"Oh my God! I think he is dangerous..." Pretending to be nervously biting his nails, Fabrizio was whispering this to himself, but loud enough so that I could perfectly listen. "What have I done, now? He's got me trapped in this secluded house with no neighbors, just like he wanted..." He pumped his right fist against his chest. "Nobody will hear me when I scream for help! Oh, no! My time has come! He has a knife..." He shrieked like a little girl. "I have loved him so much! It was worth risking my life... And now I shall die through his hands..."
"Haha. Very funny!" I tried to look annoyed. "And the Oscar goes to... Fabrizio Molto Tragico! You can stop, now." I had just put the knife into the dishwasher.
We had had dinner. Fabrizio had cooked, and as always the food had been delicious.
He could have easily been a chef. He had a true passion and the necessary discipline, creativity, curiosity and generosity in the kitchen. But Fabrizio was in a hurry to make money, living in constant financial competition with his elder brother, and he had never contemplated a career as a chef thinking that it would take too long to earn money, and that it never would be as much as he intended.
Partially listening carefully to what Fabrizio told me, in part through an online article titled Young Global Entrepreneur, when he had been awarded Young Entrepreneur of Excellency in 2007, I had learned that his family owned a conglomerate of companies ranging from hotels to a large and important Italian newspaper, and even a shipyard.
His father, however, having felt pressed by Fabrizio's grandfather to take over the family businesses -- he would have preferred to be a physician --, had recently passed the administration of the conglomerate to professionals, thus relieving his children from a forced succession. Every child -- they were three, Franco, Fabrizio and Patrizia --, upon completing 21 years old, was given a certain amount of capital so they could work on whatever they liked. Thus had been born the financial competition between Fabrizio and his brother.
A competition that had been stimulated in other ways since childhood -- at least, that's what it seemed to me --, so fierce that it lead Fabrizio to be competitive at all times, even when queuing for bread in a bakery. And even with me, if I did not carefully disarm his triggers.
Fabrizio had always felt to be in the shadow of his elder brother, but with the 2008 financial crisis, he had taken the front row. At 23 years old, though feeling a bit like a coward, he had cautiously taken the money away from the stock market a little before the tremendous fall, believing that from those heights one could only contemplate the abyss.
He hadn't lost money, unlike his brother, who had suffered a severe blow. And since then, Fabrizio had made fast-growing Asian countries the main market for the expansion of the luxury brands he owned or represented. More than that about his wealth I did not know, or did not understand, or had no interest in knowing.
After dinner, which Fabrizio had prepared with joy and ease -- having cooked during four years to Andara and her group of friends, he felt it was very simple and pleasurable to cook just for the two of us --, he had been checking my mp 3 player.
During dinner, he had commented that my playlist sounded like a concert, constituted of different musical sections with the same rhythm alternating or succeeding, creating 'soundscapes' through which the listener could travel. Or even storytelling through music.
To his comment, I had begun to explain my idea for that playlist, which I had called I'maginary Kingdom.
Fabrizio had actually enjoyed the music, and his mockery was for the "excessive" care I put on every playlist I created -- while his, as I had already seen, were called Like 1, Like 2, Like 3.
"I'm joking, babe!" Fabrizio was very practical for various things while I was recherché, putting dedication and care into the smallest things. "You know it, don't you?" Fabrizio felt the need to clarify, indicating he had realized how his careless words of criticism had hurt me. "I love your artistic way of doing everything, Laurent!" Next, he spoke with a very serious tone of voice. "Even how you fold the napkins... It turns our lives into a daily experience of beauty, my dear."
I had not been angry with Fabrizio, actually. Just a little disappointed.
His mockery tasted to Angelo, my ex-boyfriend. Angelo knew that I had suffered bullying at school. He was the only person with whom I had ever shared my secret wound that never healed, and he had reproduced it in a subtle way in our relationship, controlling me and imposing his dominance over me, even when he was repeatedly cheating me. It was as if I had had a private bully as a boyfriend for eight years -- or that's how I interpreted it now that I saw our relationship more clearly.
It took me so long to discover that my slow way of doing things was not necessarily bad, like people said. It was just a more careful way, as often opposed to the carelessness and hurry of others. Fabrizio's mockery, however, hurt because it dated back to years and years of misunderstanding, of others to me and finally of myself at myself.
Just recently had I made peace with myself.
