“Will said a m-man called ... looking for you,” said Filippo one day before he had even set foot off the ladder. His face was paler than that day’s lattiginous sky. “You … aren’t leaving, are you?”
I closed my eyes and clasped my hands together, and cross-legged before the window of the tree house I set my teeth and fought off the image of Salvatore’s face, his lips shaping the word ‘stupid.’ Filippo came to sit beside me and took my hand, just like when we were children and someone at school had mentioned his mother; like the times when Will had barked at him for not playing a game the way he wanted him to.
“Bad things can’t get you in here,” he said into the back of my hand.
When I woke up it was night and Filippo’s head was on my thigh. Silent, lined up with the stars behind them, Will’s eyes regarded me in the dark.
“Of all the freaks!” I hissed, the speed of my hearbeat, the sweat breaking on my back making me angrier than I was scared.
“You are not going back to him,” said Will, his face impassible.
I looked at him for a long time, at the way the moonlight silvered his profile, chiseling it into a connubial union between marble and darkness. My breathing slowed, the sweat turned cold into the night Mistral, while somewhere among the balsamic bushes of arbutus a cricket broke his own heart singing.
“You know,” I whispered to Will, threading my fingers through Filippo’s thin, fair hair. “I used to pity the kind of embittered woman who recommends keeping away from men; who says they are all bastards. And now…the thought of it—of him pressing that thing against my ass as though he imagined I should feel glad, aroused, excited! What I felt was rage and dread and disgust. You tell him in a thousand different ways that you don’t like it and yet he behaves as though you should love it and is hurt and angry if you don’t comply. He makes you pay if you don’t do it. It’s a chore. You just feel like cleaning yourself. And if you dare say you don’t enjoy something, then he says you’ve got a problem—there’s obviously something wrong with you. But you know what? My body is mine. It belongs to me.”
Will clapped his hands silently, a mocking smile on his lips.
“So, what makes you think Mirko would have been different? He had a dick, too.” He snorted. “You look at me as though I’d just pissed on his grave. But there’s something that’s going to eat at you a lot more than what your charming ex-boyfriend did to your pygmy self-esteem. If you keep thinking of Mirko as the god Apollo, you might as well dig a hole beside his headstone and say goodnight.”
“Great fucking suicide watch you keep.”
“If he wanted to keep you alive so much, he should have stayed,” Will said, turning away. I saw his eyes trace the new constellations Filippo had painted and then trail up to the sky, blindly, just as mine did when my thoughts turned to Mirko. When he talked again he left his eyes there, but put all his breath into his voice.
“You need to stop thinking of him as perfect. He wasn’t. He was a lazy fucker who kept settling for less than he could have had. Instead of going to uni he just ended up doing what he was already good at, fixing stuff for people, getting himself filthy and coming back so tired it was like someone had pulled all his bones apart. Settled for someone he wasn’t all that crazy about because it was easy, while leaving her wasn’t. He wanted to find you.” Will looked at me as though he wanted to swat me. “But he never searched. It was easier to be unhappy than...”
I waited for him to finish, but he shook his head, opened his hands showing the carvings cut by his nails onto the soft flesh of his palms.
“He stank after work. He was just like all of us,” he said.
“Was he?” I said, wanting to throw back at him the pain he was inflicting. “So why are you up here? Why do you still live in that house with your little cousin? Where’s your boyfriend?”
“Accept the fucking pain,” he growled at me, “and grow up!”
On my leg, Filippo started, awoken by Will’s shout. Will gave me a look as admonishing as it was angry while his cousin sat up, rubbing his eyes.
“What’s the matter?” he asked through glued lips.
“You shouldn’t sleep up here. It’s too humid,” said Will, reaching the ladder with one step of his long legs. An instant later, nothing remained but the early calls of the seagulls and a thread of aftershave, the kind that will give you a shiver for the boy you liked twenty years ago when you smell it again.