Corso Italia 7

Rivista internazionale di Letteratura – International Journal of Literature
Diretta da Daniela Marcheschi

Daniela Matronola: A Door To Unlock

A short story self translated by the author, Daniela Matronola: "Mom says dad stood there watching me when I came out of the hole, yet he did not faint. He just refused to touch me. I was still filthy with blood and placenta, and whining from the cold. So they washed me up"

Daniela Matronola

Daniela Matronola: A Door To Unlock

Between order and thoughtlessness do we breath

Between will and abandonment do we breath

Between the notebook and the homework do we breath

Between love and rigour do we more intensely breath

(Edoardo Albinati, In community of property / La comunione dei beni)

Mom says dad stood there watching me when I came out of the hole, yet he did not faint. He just refused to touch me. I was still filthy with blood and placenta, and whining from the cold. So they washed me up. Then they put me down back onto mom’s belly, although I was definitely cut out.

– …looks like a spider,

Mom says dad said when he saw me lying on her big unpuffed ball: I looked clean and wrinkled with nose and eyes curled up like Mister Magoo (the reference to Mister Magoo did dad tell me about on a day he was in a mood for sweet nothings). Yet again he fainted not.

Dad is a well determined guy. He’s got sound, clear ideas, then he’s delicate. You get it from the delicacy he does not oppress you by with his presence, so that he is missing; and from a certain crack he gets in his voice when he condescends to have a talk with you after a short hearing in order to suggest his own idea on some issue of yours.

Dad is good. He gives you just a few, heart-felt tips over a few, capital life troubles, and you can swear you are going to manage and live them on, at your definite ease, for a couple of months. Then you get aware that ventilation, a vegetative function, that is totally unwilling, makes you breathless, so within a few seconds when you exemplarily enough become a candidate for suffocation, you get to know it – you just understand you are holding breath. So you need dad listen to- and have a talk over- with you again, so that you can live on over the next two months.

On a day I left school at 4 pm due to full time, we were both in our car, the two of us, stuck at traffic lights. That was when I tried to prove our Maths teacher wrong: in the morning she had told us that to breath is spontaneous and it is impossible not to.

My attempt to belie her is sort of a commitment I have recently taken with myself for I don’t like her – were he in my shoes, dad would simply say how he would piss her.

Anyway, we had this diesel car gasing us off in the faces with black, stinking smoke, and there was no way the lights turned green to let us through.

One could even decide to die that way, by simply holding breath – I told dad, audibly, as I had been brooding it over for minutes.

Impossible, said dad – impassive.

You wanna bet?, did I challenge him.

So I started compressing myself, almost up to suffocation.

Look!, said I while my face got more and more in flames.

Well, now, if you’re speaking, you’re also breathing, he opposed. And then, said dad that time he was again in the mood for endearment, if you have decided to die by apnoea, why not breathing that car’s exhaust emissions in?

Dad is such a smart guy, isn’t he?

My elder sister, Caroline, strives for sparing me dad’s carelessness. She has devised a series of raids onto his office. Dad locks himself up there the whole time he spends at home save meals and I figure him out either sitting in front of his laptop or on the phone, lulled by music from the radio or by the wall TV incessantly on – or maybe fainted, either with his head dropped on the keyboards, or lying back against the seatback of his black leather armchair before his desk, or even stretched out at all ease on the black leather sofa where he’s been sleeping for three months now. Caroline knocks on his office door an average of ten times an hour, that is every six minutes by average – you could set your watch on it.

She’s always got something to tell him, and he is so good – he never loses his nerve. He lets her in, hears what new she wants this time – it’s all a matter of a few seconds, no big deal.

Dad, would you pass me an eraser? Dad, I need to justify at school. Dad, I need change. Dad, I’m going out. Dad, I’m going down – want some ice cream? Dad, I’m going down – want me to buy you cigarettes? And so on. All stories are likely.

Then how such traffic mostly affecting her should include me and have to fill the gap I’m not personally striving for mending between dad and me she has never explained to me and I have had difficulty in understanding.

My elder sister, Caroline, is solemnly in charge for watching over me mostly since our third brother, Orestes, has come over, and has been cohabiting with mom for two months now, so that he has cut us all out. We had just set ourselves on a well trained share of actions and performances, and now we have to do it over again.

