prose_contemporaryGiordanoSolitude of Prime Numbershad learned his lesson. Choices are made in a few seconds and paid for in the time that remains. A prime number is inherently a solitary thing: it can only be divided by itself, or by one; it never truly fits with another. Alice and Mattia also move on their own axes, alone with their personal tragedies. As a child Alice's overbearing father drove her first to a terrible skiing accident, and then to anorexia. When she meets Mattia she recognises a kindred spirit, and Mattia reveals to Alice his terrible secret: that as a boy he abandoned his mentally-disabled twin sister in a park to go to a party, and when he returned, she was nowhere to be found. These two irreversible episodes mark Alice and Mattia's lives for ever, and as they grow into adulthood their destinies seem irrevocably intertwined. But then a chance sighting of a woman who could be Mattia's sister forces a lifetime of secret emotion to the surface. A meditation on loneliness and love, "The Solitude of Prime Numbers" asks, can we ever truly be whole when we're in love with another?GiordanoSolitude of Prime Numberscopyright (c) Shaun Whiteside, 2009published in Italian as La Solitudine dei Numberi Primi by Arnoldo Mondadori Editore, Milan. Copyright (c) 2008 Arnoldo Mondadori Editore S.p.A.Eleonora,in silencepromised it to youbook wouldn't have existed without Raffaella Lops.would like to thank, in no particular order, Antonio Franchini, Joy Terekiev, Mario Desiati, Giulia Ichino, Laura Cerutti, Cecilia Giordano, my parents, Giorgio Mila, Roberto Castello, Emiliano Amato, Pietro Grossi, and Nella Re Rebaudengo. Each of them knows why.old aunt's elaborately trimmed dress was a perfect fit for Sylvie's slender figure, and she asked me to lace it up for her. "The sleeves are plain; how ridiculous!" she said.
– Gerard de Nerval, Sylvie, 1853ANGEL
Della Rocca hated ski school. She hated getting up at seven-thirty, even during Christmas vacation. She hated her father staring at her over breakfast, his leg dancing nervously under the table as if to say hurry up, get a move on. She hated the woolen tights that made her thighs itch, the mittens that kept her from moving her fingers, the helmet that squashed her cheeks, and the big, too tight boots that made her walk like a gorilla.
"Are you going to drink that milk or not?" her father insisted again.gulped down three inches of boiling milk, burning her tongue, throat, and stomach.
"Good, today you can show us what you're really made of."'s that? Alice wondered.shoved her out the door, mummified in a green ski suit dotted with badges and the fluorescent logos of the sponsors. It was 14 degrees and a gray fog enveloped everything. Alice felt the milk swirling around in her stomach as she sank into the snow. Her skis were over her shoulder, because you had to carry your skis yourself until you got good enough for someone to carry them for you.
"Keep the tips facing forward or you'll kill someone," her father said.the end of the season the Ski Club gave you a pin with little stars on it. A star a year, from when you were four years old and just tall enough to slip the little disk of the ski lift between your legs until you were nine and you managed to grab the disk all by yourself. Three silver stars and then another three in gold: a pin a year, a way of saying you'd gotten a little better, a little closer to the races that terrified Alice. She was already worried about them even though she had only three stars.were to meet at the ski lift at eight-thirty sharp, right when it opened. The other kids were already there, standing like little soldiers in a loose circle, bundled up in their uniforms, numb with sleep and cold. They planted their ski poles in the snow and wedged the grips in their armpits. With their arms dangling, they looked like scarecrows. No one felt like talking, least of all Alice. Her father rapped twice on her helmet, too hard, as if trying to pound her into the snow.
"Pull out all the stops," he said. "And remember: keep your body weight forward, okay? Body weight forward."
"Body weight forward," echoed the voice in Alice's head.he walked away, blowing into his cupped hands. He'd soon be home again, reading the paper in the warmth of their house. Two steps and the fog swallowed him up.clumsily dropped her skis on the ground and banged her boots with a ski pole to knock off the clumps of snow. If her father had seen her he would have slapped her right there, in front of everyone.was already desperate for a pee; it pushed against her bladder like a pin piercing her belly. She wasn't going to make it today either. Every morning it was the same. After breakfast she would lock herself in the bathroom and push and push, trying to get rid of every last drop, contracting her abdominal muscles till her head ached and her eyes felt like they were going to pop out of their sockets. She would turn the tap full blast so that her father wouldn't hear the noises as she pushed and pushed, clenching her fists, to squeeze out the very last drop. She would sit there until her father pounded on the door and yelled so, missy, are we going to be late again today?it never did any good. By the time they reached the top of the first ski lift she would be so desperate that she would have to crouch down in the fresh snow and pretend to tighten her boots in order to take a pee inside her ski suit while all her classmates looked on, and Eric, the ski instructor, would say we're waiting for Alice, as usual. It's such a relief, she thought each time, as the lovely warmth trickled between her shivering legs. Or it would be, if only they weren't all there watching me.or later they're going to notice.or later I'm going to leave a yellow stain in the snow and they'll all make fun of me.of the parents went up to Eric and asked if the fog wasn't too thick to go all the way to the top that morning. Alice pricked up her ears hopefully, but Eric unfurled his perfect smile.
