The alarm clock made Laura jump out of bed at seven thirty sharp. She marched to the bathroom, then to the kitchen, where she turned the TV on and enjoyed the pleasure of sipping the first coffee of the morning. From the screen Ornella the psychic told her she would have a day full of promising, but rather vague-sounding, opportunities. Encouraged by these prospects she came back to the bedroom where, once she’d cleaned up the mess and picked up Giacomo’s dirty socks and pants (he had woken up before her), she began the holiday unpacking. They had come back late last night: it was already dark and that morning the cases were still there, waiting to be unpacked by the bed, which reminded her of her housekeeper’s duties. She looked at the cases with a mixture of nostalgia and depression, but it was just for a moment: she couldn’t keep on dreaming, if she wanted to go to the market. She would have never given up her weekly stroll among the small stands, where she intended to show off her perfect caramel-coloured tan. Moreover, the market was the only noteworthy event in the small village immersed in the vineyards, where people meet in the churchyard on Sunday or among the stalls on Thursday.
She emptied the case, filled up the washing machine, woke up her daughter Sofia, who was still sleeping, gave her breakfast and finally she could take care of her own image reflected in the bathroom mirror. She looked with an overtone of criticism at her dishevelled hair, the hint of the bags under her eyes and the thin lips, her uneasy maternal inheritance, which had often made her contemplate the thought of having silicon injections. Armed with make-up and brushes, she got to work: the concealer made the circles under her eyes disappear and a skilful touch of blush created the illusion of high and pronounced cheekbones; she widened her eyes using the pencil and the mascara; and then took care of her mouth, which she made turgid by using a generous amount of red cherry lipstick. The face she contemplated in the mirror reassured her that the hours passed on YouTube, watching make-up lessons, had not been in vain. She brushed her unnaturally blond hair and she slipped into a microscopical dress that left her amber legs and shoulders in plain sight She fetched the coordinated bag from the closet and put her mobile in it: the stored images of her dream holidays (the resort’s slogan) had already been posted on Facebook. Therefore, she turned her attention to Sofia, who was sitting at the kitchen table still in her pyjamas, colouring the Winx’s curvaceous shapes. Laura interrupted her concentration: «Come on, honey, come to mummy! I have to make you look good because we need to go out».
The child let her mother take her to the bathroom, where she was washed, perfumed, dressed and combed. Her mother stared satisfied at her own work: the curls had been tamed by a golden rubber band and the new little dress, on which the malicious writing Sexy girl stood out, was watched approvingly. She lifted her up and checked their images in the mirror; then, in spite of Sofia’s five years and her sturdy chubby legs, she made her sit in the stroller. She grabbed her bag and got out of the house, not without having a last glance at the door’s glass, in which their silhouette was reflected. With a steady step she went down the main street, towards the square.
Passing in front of the grocery store, she peeked once again her own reflection in the display window, just as the greengrocer was arranging a crate of ripe peaches. Laura blushed, as if she had been caught in the act and to regain her composure, she waved a quick hello; she received a gaze full of male appreciation in exchange. Pleased with herself, she reached sight of the first stalls.
She was already eyeing an inviting and colourful sundress, when she heard a voice from behind: «Laura, what a tan! When did you come back?».
Adele, the next-door neighbour, was quickly striding towards her. She was a little older than her, of an indefinable age between forty and fifty, made even more uncertain by the strict and shapeless dresses that hid the weighed down figure. Beside her, Laura always felt thin and feminine; they were not true friends, however sometimes they would invite each other for coffee round their houses.
«We came back yesterday evening; this morning I realized that the fridge was completely empty, therefore I’ve decided to swing by the market», lies Laura.
«Well done: you look great, you obviously relaxed. And what about you, little one? Did you have fun at the seaside?». Sofia did not even listen to her, so intent as she was on pointing insistently at one small toy wheelbarrow on a household stand.
« Mummy can you buy it to me?».
«What are you thinking, sweetie? What do you need a wheelbarrow for?».
«But I want it!».
Laura wasn’t in the mood for scenes, which would have blown her yearned catwalk, therefore she leaned over her daughter and she whispered to her: «But, honey, the wheelbarrow is a boy’s game, and then it is too big for us to carry around… what about that beautiful little bag with make up instead? Or do you prefer the toy cooking set?».
Sofia gladly allowed herself to be persuaded to give up on the wheelbarrow in favour of a toy cooking set, which was put in the stroller’s storage space. Adele, who had witnessed the unfolding of events, commented laughing: «Well done, Sofia! It is never too soon to learn to cook for a woman!». «And here, what happened during our absence?», asked Laura with feigned curiosity.
«What? Haven’t you heard anything?».
«No, I haven’t. What happened?».
«How is it possible that you do not know it? It was even in the newspaper».
«No, I’m telling you… we arrived yesterday and you are the first person I’m speaking with». The woman’s eyes now shone eager to hear all the gossip, on which the neighbour was always up to date.
«Let’s have a coffee and I’ll tell you everything!». They headed for the only bar on the square, at that time crowded with housewives and pensioners. They eventually managed to find a free small table, ordered two coffees and an ice tea for the child, all caught up with her new toys.
«So, are you going to tell me something or what? ». Laura urged her friend, expecting a juicy revelation about the handsome Father Cesare, too charming to be without sin, inasmuch as the neighbour visited the parish on a regular basis.
But her hopes had to remain unsatisfied. «Do you know Mr Belometti? Armando?», Adele began. «The one who lives behind the church, the bank director, do you know him?».
«Yes, I do. I know who he is, I must have spoken to him sometimes in his office». Her voice betrayed her disappointment.
