before diving into the heart of the matter, a small suggestion (if you didn’t already do it). Read On Writing by Stephen King. His words made me remember your words – especially when you say that what a writer needs is discipline, and that talent is not enough.
But let’s jump to real life talks.
The illness I told you about, the one that literally drove me to a gas station where I felt insane, looking out for ghosts in the vapours of gasoline – that illness eventually led me back to Naples. I had to drive up again, this time without seeing any serial killer, and spent time there to cure myself in a proper way.
So it’s in my full physical and mental condition that I state as follow.
I went back to Pozzallo. I noticed that I’ve never described the place for you, apart from my isolated house.
It looks like a Presepe. All the houses, clear in color to fight the warm rays of sun, climb up the hill and overlook the sea. In the lower part of the town, the sea actually acts as an animated background, a blue and wavy cloth that stops the city from falling down. The trees in the city are palms – don’t forget Sicily is very, very warm. It’s basically Africa.
Now, I know that you might be painting a very nice mental image of that small, coastal town, with its white houses on a hill by the sea.
It’s not that nice.
The architecture is not bad. It’s late renaissance mostly, and with Sicily being rich at the time, the buildings are actually quite nice. But they’re worn down; they’re dirty and old and dusty and full of cracks, and you think they’re gonna fall down without a moment notice. There are dark streaks on the facades of literally every building there. It feels like they don’t belong here, not anymore; they reflect a time that was, and that’s not here anymore.
It’s an empty stage where the past reenacts itself on the faces of the people that live there.
Which is a nice segue to talk about the people here. They’re mostly nice, but their attitude is a byproduct of the place they live in. So you’ll see old people hanging outside the small bars, playing cards and just looking at life going by on the streets. If you’re a foreigner – like me – you’ll attract strange looks, and they’ll try to talk to you in their dialect to see if you’re one of them.
If you’re not, you’re out.
Restaurants are mostly family owned. They all know each other. One of the sales guys in the company I’m working for owns a restaurant himself. Everyone works so much, but it’s a self-sustaining thing – if you’re from here, you’ll have a job, friends, a life, even if it’s one you don’t like. If you’re an outsider, they’ll know that, because you won’t stop here – you’ll be just passing by.
But I am not painting this mental image for you just for the sake of it. I’m doing it because I’m not crazy. I knew that what I saw was the real thing.
Now that you have the background, let me tell you the real motive behind this email.
I was in my colleague’s restaurant the other night. It was mid-week so the restaurant was mid-empty, and my colleague was serving at the tables while his wife was cooking. I had a great monkfish with potatoes, and was killing the time between this and the dessert with my wine and a cigarette. No, you cannot really smoke in restaurants, but there was only me and him there; and everyone knows everyone, so it was okay.
My colleague – let’s call him Nando – was now sitting at my table and we were drinking and chatting about nothing.
When she entered the room.
And this time, Dario, I wasn’t ill. And I know what you’re gonna say, so let me pre-empt you: I wasn’t drunk, not at all. But here in the room, with me, Erika.
I tried not to choke on the wine. She came closer – her eyes were scanning the room, looking for people to jump out of corners. Guilty eyes. She smiled timidly at the table, locked her hair behind one ear, when Nando said, We’re closing.
She came closer – I was sucking at my cigarette like that was the only source of oxygen – and smiled, broadly this time. She said she didn’t want to eat, but that she was looking for a job. New in town. Her accent gave her away, Not from around here, eh? said Nando, and she laughed clumsily, recognising that yeah, she wasn’t. Nando said, We’re not hiring, but leave your number anyway. We might call you.
She opened her purse, a black, large one, and I swear I could hear my heart tub thumping in my veins, and this time there were no meds to fuck up my perception. My eyes waited for a knife to be pulled from the purse, and I was mentally trying to imagine how to run away, how to stop her.
But she only pulled out a piece of paper – her CV – and left it into Nando’s hands. She smiled to him – and to me – and thanked us, and walked out.
She didn’t recognise me. Or didn’t give it away.
As soon as she was out, Nando ripped the sheet of paper in four pieces, got up, and threw them in the bin. He came back, while I was still trying to smoke the burnt-out fag. Are you ok, he asked me. You’re pale.
Let me give you some limoncello to cheer you up.
Ghost or not, I saw her. I drunk my limoncello, asked for another one, and left the money for the bill. When Nando disappeared for just a second in the kitchen, guess what I did?
I run to the bin, and took the pieces of paper, and swiftly put them in my pocket. Four pieces of a secret, four traces back to the ghost of Erika.
Now, it was just my turn to place the puzzle back together.
Talk soon, very soon,