Potluck

 

T H I S    W E E K

The Theorist by Bo Fisher

 

Windows

In Antignano, the southernmost neighbourhood of Leghorn, lived a young girl called Amalia.

Amalia was only eight years old, but she already understood why her mother didn’t like her to lean over the window on the sea.

The window on the sea. How many stories and poems, more or less beautiful but always stuffed with sighs and murmurs, could you find with a quick research on Google? You know the answer: there are infinite.

But at the time when Amalia loved leaning from that big window with slightly chipped white shutters, Google didn’t exist. Amalia was born at the beginning of the fifties, and I’ve never known her except from seeing her pictures. My grandmother told me only some tiny bits of her story. I always try to ask for more, but she just flinches and changes subject.

That’s why I’m going to tell it my way. My aunt needs to be remembered.

***

I don’t know whether Amalia could be defined exactly as a cute girl. She had a very high forehead, with thin, pitch black eyebrows over beautiful dark eyes. Her nose was small and straight, and her  mouth was slightly crooked in a foxy smirk.

In the morning, she had breakfast with her sister and her mother, who read the newspaper and sipped her tea. Right after finishing her milk, Amalia would slip away in her room. She hoped the crime news would keep her mother’s eyes on the newspaper enough to let her run to the window, open it cautiously and finally look out, over the sea. Then her room, which usually smelled of the old withered flowers that the maid used to bring in every week, would fill with the salty sea smell.

Amalia would try to breathe in the scent, exposing herself to the libeccio that whipped her hair. She felt the salt sizzling on her skin while the sun hit her like waves on the cliffs.

After a while, afraid that her mother would find her, she would close the shutters and finally smell her own skin.

She used to sink her nose in the hollow between the arm and the forearm, and she felt the essence of the sun on her soft epidermis.  

Her mother was a stark woman, with dark hair accurately fashioned into a bun and a pearl necklace that was too tight around her neck. She didn’t like her daughter’s pastime. And, to go back to what I was saying just a few lines ago, Amalia was too smart for her age to really think that her intransigent mother was simply afraid that the girl could lean a little too much. She had already understood that her mother wasn’t bothered by the tragic image of the beloved daughter falling from the fourth floor of Villa Rosetta, the family cottage with light green walls.

The girl, pushing herself out towards Leghorn’s seaside, felt the black velvet dress going up her skinny legs wrapped in white stockings. When she really wanted to expose her pale little face to the sun, she knew she let half-view of her panties, under the rolled-up hem of her dress, and that was really a dishonour her mother couldn’t bear, even if the room was totally empty. And even if someone had been there, anyway, they would have unlikely been interested in a eight-year-old girl’s pants.

But Amalia knew her mother.

Of course, I only heard about her. I listented patiently to all the stories about her. Every Sunday, she would drag Amalia to the church, where the priest would try his best to turn the girl’s crooked smile into a gloomy expression of remorse. No one knew the reasons for that remorse, given her young age, but of course the priest could have explained it better than me.

During the mass, Amalia kept her eyes down. Her mother watched her with an always controlled expression of pride as the girl followed the old priest slowly towards the altar. The black curls would fall on the collar of her white tunic, even though her mother and the maid had tried to fix them accurately with some horrendous metal hair clips, which Amalia hated deeply.

The smell of the white tunic (which was always a bit yellowed on the hems and under the armpits), wasn’t like the sea’s at all. It always made Amalia feel like she had been imprisoned for more than an hour in a cage lined with sweat and mothballs – a sensation that, needless to say, the girl couldn’t stand.

On Sunday evening, when she was back home at lunch, and her mother told her to finish off the roast meat on her plate, Amalia kept on smelling the scent of that awful tunic, the candles’ wax, the cold stone of the church. She never managed to eat the whole lunch, while her sister finished everything and even polished off the plate with a slice of bread.

Amalia, instead, as soon as the mother would retire to her room and switch on the radio, would run and open her beloved window.

***

Amalia’s pictures get more interesting as time passes. They’re small, yellowed, of course black and white. Her hair, though, jumps out of the photographs as musk curls on the dark stone. Her face gets gaunter, the chin sharper, her eyes are blacker and blacker. Her eyebrows arch elegantly under the white forehead as her new beauty emerges slowly, evolving through the pictures year after year, gradually freeing her from her childish expressions.

She kept leaning over the window of her room even after the day her mother had found her and grabbed her beautiful black curls, pulling her back. Amalia realised that her mother’s long fingers could become even more evil enemies than the metal clips she used to arrange her wild hair every Sunday morning. But the sea didn’t lose its appeal, even during her adolescence. She basked in the salty smell of her skin, snuggled in her white sheets on hot summer nights.