To think our relationship would have that component saddened and discouraged me. Thus had I reacted, in the worst manner possible, to Fabrizio's joke. No way I would again live the fear ridden relationship I had with Angelo, and I wasn't happy to acknowledge that this was an unhealthy pattern for my love.
Perhaps, more than the mockery that had carried a veiled criticism, it was Fabrizio's girly squeal, raising the ghosts of my past, which had hurt me.
"Come here, babe. I'm sorry for what I said." Fabrizio apologized sincerely. "Sorry, the joke wasn't funny." We had just talked about the bullying that I had suffered in early adolescence for being effeminate, and perhaps he hadn't resisted the temptation to mock me. "I truly admire the way you do all things, Laurent, bringing art and poetry into them..."
"Unless it's an omelet, right?" I blurted. When I cooked, I had the same practicality and objectivity Fabrizio devoted for everything else. My dishes were rather simple, very far from recherché. "Simple survival food", as I called it. I was unable to make an omelette baveuse, even if in the movie Tampopo I had learned how to, and again taken lessons from Fabrizio. "Then, with an egg, you may be as obsessive as I am, don't you think?"
We rarely quarreled. Fabrizio had very stressful work days, and all he wanted at home was peace and harmony. And at 37 years old, I had already learned how to live alone peacefully, so that to want to live in the company of another man, only if it was to be better than by myself. This was our agreement of coexistence.
And Fabrizio helped me out of the depressing moods that sometimes dominated me, while I helped him to relax and focus on his own inner peace. In order not to make him sad, I took care of my own sadness, and so that he wouldn't stress me out, Fabrizio took care of his own agitation and anxiety. We took care of each other as well as from ourselves, which ultimately was equivalent.
"I know, Laurent. I'm sorry. It was rude of me. Come sit with me. Please?" He had winked at me, and in return I grimaced. He then smiled brightly, shining his perfectly white teeth that contrasted with his tan skin and illuminated the blue of his eyes. Fabrizio knew how good looking he was, and how his beauty continually struck me. But I just hated when he tried playing Prince Charming to shunt our issues and avoid discussion.
Since Fabrizio had agreed to spend nearly a month in Iceland, we had divided the tasks -- he commissioned the house and the car, while I took care of our travel plans. An appropriate soundtrack was my personal touch. And Fabrizio had more than once derided the care with which I prepared the playlists. One of them had been exclusively on Icelandic music, of course.
"We are not condemned to listen to Icelandic pop for a whole month, are we?" he had asked along the Ring Road, commenting on yet another playlist he felt was obsessively well done.
"Don't do like that, Laurent. Our trip has been so wonderful!" He finally sounded serious. "Everything has been running harmoniously. I don't want my bad joke to spoil anything. We have never bickered before... Please?" And as if he was delivering me the peace treaty, Fabrizio inquired "What is this song? It's beautiful..." That was his way of showing appreciation to my work and personal contribution to our trip, trying to overcome our momentary grief.
Fabrizio was occupying a chair in the living room, and once I had finished putting away the dishes and was on my way to join him, he had mouthed his criticism. I had immediately retreated to take sit at the steps of the circular stair that led to the upper floor, where the bedroom, a bathroom and the sauna were. That's how we had ended sitting apart from each other, listening to the beautiful, soft soothing song by Carla Bruni, 'La possibilité d'une île'. It gently filled the spacious living room and seemed to bring the twinkling of the stars inside the house, but it still did not abridge our distance.
"Please sit on my lap, Laurent babe." His pleading was done in the most conciliatory tone, and I gave in. But not like I had given in a few minutes earlier, when rather aggressively I had turned off the playlist, to select random. Quite unexpectedly, Bruni was followed by a song from Radiohead.
"This song..." Fabrizio used his deepest voice tone, as if to erase that little girl cry he had given a while ago, which had given rise to the shame I had felt for my own shrill voice in adolescence. "We have heard it once together in the Apennines, haven't we? It was the album I was listening to at that time, wasn't it? It had just been released... Do you remember it, Laurent?"
Fabrizio was trying to break my silence because he preferred to listen to me rather than talk about himself. Sometimes, when Fabrizio spoke of himself, it seemed like he was talking about a stranger -- or even addressing an enemy. At least, someone who had let him down profoundly, and repeated times. Because he was actually very disappointed with himself.
Fabrizio had beauty and intelligence -- and a certain need to have them confirmed by praise --, and he had lived accustomed to having money and power -- so different from my humble, almost destitute childhood in Punaouilo -- and he could not accept less than perfection for himself. The perfect son, the perfect student, the perfect abs, the perfect gentleman, the perfect wardrobe, the perfect lover, the perfect timing.
