60 Years in One Day
by Lucia Tilde Ingrosso
Translated from the Italian by Elena Zargani
May 6th, 1946 - Monday
What I know of that day is what I’ve been told: I wasn’t actually there. Not right away, at least. My dad had stayed at the pub a little longer than usual. He showed my mum some slips of paper, a whole bunch of them, hot off the press. She asked him what they were. Betting coupons. Dad was all proud of them: you only needed to fill them in with your forecasts for the games. 30 lire were enough to dream of scoring a 12, hitting the jackpot; but then it wasn’t just that. It was a snowfall of free paper, nice and soft, which came in handy for the toilet.
I joined the others late that evening, when the neighbourhood was getting ready for bed. Suddenly, there was a commotion in the street; the midwife rushed to our home. It all happened pretty fast: «It’s a big, healthy boy. What shall we call him?». My dad was working class, but kept himself well informed. «Umberto, like our future king,» he said. That king lasted one month, but the name stuck.
May 6th, 1956 - Sunday
The best day in my life. I was convinced of it; stayed convinced for quite some time. Still am, occasionally. Ten years old, two digits at last. My dad took me to the public gardens at Porta Venezia while mum was getting things ready for the party, back home. The cake was delicious: I had three slices. The present was fantastic – a bike all my own. As long as I never left it out of my sight: we’d moved to a new neighbourhood but bikes got snatched here just the same.
Added to which, one more reason to celebrate: my football team is the sure-fire winner of the national championship. Fiorentina forever! Can’t wait to see my classmates’ faces, those washout Milan F.C. fans, tomorrow. «What’s Fiorentina got to do with you?» they keep asking me. Who knows. Maybe it’s the purple shirt. Maybe it’s Julinho’s genius. That happy Sunday, I was sure there would be plenty more violet victories. What a fool. Why don’t I just support Inter Milan or Juventus like everybody else?
May 6th, 1966 - Friday
«Where on earth are you going with that hair?» my mother asks me without even raising her eyes from her needlework. «No-no-no-no-one on earth can judge me, not even you,» I hum the words of the current hit by Caterina Caselli… Though I actually prefer the Beatles, by a long shot. I smile faintly as I watch my mother, head bent over her stitches. «You could’ve stayed home to celebrate with us,» she ventures without looking up. «Gloria and I are going dancing,» is my explanation. «All right then, you better take your present, over there on the coffee table.» It’s an envelope with some money. For the past couple of years, my parents have kept telling me they don’t know what to give me. Apparently, it’s best if I do the choosing.
«Where’s Dad?» «He’s coming home late, you’ll see him tomorrow.» He’s working overtime: 86 thousand lire per month is hardly enough to cover my university expenses with all the rest.
May 6th, 1976 - Thursday
Gloria’s prepared the surprise party. She was good at keeping it secret; a shame our son Marco blurted everything out at the last minute – but then he’s just two, and leaks more than just secrets. I got home and found the lights switched off, darkness and silence. Then the lights went on and friends began to emerge everywhere I looked.
«You’re thirty! Congratulations, old chap!» says Riccardo, my mate from high school. He’s a journalist now, works for this new paper, la Repubblica. He’s worried about what’s happening to our country: so many victims to terrorism, even here in Milan. I’m an M.D. Nothing to worry about from that point of view. Haunted by other ghosts. I haven’t managed to save my father from his factory’s toxic fumes, and cigarettes. I never got the addiction, and keep in shape riding my bike. I like Gimondi, the ace cyclist.
The party’s over and we’re tidying up, then all of a sudden it’s like somebody pulled the rug from under our feet. The chandelier is swaying over our heads: this is just a pale echo of something much worse. Earthquake in Friuli: a thousand deaths.
May 6th, 1986 - Friday
I get home late. Gloria’s waited up for me, even though I told her not to. She’s sitting in the kitchen with a cup of hot milk. «Happy Birthday,» she tells me. Her eyes are sad. This morning, I left before she was awake. «You’d promised me we’d have gone to the pictures. Hannah and Her Sisters’ out, you knew how badly I wanted to see it…».
«I’m sorry: there were complications in the OR and…». She doesn’t let me go on. «I’m not stupid, Umberto. Is it another nurse?» I nod. «You have to make up your mind…» It sounds like a verdict.
I get up, move to the bedroom. I’m going to bed without my dinner like a naughty kid. I turn back from the doorway: «Gloria?» She looks at me, hopeful. «Don’t drink that milk; you know, Chernobyl...» She’s too nice to tell me what she thinks.
May 6th, 1996 - Monday
I’m late. Again. There’s no time to stop home and change. I have a long day of work behind me and it’s hot. It’s the usual preview of summer that Milan gets every year in May. Lucky thing I’ve got air conditioning in my Mercedes. As it inches its way in traffic just like everyone else, at least it’s cool. I circle the block. Three times. There’s no help for it but to park in a no-parking spot.
As I get out, the mobile in my pocket starts to ring. «I’m just outside,» I reassure her. The restaurant is chic, the maître d’ deferential. «This way, Doctor.»
I see her right away. «I shall find your dusky eyes, recognize them from afar, they’ll be lovelier than they were…» The song’s about meeting ‘her’ a hundred years from now. I didn’t even have to wait that long, just a couple of years. That’s all it took to get my life back on track. Gloria smiles into my eyes. Sitting next to her is my mother, increasingly gaunt and bent with age; and my son Marco, now over six foot two.
Time flies. I'm not getting any younger, either…
May 6th, 2006 - Saturday
The cake’s huge, everyone’s in great spirits at the family table. I’m biding my time, waiting for the right moment to make my announcement – only I miss it. Marco and Linda, his wife, suddenly get up. They’re standing close; she lays her hand on her belly. It’s easy to guess their news. Gloria cannot hold back her tears. Mum is quietly tremulous in her corner, her mind far away. I think she knows, though. Compared to this, the fact I’ve decided to retire is relatively unimportant.
I half-heartedly nibble at my cake. It’s best to be careful when you get to a certain age, so Gloria ordered it sugar-free, with no eggs – but then what’s the point?
«Come on, let’s take a picture, everyone,» Marco suggests. The family photo’s taken with one of the mobiles and will be sent by e-mail; or is it iPod? I’m not quite sure I understood. I’ll have to get the hang of all this if I don’t want to pass for an old fogey.
«Naturally, you can count on us 100%,» my wife tells Linda. I'd like to remind her of our plans: six months here in Milan, six months on the Côte d'Azur in de luxe retirement. «No way you're going to retire, old man!» Gloria teases me.
How is it she always knows what I'm thinking?