As she grew up, she found out that every time she would open a window in a closed place, she felt an almost physical pang of pleasure. She enjoyed the cool and clean air that came in a gust of wind, stroking her face or raising her skirt. So she never stopped leaning over. At school, whenever the teacher decided that her classroom needed to be refreshed and opened the window, a beautiful smile appeared on Amalia’s pale face. And when the girl finally moved to a house in Borgo Pinti, Florence, to study classics, she filled the breaks from her study of Ancient Greek with long reflections at the window.

From there she would smoke a cigarette, watching the Florentines hurrying on the cobblestones of the narrow alley. Of course, it wasn’t like seeing the sea of her beloved Livorno, nor could she breathe in the salty smell and feel it on her skin for hours, but it was fine. The pleasure of the air on her face and shoulders reminded her of running towards the prohibited, when her tiny hands would pop the lock of the shutters, and she would listen carefully to sense her mother’s quick steps in the hallway.

Amalia had started dressing entirely in black. She didn’t wear anything colourful, or, worse, white as the old altar-girl tunic. She said black looked good with her hair, and she had learnt an important lesson from her mother: if she dressed entirely in black, including her underwear, she could have leant over the window as much as she wanted. She wouldn’t have to worry that her clothes would go up her hips and the contrast between her clothes and her underwear would catch other people’s attention.

She always thought about it when leaning over, even if there was no one around.

***

The day everything changed, Amalia was sitting on a cherry-coloured pillow on the wooden floor of her Florentine house. The turquoise curtains were sliding slightly on the white walls. Every gust of the summer breeze made them gather.

Amalia had decided to have a party for her birthday. She was turning twenty-two. Her classmates had been drinking red wine and smoking pot all night, as she had started to do as well since the beginning of her studies at Uni.

No one had felt like going home yet, when Gesila came in.

He was with Walter and Mauro, two of Amalia’s classmates. He was unexpected. She didn’t know him. He was a tall guy, with dark hair, almost as black as hers. He was wearing a camel-coloured shirt, open down to his chest. Amalia didn’t get whether his arrival had provoked the silence or if everyone had kept on talking, laughing and smoking and she hadn’t noticed. She didn’t hear anything for a couple of seconds. She just watched him. His smirk was cutting the air.

As he closed the door behind him, a sudden gust of wind had come from the window, arousing a tremor in the turquoise curtains, which blew dangerously towards the dark candles on the floor.

Without faltering, Gesila headed towards the carpet where everyone was sitting. He didn’t sit down. His inquisitive gaze scrutinized all the women in front of him. When he spotted Amalia, for a second, every girl around her disappeared. His killer eyes had stuck with hers: they stayed like this, motionless yet wild, and she held her breath. She felt his gaze on her, sliding over her skin as the sea foam on the shore. He was undressing her. He was a virtuoso. The girl had a sensation as though the strap of her black dress was falling down off her shoulder, and she turned abruptly to check. It was alright.

It was at that point that Celeste, one of her classmates, got up to greet the three guys. Amalia remained on the pillow and caught another of Gesila’s glances. His eyes had nailed her to the floor.

They stared at each other again for a few seconds.

That night, they slept together.

***

My grandmother told me everything she could about her sister. She had never known exactly what really happened in that room.

But I think I know.

She said Gesila didn’t need a word to take Amalia to bed. If this is true, he must have been very good to have done it without even opening his mouth. Still, it seems like it really went like this. He didn’t say a word, he didn’t ask her name or where she was from. He hadn’t even brought a bottle of wine to make up for having snuck in uninvited.

He held out his hand. I don’t know whether people noticed and the two of them just went out of the room in silence, or if the others kept on laughing and smoking pot, handing glasses of Tuscan wine to each other. I have no idea, it’s a detail I’ve never known of.

This is everything I know for sure, from what I’ve been told over the years. My family don’t like to talk in detail about what happened next, but this is what I have come to believe.

But I can imagine how it went. I can assume Gesila guided her to her room and pushed her against the wall, looking at her with his smirk and his pitch black killer eyes.

Something tells me that Gesila locked the door.

And something else tells me that Amalia didn’t notice it because she was too busy opening the big window of her room, from which she usually watched the passers-by.

Gesila approached her slowly. He grabbed her wrists and pushed her towards the eaves. Amalia felt his Adam’s apple as she brushed her lips against his neck and he tilted his head back, closing his eyes.

My grandmother rarely cries when she talks about her sister. They couldn’t have been more different. She was blonde, always wearing pearls and dressing white as her mother wanted, keeping her straight hair fixed in a bun. She had thin, well-designed lips. And then there was Amalia, her sister, completely black, as one of those women in Giovanni Verga’s novels.

