Monday, October 12, 2015

Episode 15-II | Cherry snow sleep

All through the four years of my relationship with Angelo in France, I had been able to keep my secret. From him, from my mother, from Edoardo.

They all had different ideas of what had caused my resistance to leave right after New Year's Eve and join university in Vice City for the Spring semester. Angelo was guessing I wanted to spend one last birthday in France -- but I couldn't care less about my birthdays. Or, like him, about France. My mother thought I was full of fear of leaving for the US, understanding it was much more Angelo's will than mine. And Edoardo -- I don't know what thoughts crossed his mind, but at least once he was thankful to me, for the extra time with his son.

But none of them would know my real reason to stay. None of them could ever guess. 

None of them would understand. Angelo would kill me, if he knew what was keeping us away from the US. My mother would be disappointed with my weakening sentimentality. Edoardo would despise me for being even more foolish than he thought. 

I wanted to see her blossom one last time -- not just to say goodbye.

I wanted to feel the miracle of her colorful presence one last time, feel her perfumed embrace. 

My most constant friend  for all those years, my only confident -- I wanted to request guidance one last time, before leaving her forever.

A cool evening, when everybody in the house was busy with their own affairs, I left for a walk. It was known that I needed time on my own, and that I enjoyed the nights to wander. Nobody asked where I was going, maybe nobody saw me leaving. Nobody cared, actually.

I had been watching the cherry tree, and I knew it would soon blossom to its fullest.

As I walked up the slope, the vision of a dark pink cloud towering the hill told me my dear friend would present herself in full glory before me.

I, instead, decided to undress, and present myself before her in my humblest, purest nudity. 


Leaving my clothes in a bundle at the bottom of the hill, I walked guided by the light of the full moon. The shinny, moist grass breaking under my bare feet was the only audible sound, and that of a faraway bird.

Like I had done all over the years, I carried a question in my heart. Slowly approaching the tree with reverence, I reached out my hand. Opening my palm, I let the question fly in that cloud of subtle perfume, like a bird or a butterfly I was freeing.

I had learned to be patient. I had understood the tree had its own time, and it could be days before she'd murmur an answer.

But not that evening. 

Will I ever see my father again?, I had asked the first Spring. Her silence, her stillness had only indicated I had would have to wait, patiently. Not for another answer -- that never came --, but to again meet him.

Is Angelo the right man? A bird bursting into singing, remaining invisible among the higher branches was the answer. Or was the answer the moment he had fled, flying away from the other side of the tree, where I could not devise it, leaving just waving flowers and falling petals as a sign of his vanishing. Exactly like Angelo would, later in my life.

Should I go to the US?, had been the question, last Spring. A sudden gust of wind, blowing a rain of petals in my direction, had been the answer -- that I had understood as a flamboyant yes, followed as it was by a cloud of fireflies encircling me.

Am I doing the right thing with my life?, was my question that year.

I was ready to come back night after night, or as many afternoons as it took, to receive my answer. 

I was aware it was the broadest question I had asked thus far.

It was also the quickest answer I ever got.

After perhaps twenty minutes -- or less -- of having stayed under the tree in perfect stillness, concentrating on my breathing like I had been taught by my father in Punaouilo, when he had shared brief meditation lessons with me, and repeating the question in my heart as a solemn mantra, the answer came.

Before my eyes, the prettiest cherry flower slowly descended from the tree. Its petals shone under the moonlight, resembling an iridescent bug in its brief flight. I swear I did not move my hand an inch -- yet, it landed perfectly on my open palm. 

The answer seemed clearer than ever before. I must be doing the right thing going with Angelo to the US. 

Even if later it proved that the only right thing was going to the US, where I'd begin my life anew, and a career -- and not Angelo. But he was my motivation to go. And even when he left me, I did not cogitate going back to France. It was like taking the wrong car to get to the right place.

In that delicate flower resting on my palm, I could not foresee how my relationship with my boyfriend would end. I'm now glad for my own limitations in understanding the message from the cherry tree. If it told me I would part from Angelo in the US, I might have chosen not to go, and hold him in France.

The evening breeze agitated the flower in my palm. So light its petals of translucent pink were, they fluttered like the wings of a butterfly. And my heart with it. Pacified. Appeased. 

