine sharp: John Connor was the first contestant. The first challenge, for 500 euro, was easy. He had to unwind twenty metres of paper tape with his arms. He managed it with ten seconds to spare but he looked strained. Then he started dancing to We Are The Champions with Nicola Savino. It’s one of those shows where you take your friends to be part of the audience and John had taken two of his brothers. I asked G if she knew how many brothers he had. She just said, ‘lots, I think.’
The second challenge, for 1,000 euro, involved landing three coloured rings on the prongs of an upside-down horseshoe. My first thought was that he was going to have some problems, but he started well, in thirty seconds he had managed two out of three. The problem was the last one wasn’t having any of it. He kept trying while Nicola Savino did the countdown. Nothing doing. He lost a life. His second attempt didn’t go much better, he actually got jumpy and couldn’t even get one ring in place. He began muttering and looked irritated. His last attempt was a disaster: after twenty seconds he started shouting and throwing the rings too hard. Nicola Savino told him to relax. After that I don’t know exactly what happened but Nicola Savino kept talking, telling him to calm down while continuing the countdown, even though it was clear he was never going to win the challenge and immediately after the gong sounded, John Connor threw himself at Nicola Savino who kept shouting, ‘it’s only a game, just a game, calm down.’ G covered her eyes. I watched it all. While he tried to protect himself, John Connor kept punching and kicking Nicola Savino. Then a group of bodyguards from RAI got up onto the stage, with technicians and cameramen trying to block John, but his brothers came to defend him and the TV channel went for an ad break.
‘How much has he won?’
‘Five hundred euro I think, but he made so much trouble, I don’t know if they’ll give it to him.’
‘Why does everything always go to shit?’ I didn’t know what to say. Stupid day. I’ve started smoking hard again today, around 15-20 cigarettes + a number of joints.
I woke up early when everybody else was still asleep. I have the constant feeling I am wasting time, as if time is something that gives life quality, that’s why I wake up early. My cousin called me. He has hooked up with a Finnish girl, he told me she is regularly trying to kill herself and he can’t cope with her any more. He asked for some advice. I told him to take her to the seaside. He was bringing her to lunch at our house instead he told me, maybe talking to other people would do her good. So I made ragù.
For some reason I expected her to be tall and blonde, but she was minute with long black hair and a pale face. She wasn’t exactly full of vitality or shining with friendliness, she was like a crow. She started crying as soon as she sat down on the sofa. G tried to ask her something, but she just shook her head.
‘What’s her name?’
‘Tulla I think, or Lulla, something like that,’ my cousin replied.
Naturally, Tulla ate fuck all, she rocked on her chair facing her plate making strange wheezing noises. I asked my cousin if everything was alright. He said there was nothing to worry about. We finished and Tulla went to the bathroom. Not long afterwards I heard shouting. She was trying to slit the veins in her wrists with a razor blade, only the blade was blunt and she didn’t look very capable of doing it. My cousin looked at me like someone who had been expecting this moment to come. I felt responsible somehow and slapped her but she grabbed my arm and started trying to bite me. There was blood all over the floor. We took Tulla into the living-room.
G started to clean the blood from the floor while my cousin caressed Tulla who, incredibly, started laughing. At that moment John Connor came in. I hugged him instinctively and he hugged me back hard. Then, I don’t know exactly why, John started behaving flirtatiously with Tulla and she seemed to enjoy it. My cousin confessed to me that he didn’t want her on his conscience and so if John Connor wanted her he wouldn’t object. He looked relieved.
‘I knew you would help me,’ he said. Suddenly, Tulla and John Connor went outside and G, my cousin, and I stayed at home drinking.
‘Why does she want to kill herself?’
‘I don’t know, I think she’s missing Finland.’
‘So why doesn’t she go back there?’ G asked.
‘I think she hates her parents.’
We got drunk and fell asleep. I woke up at about eleven in the evening. I went out for a walk. This city makes you feel lonely. Then I went home and started watching the documentary with the airplanes landing and taking off in Africa. Definitively beautiful.
Total cigarettes smoked: between 15 and 20.