Caroline is one who always finds thousands of new reasons for addressing dad. She’s the only one who knows how to captivate, even only at times or for short time each time, dad’s short-lived attention. Furthermore she has taken that from him. She gets back on track every few minutes and he pays heed to her just for the few seconds he needs to get what she wants.

They both enjoy short autonomies.

He stays in his office to process a lot of stuff or gets out to go and get what he will then develop in his hideout. Sometimes he also travels: then you cannot see him for days, not even at regular meals – nor at dinner when he’s generally home for sure. In order to get to know about his moves, you can ask her – Caroline: she knows all, even what dad does not know yet he will do.

How do you know, I once asked her.

I don’t know at all, I just imagine.

On another day he was in the mood for sweet nothings, dad said to me:

You exactly lack what inflames devotees, people who may deny religion and right due to that overestimates it and even suffers from it: you lack blasphemy and any sense of ridiculous, you don’t have authentic passion, you are one who never swears – while mom who studied ancient Greek says I am an iconoclast.

I say, try to find some agreement about that at least.

Dad’s a guy who’s used to fainting.

Maybe he’s one who gets frightened. If you look at him you wouldn’t say – you see him confident, well accomplished, even beautiful in his invulnerability. I have never happened to see him in such a state of abandonment. I saw him smoke a lot, that’s for sure, and lose breath once as he had literally sucked his butt end – for some minutes I saw him suffer from severe disorientation so well disguised under weariness or even standoffishness (that time he was actually wan) that you wouldn’t have said he was on the verge of falling long down out of his senses, taken away of his typical self control (which makes him frightful at times) from something that had simply displaced him.

Maybe that’s a technique he has learnt, this mastery on self control I mean – although it fails sometimes, which means that something surprising him still exists, something able to push his endurance line.

Dad is a guy who doesn’t sleep.

He sleeps up a whole rest of four hours from one to five am. At night he gets out late after dinner either with a neighbour or alone. He often goes downtown to a bar lounge where he meets colleagues or acquaintances. Then he’s back and locks up in his office again – he’s been staying there for the night since Orestes was born for he doesn’t want to get disturbed by the baby’s incessant night cries. After a short while, dad falls asleep while TV broadcasts “afterhour” footages and awakes on sat breaking news that he receives thanks to a dish he installed on the roof an afternoon all by himself so that he was about to fall down and we almost lost him once for all – eventually we had to summon a dish man.

All of it happens while I am sleeping – I take a whole stretch while dad goes out comes back watches TV falls asleep snores then wakes up and watches TV back while he’s having his coffee and maybe turns back to work. I do sleep meanwhile. Everything would happen behind my back unless my elder sister, Caroline, didn’t tell me about it while she’s taking me to school or takes me back home on the days when I get out of school at one pm like she does: she tightly holds my hand due to her solemn task.

Every night, before he shuts up in his office, dad visits her room to check she’s sleeping. He gets close to her to check she’s breathing. He then sets her blankets – maybe he also smacks a kiss on her forehead. She tells me he does but I cannot figure him out at smacking kisses on foreheads – well I do not feel sure he’s that kind of man. She assures he always smacks her a kiss. Maybe. Furthermore she expects it from him. In fact she hears him come into the room every night – she awakes for that, for the short time she needs to understand he is there and kisses her like a prince charming who shuts her eyes instead of opening them. Then she turns back on the other side and picks up her dream where she had dropped it. Maybe. In my opinion my elder sister Caroline tells me lies because if I quit dreaming when I fall back asleep I never manage to pick my dream up where I dropped it. As soon as he wakes up in the morning, dad never visits Caroline’s room back to check whether she’s still sleeping or she got uncovered during the night. In that case she would know, and tell me. As regards me, he never comes to my room, not even at night, otherwise I should know.

Dad is a guy with a cute pair of dark, pointed and movable eyes.

He’s got a quick gaze, really. For a few instants he directs it on the very little that strikes his short-lived attention – nobody knows how, yet, and then he quickly moves it fast forward. That’s why, maybe, dad is also a very absent-minded guy. Mom says that when dad gives public speeches he can spread out a wolf-like gaze on the audience as if they were preys ready to become his own bites. He moves this pair of sharp lights around like beams of cold light in order to seize the public’s attention in subsequent sections and to gather them all around his own words when he bursts into the audience by his agreeable voice.

