Emanuele Quindici
“Ciccio! How big you are?” Ciccio is forty years old and his name is not actually “Ciccio”: it might well be Gianluca, or perhaps Gianfranco, but anyway, he has always been Ciccio, to the world at large. Which world? The truth is simple: Ciccio’s home has been a hospital bed since he was a few days old. He cannot leave it, he would die. Machines breathe for him, day and night. Besides, he would not know how to walk: he has never tried. So you might say that Ciccio doesn’t have much of a life, and yet for him life is more carefree than it is cruel. So, the machine which breathes for him is his personal snail it is the shell which protects him, his little house of steel; and the world is his room, where the poster of La Pimpa has been replaced by the NBA players, and then by the calendars of Max, and all those who enter it - the few who enter it – constitute the tribe of Ciccio’s miniature world: simple, artificial; in a word: the only world possible.

Ciccio has had to learn not to ask himself too many questions about life, or at least not to expect any answers. And, moreover, Ciccio does not even ask himself what it truly consists of – this real world, whose shadows he sees projected inside his unknowing cave lodged in the basement of a nondescript hospital: the stories on the TV, the sun glimpsed through the window, the rumble of a discussion in the ward corridor... But – Ciccio knows – those are shadows: to him Jenny and her stories are all he needs to know what the world is really like.

Jenny, oh... Who knows, perhaps, if that is even her real name, but he likes it, very much. Ciccio believes in telenovelas, singers of the 1960s, and guardian angels, and Jenny is his: she cuddles him, teases him, drives him mad, makes his fat, ailing heart laugh and all he knows for certain about her is that she is a nurse on the ward. Jenny has seen him grow up, the big boy weighing well over a ton with the too-big heart, she has never left him. And Ciccio loves her, deeply, loves the woman who is ever-present in his life. All those other years don’t matter, and, after all, who knows how many there truly are, sometimes ten, to hear her, sometimes as many as twenty...

Except for Jenny, let us be clear, Ciccio is alone, no relative has ever made contact with him, a void which it has fallen to her to fill each day with her incomparable vitality. Jenny knows everything about Ciccio: his obsessions, his whims, and his dreams. “Ciccio, when are you going to get a girlfriend? So you will stop reading that filth that you keep under your pillow. You’re obsessed! A porn addict! Before long you would be going grey, if you weren’t as bald as a coot!” Then she threatens to to sign him up to Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Ciccio chokes with laughter which echoes a little mechanically, as if there were another machine laughing for him. “But Jenny, you bring me the magazines! And you know that I want you, only you!” And then – he thinks – Jenny is much better than those girls in the magazines. And she’s not married! “Is it true that you have never married, Jenny?” The expression on her face stops him in his tracks and the question hangs in the air.

Sometimes Ciccio finds it a little odd that Jenny works such long shifts on the ward. All in all, she spends more time there than at home. “ I have to work overtime, you idiot, otherwise how would I pay for my trips to the Crocodile Islands, and Karpazia...?” And yet Jenny must have made all her big trips when he was too little to remember, because, if truth be told, it seemed to Ciccio that Jenny had never been away for more than two days, or three at most. It also seemed to Ciccio that on certain days Jenny’s sole occupation was to enhance his life. He might also ask himself why she sometimes came to work solely to bring him a can of Coke, to fill half an hour with her hyperbolic tales, painting her toenails, allowing him to enjoy the fantasies of that intimacy, and then disappearing.

But, as we have said, it’s not for Ciccio to ask questions which might make life more burdensome. Ciccio prefers to hear Jenny tell him about when she used to sing in a rock band and the fruit-seller wanted to marry her. Or about when she was engaged to a Jordanian sheikh. “He was Egyptian, imbecile!” But Ciccio is sure, he was Jordanian, he remembers it very well! Jenny’s life effortlessly assumes a different complexion every time she talks about it, and for Ciccio it is an unfathomable rainbow, from the reds of the dawns in the desert to the blues of the seas of the tropical ports, where Jenny invents a life that has never existed. “But what matters is that the danger has passed, that man didn’t love you at all, you, yourself, are always saying that!”

Ciccio’s heart, which tends toward the vintage, has been shaped by Jenny, without a doubt. “Sing me a Beatles song, Jenny, before you go away!” “ Not again, it’s always the same with you, Ciccio...” Perhaps she would like to sing Michelle, but no, Michelle makes Ciccio cry, especially in the evening, when his heart is more fragile, and so: “Sing me that one about us, Ob-La-Di – Ob-La-Da... Life goes on, bra...”. Jenny grumbles a little - for show – she leans over Ciccio’s fat and shiny head, skims his ear with her lips, so as not to be heard by the ward supervisor: “Ciccio has a barrow in the market place. Jenny is the singer in a band...”. Ciccio dreams and smiles, he is the greengrocer who will marry Jenny. “But how did they come to know our names, Jenny, eh? What an incredible coincidence, eh, Jenny...”

And perhaps other coincidences link the two of them. Ciccio’s birthday is on the 14th of March, it seems; but Jenny’s too, hers as well, is on the very same day. “What a coincidence, Jenny, isn’t it wonderful that God has caused us to be born on the same day of the year, Jenny?” So Jenny brings the cake, for her and for him, and they eat it in spite of the ward’s dietician. And Ciccio shouldn’t think that she had made a cake just for him – what an idea: “What would all the other boys on the ward say? If it were not for that coincidence that we were both born on the same day...”

So, they have told Jenny that she will retire in a year’s time. And so there is only one year left to sing softly to him every now and again Ob-La-Di – Ob-La-Da, to tell him her improbable stories and to tease him, to pinch him and to excite him, each day. A year still to conceal her secret, maternal love, transparent and unquenchable. Still a year of time in which to make him die of laughter, and then to dissolve that sugar heart of his, to wipe away the ambiguity of this grotesque drama – rudimenary, ruthless – and tell him the truth, once and for all, that this is how things really are, that this is Ciccio, and this is Jenny, and then, tickling the folds of fat under his chin: “You know, Ciccio, I also have to tell you that in the song the two are really called Desmond and Molly. Life goes on, bra!”

Translated from Italian by Rosanna Forte
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