Taking shelter behind a garbage bin, I felt the adrenaline rushing into my blood. I had already found myself in similar situations more than once, but I had not yet become accustomed to the resulting sensations: all the senses on alert, the tense muscles, the cold contact of the trigger against the right index finger. I thought, for a moment, about the detectives of the American movies, who all went through Vietnam or Korea and wallow in situations like this. But I had never even done the War of the Buttons, and I was afraid.
At the sound of footsteps walking away, I left my improvised shelter, just in time to see my admirer who had already turned the corner and slipped into a side street. After a short run, I flattened myself against the end of the house behind which he had disappeared, while the death of the hurried paw whispered to me that my man had stopped; now, I just had to find the courage to go and get him. With my back against the wall, I leaned my head slightly over the corner; I saw no one nor was I greeted by stray bullets.
Calm down, Roy. What was that bit of verse you and Alessandro had composed, back in high school? How did it start?
The night seemed to last forever
and the moon refused to rise.
I was stumbling in the darkness, looking for a light.
The two-handed gun in front of me, I threw myself into the street. Nothing close enough to hide behind, standing with my legs planted on the sidewalk, I was frantically running around, searching for that man.
How was I supposed to find the way?
Everything was calm, almost unreal. It seemed absurd that, shortly thereafter, one of us could have died. I scrutinized the cars, the gates; with my mind’s eyes, I could already see him leaping out of his hidden recess and sending me an ardent greeting among the flesh.
Not so far,
I saw a torch on fire.
A shadow from behind a van on the right and a bullet ten centimeters from my face. I fired.
I started walking.
It started raining.
I got right through him.
As I lowered the gun, while slowly approaching that helpless body, a long shiver ran through my whole person. Staring down at my feet at what was, now, nothing but an empty shell, part of me struggled but failed, in a desperate attempt to answer an incessant why. To that face, motionless in death, asking for an explanation, I could only stammer that, if he hadn’t been there on the ground, it should have been me. It was only then that I noticed the shadow behind me.
Turning sharply, the gun still in hand, I found myself two meters away from a huge Goliath who brandished, in a somewhat threatening manner, a survival style knife very similar to that used by the butchers for the quarters of beef.
My voice trembled. I did not expect the man to have an accomplice and I was also caught right when everything seemed to be done and I had given myself over to reflection; so, my cold blood was dissolved.
“Don’t you move!” I said nervously. “You make a single move and I pierce you, do you understand?”
He looked at me as if wondering if he could turn me into a skewer before I turned him into a sieve. I probably didn’t frighten him that much, frankly, and the thing was that instead, he did a lot to me.
“Hey, brother, don’t do it. If we really have to be honest, I’m quite scared, so it wouldn’t take much to trigger both me and the gun, understood? Come on, put that thing down.”
A flash went through his eyes.
“Don’t move or I’ll shoot, I said!”
“So, Roy Scialfa, will you stop looking at the stars?” Monica spoke with annoyance. “I pick you up, I offer you pizza and a movie. And you? Not only do you shut yourself up in a senseless silence all evening, but in the end, when you open your mouth by the grace of God, you also oblige me to drive you up and down the hill with the top down, while you stand like a post staring at the sky. And in November, as well. This is annoying!”
Poor Monica. The fact is that I love looking at the stars. I find it wonderful, when you have a convertible car, to open the top and watch the sky while someone else is driving. At every turn, the entire firmament, devoid of any earthly bond, turns on itself, giving you the impression of hovering in the cosmos and being one with the Infinite. And, unfortunately for Monica, her Beetle lent itself very well to this wonderful game.
“Come on, at least a little conversation! How’s work going? How’s the case you’re working on? Ah, right: the rich man who hired you to find the drug dealer who sold his son the lethal dose. Did you find him, then, this goody-two-shoes?”
I decided it was time to answer.
“Hallelujah! Quite a laconic announcement, but at least you have spoken. Did they arrest him?”
I didn’t want to ruin her evening.
“Thank God. And now let’s get back to us: would you mind if we stopped playing and went to my place?”
I pushed the image of myself home alone, curled up in a corner with my knees in my arms.
“Wow. Determined and a man of few words: I know we will get along, the two of us. Help me pull the top up now, I’m freezing,” she concluded, as she pulled the car over to the side of the road.
“Monica?” I asked timidly. She scrutinized me with the ironic air of someone who recognized the pleading tone for a forbidden favor. “After all, we can warm ourselves at home, don’t you think?”
Her face lit up with a resigned smile.
“She always told me, my mother, that I know how to pick them!” She let it out, as we left, in a tone of fake irritation.
I smiled at her.
“Thanks,” I muttered softly.
I love getting lost in the stars.
You can forget for a moment that it is not the world you live in.
[First written as “Roy Scialfa” in 1989. Re-edited in 2018 with the help of Sonia Lombardo. Translated from the Italian by Sabrina Beretta and edited by Karen Rought in 2019.]