That must be another technique dad has learnt to keep the public at bay – he might have studied TV anchormen or reporters as he is often stuck onto the TV screen, even while working, unless he renounces in favour of the radio.

Beaming, mom says dad has named the way cars move their icy gaze around against the black night. Dad doesn’t know I name his way of using eyes by that word with mom.

Dad is a guy who’s got vulnerable health.

He catches cold for nothing and gets high temperature.

Like on a night when it rained cats and dogs. The moment of the day I prefer, as to time, and the weather I love, as to climate. When it rains heavily and you can find shelter indoors into your bed. And everybody is at home safe from the storm that is flaring up outside. All the fuss out hitting the houses on its own, while we are inside, safe and spared.

Well, you know, on a certain night, some time ago, it rained and thundered, and there were also a couple of heavy blows from lightnings, and by waves did heavy wind also blow. After every electrical bomb lighting up the sky with daylight, so that you felt uncovered, as if someone was trying to pull blankets off leaving you naked in full light, the alarms from cars started blowing. Even dad’s car’s.

I heard him switch on the bed lamp and get up twice, at the beginning at least: he went to the window and behind the panes he checked that everything was in order. Then he went back to his bed, waited that alarms ceased to blow, and at last he would switch off the light.

Then the storm slowed down and it simply rained. Down the street you could hear bustle and soft voices but no more electric shocks nor thunders, not ever in the distance. You know how things go when storms get far – even the roars get away, so that it also scares less.

An alarm started. Dad jumped out of his bed and in the dark he opened the house door and flew down the stairs. Down the street I heard people running, then nothing more. Dad came back in, still in the dark he went to the bathroom and tried to dry up, then went back to bed.

It was still raining, very slowly.

Our street is very quiet and it draws a nice winding circle all around, it makes a big turning like sort of an up and down lane, then goes back to the big road: sort of a bend out. Yet a couple of cars slipped sliding on the wet tar, one after the other in the middle of the night as if they wanted to enjoy the bad weather. I heard voices again and sounding soft steps on the soaked tar, the sort that becomes shiny and more black. The alarm started blowing again together with a curse, I was not sure whether upstairs or downstairs.

Dad skipped out again while down the street I heard quick running steps.

Dad stayed out a bit, maybe smoking out his breath to stay alert, even long after the alarm had ceased screaming. When he came back up I heard him whisper something out there to mom who had her nice belly puffed with Orestes, and afterwards nothing more. Dad surely must have overheard for a long while. I did not. I fell back asleep lulled by the slow rain.

The day after, dad had highest temperature. The physician had to come. I did not go to school for the day was a full time one and no one could come pick me up after 4 pm. Not even my elder sister, Caroline, was enabled to solve the occurrence.

The night after dad felt bad again.

He started to gush again until dawn while mom would belooking after him changing cool compresses on his forehead.

Dad is a guy who enjoys kidding.

He actually plays lots of tricks on you, then in the thick of it he just moves on and leaves you behind: right on the moment when you were getting a taste for it – and excited, maybe. Well, just a very little flame of excitement, you know, sort of an inner warmth taking the place of the usual chill that generally twists your bowels and stalls your stomach taking any taste off your buds. He pulls you away from idleness and takes you to a merry-go-round – not just on the usual hobbyhorses on the carrousel that ride around and go up and down so that riding them you soon get bored like a toddler. Oh no, he throws you straight onto the rollercoaster – he comfortably seats you on the head seat, so that you can enjoy it better!, and he sits just beside you. He’s all excited, he also looks like a kid, he might even seem being a younger brother in need of your cares if it were not for the terribly smart blink in his eyes that makes them shine bright. And he just shows you with everything stretching out around you, sticking your eyes to tracking on all the visible things down to least details and diverting you from the noisy concert played on in the background (the children’s cries, the girls’ ones) and protruding you entirely towards danger – nevertheless you find him still sitting beside you, at the head of the convoy while it is crawling up to the very heap it will rush down from, and that slow crawling already knock you out as far as you get raised up to the sky with all your cells settling down into your blood while they are relishing you with dead weight and sticking you to the seat by your bottom until you get over the peak with a shiver: end of the climb, start of the ride. You begin falling down as you are standing up – so that you can read signs better: YOU ARE FALLING DOWN, COWS CONTINUOUSLY FLOWING… And you get ready to be shot you cannot predict where, face up, when the first turn takes you back to sit you down again, and you get overwhelmed against your seat for all the time remaining from now, while chasing after, as it seems, the same steel bar you are silently addressing a prayer tight to your grinding teeth in the wind, and behind you the girls are emitting one and only cry while loosing pieces. Mom once lost an earring that way, a gold ring, only one: the authorised personnel told her she probably had not been aware in the morning she had mistakenly worn only one since the very beginning of the day – which was improbable as mom is a girl who spends hours getting ready, so it might not be at all: mom protested in fact she had surely lost it in the loop, but it was all useless, of course. That gold ring, that very time, unfastened. She was lucky it did not rip up the ear lobe, the gorgeous and well smoothed lobe of mom’s right ear. Well, you know, everything’s smoothed in her, so blunt and elegant, shaped by grinds that took flesh off her body that is so stretched yet in turn, like Barbarella’s face dried up by time passing, her round cheeks having started straining along their pointy splendour of maturity.

