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Three fantastic and disturbing tales.DURGA’S TEARS. What would a mother do to prevent the death of her child? To what extent would he be able to push himself, seeing him consume himself in a hospital bed? He could accept any help, even that of a god he does not believe in. Accept any pact, even the most cruel.THEY WILL TELL YOU. It is not easy to be a teacher, especially when the students all have different origins and faiths. And when a child, just the one who seemed the most fragile, starts to preach and perform miracles, it could be even more difficult to take a position. At the cost of having to repent for the rest of life.TARTAN. Terence died, one of the most famous painters in the world, and a treasure was found in his house: dozens of paintings that the world has never seen. They all depict a beautiful boy. Who is this mysterious model and what was his relationship with him?
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Illusion Short Stories # 14
Original title: Le lacrime di Durga
Translated by Alfio Loreti
They Will Tell You
Original title: Ti diranno
Translated by Matteo Baldetti
Original title: Tartan
Translated by Cinzia Albanese
© 2018 Illusion
© 2018 Stefano Pastor
Graphics: Angela M.
I couldn’t turn the handle, I froze.
There was a recurring nightmare, and it was always the same. Beyond that door there was a bare bed. Only a mattress. The linen set on top, ready to be redone. No living human being, just an empty room.
A nightmare far too real, because soon it would become true.
No, I was kidding myself, it wouldn’t have been so easy, I wouldn’t find an empty bed. Diego would die in my arms after a long agony. He would just wear out. With a little luck, he could have lost consciousness before, and not even notice passing away. He would have stopped breathing, simply. And I would have waited and waited for his chest to move again.
To die at thirteen, it’s something I couldn’t conceive. Yet it happened, even too often.
I recovered my smile I put away the night before, and I stepped in.
The bed was really empty, unmade, but Diego was laughing. They were both at the other end of the room, opposite the window and they were playing. I bothered to get him a room with a sea view, there were not many at the Gaslini Pediatric Hospital but it has been a waste. He never looked outside the window.
The big screen was our but the games were Franco’s. By now we used to share everything.
Diego’s glossy bold head gave me a feeling of discomfort, though I should have been accustomed by now. It wasn’t the therapy’s side effect, it was his choice. He shaved before entering the hospital, he was sure he would have lost them anyway. In any case they never grew back.
Franco had still his hair, but who knows how long for. He lost them in strands even though he tried to hide it. They did not look alike, and yet they were identical. They shared the same fate: those two guys would never become adults.
I didn’t knock on the door, so they didn’t even hear me coming in. “That’s how you do the homework?”
He snorted. “Oh, mom!”
The role I impose myself was horrible. Useless and hateful. Homework for what? Diego would never go back to school. I knew it and he knew it also, and yet the acting continued. Wouldn’t be better if he had fun, as long as he had the strength to play?
He had already lost ten Kilograms, hollow cheek, a ghost. There was nothing left of his beauty. At times, he looked like a stranger. In those moments, I seemed to loose my mind: I wanted to grab him and shake him hard, ask him to give me my son back, my child.
“I brought you what you asked me”, I said, putting it on the bed.
He was too busy even to answer me, he was on track to compete in the Formula One Championship.
He would never get a license, never kiss a girl, he wouldn’t have made me a grandmother.
I was standing still in the inevitable loop. I didn’t want him to turn around and see me like that. Yet I couldn’t move.
Enrico thought of interrupting that momentum. He ran in the room screaming and slamming the door open. “Franco! Franco!”
The game was over, both realized. Yet there was no annoyance in their eyes. How could it have been? Enrico was the life, that life they were both dreaming of.
Seven years, Enrico was a force of nature. He wouldn’t be still for a moment and never stopped talking.
“Look! Look! I’ve drawn it! I did it for you! You are this one here, you see? And here’s the bed also.”
“How beautiful!” said Franco, even though it was a cobbler. It could be nothing else.
Sandra still didn’t show up. Perhaps Enrico outran her, running up the stairs, but she was more likely to be pursuing some doctors around. She had not yet given up. But maybe it was an excuse not to come in that room.
It was too painful.
We were so similar, me and Sandra, we too shared the same fate. Both widows, twice affected by the same misfortune. We never talked to each other, even that was painful.
Diego had reached me, he left them alone.
“Are we going to have a drink?”
I started searching my bag. “I brought something.”
“No, let’s go to the vending machine. I want something fresh.”
Yes, he was right, he wanted to get out from that room. From the hospital, if it was possible, but it wasn’t.
My fear was that he couldn’t make it, every day he was weaker. The wheelchair spectrum was getting closer and closer. They already brought it to us, but we hid it in the bathroom.
“As you wish.”
He clenched my arm, but it was not affection, he too was afraid to fall.
What can say to whom you are going to lose? Especially when it represents your whole life? I didn’t know what to say, so I said nothing at all. I was just a mother, I was immersed in my role as if it was a shell.
“What a pity”, I said, just to make a conversation. “If I had a son like him I would go crazy.”
He understood immediately that I was talking about Franco and Enrico. He smirked. “He couldn’t stand him before.”
I was not sure I understood. “Enrico?”
“No! Enrico loves his brother. Forever! It’s Franco who couldn’t stand him, he drove him crazy.”
“To see them together I wouldn’t have guessed it.”
“Everything changed. When he realized he was dying… he wanted to leave a good memory of himself. He wants Enrico to remember a better brother. Try to be as he sees him.” He sighed and shook his head. “It’s all worthless, Enrico is too young. In a few years, he will be forgotten anyway. Whatever he’ll do the memory won’t last. It’ll fade away.”
It hunted me to hear him so cynical, but that’s the way I raised him. I gave him my philosophy.
My role also made me decide what he could drink and what he couldn’t, but that day I didn’t do it. I let him choose. He noticed it and took advantage.
“Am I already so severe?”
I snorted. “As soon as I’ll go away you’ll go back to study, do you understand? You already played enough.”
I badly wanted to know how to cry, but I never did. Not that I remembered, at least. Not even as a child.
Seated in the kitchen I looked at the empty table. I crashed back into my loop. Diego would not be sitting there anymore. I wouldn’t cook for him, I wouldn’t serve him breakfast anymore. There was no longer a bed to be done, laundry to wash. There was nothing, only an infinite emptiness.
I heard Indira enter but I didn’t even move. She went to the grocery store. She snorted, maybe the elevator was broken again. I easily pictured all her actions, even without seeing her: lay the coat and the keys, change the shoes, go to the room to leave the purse, bring the bags in the kitchen.
“Are you already back, ma’am? How is Diego?”
“You should come and see him sometimes. He always asks for you.”
“I will do it.”
No, she wouldn’t, she was like that. Many people can’t stand the hospitals, especially the sick people. I was one of them.
Indira was with us for ten years now. Since my husband died I’ve been left with a child to rise and a job that didn’t leave me few seconds to relax. It wasn’t long since she moved to Genova, and at the beginning she spoke a shaky Italian. She raised Diego, practically they studied together. She loved him like a son. Maybe that’s why she didn’t want to see him die.
She was very well integrated, dressed like western people, though she often carried the veil. But her veils were colorful, cheerful, covering only her head, in the end I liked them too.
She stoked away the food she bought, but in the meantime, she spied on me. She misunderstood my stillness.
“Are you praying, madam? Do you want me to leave?”
I flinched, but I was bitter. I never had a conversation about religion with her, but after many years I was surprised to find out she had not yet understood how was I feeling about it.
“Who should I pray?”
“Don’t you trust your God?”
I shook my head. “There is no God.”
Maybe I disappointed her but, tough pity, I played my part enough.
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