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The Girl with the Crystal Eyes
By Barbara Baraldi, Judith Forshaw
John Blake Publishing LtdCopyright © 2008 Barbara Baraldi
All rights reserved.
'What did you get up to last night?' Viola asks, without looking at him.
He doesn't answer her, as he carries on cutting his rare steak.
'What'd you do last night?' She glances at him fleetingly. Her blue eyes appear black because of her anger, because of the doubt that has taken root inside her.
'You're so insecure. I can't stand insecure people, you know?' He pushes back his hair without putting down his fork. The fork smells of blood.
'You're what makes me insecure. I wasn't like this before I met you,' she lies.
Viola is beautiful and has a good figure, and she always smells nice – naturally. She has good skin. 'I'll ask you one last time, and then I'm going.' And she stresses every word, as if she's reciting some magic spell that will open a secret door behind which is hidden priceless buried treasure. 'What did you do last night?'
He stops chewing his steak and raises his eyes from his plate to look at her. She has big breasts, squeezed into that stretchy top that she got from the 'everything two Euros' stall in the market. He still fancies her, he decides, and he'd happily fuck her right now if he could. He swallows his mouthful of steak. 'I was at Luca's, watching the match. We had a few beers and then fell asleep on the sofa, you know.' He puts a big chunk of meat in his mouth and smiles. 'That's all, baby. That's all.'
She feels able to breathe again, but her words stick in her throat, fixed there by fear.
'I don't like it when you do that,' is all she manages to say. And she covers her face to hide two single tears, the tears she never manages to hold back when they argue.
They're always the same tears; she realises that. The same tears that appear without fail every time they have a fight. Right from the first time they'd argued, the day of their first date outside the Quadrifoglio Pizzeria, when his hands seemed to be everywhere at once and she had had to stop him.
'Gently,' she had murmured.
In a fit of rage, he had exploded suddenly, like a firecracker too full of powder, leaving her terrified. In the end, she had burst into tears, and only then had he calmed down and had hugged her, making a vague and clumsy show of kindness.
Marco was a truly average man. A man with clichés in his veins instead of blood.
'Would you like anything else?' asks the waiter. He has been keeping an eye on them, waiting for them to calm down, not wanting to risk losing the usually generous tip that Marco leaves when he's in good company and also in a good mood.
'Yes, a coffee. A coffee with Sambuca,' he replies. When Marco says certain words – like coffee – there's still a trace of his southern accent.
The waiter looks to Viola. She's the most beautiful of the girls he's seen with The Thug. They call him that in this restaurant because of what he looks like, but also because of the way he speaks, a bit aggressive and never showing any respect.
'Nothing for me, thanks,' she answers politely.
Marco leaves his usual tip, and winks at the waiter. That wink means he's going to sleep with the girl he's now with.
'I've scored again, Giacomì,' he always says, slapping the waiter on the back as he gets up from the table, eyeing up the arse of whichever girl he's with this time, while she heads towards the door.CHAPTER 2
Eva gazes at the small white daisy, its petals edged with pink, which keeps her company, sitting on the overcrowded desk, a constant reminder of an overwhelming workload.
She doesn't know it yet but, while she sits there, every day a little piece of her dream deserts her, a dream she's had since she was only small. She tells herself that tomorrow will be different, that it won't always be like this, that soon they'll take her ideas seriously and she'll have her big chance. To help herself believe it, every now and then she lets her mind drift away as she contemplates the fresh flowers placed on duty on her desk, adding colour to that grey corner of the office, and she loses herself in daydreams as intangible as the smell of snow.
When she was a kid she adored adverts – she loved them almost more than cartoons. She liked the characters in adverts: the chicken Calimero because he was shy and clumsy, Coccolino the teddy bear because he was gentle and could talk, and she even thought the freckly kid who ate milk chocolate was really nice. On the other hand, bad adverts got on her nerves. What point was there in talking about quality or savings while walking round a supermarket in a bathrobe, or stuffing yourself from a plate piled high with snacks before you went to work?
So she'd always known what job she wanted to do when she grew up. After a quick degree in communications, here she is bent over a desk at Art&Work, an advertising agency in Bologna. Always arriving at least ten minutes early every morning, with a ready smile and a great deal of imagination. Gradually, as time went on, she saw that she always ended up doing the same lowly, unskilled job and, instead of getting closer, her dreams drifted further and further away. As in an advert, she saw her dreams fly higher, while she, tiny as an ant, jumped up and stretched out her arms but never managed to grab hold of them.
Eva does the cut-outs of photographs. Eva researches products. Eva photocopies at the speed of light. Eva is a wizard with the scanner and saves mountains of images on autopilot.
