Four short stories

Stella Poli

These are the English versions by Andrea Romanzi and Antonio Gambacorta (edited by William Davies) of four short stories written in Italian by Anna Stella Poli. Download Issue Zero to read the original.

Je fait des tour

When I step on the bus she looks at me. The bus half empty, I sit next to her. She’s like a little animal, but I cannot tell which one.
Her eyes are small, sunken, odd lines through her face. Young. Short hair, indistinct. A little mouse, a weasel, a dark stoat. She glances at me furtively. She smells of unwashed clothes. She talks to me.
She asks if I have an internet connection. It’s nine, I’m headed home. I have an internet connection. She speaks French, sheepishly. I know French, but I tell her quickly, behind the convex shield of my accent from elsewhere, that I don’t understand.
She doesn’t believe me, and she’s right not to. I search for a reason for my diffidence. Maybe it’s her smell, or those eyes small and quick.
She asks, softly, if she can send a text. I look at her. On Paris, a Siberian wind. Her ankles are bare, white sneakers, flowery patterned trousers. No way she’s not cold. I wear tights under my jeans, wool socks, boots. Two jumpers.
I open my bag, grab my phone, tap on the text message icon, I tell her feel free to write. Then I stare at her, my phone in her hands makes me uncomfortable.
Such a low instinct. It’s not even worth much. She writes. Stops when she sees it’s in Italian. I tell her it’s that I’m Italian. She says sais pas que j’ai fait and I, without looking, tell her c’est bon. I take the phone and put it back in my bag.
She’s cold. She looks at me. I check, but there’s no reply. She requests a stop but doesn’t get off. Then, eventually, she does. She didn’t thank me, she doesn’t say goodbye.
I get down three stops later, go get groceries, I buy a slice of quiche for tomorrow. When I get home, I turn on the radio and open a bottle of white.
I am cooking when I think of her. I didn’t read not to seem nosey. I’m not even that curious, but I look anyway.
I find the text, it’s not been delivered. It reads: Cest diyhia stp laisse moi venir car depuis tt alheur je fait des tour de bus et ji froid jai pas envie de dormir dehors desole si je tai manquer de respect a ts pote jai frois et je fait des tours depuis.
I try to send it again, but the contact is blocked, or it needs an area code or a zero should go. Or something that I cannot do, no matter how many times I try.

(It is Diyhia. Please, let me come over. I’ve been sitting on a bus for a while and I’m cold. I don’t want to sleep outside. I’m sorry if I disrespected you or your friends. I’m cold, I’ve been sitting on a bus for a while).

Leonor

Leonor was the beginning, majestic, and the end, quick, of doubts. She said balotta with an l as soft as camelias. She was young, ate raw shrimps, bit her thumb if you asked her about the future. Her hair was cut short like some children at summer camp and when she was humiliated at the round table, she did not cry but she stuttered for about three minutes.
She was studying in the Netherlands, she told me that once she had stopped a train to chase a guy with hair combed on one side and give him two pain au chocolat she thought they would eat together. He took them and kissed her on the cheek and went back to his seat letting the train doors close on the distress of the commuters who were all on her side.
She spoke waving her arms in the air and with funny voices, while we shared beers at the pier.
But all this is relatively unimportant because that day we had dashed off to the beach at lunch break, the sea was just behind the castle, and could be reached through a cobbled path downhill. Leonor was not wearing a swimsuit underneath, I had already removed my t-shirt – I always felt ungraceful next to her, she was tall and muscular and straight and cheerful. I wanted to say I could hold a towel for her when all of a sudden Leonor was naked, she had large cinnamon-coloured nipples and an overgrown cunt, imposing, like ivy, dark as worry. It lasted for a second, and a second later she was wearing an orange two-piece that she tied skilfully. I kept always silent, when we decided to jump from the rocks, when we dived, and when, floating about, she told me of her future trains, a looming departure, and who knows when, meeting again.