That night, my grandmother was sitting on a pillow, next to the cherry-coloured one that Amalia had left on the floor. She was drinking a glass of wine and just saw her sister and the unknown guy heading together towards her room. .

Gesila was a great kisser. I know he was. He was one of those who grabs your wrists, your neck, your face. They stroke them, holding them tightly. They know what to do. And I am sure Amalia must have felt on top of the world, being with such an attractive and fascinating guy in a room in Florence, in summer, when she was just turning 22. The window was open, and even if she couldn’t smell the salty sea scent that she loved, I like to think that she was happy with the scent of incense and smoked meat coming from the nearby apartments.

If all that hadn’t happened, my great aunt would have probably become one of those emancipated women, like the protagonists of Anais Nin’s stories. She would have been capable of going to her lover’s place (never her husband’s) with a wine bottle in one hand. She would wear pointed boots, a long coat and nothing else under it. She would have had an adventurous life and she would have just partially remembered the times when her mother used to tighten her beautiful black curls in awful buns.

She would have laughed, traveled, loved intensely and spent the end of her life breathing the salty sea smell of her city, sitting on Antignano’s steps, smoking slim and long cigarettes and not giving a damn about getting cancer.

But that night Gesila touched her white, long neck with his nose. Amalia sighed many times, as her trembling fingers slid over his chest. Gesila sank his hands in her pale behind. It was full and soft. She felt his erection against her thigh and spread her legs to embrace it, as their sighs got intense.

Gesila knew what to do. It wasn’t a surprise that he was good, from the moment he had come in and stripped her with his gaze she had no doubt he would be.

She raised her dress up her thighs and hips, as all her clothes did everytime she leant over the window.

Gesila untied her garters, and Amalia was unsurprised at how he could be so natural and swift in his moves. She just let herself go to his kisses, stopping only to look at his black eyes, feeling filled with him even if she hadn’t undressed him yet.

He was the one who did it. He held her nape with his hand and unfastened his belt with the other. His trousers fell on the ground. Amalia didn’t see him pull off his underwear, but she felt him inside her. She let out a deep sigh and he smirked. Amalia didn’t seem to notice – or care. He put his right hand on her lips, pushing inside her as her eyes closed in a flash of rapture.

Then Gesila grabbed her behind with both his hands and lifted her. Amalia couldn’t help moaning. He was strong. With his trousers around his ankles, he slowly approached the window. Hot and sticky air was coming in. Amalia didn’t feel any wind on her face.

Gesila put her delicately on the eaves, then forced her legs wider. Amalia lost her balance for a second, but he held her steadily. He was getting excited and pushing her to the brink, floors over the heads of people walking on the street. Amalia didn’t hear the voices nor care that someone could look from the window of the facing building and see her naked back. Gesila was kissing her neck, nailing her hands to the parapet.

If she had fallen, she would have gone right to that hell her mother had long talked about during her adolescence, when Amalia had started questioning her habit to drag her to mass every Sunday. It was the inferno where all those who went to bed with a stranger at a party were going to. An hell where Gesila was pushing her towards, moaning and digging his nails into her flesh until it hurt.

Gesila sighed hoarsely in her ears. The pale, wide forehead of the girl was shining with sweat, and the heat of Florentine August was burning her temples. She felt the humidity sticking to her skin like a web, but she liked it. Under her there was only the infernal nothing.  

A delicate gust of wind hit the black curls on her back, whipping round onto her full cheeks. Gesila felt a flash of bliss and suddenly wasn’t holding her.

I don’t want to imagine this scene. I can write non-stop about my great aunt having sex with a stranger, but I can’t go on telling you about her falling from the fourth floor, as her mother had predicted long before.

In my imagination, she’s not a eight-year-old girl that leans over a window with the white and chipped shutters of Villa Rosetta. There are no light green walls that smell of sea. The Amalia in the window that I like to imagine is a woman with long, black hair and alluring eyes, with fishnets and untied garters, pushing herself out over the inferno.

I like to imagine her as ironical, almost happy with falling from one of the places she liked most, one of her guilty pleasures, in that mythical, unique way.

But she probably spent those last seconds with an expression of pure terror on her face, with tears in her eyes, as if she knew she shouldn’t have died, not that early, not like that.  

Under her, Florence was burning.

***

Rachele Salvini comes from Livorno, Italy, but she has studied in Florence, Oslo, New York, and London. She is a MA graduate in Creative Writing and writes both in English and Italian. Her stories in English have been published on paper on The Machinery and online on The Fem Lit Mag, Cultured Vultures, Five2One, The Wells Street Journal, and Slasher Monster Mag. She is moving to Oklahoma to pursue a PhD in English and Creative Writing in August.