Never With You (Martina’s Story)
A Dramatic Short Story by Ana Govindasamy
Trigger Warnings/Disclaimers: Death & Grief Themes
I was four.
I remember, I always held my Zia Lulu in such high regard. I still do. But she was a lot more disgraced than I thought.
I’d always found it weird that Nonna didn’t come to her funeral. Or why mum said it was “ironic”.
Heck, I didn’t even know what ironic meant.
And I mean, it was ironic. In the most twisted way.
You don’t get invited to your father’s funeral; you don’t invite your mother to yours.
Wow, she was petty, even beyond the grave. That’s why I love her.
That’s not what I thought ten years ago.
I thought it was sad, that she didn’t turn up. Don’t get me wrong, I hate her now, but back then, it hurt. I don’t even remember the funeral all too well. I mean, I remember crying, but nothing else.
What I do remember, is the two night I spent with my cousins afterwards. I really haven’t seen them since. But those two nights we bonded. Over pain and grief, yes, but we still bonded.
It was my first time in Italy; or abroad for that matter, that I can remember.
And, if that’s what being abroad feels like, I don’t want to see another plane in my life. It was a decade ago, but I remember it crystal clear.
I mean, it was the day I changed.
I was sleeping on the floor, so I heard him, and the bed, creak. I adjusted myself in the mattress, and saw him, staring out of the window, blankly.
“Luca? Qual è il problema?”
What’s the problem?
“Niente. É solo che...mi manca.”
Nothing. I just...miss her.
I couldn’t think of anything better to say than “why.” Perché. Which wouldn’t be helpful now or ever. And I couldn’t remember the words for anything else.
So, I stayed silent and cast my eyes towards what he was looking at. Eventually, he noticed me, and shuffled over on the windowsill. He motioned towards the now empty spot.
I could never tell if he was speaking simply for my sake, or if it was all he knew for a six-year-old.
I hoisted myself up on the white platform, using a chair as a stool, swinging my legs over so that they were next to his. From where we sat, Floor Eight of the apartment building, what felt like the entire, glittering city of Naples sprawled out in front of us. It was much smaller than the entire city, but as a child, the hill in my local park felt like Everest. This felt like the entire country, continent, the planet, even.
It was magical.
Or it would’ve been, if it wasn’t for the emptiness and thick smoke of anger, of sadness that would never clear.
Not then. Not now.
“Scusa. Inglese ora?”
Sorry. English now?
“Sorry, I don’t know much, mine is very bad.” He starts, stuttering in his thick accent.
“I understand you, though.”
“You’re welcome. How are you?”
“I miss my...mother.”
Nobody says ‘mother’, at least not casually, so I knew he was trying. Language lessons are always super formal, anyways. I mean, I only knew informal Italian because Mum and Dad spoke it regularly with family. But Luca and Bianca were born there. And never saw our shared Nonna.
That was mostly Zia Lulu’s fault.
And that was the day I learned about it.
"How is your grandmother?" He said, trying to change the subject.
"You call her Nonna?"
"Yes." I said, trying to keep formal for his sake. “Do you like her? I do.”
“No. I hate her. Mamma says she is così stronza.” He whispers, keeping his eyes on the door.
I didn’t know the direct translation of that when I was four. So, I just dismissed it.
Wow, she had a dirty mouth.
“She doesn’t talk to us, and she talks to you, and I don’t like her, and mamma doesn’t sia. I like Nonna and Nonno, Papá knows.”
“I like mine too. But Nonna is nice.”
“She is not to me.”
“She says that Mamma is a disgrazia.”
“Nonna said that?”
“I do not know. But I miss her. She wasn’t at...church..?” His voice rose in tone, as if he was searching for approval that he’d said the right thing.
“Yeah, she wasn’t.” I said, affirming his correct language.
Bianca snuffled and turned over, prompting us both to lower our voices, but her eyes fluttered open.
“Bianca, qual è il problema? Incubo?”
Bianca, what’s wrong? Nightmare?
Luca let his voice rise again, but it was gentler.
She said, nestling herself in-between us on the windowsill, wrapped in a blanket, clutching onto a tattered, stuffed dog.
“I told her una storia di fantasmi, last week.” Luca turned to me.
I thought that was a plausible explanation, but it definitely was more than that that made her cry as much as she did. And made Luca cry after her. Then me. We cried a lot that night.
I think we started to rant about how much we missed Lulu. But after a while, I traded my Italian for English, and they traded their English for Italian. We were all stuck in our own stories, rolling and playing over and over like scratched records. Safe in idealised memories, only remembering what we wanted.
I didn’t know the extent to which my cousins were disconnected from our Nonna when I was four. But I learned enough that night to make me reconsider every party, every phone call my mum had with Zia Lulu. Mum wanted me to go to the funeral. We were close. I needed closure. And, in some respect, it was nice to get that closure.
But it hurt.
When we woke up to the Neapolitan sunrise, drying the tears into glazed footprints, salt only crusting over the wound, unable to hold them together.