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Tome On The Range

Short Fiction By: Livia Franchini
Karl Smith , November 30th, 2014 04:59

New writing this week comes in the form of a set of three pieces short fiction by London-based writer, editor and translator Livia Franchini

San Martino, 2005

When they enforced the smoking ban in cafés and bars the only thing that happened, really, was that we all moved to cafés and bars with a smoking area, which incidentally, here, meant the one bar, the bar we were already going to before, only crammed in the one room at the back, breathing sharply against the one broken air vent, which was a lame excuse for a smoking area, really, but it’s not like anyone ever came round to check. It’s not like anyone came round to the bar but us, us being a range of thicknesses of thin, mostly boys, mostly in denim, mostly late twenties, which is why, being seventeen and girls, with puppy fat, Cat and I wore a lot of constricting denim and constricting waistcoats also, and men’s brogues (she borrowed hers from her father, my father’s feet were too large, or mine too small, and so I bought cheap patents on trips to squat industrial units). We wore men’s hats, too. There were nicknames: Viper, Skull, Spade, CJ. After a few months I was Fringe. Cat was Pierrot. Mostly it was us who had to remind us that the term us applied to us, and not to the groups of teenage girls who were beginning to congregate outside the bar in increasingly large numbers, as summer approached and the school year dragged slowly to an end. We looked down on them.

This must’ve been around the time I began repressing the urge to hide the spelling mistakes in my notebook, with layer upon layer of glossy Tipp-Ex, highlight in green marker my best similes –

(the active resistance to edit diary entries a necessary first step in self-teaching to come as you are take life as it comes, fail? fail again fail better, crash and burn all the stars explode tonight)

Around the time I realized that writing aphorisms from Pixies, Mudhoney or Melvins down the length of my left arm did not signal

(the life span of permanent marker on skin, and the black smudge it left for days afterwards, the same as those removable children’s tattoos I hadn’t indulged in for at least ten years, although the similarity took a long time to hit)

as I thought, an in-depth knowledge and appreciation of such bands,

instead a novel interest in such bands, which might brand me, in turn, with the status of novelty member among us, a status unwelcome.

Around the time you came into the non-smoking room at the front of the bar without putting out your cigarette for the short walk that divided you from the smoking room at the back, and watching you through the glass pane of the door, even before you crossed it and made your way to the scary skinny guy with the ponytail and the denim jacket (who I wasn’t at all convinced thought I was one of us), I already knew incontrovertibly just how much you were one of us. Your moustache, on an ideal scale of moustaches, ranked at the top end, toothbrush-thick, Colgate firm, not a store’s own brand, not like your friend’s, I thought with some spite. Your pat on his arm was a grown man’s pat, and so were your Diana Blu. You snapped the filter off your next and smoked it immediately. Your t-shirt said Butthole Surfers and I’d never written any of their lyrics on my left arm, which was maybe the reason we didn’t speak then. Your hair was textbook Cobain, all night you kept on your leather jacket. I couldn’t see your left arm, or what was written on it.

Deptford, 2006

The neighbour looks like Jesus as an old man, or God, same thing really, either way he must have special powers because the aromatic herbs that die on our windowsill blossom modest flowers on his windowsill next door. He takes ours and brings them back to life and multiplies them. We keep saying we should bake him a cake but none of us has. His name is Terri, which in our language is the name of one of two girls, twins from an anime cartoon, who make magic happen, their pinky fingers interlocked.

Our only housemate looks like Jesus on the cross, or Saint Sebastian, same thing really, except that the inscription on his chest spells F-E-A-R and is self-inflicted. On our first night in the flat he and I stay up until the early hours, dissecting each other’s troubled sexual histories while everyone else is in bed. We fall asleep coiled up together in my single bed and I feel perfectly safe. After, we don’t see him very much at all; he is out at dawn to flip a steel pole in circles over his head, in the children’s gated area of the estate. He says it builds bicep definition. At 9 a.m. the mothers barge him out with prams and footballs and toddlers with pig-tails. We cook him meals of pasta that he eats when we don’t see, leaving the mushrooms, the garlic, the tomato skins floating in a Tupperware filled with water. Our fridge is lined with magnets holding up aborted Oyster cards, wrong names, ages and concessions, rows of blurred faces that he collects from his job and takes home. In his room, he plans a gangsta version of Monopoly; weed instead of 10 pound notes, MDMA for 1000s, cocaine for 10.000s, serrated knives, knuckle dusters, shotguns. We find an empty diary with only one entry. 14th of August: ‘The Italians are at the flat, been staying at mum’s.’ We are too loud. We don’t understand.