But the doubt would return, a few nights after my visit to the cherry tree.

I was awoken by Angelo's shouts from the heavy sleep that would hit me after having sex. At first, I thought he was dreaming. But as I opened my eyes, I realized he was indeed jumping before the windows of our room, pointing to the darkness outside.

"It's snowing, Laurent! It's snowing!" He laughed boisterously, clapping his hands, and while dancing, dragged me out of our room.

"We can't go out like that!" I exclaimed, as we headed downstairs.

"Do you want to put on your polar gear, Laurent?" Angelo laughed, in the best of moods. "We'll check the snow only. We are not going to the North Pole."

"Still." I said, releasing myself from Angelo's grasp. "It must be below zero to be snowing!"

Angelo agreed to put on the t-shirt I grabbed for him, while I went downstairs using a warm pullover -- and our rather skimpy underwear.

What seemed impossible, what seemed like a reverie, and that had never happened before in that part of Southern France -- not that I knew, or had heard of -- was actually happening. 

It was snowing. Lightly, timidly. Enough just to cover the ground with a thin layer of shining blue white. When it stopped, after less than half an hour, under the trees' canopies the grass had remained untouched.

Angelo and I danced and screamed and ran, trying to make snowballs to throw at one another -- but there was not that much snow. Enough just to excite and marvel us.

There were no witnesses to our frenzy -- or the snow.

Catherine was away, teaching in Belgium.  Edoardo never left his room, never appeared on the balcony to check our mess. In my mother's absence, lately Edoardo would lock himself in their bedroom, and drink himself heavily into oblivion.

I used to think, back then, that he was trying to forget his son's impending departure, and not to have to lay eyes on our shameless romance, as he reputed it.

Now I tend to think he had learned already about being seriously ill, but had not communicated it to my mother yet. That left him to bear all alone with his own impending departure -- death. Because when he did tell my mother, she immediately resigned from her position at the university. She had told me she was tired of travelling to Belgium and teaching, but later I found her real reason for quitting was to stay 24 hours by Eduardo's side, and dedicate herself completely to him only. So strong and desperate was their love.

But at the time, as we were about to leave to the US, I couldn't care less about Edoardo, and I was glad he remained locked in his room, probably sleeping the heavy sleep of drunkards. 

After Angelo and I grew tired of running around, we collapsed onto the wet floor. The snow would rapidly melt under our hot, sweating bodies -- and despite the dirty mess, we were enchanted. Specially me, the boy from the tropics, who had never seen snow before.

"This is the sign, Laurent." Angelo said. "This is the sign that it is time to leave France. This is the USA calling us, beckoning us."

"But didn't you tell Catherine it never snows in Vice City?" I retorted, confused.

"Of course it doesn't, Laurent." He slapped my ass. "Don't be silly. I'm just saying this snow represents the USA, calling us. Can't you see it?"

I was about to tell Angelo it snowed in other parts of France, so I couldn't see why the snow should represent the US to us -- but we engaged in a passionate kiss that left me breathless and unwillingly to say anything that would taint that magic moment.

But as we kissed, a saddening thought did cross my mind, and partially disengaged me from what should have been an unforgettable moment -- though my body continued to respond to Angelo's caresses, and we almost made love right there on the cold ground.

I thought of the cherry tree. And how the snow should have killed it's flowers. I could picture the petals freezing, and falling to the ground. The tree would certainly survive the low temperature of that single cold evening, but be left bare. The flowers must be all dead, already -- I remember thinking, as Angelo kissed and caressed me. 

I never went back to check on the cherry tree, see whether any flowers had survived. I understood that, like Angelo said, the snow was indeed a calling to go to the US, having killed the cherry flowers.

It was time to leave. 

And it was time to go back to bed.

As the last log collapsed into charcoal, and I heard the faint chirping of birds grow louder and stronger, the light dawned on my uncle Armand's island. And then I recalled he was the only reason why I had come this far -- and not to recollect about Angelo, or Edoardo, or our little family that had never been anything but a bitter impossibility.

The snow, I reconsidered, had been a clear indication of how things between Angelo and I would grow cold and wither away. But I did not know it then.