"It's only foggy down here," he said. "At the top the sun is blinding. Come on, let's go."the chairlift Alice was paired with Giuliana, the daughter of one of her father's colleagues. They didn't say a word the whole way up. Not that they particularly disliked each other, it was just that, at that moment, neither of them wanted to be there.sound of the wind sweeping the summit of the mountain was punctuated by the metallic rush of the steel cable from which Alice and Giuliana were hanging, their chins tucked into the collars of their jackets so as to warm themselves with their breath.'s only the cold, you don't really need to go, Alice said to herself.the closer she got to the top, the more the pin in her belly pierced her flesh. Maybe she was seriously close to wetting herself. Then again, it might even be something bigger. No, it's just the cold, you don't really need to go again, Alice kept telling herself.suddenly regurgitated rancid milk. She swallowed it down with disgust.really needed to go; she was desperate.more chairlifts before the shelter. I can't possibly hold it in for that long.lifted the safety bar and they both shifted their bottoms forward to get off. When her skis touched the ground Alice shoved off from her seat. You couldn't see more than two yards ahead of you, so much for blinding sun. It was like being wrapped in a sheet, all white, nothing but white, above, below, all around you. It was the exact opposite of darkness, but it frightened Alice in precisely the same way.slipped off to the side of the trail to look for a little pile of fresh snow to relieve herself in. Her stomach gurgled like a dishwasher. When she turned around, she couldn't see Giuliana anymore, which meant that Giuliana couldn't see her either. She herringboned a few yards up the hill, just as her father had made her do when he had gotten it into his head to teach her to ski. Up and down the bunny slope, thirty, forty times a day, sidestep up and snowplow down. Buying a ski pass for just one slope was a waste of money, and this way you trained your legs as well.unfastened her skis and took a few more steps, sinking halfway up her calves in the snow. Finally she could sit. She stopped holding her breath and relaxed her muscles. A pleasant electric shock spread through her whole body, finally settling in the tips of her toes.must have been the milk, of course. That and the fact that her bum was freezing from sitting in the snow at six thousand feet. It had never happened before, at least not as far as she could remember. Never, not even once.this time it wasn't pee. Or, not only. As she leaped to her feet she felt something heavy in the seat of her pants and instinctively touched her bottom. She couldn't feel a thing through her gloves, but it didn't matter-she had already realized what had happened.what, she wondered.called her but Alice didn't reply. As long as she stayed up there, the fog would hide her. She could pull down her ski pants and clean herself up as best she could, or go down and whisper in Eric's ear what had happened. She could tell him she had to go back to the lodge, that her knees hurt. Or she could just not worry about it and keep skiing, making sure to always be last in line.she simply stayed where she was, careful not to move a muscle, shielded by the fog.called her again. Louder now.
"She must have gone to the ski lift already, silly girl," a little boy said.could hear them talking. Someone said let's go and someone else said I'm cold from standing here. They could be just below her, a few yards away, or up at the ski lift. Sounds are deceptive: they rebound off the mountains and sink in the snow. "Damn… let's go see," Eric said. Alice slowly counted to ten, suppressing her urge to vomit as she felt something slither down her thighs. When she got to ten, she started over again, this time counting to twenty. Now all was silent.picked up her skis and carried them under her arm to the trail. It took her a little while to work out how to position them at right angles to the fall line. With fog that thick you can't even tell which way you're facing.clipped into her skis and tightened the bindings. She took off her goggles and spat inside them because they had misted up. She could ski down to the lodge all on her own. She didn't care that Eric was looking for her at the top of the mountain. With her pants caked in shit, she didn't want to stay up there a second longer than she absolutely had to. She went over the descent in her head. She had never done it alone, but, after all, they had gone only as far as the first ski lift, and she'd been down this slope dozens of times.began to snowplow. Just the day before, Eric had said if I see you doing one more snowplow turn, I swear I'm going to tie your ankles together.didn't like her, she was sure of it. He thought she was a scaredy-pants and, as it turned out, events had proved him right. Eric didn't like her father either, because every day, at the end of the lesson, he pestered him with endless questions. So how is our Alice coming along, are we getting better, do we have a little champion on our hands, when are we going to start racing, on and on. Eric always stared at a spot somewhere behind her father and answered yes, no, well…saw the whole scene superimposed on her foggy goggles as she gently edged her way down, unable to make out anything beyond the tips of her skis. Only when she ended up in the fresh snow did she understand that it was time to turn.started singing to herself to feel less alone. From time to time she wiped away her snot with her glove.your weight uphill, plant your pole, turn. Lean on your boots. Now shift your body weight forward, okay? Bo-dy weight for-ward. The voice was partly Eric's and partly her father's.father would probably fly into a rage. She had to come up with a lie, a story that would stand up, no holes or contradictions. She didn't even dream of telling him what had really happened. The fog, that was it, blame it on the fog. She was following the others onto the big slope when her ski pass had come off her jacket. No, that's no good, no one's ski pass ever blew away. You'd have to be a real idiot to lose it. My scarf. My scarf blew away and I went back to find it, but the others didn't wait for me. I called them a hundred times but there was no sign of them; they had disappeared into the fog and so I went down to look for them.why didn't you go back up? her father would ask.course, why hadn't she? On second thought, it was better if she lost her ski pass. She hadn't gone back up because she'd lost her ski pass and the man at the ski lift wouldn't let her.smiled, pleased with her story. It was flawless. She didn't even feel all that dirty anymore. She would spend the rest of the day in front of the TV. She would take a shower and put on clean clothes and slip her feet into her furry slippers. She would stay inside, in the warmth, all day. Or she would have, if only she'd looked up from her skis long enough to see the orange tape with the words TRAIL CLOSED. Her father was always telling her look where you're going. If only she'd remembered that in fresh snow you shouldn't put your body weight forward and if only Eric, a few days before, had adjusted her bindings better, and her father had been more insistent in saying but Alice weighs sixty pounds, won't they be too tight like that?drop wasn't very high. A few yards, just long enough to feel a slight void in your stomach and nothing beneath your feet. And then Alice was facedown in the snow, her skis pointing straight up in the air, and her fibula broken.didn't really feel that bad. To tell the truth, she didn't feel a thing. Only the snow that had slipped under her scarf and into her helmet and burned her skin.first thing she did was move her arms. When she was little and woke up to find it had snowed, her father would wrap her up tight and carry her downstairs. They would walk to the center of the courtyard and, hand in hand, would count to three and fall backward like a deadweight. Then her father would say make an angel, and Alice would move her arms up and down. When she got up and looked at her outline sculpted in the white, it really did look like the shadow of an angel with outspread wings.made a snow angel, just like that, for no reason, just to prove to herself that she was still alive. She managed to turn her head to one side and start breathing again, even though it felt as if the air wasn't going where it was supposed to. She had the strange sensation of not knowing which way her legs were turned. The very strange sensation of no longer having legs at all.tried to get up, but she couldn't.it weren't for the fog, someone might have seen her from above, a green stain splayed at the bottom of a gully, a few steps from the spot where a little waterfall would start flowing again in the spring, where, with the first warmth, wild strawberries would grow, and if you waited long enough they'd ripen, as sweet as candy, and you could pick a basketful in a day. Alice cried for help, but her thin voice was swallowed up by the fog. She tried to get up again, or at least to turn over, but it was no use.father had told her that people who freeze to death feel very hot and, just before dying, have an urge to get undressed. Almost everyone who dies of cold is found in their underwear. And hers were dirty.was starting to lose feeling in her fingers as well. She took off her glove, blew into it, and then put it back on her clenched fist, to warm it up. She did the same with her other hand. She repeated this ludicrous gesture two or three times.'s your extremities that get you, her father always said. Your toes and fingers, your nose and ears. Your heart does everything in its power to keep the blood to itself, leaving the rest to freeze.imagined her fingers turning blue and then, slowly, her arms and her legs. She thought about her heart pumping harder and harder, trying to keep in all the remaining warmth. She would go so stiff that if a wolf passed by it would snap off one of her arms just by stepping on it.must be looking for me.wonder if there really are any wolves around here.can't feel my fingers anymore.only I hadn't drunk that milk.dy weight for-ward.course not, wolves would be hibernating now.will be furious.don't want to race.'t be stupid, you know very well that wolves don't hibernate.thoughts were growing more and more circular and illogical.sun sank slowly behind Mount Chaberton as if nothing was the matter. The shadow of the mountains spread over Alice and the fog turned completely black.ARCHIMEDES PRINCIPLE
the twins were small and Michela was up to one of her tricks, like throwing herself downstairs in her baby walker or sticking a pea up one of her nostrils, so that she had to be taken to the emergency room to have it removed with special tweezers, their father would always say to Mattia, the firstborn, that his mother's womb was too small for both of them.