«Well, a few days ago, while I was going to the church for the morning prayers, I noticed a little upheaval in his road. I noticed that there was an ambulance and I thought that somebody must have been either ill or hurt». Then she made a pause, savouring the revelation that was to follow next. «In short, I’ll make this quick: Mr Belometti killed his wife».
For a moment the silence fell over the two women: one was looking forward to tell everyone about an affair that for the rest of the village was already old news, the other was too astonished to find herself on a crime scene.
«Are you serious? Killed? It could have been an accident!».
«Killed, I’m telling you: strangled. It looks like he was the one who, in the morning, called the police, because the fact must have been occurred the evening before».
«I can’t believe it». Laura rethought about every time she had met the murderer and she had said good morning to him, receiving a warm and reassuring smile in return. «To me Mr Belometti has always seemed too quiet a person, a decent man. He was also a handsome man». She was already talking about him using the past tense, as if that still young and handsome individual, protagonist of her unspoken romantic fantasies, had passed away.
«Listen: I couldn’t believe it either, but that’s how it went down. It seems that that evening he and his wife had an argument; the argument must have got ugly, he blacked out and killed her».
«I wonder what she could have done or said to make him lose control. I’ve never found Armando to be a violent man, he was very kind indeed. Whenever I talked to him at the bank, he was always so helpful. I swear to you: it seems impossible to me».
«Who knows? They say she had another man. Indeed, she was a beautiful woman», insinuated Adele.
«To me she never seemed so beautiful, maybe there is something about her. I’ve never seen her with a hair out of place for sure. But when a woman doesn’t have children, she’s got plenty of time to go to the beautician and to the hairdresser».
« I think that if a couple hasn’t got any children, they lack something…», preached Adele, meeting her friend’s full approval.
«I’m sure that Armando would have wanted kids: I wish you’d seen how tender his gaze was when he looked at my Sofia…».
«Who knows: perhaps they couldn’t have kids. It is also true that he worked in bank, she worked full time for the notary: if one wants to have kids, one must also give something up, and she didn’t strike me as the type of person who decides to give her career up to be a mother».
«Don’t tell me about it! I had to leave my job at the shop to dedicate myself to Sofia». Laura looked at the child with what should be a tender gaze. The baby didn’t even glanced back at her, too busy with the tea and the new toys. «Whatever people say about the equality between men and women, the mother is always the mother», resumed Laura, «and it is not the same thing for a child to have her at home all the day or only after office hours».
«I think that too. I don’t mean to justify Armando’s actions, for heaven’s sake! But when a woman is more out than at home, we should not be surprised if a couple falls apart».
«And now that poor wretch has ruined his life… Poor man! Poor woman too. These days we’ve all been hearing too much about killing women…».
«It is a true tragedy, but I can’t shake the feeling that women must take their share of the blame. When I see around teenage girls in miniskirts or mothers who look like their daughters’ sisters, I cannot help but think that they are asking for everything they get. I always say it to my Michelino: find a good young lady, whose head is not full of nonsense».
Laura was more than happy to change the subject: «How is Michele? Has he passed?».
«Nearly. He failed in maths. He has never been a genius with numbers, but his teacher is a true stinker. She has been having in it for him since the ninth grade. She is someone who, in front of beautiful boys like my Michele, is dying to give him a Fail. They say she likes women, but I don’t believe it. It is also true that those who failed are all boys. However, I bought him a scooter anyway, because in all the other subjects he had all Passes».
«You did well», approved Laura who fancied that kid with waxed eyebrows. «What time is it?».
«It’s almost 11 o’clock», said Laura reading the time on her mobile phone while contemplating for a moment her image in a bathing suit which stood out on the screen.
«Eleven o’clock? Already? I must run and get the lunch ready, because my Michelino recommended me to have it on the table at twelve thirty o’clock, because he has to go out. If I step out of line for a few minutes, I get really long faces. It takes a lot of patience with these men!», said Adele while leaving.
The women gave each other a kiss on the cheek and promised each other to meet up in the next few days for the latest updates on the Belometti’s case.
Laura was in no hurry: her husband never came home for lunch and she could hang around in the market at her own leisure. She was staring at the flowery sundress she had noticed as soon as she had arrived, when her eyes fell upon an identical small girl dress: it was love at first sight! She could already see the picture: mother and daughter hand in hand (for the occasion she could give up the stroller), both wrapped into the beautiful lilac flowered fabric.
She shook Sofia up, half asleep in the end of June heatwave, and said to her: «Look, honey, what a beautiful dress!».
«I don’t like it!».
«How can you not like it? Look: mummy will buy the same too!».
«I don’t want it!».
«But, love, don’t you want to be like your mum? Then we’ll both wear it and we can pretend to be twins.
«I don’t like it! I want the Superman t-shirt!». Sofia pointed at a blue t-shirt, hung among many superheroes’ t-shirts.
«But, love, don’t you see that it’s a boy thing? Look at the small dress, it’s way more beautiful than the t-shirt!».
«I don’t want the dress, I want the Superman t-shirt!». Flushed and nervous, the child did not seem willing to give up. Noticing the tone of the argument, the stall’s Chinese vendor was curiously watching them. Laura blushed with embarrassment, opened the bag and pulled the wallet out of it. «Excuse me», she said to him, «I would like this dress. Is it one size? Yes? And this small one for the child too». Sofia began to cry, prelude to one of the theatrics the mother knew well. Before the situation got her out of hand, Laura gave in; indeed, t-shirts are never enough in summer.
«The t-shirt too, please. The Superman one, right».
Mother and daughter went away together; Laura already planned the catwalk at the Sunday mass, where she would have showed her new dress and her mini-me off.
Sofia, instead, held the t-shirt tightly with her small hands like a trophy.