What saddened me the most, as I returned to bed after having peed, was not so much the hideous years of fighting Edoardo, that had shaped my early adulthood, and my disposition to fight back all forms of bullying.

It saddened me that, in a single sleepless night in Sweden, the most precious memories of my teenager years had exploded in my memory like fireworks, brilliant, noisy and buoyant with love and hope, to next fade and vanish in the dark smoke of the lies and deception that had followed. The only light that remained in my heart, the constant bonfire that had consumed me through the years, was the grudge I held against the Vivaces. Edoardo, already deceased -- and yet I could not bring myself to think of him with the least tenderness -- and his son, my ex-boyfriend Angelo -- whom I hated.

Four years. 

Four precious years of my life, when I had found my first love, my first boyfriend, when I had first kissed and had sex for the first time, when I had come out to my mother to be embraced by her, only to have to fight against my boyfriend's father irrational prejudice in my own house. 

During those four years I had let myself be guided and then convinced to follow Angelo into the dream of his life of living abroad, I had experienced the fear of losing him to death, and found the courage to drag him out of his desperation and catapult us into a new life -- all that, the pain, the pleasure, the joy, the sadness, the doubts, the struggles, the discoveries, all would be revived in very few hours, abridged in one sleepless night. It seemed too melancholic how life, even as it progressed and the years mounted, could be contained in the space of scarce hours, memories brought back to life and left behind to die during a single night. For in the tragedy of surviving the days, weeks, months, years, there were but a few memorable moments that would last and be remembered.

Hoping I would not again dream of the sunken Île du Blanchomme, the nightmare that had first woken me up, I finally slept -- knowing I would need all the rest and strength to have a probably emotional conversation with my uncle Armand in the day that had already started outside my historic cottage.

But nothing would prepare me for the next blow.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Episode 14-II - The last celebration

"Give me back my son!"

Sometime during that same December, in the weeks between Angelo's birthday and Christmas.

Walking to the shelf on the end of the corridor, next to the TV room, I wanted to grab some book. I don't remember which, nor for what reason.

I noticed the door to Catherine and Edoardo's room being ajar, his voice coming from within. The man was clearly drunk -- since I had complained too often about it, he had at least given to drinking in his bedroom. 

I couldn't quite understand what he said -- nor, apparently, could my mother. He was speaking in Italian.

"I don't speak that language, Edoardo." She complained. "Nor do I intend to."

It was then that he turned to his awful French. More than the words, it was his begging tone that caught my attention. I stopped to listen.

"Give me back my son. Please, Catherine."

I froze in the corridor, a few steps away from the shelf.  My mother must have seen me through the reflex on the wall mirror in her room. I am guessing, here. Because she immediately closed the door, not before eyeing me with a very significant look I could not understand, then. There was anger and there was fear in her look, there was an accusation and an apology in it. It lasted only a second, before she slammed the door, to muffle her voice and scold Edoardo.

It lasted only a second, but lingered with me for my whole life. It would take a few years still to completely understand it -- but the moment I received it, I knew I had done something wrong by listening on the adults conversation. And that my mother liked me even less for that.

I was nevertheless touched. I had heard Edoardo often whine, when he was drunk, inconsolable with our impending departure. I had witnessed another one, a few weeks before.

"Why are you letting them be? Why are you letting our sons leave?" a whimpering Edoardo had asked, between hiccups. "Why are you taking my son away from me?".

"We have to let them grow, mon amour..." Catherine would caress Edoardo's thick black hair, trying to comfort him, and kiss his blue eyes to dry them. And do nothing to try to stop us from traveling.

"This is not right, Catherine. This is too wrong, and you know it."

Edoardo had lost his parents, had lost his first wife. I had lost my father, too, though not to death, and I could relate to his pain of losing Angelo. Knowing he could not stop us, I felt magnanimous -- and in that state of mind I had decided not to quarrel with my boyfriend's father any longer.


The incident about the driving had been a minor thing, I thought. In my self-righteousness, I thought perfectly justifiable to cry for a drunken man to leave the wheel. Even if driving was the sole thing that man would do the whole evening.