"God only knows what the two of you got up to in there," he said. "I reckon all those kicks you gave your sister did her some serious damage."he laughed, even though it was no laughing matter. He lifted Michela in the air and buried his beard in her soft cheeks.would watch from below. He would laugh too, letting his father's words filter through him by osmosis, without really understanding them. He let them settle at the bottom of his stomach, forming a thick, sticky layer, like the sediment of wine that has aged for a long time.father's laughter turned into a strained smile when, at two and a half, Michela still couldn't utter a single word. Not even mommy or poo-poo or sleepy or woof. Her inarticulate little cries rose from such a solitary, deserted place that they made their father shiver every time.she was five and a half a speech therapist with thick glasses sat Michela down in front of a board with four different shapes cut out-a star, a circle, a square, and a triangle-and the corresponding colored pieces to place into the holes.looked at them with wonder.
"Where does the star go, Michela?" asked the speech therapist. Michela stared at the puzzle but didn't touch anything. The doctor put the yellow star in her hand.
"Where does this go, Michela?" she asked.looked everywhere and nowhere. She put one of the points in her mouth and began to chew on it. The speech therapist took the object out of her mouth and asked the question yet again.
"Michela, do what the doctor tells you, for God's sake," snarled her father, who couldn't quite manage to stay seated, as he'd been told.
"Signor Balossino, please," the doctor said in a conciliatory voice. "Children need time."Michela took her time. A whole minute. Then she let out a heartrending groan that might have been of joy or of despair, and resolutely jammed the star in the square hole.case Mattia had not already figured out for himself that something was not right with his sister, his classmates didn't hesitate to point it out to him. Simona Volterra, for example, during the first year of school. When the teacher said Simona, you're going to sit next to Michela this month, she refused, crossing her arms, and said I don't want to sit next to her.let Simona and the teacher argue for a while, and then said Miss, I can sit next to Michela again. Everyone had looked relieved: Michela, Simona, the teacher. Everyone except Mattia.twins sat in the front row. Michela spent the whole day coloring, meticulously going outside the lines and picking colors at random. Blue children, red skies, all the trees yellow. She gripped the pencil like a meat pounder, pressing down so hard that she often tore the page.her side Mattia learned to read and write, to add and subtract, and was the first in the class to master long division.brain seemed to be a perfect machine, in the same mysterious way that his sister's was so defective.Michela would start squirming on her chair, waving her arms around crazily, like a trapped moth. Her eyes would grow dark and the teacher, more frightened than she was, would stand and look at her, vaguely hoping that the retard really might fly away one day. Someone in the back row would giggle, someone else would go shhh. So Mattia would get up, picking up his chair so that it wouldn't scrape on the floor, and stand behind Michela, who by now was rolling her head from side to side and flailing her arms about so fast that he was afraid they would come off.would take her hands and delicately wrap her arms around her chest.
"There, you don't have wings anymore," he'd whisper in her ear. It took Michela a few seconds before she stopped trembling. She'd stare into the distance for a few seconds, and then go back to tormenting her drawings as if nothing had happened. Mattia would sit back down, head lowered and ears red with embarrassment, and the teacher would go on with the lesson.the third year of primary school the twins still hadn't been invited to any of their classmates' birthday parties. Their mother noticed and thought she could solve the issue by throwing the twins a birthday party. At dinner, Mr. Balossino had rejected the suggestion out of hand. For heaven's sake, Adele, it's already embarrassing enough as it is. Mattia sighed with relief and Michela dropped her fork for the tenth time. It was never mentioned again. Then, one morning in January, Riccardo Pelotti, a kid with red hair and baboon lips, came over to Mattia's desk.
"Hey, my mom says you can come to my birthday party," he blurted, looking at the blackboard.
"So can she," he added, pointing to Michela, who was carefully smoothing the surface of the desk as if it were a bedsheet.'s face went red with excitement. He said thank you, but Riccardo, having gotten the weight off his chest, had already left.twins' mother immediately became anxious and took them both to Benetton for new clothes. They went to three toy shops, but Adele couldn't make up her mind.
"What sort of things is Riccardo interested in? Would he like this?" she asked Mattia, holding up a jigsaw puzzle.
"How would I know?" her son replied.
"He's a friend of yours. You must know what games he likes."didn't think that Riccardo was a friend of his, but he couldn't explain that to his mother. So he simply shrugged.the end Adele opted for the Lego spaceship, the biggest and most expensive toy in the store.
"Mom, it's too much," her son protested.
"Nonsense. And besides, there are two of you. You don't want to make a bad impression."knew all too well that, Lego or no Lego, they would make a bad impression. With Michela, anything else was impossible. He knew that Riccardo had invited them only because he'd been told to. Michela would cling to him the whole time, spill orange juice on herself, and then start whining, as she always did when she was tired.the first time Mattia thought it might be better to stay at home.rather, he thought it might be better if Michela stayed at home.
"Mom," he began uncertainly.was looking in her bag for her wallet.
"Yes?"took a breath.
"Does Michela really have to come to the party?"suddenly froze and stared into her son's eyes. The cashier observed the scene indifferently, her hand open on the conveyor belt, waiting for the money. Michela was mixing up the candy on the rack.'s cheeks burned, ready to receive a slap that never came.
