Authors: Diego De Silva,Anthony Shugaar
214 West 29th St., Suite 1003
New York NY 10001
This book is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real people, or real locales are used fictitiously.
Copyright Â© 2010 by Diego De Silva
First publication 2014 by Europa Editions
Translation by Anthony Shugaar
Mia suocera beve
Translation copyright Â© 2014 by Europa Editions
All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.
Cover Art by Emanuele Ragnisco
Diego De Silva
MY MOTHER-IN-LAW DRINKS
Translated from the Italian
by Anthony Shugaar
I try to keep my nose out of my own business.
f there's one thing you should absolutely never do when storm clouds are gathering over your relationship, it's ask your girlfriend if there's something wrong.
Because if you thought that with that question (which among other things is an ambiguous question, and like all ambiguous questions it tends to elicit an answer that is, in turn, another question) you were going to get the lay of the land and maybe even start a conversation that might solve a problem that was sitting there quietly bothering no one, a problem that would have taken care of itself if some idiot hadn't come along and riled it up, then it means that you don't even realize that the idiot in question is you.
Would you care to know just how the conversation is going to unfold, and I mean line by line, if you're reckless enough to light that fuse? Then please, read on.
You: Is there something wrong?
Her: What kind of question is that?
You: It's just a question.
Her: It's just a question.
Her: That's not just a question.
You: If you say so.
Her (coming after you, because by this point you're probably already hurrying out of the room): What, are you saying you think there's something wrong with our relationship?
You: I didn't ask if there was something wrong with our relationship.
Her: Then what
you ask? If there's something wrong with me?
You (already starting to get a little hot under the collar; a detail she picked up on right away, because she knows you): There's nothing wrong with you.
Her: Then what the hell
you mean by that question?
By this point, it's guaranteed that the two of you will break up within the next two or three months.
It goes without saying: it's a question I've asked.
or starters, I need to learn to mind my own business and not to open up to strangers. My grandma was 100 percent right, and that's a fact. You can't fool grandmas, they're not like so many of the moms you run into nowadays, who don't even realize that the children living under their own roofs are torturing their schoolmates until they see it on YouTube. If my grandma is looking down on me now, I'll bet she's delighted. She's probably invited a couple of her girlfriends over (I could even tell you which ones) and she's just sitting there, watching it all on a celestial TiVo, savoring how right she was, and on her own viewing schedule (which after all is the only truly satisfying way to enjoy being right).
I mean, after all, I'm not an especially outgoing person, so I shouldn't have any trouble keeping my thoughts a little more to myself. If it were entirely up to me, if the sidewalk stanchions of everyday wisdom weren't always tripping me up, I'd gladly abstain from doing lots of things, such as passing the time of day with other people.
It's not that I'm stuck up. It's really just that, if you think about it, idle chitchat is demanding. You have to get yourself into the frame of mind to simplify to an extreme extent, treat things dismissively that actually matter to you, look your conversational partner in the eye now and then (some people are simply incapable of doing this and offer only a three-quarter view of their faces the whole time you're talking to them).
It's the same kind of awkwardness you experience, only to a slightly lesser extent, when you ride the elevator with a fellow tenant and you feel duty bound to say
even though you have less than zero interest in talking at all, much less with that particular fellow tenant (who, now that you come to think of it, is one of those tenants who never even say hello), so you always wind up coming up with stupid topics such as it's about time the weather made up its mind to really get chilly, no more of this namby-pamby weather where if you dress light you catch a cold but if you add an extra layer of T-shirt you break into a sweat.
To say nothing of those times when you have to stand there and listen to opinions that leave you openmouthed, like this one I heard a while ago from a character whose name I can't even remember (it's incredible the way certain people will confide in you first thing) who opined that squeegee men at traffic lights would rather kill time all day long than work a real job: Just try to get them to show up at five
tomorrow morning, this guy said to me, at this or that building site and break their back the way that Italian construction workers break theirsâtry it, and see what they say.
“Legal pay, minimum wage, tax withholding, and full benefits?” I asked.
This was followed by a painful silence.
“.Â .Â . Sure, withholding, and benefits,” he said vaguely, his voice trailing off.
Now, I don't want people to take me for a sociopath, but when you come away from a conversation like this one, even if you didn't totally cave in to the asshole du jour, you feel like a bit of an asshole yourself. As if you'd just sold the guitar you owned when you were a kid, if you know what I'm saying. Because that's how idle chitchat works. Conversation, when it's, shall we say, free and easy, unassuming, without pretenses and, especially, without an audience (which is exactly the kind of conversation in which people tend to say what they really think) impoverishes our language and, to an even greater extent, our thoughts. When you have an audience listening to everything you say, you have to take responsibility for your statements. You can't just cheerfully opine that squeegee men don't like to work. In a public forum, the common sense of aesthetics, by which I mean that all-powerful social inhibitor generally filed under the vague but unmistakable heading of “Just Doesn't Seem Right,” prevails.