Catherine had not simply chosen the restaurant -- she was paying for it, too. She had chosen the full New Year's Celebration menu for us -- an impressive sequence of delicacies in stunning presentation, if rather small portions, from which I can only remember the veal. Even Edoardo was somewhat impressed, though it was not his Italian food. 

The red wine he had chosen, of course, was Italian. Again, I complicated things when I kept Catherine from drinking it with him.

"You are driving. You cannot drink." I declared. "Unless we are going to spend the night somewhere around here. Is this place also a guesthouse?"

"Mérde, Laurent. Will you drive, then?" My mother replied, snorting.

Edoardo said something in Italian, in the sense that I was a bad driver. It was his time to stay out of the car if I were driving.

And he was right. I disliked driving, and cars in general. I drove very slowly, sometimes dangerously slowly.

Angelo did enjoy driving, and was our last possibility to save the evening. But he didn't utter a word. Those days he was behaving like a marshal defeated in his most important battle. I guess he couldn't keep out of his mind that he had intended to celebrate New Year's Eve in the US, and not in rural France. He would be happier eating hot dogs and drinking soda than tasting French delicacies and celebrating with champagne.

That was right at the start of dinner, as the entrées were being served. Catherine took one or two sips from her glass of wine, just to tease me, but never again touched it, sullenly drinking sparkling water instead. 

My mother was the sole responsible for conversation, that evening. She was the only one talking to everyone else on the table. Edoardo and I wouldn't engage in any conversation, of course, nor even look at one another across the table. Angelo sat before me, but he too pretended I did not exist. He still couldn't understand why I hadn't helped him with the campaign to join the Journalism School in the Spring term still. He thought we were losing it simply because I wanted to celebrate one last birthday in France, like he had just celebrated his.

It was sometime after midnight -- and technically already in the new year of 1994, 
that we wouldn't spend as a whole in France --, that it dawned upon me. How mighty my mother was! That evening, she was paying for everything. Not just the restaurant bill. It was Catherine's car, and her fuel. Even the clothes I wore -- and for that matter, Edoardo's new clothes, too. Angelo's fancy blazer, that I had given him for birthday -- Catherine had brought it from Belgium, too, bought with her money.

"Catherine. What was your best-selling title again?" I inquired. To be honest, I could hardly name any of my mother's books correctly. I had just realized to be living on them -- not on her teacher's salary, for sure. Yet, I had never taken real interest in my mother's career.

She was delighted with my question. Seeing her career as my concurrent to her time and affection, I had tried to ignore it. Finally, I realized how my lack of interest had disappointed, saddened her.

But it was not my true intention to suddenly catch up with her. 

During that evening, a feeling of enmity against the Vivaces grew in me. Edoardo and Angelo, sitting on the other side of the table, kept conversing in Italian, while my mother and I spoke French. They rudely mocked the maitre d', who was indeed snobbish to the point of seeming foolish. 

But that they simply went on exchanging private jokes in Italian, while my mother was talking about her career, made me explode.

"Thank you for paying for this evening Catherine!" I burst, suddenly. My mother gave a start. She had just spoken about her forthcoming book, and I guess she expected me to further question her. "How expensive must this restaurant be!" I said louder, to catch the attention of the other side of the table. "Thank you for paying everything for all of us." I clarified, pronouncing it very clearly, so that Edoardo wouldn't miss a word. Whenever I did this I sounded a bit dumb -- being it a tone of voice I reserved for Edoardo only, everybody at the table knew I was aiming at him. "Thank you for my nice clothes. And for his, and his clothes too" I continued, pointing at the father and son across us, who stared at me in disbelief. "I propose a toast!" I raised my glass. Though feeling ruthlessly powerful -- with the power of my family's money --, I considered standing up, too, but thought it might be excessive. "Let's congratulate Catherine for her successful career! And let's cheer Celeste, too," I said, looking Angelo straight in the eye, "for we owe her a lot!"

I never looked in Edoardo's direction as I spoke, all the time watching Angelo blush, growing purple of anger.

With the corner of my eye, I watched my mother, as she raised her hand and calmly landed it on mine, putting my glass of champagne down. 

