Thursday, January 27, 2011

Yet Another One - #FridayFlash

Picture credits

Hello everyone, I've missed you all!

It's been a long hiatus. I'm not sure I'm totally back, but I have something that might interest you. (finally! ;P)

I've written a short story that is very short but doesn't fit the flash fiction category. I wrote it in Italian as an exercise for a creative writing course I'm taking. We had no word count, so I couldn't edit it to fit the 1.000 word limit,or I would disnature it. 

I have translated it to English because I wanted to know your opinion, and since the #FridayFlash community is known to be flexible I thought I could make a (big, I know) exeption to the rules. Consider it a coming back gift? Please, pretty, please? :)

Please notice that the expressions in italic are originally written in English.


Giancarlo arrived at the door. He raised his hand to ring the bell and let it fall to the side. He turned his back and watched the garden, the Christmas lights, the immutable neighbourhood of his childhood. The air felt gelid as if it had snowed the night before, but it was all grey and hard instead of white and soft. Deciding to confront the door, he knocked, letting out an inconscient sigh. He heard the noise of people and the movement of who approach in a hurry.

“Always late, Gianluca,” his mother uttered. “Everyone has been waiting for you for a while now. Where’s the girlfriend?”

“No one is coming this year, mom,” he said while bending to kiss her in the cheeks.

“But why?” her back asked him. Their shoes echoed in the long corridor

“She is with her family, and I am here,” he replied, lowering the head and the voice.

Brother!” !” His brother from America left the couch to meet him, smiling broadly and hugging him before saying, “This is my girlfriend, Charlenne. I added an “en” to her name to make it sound more Italian.” A short girl, not older than twenty two years, blonde with long hair and full breasts, appeared at his side.

He gave his hand and a timid smile to her. He turned to the uncle who waited with his bear-hug, the adherent cousins, and finally the grandma, who sat beside the Christmas tree. Giancarlo was still freeing himself from the others when she saw him and raised her hand half-way to the heart, letting it fall with a relieved breath. She signalled conspiratorizlly for him to approach, and while he kissed the old lady of withered body and radiant eyes she whispered in his ear, taking his large hands between her delicate fingers, “You did well sparing the sweetheart, grandson of mine.”

With the first genuine smile of the day he answered, “Each year I lose one.”

“Make go through the proof of fire only the one you believe will be able to bear with us,” she said with a wink.

By means of  reply he smiled again, knowing that there was no need of words with grandma. He wanted to sit by her side and enjoy her company, drink of her wisdom, but all of a sudden the mother came by and took him by the arm, directing him to the table. “It’s late Giancarlo. Come and eat. The turkey got cold while we waited for you.” The mother turned back to the grandmother, offering her a hand, “Come, mother.”

“You know well enough that I don’t need help. I’ll be there in a moment.”

No one caught the darkening on mother's brown eyes. She briskly turned her back to them, and while she herded the others to the table Giancarlo slid back to the grandmother. When they arrived everyone was standing, except for the brother and his girlfriend.

“This is an Italian house,” said the mother, “and I am the one to say where each person should sit. In America you do as you please, but in my house you will do as I say.”

The brother crossed his arms over his muscular chest, chin facing forward, ignoring the exasperated girlfriend who knew to be in the centre of the conflict. Charlene gazed at the  brother. Not finding help there, she looked up at the others, also unsuccessfully.

“Where do you want Charlene to sit?” asked Giancarlo, drawing everyone’s eyes to him.

“The places at the table should be set as your father liked,” she replied. “At the head of the table sits grandma. You, the older son, should sit at her right side, and your brother at her left. Since your father isn’t with us anymore, I should sit by your side and uncle in front of me. Your older cousin should sit by my side, and the other by the side of her father.”

“But we’re twins, aunt,” interrupted the cousins with their hight pitched voices.

"Fine, you can choose either place.”

“And where should Charlenne sit?” asked the brother, rising his nose.

“Well, not at the head of the table! Neither where she’s sat; that’s you uncle’s place. You should educate better your dolls.”

