A month after the collision we go back to Venice, house shopping. An extravagant way to cope with loss, I reckon, but we already tried crying and praying, and counseling. This is our last attempt at staying alive.
The seller is maybe fifty-five or sixty, the kind of sixty which reconciles me with the passing of time. I look at her and wish I was there already, past the purgatory of middle age. Past the hell of breathing when they aren't.
They are selling because their children are gone. She doesn't say they have grown; she says it like they are no more. Or maybe this is all in my head. I'm desperate to detect grief in other people's words. To bond over a common, cursed fate.
She says 'we' though she's alone.
I also say 'we' though I'm alone.
I'd like to ask where the missing half of her pronoun is, but I don't.
It's a grand house, surrounded by a lush, untended garden. The stained-glass windows in the living room remind me of a church but in a good way. A place where I could be at peace, far from the preoccupations of the world. A sea of forgetfulness, where I will be absolved of all sin, if I pray, and also if I don't. If I believe, and also if I don't.
At night, back in my hotel room, I can't sleep. Venetian mosquitoes torment me, flying high and then plunging close to my ear. I fight them, first brandishing an old newspaper, then slapping the air and the wall. After a while I capitulate and leave the bed.
The air is moist and warm in the middle of the night, like in the jungle, or in my mother's belly. I walk toward the house, with a light, happy gait I had forgotten. The gate is closed but I easily slip between the bars. It seems I have shrunk in the past couple of days. Or it's just the pain that's fallen off my shoulders, making me as flimsy as my cotton nightgown.
Inside, the garden seems much larger than in daylight.
I see something shifting between freshly trimmed hedges. A huge deer comes into sight. As I approach him, he jumps out of his hiding spot and gallops past me, brushing my shoulder. My son is riding him.
I run after them but they are faster and as I watch them disappear into the dark all I can think of is, a deer can run twice as fast as a human. I whisper this fact to myself over and over again until it's a religious litany I'm muttering. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. I tramp along the street to the hotel tapping my chest with my right hand. With each mea culpa I grow lighter, until I hover above the cobblestones, insubstantial.
I find my son asleep in my bed. His hair smells of grass and fire and wet leaves. The mosquitoes are gone, and a ladybird takes flight as I bend down to kiss his forehead.
The following day I go back to the house. I need to know if there are other deer before making an offer. The gate is wide open and a white marquee covers most of the front garden. Twelve men in white togas carry out of the house a white, open casket. I rush to their side and look inside to find again my son, cold as stone but with the same flushed cheeks he had last night, while riding the deer. The words 'To day shalt thou be with me in Paradise' are carved all around his body.
I say them out loud and instantly my shrinking is complete. Not bigger than a grain of rice, I encase myself in a fold of gelid skin under his right arm. Forgotten and, maybe, forgiven at last.
's short fiction has won or has been placed in several competitions and is featured in Portland Review, Fictive Dream, Reflex Fiction
and elsewhere. Eleonora lives in Brussels with her husband and their three sons. Twitter @norami
. Website: eleonorabalsano.com