"Of course she's coming," his mother said, and that was that.'s house was less than a ten-minute walk away, and they were allowed to go on their own. At three o'clock on the dot Adele pushed the twins out the door.
"Go on, or you'll be late. Remember to thank his parents," she said.she turned to Mattia.
"Take care of your sister. You know she shouldn't eat junk."nodded. Adele kissed them both on the cheek, Michela for longer. She tidied Michela's hair under her hair band and said enjoy yourselves.the way to Riccardo's house, Mattia's thoughts kept time with the Lego pieces, which shifted back and forth inside the box like the tide. Michela, tagging a few feet behind him, stumbled as she tried to keep up, dragging her feet through the mush of dead leaves stuck to the pavement. The air was still and cold.'s going to drop her potato chips on the rug, thought Mattia.'ll grab the ball and she won't want to give it back.
"Will you hurry up?" he said, turning to his twin sister, who had suddenly crouched down in the middle of the pavement and was torturing a long worm with her finger. Michela looked at her brother as if seeing him for the first time in ages. She smiled and ran to him, clutching the worm between her fingers. "You're disgusting. Throw it away," Mattia ordered, recoiling.looked at the worm again for a moment and seemed to be wondering how it had ended up in her hand. Then she dropped it and launched into a lopsided run to join her brother, who had already walked on ahead.'ll grab the ball and won't want to give it back, just like at school, he thought to himself.looked at his twin, who had his same eyes, same nose, same color hair, and a brain that belonged in the trash, and for the first time he felt genuine hatred. He took her hand to cross the street, because the cars were going fast, and it was then that the idea came to him.let go of Michela's hand in its woolen glove, instantly thinking that it wasn't right., as they were walking by the park, he changed his mind again and convinced himself that no one would ever find out.for a few hours, he thought. Just this once. He abruptly changed direction, dragging Michela by an arm, and entered the park. The grass was still damp from the night's frost. Michela trotted behind him, muddying her brand-new white suede boots. There was no one in the park; it was so cold that no one would have felt like going for a walk. The twins came to an area with trees, three wooden tables, and a barbecue. They had eaten lunch there once, in year one, when the teachers had taken them to collect dry leaves from which they made ugly table decorations to give to their grand-parents for Christmas.
"Michela, listen to me," said Mattia. "Are you listening?"Michela you always had to check that her narrow channel of communication was open. Mattia waited for his sister to nod.
"Good. So, I have to go away for a little while, okay? But I won't be long, just half an hour," he explained.was no reason to tell the truth, since to Michela there was little difference between half an hour and a whole day. The doctor had said that her spatiotemporal perception development had been arrested at a preconscious stage, and Mattia understood perfectly well what that meant.
"You sit here and wait for me," he said to his twin. Michela stared gravely at her brother and didn't reply, because she didn't know what to say. She gave no sign of having really understood, but her eyes lit up for a moment, and for the rest of his life when Mattia thought of those eyes he thought of fear.took a few steps away from his sister, walking backward to make sure she didn't follow him. Only prawns walk like that, his mother had yelled at him once, and they always end up crashing into something.was about fifteen yards away and Michela had already stopped looking at him, engrossed in trying to pull a button off her woolen coat.turned around and started to run, tightly clutching the bag with the present. Inside the box more than two hundred little plastic blocks crashed into one another. It was as if they were trying to tell him something.
"Hi, Mattia," Riccardo Pelotti's mother said as she opened the door. "Where's your little sister?"
"She has a temperature," Mattia lied. "A mild one."
"Oh, what a shame," the woman said, not seeming displeased in the slightest. She stepped aside to let him in.
"Ricky, your friend Mattia is here. Come and say hello," she called, turning toward the hall.appeared, sliding along the floor, an unpleasant expression on his face. He stopped for a second to glance at Mattia and look for traces of the retard. Relieved, he said hi.waved the bag with the present under the woman's nose. "Where shall I put this?" he asked.
"What is it?" Riccardo asked suspiciously.
"Legos."grabbed the bag and disappeared down the hall.
"Go with him," Mrs. Pelotti said, pushing Mattia. "The party's down there."Pelottis' living room was decorated with bunches of balloons. On a table covered by a red paper tablecloth were bowls of popcorn and chips, a tray of dry pizza cut into squares, and a row of still unopened soda bottles of various colors. Some of Mattia's classmates had already arrived and were standing in the middle of the room guarding the table.took a few steps toward the others and then stopped a few yards away, like a satellite that doesn't want to take up too much room in the sky. No one paid him any attention.the room was full of children, an entertainer with a red plastic nose and a clown's bowler hat made them play blindman's buff and pin the tail on the donkey. Mattia won first prize, which consisted of an extra handful of candy, but only because he could see out from under the blindfold. Everyone shouted boo, you cheated, as he shamefacedly slipped the candy into his pocket., when it was dark outside, the clown turned out the lights, made them sit in a circle, and began to tell a horror story. He held a flashlight under his chin.didn't think the story was all that scary, but the face, lit up like that, sure was. The light shining from below turned it all red and revealed terrifying shadows. Mattia looked out the window to keep from looking at the clown and remembered Michela. He hadn't ever really forgotten about her, but now for the first time he imagined her all alone among the trees, waiting for him, and rubbing her face with her white gloves to warm up a bit.got to his feet just as Riccardo's mother came into the dark room carrying a cake covered with candles, and everyone started clapping, partly for the story and partly for the cake.
"I've got to go," Mattia said to her, without even giving her time to set the cake down on the table.
"Right now? But the cake."
"Yes, now. I've got to go."'s mother looked at him from over the candles. Lit up like that, her face was full of threatening shadows, just like the clown's. The other kids fell silent.
"Okay," the woman said uncertainly. "Ricky, walk your friend to the door."
"But I've got to blow out the candles."
"Do as I say," his mother ordered, still staring at Mattia.
