A Season in Florida

by Emanuele Pettener

Not that I wouldn’t like to get into Cristina’s panties. I would. The problem is that she’s Helen’s daughter and Helen is a student of mine, though she’s twenty years older, I’m almost thirty-three, she’s almost fifty-three, topaz-green eyes and perky white tits, a past as a jazz singer and a sudden coming-back to school. I wouldn’t mind getting into Helen’s panties either, of course, but she’s a friend of mine, she’s a student in my Italian 101, and the contract says something about not sleeping with my students of Italian 101: it’s not professional.

Tonight I had dinner at their house. Cristina had the eyes of a phoenix, dark eyes, laced with melancholy, the doe-eyed melancholy of the twenty-year-old, of the twenty-year old beauty. A wine goblet in one hand and a book in the other, she was laid out on the sofa, barefoot, occasionally putting down her wineglass to phone someone and read out passages from her book.

In the meantime I was being introduced to the other guests and listening to Helen mangling French to a French couple. We talked about how much we missed not just France or Italy, but Europe itself, the musty smell of churches and marble tile, the cafés, the public squares and other idiocies – but I was thinking of Cristina’s feet.

They were unfathomable, delicate and crushed, small bruised bronzes, and their leather sandals forsaken on the carpet languorously called to me. I was dying to gather them up and cover them with kisses, and then kiss and lick her elfin feet and dry them with my days old beard.

So, I was gulping down wine from the green vineyards of California and remarking the similarities of Naples and Marseilles, though I had seen neither, but I was constantly spying on her. We were in the large kitchen preparing salads and paté-filled tarts, and Jeffrey, Helen’s athletically built husband, was barbecuing by the side of the pool. Cristina - jeans, white blouse, Grecian tresses and bare feet, feet on which sun and sandals had left their mark, feet like those of the Athenian messenger from Marathon who had run God knows how long to report the victory against the Persians and collapsed - was in the big living room, reading passages from this book over the phone.

We had an excellent dinner, Cristina, Helen, Jeffrey, their doddering uncle Dan, the French couple and the French husband’s son, a fourteen year old who had lost his mother ten years ago and was still using it as a pretext to be totally obnoxious, rude to Helen (“the salad dressing is horrid”) and as arrogant as a ballerina at the Scala. Therefore, when the conversation turned to a celebrity couple who had lost a child and Helen said something really original, “it’s terrible to lose a child”, I said: “depends on the child”. Just then, Cristina, who was sitting next to me, burst out laughing with so much gusto that my insides started tightening with pleasure as her foot – naked – inadvertently brushed against mine and I breathed in all the scent of her, wanted her lips, and fantasized her against the garage door moaning with delirium while my hand slithers inside her panties and strokes her pubic hair until it’s gummy with white cum. I don’t know why I fantasize that, as I’m jerking her off with one hand, I’m dancing the Twist.

That’s enough wine for you, I thought.

So I started talking to her. I know she’s Helen’s daughter and I hope Helen didn’t catch on, but I was alone and lost, and her daughter had eyes dark as the Arabian night and the feet of an Egyptian goddess, and I asked her: “What are you reading?”

I lost myself in her eyes, and she in mine. I’ve always had a way with women, and she got all excited when I asked about her book – she unexpectedly got up to get it, and I saw her rise with all the grace of a twenty-year old girl, and I became earth and stone, I was filled with love for mankind, I felt fire rise within me, oh unforgettable moment of bliss! Up she rose and her ass was regal, languid, an ass begging to be bitten, an ass on which to succumb to slumber. She had the ass of a queen of Persia... but just then I was buttonholed by Uncle Dan.

Uncle Dan is the typical well meaning American senior, deaf and patriotic, and his enormous eyes look at you through inch thick spectacles. He makes very tasty cocktails, argues that America has always done good in the world and been repaid with crumbs, wants to bomb the Middle East China and Korea, and still gets all soft inside when he remembers the bombs over Nagasaki and Hiroshima. But my darling one called me over with a smile that transfixed my flesh, so I left Uncle Dan and the rest of the company, saying that I had been summoned to the couch. I rose respectfully and approached her, sitting and modeling myself to her soft and slender side. “Here’s the book”, she said, and smiled her smile, her lips all dew and rubies, her eyes reflecting an ancient past, the gold and camellias of her naked feet, and I couldn’t figure out whether all of her enthusiasm was for me or for the book she was reading. “It’s changing my life,” she said, “It’s opening my mind,” she said. I read the title: THE PATH OF BEING. Sub-title: HOW TO CHANNEL POSITIVE ENERGY AND DEFEAT NEGATIVITY. I shuddered all over. My attraction for what disgusts me caused me for a moment to forget Cristina, who in the meantime was babbling and saying things that didn’t make sense to show her admiration for the book. Her mother had asked her to make coffee, so she jumped up and I was left alone on the couch. I went to the back of the book’s jacket for a look at the author’s photo. He was a jaundiced looking dude with the eyes of a hyena and a stringy beard, who defined himself a “Spiritual Teacher” and who, after the international success of the book, with translations published in 15 countries, travels the world “teaching soul”. I couldn’t resist reading the Introduction. Mr. Jaundice, a guy my age, recounts how he used to suffer from depression and suicidal urges, but that one night, at the nadir of his desperation, there was revealed to him this Truth: that we must free ourselves of Ego, which is nothing but an illusion created by our Psyche and prevents us from living in the present, so that the Energy can flow into our lives and makes us conscious of our Being.