Everything is full of meaning but a different kind of meaning, literal and just beyond reach: the communal rubbish chute is a playground slide, there is a sofa in the middle of the front yard, the ice-cream van plays the tune of our football team, ice-cream is cream, there are many different kinds of cooking cream, pepperoni is a kind of salami, not vegetable, all the vegetables are wrapped in see-through plastic. I receive an e-mail from someone in Sheffield, ‘All good, just working a lot really, keeping the wolf from the door’ and I imagine thick claws denting the paintwork of the thin wooden door to his flat. I think of the Sheriff of Nottingham in the Disney movie. I think of my grandmother’s armoured door, as many locks and keys as in apocalyptic horror movies, and of the things old people know about wolves and hard work. I date a boy for a few weeks and when we part he makes me a mix CD titled ‘Don’t be a stranger’ and I can’t for the life of me work out exactly what he means but I am upset for days.

Soho, 2008

I am meeting you at six in the Diner on the corner, but I get there at four minutes past and you are sitting on the high stool, swinging your feet to the 50s playlist. I stop for a moment, and I watch you sipping on a cherry milkshake. It is huge and grotesque, pink milk swelling in a long fat glass, frothy cream spilling out the top, a pornographic cherry balancing on it. You don’t like sugar, but you will drink it anyway, because it makes you feel like you’re in a movie, somewhere out in Hollywood.

You always try to look like you’re from somewhere else. It’s cute. On our first date you took me to an Italian restaurant and patted the red-and-white checkered tablecloth, reading the menu out loud like you knew all the correct names for the pasta dishes. We went to Bar Italia and you paid for my espresso though it was £3.10 and murky, and you said ‘D’you know that Pulp song about this place.’ You were making so much effort; it was easy to fall in love with you. When I kissed you your mouth tasted of Peroni and of the Ferrero Rocher that the Albanian bartender of the New Evaristo gave you, like a biscuit to a horse, when you wouldn’t stop trying to talk in Italian. We went back to yours that night, I couldn’t help myself, you lived so close. You had a drawer full of condoms and you were unashamed of it. I laughed as you pulled them out one by one, named each and lay them on the bedside table; a mosaic of banana, chocolate, strawberry, mojito, ribbed, dotted, glow-in-the-dark. The next day you bought me 99p daffodils and a croissant in Tesco. ‘Continental breakfast,’ you said, and, ‘Sorry. I’m late.’ I watched you scuttling down Dean Street into work. You swung your patent leather briefcase sharply back and forth. Your arse looked great in tight blue pinstripe. I thought of those early 00s music videos that start in an office with everyone sitting at their desks looking bored, then someone starts tapping their pencil to a tune and the next thing you know everyone is ripping off their clothes and jumping into a hot tub on the roof with pixelated genitals. Then I thought about you naked and I knew I wanted to see you again.

I got your phone call later that day. ‘Come to Greek Street’ you said, ‘I need to see you,’ but when I got to the place I couldn’t see you at all. ‘U here?’ I texted. ‘Nice kicks,’ you texted back. I looked down and I saw you grinning at me through the window of the tattoo parlour. I stumbled down the metal steps. A long-faced Neapolitan was at work on you. ‘You like?’ you said, ‘I’ve been thinking of you all day.’ You showed me a Mexican sacred heart, blossoming on your inner arm.

There hasn’t been a day I haven’t been thinking of you, since. I walk into the Diner and pull the cherry from your lips.


Livia Franchini is an Italian writer and translator. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The White Review, VLAK, Nuovi Argomenti and Quadernario. She is currently working on her first book as part of a PhD in Creative Writing at Goldsmiths. She can be found on Twitter at @livfranchini

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