Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Mothers & Sons, X

Servi woke up to crying. At first he thought it was Claudia, but looking about the dim living room, he was alone. The woman was in the kitchen holding Paulo in her arms. Even in the meager light of the oven lamp, Servi could see the boy’s face was red from the exertion of tears. His eyes were mere slits, as if he was not fully awake, but in some agonizing half-stage between sleeping and wakefulness.

Claudia was pouring water from the tap into a plastic tumbler and imploring the boy to drink. He tried, but spilled half the liquid on his pajama top. Then Claudia walked by Servi without even glancing at him, and carried the boy back to the bedroom. Servi was gathering up his clothes when Claudia entered the kitchen.

“Don’t leave,” she told Servi, placing a hand firmly on his shoulder. “In this neighborhood, it’s not altogether safe to walk around at night, especially if it looks like you don’t belong here. And you don’t look like you don’t belong anywhere.” In the dim light Servi could see Claudia’s tired face etched with sleep lost, never to be regained.

“Maybe I should leave for the boy,” Servi said, unsure of what else to say.

“The boy is used to men staying the night,” she said casually. “Paulo’s father stays here for the night and then leaves. He treats the place like a flop house.”

“Who is his father?”

“It’s not that important,” she answered, sitting in a kitchen chair across from Servi. The light in the kitchen, blue and unforgiving, had sped time unnaturally forward and rendered her older then her years.

“We’ve separated,” she told Servi, rubbing her temples with the tips of her index fingers.

“But you still sleep together?” Servi asked.

“Yes, does that bother you?” she glared at Servi and then quietly laughed. “You shouldn’t get upset. We’ve hardly signed a sexual contract. He fucked me yesterday and you today. Is that enough of a gap?” Then she looked at Servi through narrow eyes. “Why not snatch some pleasure when we can. My husband and I were always good in bed and nowhere else. So why not continue with what we were good at?

“It doesn’t bother me.”

“No?” Claudia asked with a twinkle in her tired eyes. “But does it turn you on? It does for some men, you know. My husband loves to hear about the men I take to bed, what I do to them, and what they do to me. It makes him roar like a lion.”

Servi ignored her words.

“What is wrong with your son?”

“He has had a hard life and it is wearing on him, just like it is wearing on me…” she said, her tone sad but her face set like stone. “But for screwing, his father is useless and doesn’t give us a lira. So I have to work like a dog for what little we have…”

“How do you know all those languages?”

“My father was an Italian Jew who married a gentile woman. He immigrated to Israel and we lived in Tel Aviv until my father got himself killed in the Yom Kippur War. Well, we spoke Italian at home and I spoke Hebrew at school. My mother is very good with languages, and after my father died she brought in money by giving lessons in Italian, German, French, English. I suspect she slept with a great many of her students. When I was fifteen one of those student lovers killed her in a fight. I had no relatives in Israel, so I moved to Rome to live with an aunt. So, here I am in Rome, and as I can speak five languages, I took a job with a tour company. But as I said, I work like a dog, and my son is in day school six days a week. Sometimes he is with neighbors on the weekend if I need to work. It has been hard on him.”

“And he escapes,” Servi asked, unsure how else to frame the event. “And the people at the day school don’t give a damn?”

“It’s not an escape,” Claudia answered, annoyed. “It is a ritual he has… a way of asserting his freedom from me and that school. He goes to Father Roberto and drinks milk and eats cookies. The old man waits for him everyday.” She stopped talking and looked at Servi coolly. He could see her mind was working at a feverish pitch, even as her face was slack with exhaustion.

“Do you mind if I sleep in the bedroom for the rest of the night while you stay on the couch? If he wakes up again, I want to be in the room.”

“Of course,” Servi answered, and the woman rose up, leaving Servi at her kitchen table.

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