A New Beginning

Entry by: Obergo

4th July 2017
I saw the grass above the pebbles at the back of the beach, high, pulling in the last of the light. There were two white farmhouses in the distance but that was of no matter now, because at this time no one would see me. The low spring tide had been dragging the stretch of sand out further and further, and now the space between the shore, where I stood, and the grass, appeared endless.
I had been walking along the edge of the sea, waiting for night, the way one might wait impatiently for a train.
Finally, I turned towards the grass and made my way across a film of water, then passing pools and dips, no rocks, just hollows in the sand, with the sound of the shifting waves behind, and the breeze. I picked my way across the pebbles, and up to the high ground. I sank my body down like a block being lowered into cement, closed my eyes and willed the night to harden and set around me.
I first saw her in a blue wrap-around dress, patterned with little white horses, in the open corridor of arts faculty of the university in Bergamo. She was passing through the shadows thrown from the stone columns of the colonnade around the gravel square. Light, shadow, light, shadow, light. Her smile was sun-drenched, the light making her squint slightly as she looked across the stone flags to where I was sitting on a wall. Her smile grew bigger as she stepped out of each flash of shadow, her lips opening, and her teeth and tongue for a moment glistening in the light.
The material of her dress was tightly wrapped around her breasts and waist, and then tumbled like a waterfall to her knees. A neat bow at the small of her back kept the whole thing together. She passed like that, as soft voices spilled out of the big open windows of the library on the second floor of that courtyard, disappearing again like a song being driven into the distance on a summer night.
She came up to me after class, two hands clinging to one side of her stiff green satchel, her bare feet in black sandals, her hips spreading underneath the skintight middle of that dress, and asked if I was English.
We stood for a long time trying to talk. I could barely focus on her without the trembling tenderness I had felt as she walked passed sinking into a sense of violence. I had felt uneasy.
But she smiled, she kept smiling, and we began.
It was the end of September, I had moved to Bergamo, 40 or so miles outside Milan, to study for the year.
In the beginning, in the evenings, we would walk along the old walls of the small town which sat on a hill. We walked into dusk, watching the plain start to twinkle, and the air above it turn a shade of purple. I pulled words out of myself, smelting the strange leaps of my heart into chucky blocks of sentence, smoothened then by the fading light and the hot air, and the knowledge, that soon we would kiss.
She told me about her father, who she said was mad, and her mother, who was so generous, she had ‘deleted’ herself.
“You, know cancelled out.” She threw her hand forward from her throat, matching the air as it left her lips, “cancelled out” she repeated, “she is full of everyone else.”
In those first few months her mind appeared to me as a figure being cut from stone.
Over the first Christmas we were together, we spent four days in Florence. Late one night, we wandered back to our room through the empty back streets, tucked into each other, the cool moonlight resting on the slow flowing Arno behind us, soft in the sureness that we would lie together, loose and in love. I can remember how I felt myself harden as I walked with her, at the pleasure of being alive.
When the year finished in Bergamo, I came back to London to finish my degree and she stayed in Italy to finish hers. A year later, she flew to England to live with me.
During our year apart I had visited her every month. On the first flight out to see her, I stared at the laminated emergency instructions on the back of the airplane seat in front of me and decided that I would marry her. Somehow loving her was buried in the curled cartoon in brace position, and I was filled with the need to act. I needed to be written into her. Give her my name, put our names together somewhere so everyone could see them. That night we drove up to the little town on the hill, to our favourite place where they served cool beers in big oval glasses, and spoke, and kissed, and made plans for the next few days. It was enough to be alive like that with her.