But in the next second, Angelo was raising his own glass, responding with cheers and praise for Catherine and Celeste. The whole time averting his gaze from mine, he concentrated on my mother while uttering truly beautiful words of gratitude -- so much that Catherine even took a hand to her heart, and next to her eyes, to dry a tear. 

Angelo made use of his best discoursing skills, and though left envious of his unparalleled ease with words, I won't recall any. Because what I do recall came next.

"And I want to express my gratitude to my deceased mother, too." His voice caught. "I never forget you!" He said, looking straight into the champagne glass, as if the tiny bubbles that could be seen rising against the glass were giving rise to his mother's spirit. "I want to thank my father, too." He continued, turning momentarily towards Edoardo, to finally stare at me. "For always having stayed with me." He paused, and I predicted what he was going to say next. "For having never abandoned me."

I gasped. Suddenly, Carlo was among us, his heavy absence turned into a tangible silence. It lasted a few seconds, while Angelo paused -- maybe six or seven, and each second equaled a stab in my heart.

"I should thank you also, Laurent." He touched my glass slightly with his glass, but enough to make it clink. "Maybe tomorrow I will. But not today." Taking a sip of his champagne, he concluded "Cheers!"

When dessert arrived, it was left untouched. The maitre was already apologizing for anything that had happened with the food and the restaurant. Catherine left instead a generous tip to prove everything was alright -- just not with our family.

I recall Edoardo's little impersonation saying he would like to share the bill with my mother. He wasn't man enough to pay for the whole dinner. Nor was I, actually, now that I think of it. My only thought, then, is that probably Edoardo did not have enough money in his wallet to pay for a drink -- if he had brought any.

We left the restaurant in a funeral procession -- Catherine in Edoardo's arm ahead, followed by Angelo a few steps back, and finally me, way behind. I watched my mother whisper something to Edoardo and leave his arm, let Angelo walk past her murmuring something like "Go with your father, darling" -- and I stopped.

I panicked, certain to get slain.

Or what else could she do? Forbid me from going to the US? She was paying everything for me -- I was in her hands indeed. Maybe expel me? Make me get a job? Ask Celeste to withdraw her help to Angelo... Or worse, and I trembled when I thought what her best option was... My mother was a writer, she knew how to plot -- and plot well, otherwise she wouldn't be a bestselling author.

Catherine could keep me in France, if she wanted to -- and let Angelo leave!

The two Italian men had halted, too, and were expectantly looking in our direction, each creating their own scenery for what was about to happen.

I knew I had gone too far, stretching to the abhorrent limit the bonds of affection between Catherine and I, that were already not too consistent. 

My mother had never been physically violent with me. She never beat me, never slap me -- just her eyes, and her calculated words did. And I doubted she would start now, in front of the other men. 

Calmly walking in my direction, apparently self-possessed, I expected her at her cruelest. 

And I tried to look my coolest. Defiantly, I pretended to peruse a corner of the garden. 

"I am sorry, Laurent." Her voice at its gravest, she sounded very serious. Having halted just before her breasts touched my arm, I could still feel them vibrate as she spoke. "I wish we could have worked this out differently. I wish we would have made this happen. And I do wish you had tried harder." She paused. I felt her breath on my neck. Her proximity wasn't threatening; yet, my heart was racing as if I were in great danger. Danger of losing her. "You disappointed me, greatly." My heart skipped a beat when she again paused. I held my breath until her next sentence finally came. "But I do understand you. More than you think. More than you understand it yourself. Because, darling, I know the reasons why you act like this." At her other pause, I looked over my shoulder and peered right into her eyes, trying to scrutinize her expression. I shivered, when I saw piety in her glance. Sorrow. Compassion. Understanding. In fact, her glance on me was drenched in sympathy. I gasped. "I forgive you, now. If only you'll forgive me too, when you have the chance."

Crickets, a distant truck, the power generator of the restaurant, her breath and my mine -- and loudest than all, my heart banging in my chest -- could be distinctly heard in the long silence that followed her last word. Because that was it. It was no soft introduction for a scolding. And like the patron saint of fashionable souls, in her beautiful gown that reminded me of a moving flower bed,  she took three or four steps backwards, softly retreating to join the rest of the family, leaving me behind with the remains of her newly discovered piety and forgiveness.

