TERRIBLE THINGS COULD HAPPEN TO US
Sandro felt the phone purring inside his pocket. It was a few minutes past eight in the evening, an odd time for Emilia to be calling him. Usually by then she was busy making dinner for her family.
“He’s dead,” she said.
Her voice on speakerphone resonated loudly inside the taxi. Lately Sandro had been trying to keep his cell as far as possible from his ear, fearing radiation and a potential brain tumor. He immediately switched the speaker off, lifted the phone to his ear and lowered his voice, sensing tension in the shoulders of the cabdriver, as if he too were eager to hear the details.
“Bruno. He’s had a stroke, a heart attack . . . not sure yet what, exactly. He was driving home from work, he lost control of the car, apparently he managed to pull onto the side of the road and . . .”
Her voice trembled.
“Oh God, I can’t believe I’m telling you this—it feels so unreal. He died on the spot.”
“When?” he asked, as if it made any difference, but he needed a few seconds to take it all in.
“Like . . . an hour ago. I’m at the hospital now.”
“Do you . . . I mean . . . do you want me to come over? I’m on my way to something but I can make up an excuse.”
“No, I don’t think it would be a good idea. His sisters are here, and my friend Monica from the yoga studio is on her way.”
“What about the girls?”
“My mother is at home with them. I haven’t told them any-thing yet.”
There was a pause. He could hear her anxious breathing.
“This is so . . .” He hesitated. “Amore,
this is . . . I’m really sorry. I wish I could do something for you right now.”
“I know, I know.” She was crying. “But it’s good to hear your voice; it makes me feel less lonely.”
He lowered his voice to a whisper.
“I wish I could hold you in my arms.”
“Me too,” she murmured. “I so wish you were here with me, but it’s not possible—that’s crazy, isn’t it. I can barely think straight right now.”
“I know, of course.”
The driver turned toward him.
“Is this it?”
The cab had slowed down, skirting the museum of con-temporary art, a grandiose building that resembled a whale. The MAXXI had cost millions of euros yet some people said it wasn’t art- friendly; the interior had way too many curves and spirals and basically there weren’t enough walls to hang paintings on.
“Yes, yes. We can stop here,” Sandro said, checking his wallet for small bills.
“Can I call you later—is that all right?” Emilia asked, trying to conceal her sobs.
“Of course. Send me a text and I’ll call you right back. I love you,” he said.
He felt terrible, to be going to a stupid opening and leaving Emilia alone in the midst of her tragedy.
He wiped his forehead with a handkerchief—it was an unusually warm evening for early May—and regretted his decision to wear a jacket, even though it was a light linen one.
Sandro walked across the courtyard, where a gigantic sculpture had been placed, probably the work of the Korean artist whose vernissage he was attending. It was an enormous oval, reminiscent of an alien ship from outer space, or maybe a dinosaur’s egg. Its surface was beautifully polished, perfectly smooth; it looked peaceful and strangely benign.
Sandro couldn’t care less about contemporary art—he knew next to nothing about who was who in that world—but his wife, Ottavia, came from a family of important collectors; she had grown up surrounded by artists and had just opened a gallery herself. This was her scene, and he knew how much it meant to her to have him by her side at these kinds of events. He’s dead.
As he approached the sliding door of the museum, Sandro kept repeating the words to himself, in an attempt to make the concept real before he stepped inside. He could see the usual crowd through the glass, milling around in the lobby, champagne flutes in hand, air-kissing and Instagramming.
So it had happened at last. He had often entertained this fantasy. It would come out of nowhere, against his will, but he would frequently think how perfect it would be if Emilia’s husband suddenly died, or Ottavia, or both. He felt guilty to be imagining this scenario, but who in his position wouldn’t think of the possibility? He and Emilia had fallen in love almost a year earlier, and the death of their spouses seemed the only way to set them free. What if they just disappeared, without suffering, just like that, at the drop of a hat?
And now it had happened, and he wasn’t sure how he felt.
He caught a glimpse of his wife standing next to the recently appointed curator of the museum—a young woman with short platinum hair and an elaborate tattoo on her shoulder blades, two bright blue hummingbirds facing each other. Things had changed recently in the art world, Ottavia had explained to him. It was the very young, the very cool and the women who had the power now.
“Sandro!” His wife moved away from the tattooed curator and kissed him lightly on the cheek. A vintage yellow dress looked great against her tanned skin, along with a turquoise Navajo bracelet on each wrist. She wasn’t fearful of bold colors. He was suddenly overwhelmed by the reality of her body next to his, her scent, the warmth of her skin. He grabbed her hand and clutched it in his. Ottavia looked surprised.
“Nothing. You look beautiful. I love this dress—you should wear it more often.”
Sandro couldn’t believe he’d say something so trivial, but it helped him feel anchored to reality.
“Thank you, darling. The show is a joke, but we need to stay till the bitter end. Are you going to be able to bear the dinner afterward?”
“Of course,” he said, and smiled at his beautiful wife, the mother of his daughter, Ilaria. Ottavia, whom he had wished dead more than once.
“Let’s go get a drink,” he said. He put his arm around her and they moved toward the bar. As they walked, he pressed his fingertips along her spine, feeling the tiny interstices between each vertebra, the evidence that underneath that delicate flesh lived a skeleton. We are all so frail, he thought. Terrible things could happen to us in the space of one breath.
Copyright © 2020 by Francesca Marciano. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.