We were sitting at the table having breakfast. Father said:
“I have something to tell you…Simona’s pregnant…” upon delivering this sentence his face had become as red as if he had said something very shameful.
The very same redness spilt over mother’s face, her neck, even her hands became red and sweaty and her fingers started to tremble heavily, which caused the tinkling of the spoon in the sugar bowl and mother muttered a red-hot sentence from her flaming throat with a voice tinkling with excitement (everything, everything tinkled during that particular morning):
“You don’t have to say a word, I know it all. You can go, but you have to know one thing – you are not going to take a single thing with you. Go!”
Red and trembling she stood up and ran towards the bedroom where her tears had caught up with her after she had tried to keep them on the edge of her eyelashes while she was still at the table. When she slammed the bedroom door silence was hanging over the table; the tinkling of the cups, the saucers and her own fingers had stopped, the tinkling of her voice had stopped, too, the only thing that could be heard was my father clearing his throat while looking at the cup of now absolutely cold coffee.
We knew Simona well. Why did mother get so upset? Why did her fingers tinkle in chorus with fine china while the redness spilled all over her face? Why did father’s face get so red that he resembled a little embarrassed boy who had just told a shameful lie to his parents?
We know Simona well; she is my father’s secretary. And what a secretary she’s been; father always used to say that God, himself, had sent Simona to his office, he used to say that he would lose his head without Simona…I can’t see why mother got so agitated…so what if she is pregnant, she is not irreplaceable.
I said to my father:
“Are you afraid that now she is going to leave because she is pregnant? Does it worry you to look for another secretary?”
He did not look into my eyes but rather somewhere around my chest, and with a still dull, quiet voice said:
“Otto, are you really that stupid or are you just pretending to be that way?”
I did not understand what he was asking.
He stood up and walked out without a coat into a cold Milan morning.
We knew Simona. She came into his office some five years ago, that’s exactly how much older she was than I – five years. She was eighteen when she started to work for him. When I had laid my eyes on her I thought “this is exactly how my future wife is going to look.”
Oh merciful Lord, she had the most beautiful smile, I had never seen a smile like hers. It adorned her face so beautifully that I was not able to notice anything else: the coulour or the shape of her eyes, the shape of her nose or chin…bah, what shape? No other shape was there to distinguish, nothing, there was only Simona’s smile on that face. Simona’s smile was always there like the sun in the cloudless sky.
Whenever I would come to father’s office Simona would treat me with chocolates which she kept in the first drawer on the left-hand side of her desk. I would always take one, but Simona would not take any for she would say she had already had one in the morning, which was exactly what she would allow herself to have (I marvelled at her discipline!)
My first cup of coffee ever! Simona had prepared it for me. I came to father’s office carrying some papers which mother had sent on father’s request. He was not there, Simona said:
“Sit down, Otto. Have a cup of coffee with me.”
I had enjoyed there my first, sweetest coffee and I had never ever experienced that sweetness again but I had promised myself once again that the woman I was going to love would carry on her face the ever-present Simona’s smile (was it good or bad luck, devil knows, later I met Her with that smile which overshadowed even Simona’s seemingly perfect smile.)
Whenever I would meet Simona my hands would tremble just as my mother’s hands had trembled today. I never knew the real reason for the trembling of my hands…was it because of her smile or was it because of her pitch-black hair, combed and sleek looking as if it was made of tar…or was it because of glow-worms in her eyes which flew towards you as she talked to you or they flew towards the window to reach the wide sky?…Alive glow-worms in Simona’s eyes.
When father had walked out without a coat (was it really too hot for him, or was he in such a hurry that he had forgotten his coat, who would really know it now?) I had entered mother’s room. I found her lying on the bed crying, I sat down on the edge of the bed without a word. After a short time she got up, wiped off her tears and said:
“Don’t just sit there. I want to be left alone. Get out!”
“Mother, why did you get so upset about it? He is going to find another secretary.”
She gave me one of her dumbfounded looks and asked:
“How old are you, Otto?”
“Are you really brainless or are you pretending to be?”
“I don’t get you…”
“Your father is going to leave us.”
“But why? It’s not like he and…” I left the room without ending my sentence for my mother needed solitude. Only in solitude could she find peace and comfort.
In the dining room, everything was still the same as it was in the moment when we left it. Like some theatre scene…without protagonists…it looked as if they had left in search for new roles.
No, this is not possible!
This is what she thinks. That’s why she said to him “You don’t have to say a word, I know it all.”
This is not possible!
Simona! With her smile, with glow-worms in her eyes, with her white teeth and dimples in her cheeks.
My father – the man on whose face smile never shows, whose teeth are brownish from smoking and age, and gum disease has left them rickety regardless of his daily hygienic routine and efforts.