I had just received a beating. A whispering lashing. The humiliation I had inflicted on others had just been returned on me. It had been me against then, and I was left alone.

I felt my strength leaving me, my intention to behave like an adult, and was about to start to cry when she turned back, holding out her hand.

"Come, darling. Let's go home." She shivered. It might have been the cold, and the dew that infused the night air. Or, like me, she must have thought that 'home' wouldn't last much longer for me. Urging me, she added, "Come. There is a whole new year ahead of us."

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Episode 13-II | Household battles

"We found someone who will help fulfill Angelo's dream of progressing in life by going to the US to study in one of the best universities of that country." 

Feeling confident and happy, I made this announcement in one breath. Solemnly, although the last part about Vice City's University was not exactly true. Both Catherine and Edoardo eyed me in disbelief. They had gone on a romantic date, and upon returning home, a revolution had been launched.

"She will sponsor all his needs." I observed Catherine raising her eyebrows, while Edoardo`s tightened in a frown,  "At least until he can make a living on his own." Again, I was lying about Celeste's disposition. All I wanted was to make it sound so completely irreversible that Edoardo would have to simply accept is as fait accompli.  In fact, he was about to utter something when Catherine touched his arm slightly, to prevent him.

"My grandmother was very comprehensive about his will..." I cleared my throat, "that is, our will... to study to become a journalist. She understands studying is very important, for us to progress in life--" I stopped, when my mother lifted a hand in my direction, indicating I had lied enough about Celeste, that she knew so well.

Edoardo turned his back on me, and just before he rushed upstairs, I gave the best news I had saved to the end.

"Angelo is so happy that he is eating again. He had pane con prosciutto..." I hesitated, but could not avoid adding, "and milk." I laughed.

My prosciutto and milk, I wanted to clarify, but knew I'd better not. After that phone call, my boyfriend had thanked me effusively, skillfully using his mouth and tongue on me. His appetite opened after he swallowed all the protein I had kept for him, in weeks we hadn't had sex -- and he had indeed eaten a sandwich I prepared him.

A week went by before another crisis between Edoardo and me cooled down. I had implied in my discourse that a father, in his present, difficult financial situation, not being able to help his son was perfectly understandable, even justifiable. But prohibiting Angelo of getting help was unthinkable, and would only reveal Edoardo's ill will. 

He relented. Internally, I celebrated it as my final victory over him. The fact is, the final battle was still being fought, and his final, definitive blow, that I failed to anticipate, would come from the grave, nearly two decades after his death.

Things again accelerated. The same day Angelo left his bed, he started making international phone calls. He had a notebook with numbers and names written down. Soon, letters were being exchanged. Documents were translated and sent by fax and mail to the US. Applications were filled, long essays written and translated. Instead of the usual piles of Cds and Lps, our room floor was a labyrinth of sheets of paper and piles of books. There were guides to the US, tutorials on filling different applications, text books for English Grammar.

Aware of all that was being spent, I asked Catherine about the money Celeste had sent us on my mother's bank account, worried whether it would suffice. She laughed.

"Celeste has sent enough money to send you boys to the moon. Just don't waste it, but go on, Laurent!" She had encouraged me.

I had to study harder than Angelo for the proficiency tests. But after having learnt the dialect of the mountains to speak to Fabio, my first crush, learning English to accompany my boyfriend seemed easy. And though less than Angelo, I still had a talent for languages.


"I'm very impressed, Laurent." Catherine commented, after I updated her on the situation. She had just returned from Belgium, and I helped her unload the car, full with books. We had gotten our scholarships -- full for Angelo, like he had intended to, and partial for me, which was a good surprise. "If just with your love and dedication for Angelo." She added, "I hope he values and reciprocates your love, mon cher."

"He does, Catherine! You see, I owe him everything that is happening to me!" Now that all was settled, I was elated with the new life before me. 

My mother gasped.

"Don't you think it's the opposite, Laurent?" I just blinked, and looked at my mother in dismay. She was alarmed, and clarified. "Angelo would not be going to the US without your help, Laurent."

