We sat in the whitewashed receiving room of my cousin’s pensione in Italy’s grain-growing Marche region talking trivia, but it was hard making small talk in the feeling of farewell. I was flying a puddle jumper from Rimini to Rome early next morning, co-piloting a fixed-wing freighter to JFK that afternoon. All around me family were filtering in to say goodbye, come back, why can’t you stay longer, why didn’t you come for dinner at our house (you went to everyone else’s). And why didn’t your brother come? Didn’t he want to see family?
I sat beside Zio Angelo. Uncle Nello, I called him. I’d called him that since my brother and me were kids. Beh, I said, what did they tell you?
They told me not to drink too much water. Angelo’s slate-gray eyes were filmy. It’s building up the fluid in my legs.
I gave him a look. Really? That’s what they told you? After all the tests, the return visits? Even your nephew the doctor here tonight who should know such things? That’s what they all told you?
I shouldn’t have looked at Nello that way, thought those things. They showed in my face. I should have played along like the rest. Yes, I should have said. That’s what the problem must be, too much water.
Nello shrugged. What do you want me to tell you, his look said. It also said that if this was all they were telling him maybe it’s all he was supposed to know. He shook his head. Next thing they’ll tell me is give up fruit.
I could tell by his tone Nello wasn’t pleased to be kept in the dark. I could see it in his eyes, the uncertainty, the concern. But that’s the way things are here. People don’t tell the important things, the ultimate things. Certainty has drawbacks, after all. Once you know something, well, you can’t come back from that. So they do things indirectly, for everybody, all the time. It makes problems seem communal, familiar, manageable.
I looked around at the other faces in the room—aunts, uncles, cousins. There had been twenty-six cousins once. There were fewer now, but they still made me feel full, this crew, like a good meal after a trans-Atlantic, a plate of mare e monti, prawns and porcini mushrooms with cherry tomatoes, and a bottle of light Brunello.
I could feel myself getting sad at the thought of the dinners I’d miss. It’s okay, I told myself. I’ll be back soon. I’ll see them again.
Diagonally across from Nello and me sat my cousin the doctor. He was half-listening to one of our aunts sitting on his left, a slender woman with her hennaed hair in a flip, complain about arthritis in her fingers. She’d been a seamstress. She didn’t sew much anymore but didn’t like the idea that she couldn’t. I turned in the enormous green velour chair with my back to the doctor and nodded at Angelo.
So, any other tests coming up? To figure out what’s going on, I mean. I worded it better than that, but that was the gist.
Nello shrugged. They want to see me again in three weeks.
Good, I said, overly bright. Three weeks. Yes, good. That’s something.
I don’t know why I felt so relieved. Maybe it was like a readout of a Cat 4 hurricane coming early in the week with the extended forecast showing the weekend would turn out fair. When you see that, you figure, well, okay, this coming storm could kill us but there’s still weather this weekend so—
So three weeks, I repeated, nodding. That’s a comfort, anyway. I tried to say that last bit with my expression. I didn’t think words would work very well, not mine anyway.
Nello stared at me, unblinking.
Who were we kidding, anyhow? Three weeks. What were three weeks to a man who was barely seventy and should have a lot more?
To continue reading this story please consider purchasing a pdf or print copy of issue 8. Purchase options are in the sidebar at right.