The God Of Small Things


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Scene Title The God Of Small Things
Synopsis In which Teodoro Laudani is 11 years old and spending a few summer days with his aunt Lucrezia. Sets precedent for the boy's tendency to set himself on fire, and the woman's stupefyingly loving wrath.
Date Summer of 1993

Palermo, Sicily

The bungalow feels new, the way temporary luxury housing ought to, seafront, the white sand of a private beach spanning the distance to a wrinkling blue sea, visible through the windows and blown-glass vases that came with the buxom-stuffed furniture and paintings. Signora Bennati is having a vacation. You probably know of her even if you didn't know her name. They say she's in her early twenties, featured in publications of ill repute and films to presume to greater things than their budget, and that that's entirely natural.

Teo is only eleven years old, and he has already begn to grow out of listening to what people say — only begun to. He had answered the door when it rang. There had been a man bare-foot in the snow. The man had been handsome and stank of the cologne that scented every rumor that had ever followed him out of a drawing room or market square while he held his auntie's hand or put his shoes on the back seat of her hired car. The man had asked for La mia pesca.

Infuriated by jealousy, Teo had reacted instantly by punching him in the crotch. Won a black eye for his trouble, saw the red of the man's face, the fury of humiliation, and heard the avalanchean rumble of those curses below the cry of Lucrezia's voice, the click of her heels. He had dragged himself — and the man — two meters before wrestling free, running away, yelling.

It's sunset now Teodoro is returning to the bungalow, his small toes digging in the fine granulation of coast turned burnt gold from the changing quality of light. Wonderfully, he smells of gasoline and his little green T-shirt is singed. There are wasp stings healing on his arms and face, red blotching not to be mistaken for the tracks of tears.

He's too young to be stealthy, the same way he was too young to be strong; his manner diminishes into the skulking shame of a dog, the closer he gets.

What black and buzzing squall was here in the absence of youth! While Teo wandered into misadventure, first confronted by a pail of wicked wasps and then stumbling into a puddle of petrol, how could he ever know that those terrible winged furies were inflamed to fight not by nature but by nuture — the irrefutable compulsion and summons of an angry aunt stoked into a rage at the ill-treatment of her beloved little boy, her son of sister's loins. Il mio cucciolo.

Though his bare-footed body would later be found much further down the shore, barely recognizable under the assault of welts that forced his face to swell up in an almost comical fashion, the man would still reek of that awful and unmistakably cheap cologne. And, though he was not dead, he would never be the same man — and she would never make the same mistake again.

Standing out on the stoop with eyes set hopefully on the horizon, Lucrezia wears a worried expression in addition to her couture cocktail dress, which somehow doesn't seem at all unreasonable attire for flouncing about the house in. Not on her. Of course, she had a date. It was canceled. When she finally spies Teo returning to the scene of his wee fit of chivalry, she all but dashes down the steps in her ridiculously high heels and races down the cobblestone path toward him in a flutter.

To be entirely fair, Teo had already developed a tendency to bring misery unto himself. He'd been trying to set the hive on fire. He'd sort of succeeded, insofar as he'd succeeded on setting more fire on the wasps than he had on himself — even if the margin between those two is probably, by default, too narrow. He is dispirited. There are too many feelings going on in him for his frame to fit around.

Though, fortunately for him, he has no way of knowing that that tendency will persist long after his body starts stretching around awkward angles and adult proportions.

Teo hears his aunt's approach even before the dervish of smooth seams and expensive fabric swoops entirely into view around the perpetual greenery and below the shadow of the bungalow's elegant shape. So he stops on the sand at the base of the steps. Frowns. It's hard to tell what he's frowning at. His feet are the least offensive part of him right now, and he's staring downward, steadfastly, at those, his lips pressed so close together they manage to retain their original shape despite all the rest swelling and his black eye.

Lucrezia momentarily forsakes the boy's overwhelming odor and mildly mangled appearance in favor of confirming his corporeal presence with a sudden squeezing. She's unapologetic in her feminine strength and only recoils after the perfume of petrol begins to make her eyes water. She vainly indulges in a split-second fantasy wherein wee Teo has doused himself in fuel so as to mimic her swollen suitor's smell and not because he was sloppy in his juvenile attempts to literally set the world on fire. Before she can crack a comment in an attempt to provoke a smile out of his defeated pout, she notices the welts on his arms and, with fingers worn 'round his wrist, she asks, "What is this? What have you done?"

The mathematics of eleven-year-old Teo's thoughts are even more arithmetically incorrect than the derangements that occur after Rommy tries to explain what the book is saying to him. He lifts his beleauguered head to see her, and his eyes are intense with emotion — not to be confused with the enormity of his face and arms being on toxic fucking fire. She nearly squeezed tears out of him: not quite. He wavers visibly, between one statement of purpose and the next. His chin finds a stubborn set, and his pout wobbles in place for a protracted moment.

Before he can kill himself with suspense, he blurts out his confession: "I was mad! I was mad. I was mad at you instead of him, so I tried to… I killed some wasps." His word for wasps is wrong, because he's using their word, onomatopeia in lieu of the correct Italian. 'Zuzu.' I killed the zuzu. He turns red underneath the stings. He means: I'm sorry I killed the zuzu.

No matter how many imaginary matchheads there might be burning in the weals that litter little Teo's assaulted arm, the burn of those invisible embers is nothing compared to the blaze set alight beneath the skin of his pink cheek when Lucrezia delivers her dismay with open palm. She clutches his chin between thumb and forefinger with terrible borrowed strength and forces his pitiful gaze to be reckoned with hers, so much darker and deeper. "How many times have I told you," she chides, somehow sounding sickly sweet despite the fire in her eyes. "A man is judged by how he treats lesser creatures." This has become something of a mantra every since that day when he was six and got caught stomping grasshoppers into goo on the sidewalk outside of his mother's house.

Teo's cry of pain is more beast than boy. Maybe a kitten, that rasping squeak and hiss as his little face is flung to the right by the force of his aunt's slap. His chin hardens in her grasp, fierce teeth grating palpably in her hand, tiny jaws setting in automatic stubbornness. It takes only a few seconds for him to realize better.

At eleven years of age, he's already started making his list— the ranking of stuff that hurts. The wasp stings are bad and her slap is worse. Her reproval more than the grip of her fingers make his teeth ache. His resolve sags like a punctured balloon before her dark eyes, his own paler squint finally welling up, saline, squeezed nearly shut between round brows and cheeks already rubbery fat from venom and bruises, his masculine sensibilities surrendering his tiny stone heart to a crushing deluge of grief, his conscience a stain in the next wave that smashes through. Eyelashes wet, his little mouth pops open. For a long moment, no sound emerges. Then a whimper throbs from his throat, and the syllable comes blowing wetly down her wrist, drawn out, wailing: "…Aaaaah."


Sempre Domani

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March 2007: I'll Show You Mine if You Show Me Yours
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