"You're such a drag, Mattia."started laughing. Mattia followed Riccardo to the front door, pulled his jacket from the pile, and said thanks, bye. Riccardo didn't even reply, quickly shutting the door behind him to run back to his cake.the courtyard of Riccardo's building, Mattia glanced back at the lit window. His classmates' muffled cries filtered out like the reassuring hum of the television in the living room when his mother sent him and Michela to bed in the evening. The gate closed behind him with a metallic click and he began to run.entered the park, but after ten yards or so the light from the street lamps was no longer enough for him to make out the gravel path. The bare branches of the trees where he had left Michela were no more than slightly darker scratches against the black sky. Seeing them from a distance, Mattia was filled with the clear and inexplicable certainty that his sister was no longer there.stopped a few yards from the bench where Michela had been sitting a few hours before, busily ruining her coat. He stopped and listened, catching his breath, as if at any moment his sister were bound to pop out from behind a tree saying peekaboo and then run toward him, fluttering along with her crooked gait.called Michela and was startled by his own voice. He called again, more quietly. He walked over to the wooden tables and laid a hand on the spot where Michela had been sitting. It was as cold as everything else.must have gotten bored and gone home, he thought.if she doesn't even know the way? And she can't cross the road on her own either.looked at the park, which disappeared into the darkness. He didn't even know where it ended. He thought that he didn't want to go deeper and that he didn't have a choice.walked on tiptoes to keep from crunching the leaves under his feet, turning his head from side to side in the hopes of spotting Michela crouching behind a tree to ambush a beetle or who knows what.walked into the playground. He tried to remember the colors of the slide in the Sunday afternoon light, when his mother gave in to Michela's cries and let her have a few goes, even though she was too old for it.walked along the hedge as far as the public toilets, but wasn't brave enough to go inside. He found his way back to the path, which was now just a thin strip of dirt marked by the coming and going of families. He followed it for a good ten minutes until he no longer knew where he was. Then he started crying and coughing at the same time.
"You're so stupid, Michela," he said under his breath. "A stupid retard. Mom told you a thousand times to stay where you are if you get lost… But you never understand anything… Nothing at all."went up a slight slope and found himself looking at the river that cut through the park. His father had told him its name loads of times, but Mattia could never remember it. A bit of light from who knows where was reflected on the water and quivered in his teary eyes.went over to the riverbank and sensed that Michela must be somewhere close by. She liked the water. His mother always told how when they were little and she gave them a bath together, Michela would shriek like mad because she didn't want to get out, even once the water was cold. One Sunday his father had taken them to the riverbank, perhaps even to this very spot, and taught him to skip stones across the water. As he was showing him how to use his wrist to spin the stone, Michela leaned forward and slipped in up to her waist before their father caught her by the arm. He smacked her and she started whining, and then all three of them went home in silence, with long faces.image of Michela playing with a twig and breaking up her own reflection in the water before sliding into it like a sack of potatoes ran through his head with the force of an electric shock., he sat down a couple of feet from the river's edge. He turned around to look behind him and saw the darkness that would last for many hours to come.stared at the gleaming black surface of the river. Again he tried to remember its name, but couldn't. He plunged his hands into the cold earth. On the bank the dampness made it softer. He found a broken bottle, a sharp reminder of some nighttime festivity. The first time he stuck it into his hand it didn't hurt, perhaps he didn't even notice. Then he started twisting it into his flesh, digging deeper, without ever taking his eyes off the water. He expected Michela to rise to the surface from one minute to the next, and in the meantime he wondered why some things float while others don't.THE SKIN ANDJUST BEHIND IT
horrible white ceramic vase, with a complicated gold floral motif, which had always occupied a corner of the bathroom, had been in the Della Rocca family for five generations, but no one really liked it. On several occasions Alice had felt an urge to hurl it to the floor and throw the countless tiny fragments in the trash can in front of the house, along with the Tetra Pak mashed-potato containers, used sanitary napkins-although certainly not used by her-and empty packets of her father's antidepressants.ran a finger along the rim and thought how cold, smooth, and clean it was. Soledad, the Ecuadorean housekeeper, had become more meticulous over the years, because in the Della Rocca household details mattered. Alice was only six when she first arrived, and she had eyed her suspiciously from behind her mother's skirt. Soledad had crouched down and looked at her with wonder. What pretty hair you have, she had said, can I touch it? Alice had bit her tongue to keep from saying no and Soledad had lifted one of her chestnut curls as if it were a swatch of silk and then let it fall back. She couldn't believe that hair could be so fine.held her breath as she slipped off her camisole and closed her eyes tightly for a moment.she opened them again she saw herself reflected in the big mirror above the sink and felt a pleasurable sense of disappointment. She rolled down the elastic of her underpants a few times, so that they came just above her scar, and were stretched tightly enough to leave a little gap between the edge and her belly, forming a bridge between the bones of her pelvis. There wasn't quite room for her index finger; but being able to slip her little finger in made her crazy., it should blossom right there, she thought.little blue rose, like Viola's.turned to stand in profile, her right side, the good one, as she would tell herself. She brushed all her hair forward, thinking it made her look like a child possessed by demons. She pulled it up in a ponytail and then scooped it higher up on her head, the way Viola wore hers, which everyone always liked.didn't work either.let her hair fall on her shoulders and with her usual gesture pinned it behind her ears. She rested her hands on the sink and pushed her face toward the mirror so quickly that her eyes seemed to form one single, terrifying Cyclops eye. Her hot breath formed a halo on the glass, covering part of her face.just couldn't figure out where Viola and her friends got those looks they went around with, breaking boys' hearts. Those merciless, captivating looks that could make or break you with a single, imperceptible flicker of the eyebrow.tried to be provocative with the mirror, but saw only an embarrassed girl clumsily shaking her shoulders and looking as if she were anesthetized. The real problem was her cheeks: too puffy and blotchy. They suffocated her eyes, when all the while she wanted her gaze to land like a dagger in the stomachs of the boys whose eyes it met. She wanted her gaze to spare no one, to leave an indelible mark.only her belly, bum, and tits got slimmer, while her cheeks were still like two round pillows, baby cheeks.knocked at the bathroom door.
"Alice, it's ready," her father's hateful voice rang out through the frosted glass.didn't reply and sucked in her cheeks to see how much better she would be like that.
"Alice, are you in there?" her father called.puckered her lips and kissed her reflection. She brushed her tongue against its image in the cold glass. Then she closed her eyes and, as in a real kiss, swayed her head back and forth, but too regularly to be believable. She still hadn't found the kiss she really wanted on anyone's mouth.Poirino had been the first to use his tongue, in the third year of secondary school. He'd lost a bet. He had rolled it mechanically around Alice's tongue three times, clockwise, and then turned to his friends and said okay? They had burst out laughing and someone had said you kissed the cripple, but Alice was happy just the same, she had given her first kiss and Davide wasn't bad at all.had been others after that. Her cousin Walter at their grandmother's party, and a friend of Davide's whose name she didn't even know, and who had asked her in secret if he could please have a turn too. In a hidden corner of the school playground they had pressed their lips together for a few minutes, neither of them daring to move a muscle. When they had drawn apart, he had said thank you and walked off with his head held high and the springy step of a real man.now she was lagging behind. Her classmates talked about positions, love bites, and how to use your fingers, and whether it was better with or without a condom, while Alice's lips still bore the insipid memory of a mechanical kiss in third year.