Mom’s gold ring must have opened up, that time, getting tossed away in an interval of propelling centrifugal force. Had I been there, ready to pick it up, I myself would have thrown it far away just in order to follow it through any better destiny than an anonymous loss. Had it been a stone, a cutely smoothest stone, of the kind dad has taught me to throw along the water surface making it bounce off one two three times before we could see it sink down, then I would dizzily overhang by challenging any physical law, and I would grab it and keep hold of it in my fingers, then again I would exemplarily roll over like a magnificent baseball pitcher, like one of those future champions recruited in a big club’s youth sector waiting for “the boy to cut his teeth on it before he is launched among the first team”. I would know how to perform a perfect booklet motion so that my whole body would support my arm’s drive aimed at charging it in a deadly push so impossible to receive that any catcher’s grip would be made useless as well as any batter’s pitch lap after such a bullet, and afterwards I would have enjoyed the immense show of crowds standing and waving arms from galleries in order to award me with the magical flapping of their white caps bearing their team’s icon on foreheads, right over peaks, at that point reduced to several tiniest dark dots (maybe blue, or green, or red) up to designing a queer doodle in the air against the dark stains of seats under the roofs – one performed that unique time just for me, and maybe then one supporter, only one, would meanwhile be sitting aside in pure happiness in the middle of that human sea, being glad between whether having grabbed such a bullet from such a magic player or having gained a gold ring.

Anyway in some similar hurly-burly on that specific night I thought I had lost dad.

Therefore I flopped myself into my bed, all blankets up over my head, and while getting hold of a sheet corner by the fists and between my jaws I told dad (who could not hear me for I just uttered softly and then he was in the other room and even if he could listen to me, as he was in a daze, he would not understand me, and then I was so hidden in my corner):

Dad, I said to him, if you dare die I’ll kill you.

What is it? – my elder sister Caroline uttered outside. I just stretched out opening jaws wide in a broken imitation of a yawn like someone who’s just waking up and rubbing – so that I could better pretend – knuckles against eyelashes as if I should rid them off rheum (sleep bubbles, my elder sister Caroline usually calls them).

The day after I regularly went to school, firmly brought along by my elder sister Caroline’s hand, back and forth, and once at home I found dad was standing, still having a cold and a little bit crumpled: he had some temperature on, yet he was back to his senses.

As I am here now waiting for him, I’ll do these paper frogs. I have made some so far so little they are almost tadpoles. Some leap off high, some others just skip forward, then others somersault, the best made ones spin into somersaults like springboard girl divers, those ones you could quit everything for and leave – you know, dad would be able to.

By constantly making paper frogs I have finished a whole new maths notebook I only bought early this morning by not even choosing a cover I liked as I was dragged along my elder sister Caroline who would urge me for it was late and she also know, for she remembers, how much my Maths teacher can be annoying if you get into the classroom after her.

You’re late, straight to the directress’s office!, even though it is much earlier than the bell-ring.

How clever of you!, dad would tell her if he was there, as dad is one who fights for justice and has his own principles, you get in twenty minutes in advance on the agreed starting time and demand to have it respected as a rule. You are one who breaks all the arrangements.

