The cruise ship was crowded and the woman could barely hear the man speaking to her from the other end of the phone line, and of the world. The time zone was opposite the one back in Italy and, as always along those trips, everyone had chosen to be on the phone with their family at the same time. There was a queue for each of the six phones available on that bridge and most of the people were urged to make a short call from the ones waiting in line behind them. The lines were not proper lines, but clusters of people with their elbows stretched towards everyone else and fights were prone to blow at any moment in time.
The woman was lucky, because more than one detail singulared her form the rest of the crowd and the people right after her in the queue, all men, were more than well disposed towards her. First of all, despite not being taller than average, the woman had her slender and athletic figure placed on 5 inches heels. Second, she was wearing not more than a green backless satin dress which matched her downturned eyes, a lot of makeup, and platinum blonde hair. Third, she was a member of the entertainment crew and anyone had listened to her velvety voice as the ballroom orchestra lead vocalist, the night before. Almost any man on that cruise had a little crush on her.
“My mother has died.”
“Finally? – Gioia bit her lip. – I mean, how?”
The man at the other end of the line didn’t change his cold tone.
“As we could expect. She fell and hit her head. I should not allow her to continue living alone.”
The woman smirked unseen.
“You mean our daughter wasn’t with her at the moment?”
“Your daughter is a handful in her own right.”
“You can always let her come with her mother more often! On the next Christmas Cruise, for example. She will be with family too. You know my brothers are fond of Nadia.”
“And you know is always up to her to come or stay here. – Vittorio sighed – Gioia, I didn’t call you to fight on the phone. I just wanted you to know.”
Gioia lowered her eyes to the big round brooch placed on the dress right under her breast, at the crossing of two satin bands. She pulled her brooch away, showing it was a plastic disk, attached to the dress with a velcro strip, and looked at it longingly.
“How are you, now? I imagine not well, but…”
“I’m coping. I mean, I think I am coping in a way.”
She nodded and caressed the childish brooch. In the centre, there was a winking fairy with pink hair, surrounded by flowers and stars.
“Nadia? How did she take the new?”
The man scratched his throat, searching for words.
“You know how she is…”
Vittorio didn’t know more what to say. He had just tucked his sister’s blankets, in the room she had occupied when they were kids. It had been the photo in the purple frame on his sister’s old desk, with Sandra, Gioia and him as kids which had brought him to call his former wife.
“I just put her to bed. She was exhausted. “
“You put her to bed? Doesn’t she have a husband for that?”
“Ehm, she’s not by her husband.”
“Don’t tell me. You are both at your mother’s house. – She waited for Antonio’s reply but he didn’t speak. – What does Roberto say about this?”
“She told me he keeps on calling, asking her to go home, but she doesn’t want to.”
“Of course. – Said Gioia, dryly. – And her son, Marco? What’s he doing?”
“Don’t know, don’t care.”
“Of course, as well. We are all inessential to the Agramanti’s family.”
“Gioia, don’t start…”
“I won’t start anything. I’m coming.”
“I’m coming home straight away.”
She placed the round disk on her dress again, with a resolute slap. From the receiver, the men in the queue could hear Vittorio speaking loudly because she held it high above her head for some time.
“I said it and I’m doing it.”
She screamed in the speaker, always without listening to the man. She didn’t know, but men in her queue were in religious silence. How could a man in his right mind not want a woman like that in his bed?
“I don’t care, Vittorio! – She screamed even louder – I know well you don’t want me. I realised that years ago, thank you very much. But I am coming anyway. You can’t keep me away any longer. You do realise I am not doing this for you, right?”
She paused again with the receiver far from her ear. The crowd thought ‘ouch!’ and then grasped something about an ‘old flame’ of hers coming from the receiver in a sarcastic tone.
“This has nothing to do with that! I am doing it for my daughter, and for Sandra and, if you weren’t a stupid emotionless arsehole, even for you!”
In that, she battered her foot down the floor and her all-male public was ready to applaud, but a strong, big guy came through the crowd like a wrecking ball and sent the poor fellows from one side to the other of the corridor. They finished to pester the other queues too and, eventually, the fight began. When the brute reached the woman, he gently patted on her shoulder and spoke above the rumbling crowd.
“Dad sent me looking for you. Are you finished?”
“I am speaking to your former brother-in-law.”
“Oh! – Cheered the man. -Say hi for me.”
“Bruno says hi. – Said dryly the woman to the receiver, then turned towards her brother. – He says hi too, the arsehole.”
“Fighting with Vittorio again? Didn’t you two have a divorce?”
Standing in his mother’s hallway, on the other cheek of the Earth, Vittorio heard the siblings speaking to each other. He was ready to hang on the phone, but he couldn’t stand to break a rule and don’t say goodbye. So, he stood there and waited in silence.
“His mother is dead and he doesn’t want me to go back to San Martino.”
“Mrs Agramanti died? I am so sorry. Sure, you have to go. Your daughter needs you.”
“I know, but Vittorio doesn’t want me there.”
Bruno took the receiver in his square hands. How could someone believe those gigantic hands could be so fast and delicate on a chord instrument? Nonetheless, he was a fine musician and multi-instrumentalist.
“Thank you, Bruno. – He paused. – Is your sister still there?”
“I’m afraid, she stormed away like a diva.”
“I was going her to tell her to pardon me, for completely losing my temper, but I think soon I’ll be able to tell her face to face.”
“Yeah, don’t bother. If I know my sister she’s already putting together her luggage.”
Gioia has stormed to her room, but she wasn’t doing her suitcase, already. She was crouched on her bed, in the cabin she shared with the chorus girls. Her jewel sandals were scattered on the floor and the plastic disk she had on her dress was placed on the pink pillow beside her. She had wrapped her knees in her arms and told herself that she was doing the right thing for the right reasons, but she found her motivations unconvincing.