"Alice? Can you hear me?" her father called again, louder this time.
"Ugh. Of course I hear you," Alice replied irritably, her voice barely audible on the other side of the door.
"Dinner's ready," her father repeated.
"I heard you, damn it," Alice said. Then, under her breath, she added, "Pain in the ass."knew that Alice threw away her food. At first, when Alice started leaving her dinner on her plate, she said mi amorcito, eat it all up, in my country children are dying of hunger.evening Alice, furious, looked her straight in the eyes.
"Even if I stuff myself till I burst, the children in your country aren't going to stop dying of hunger," she said.now Soledad said nothing, but put less and less food on her plate. But it didn't make any difference. Alice was quite capable of weighing up her food with her eyes and choosing her three hundred calories for dinner. The rest she got rid of, somehow or other.ate with her right hand resting on her napkin. In front of the plate she put her wineglass, which she asked to be filled but never drank, and her water glass in such a way as to form a glass barricade. Then, during dinner, she strategically positioned the saltshaker and the oil cruet too. She waited for her family to be distracted, each absorbed in the laborious task of mastication. At that point she very carefully pushed her food, cut into small pieces, off the plate and into her napkin.the course of a dinner she made at least three full napkins disappear into the pockets of her sweatpants. Before brushing her teeth she emptied them into the toilet and watched the little pieces of food disappear down the drain. With satisfaction she ran a hand over her stomach and imagined it as empty and clean as a crystal vase.
"Sol, damn it, you put cream in the sauce again," her mother complained. "How many times do I have to tell you that I can't digest it?"'s mother pushed her plate away in disgust.had come to the table with a towel wrapped like a turban around her head in order to justify all the time she had spent locked away in the bathroom.had thought for a long time whether to ask them for it. But she'd do it anyway. She wanted it too much.
"I'd like to get a tattoo on my belly," she began.father pulled his glass away from his mouth.
"You heard," said Alice, defying him with her eyes. "I want to get a tattoo."'s father ran his napkin over his mouth and eyes, as if to erase an ugly image that had run through his mind. Then he carefully refolded it and put it back on his knees. He picked up his fork again, trying to put on all his irritating self-control.
"I don't even know how you get these ideas into your head," he said.
"And what kind of tattoo would you like? Let's hear," her mother broke in, the irritable expression on her face probably due more to the cream in the sauce than to her daughter's request.
"A rose. Tiny. Viola's got one."
"Forgive me, but who might Viola be?" her father asked with a bit too much irony.shook her head, stared at the middle of the table, and felt insignificant.
"Viola's a classmate of hers," Fernanda replied emphatically. "She must have mentioned her a million times. You're not really with it, are you?". Della Rocca looked disdainfully at his wife, as if to say no one asked you.
"Well, pardon me, but I don't think I'm all that interested in what Alice's classmates get tattooed on them," he pronounced at last. "At any rate you're not getting a tattoo."pushed another forkful of spaghetti into her napkin.
"It's not like you can stop me," she ventured, still staring at the vacant center of the table. Her voice cracked with a hint of insecurity.
"Could you repeat that?" her father asked, without altering the volume and calm of his own voice.
"Could you repeat that?" he asked more slowly.
"I said you can't stop me," replied Alice, looking up, but she was unable to endure her father's deep, chilly eyes for more than half a second.
"Is that so? As far as I know, you're fifteen years old and this binds you to the decisions of your parents for-the calculation is a very simple one-another three years," the lawyer intoned. "At the end of which you will be free to, how shall I put it, adorn your skin with flowers, skulls, or whatever you so desire."lawyer smiled at his plate and slipped a carefully rolled forkful of spaghetti into his mouth.was a long silence. Alice ran her thumb and forefinger along the edge of the tablecloth. Her mother nibbled on a bread stick and allowed her eyes to wander around the dining room. Her father pretended to eat heartily. He chewed with rolling motions of his jaw, and at the first two seconds of each mouthful he kept his eyes closed, in ecstasy.chose to deliver the blow because she really detested him, and seeing him eat like that made even her good leg go stiff.
"You don't give a damn if no one likes me," she said. "If no one will ever like me."father looked at her quizzically, then returned to his dinner, as if no one had spoken.
"You don't care if you've ruined me forever.". Della Rocca's fork froze in midair. He looked at his daughter for a few seconds, seemingly distressed.
"I don't know what you're talking about," he said, a slight quaver to his voice.
"You know perfectly well," Alice said. "You know it'll be all your fault if I'm like this forever."'s father rested his fork on the edge of his plate. He covered his eyes with one hand, as if thinking deeply about something. Then he got up and left the room, his heavy footsteps echoing across the gleaming marble hallway.said, oh Alice, with neither compassion nor reproach, just a resigned shake of the head. Then she followed her husband into the next room.went on staring at her full plate for about two minutes, while Soledad cleared the table, silent as a shadow. Then she stuffed the napkin filled with food into her pocket and locked herself in the bathroom.
