Smart, funny thirteen-year-old Luna lives in a small town on the coast of Tuscany. When her beloved brother, Luca, drowns in a surfing accident, Luna’s mother retreats into herself, while Luna believes that Luca still speaks to her through a whalebone washed up on the nearby shore. At school, stricken by her loss yet determined to carry on, Luna makes a new friend and ally, the eccentric Zot, a boy from Chernobyl. Luna’s fantasies will soon clash with the lieseven the well-intentioned onesof the adult world, in this touching, funny, and imaginative novel by the celebrated author of Live Bait.
|Publisher:||Europa Editions, Incorporated|
|Product dimensions:||5.10(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.50(d)|
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Hi, I'm Tages. Who Are You?
There's this Etruscan farmer digging holes in a field and since he's Etruscan he's doing it like three thousand years ago. No tools, no nothing. The poor guy's really doing it the hard way.
By accident he digs one hole deeper than the others and the earth below begins to move. A hand pops out, then an arm, and in the end a whole child emerges, a kid with white hair who leaps in front of the farmer and says, "Hi, I'm Tages. Who are you?"
The man doesn't answer. He doesn't breathe. He's shaking so bad you can't tell whether he's shaking or dancing. He opens his mouth but the only thing that comes out is a terrified scream so loud the whole Etruscan population hears it and races to see what's happening. And what's happening is this crazy thing that the Etruscans saw for real and that I only heard about from my brother Luca. And I know it sounds absurd and out there but I totally believe it.
Then again I believe everything. My name is Luna and I'm thirteen years old and up until last year I still believed in Santa Claus. At first he even scared me. Because let's face it, this story about a stranger who sneaks into your house at night and brings you a bunch of presents, well, it sounded weird to me. I mean if someone gives you a present he'd want you to see him, right? That way you can thank him and tell him he's awesome and he'll be happy. But Santa Claus, he enters through the fireplace when everyone's asleep and then he runs away. That's not good guy behavior. That's burglar behavior. In fact, the morning after, while the rest of the children in the world were racing to see what Santa Claus had brought them, I was checking the rooms to see if he'd stolen anything.
Like that time I'd begged with all my heart for a new bike, the blue bike I'd seen in the window at Santini's. But on Christmas morning, there was no bike under the tree, there was Mom and Luca, all serious and bummed out, and Mom started saying, "I'm so sorry, Luna. Things are tough this year and we can't —" I stopped her right there. It wasn't her fault, I told her. I knew that sooner or later Santa Claus would steal our presents, and who knew what good my bike was going to do him up at the North Pole.
But he would usually bring me a couple of presents. In the end I even grew to like him a little. Until a year ago when I was in seventh grade and the last day before Christmas break the teacher gave us a homework assignment called "The Big Little Disappointments in Life: How I Felt when I Found out Santa Claus Doesn't Exist."
I wrote it down in my journal, I read it, I read it again, I looked around the room to see if the others were shocked too or if it was just me. But it was just me.
"Excuse me, Teacher, I don't understand."
"What don't you understand, Luna?"
"No, I mean, what do you mean Santa Claus doesn't exist? It's not true. I hate to break it to you but it's just not true. Is it?"
The teacher didn't say a word. Neither did my classmates. For a minute it was so silent you could hear the custodian cursing at the coffee machine in the hallway, then the whole class burst out laughing, calling me the meanest words in the world. The teacher said, "Quiet, quiet, everyone, or you're all getting an F." But no one listened. Instead they started launching crumpled paper balls at me and erasers and pencils and other heavier, harder things, but I ignored them because all I could see in front of me was Santa Claus waving goodbye, leaving for good. He and his elfin pals were disappearing along with the house at the North Pole and the eight reindeer from his sleigh. Comet, Donner, Prancer, and ... I can't remember the others but who cares, it's not as if they're real, they're just nonsense made up to make me look like an idiot, and the only thing real in the world were those hard pointy things my classmates were firing at me.
But Tages is another story. Tages has nothing to do with Santa Claus. He really did exist. Sure, the story of a kid with white hair who popped out of the earth may sound weird, but so what, everything in the world is weird. A man meets a woman, puts his penis in her and after nine months a baby comes out of her tummy — is that any less weird? To tell you the truth I think it sounds more normal for someone to pop out of the earth like, you know, a flower or a mushroom or a whole bunch of other stuff around us.
And if someone says there's no such thing as a kid with white hair, that means there's no such thing as me either, since that's exactly how I was born. I have white hair, white skin, and my eyes are almost transparent. I have to be careful the sun doesn't burn me and what little I see of the world I see weirdly. But that doesn't mean I'm make-believe; I'm an albino. It happens. There are albino birds and albino fish and albino crocodiles and monkeys and whales and turtles. Even plants can be albinos. Even flowers. It's totally normal. But not for people, no sir. People always complain that life's all the same and flat and boring. But if someone a little different walks by they spaz, they freak. Like my classmates, who think I'm the Devil's daughter or a vampire, as if I could put a curse on them or maybe infect them with this thing and suddenly they'd all turn white like me. I don't know what exactly they're thinking. I only know it hurts when they pick on you because you're different. And it hurts even more when they're scared to pick on you and keep their distance.
