To my grandmother, always.
He opened his eyes wide, whining. He looked around in bewilderment and quietened once he had discerned his room’s shapes. He had been tormented by the same dream for a while; although the unfolding of events changed, the plot was always the same: his subconscious was paranoid and repetitive, it poorly imitated conscious in painful and paradoxical dreamlike caricatures. When he eventually managed to wake up and come back to a more palpable reality, he felt that something was missing, as his body had been ripped out from something.
He got up and shook his head with a smirk, as he was dismissing a thought from his mind out of his ears. He glanced at the wall clock, tried to contain his excitement and started to get ready. Well-folded clothes lay on a chair. He took them one by one and wore them, carefully and slowly, to avoid creasing them. He opened a drawer of his dresser and hesitantly stood and looked at all those ties, then he brushed them with his hand as if they were piano keys. His fingers rested onto an ash grey skinny tie. Marta had given it to him as a Christmas present, two years ago. When he had unwrapped it and held it in his hands, all of his happiness and thankfulness had been dampened by a superstition which had been passed down.
«Do you like it?», she had asked smiling.
«Ay… Marta, you know you shouldn’t give ties as a gift».
«But it’s beautiful! Don’t think about that stuff ».
He had then taken a coin from his wallet and, holding it with two fingers, he had leant over the table so she could grab it: «Take it!».
«Please, in this way it’s like I paid it too. You shouldn’t give neither ties nor pins as a gift». He had firmly pushed the twenty cents coin into her hand, satisfied with having warded off an imminent misfortune.
Marta’s smile had faded in a sad compliance. «Pins sting the heart, but what about ties?», she had asked.
He had glanced up, trying to remember. He didn’t actually know why: his mother had just told him it was so, producing that usual moaning sound, at the thought of such possibility.
«You can always use it to hang yourself!», he had answered, miming the action and sticking out his tongue dangling at the corner of his mouth.
He took that ash grey tie out of the drawer and got close to the mirror that was set in a shutter of the closet. He put it close to his chest to check if it matched with his face. He turned up the collar of his shirt and tied it around his neck. He stood and admired himself, smiling and trying to guess the impression he would have made on her. He wondered if Marta would have noticed how accurately he got dressed, how eager he was to please her.
He fiddled with the knot for a while, then he grabbed his coat, his watch and wore them both. He smiled once more at the mirror and marvelled at how the reflection did not smile back. He shrugged and opened the door.
Once he got down the street, he started to walk, hastening his stride. In order to be nimbler, he unbuttoned his coat, intending to button it up again before she saw him. He stopped at a florist and hesitantly stood and observed the flowers; once he made up his mind, he addressed the man who was glaring at him while scratching his belly through his shirt: «Excuse me, do you have any roses?».
«They are three euros each», replied the flower seller, excessively articulating the last word as he’d just learned it.
«Yes… I haven’t seen them in here».
«I’m going to take them. How many do you want?».
«I would like a big bouquet, it’s up to you».
«I’ll be right back», he answered, and vanished behind the corner.
He stood a bit and looked down at the tip of his shoes, then he suddenly raised his head and screamed to the seller: «In odd numbers!».
He came back a few minutes later with a fantastic bouquet of roses in bloom in his arms. «Here you are», he said, giving it to him.
He took it as it was a baby and smelled it. «Thank you».
He paid and kept going. He walked holding the bouquet by its stems, upside down, paying attention not to make it swing too much during the walk.
«You’re weird» Marta had told him once, after he joined her in the square. It was winter and the wind so freezing that could cut your cheekbones.
«You don’t want to drive».
«Believe me, it’s not for me. And what‘s the point, then? Don’t you see I always catch up with you anywhere?».
«Yes, and you never keep me waiting» she answered beaming and putting her arms around him all covered in wool.
He was right on time once again. He was forging ahead, it seemed like he was still and the city was moving by his side or spinning around him. He felt like a child playing ring a ring o-rosies again, being put in the middle of the circle while the other kids hop and sing, holding hands.
He stood motionless, smiling with his eyes closed so that he would not feel dizzy.
He finally caught a glimpse of the meeting place. While he was going, he felt his trepidation turning into fear, an unclear and cheerful fear, like the one he felt jingling in his stomach during his first dates with Marta.
He went through the square and slowed down. He stopped and buttoned his coat up, pressing a hand on it as he removed the creases, then he looked at the roses. There were not many people in there, some of them were alone like him, others walked or stood and talked in small groups.
He could see her from afar; each time Marta was different from how he had imagined her, and from how he had seen her the previous time. He held back from greeting her and just stared at her while getting closer.
Once she was in front of him, he held the bouquet with both of his hands towards her, as to show it to her. He eventually crouched down and laid it on the grave.
He got up again keeping his back straight. He looked at the beautiful roses on the unblemished grey stone; a gust of wind was shaking their petals. There were other flowers on Marta’s grave, but now they were withered, while his were so fresh and wonderful that they almost looked vulgar in comparison to the others. He traced every corner with his eyes, every letter of her name, embossed on the gravestone. He wove his fingers together and bent his head as he was praying, but he cried instead, without realising it.
Translation by Irene Lami (edited by Sabrina Macchi)