Balossino had stopped trying to penetrate his son's obscure universe long ago. When he would accidentally catch sight of Mattia's arms, devastated by scars, he would think back to those sleepless nights spent searching the house for sharp objects left lying around, those nights when Adele, bloated with sedatives, her mouth hanging open, would sleep on the sofa because she no longer wanted to share the bed with him. Those nights when the future seemed to last only till the morning and he would count off the hours, one by one, by the chimes of distant church bells.conviction that one morning he would find his son facedown on a blood-soaked pillow had taken root so firmly in his head that he was now used to thinking as if Mattia had already ceased to exist, even at times like this, when he was sitting next to him in the car.was driving him to his new school. It was raining, but the rain was so fine that it didn't make a sound.few weeks before, the principal of Mattia's science high school had called him and Adele to his office, to inform them of a situation. But when the time came for the meeting, he skirted the issue, dwelling instead on the boy's sensitive temperament, his extraordinary intelligence, his solid 90 percent average in all subjects.. Balossino had insisted on his son being present for the discussion, for reasons of correctness, which doubtless interested him alone. Mattia had sat down next to his parents and throughout the whole session he had not raised his eyes from his knees. By clenching his fists tightly he had managed to make his left hand bleed slightly. Two days before, Adele, in a moment of distraction, had checked only the nails on his other hand.listened to the principal's words as if he were not really talking about him, and he remembered that time in the fifth year of primary school when, after not uttering a word for five days in a row, his teacher, Rita, had made him sit in the middle of the room, with all the other kids arranged around him in a horseshoe. The teacher had begun by saying that Mattia clearly had a problem that he didn't want to talk to anyone about. That Mattia was a very intelligent child, perhaps too intelligent for his age. Then she had invited his classmates to sit close to him, so that they could make him understand that they were his friends. Mattia had looked at his feet, and when the teacher asked him if he wanted to say something, he finally opened his mouth and asked if he could go back to his chair.the plaudits were finished, the principal got down to business. What Mr. Balossino finally understood, although only a few hours later, was that all of Mattia's teachers had expressed a peculiar unease, an almost impalpable feeling of inadequacy, with regard to this extraordinarily gifted boy who seemed not to want to form bonds with anyone his age.principal paused. He leaned back in his comfortable armchair and opened a folder, which he didn't need to read. Then he closed it again, as if remembering all of a sudden that there were other people in his office. With carefully chosen words he suggested to the Balossinos that perhaps the science high school was not capable of responding fully to their son's needs., at dinner, Mattia's father had asked him if he really wanted to change schools, Mattia had replied with a shrug and studied the dazzling reflection of fluorescent light on the knife with which he was supposed to be cutting his meat.
"It isn't really raining crooked," said Mattia, looking out the car window and jerking his father out of his thoughts.
"What?" said Pietro, instinctively shaking his head.
"There's no wind outside. Otherwise the leaves on the trees would be moving as well," Mattia went on.father tried to follow his reasoning. In fact none of it meant anything to him and he suspected that it was merely another of his son's eccentricities.
"So?" he asked.
"The raindrops are running down the window at an angle, but that's just an effect of our motion. By measuring the angle with the vertical, you could also calculate the fall velocity."traced the trajectory of a drop with his finger. He brought his face close to the window and breathed on it. Then, with his index finger, he drew a line in the condensation.
"Don't breathe on the windows, you'll leave marks."didn't seem to have heard him.
"If we couldn't see anything outside the car, if we didn't know we were moving, there would be no way of telling whether it was the raindrops' fault or our own," said Mattia.
"Fault for what?" his father asked, bewildered and slightly annoyed.
"For them coming down so crooked."Balossino nodded seriously, without understanding. They had arrived. He put the car in neutral and pulled on the hand brake. Mattia opened the door and a gust of fresh air blew inside.
"I'll come and get you at one," said Pietro.nodded. Mr. Balossino leaned slightly forward to kiss him, but the belt restrained him. He leaned back into the seat and watched his son get out and close the door behind him.new school was in a lovely residential area in the hills. It had been built in the Fascist era, and in spite of recent renovations, it remained a blot on the landscape amid a row of sumptuous villas; a parallelepiped of white concrete, with four horizontal rows of evenly spaced windows and two green iron fire escapes.climbed the two flights of steps leading to the main door but kept his distance from all the little groups of kids who were waiting for the first bell, getting wet from the rain.inside, he looked for the floor plan with the layout of the classrooms, so that he wouldn't have to ask the janitors for help.was at the end of the corridor on the second floor. Mattia took a deep breath and entered. He waited, leaning against the back wall, with his thumbs hooked in the straps of his backpack and the look of someone who wanted to disappear into the wall.the students were taking their seats, their new faces glanced at him apprehensively. No one smiled at him. Some of them whispered in each other's ears and Mattia was sure they were talking about him.kept an eye on the desks that were still free, and when even the one next to a girl with red nail polish was taken, he felt relieved. The teacher came into the classroom and Mattia slipped onto the last empty chair, next to the window.
"Are you the new boy?" asked his neighbor, who looked just as alone as he did.nodded without looking at him.
"I'm Denis," he said, extending his hand.shook it weakly and said nice to meet you.
"Welcome," said Denis.
Bai was admired and feared with equal passion by her classmates, because she was so beautiful she made people uneasy, and because at the age of fifteen she knew more about life than any of her contemporaries did; or at least that was the impression she gave. On Monday mornings, during break, the girls congregated around her desk and listened greedily to the account of her weekend. Most times this was a skillful reimagining of what Serena, Viola's older sister by eight years, had told her the day before. Viola transferred the stories to herself, but embellished them with sordid, and often completely invented, details, which to her friends' ears sounded mysterious and disturbing. She talked about this or that bar, without ever having set foot in them, and she was capable of giving minute descriptions of the psychedelic lighting, or of the malicious smile that the bartender had flashed at her as he served her a Cuba libre.most cases she ended up either in bed with the bartender or out behind the bar, among the beer kegs and the cases of vodka, where he took her from behind, covering her mouth with his hand to keep her from screaming.Bai knew how to tell a story. She knew that all the violence is contained in the precision of a detail. She knew how to work the timing so that the bell rang just as the bartender was busy with the fly of his name-brand jeans. At that moment her devoted audience slowly dispersed, their cheeks red with envy and indignation. Viola was made to promise that she would go on with her story at the next bell, but she was too intelligent to actually do it. She always ended up dismissing the whole thing with a pout of her perfect mouth, as if what had happened to her was of no importance. It was just one more detail in her extraordinary life, and she was already light-years ahead of everyone else.had actually tried sex, as well as some of the drugs whose names she liked to list, but she had been with only one boy, and only once. It had happened at the shore. A friend of her sister's who had smoked and drunk too much that evening to realize that a little thirteen-year-old girl was too young for certain things. He had fucked her hastily, in the street, behind a trash bin. As they walked back, heads lowered, to rejoin the others, Viola had taken his hand but he had snatched it away and asked what are you doing? Her cheeks burned and the heat still trapped between her legs had made her feel alone. In the days that followed the boy didn't say a word to her and Viola had confided in her sister, who had laughed at her naivete and said wise up, what did you expect?'s devoted audience was made up of Giada Savarino, Federica Mazzoldi, and Giulia Mirandi. Together they formed a compact and ruthless phalanx: the four bitches, as some of the boys at the school called them. Viola had chosen them one by one and had demanded a little sacrifice from each of them, because her friendship was something you had to earn. She alone decided if you were in or out, and her decisions were obscure and unequivocal.observed Viola on the sly. From her desk two rows back, she fed off the broken sentences and fragments of torrid tales; then in the evening, alone in her room, she savored every detail.that Wednesday morning Viola had never spoken a word to her. It was a kind of initiation and had to be done properly. None of the girls ever knew for sure whether Viola was improvising or whether she planned the torture in advance-but they all agreed that it was brilliant.hated the locker room. Her oh-so-perfect classmates stood around for as long as possible in their bras and underwear so as to make the others envious. They assumed stiff, unnatural poses, sucking in their stomachs and thrusting out their tits. They sighed at the cracked mirror that covered one of the walls. Look, they'd say as they sized up their hips, which could not have been better proportioned or more seductive.Wednesdays Alice wore her shorts under her jeans so that she wouldn't have to get completely undressed. The others would look at her suspiciously, imagining the horrors that were surely hidden under her clothes. She would turn her back to take off her sweater so they wouldn't see her belly.would put on her sneakers and tuck her shoes, neatly parallel, against the wall, and then carefully fold her jeans. Her classmates' clothes, in contrast, tumbled chaotically from the wooden benches, their shoes scattered about and upside down because they had yanked them off with their feet.