Anyway, all this just to say there's nothing weird about the story of Tages. Tages was just an albino kid who turned up one day and started talking to the Etruscans.
"Hello, people! I've come to teach you how to read your fate," he says. And I'm positive they all looked at him then looked at each other and then somebody raised his hand. "Pardon me, Tages, but what's with the white hair?"
Tages gets upset. He pounds on his leg. "Really? I come all this way to talk to you about your fate and you ask me about my hair?"
"Yeah, well, it's weird."
"There's nothing weird about it."
"Actually there is. It's white. I mean, if you were old it wouldn't be weird, but you're not and it is."
Tages shakes his head and doesn't answer. Luckily there's a woman in the crowd who does. "Wait a minute, guys. You're being unfair. If you ask me, Tages isn't weird. He's just a dwarf. An old dwarf who looks like a kid. Isn't that right?"
"No! I'm not a dwarf and I'm not old. I was born with white hair. Do you have a problem with that?"
"No, no, of course not. But look, frankly, it's pretty weird."
Tages lowers his eyes. He looks at the hole in the field where he came from. "You people are a bunch of dicks. I've got a mind to go back underground without teaching you squat. I should have gone to the Egyptians or Babylonians. But I'm here now so cut the crap and keep quiet. We don't have much time. I mean I do because I'm immortal but you are not, so listen up."
Tages takes a deep breath then starts to explain. And for a minute the Etruscans continue to stare at his white hair. But his words are so mesmerizing they begin to listen to him for real. Some even take notes. Tages talks about lightning, earthquakes, and other weird things that happen in the world. He tells them they're all signs sent from heaven. He tells them about the flight of birds, about statues that catch fire and sheep born without hooves, and the more he talks the more they realize that this guy really knows his stuff. And maybe that's why his hair is white, because he might be a kid but he's as wise as an old man.
Only an old man who's in shape, who has his head together. Not like my Grandpa Rolando who thought he was an American soldier named John. Me and my brother Luca would ask him how come, if he were American, he didn't speak the language, and he would say a bomb had exploded next to him and he was still in shock. In fact he couldn't even say the word "shock." He said "sock." And every evening me and my big brother would listen to him tell the same old story about the day he found himself alone staring down the whole German army and he had to flee on foot from an enemy plane chasing after him. At one point Grandpa saw a gigantic tree that he hid behind and there he found a dead soldier holding a rifle. The rifle had only one shot left so Grandpa waited until the airplane was right on top of him, took aim at a bomb under one of the wings and at the very last minute fired. The airplane exploded.
The German pilot ejected just in time, descended slowly on his parachute, then began running toward him with a pistol. Except instead of shooting him, the German shook his hand and said something. And here, at the end of this story that Grandpa told us every night, the same way every time, he always had the German say something different.
One time he said, "Dein aim ist equal to dein courage, Herr John." And another time: "Today you have taught me what courage is, dear John." Or: "John my pal, join me at the bar, I'm buying this hero a beer ..."
Whatever he said was always new and always beautiful to hear, but then I wondered aloud how the German knew his name was John and where the two of them had managed to find beer on a battlefield ... That's when Luca would squeeze me hard and clamp a hand over my mouth. "Come on, John," he'd say, "it's late. Time to hit the barracks. The two of us'll keep watch tonight."
Grandpa would say yes, it was time, salute us military-style, and wander off to bed. Exactly the same night after night, year after year. Then in September Grandpa died.
Just like that, in his sleep. When he went to bed he was alive and when he woke up he wasn't. A couple of elegant men arrived to place him in an open casket and arranged it in the living room so that people could come see him. Except no one came.
Every so often Mom would go in for a bit and I would go with her, except I'd stand by the doorway because I was scared to look Grandpa in the face. I kept my eyes down and looked at his hands resting on his tummy, and since I don't see too well they seemed all one thing to me, white and frozen and fake. Then I looked up and there was Luca beside the coffin. He'd stayed with Grandpa all day and all night.
At dinnertime I stuck my head in the door to ask him if he was going to eat with us. "Coming," he said. But he never came. So Mom sent me to fetch him again.
"You coming? We're having fish sticks and peas."
"Yum. I'll be right there. I'm just going to finish saying goodbye."
"You're saying goodbye to Grandpa?"
"No, I already said goodbye to him. Now I'm saying goodbye to John and the German soldier."
"Ah," I said, "I see," even though I didn't see very much.
"I was just thinking, do you know the German soldier's name?"
I shook my head.
"Me neither. Grandpa never said. Why didn't we ever ask him?" I thought about it, didn't know what to say, said nothing.
"Too bad. It'll remain a mystery," said Luca in that calming voice of his. Then he went back to chatting quietly with all the people he was saying goodbye to in the coffin.
