Friday, August 19, 2011

Magna Mater VII

The next Thursday as Sevi was sitting at the café, Francesca emerged with two coffees.  Her long, tense face relaxed a moment when she saw Servi, and as heavily as her small body allowed, she sat down across from him.
            “I’m sorry I slammed the door in your face, Aarone,” she said weakly.
            “I’m sorry I interrupted you.  I should have called first, but I don’t have easy access to a phone.”  Francesca shrugged on hearing this.
            “It was nothing.  It is just a man that wants to marry me.  He’s ten years older than me.  Thirty-two.  I keep telling him I want to have my fun before I settle down.  He says he is too old to just have fun.  He doesn’t want sex without meaning.  He wants to wake up with the woman he makes love to.  Jesus Christ, what is wrong with you men today?”
            “I thought you wanted to be my friend.  When we met, we both said we needed a friend, didn’t we?  You said you were lonely and I told you I was lonely.”  On hearing the warmth in Servi’s tone, Francesca grasped his hand.
            “You bastard, you are my friend,” and she smiled.  “And I am lonely.  But what can I do?” she continued in the Roman dialect, as she often did when she spoke of her corporeal needs. “I want what I want.  And I find you attractive.  Don’t you find me attractive?”
            “Yes,” Servi answered, putting down his coffee like a gavel.  “It has nothing to do with that, Francesca.  We’ve been down this road before.  I’m not sleeping with anyone.  Period.  For now, I’m done with sex.  It has caused me nothing but trouble.”
            “What happened to you?” she pressed. “Did your Mama not love you enough?  Or maybe she loved you too much?  You men are all just big babies looking for your Mama in every womb you stick it in, and when you don’t find her in there, you become little more than sexual cripples.” On hearing this, Servi tilted his head away from Francesca wearily.  As she continued, as she wound down her presentation of Servi’s erotic ills, sighed wearily and sat back, fingering the lip of her cup.  They gazed at each other from a vantage of mutual exhaustion.  Their struggle felt longer and more protracted than it actually was.
            “So when can I meet your Aunt?” Servi asked.  “Why are you hiding her from me?”
            “I’m hiding nothing from you darling.  You must realize that already.  You are the one with the bones under your stairs.  You want to meet her?  Well come.  I’ll introduce you as my virgin fiancé.  She’ll love it; she has become quite traditional in her dotage.  But I must warn you, she had cancer of the throat five years ago.  The doctors removed almost all of her voice box.   She won’t use an amplifier.  Even at her age, and bedridden no less, she is vain.  When she had the cancer, the weight just feel off her.  She looks no bigger than this,” and Francesca help up her tiny pinky.  “Now she is wide as a villa again.”
            Francesca led Servi down the via d’Tempio and into a narrow alley not unlike the one where Servi lived in destitution.  She opened an old and peeling door whose hinges groaned and sighed when closed, as if its very raison d’etre was too much a burden for it to bear.   
           They mounted the dim, narrow staircase.  Like most buildings in the Ghetto, it was tall relative to buildings just outside the old wall.  The Jews had nowhere to build but up, and these buildings, twisted from the weight of ages, appeared to bend and turn as if in agony on their ascent. 
            Francesca’s Great-Aunt’s flat was on the top floor, and when she keyed them into the apartment and they entered, Servi was not surprised at the opulence of the interior.   The landlord-tenant laws in Rome were sufficient illogical to allow such dichotomies as a decaying, uncared for exteriors and splendid, posh interiors. The apartment was cool and dark, smelling faintly of the soft lavender odors where rich old people spend an abundance of time in the repose.  Francesca took Servi by the hand and led him into a back bedroom where the mythical aunt lay, smack in the middle of an over sized, canopy bed.  She appeared to be asleep, and Servi began to back away, but Francesca held him firm.
            “Shouldn’t we leave?” Servi asked in a whisper.
            “No,” she answered in a normal tone, if not louder.  “She is deaf as a stone.  If I’m even a few moments late with the coffee, as I am today, she becomes catatonic.  I can just put the coffee here,” and Francesa placed the drink and the brioche beneath a brass lamp with an ornate leather shade speckled with creases and cracks, dangling with heavy, twisted red fringe. 
            “Let’s go,” Servi whispered, took a step forward, near the Aunt’s head, and suddenly the woman’s eyes opened.  She immediately uttered a few words at no more than a whisper.  Francesca bent down and moved her ear to her Aunt’s lips.  She started speaking to her Aunt in a dialect that Servi had never heard before.  It was similar to the Roman dialect, but with a great many exotic words, and Servi only caught the meaning of what they were saying by the context.   
         Yes, Auntie, Francesca explain, there is a man here.  His name is the same as ours, Servi.  No, American.  No, not a Jew.  The woman lifted her head feebly from the bed to survey Servi, and then emitted a low groan, or perhaps a sigh and her head fell heavily to the pillow.  A round of snoring commenced, which, Servi now noted, once it had begun again, had been present on entering the room.  Francesca grasped Servi’s arm and led him away.
            On the street, Servi accompanied her to the Metro.  Did Francesca know that her Aunt was a whore for Nazi officers, he wondered?  And more importantly, did she realize that she had informed on her fellow Jews, her friends, neighbors, and maybe even family?  Servi continued to think that he would ask her these questions as they approached the Metro stairs, but when he opened his mouth, all he asked was what dialect Francesca was speaking with her Aunt.
            “That’s Italkian, but the old people call it La`az; its Judeo-Italian.  My Aunt can speak Italian, of course, but as I said, she has gotten traditional in her old age.  Only old people speak it now.  She wants to be old.  She had enough youth to last her a lifetime.”  Francesca then stood on her tip-toes to reach Servi’s lips; the kiss lasted a long time, long enough for Servi to be aware of many commuters streaming around them in a confusion of colors and shapes. When they parted, Francesca smiled warmly and gently swiped the moisture from Servi’s upper lip with the tips of her thin fingers, and disappeared down the Metro steps.

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