"Alice, do you have a sweet tooth?" Viola asked.took Alice a few seconds to convince herself that Viola Bai was actually talking to her. She was sure she was invisible to her. She pulled the two ends of her shoelaces, but the knot came untied between her fingers.
"Me?" she asked, looking around uneasily.
"I don't see any other Alices."other girls giggled.
"No. Not particularly."got up from the bench and came closer to her. Alice felt those marvelous eyes on her, bisected by the shadow of her bangs.
"But you like gumdrops, don't you?" Viola continued in her honeyed voice.
"Yeah. I guess. Pretty much."bit her lip and chided herself for being so wishy-washy. She pressed her bony back against the wall. A tremor ran down her good leg. The other remained inert, as always.
"What do you mean pretty much? Everyone likes gumdrops. Isn't that right, girls?" Viola addressed her three friends without even turning around.
"Mm-hmmm. Everyone," they echoed. Alice noticed a strange trepidation in Federica Mazzoldi's eyes as she stared at her from the other end of the locker room.
"Yes, actually, I do like them," she corrected herself. She was starting to feel frightened, even though she didn't yet know why.the first year, the four bitches had grabbed Alessandra Mirano, the one who ended up being thrown out and going to beautician school, and dragged her into the boys' locker room. They shut her inside and two boys pulled their cocks out in front of her. From the corridor Alice had heard the four torturers egging them on and laughing hysterically.
"I thought so. Now, would you like a gumdrop?" Viola asked.I say yes, who knows what they're going to make me eat, Alice thought.I say no, Viola might get pissed off and I'll end up in the boys' locker room as well.sat in silence like a moron.
"Come on. It's not such a hard question," Viola said mockingly. She took a handful of fruit candies from her pocket.
"You girls back there, what flavor do you want?" she asked.Mirandi came over to Viola and looked into her hand. Viola didn't take her eyes off Alice, who felt her body crumpling under the gaze like a sheet of newspaper burning in the fireplace.
"There's orange, raspberry, blackberry, strawberry, and peach," Giulia said. She threw a fleeting, apprehensive glance at Alice, without letting Viola see.
"I'll have raspberry," said Federica.
"Peach," said Giada.tossed them their candies and unwrapped the orange one for herself. She slipped it into her mouth and then took a step back to return the stage to Viola.
"Blackberry and strawberry are left. So do you want one or not?"she just wants to give me a candy, Alice thought.they just want to see whether I eat or not.'s just a candy.
"I prefer strawberry," she said quietly.
"Damn it, that's my favorite too," Viola said, giving a terrible performance of disappointment. "But I'll happily give it to you."unwrapped the strawberry candy and let the paper fall to the ground. Alice held out her hand to take it.
"Wait a minute," Viola said. "Don't be so greedy."bent down, holding the candy between her thumb and index finger. She rubbed it along the filthy locker room floor. Walking with her knees bent, she dragged it slowly along the whole length of the room to Alice's left, close to the wall, where the dirt had coagulated in balls of dust and tangles of hair.and Federica were dying of laughter. Giulia nervously chewed on her lip. The other girls had figured out where things were going and left, closing the door behind them.she got to the corner, Viola headed for the sink, where the girls splashed their armpits and faces after gym. With the candy she wiped up the whitish slime that lined the inside of the drain.she turned to Alice and held the revolting object under her nose.
"There," she said. "Strawberry, just what you wanted."wasn't laughing. She had the serious, determined look of one who is doing something painful but necessary.shook her head no. She pressed herself even closer to the wall.
"What? Don't you want it anymore?" Viola asked her.
"Go on," Federica cut in. "You asked for it and now you can eat it."gulped.
"What if I don't?" she summoned the courage to say.
"If you don't eat it, you'll accept the consequences," Viola replied enigmatically.
"You can't know the consequences. Ever."want to take me to the boys, Alice thought. Or else they'll strip me and not give me back my clothes., but almost imperceptibly, she held her hand out toward Viola, who dropped the filthy candy into her palm. She slowly brought it to her mouth.others had fallen silent, and seemed to be thinking, no, she's not really going to do it. Viola was impassive.put the gumdrop on her tongue and felt the hairs that were stuck to it dry up her saliva. She chewed only twice and something squeaked between her teeth.'t throw up, she thought. Do not throw up.choked back an acidic spurt of gastric juices and swallowed the candy. She felt it as it went down, like a stone, along her esophagus.fluorescent light on the ceiling gave off an electrical hum and the voices of the kids in the gym were a formless mixture of shouts and laughter. Here in the basement the air was heavy and the windows were too small to allow it to circulate.stared solemnly at Alice. Without smiling she nodded her head as if to say now we can go. Then she turned around and left the locker room, passing the other three without so much as a glance.
was something important you had to know about Denis. To tell the truth, Denis thought it was the only thing about him worth knowing, so he'd never told anyone.secret had a terrible name, which settled like a nylon cloth over his thoughts and wouldn't let them breathe. There it was, weighing heavily inside his head like an inevitable punishment with which he'd have to come to terms sooner or later., at age ten, his piano teacher had guided his fingers through the D major scale, pressing his hot palm on the back of Denis's hand, Denis had been unable to breathe. He bent his torso slightly forward to hide the erection that had exploded in his sweatpants. For his entire life he would think of that moment as true love, and would fumble around every corner of his existence in search of the c