“Camilla, would you like some more?”
All this food mythology is getting on your nerves. Nowadays, it’s food that devours us and our thoughts; rumours to the contrary are mere appearances. So you lift your chin and look at the others with a sense of irony.
“No, thanks,” you say. “It’s all delicious, truly delicious, but no. No, thank you.”
Now, you’re no longer sorry you’re too young to know everything they know. All of a sudden, you’re very happy you’re twenty-six. Because you realise you’re very lucky at your age: you can just sit there and watch, and you don’t have to find something to say at all costs. Nobody expects you to keep up with this level of the conversation. What level, anyway? What conversation? Frankly, you expected better from these sorts of people. Instead, they’re discussing oil. Once again, you smile and don’t give a damn if the timing is right or not. Fuck olive oil and all its characteristics. If they really want it, you, too, can contribute with an argument about Vaseline. You give a little cry and curl your lip as though you have a twitch. You don’t give a fuck if it’s bitter or fruity. Then you remember that you’re only there because someone’s fucking you.
“I’m sorry, my husband’s always late,” Cristina says, getting up again. “I think I’ll get the first course prepared, anyway. Too bad, he’ll have to eat the risotto reheated.” She rushes to the kitchen door. “Rashmi? You can start browning the leeks. Remember we don’t want any butter at the end, won’t you? You just need to make it creamy with the parmesan, thanks.”
You study the women sitting with you at the table – they’re all shaking their heads and saying, No, that’s all right, let’s wait – then you look at the empty seat, the clean plate and the napkin, still folded. Where on earth is Vittorio?
This wait is exhausting, partly because you don’t know how he’s going to react when he sees you here. Unfortunately, it was only at eight o’clock that you realised it was his wife, and not he, who invited you – and, in particular, that he knew nothing about it. When you came in with a panettone that was still warm (a panettone that cost as much as your electricity bill) and Cristina grabbed your coat, saying, “Let me take that for you, my dear, I’ll hang it up next door. Vittorio isn’t here yet but he’ll be so happy you could make it, you’ll see. You cheer him up.”
And now, an hour and a half later, while the hostess is getting worked up, you feel like a total creep. You think it’s your fault if Vittorio has decided to do a runner on Christmas Eve, of all days. He found out you were here, sitting between his mother and his daughter, opposite his sister, and is searching for any excuse not to be here. It was a big mistake – you should never have accepted the invitation. But it’s too late now, so all you can do is stay in your seat and behave like a polite person. And try to exchange a few words with your neighbours, even if it’s not easy.
By Caterina Bonvicini
Translated by Katherine Gregor
TUTTE LE DONNE DI (All His Women)
by Caterina Bonvicini (Garzanti, 2016)
With thanks to Piergiorgio Nicolazzini Literary Agency, Milan
Caterina Bonvicini grew up in Bologna and now lives and works between Rome and Milan. Her novels include Fancy Red (2018), Tutte le donne di (2016), Correva l’anno del nostro amore (2014), Il sorriso lento (2010, Premio Bottare Lattes Grinzane), L’equilibrio degli squali (2008, Premio Rapallo and Grand Prix de l’héroïne Madame Figaro), Penelope per gioco (2000), Di corsa (2003) which have been translated in various countries. She has also written the short story collection I figli degli altri (2006) and is the author of two young adult novels, Uno due tre liberi tutti! (2006) and In bocca al bruco (2011). Her writing features among that of other contemporary Italian women writers in the recent Le nuove Eroidi (HarperCollins, 2019). From 2012 to 2016, she wrote for Il Fatto Quotidiano. Since 2016, she has been writing for L’Espresso and the Robinson supplement of La Repubblica.
Katherine Gregor grew up in Italy and France before going to university in England. She has been a theatrical agent, press agent, teacher and one or two other things before becoming a literary translator from Italian, French and, on occasion, Russian. She also writes original material and is currently working on a non-fiction book.