The beach chronicles
A toddler shouting, the irregular rhythm and slapping sound of a ball on rackets, Kiss Me Again by Jova blaring on the radio. He, tall and not very toned, never wanted children. She, short and rotund, a companion. Both a puzzle, pieces intermixed from different landscapes. Flavio a diehard alternative life-styler, with a beard that's too thick and itinerant spots on sweaters and jackets, Marta an aspiring metropolitan, in-the-know on exhibitions and events in the city yet never quite ready for that quantum leap to break out of the provinces. An involuntary family that welcomed the randomness of events as a surrogate for affection and style.
Sitting on the same sunbed, her pastel yellow toenails sunk in the sand, he, in ten-year-old garden slippers, number forty-six, they search online for a room for the following Saturday, when Flavio will return to pick up his sister and niece. Marta dials the call, her brother speaks.
"Do you have a room for the 25th?" he asks.
"Yes," someone replies.
"With a bathroom?"
On the other end, an awkward silence.
"All our rooms come with a bath," the voice takes up again.
"In Romagna, only campsite tents are without bathrooms", Marta was about to add. She stays silent, suspecting the best is yet to come. A rapacious glance at her smartphone, no messages. None that she was waiting for anyway.
"Look, seeing I'm in the area, I'll come and check it out."
"Ah ... yeah ... sure ...," says the tense voice, disguising something akin to perplexity before giving the address.
"But why do you want to see it?" asks the sister, puffing to the side to lift a tuft from her forehead.
"Well if I like it I’ll confirm straightaway..."
She feels the urge to tell him he's not carrying out a 250,000 euro purchase, but fears a counter dig over the fact that she, at her age, doesn’t even have a driving license, and much more besides. Now is not the time for their endless ping pong. It’s thirty-seven degrees in the shade and almost lunchtime. He's already gone off on a tangent, giving his niece a handful of coins of mostly five-cent pieces to go and buy him a drink at the bar.
"He'll ask for a chinotto, just because he knows no one sells tamarind anymore," thinks Marta to herself.
"Get me a chinotto," the uncle says to the little girl.
"But... I'd be embarrassed! Nobody drinks canotto!" she screams with the Italian word to say dinghy, standing in her first two-piece bikini for eight year olds.
"It's delicious, made with tamarind," Flavio replies. And if they haven't got any, get me a citrus fruit or a soda."
"And why not water with hydrolithin?" thinks Marta, scrolling through her messages. "MUMMY... can you go?" begs the little one.
"Come on," Uncle Flavio continues, "I have to go and see the room..."
Mother and daughter, united in rebellion against the uncle's vintage tastes, go off together to get the chinotto, quietly slipping the copper coins into Marta's purse and paying instead with a two euro coin. When they return with the canotto he drinks it down almost in one gulp, puts on the fake Ray-Bans with the smoky lenses he'd bought from the Chinese and, to the midday sound of cicadas and the smell of sun cream, he sets off on his mission.
An hour later he's back, a magazine special edition for balcony gardens and crossword puzzles under his arm.
"They've got a swimming pool as well! I booked two days."
"But you never go swimming uncle!" exclaims the little girl.
"And I have serious doubts about the shower," thinks the sister, her hand over the phone.
"Well, I'll find time over those couple of days I'm sure," he replies, plopping himself down on the sun bed just as his sister gets up, creating in the process something very similar to a catapult effect.
Their umbrella neighbour let's out a laugh.
It’s that time of a day at the beach that unfolds in the style and gestures of a Matryoshka: a swim, collecting shells, a walk at the water's edge, bouncing on a trampoline, the swing, an ice cream cone, the queue at the toilet. Then the grand finale of table football, and the last flatbread and watercress to take away.
"But is there a bathroom at the kiosk have?" Flavio asks while they wait.
"It's not a hotel room," replies Marta.
"Yes, but where do people go if they can't hold it in, huh?"
And with this Big Question they say goodbye. Marta turns off the phone and with a nervous flick throws it into the bottom of the beach bag as if she wanted to throw it over the world's edge. Flavio shoves the bag with the towel and swimsuits into the trunk of his blue Panda, in among empty plant pots and holed garden gloves.
"Let's hope it doesn't rain tomorrow," he says, raising his head and sniffing the air like a blood hound. "I've got the tomato harvest to get done."
"Oh, right!" she replies, feeling a clash with a phrase from Marukami that suddenly emerges from the depths of her thoughts: "Pain cannot be avoided, but suffering is optional." She resolves not to switch on the phone for the whole evening. Indeed, for the whole holiday.
"Are you going passed the sunflowers?" asks the granddaughter.
"But do they turn into moon-flowers at night?"
"Don't make your mum angry," he replies, finding the answer a little complicated and so by passing it, bending over to give her a kiss.
The car fails to start. Two, three attempts, an injection of fuel worthy of Formula One, then he’s off, a skidded start, and the uncle leaves the plain of umbrellas and pedal boats just as the mother and daughter set off for the Stella Marina guesthouse.
"Mum, look at the sun!" exclaims the girl. "It looks like a biscuit!"
Marta stops, sighs, looks at the Sun on the horizon beyond the flat-roofed houses.
It's as if she can hear it sizzle as it slowly glides down behind the fields. A slight smell of burning fills the air, stirring up all manner of restlessness.
Traduzione di Nigel Blake📚 Gli inediti di Elena Soprano