"No mother. None of this would have happened without Angelo. He did all the paperwork and--"

Catherine interrupted me. 

"You really don't see it, Laurent? Or you don't want to see it?" She inquired, looking me straight in the eyes.

I just shrugged, and carried a pile of books inside the house, contentedly observing the swollen muscles of my arms, aware that soon I would be showing them off in the US, land of the gyms.


The last battle, in the war that our household had become, was to be lost by Angelo. Against a surprising coalition formed by Catherine, Edoardo and me.

My boyfriend wanted to leave France as soon as possible. That still was a possibility that we could join the University for the Spring term. But for that, we should leave before Christmas to arrange accommodations before classes started, since there were no dorms.

Edoardo not just insisted, but forced Angelo to attend what he called the 'last' Christmas and New Year's Eve they would spend together. My guess is that he new about his degenerative condition already, but hid it from his son.

Angelo gave in, trying to set our departure for January 1st, since classes would start only on the 6th. 

It was Catherine to raise impediments, then.  To begin with, she was alarmed that we would fly. Worse, that we would fly during Winter. News about snow storms in the US were just too frequent. Angelo tried to make her see we were flying to the South of the US. 

'Where Summer is everlasting', he assured her. 

One evening, that I recall being in November, around Angelo's birthday, the four of us were watching television. Suddenly, to the sight of stranded people sleeping on benches of closed airports, Catherine had responded with abundant tears. It was rare that my mother would cry, at least in public. I was heartbroken, and astonished that she did not hide her emotions. Leaving the sofa I shared with Angelo, I sat at her feet. Edoardo took her hand in his hand. At my mother's tears, Angelo pressed his hand to his chest, as if he had been stabbed and was trying to stop the bleeding. 

Not a single word was uttered. My mother just sat there, silently crying. Even when losing control, she remained elegant and discreet. When the news changed to the latest gossip on François Miterrand's secret daughter, she let out a deep sigh. A secret daughter herself, with dignity she stood up, and quietly made her way to the bedroom. A few moments later, Edoardo followed her. 

Left alone with Angelo, I gasped when I gazed in his direction. He seemed to have fainted on the sofa, one arm covering his face, the other hand tugging his clothes around his chest. For a moment, I feared he could attempt suicide again. But no matter how bad Catherine's tears had been for a birthday present, indicating the Spring term was an aborted plan, the US still shone right before Angelo. 

He would just have to conform to our parents wishes. And be patient. 


New Year's Eve dinner was never a tradition in my family.

Since it would be the last occasion the four of us would celebrate something formal living under the same roof, it promised to be a big event.

The problem was -- Edoardo wanted to cook. Foreseeing a greasy ossobuco and plain pasta, I placed my protests.

"We are in France, not in Italy." I stated. Full of confidence since Celeste had started backing us, I no longer feared confronting Edoardo in front of my mother. "I'm not eating anything but French food." I said, clapping my hands, like Catherine would sometimes do,  and as I had seen in a documentary about Tibetan Buddhist monks. " French food, or I won't eat."

Without much drama and further ado, I won that battle, too. 

Catherine made reservations at the only Michelin starred restaurant in our region. Dressing our best clothes as an attempt to lift our spirits for the occasion -- a gloomy farewell, more than a celebration of the year to come, when we would split -- we got ready. 

 Upon seeing Edoardo starting my mother's car, I started complaining.

"I won't get inside this car if he is driving." I announced. Calmly. Instead, it sounded like a shot. 

A few minutes passed, as I stubbornly paced near the car. The road starting at our door turned into a cul-de-sac. Catherine and Angelo tried to dissuade me. But then and there, I promised myself I would not die in a car accident caused by the man I loathed.

"We are getting late, Laurent. Please!" My mother begged taking the passenger's seat.

"You can go, then. I'll stay. Happy New Year to everyone!" I said, loosening my tie. Only when I backed a few steps towards the house, did Catherine realize I was not just bickering. Motioning Edoardo out of the car, she let loose a strange choreography. 

"Mérde!" she uttered, stepping out of the car and going around the front of the vehicle to take the driver's seat.

