Luciano was slowly climbing the stairs of his house, a typical 70’s building located in the suburbs. It was seven o’clock on a warm summer evening, one of those evenings that he would have once spent outdoors, drinking a glass of Prosecco with his colleagues, with whom he had escaped from the office’s extreme heat. Laura was not the kind of person who appreciated sitting at a bar having an aperitif though and, furthermore, she had been recently become obsessed with saving money and she paid attention to every single euro getting out of Luciano’s pockets.
The door of the apartment was closed and, while looking for the keys in his briefcase, his glance fell on the nameplate near the door-bell: “Fam. Salvetti Ing. Luciano”.(Mr. Luciano Salvetti- Engineer). His academic title, displayed on the front of the door in such way, made him feel uneasy, but when they moved, his wife had been so persistent that, at the end, he had to surrender. He remembered very well that first discussion when, as newlyweds, they entered into the large two-bedroom apartment, a wedding gift from Laura’s parents.
‘Honey, you’re so silly: an academic title is certainely not dishonourable!’, she flattered him when he raised some objections.
‘I don’t know, Laura, I’m not so sure: it gives the idea of a small town mentality.” He thought that definition would make her give up, but, on the contrary, she had been really relentless. ‘Well, if the fact of having an academic title is a proof of a small town mentality, that’s what our mentality is like!’ Since she had married an engineer, it was as if that famous piece of paper also partially belonged to her. ‘Furthermore’ she added, while putting her arms around his neck, ‘think of all the sacrifices that your parents had to do in order to make you study. Is it so hard for you to give them a little satisfaction in seeing your title on the front door?’ Despite this hit below the belt, Luciano surrendered and kissed her.
Finally, the man opened the door and he was overwhelmed by an appetizing smell of grilled meat. ‘Welcome back, darling! Tonight a nice mixed grill for my poor husband who has worked so hard all day!’ his wife chirped from the balcony. Since she had left her job because of staff cuts, she had discovered cooking. The day after her dismissal, the husband, who had feared an emotional breakdown, witnessed his wife’s sudden and unexpected metamorphosis: Laura seemed to have taken her business suit off and wear, with unconfessed satisfaction, charming little aprons like any perfect housewife, as if she had never wanted to be anything different.
Luciano looked at his wife’s smooth figure while she was busy with the electric grill, her blond hair gathered up and leaving beads of sweat on her neck. In a moment, he crossed the few steps that separated them, he leaned over her and hugged her from the back, rubbing his cheek on the white skin of her neck and clumsily trying to untie the knot of the belt that closed the thin house-coat. The woman pushed him away, annoyed: ‘What are you doing? Look at what you’ve done: I spilled oil! Now I’ll have to clean everything! Go and change your clothes, go, in ten minutes it will be ready.’ Her attention was totally turned to the stain that was expanding on the artificial terracotta tiles.
Luciano went to the bedroom, took his work clothes off and carefully folded them, then he put a pair of shorts and a torn t-shirt on. He opened the window and leaned out, then he treated himself to a cigarette, thus breaking Laura’s rules. Going back into the small kitchen, he saw her on the balcony still vigorously scrubbing the floor.
He wouldn’t dare getting closer, he made do with television and tuned into a silly game show. He made a point of watching the news later on, on the ANSA website. At that point he was too tired to concentrate on any news.
Laura came into the room and solemnly put a plate full of meat on the table.
‘You really want me to develop a bit of a married man’s spare tyre, don’t you?’ he said in a kind joking way seeing the table abundantly laid.
‘You are not obliged to eat if you are not hungry’, was her harsh reply as she was still vexed because of the oil stain that she couldn’t clean completely.
‘But, darling, I was joking: you know very well that, in the evening, I’m starving when I get from work,… and not only for food.’ He approached her and he brushed her lips with a light kiss.”
‘What is this smell? I can smell smoke’ Laura sniffed the air and her husband’s clothes.
‘It’s me: I’m burning with love!’ He was trying to be funny being afraid of the argument that would follow.
‘Damn it: you know very well that I don’t want you to smoke inside the house! I hate the smell of smoke! And what about the butt: where did you throw it? Not in the rubbish bin, I hope: I don’t want it to make the whole kitchen stink.”
‘No, it’s not in the rubbish bin.’ Luciano hoped he wouldn’t have to confess that he had thrown the butt in the drain cover down the alley. He hadn’t give it any thought before doing it: he had taken the aim and, with a swift flick of the index finger, he had hit the centre of the target. However, there in the kitchen, under Laura’s questioning glance, he felt ashamed of the childish pleasure he had got out of it.
Since he feared further questions on the subject, he tried to pour oil on troubled waters, appealing to her good intentions: ‘Come on, darling, let’s talk about something else; you know that I’m trying to stop.’
‘You must not try to, you must just do it and that’s all. When my father decided to stop he did it from one day to the next, without hesitation. If there’s a will there’s a way.’
One of the things that annoyed Luciano was to be compared to his father in law, to “The Saint:Mr
all at once”, as he secretly called him. ‘Maybe you are right’, he answered bitterly. He sat down, determined to concentrate on his food.
They ate their meal in a complete silence: Laura was absorbed by the television, Luciano was absent-minded, flicking through a magazine that he had placed near his plate on purpose in order to make his wife nervous. Without even getting close to one another, they cleared the table with mechanical gestures.
‘Would you like me to make you a coffee?’ asked a suddenly sweeter Laura.
‘Yes, please’, he answered, rather puzzled by her sudden mood change. The woman turned her back on him and started to bustle about the electric coffee machine, one of the sparkling gifts included in the wedding list that she had compiled.
‘You know’, started Luciano, ‘I thought that I could take my holidays in September: it’s still warm, there are less peole around and it’s cheaper. What about going to Sicily or Sardinia for a few days? Which one do you like best?’