I nodded as if I'd thought that stuff about the German myself. But I hadn't thought about it at all and suddenly in my head I could see all these people together, waving goodbye and leaving for good. Grandpa, John, the nameless German. They were all going where Santa Claus and the elves and the reindeer had gone, where Grandma had already gone, and where my first goldfish had gone, too. (His name was Signor Vincenzo, and in reality he was more black than gold.) I saw them going round and round, fast, like in a vortex, becoming smaller and darker and finally vanishing.
Then I felt this stinging around my eyes. I ran to the kitchen, buried my face in Mom's sweater while she was setting the table, and hugged her hard. And she said, "Oh no, Luna, cheer up, don't cry ..." but from her twisted, broken into-tiny-pieces voice you understood completely that she was crying too.
It's normal, I think. Sometimes things happen that you can't do anything about, you can only have a cry and go on, waiting for something different to come along. Like the Etruscans, who in my opinion cried a whole bunch at the end of that afternoon, when Tages stopped talking and waved goodbye and then went back underground same as the setting sun. And in my opinion they returned to that spot every day and the farmer who discovered Tages continued to dig really deep holes all his life, hoping that sooner or later he'd find him again.
Because Tages had taught them a lot: how to read the will of Heaven in what happens on Earth, how to read your fate in the world around us. Great, thanks, Tages, but why are you leaving now? What's the point of recognizing fate and the things that come your way if you can't avoid the bad stuff, and the good stuff, even if you hug it tight, slips off into the vortex of the past? Like you and your Etruscan friends who are all dead and have left nothing behind but smelly, dusty tombs. Like Santa Claus and Signor Vincenzo and Grandpa. Like everything that blows in and blows out, and where it all ends up I don't know.CHAPTER 2
The Happy Explorer
It's Saturday afternoon and I'm trying not to fall asleep while Mr. Marino is talking about the mystery of the Holy Trinity, the mystery of mass, and a bunch of other mysteries in the faith. But the biggest mystery of all is why on earth every Saturday Mom forces me to come to catechism.
Normal parents I get. That's just how they are. They complain about having to look after the house or keep up with work and having no time to do the things they like, and meanwhile they force their children to live like them, school and homework all week, and Saturday and Sunday, which could be free, really aren't free at all because of catechism and mass. But Mom, she's different, sometimes almost too different: When the sun's out, for instance, she doesn't wake me up. She says it's too pretty out to shut yourself in a dark, stinky school. Say I have an assignment due in class that day, or my teacher is planning to quiz me. Instead I open my eyes and it's already ten o'clock. I call the shop where Mom works and tell her I'm ruined. Tomorrow at school the teacher is going to kill me. That's just for starters. And over the noise of the hair dryer and her customers' chatter she answers me all upbeat: "What's the fuss? You won't go tomorrow either. Problem solved, right?"
No, problem not solved. That may work for Luca, who gets up in the morning, slips into his wetsuit, and heads to the sea with a surfboard tucked under his arm. He only goes to school every once and a while, when there aren't any waves, just to do something else for a change. He takes his seat and everyone crowds around his desk, all worked up and happy to see him. Then he earns a string of great grades and it's thanks a bunch and catch you later.
In fact, Luca doesn't even have to show up to school. He got a good grade this week even though he's off in France surfing with his friends. Yesterday, he told us, the philosophy teacher was supposed to quiz him, but since Luca wasn't there, the teacher gave him a B+, on faith, saying that Luca would never earn anything below a B+. Luca can breathe easy. I swear that's what happened. He himself sent us a text about it, and Mom and I laughed long and hard.
Although honestly it's not fair. I mean I'm happy for Luca, since I may not know what philosophy is but you can bet he does. He knows about everything in the whole world. What I mean is it's not fair when teachers do that. And it's not fair when they mark you down for misconduct if you show up late to school or don't do your homework, while when I do that, unh-unh, with me they smile and tell me not to worry. They think my white skin makes me frail and weak and that even though I'm in a normal class I'm not at the same level as everyone else and if I make a mistake it doesn't matter, the important thing is I tried.
They even want to assign me a special needs teacher. Every year they tell me so and every year I tell them I don't need one. Sometimes they insist. That's when Mom takes over. She tells them I don't need any help, that what they should do is hire someone to clean up the bathrooms — they smell like roadkill. They also want to give me a computer because the print in books is too small for me; I look at the pages and seem to see several straight rows of ants lined up next to each other. But I use a magnifying glass made for that very purpose. I slide it over the lines to enlarge them, and even if it's heavy to carry around and makes my head spin a little, with the magnifying glass I can read for half an hour a sitting, which may not be long but it's a hundred thousand times longer than a lot of my classmates.
At any rate, it's not fair that I need a magnifying glass to read. It's not fair that they treat me better or worse than the others. None of it's fair. But what is really unfair is that today is Saturday and the beach is two minutes away yet I can't go because for some mysterious reason Mom makes me come to catechism.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Breaking of a Wave"
Copyright © 2015 Mondadori Libri S.p.A. Milano.
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