Roots

She had counted them. She had moved twelve times. Most of the times it had been nice, the last one, somewhat turbulent. Like with purple pinball machines, she was back to square one.
She could still hear the din din of the bonus points, with the little lights going crazy on the round bumpers.
She was not yet thirty. She was in a square, he called her to ask where the square was or maybe where she was, she was in the square. For six seconds, she was unsure about the names of the surrounding streets, then she found a detail that nailed down the spot, and he said oh, right, I’m coming.
There were people, all around, some were their friends. They chatted standing by her.
He seemed more relaxed, younger, maybe even more tanned. It must be my head, she told herself while hunching down in her jumper pulling the sleeves to cover her hands, since it was a damp night, with one of those suspended, still mists.
She felt a strange tingling. He was talking about a festival by the river where he had interviewed a journalist and she asked herself who knows where I was, two years ago, and she didn’t even tell him that she wanted to hear about it, she figured it was obvious.
She tried to move a foot and she found it very heavy. Then he asked about her job and she said that she had been offered a position in Toronto. Toronto, he repeated, and she thought it must be my impression, but it seems you say it as though it were a sad thing, something far away and ugly, to think about.
A friend invited them to drink something at the bar close by, she wanted to stay up late until the conference on International Geopolitics. She said yes straight away that she wanted to drink something with him and that she was cold.
It must have been no more than fifteen steps, diagonally. She tried once, then a second time.
She looked at him with a certain panic in her eyes and said, softly, embarrassed, I cannot move.
What did you say?
I cannot lift my feet, they are stuck.
He was a pragmatic man, he bent down to observe her feet. Lift, he said. I try, she said. I’m already trying, she said. Her boot barely moved. Roots, he said.
What the fuck are you saying, she said.
You put down roots he said, looking at the shadow between the sole and the porphyry.
He stood up and they looked at each other puzzled.
Your fault, she said quickly. Toronto is nice, but I don’t want to go anymore. And here there is nothing comparable. There’s only you that make me want to. Like in those girly magazines.
Want to?, he asked.
Stay. Put down roots, but not like this. Slowly, very slowly, with the cautions, the patiences. Ever since I think of you I can’t talk to you anymore. I look at this stultification and I think it’s about not wanting to fail. You give me this fucking desire of not wanting to fail, of not thinking that in the worst-case scenario one can start from scratch, with new trajectories, new frictions, new little lights.
Their geopolitics friend stopped talking, she was staring at something she was fidgeting with. He said actually I think I might go back home.
Are you going home?, she asked.
Yes, sorry, I am knackered.
They kissed on the cheek, he went to the car.
She stayed for a beer. Her feet worked.

Sere

«I should wear my tiger pants,
I should have an affair».

My father did not speak to me for seven months, I did not speak to Martina for six days.
I told myself that everything could have been avoided if I had paid more attention to timing. I was lying. You can’t avoid the crash if the handbrake breaks in your hand. But it wasn’t the best comparison.
My father did not speak to me for seven months because I had told him I was in love with Martina. He threw my stuff out of the window, like when mothers threaten messy children or in heavy Russian dramas.
I picked it up, chucked into an aqua green bag, went to Martina’s.
While walking I tried to visualise her like me, in the street, we had agreed on the day. But I couldn’t really picture her, I had always thought that her mother, with all her freckles and the meditation classes would understand, or that she had always known.
I caught a train and then a bus, without telling her, thinking of her eyelashes when she opened her eyes wide, of her blushing in patches when someone surprised her.
I got there when the sun was setting. In fact, there was nothing in the street, not even Martina.
I rang at the door. Her mother smiled, slightly puzzled. She called Martina.
She didn’t blush when I saw her. She seemed unable to say a thing.
It took me an unreasonable amount of time to understand, she had already dragged me into her room by the arm.
You didn’t say anything, I said, with not even a hint of a question mark.
She looked down. My father kicked me out and you didn’t say anything. I can’t do it, she whined. Sere, I can’t do it. I said bye to her mother, went out, slept at the hostel near the station where one April afternoon we had made love.
We had lived together in São Paulo, in Porto we had kissed in the streets. I blamed Parma, but maybe it wasn’t even her fault.

Not knowing what to do I called Costanza, Costanza told me come here, I’ll prepare the sofa.
On the tgv to Paris I cried as silently as possible, curled up.

Andrea Romanzi (tr.)

Andrea Romanzi is a doctoral researcher at the University of Reading and Bristol in comparative literature and translation studies. He is main editor of Question, academic journal for the arts and the humanities, and he was editor and contributor for Prosopopeia, Norwegian journal of comparative literature. He translates literature from Norwegian and English into Italian. He collaborates actively with publishing houses across Europe as a consultant for Norwegian literature.

Antonio Gambacorta (tr.)

Antonio Gambacorta is a writer and translator based in Reading, where he is completing a PhD. He translates literature and films and collaborates with Automattic. He has received a publication proposal for a poetry collection in Italian and he is working on a collection of short stories in English.

William Davies (ed.)

William Davies is a literary critic and historian. He publishes regularly on various aspects of twentieth-century European culture. His book Samuel Beckett and the Second World War is forthcoming with Bloomsbury. He is currently editing with James Brophy a volume of essays on Beckett’s poetry. He works at the University of Reading and lives in Guildford, Surrey, where he is trying to write some poems and improve his ginger beer recipe.

Anna Stella Poli

Anna Stella Poli (in Latin 'the pole star': 'strange omen for an often disoriented girl', she says), earned her PhD in Contemporary Italian Literature and Philology from the University of Genova. Her book of short tales, Cucchiai. Un'antologia di fallimenti, written with Guido Casamichiela was published in 2019. She is profoundly happy when she dives into the water and when she cycles back home on warm summertime nights. When she is horribly sad, everything gets more complicated.

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