Simona – one head taller than him, slim with a tiny waist and long, long legs and a little bottom as an Easter bun, with elegant hands and slim, long fingers adorned with numerous yellow rings.
My father…stocky, short. He is already belting his pants underneath his sagging breasts. Short- legged, short-sighted, sullen, unapproachable and a known-all.
Simona…with her pitch-black hair, dark but shiny she looks like a perfectly crafted doll from some exotic place…with her big almond-shaped eyes, the eyes of a child where the glow-worms are shining the light with their little brilliant torches wooing observers to drown in it.
My father…half-bald but convinced that, yet, nobody can really notice it (Simona neither), since he is combing his hair across his head, over the bald patch, from left to right avoiding the wind at any cost…
No, it can’t be true.
Can it be true?
My father, the most respected lawyer in the town, the omniscient one, with no mystery left to
be solved, the one who always knows and offers more, accustomed to be in the public eye, accu-
stomed to obedience…
Simona, my secret.
My first inspiration. A real woman of flesh and blood, the first one I had dedicated my poem to!
She would greet me upon coming or leaving with her magical smile, she would light up her glow-worms in her eyes every time I would walk into the office with an excuse that I was after my father.
She had that quality I had always admired in women – she was timid, for every time when I would ask questions about my father she would lower her gaze, she would blush or she would leave the room. If father was present, she would stutter timidly…she would feel unease knowing that father had caught us together alone in the room.
“Yes, yes…Simona Verdi,” that’s how she would answer the phone. She would chirp:
“Visconti lawyers, Simona Verdi’s here…”
It must be a mistake. Some silly joke. Simona’s not pregnant. Particularly not with…no, no…what is it that mother’s insinuating, I have to talk to her, it cannot be that she thinks that Simona would…and my father…once again, I had entered her room and said:
“Mother, what is it that you want to say…is it that Simona’s…”
“Leave this room at once, Otto. I want to be left alone.”
I did not get the answer. Not on that day. But on the following one.
“I’ve known about that cheap slut since the day she came in.”
“Simona’s not a slut mother, she is a nice girl, I know that.”
“And what is that that you know, Otto? You are one very naïve idiot…oh, Otto, how did we bring you up? Or it was not of our doing, could be that you are just like that – a naïve idiot!”
“Why are you talking to me like that, mother? Why do you think that I am naïve?”
“So, tell me, you fool, why do you think that Simona’s a nice girl? Explain it, let me hear it, you imbecile.”
I had never heard my mother talking like that. I kept silent, she was livid, screaming out loudly:
“Tell me, you smart arse, why do you call this little slut a nice girl?”
“Well, she is nice…always smiling…always bright…”
“Bright, huh? You are a real nincompoop.”
“I am not nincompoop, mother.”
“Yes you are, a real fool, I can’t understand what an idiot you have turned into.”
I walked outside, then into the garden and sat underneath my poplar tree. I felt like crying not knowing the exact reason why: was it because of my mother, was it because of Simona or because of my father who had walked out into a cold morning without a coat and without any explanation apart from one short sentence which did not explain much, “Simona’s pregnant”?
Mother had sharpened herself for a bloody battle regarding the property, hoping that in this game she would use up all her mighty fury. But to my father Simona was more important than any property, so he signed over our family house into her name without a word. That’d be about how he had left us and how he’d gone to live with pregnant Simona.
We were left with a house full of memories. Valeria Visconti, Miss Pageant of Anonymous Province. That trophy she had taken into the marriage as a priceless dowry. How important it was to be beautiful and well dressed so that he could take her out showing her off to the most respectable people of the town! When they would go out she would be carefully selecting her clothes for hours, she would call her hairdresser to our house so that he could press her hair to perfection because she needed to look at herself in her own mirror and then she would ask it:
“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest one of all?”
And she would hear its voice, “Famed is thy beauty, Majesty…”
(…but behold! A lovely secretary I see…rags cannot hide her gentle grace, Simona is fairer than thee…)
Simona. How withered away and old mother looked compared to Simona. Youth had left her, the collagen injections did not work miracles, the effects of long massages gave just temporary results, yes, they would freshen her up a little bit but she did not appear twenty-three years younger, exactly how much Simona was younger when put in numbers.
How to compete with Simona? With what weapons? The bosom had withered and the words were full of bitterness.
But, can she so easily let Simona sit on the throne?
Is it that everything could end just because of one little slut? Because of one pregnancy? What about all those years they had spent together? They even had their son together (right now, Otto Visconti’s becoming important!), they acquired their property together, their families and mementos. But Enzo was not willing to live of mementos.
The next day I heard parts of her over and over repeated monologue which leaked through the door-cracks. The words were well laced with arsenic, the air was sour and her gestures quite uncontrollable. I had never seen mother acting like that. She did not notice me for her gaze was quite absent. She got dressed while talking. Her speech was loud, she had spoken to Simona.