Or maybe that perfection was a persona he had assumed to disguise the big nuisance that was his own tormented sexuality, which from an early age he had perceived as a major flaw and the biggest imperfection of all. Social death, as he regarded it in the society he was accustomed to. And all his life he had hidden himself behind that perfection, like someone hiding behind a trench, or an armor.
But since he had decided to live a relationship with me, he had to be on the front line, with all the openness and honesty about what he believed was his imperfection. From his whole family, it was the elder brother who had hit Fabrizio harder after his coming out, in an attempt to debunk all Fabrizio's former accomplishments.
But if he no longer had ahead of him an army of social lies and hypocrisy to defend him, I tried to clearly demonstrate that I was always at his rear, a new position for an army as Fabrizio had never had before -- an army, my army, of love and acceptance.
In Italy, I had taken a bus to a small village in the Apennines, where Carlo would pick me up in his new car -- always a new car. Carlo, usually a man of modest habits, who did not have many luxuries, had an enduring passion for luxury sports cars.
While waiting for Carlo, I managed to contact Fabrizio. For many months we hadn't spoken, having just exchanged laconic e-mails -- Fabrizio's bold and painful messages, and my single sentence answers to them. He was surprised when I told him I was in Italy with Carlo, and I was happy when, to my renewed invitation, he replied that he could come within a week or ten days to visit us.
Almost twenty five years later, I felt the farm house had changed very little. The region was much more populated, with many properties having been purchased to become country houses to wealthy people. But Tarso's property, way uphill, despite having shrunk by losing a section to the National Park, had remained with its aura of isolation and tranquility, as if it were under protection itself.
A few trees had fallen with storms, but in general the external appearance of the house was the same as if it hadn't aged -- unlike me.
Carlo had done some renovations, restoring the roofs and walls. The house seemed brighter, even bigger and more spacious, contrary to what is often said of childhood memories, that magnify everything.
Despite having brought the furniture from his apartment and studio in London, the city where Carlo had taken refuge under the auspices of Davez Drew after he left our home in France, the cottage still looked rather empty.
The modern and comfortable furniture seemed to perfectly fit the ancestral environment of the D'Allegro house -- the living room, made exquisite, was still however dominated by the huge, frightening fireplace with its unbridled mouth. I was sure that if one day the house should collapse, the fireplace would stand still -- but I sincerely hoped that the house would hold on for many years yet, for I finally saw myself as its heir, for the first time imagining how I would take care of her.
To my surprise, I felt like a real D'Allegro, and connected to my family's history.
I hadn't seen Carlo for almost two years, since his retrospective in London. I could see the enormous effort that was for him to be absent from the shelter where he had been born -- and to where, after having conquered the art world, he had returned.
I found him to be even quieter, somewhat monastic, more like Tarso in his long silences full of acute observation, but without the same strain of my great-grandfather. Perhaps because one was looking outside, constantly worrying about the signs of nature, storms, crops, droughts, and the other looked inside himself and observed his own emotions, sensations, thoughts.
Feeling my father resembled Tarso much more, I began to fear for my days at the farm.
I was afraid to inform Carlo about Fabrizio's visit. Only on the next morning after my arrival did I tell him. He was not pleasantly surprised -- I guess I forgot to ask his permission to invite Fabrizio, and instead I simply informed him that he would have a guest.
"If it's so important to you that this guy visits, of course I shall welcome him..." He did not seem upset, just a little bit doubtful. "Did you say he is an art collector? Are you sure that he is not some art critic or journalist in disguise? Or some sort of writer?"
In the beginning, Carlo had built his career without any support from the art critics nor anyone connected to the artistic elite. Instead, he got a lot of negative, disheartening reviews on his debut. But ultimately the quality of his painting had imposed itself, being displayed at and purchased by museums, and no longer just in private collections and the commercial circuit.
"This is sacred ground, you know, son?" Carlo was referring to the fact that he had never had anyone from the art market visiting the farm. No critics, no journalists, no art dealers -- unless perhaps an inconvenient marchand from the United States who had 'stumbled' upon Carlo's atelier while traveling in Italy on holidays. And he had kindly requested her to leave, without having let her see his atelier.
Although not on purpose, Carlo's isolation and refusal to give interviews had only increased his romantic aura of a reclusive painter.
