Lara Gregori – The Rectangle

457

 

It will be cold, tonight. The old man knows it.
The grass behind the dustbin is still damp, and the ground is wet. The earth is greedy, when it’s thirsty:
it soaks your meat; it crushes your bones. It soaks through your limbs to steal the heat; for the ground, your body is only manure. Placing a cellophane cloth between himself and his nude bed won’t work, and so Mila’s coffee. The old man knows that.
A red Peugeot approaches the sidewalk. She gets off. The driver is saying something, pointing at her. The driver is her pimp.

«Fuck you!» Mila screams slamming the door. Her pimp gives her a nasty look and punches the car window, staying there, still, with the engine running. Mila’s directly facing him. There is only a crack in the window between his fist and her. Then, the pimp turns around and leaves. The tires screech loudly, tough like his Slavic language. Mila adjusts her skirt, while she stares at her last warning fading away. There is a small hole on her net stockings. A small square becomes a rectangle. If you let your eyes lay on it, you can notice the whiteness of her skin.
«Hi, old man». While she gives him the coffee flask, her voice turns sweet, like the MI note. The old man smiles.
«Hi Mila». He named her so. When Mila speaks to him, she always sounds intimate and sweet as the “MI” tone. But when she turns to her clients her voice changes, it becomes more lively. The right prelude to her job. As the LA, indeed.
«You know that alcohol is more warming?» the man teases her while sipping from the flask.
She laughs, showing her teeth, white as her skin. «You know that this doesn’t work with me, vagabond».
«What’s happened?» he says, pointing out in the direction of the car.
«Nothing. He’s just a bastard». Mila doesn’t realize that she’s caressing her cheek. The blush is not enough to hide her livid; even her black hair is not enough. The skin has its own colours.
With accurate gestures, the man fixes the cellophane behind the dustbin. If he sleeps on his side he can support his back; the metal is not damp. For it, your meat is useless.
Mila looks at the cloth, and the wet grass, «Why you don’t go to sleep behind the warehouse? I’ll talk to the watchman. It’s cold tonight».
«How can I forgo your notes?» She laughs. She knows her name’s history. She remembers well how they  first met: it was her first night of her job on that sidewalk. That evening too was cold and the grass was wet. The old man was there, crouched on some rotten cardboards behind the dustbin. Back from her third client, she had brought him a cellophane cloth. The man had asked her what her name was, «I don’t have a name on the street», she answered. And he, the following night, gave her a name.
Mila, instead, never asked him his name; she simply call him old man or vagabond, according to the degree of love she feels when she speaks to him. «Romeo is late, tonight», the old man points out.
«He will arrive later. He works in the afternoon. He told me yesterday».
«And is it because of Romeo that your pimp hit you?».
Mila shrugs her shoulders walking on the sidewalk. «It’s the same old story, vagabond».
The old man knows that pimps don’t like the regular client, especially those that are bewitched by love and they wait the whole night, like sentinels. They ruin the business. Romeo is one of these. It’s been two months since he first spent the night on Mila’s sidewalk, inside his own grey Punto car.
«Mila…».
«Yes?».
«Why you don’t marry him?».
She first bursts out laughing, then becomes serious. She looks at the road, as to reflect her own thoughts. But the wet asphalt, under the lights, only sparkles in black. Then she turns to him and she shakes the head, «It’s simple, old man. I don’t love him». There’s the low MI tone.
«What do you do with love, Mila?».
«I don’t know, vagabond. Perhaps I will never know it. But marriage is only a different sidewalk».
The old man sits behind the dustbin and squeezes up in his crumpled coat. He takes half a carton of wine from his pocket, tearing an edge.
He notices car’s lights approaching. The rights indicator is flashing: it’s Romeo.
The man lifts the carton, «To you, Mila».
She returns on the sidewalk, the grey Punto parks. «See you later, vagabond», she greets him.
While Mila shuts the door, the old man perceives the rectangle on her skin. So white.

*     *     *

A quarter of an hour is enough to finish a job. The old man knows that. It’s the time it takes him to drink up all his wine. But this evening is his last carton and he has to spare it for the darkest hours. The day has not been productive, as all rainy days. The clients of the supermarket rush under the water, they are irritable and don’t give you the coin in the cart. But he has an idea for the next rainy day. He must get an umbrella. The clients often forget it. And maybe he’ll get his coin from the cart.
Mila is coming back. He knows that because Romeo is the only client that, when he leaves, turns on the left indicator. It takes her to the right side of the road and then waits for a little while, in a distance, near the entrance to the supermarket.
But something is wrong tonight. The red Peugeot of her pimp arrived right after Mila left with Romeo. He smokes, while sitting in his car. The old man looks at the nervy cigarette burning.
When Mila gets off from the grey Punto, her pimp gets off too. His look says enough. She lift her hand, as to stop him. She turns toward Romeo: he’s there, sitting in his grey Punto; still. Mila moves next to the dustbin and she folds on the knees. The rectangle is there, under his eyes. Closing his eyes he can feel the smell of her skin, «Hi, vagabond. This is the last time that I greet you». She caresses his dirty cheek, with her voice playing the MI note.
The old man stretches out his finger, delicately touching the skin rectangle. Then he lifts the carton,
«To you, Mila».
She gets on the red Peugeot. While she is leaving, Romeo looks at her from the window of his grey Punto. He never noticed that rectangle in the net stockings.

THE END

NOTE: The following story has references to the music notes, herein labelled under the solfege system scale (DO-RE-MI-FA-SOL-LA-SI-DO).

Translation by Lucia Zago and Sara Di Girolamo