The book explains how it’s done, and Mr. Jaundice is a millionaire. No, it’s not that it comes as a surprise. The world is full of people who fill the void in other people with their own shit. It’s that we still don’t understand our ever-fading feelings, this sagging of the flesh, the death of someone we have dearly loved, this blinding loneliness, this pain to be chewed on like a bitter herb, the injustice we put up with, the careers we pursue, the weekends at the shore, and the incongruities are so tortuous that this shit gets translated into 15 languages and sells like hotcakes. It was then that I also felt empty, desperately empty, and no amount of shit could have filled me up. Cristina came to sit next to me again and I looked into her eyes. She was smiling and saying, “If you’d like, I could lend it to you,” and I just couldn’t forgive her, I had turned to ice and was filled with loathing for mankind, and I no longer longed to caress her feet. Now I understood why, as I jerked her off against the garage door, I was doing the Twist.

The Florida night swelters, immense. June’s almost here and it’s like being stuck to flypaper and I couldn’t go home. I was smoking a cigarette and feeling the wine come up again, so instead of going home I stayed on Glades road and came to a sort of discotheque.

My god, I hadn’t been in one since I was fifteen. There was a frightfully large crowd, an undifferentiated human tide enveloped in darkness and smoke, with a square foot of space per head, squeezed in like slaves in the hold of a galley. On stage, a band was making an unearthly din while the white lead singer in a black miniskirt was shouting into the mike, and the rhythm was always the same – a hammering to make your eardrums bleed. But the dancers moved, shook their rumps, swayed their hips and shoulders, punched out, and jerked their heads back and forth. I was elbowed by a blond and turned to hear her “Sorry”, but nothing: there’s no time to apologize in a disco. So I forged on through a forest of arms and legs, on my way to the bar to order a whisky, when ... BANG!

Another elbow. I turned to hear the “Sorry” – zilch! As if nothing had happened. They all have calluses on their elbows, but the latest offender caught my attention. He wasn’t young, 57 or so, yes, your average 57 year old, white hair brushed back, white shirt, cotton sweater around his shoulders, linen pants: the typical divorced 57 year-old with a Jaguar and two kids somewhere who never forgave him, a boy and a girl, and there he was with a thirty-year old woman, each squeezed into their one square-foot space and he was dancing, dancing away (the thirty-year old was standing still and sipping a drink) and the more the band pounded the same obsessive rhythm, the more he tossed and turned and danced in every possible position, circling and stroking the woman and sketching out waltzes, tangos, and mazurkas, stretching his arms and shaking his ass. But what struck me most of all was his face – extreme concentration, mouthing the lyrics, eyes closed, sucking in his cheeks and biting his lower lip as if he was mainlining the music, as if he could “feel the beat” – as if he were young. I felt abject pity and disgust, but I couldn’t take my eyes off him. It was one of the most perfectly ridiculous spectacles I had ever seen. The thirty-year old was giving him a motherly sort of look – but he was a 57 year-old making believe he was seventeen, and that the music meant something to him. Bitterness gripped my heart to think that all of these people, too, were filling their personal void with shit, and were huddling in the sweaty intimacy of a disco gesticulating wildly like monkeys to the pounding of an obsessive and monotonous rhythm. How could they be enjoying this? It was scientifically impossible, but the need to believe in it was great, because it was Saturday night, and Monday morning they were going back to work. The old fool kept on stomping and shuffling like a
primate in heat, and I thought of what he might say if I kept on staring at him: “What the fuck are you staring at?” Then I’d make believe I was coming back down to earth, and I would beg his pardon and smile and say I was thinking about something – and the old man really did say: “What the fuck are you staring at?”

I threw a tremendous punch that caught him smack on the mouth, a beauty of a punch, a devastating punch, and he fell back in the midst of the crowd like a bleeding sack of bananas, while other bodies crashed like so many bowling pins around him, and I wiggled out quicker than a snake and in less than two minutes I was in my car.

That’s how I spent tonight here in South Florida, but I’m sad when I think of Cristina and how to talk to her and explain that the book was pure shit. I could try to educate and love her and feel good, and live only for her smile, because I need beauty in my life, I have an incredible need for beauty, for talent and beauty, and I need to be loved, yes, I also need to be loved, maybe by an Athenian girl, or even by a cat – a cat is even better, because I find humans really disgusting.

(First published in Nuova Prosa n.39. Translation from Italian by Tom di Salvo.)

© Emanuele Pettener 2008


Emanuele Pettener was born in Venice, Italy, has lived in the United States since 2000, and teaches Italian language and literature at Florida Atlantic University (Boca Raton). Emanuele's short stories have appeared in Italian and American magazines and his first novel "Ã sabato mi hai lasciato e sono bellissimo" will be published in Spring 2009 by Corbo Editore (Ferrara). website: www.pettener.net






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