I followed her walking cautiously behind her, hiding myself even though I knew that her gaze was absent and hazy. It was not my mother, I had a presentiment about something of quite an uncertain outcome…unpleasant…She was heading towards father’s office.
When she entered Simona told her that father wouldn’t be back until well after lunch-time.
I saw discomfort on Simona’s pretty face through the half-opened door, she took a few steps back towards the window but mother followed her with her flaming face throwing at Simona the countless times repeated monologue. In that heated speech she told Simona that she was a cheap slut with zero education and zero culture, and that all she had ever possessed were large breasts and a small, firm butt. She told her she was an amoral woman who was stealing from others because there was no one who could teach her any better. Then she told her that she, Valeria, would stop her in her dirty plan for she was going to tell all their friends what kind of a woman she was, they’d know all even before they even met her.
Caught by a merciless hand of contempt, hatred and jealousy my mother was blabbering heated sentences, walking to and fro with a crimson face pushing it into Simona’s frightened face, gesticulating with her arms and in the end she grabbed Simona by the hair pulling it downwards as if she believed she could take off that perfect wig of hers. That was not all; she then grabbed her by the wrists squeezing them hard and after that she slapped her face swiftly with the open hand several times, then she scratched her hands like an enraged wild cat, kicked her repeatedly on the shins and finally started to spit into her face and eyes, while Simona was just standing there with hands covering her face crying “Please, don’t do it Mrs Visconti, please, don’t…”
I was standing there at the half-opened door with a full-opened mouth and in this very moment all illusions I ever had about my mother were dispersed just as light clouds would disperse when caught in the web of my poplar tree crown. I came close slowly, as if I was walking through a dream, and tried to calm down that wild beast who was screaming from my mother’s depths, truly believing that this was the first time I met her.
Even though the whole scene resembled a dream, even though I walked as a somnambulist I felt that enormous shame entangled underneath my skin, which was adorned by goose bumps because of it. All I wanted was to close my eyes and fall asleep to be awoken in some other reality…but when I came close to my mother, who noticed me only then, she started to smack my face and head with both hands telling me what an idiot I was, asking herself why and how such kind of a fool had happened to be her own son. She said that I was such a fool, even bigger than Enzo, and so enraged she started to kick my shins and legs the way she was kicking Simona’s before I tried to calm her down. The awakened beast in my mother could not slow down. Simona, scratched all over her face and covered in blood rushed to my rescue, trying to calm my mother down by holding her hands and muttering with a beseeching voice, “Please, don’t Mrs.Valeria…” to which my mother went completely wild and screamed:
“Don’t you dare utter my name, you prostitute! You little slut!”
All of that was way too much for Otto, I started to cry begging her:
“Mother, don’t! Please, don’t call her by such names.”
Those words had only brought a more intense attack of madness, so my mother had grabbed her by the shoulders and started to shake her as if she was a plum-tree, her hair covering her sweaty face and her make-up smudged around her flaming eyes. She shook Simona, she shook her as she would shake an over-bearing plum-tree, and after a while she pushed her with all her might towards the window where Simona’s head banged onto the window-sill and she fell down on her knees crying.
I ran to Simona’s rescue, she was on her knees crying and holding her stomach, which did not look as a pregnant woman’s stomach yet, with both hands. Simona didn’t look like a real, beautiful and ever-smiling Simona, but rather like a while ago beautiful, but now broken doll, and as a sad child I sat next to the doll and started to console her in a sincere attempt to mend the damage with words. I was hugging Simona crying together with her, stroking her head and straightening her messed-up hair, wiping off her tears unaware that mine were rolling down my cheeks as a wild unstoppable river.
I heard my mother’s screech “Traitor!” addressed to me, her unfaithful son, and after that she left us wobbling out as if the whole scene had intoxicated her…intoxicated with what..?
Simona and I, we were sitting on the floor crying and hugging each other. My father had found us sitting on the office floor in tears.
Panic had painted a harsh mask on his previously placid face, he came closer to Simona while pushing me away. The same panic gave to his voice a different tone, so I could not recognize it as his voice:
“Simona, Simona my sweetheart, what has happened? What has this idiot done to you?”
Simona was drowning in her tears as if she had to cry them out all, right now; she was hugging my father unable to utter a word and he was repeating over and over without looking at me:
“What has this idiot done to you?”
I stood up slowly, wiped off my tears, and walked downstairs.
The morning in Milan was cold, foggy and full of filth.
And I, myself, felt like Milan: cold, hazy and full of filth with which I was dirtied by Valeria and Enzo Visconti.
“Simona” was published in May 27 2011, English language, by “In Stereo Press” online literary magazine
The second time “Simona” was published in August 2011, Croatian language, by “Nova Istra” Croatian Literary and Cultural Periodical
Sydney 2003 – Simona©Branka Cubrilo