Before she died I wouldn’t have been able to say what we did that year, month after month. I could say that the seasons sang from her skin under the strange light of the arrivals hall, but it was as if I had forgotten everything else, that the details were irrelevant. But since her death, I have been carving out the seconds. I have searched for every little thing that was part of our life together, resurrecting days and nights, obsessing over lost hours – the day of her cousin’s Holy Communion, how she delighted in her father’s efficient, happy movements around the Sunday table, the night she rolled her eyes and nodded when I told her to slow down on the tiny roads of the town where we fell in love. And then, her body, the curl in the side of her mouth as she waited for me to finish saying something but wanted to kiss, her thighs, the inside of her thighs, the sacredness of easing her quietly onto the bed in her house on a cold November night, the air still smelling of her mothers delicious casoncelli.
When she arrived in London I had been renting a studio apartment on the ground floor of a big white town house on Holland Road. A Croatian man in his late fifties rented the other room downstairs. I saw him with a number of different women, always versions of each other. Heels, long coats, messy hair, small mouths, something secretarial, and I always thought they were there on some sort of official business. For a long time, I had presumed the room was a flat. But one Thursday morning, as I left, a woman stepped into the corridor from his room, and the door hung open. I saw the single bed in the middle of the room with barely enough room to walk either side. I glimpsed a shower in the corner, just like ours. The man suddenly appeared from behind the door, and we caught eyes before I had time to look away. He smiled at me, barely winked and then made a theatrical gesture towards the woman to lead the way, so that suddenly I felt like I wanted her too.
The night Elena died I asked her where her blue dress with the white flowers had gone. She hadn’t worn it since she had moved to England. I asked her as she stood in our clammy studio apartment choosing an outfit. Her arms stopped on the hangers for a second. She raised her eyes to the wall above the rail, and said “they are horses, they are white horses, perhaps they look like flowers.”
We had lived in that apartment for eight months. I had a job as a junior reporter on a local London paper and she had found work in a pub just down the road. The flat was too small for us. We shared a toilet with the Croatian man, and as summer came, the place was unbearably hot. Her shifts started late in the day, just as I returned from the office. I would go and drink in the bar in the evenings and sit outside, to get some air, and see her.
She missed Italy badly. I remember now how she stood in front of the huge window at the back of our room, her words battling against the knot of despair in her throat, and said: “We have to make space for the future, and parcel things in the past, I can’t live in my mother’s house forever.”
But she loved her past, and we knew we were somehow going back to Italy, that she would be pregnant in Italy, near her mother and her sisters and the big green fields around her house.
Her mother made me feel important. She hung on my sentences as if my plans for an evening were part of a greater master plan I was carefully executing, and her daughter had been the missing link, now slotted into place for a future that was certain and wonderful. She would fill my wine glass up at dinner, ignoring my refusals, because she believed I would never get drunk.
“They love me, and they love you,” Elena said, as her parents left London, the first and only time they came to visit. We had watched them shuffle along the line to pass security and I was full to the brim with her tenderness for them.
The night she died, Elena wore the blue dress with the white horses. It was June and warm, perhaps a little like Italy. In one of the two photos from the night she is standing on the edge of the group holding a glass, her bag hanging over her shoulder, head tilted almost onto the shoulder of the girl beside her. In the other she is talking to someone, standing outside the bar, and she doesn’t know the picture is being taken. She left the pub at 10pm, alone, and early.
That night I had willed her back so we could make love and I could say sorry about the horses, and explain that that she filled me up and cancelled me out.
Now I lie here wondering if she heard the commotion as the white van left the road and swerved wildly onto the Friday night pavement. I wonder what she was thinking as she turned the corner, heading for the train, and walked straight into the path of the man who would kill her.
He drove a knife into her fifteen times. Again and again, he pushed the blade into her. She buckled onto the concrete, silencing everything, every detail, every smile, every hip-led squeeze between wall and chair at her Sunday afternoon home. He pumped death into all of that.
I count to fifteen now, as I lie on the grass. I met a man in a bar out here last night, who smelt of silage and seaweed. I told him how Elena died and he told me how he blew up a tree stump with a gas cylinder. You take the top off, fill half the cylinder with petrol, drill a hole in it to fit a spark plug, from a car, for example. Then you drill another hole in the bottom of the cylinder and earth it. Then, just touch the live off the car battery, and the thing would blow.