Caterina Storti1 was born aptly the surname she holds. She’s suffering from Down’s Syndrome, and that’s the reason why she has almond-shaped eyes, even their colour is the same almond. Every day she softens’em with a light shade of pink eye shadow and when you glimpse her as she pushes the hospital’s laundry cart, it looks like two petals are caressing her face. At noon, before to go to the cafeteria, she rearranges her lip gloss because, she says, a woman should always be perfectly neat. It’s nice. Linda, laundry’s coordinator, she makes fun of her, saying that she’s a coquette, and Caterina just laughs at first, and then she takes her by the arm and she answers: just like you!
But Mario Loda2 doesn’t know why he was born that way. It’s not because of his surname, even his slant eyes have been unfaithful to him: his are blue, like forget-me-nots. But he has long brown curls that surround his face and Piero, his storehouse chief, calls him ‘Heartbreaker’.
When he delivers goods to departments and offices, every woman cossets him and gives him little presents, but he doesn’t know if he’s happy about it; he only knows that he flushes deeply and he feels something weird he cannot even explain, a sort of mild discomfort in his stomach. So he runs away and comes back to the storehouse, passing through the parking lot because he likes taking a breath of fresh air: it untangles his knot inside.
That’s where he met Caterina: the laundry room is a prefab near the hospital, just by the parking lot. With her Mario neither feels any discomfort in his stomach nor he flushes; and then again, he likes her brown eyes.
“But your eyes are more beautiful”, Caterina told him one day, “look, they are like these forget-me-nots”. And then she picked up five of them from the flower bed near them and gave him the little bunch.
Even though he didn’t want them to crease, he placed the flowers in his wallet. In this way he was sure not to lose them.
The next day Mario went to the laundry room and invited Caterina out for a coffee. It seemed only right to him, after the flower’s present. Maybe that’s when everything started. Both of them enjoyed drinking coffee together and having a nice chat.
Actually Caterina would do most of the talk, and Mario would just listen to her. She told him about how good she was at folding sheets: always straight and with the hems right where they belong. And then, when her job was over, she’d do the shopping for the whole family; she also loved painting flowers sometimes. Caterina even brought Mario her drawings one day.
He was, instead, a great music expert. He made her discover jazz, blues, classical music and many other beautiful songs! He knew everything about songwriters and he told her about their lives just as if he had studied the world’s music encyclopaedia.
“Today is St. Valentine’s day!” Caterina cried out that day. “My dad always gives my mum a bunch of roses, whose number is the same as the number of years they have known each other. I don’t know how he manages to do that, but by the time we wake up, the roses are already on the breakfast table. I think he pulls the florist out of bed.” They burst into laughter and Mario, together with the coffee, bought her also a Bacio Perugina. Shehad then read to Mario the little card found in the candy’s wrapping: True love is a quit lit (G. Ungaretti).
“What does that mean?” Mario asked, after musing over it for a while.
“I don’t know” she answered. But then her eyes lighted up and she said: ”Maybe it means that love is like when it’s June and sunny. You know, when it’s not too warm yet, and the sky is perfectly blue and the city looks like a tempera painting!”. Then she gave him a kiss, a long kiss, on his lips.
Mario stood still like a salami. He had become all red in his face and run away; it was his old, weird feeling in the stomach coming back to him again. But actually this time it was different: he didn’t want it to be dissolved in the air.
Caterina, instead, jumped back to the laundry room, with a warmth inside that even if it was February it seemed to her as if it was June.
That night, when she was home, her mother set her aside and gave her a long speech. “Did you understand, Caterina, why you cannot see Mario anymore?” she concluded, caressing her head.
“No”, she answered with her eyes full of tears.
Linda no longer let Caterina go out alone at work. She followed her everywhere, even while she was delivering linen to departments. One day they had a fight and Caterina blurted out all her hatred against her. But it had been no use.
Eighteen months and six days had gone by, when her mother reached her at work, one afternoon; she and Linda told her that Mario had died, leukemia. That day there would be his funeral; they could go, if she wanted to.
Caterina said yes.
Now she can go out alone again. When her shift is over, she rearranges her lip gloss and before going home, she stops at the cemetery to chat with Mario.
When they flower, she brings him five forget-me-nots.
“See”, she tells him as she puts them in the small jar at the foot of his gravestone “these cannot crease”.
Then, before, going away, she always kisses his lips on the photo. And she feels such a warmth that, for an instant, June seems to last a whole year.
Translation by Monica Frigerio (edited by Davide Spagnoli)
1 Storti (pl. for ‘storto’) means ‘crooked’ in English
2 Lode means ‘praise’ in English