Yesterday evening I left the shutters open so I woke with the first light of dawn. G was curled up in a foetal position and the expression on her face showed she was satisfied with her sleep. I decided not to wake her up. My cousin is on the sofa sleeping, fully dressed. He wakes up and says when we were small we used to spend more time together, and asks me if he can have a shower. I want to listen to some music but I don’t want to wake everyone up. The only answer is to go out. My cousin says he feels he needs to go out too. So he does, following me. There is a strange smell of damp trodden-on leaves. I think it’s probably easy to catch some kind of fungal infection. My cousin thanks me for what I have done with Tulla, right then and there I want to say I don’t know what he is talking about, but it would take too long, so I just say, ‘you’re welcome.’ We stroll along the avenue and he confesses his problems relating to his son, he hardly ever sees him and when he does he is overtaken by a desire to do too much and he ends messing up. He fears his son may think he’s a bit of a dickhead. I say something about simply being himself, and if you’re a bit of a dickhead, whatever, but he replies, quite rightly, that I couldn’t possibly understand. Then he says that soon we won’t see each other again because he is going to Brazil. I let the conversation drop. When we get back home John Connor is making coffee, when he sees my cousin he sniggers. My cousin looks at me, he thinks the snigger is aimed at him and says, ‘fuck you laughing at?’ John Connor, who is excitable, loses control of what he is doing and spills coffee all over his trousers and starts swearing. G wakes up, opens the door, and tells us not to wake her up again for any reason and that she is going back to sleep as soon as she can. When John Connor asks her what the matter is, she says, ‘what’s the matter with yous?’ and slams the door going back into her bedroom. I still want to listen to some music, but I leave it. Around two in the afternoon my cousin says, ‘Let’s go out and have a drink.’ I agree and light my fourth ciggie of the day. My cousin orders two dry Camparis at the first bar we come to. The sun begins to hide, and a dumb grey breeze blows in our faces. We drink another two vodka lemons, then my cousin hugs me and says he feels safe at last. Then we grab a kebab that we eat in the car. He asks me if I can go with him to pick up the kid as he doesn’t feel up to it on his own so I say yes. We stop in another bar and he offers me a Sambuca, a vodka lemon, a Borghetti, and then another vodka lemon, a beer, and finally, a Fernet-Branca for the road. Darkness is beginning to creep in. We are still rotten drunk when we get to his wife’s house. My cousin can’t find anywhere to park, so he gets out and tries to move a municipal rubbish bin, but its wheels are locked, he pulls too hard towards himself and ends up tipping it all into the street. ‘Help, S,’ he says, ‘I’m fucking up again.’ His wife comes out to see who is making all this noise.
‘Hi Laura,’ I say.
‘Is he drunk?’ she asks me.
‘No, he’s just really wound up.’
‘Drive slowly. No, actually, you drive.’
‘Then don’t go anywhere for a bit.’
My nephew must be about eight or nine, he is blond and has a baby face. I don’t think he is stupid, but to tell the truth I’ve never really had the opportunity to talk much with him. When my cousin sees his son, he pulls himself together, and runs to hug him.
‘Dad, you smell of alcohol!’ He says, and tries to wriggle out of the hug.
‘We’re going to go bowling,’ my cousin says. Then insists on driving. At the second roundabout we hit, just outside of town we end up on a flowery ‘welcome’ message planted in the middle. My cousin reverses and then drives on. ‘I am extremely calm,’ he tells me. I feel like I’m about to vomit. He puts Shine On You Crazy Diamond on really loud and starts shouting something about Pink Floyd before miming a series of instruments I can’t identify. At least we are listening to some music though. Then, as he is very emotional, he pulls into a lay-by in tears to sing Wish You Were Here. He tries to get my nephew – whose face at this point is showing a mixture of terror and embarrassment – to join in. At ‘Swimmininafishboooonnneee’ he drops his head on the steering wheel. I decide to take over the driving. ‘Thanks, Uncle,’ my nephew says. It’s such a sweet thing. In the first town we reach my cousin pulls the handbrake. ‘There’s a bar,’ he whispers. We go in. I don’t feel well so I order a tonic water, Ivan wants nothing and my cousin can’t make himself understood. We get back into the car and my cousin insists on driving again. At the first right curve, he slides off his seat and lands on top of me, and we end up in a field. The kid and I just about manage to get the car out and back onto the road. ‘I’ll take you home to sleep,’ I say.