As a rule, I swear she’s one who smashes up – my word.

Then I might as well waste the whole maths notebook – that is, I might as well destine it at least to something I like. Pity that I am almost getting frozen by constantly kneeling in front of the bench in order to lean and correctly cut little rectangles from my notebook sheets to be carefully folded along all the many and possible bisectors so that afterwards, by following the folding marks, I can make frogs or birds out of them. Well, you know, there should also be a room beside, with a table and four chairs, but the nuns never open it up to me.

I am keeping an eye out towards a doorway through which sometimes the nuns indeed make their own way.

Still here?, one of them teases me gently.

Waiting for dad.

I turn my shoulders to the statue of the Virgin Mary (either wood or plaster made) wearing a cute blue mantle and a crown of little bright stars on her head, and treading her feet upon the snake. I am always also keeping an eye out fearing that the nuns, each one at a time, pass by like in a slow agony.

Still here?

Waiting for dad.

I don’t even raise my eyes from the attending tadpole.

The thick of it is that sometimes some of them want me to recite a Hail Mary with them, to recommend myself to her so that she can plead with the Holy Father in order that dad soon comes to pick me up, and they can go free and eat or pray, that is: I once for all buzz off. I do feel it like a huge effort. I’d rather have my dad’s big hand take mine, and it should be time, as dad, despite being the frail and absent-minded guy he is, still has hands that, if he should take mine into them, I would then feel totally hugged.

Still here?


They’ve worn me out, then I want them to leave me alone as I have plenty to do.

Sister Lena, the Slim Nun, is always demanding that I address my little kisses to the Virgin Mary because she is good, and then she is Jesus’ mother. But as I have been here waiting since long among struggles nuisance and ordeals like in fairy tales, and just to find myself an occupation I wasted a whole new maths notebook just bought on the rush this morning while I was coming to school dragged along by my elder sister Caroline, and I could not help but fold sheets all the time to make out frogs and tadpoles that are able to jump leap flip and somersault, then I will give mom my little kiss – and I won’t send it to her for sure: I am gonna kiss her directly on the cheek when I meet her in a while.

One of these days I’m gonna go back home all by myself. I can get out among all others and head on, lively and confident, just not to stand out. Or I could just let me drive by nuns into this separate wing of the school pretending to be submissive as usual, then I could wait until they leave me alone and I could silently open the huge grey door and slip out. I know my way.

There’s one only barrier. The huge school door we all pour by.

I just have to lean onto the corner and check there’s nobody between me and the next intersection. Right after that I would be ok, and I could have my nice walk, maybe just stopping along my way by the high school for a couple of minutes so to watch over the guys and gals of the sports group and I could also check my frogs from the wall of their yard, meanwhile. And of course I would pay special attention on the very moment when I cross the street: I would attentively watch on one side and the other to check there are no cars crossing, and only then I would get off the sidewalk. I could even have a walk round the park, but that would not take me much as along my way I do not cross the big park that is exactly all the other way round but only some shabby flowerbeds with one and only scraped off bench. At that very point I should be specifically smart, as I should cross the avenue, then, which is a very broad way but at least it is a one way road so it offers the advantage I’d only have to watch over one side in case cars came my way (the cars driving the opposite direction simply run through a parallel avenue). Well, after that, I am almost home: I just have to turn into the second street and I get into my road at last. I could simply stop by at the newsagent’s to purchase some football stickers bags and then I shall be there, attending. Mom will look at me in admiration as I have worked it out all alone. There’s only one more issue left. At that very point it is all dark and, as it seems, some mean guys are used to be hiding in the dark just to wait for little boys like me, sort of wanting to do them in – something I have also heard about. Well, you know, it’s a risk, but, all in all, should I even waste a couple of minutes to settle some pairs of these elder bros just gone a little bit out of their minds, I could anyway manage to be home much long before the time I make each time I stay here waiting for dad and maybe even long before the time when I have my match on my favourite videogame.

Dad, you know, is a guy who’s always very busy, a hard worker indeed, and he’s not showing off.

Nothing strange, you know, he’s forgotten me.

And who knows when I am arousing to his conscience.

Whether I am.

Daniela Matronola

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