Giungla


Cackle.

Slurp.

Chomp.

Hyenas gorging themselves full of anecdotes and Sangiovese. I collect the minutes that fall flat, one after one. This is as painful as the crooked smiles and sympathetic eyes that everyone has been giving my brother and I.

“Thomas.”

Standing across the table, a corpulent older woman I should know but can’t piece together from adolescent memories. Another attempt at forcing the corners of my mouth to unnaturally curl upward.

“Everything was done so beautifully today. You and your brother look so handsome. Bello.”

Artwork by Ryohei Hase

Artwork by Ryohei Hase

Beige flesh weaves into a tapestry. I can’t distinguish between them. I was (re)introduced to her earlier, I remember the gold, spiraled brooch pinned to her sable-colored blouse. My brother and I exchange looks and his eyes are as unsure as mine.

Grazie mille, grazie.” Is the best I can do.

The quaint restaurant has an outpour of laughter which startles me some. With wine, frutti di mare sauce, and Maddalena’s name comfortably on everyone’s tongue how could anyone not be having a festive time. I want to participate but instead my little stolen glances bloom into a fixation; immersed in the vivid shade of burgundy the table cover is.

Cascading from the edges of the table top, pleated ruffles draped, swaying when I stretch my cramping legs. A similar hue of her tailored outfit. The image, a permanent fixture in my thoughts so I attempt an escape. I close my eyes only to find it waiting for me, as if seared into the backs of my eyelids.

The make-up had been flawless. I hadn’t noticed how pronounced her cheekbones were or the natural outline of her delicate lips until today.

“What was that song you two used to sing? It was like a nursery rhyme or something.”

Giro giro tondo?”

“That one,” he rubs his chin and sighs “I can never remember the lyrics.”

I nod.

“Did you talk to her at least, one last time?” My brother asks.

I shake my head.

“Why not?”

A shrug.

I can hear the thuds of emotion clattering around my ribcage while I replay every opportunity I had to go up and say something, anything. Even giro giro tondo! I just stood there, far enough away to keep from crumbling.

“I think I’ll step outside. It’s crowded in here.”

“We just got here.”

“Lee, Thomas,” our mother calls “Vene qua.

Obedient, we are. Reluctant, we rise; Leave the solitude this distant corner has provided. Our own little den.

Making our way over to the table our mother has been perched at, I look down as she sits, adorned in solid black plumage. Head high, she knows she is atop the pecking order today and resembles a queen amongst her subjects as she turns to the gentleman on her right. I think he may be an uncle through marriage? I’m tempted to greet him as Zio Giuseppe but I learned my lesson earlier. I called Zia Rosa, Zia Teresa and I’ll be damned if I lived through that embarrassment again. Perhaps Rosa was the brooch lady?

“These are my sons.”

“Ahh, such big guys, huh? How old are you two?”

“Twenty-one,” Lee responded “Tommy’s twenty-four.”

“You’ve got yourself two handsome grown men here, Gianna.”

The smile she offers is brimming with pride. We continue to stand there like show pieces, in this jungle of wild Italian dialogue, absent in the conversation, lost in this uncomfortable space. Why? Confined by terracotta bricks walls, language barriers, unfamiliar faces. Desire to hold uninspiring conversation or listen to how handsome I am has been waning as the day wares on. I had been abused by intrusive questions:

“What’s your GPA?” I graduated three years ago.

“How’re you liking your new job. You work in accounting, yes?” I’ve been unemployed for months now.

“Find yourself a special lady in the city?” No. But that’s probably because I’m gay.

But all of this is clandestine. As with hurt, fear, and nostalgia, I keep truths to myself. These people don’t know. Nor are they interested, so I keep it simple. Flash white teeth, look wide-eyed, laugh at what isn’t humorous. I’d not seen them much before now and probably won’t see them again unless some other unfortunate circumstance arises. So I give them what they expect. It’s easier not to ruffle feathers.

No. Perhaps I’m just upset. Upset to see so many others having a (seemingly) good time while I’m stuck in the previous hour. Reliving what’s dead.

Ka-kaw

Ka-kaw

Keeeee

The squawking at my mother’s table reaches far corners of the room, bounce back and penetrates me against my will. I want to be one of the ravens. I want to be part of the unkindness. Still, I can’t stop thinking of Maddalena. I look to the doorway and await her entry. I know she won’t be coming.

I grip the steering wheel, slices of sunlight buttery and warm on my forearms. I glance at Lee, strands of his curls are iridescent, glowing red beneath the gleam coming through the passenger side window.

“It was nice to see mom laughing again.” I say.

“Mhm.”

I peek over just in time to see streams pouring over the banks of his prominent cheekbones. My tongue becomes captive to teeth that won’t part and lips that refuse to move.

Lee looks like a spitting image of our mother. That same olive complexion, the thin rosy lips, almond shaped brown eyes gone blue, shedding tears as regularly as they wince or blink.

I want to pull over and hold him. Instead I speed up and signal that I’ll soon be switching lanes.

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