'Roberto, excuse me, can I say something?' she had once said to the creative director, overcoming her shyness. The creative director was someone who turned up every morning preceded by a fake smile, his fedora worn at an angle, and sporting one of his op-art ties that made your eyes hurt.
'Of course you can.'
'Sorry, but I couldn't help noticing the sketch you've done for that prunes advert, and ...' She paused for a moment.
Pluck up the courage and tell him, she thought to herself.
'Yes, it's brown.'
'And what's the problem?'
'Brown, prunes, laxatives.'
'Eva ...' A pause for him to gather his words and fire them at her, like an action hero firing bullets from a machine-gun. 'Eva, first, it isn't brown; it's a khaki colour. Second, I've worked in advertising for years and I've been behind successful campaigns, and I think I can manage without your advice, don't you?' He stopped, his two raised fingers open in a giant 'v' that seemed ready to swallow her – or rather a huge victory sign about to crush her.
Roberto is fucking Mariangela.
Overtime means fucking Mariangela in every possible position.
Mariangela is married to a much older man, very rich, who presented her with the advertising agency to give her something to do outside the house – her lovers being an added extra with the package.
After having won and married her, everything changed for them. Sex, for example. 'Before you have a woman, you imagine how she makes love, how she moves when she's under you, what noises she makes when she comes. You're generous as a lover,' he liked to say – often – to his few friends, 'but then everything changes. Two fucks and you're like brother and sister.' For his sister, he had opened a shoe shop – he really was generous to his relatives, Mr Dicarmine.
The day the publicity campaign for the laxative prunes was to be presented to the client, Eva joined in the hearty congratulations paid to the great creative talent who had produced an advert of such good taste and originality. The sun-dried prunes, against a background of beautiful bright yellow, made you think of the Californian sun and conveyed the idea of wholesomeness, of a product good to eat.
'Eva, you'd like my job, wouldn't you? Tell me, what colour background would you have used to advertise these prunes?' Roberto had asked, just to humiliate her, certain that she wouldn't dare say a word. 'Perhaps a nice brown?' he had added, without giving her time to speak and provoking, unsurprisingly, a burst of laughter from everyone else.
Eva had clenched her fists and had then gone back to her scanning, and had lost herself in the potted violet sitting on her desk.
A violet far too perfumed to be condemned to die on that grey desk. Grey like her shattered dreams.CHAPTER 3
Empty like a night without him.
He has gone out again this evening. He splashed on some aftershave and smoothed gel into his hair, put on his light-coloured jeans and a tight white T-shirt. I hadn't even seen that T-shirt before. It must be new. He must have bought it without me, and he didn't even show it to me.
And me, I'm stuck here alone on the sofa, in my pyjamas.
I'm just a pair of pyjamas with a soul.
I'm feeling so, so tired. And I was twenty only a week ago.
She closes her eyes to lose herself in her memories, those memories of when she was small. Her father. The week of her birthday. Seven days full of music and surprises. Yes, there was always music in the background.
It was the rule.
'Birthdays are the personal celebrations we all have. Which means they're the most important. Do you follow me, Viola?'
'Listen to me carefully. Everyone celebrates Christmas, and at Easter every child gets their chocolate egg, the ones with a surprise inside ...'
'Yes.' She was then hardly more than a metre tall.
'But a birthday, that's just yours, your day, the day when you're a princess and we all have to pay lots of attention to you.' And he would bow to her.
She used to laugh and gaze up at him.
'One day isn't long enough to celebrate such an important event; we need at least seven days ...' That was the rule. Seven days, not a single one less.
Her father used to listen to the records of Franco Battiato.
Perhaps it's because of this indulgence that she doesn't have a permanent centre of gravity, and she's always changing her opinion about things and about people. How happy she was when her father was there, the man in her life.
She often cries, perhaps every day, at least for a minute.
She's never understood why she cries so much.
Today she has cried twice. The first time when she woke up, after having made love with him, and she found a love bite on Marco's neck – it turned out to be a bruise.
'A bruise,' she says out loud.
And the second time – now – while she listens to Battiato on her own, seated on the sofa in her pyjamas.
I'm alone and I turned twenty less than a week ago.
Twenty years to realise that perhaps Mr Right, the man every girl is waiting for, was there for me as soon as I was born, but with a sell-by date.
It lasted ten years. That's what was written on the box.
Battiato's Bandiera Bianca – 'White Flag' – is playing in the background.
She falls asleep while the white flag flutters on the bridge.
She finds herself walking in the sun. Her shadow follows just a step behind her.