Only when Edoardo stepped out, too, did I approach the car again. From the inside, Angelo observed us with a bored look. True hostility ensued when Edoardo bumped violently into me on his way to the passenger's seat. Gasping, I fell against the car's door. But in a moment I regained balance to, in turn, push him against the car, too. Even if only slightly drunk, Edoardo bumped against the car and then fell to the right. The mirror held him, before breaking. My mother screamed, and that seemed to take Edoardo over the edge -- he ripped the hanging mirror off the car and threw it on the floor. We did not hear the crash because Catherine started blowing the horn in rage. 

"Someone will have to pay for this!" She shouted, looking at me through the mirror.

"Sure." I retorted, "The person who broke it. But he doesn't have--"

"Shut up, Laurent." Angelo said, coldly, before Catherine could reprimand me.

"Shut up, Edoardo." She said, when Edoardo entered the car, swearing in Italian.

Catherine still protested one last time, before starting the car. "This will ruin my gown!" -- and from then on, there was only our silence and the sound of the engine accelerating.

We made it sharp on time, thanks to Catherine dangerously overtaking all cars and trucks we met on our way. 

The restaurant had been someone's house. I mean someone important, famous or historic -- but I did not care to check who. There was an extraordinary garden around it, that could rival Monet's . The murmur of crickets blended to the soft spray of fountains, underlined by invisible toads sitting on the margins of the water mirrors, spoke of enduring summers and sequestered winters. The trees canopies stood like a mass of dark clouds lingering over the garden, but above them, stars shone in the crisp clear night. Pale lights placed on the floor along the paths illuminated the bushes bearing perennial varieties of flowers. 

Catherine took Edoardo by the arm to explore it.

What an extreme change, I thought. The same person who had ordered Uncle Will to cut all the bushes around our cottage in Punaouilo was inspecting the flowers and letting out sighs and exclamations of contentment. Wearing a gown of black velvet covered with hand painted flowers in red and orange, Catherine looked like a flower bed moving among other flower beds.

Edoardo followed her like the sequitur of a queen, in an attitude of adoration. While my mother had eyes only for the flowers, I noticed how his eyes never left her figure, as if she was the only thing he could see. No matter how much I loathed him, I had to give in to the fact that he truly loved her. He seemed to have quieted her sexual appetite -- and Edoardo himself seemed to be faithful to my mother.

She looked impossibly beautiful and young. A woman of over forty, she seemed to be thirty, or even a couple years younger than that. Just slightly older than when she had given birth to me. I had grown to be eighteen, almost nineteen, while those nearly two decades had imprinted only a few more years on her. 

Her fountain of youth, I knew, was the Italian man standing by her side. I wish it had been another Italian man -- Carlo, my father. But with him she had only quarreled, while with Edoardo she hardly fought. 

That evening, despite my bellicose disposition, I finally realized the woman my Catherine was -- not just my mother. And Edoardo too -- the man he was, and not simply Angelo's father. And how that woman and man lived a great love. How, as parents, they might have worried about our trip to the US  -- but as a couple, they might be secretly relieved at the fact that we were leaving them alone, to their own story -- their love story.

When Angelo went to the washroom, while we waited to be seated, I overheard the murmurs of Catherine and Edoardo's conversation.

"I love this place, already. Don't you, chéri? So many magnificent flowers!" she exclaimed, delighted with the arrangements that decorated a table at the entrance hall. Personally, I found the whole atmosphere too old fashioned, and not as sophisticated as I'd have expected. I had my doubts that Celeste, for instance, would approve of the restaurant. Rather provincial, she would have nailed.


"Fiori?" I heard Edoardo asking Catherine. "What flowers? I don't see any flowers..."

Catherine gazed at him in disbelief, inspecting his countenance. Had he drunk too much? But Edoardo went on, before she could say anything.

"I see only one flower!" He whispered, in a husky voice. And because his French was often not clear enough, he took her by the waist. Softly, yet very manly, in a gesture that made me think of how passionate their sex life should be like. "There is only one flower for me." he added, pulling her closer. Catherine seemed to offer no resistance, a subtle smile on her lips telling she was enjoying it. "The only flower I need in the garden of my life."

Of course, they had kissed, despite being a public. I simply turned my back to them, embarrassed.