The funny thing about Just Doesn't Seem Right is that it maÂnifests itself without warning in the form of misgivings, so that something (an act, a statement, a question), even if it's not wrong just yet but there's a faint chance that it might turn out to be, automatically makes you refrain from it.
It's an extremely vigorous aesthetic canon, this Just Doesn't Seem Right. Nobody knows exactly what it consists of, but damn if it's not effective. Let's take making out, for instance. You're energetically rubbing up against your girlfriend; at a certain point you really feel like grabbing one of her ass cheeks and giving it a squeeze, or even both of them, which I guess is a little truck-driver-ish but
; and she might not mind it a bit either (right then and there she could probably go for a good hard spanking), but you hold back because it Just Doesn't Seem Right. And so you go home doubly dissatisfied, first because making out can have painful aftereffects (and at your age you ought to know it), and second because you denied yourself the pleasure of a moment of butt-grabbing, which now that you think about it wouldn't have been at all a bad thing.
So that's the way Just Doesn't Seem Right works. It's a kind of invisible censor, and it does its best to save you from embarrassments that wouldn't have been such a big deal after all.
To simplify, Just Doesn't Seem Right, also known as the common sense of aesthetics, could be defined as the fear of doing or saying something you might later regret. If you want to stand up to its dictatorial influence, you need to have style and know it. In other words, you have to have tremendous self-confidence.
I've just explained the reason why I'm unable to stand up to the tyranny of Just Doesn't Seem Right.
A little less than half an hour ago, when the civil engineer who got me into this fine mess first intercepted me among the shelves filled with canned tomatoes and ready-to-eat pasta sauces as I hunted for a jar of Buitoni Fior di Pesto, saying, “Pardon me, but aren't you the lawyer MaÂlinconico?” I ought to have simply asked how he happened to know me, let him explain that a few years ago I had brilliantly argued the case of an old friend of his who'd been crippled in a workplace accident, and then made my excuses, whatever popped into my head, like maybe that my car was double-parked. But the thing is, it's such a rare experience to encounter someone who says he's happy with my professional services that when it does happen, I luxuriate in it. FrustraÂtion makes us vain.
As soon as I heard the name of my former client I mentally glimpsed the cover of the case folder, and after that, remembered every detail of the case.
“Comunale, Vittorio, of course, of course,” I confirmed, nodding my head yes over and over, like the little rag dogs people stick to the rear windows of their cars.
Italian lawyers remember their clients by their surnames first. It's a way to make them anonymous, to focus on the problem facing them. Vittorio Comunale is a person. Comunale, Vittorio, is the title of a story.
“You heard, right?” said the gentleman I didn't yet know. A distinguished individual, maybe fifty, with nice manners, extremely skinny, in fact undernourished, a face so steeped in suffering that it made me cringe to look at it, as if there were some chance of him infecting me with his torment.
“Yes, I did, but too late. I'd happily have attended his funeral, that is if going to a funeral is something you can do happily.”
He smiled. In the background the radio was playing “Montagne verdi.”
“Vittorio told me you were a nice guy, Counselor.”
“So was he. He was one of those people who seem incapable of becoming embittered, I don't know if that makes any sense to you. Even in the state he was in, I never saw even a shadow of indignation on his face.”
I was genuinely taken by the topic, but my eyes kept trailing after “Montagne verdi” (once you recognize a tune, you tend to follow it through the air as if it were an insect). The lady who cleans house for me always sings it, that's why. And she's not the only one. My friends and I conducted a little survey among ourselves and we came to the irrefutable conclusion that housekeepers in their fifties sing “Montagne verdi” while they work, and not some of them,
of them. As if they came with some sort of preinstalled software that auÂtomatically starts them singing that song the minute they pick up a bucket and a broom. As if the sentimental evocation of peasant society contained in those verses, that Heidism for grown-ups, in contrast to the reÂpetitively cloistered nature of modern housework, somehow made the mopping of floors pleasingly nostalgic.
There are other songs (all of them strictly seventies or, at the very latest, early eighties standards) that seem to be real crowd-pleasers on the housecleaning circuit: for instance, “Che sarÃ ,”
the Ricchi e Poveri version (identifiable by the imitation of Angela Brambati's trademark yelpâyou remember her, the brunette), “Se mi lasci non vale”
by Julio Iglesias, and “Maledetta primavera”
by Loretta Goggi; but none of these songs has ever come close to challenging the supremacy of “Montagne verdi”
(the secret of its lasting popularity, in my opinion, lies in the “black-nosed bunny,” an image that's practically impossible to get out of your head).