‘Well, to tell you the truth, I have other projects for the autumn’, she answered without turning around.
‘Which ones? Am I included too?’
‘If necessary’, she articulated every single syllabe, turned to him and went on: ‘I thought that it was about time we tried for a baby.’
This word echoed in the room as a death sentence. For a few minutes, the television was the only sound around them and it was advertising a brand of highly absorbent nappies with unbelievable timing.
‘So, haven’t you gor anything to say?’ she pressed him.
‘No…I’m just a little bit surprised.’
‘Surprised? Why? What were you thinking: that we were going to play two hearts and a shack from here to eternity?’
‘How silly of me! Of course I thought of having a child. I just think it’s a bit premature: after all, we have been married for less than a year.”
‘What must we wait for? I remind you that I’m already thirty-seven. You know how people call wemen like me in the hospitals? Elderly primiparas.’ The woman pronounced those words as an insult, then she continued: ‘ I want to be a mother for my child, not a grandmother.’
‘I don’t know. A child changes everything! I had thought that we would go on being newly weds for a little longer’
‘Listen’ Laura said while her voice became more and more high-pitched, ‘let’s be realistic: I’m thirty-seven. If we are lucky, I’ll be pregnant in a few months, because you can’t hope to hit the mark in a single shot.’
Luciano looked back at that butt in the drain cover while Laura carried on ranting.
‘Then, if there are no obstacles, I will give birth at thirty-eight. Give me about one year and half of breast-feeding and weaning, and I’ll be nearly forty: I’ll have almost ran out of time to have the second one.’
‘What second one?’
‘Our second child. You certainely don’t want our baby to be an only child like you, do you?’
‘There are worse things in this world than being an only child. I had a wonderful childhood. And I never longed for a brother or a sister.’
‘I believe that’, harshly objected Laura, ‘You have been a little king all your life, you’ve been spoiled and cuddled like a little prince!’
‘But why do you say that? I think I have turned out ok!’
‘Sure you have! You are a big boy now!’ she repeated while looking sarcastically at the model cars in the showcase at the entrance and the last number of the magazine “Quattroruotine” still open on the table. ‘Anyway, say it, say it that you don’t want a child from me!’ she whimpered.
But, darling, of course I do, but let’s take it easy, let’s start thinking about the first one.’ As usual, tears made him cast prudence to the winds and say things that he was not sure he really wanted.
‘Do you really mean that, darling?’ The woman eyed him through a veil of tears.
‘In that case, we are ready! I’ve already spoken to the gynaecologist and look at the calendar: can you see the days marked with a small heart? They are the fertile ones. Starting from next week we have to set to work!’
His wife’s mischievous look, instead of exciting him, made him wish for a breath of fresh air: ‘I’ll go out and throw away the rubbish!’
While walking along the residence alley, he preferred not to think about the argument in order to concentrate on the last cigarette of the day. Actually, that evening, as an exception, he treated himself to a second one, one after the other. When he went back into the house, Laura welcomed him with a long kiss. ‘ You will really have to stop now that we are going to have a child’, she whispered honey-sweet, not fooled at all by the mint flavour that her husband had crunched. She kept him tight in her arms and went on with the same honey-sweet tone: “And afterwards…we must find a place for all your stuff.’
‘What stuff do you mean?’
‘The stuff in the study, of course! The model cars, the magazines, your Tex collection, the playstation… Otherwise, how can we get the baby’s room ready?’
You don’t want me to throw everything away, do you?’
‘You could put the playstation in the living-room, but put the rest in the garage, if you really want to keep it.’
The man did not answer, he turned on the big plasma screen in the living-room and he slumped into the sofa.
Having a baby turned out to be a more difficult task than they had expected. Since the beginning, Luciano undertstood that all romantic nonsenses and sentimentalism were not going to be part of it. This happened in the evening of the first day marked with a small heart: when his wife entered the bedroom, Luciano hughed her in a passionate embrace and pulled her over him, on the big white bed made of artificial leather.
‘No, darling, not like this: it’s better if you stay on top…let’s help your small tadpoles with the force of gravity.’
As Laura had predicted, the birth campaign took several months. After a rigorous diet based on salmon and red meat that facilitate the motility of sperm cells, a total abstinence from coffee and sugar, and cold showers at any hour (according to Laura, these would have multiplied by five the quantity of sperm cells) Luciano finally succeeded in his hard task.
The next four months followed with nausea, the next two with sciatica, and the remaining three with gastric reflux.
One Thursday evening, while watching ‘twenty-four hours in the delivery room’, Laura stood up and looked at the stain on the blue sofa, then she pronounced the fatidic words: ‘My waters broke’. The man was ready. He grabbed the suitcase that had been prepared three months before, the kit for preservation of the umbilical cord, the camcorder and he thoughtfully drove his wife to the hospital. He would remember only a few blurred memories of that long night, except the two-hour film that Laura, unaware of the fluids that would overflow from all the orifices of her body, had asked him to make.
The following morning he could grant custody of mother and son to the maternity ward, where they both would be confined for the following four days. Perhaps they would have to stay there more than four days: if the child suddenly turned to be jaundiced or if any other complication would arise, even if it was not a serious one.
While leaving the hospital, Luciano felt the same thrill as when he played hockey, but, in addition, he had the consciousness of having done his duty. He started planning the four free evenings that were awaiting him: (hamburgers, French fries, free smoke and silence) and he decided to spend a few hours in the garage: he would organise a little corner all for himself, where to assemble his model cars, to flick through Tex magazines and, maybe, also to smoke.
Inside the house, Laura would play mother.
Translation by Paola Roveda (edited by Sabrina Macchi)