7. Doctor Tedesco and Servi sat in the café. Although it was chilly, they were outside. The doctor insisted that cold was good for Servi’s blood.
“Start with something light,” the doctor suggested. “Let your system get used to food gradually. Have some tea and biscotti.”
The doctor asked Servi once again if he was from Canada. When Servi said yes, the doctor explained that he had relations in Canada. But to Servi’s relief, he appeared reluctant to discuss them, perhaps some trans-Atlantic bad blood forged thirty years ago and still honed now and then to a ragged edge.
The doctor asked the nature of his visit to Rome. Servi found himself without a ready answer. After some evasion, he said he was in Rome because it was a far more picturesque place to do nothing than America. The doctor chuckled. He drank espresso after espresso and peeled roasted chestnuts in succession. To Servi, he looked like a medical Santa Claus, all cavernous chuckles and holiday conviviality. The simple, animal act of eating caused Servi discomfort, but he tried to keep a poker face. The doctor gleamed at Servi, not fooled.
“Our last names reveal our non-Italian origins. You are Jewish, perchance?”
“No,” Servi answered. “I’m a Roman Catholic, as are all my family.”
“Well, your name means slave, and is a common Italian-Jewish name, as you may be aware. Some ancestor of yours was brought from Jerusalem in chains after the sacking of the Temple, no doubt.
“My last name, ‘Tedesco’ – it means ‘German’ – is less exotic in origin, I’m afraid,” he continued. “My family was from Trieste, which was once a part of the Austrian Empire, so one of my dimwitted ancestors took the name Tedesco, when he started to speak Italian… you see, to make himself more Italian…” The doctor suddenly stopped. Servi was doubled over.
“You are still in pain, Senore Servi?” the doctor asked, but did not wait for the answer. He came to Servi and placed a hand warmed by roasted chestnuts on the back of his neck. Servi found himself noiselessly crying. The tears fell to the chipped concrete below the table, in a pool surrounded by cigarette butts, crumpled like tiny question marks.
“Carlo, come here please,” Doctor Tedesco called to the waiter. “Help me get this young man to his bed.”
Dear Aaron, his mother wrote, are you even alive anymore? We got a letter from you that had a date TWO MONTHS from now. How is that possible? Do you even know what time of the year it is in Italy? Your Father and I decided that if we do not get a call or letter from you in three days we will call the American Embassy in Rome…