‘Thanks, Uncle,’ still so very sweet. When I get home it must be about two in the morning. G is asleep. I decide to do my very, very best not to wake her up. I can’t watch the documentary about airplanes because my head is spinning too much.
Total cigarettes smoked: about sixty.
This morning I woke up with a certain degree of impatience. I quickly started making coffee while G was still asleep then I went to the bathroom. Halfway through I remembered about the coffee and ran back into the kitchen. The coffeepot was gurgling like a baby trying to swallow processed food or something. I was just in time to pour some burned coffee into a small cup while the pot agonisingly continued to spurt coffee in bursts. Some coffee dribbled down the side of the pot. It made me dry-heave. Then I went back into the bathroom.
I woke G up, she wasn’t happy about that. She confessed that for the last couple of nights she had dreamed about her uncle but didn’t want to go into it. She got up and we decided to reorganise our bedroom. At first I tried to move a sort of wardrobe with shelves. It seemed to have got stuck in the gap between one tile and the next. I tried lifting it. I tried pushing harder, but nothing, no movement. I checked nothing was blocking the wardrobe then I pushed again, still nothing. At this point John Connor came in and offered to give a hand. I think he loves doing these things so he moved me aside confidently, pulled up his sleeves to his shoulders and started pushing, telling me to do the same. We got to a stage where the whole operation had taken on an air of mystery. Then, after a push that wasn’t even that strong, the wardrobe slid along the tiles as if it had wheels. An electric cable wound around one of the wardrobe’s legs was the key to the conundrum. By freeing the wardrobe, we wrenched the cable from the wall basically, wrecking the whole electrical system in our room. John Connor hurried to say sorry, then his dismay turned into anger against the electrician who conceived of a system like this.
I told G. She said that in that case she may as well just go back to sleep. It was about midday. ‘Exactly,’ she said, ‘so I can think about uncle.’ I didn’t answer.
John Connor and I went out. We started walking alongside the river in complete silence until he said, ‘me and Tulla want to get married.’ In answer to my consternation, he said that it was all happening too quickly but in his situation, he could understand fuck all so he decided to only make clear-cut decisions, such as marriages, homicides, ejaculations, or fights.
We carried on walking until we reached a wider part of the path where around fifty South Americans were playing football.
I told John Connor he was right.
We joined the game. Twenty-four players on their team, twenty-three on ours. At one-metre-seventy-nine I am the tallest and most powerful and so I play centre-forward. The game develops into a complex web of sideways passes, kick-ups, pointless back heels, and incitement from the women at the edge of the pitch, until someone tackles his opponent and finds himself wedged between a sequence of double-tackles and is forced to kick the ball long. We had been playing for forty minutes and I touched the ball once – with my head – during one of those long kicks out of defence. No one had scored yet.
Then one of the blokes, about sixty, keepy-uppying the ball in front of me, instead of passing it to a dwarf nearby, trips, and leaves it unguarded. I pull back my left foot immediately and kick the ball full force. The ball hits the left goalpost half-way and it’s in. There is a roar immediately. On the side of the pitch the women are hugging each other. My twenty-two teammates start run towards me and I am submerged. Someone tries to kiss me in the confusion of bodies. Apparently no one had scored a goal in ten or eleven matches. According to them it was because of their excellent defence. Only I, being a strong European, could breach it with my accurate kick. They started calling me ‘Bomber.’ There were no more opportunities to score after that.
The match ended at sunset.
At the final whistle, John Connor came to me and said I was a really tough European. I wasn’t sure what to say to that, so I thanked him.
We rolled a joint sitting on the edge of the pitch, as the sharp cold of the evening massaged our sweaty backs. I let myself fall, land backward on the hard, almost-icy ground and for a moment I felt sheltered.
Total ciggies: no clue.
Walter Comoglio is an italian writer, currently based in Dublin.
This short story appears in his first book named La sera che ho deciso di bloccare la strada, published by Gorilla Sapiens Edizioni, winner of 2017 POP prize Italy for best debut.