She is alone, with only her shadow for company. But then she turns and sees them: the cars speeding by alongside her. She feels a rush of air every time one passes her. She gets closer and closer to a metal rail, and she realises she's feeling slightly afraid.
She carries on walking. Now the cars are still, and there is silence. Suddenly there's no noise.
A closed door.
She stops and stares at it. She looks back for a moment, and realises that her shadow isn't there any more.
It's impossible. She turns round but she still can't see it. And yet the sun is still shining, right above her.
The door. All that's left now is the door. As if the world and all of life were suddenly there behind that door.
She opens it.
She is engulfed by speed, a sudden whirlwind of it, wrapping around her. Blood. Blood everywhere. And those eyes.
Staring eyes that are fixed on her, peering out of the blood.
She gets up suddenly, breathing heavily; on the bridge the white flag has stopped flying. Inside her, everything is red.
A red river. She is trembling, unable to stop it.
She picks up her mobile phone, with its worn cover and the Powerpuff Girls flying above the sky-blue skyscrapers, and she calls him.
He doesn't answer.
'The number you have called is ...'
She doesn't want to know for sure that he might have switched his mobile off.
She gets to her feet, opens the fridge and takes out the milk. Milk and chocolate. Milk, the drug of choice for babies. A drug that calms you down, that tastes of pleasant dreams. She drinks her milk and turns off the light.
She stretches out on the sofa – a sad pair of pyjamas. A pair of pyjamas with a soul.CHAPTER 4
Miew looks out of the window. The reddish evening light washes over everything; it shrouds the city, transforming it and distorting every harmony, while she waits for her owner to return.
Soon she will hear the sound of her footsteps running up the stairs, heavy because of the combat boots she always wears, jumping two steps at a time to get home quicker, the key in the lock and her voice, soft but slightly shrill, saying: 'Come on, don't be in a huff. I had to work late today.'
She looks out. The red is becoming black, and it's as if the city is changing its clothes. Now it is becoming mysterious, but also cruel, like a devastatingly beautiful woman who plays with the affections of a dejected lover.
Via San Felice, narrow and smelling of piss.
A puddle of dried vomit from last weekend, which now seems a long time ago. Graffiti on the wall, shouting a message that no one understands. A cat yawning.
Eva walks quickly, clenching her fists. She glances into the Irish pub. She often used to go there when she was younger.
An old child, that's what she feels like – an old child.
A child who doesn't know anything, yet knows everything about life.
Disillusion – it's a good word, but it hurts. It hurts her deep in her heart.
It's dark now. She had to work late.
She walks quickly, feeling the air on her face. It's cold.
Eva has never had a boyfriend.
She used to try to picture what her first boyfriend would be like, but she was never able to come up with a complete image. There was that game, Gira la moda, when she was a girl, in the Eighties. There was a wheel and you spun it round; you filled in the type of hair you'd like, then the face, the breasts, the legs, and finally the shoes.
She used to create fabulous girls, but the game never worked when she tried to create in her head the ideal boy – someone you'd lose your head over.
And, perhaps out of spite, he had never appeared in real life either.
Fear, lack of interest, who knows.
She has never had a boyfriend. Never kissed a boy.
She was curious, at school, listening to what her friends said. 'He kisses well. His lips are nice – soft and full.' 'Luca's got a huge package. Last night I gave him a blow job.'
Art lessons were when they shared their secrets.
'But do you lick him, or just move your mouth up and down?' It was as if they were writing a guide to the perfect blow job.
But she hadn't even understood properly how you did it, a blow job. The half phrases she overheard did more harm than good.
The result: it made her sick to her stomach to think about having to lick and suck that 'thing', a thing that then spat out some sort of sour-tasting stuff. But the stories about how it was like gagging on chewing gum always drew a crowd.
By the end of her fifth year, and after all those sessions in the art room, she had realised that giving blow jobs was too dangerous a skill, requiring too much practice for a girl like her.
She walks quickly.
She thinks about Miew.CHAPTER 5
Absent-mindedly, Marconi passes through the waiting room and notices yet again the girl with red hair and blue eyes – such a pale, piercing blue.
He's sure he has seen her at least twice already in the last few days.
He wants to ask her if she needs any help, but Tommasi calls him over to talk about that case of the boy without a residence permit, who they'd arrested the week before during an attempted robbery in a bar in Strada Maggiore.
Excerpted from The Girl with the Crystal Eyes by Barbara Baraldi, Judith Forshaw. Copyright © 2008 Barbara Baraldi. Excerpted by permission of John Blake Publishing Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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