He wanted to be left alone. But instead, people seemed unable to forget him, the fascination with his work increasing as he tried to hide himself, becoming even more mysterious. There were speculations that the dark red that he applied on some of his works was prepared and mixed with the blood of nightly animals from the mountains, and all sorts of other weird rumors.
I had an idea in mind, too, when I had come to visit my father in his atelier -- which had once been the old barn of my many conversations with Fabio. One wall had collapsed, and Carlo, rather than rebuilding it, had instead placed immense windows, so that his studio opened to the mountains and into the woods which, in my adolescence, I had crossed in the early mornings to meet Fabio on the fields.
My intention was to write Carlos' biography, with all the fascinating and hard moments of his rough start in Paris, which I had never heard mentioned anywhere. I had had this idea during the months I hadn't painted, having just returned from Sweden where I had visited Armand, and when again I had felt the desire to write.
My life career had taken alternations between Literature and Painting -- clearly between following my father or my mother's path. I had always believed I had greater ease for writing, despite never having heard any encouragement from Catherine. Or maybe writing had just been my most desperate attempt to be close to my mother, by all means.
My father, on the contrary, had given me painting lessons during my childhood in Punaouilo, and he had at least praised my imagination, if there was nothing else to praise in my childish blotches. But when he was gone, I quit painting at once, as my revenge against his absence. I had tried to deny everything I had received from him. Choosing the School of Journalism in Vice City, however, had been a manipulation from Angelo, whose strong might and determination compensated my lack of will and insecurities. When he had decided that we should do the same college together, to escape our family environment, I couldn't agree more. At the time, it seemed like a very romantic adventure to live abroad with my boyfriend.
In Vice City, stimulated by my frequent visits to museums, along the disappointment with the way my poetic writings were down-rated at college, and having finally distanced myself from Carlo and no longer needing to take revenge from him and his artistic heritage, and without ever having been able to connect to my mother through my writings, I resumed painting.
But it was only with Dan Charmand's triumphant entrance in my life, introduced to me by Angelo as a most valuable gift of consolation for his numerous betrayals -- and I'm guessing he cheated me with Charmand himself --, was it that Painting took over my entire creation.
Now, however, writing a biography of Carlo seemed to be a good compromise to bring together the worlds of Literature and Painting that had always been confronting within me.
But I would have to find the right time to propose it to him. For now, he was sufficiently disturbed by my presence, and the constant calls from Fabrizio.
"Is this guy your boyfriend, Laurent?" my father had finally inquired.
"No, Carlo..." I had replied quite simply, but the two words had sounded like a dreamy lullaby... Not yet, I thought, but did not say it.
"Well, clearly, he is not just a friend, as you told me. Your voice sounds different, Laurent, when you talk to this guy. As if one could hear a string orchestra sweetly seconding your conversations, haha!" Carlo then confronted me. "Even so, I would ask you to kindly keep your phone in the silent mode, and avoid answering his calls inside the studio. Is it okay with you?"
"Of course. I'm sorry, Carlo." I was embarrassed, and suddenly I found myself again at twelve years old, intoxicated with Fabio without realizing my father's own feelings and troubles, disregarding him completely. But unlike my great-grandfather, who had yelled at me to stop crying and had punched me, Carlo had just made a joke and asked me to quiet down, quite lovingly. Where would my father have taken that love from, a love that he had never received from his deceased parents, nor Tarso, nor Catherine? How could Carlo love so much -- love me so much -- when he had been loved so little?
"Listen to the silence around us, Laurent." My father paused for a moment, giving me the chance to sharpen my ears. "This vibrant silence full of natural sounds... Doesn't this little noise from your phone annoy you, too?" I could understand Carlo's complaint, because I had also sometimes had the impression of being listening to a natural concert in the Apennines, that the mobile disrupted. But how wouldn't I answer Fabrizio? The same annoying ring was like the sound of music to me, when I thought he was on the other side... Since we had connected again, every conversation between us was like an orgasm. "That boy will be here within a week, non é vero?" Carlo was in good spirits. "Otherwise, you won't have much left to talk when he arrives, haha!"
But I could understand his feelings about it. It was as if I hadn't actually arrived, or as if sometimes I again departed from the Apennines over the phone, at least once a day, and often for up to an hour, giving prevalence for Fabrizio's virtual presence.
Was Carlo jealous? And was it a retroactive jealousy?
I was reminded of that visit to the farm long ago, when he had spent most of his time with Tarso, while I had always been in Fabio's company.