1999 - Saloni Mediterranean
Letizia Mondello was born in 1962 on the Sicilian island of Vulcano and migrated to Melbourne with her family at the age of five. She has had short stories published in Australia and Canada.
She is the co-author of Cosmopolitan Melbourne: Explore the World in One City, published by Big Box Publishing. She lives and works in Melbourne.
by Letizia Mondello
This story was read at Saloni Mediterranean, March 18, 1999, and a shorter version of it was published in Queer View Mirror II, Arsenal Pulp Press.
The inclination to get angry to the point of emphatic fury has been a quality I have never possessed. Italians, particularly Sicilians, are meant to hold this attribute — but not me. I’ve never waved my arms around to accentuate my words let alone spat on someone's face to save my honour. To get angry requires so much effort I have never understood why people bother.
I lie though. I have felt like spitting on someone’s face. Once. In another woman’s face. In fact, I even practiced a whole routine: a likely scenario. In my long bathroom, I stood in front of the full-length gold-edged mirror and rehearsed saying things like, ‘You bitch, how could you have done this to me. You vomited your dishonesty all over my face’. That sort of thing. The sort of thing people tend to say when they are morbidly angry and then regret later. Phrases you think might lead to the subject of your anger to break down and say, ‘you’re right, I’ll never behave like that ever again — it’s true you’ve made me see the error of my ways — I love you’. Of course it never seems to happen like this.
The difficult part was practising the spit. At first, I couldn't build up enough saliva and when I tried to propel it, it sort of just dribbled out of my mouth and sadly onto my shoes. By the end of the afternoon though, I could project a decent sized amount of saliva across a fair distance so that it made a noticeable sound as it hit the mirror.
Then I made the phone call. She agreed to meet me: I had not seen her for six months. I had decided I would spit on her in public, outside the flower shop where I used to buy her the single large tropical stems she so loved.
Spitting on someone in public I knew was supposed to be a particularly Sicilian thing to do. Whatever I did, it had to be public. But more importantly it had to be swift. After the phone call, I realised it was the swift departure I would find most difficult. It was this immediate withdrawal that would signal the final good-bye. I knew I would find it almost impossible to turn my back on her, because no matter how difficult things had been between us I had never once walked out. So I practised on the white tiles in my kitchen. An about face. A departure of military precision.
Just as I had anticipated. It was a dreary afternoon. We’d met and talked in the cafe about movies we’d seen and books we’d read — that sort of thing. I soon felt so indifferent towards her that I didn’t want to discuss anything about our relationship. I had never seen her so unanimated. The sharp blue of her eyes seemed to have faded into an unappealing nondescript grey. As for myself, I decided over my second red wine that I didn’t really want to spit on her anymore. I realised my life had moved on and the indignation and sense of betrayal I had once felt and had been harbouring had somehow drifted away without me willing it to go. Besides, I wasn’t impressed with the types of books she was reading, we didn’t even have that in common any more.
So I decided to leave it. This was typical of me. The che me ne frega piu attitude which seemed to be my natural disposition was bonus in this situation.
So we stood outside the flower shop saying good-bye. I just wanted to shake her hand or do something which was a true reflection of what I had been thinking in the cafe, but she started to hug me. Then I happened to turn around because a car screeched on the road, and then I saw her new girlfriend, the one she had left me for, sitting in the window of the cafe on the other side of the road. My face burned with what felt like intense embarrassment, but I could also feel a tight clench in the pit of my stomach. I was catapulted back to the weeks after the breakup when I used to dry-retch over the bathroom sink because I couldn't stop myself imagining her fucking with the woman I simply referred to as ‘that thing’.
Because I so rarely lost my temper, it didn’t mean I couldn’t feel emotions like loss or grief or that terrible hurt that only comes from a sense of having been betrayed.
Before I could control myself all the insults I had rehearsed come out of me completely jumbled. I said in a raised tone of voice to the woman I had once loved and who had once loved me, ‘do you know what I‘ve been doing while you’ve been screwing your ass off, do you know the agony you put me through, you call yourself a human being — look! I don’t believe you need to stay with someone forever, but your lies, your weakness it kills me’. ‘That,’ I said pointing to the woman across the road, ‘is and was so dishonest it made me and still makes me sick.’ While I was saying this I was trying to say four other words that would not translate. Words I hated to use because they sounded so melodramatic. Hai spezzato mio cuore.
I felt the saliva gathering in my mouth but instead of spitting, I raised my arm and hit her across the face. My open flat palm whacked her. Flesh. It makes an awful sound.
I had hit her so hard it unbalanced her. She fell across the buckets of daffodils stacked outside the shop along the roadside, and then tumbled into the gutter. Meanwhile, I saw her new girlfriend running across the road. Some jerk was trying to park his car in the exact spot where the girl who had said she wanted to be with me forever was now lying. The store owner and the customers in the flower shop came rushing out to see the action.
I felt dreadful: unable to move. This isn’t me, I wanted to say. You would not believe the amount of practice I had to undertake to even raise my voice. But no sound came from my mouth. Jealous, violent, lesbian, Sicilian scum was what I expected to hear. But no-one said anything.
I just stood there. And as I stood there, the store owner hurriedly re-stacked his flowers and the customers surrounded this woman I had once shared my bed with. Her mouth and nose were bleeding, and the blood was dripping all over the hand she had protectively placed over her face.
And as I stood there, I remember her saying to me once, ‘it’s not right how you never get angry, I think you have a communication problem.’
And as I stood there, I remembered that when I was practising spitting into my mirror, I had the thought that perhaps she’d love me again if I got angry just once. Just once, if I did something unsettling and regrettable.
I stood watching her new girlfriend take her across the road away from me. And then it started to rain and the droplets of water landed on my glasses so I could no longer see clearly. Jonquils from the display were giving off a tremendous sweet scent, which made me feel slightly giddy.
Somehow, I managed to move. When I found my car, I sat behind the steering wheel shivering, trying to start the car. The engine refused to turn over and so I sat there. I wanted to look at myself in a mirror to see if I had become someone else, too see if I could still recognise what I had been prior to doing this, so I pulled myself up in order to see my reflection in the rear-view mirror. It was then that I noticed some of the blood from her nose had splashed across my face.
© Letizia Mondello, 1999.