"Mamma!” The brother rose from his chair, hitting the table with both hands.

“Could we open the table to make room?” intervened Giancarlo before other harsh words were said.

The wide eyed mother turned to Giancarlo, “How in heavens have I forgotten about that?”

Giancarlo and the uncle opened the table and the grandmother gently guided the girlfriend to her place, speaking an incomprehensible English to which she nodded and smiled. Her relief didn’t last much, though. When she realized she was isolated from everyone who she could communicate with, she turned to the brother, who pretended not to see her. She leaned back in the chair, calmly lowered her hands and stared blank eyed at the wall.

With all sat at their places, the Christmas celebrations started. They ate the first dishes in silence. While the turkey and the second dishes were brought, the cacophony of private conversations filled the table. Charlene tried to call her boyfriend’s attention, who glared at his food, sulking. Giancarlo took advantage of the rare private moment to talk with the grandmother, the cousins chatted between themselves, frequently glancing sideways at him, who felt comforted by the barrier his mother created between them. The uncle seemed to be waiting for something, and the mother peered at him with keen eyes.

The hunter took for himself the honour of carving the turkey as he has been doing since his brother-in-law’s death. He worked merrily, ignoring his sister’s cutting eyes and the embarrassment they both caused. When almost everyone was served, the mother’s countenance started to relax. Everything seemed at its place and the doll remained curbed. As if guessing her thoughts, the uncle initiated his annual speech right after serving himself.

All faces became funereal. The mother waved wildly, trying to interrupt the uncle who barked how the niggers had destroyed the country, how the extra-communitarians should be kicked out like Mussolini did with the Jews and pederasts. Giancarlo let his head fall forward, which he supported with his hands at the last moment; the grandmother looked like a corpse; the cousins, being quite used to his speeches, communicated between themselves with signs and whispers; the brother couldn’t care less, but his girlfriend wasn’t this indulgent.

She had Hebrew origin and had lost her grandparents to the Holocaust. To the mention of the “great dictator” she rose from her place and staring at the uncle’s bulged eyes she said knowing that he wouldn’t understand her words, “You…” She pressed her anger-paled lips together. “You should be ashamed of yourself.” She left without further word, hoping that her boyfriend would follow. The brother, however, shrugged, compelling Giancarlo to take action. The grandmother nodded in ascension, offering her face to a goodbye kiss.

Giancarlo rose from his place, brushed his lips against grandma’s cheek and followed Charlene, who was walking in the wrong direction with overflowing eyes. He honked to call her attention and offered her a ride. She stopped, feeling anesthetized. She couldn't understand why she always got involved with the wrong man. Why couldn't she get close to men like Giancarlo? She accepted the ride to the hotel and asked him to take her to the airport right after. She wanted to go home.

Arriving at the hotel, she invited him up. Unconvinced of her own offer, she didn’t feel offended by his gentle rejection. He wanted to get to his girlfriend’s as soon as possible. Maybe he would be able to surprise her and arrive before dessert.


  1. Welcome back to the community, even if it's a brief visit.

    1,300 words is hardly the worst violation of the policy I've seen this month. Heck, someone will probably go further than that this week. I appreciate you giving us the heads up in advance, Mari.

    A lot of this reads like rough translation. A few things you can catch and correct (or put in italics if they are turns of Italian phrase)

    Para4: "her back asked him"

    Para5: "lowering the head and the voice"

    Other things, like the overly proper "Unconvinced of her own offer, she didn’t feel offended by his gentle rejection" in the final paragraph read as robotic, though technically correct. I just assume this works stylistically in the Italian. There's the feeling that a heartwarming political meal story lies under this. I enjoyed parsing through what might be colloquialisms and trying to read international ideas into it.

  2. I know what you mean about translating and not being able to shorten it. I have trouble with that as well sometimes, though I write in English, I sometimes want to translate my flashes to Hungarian and by the time I'm finished I don't like the translated version...

    I really liked the story itself, so other than it sounding stylistically great in Italian and not that well in English, it's a great piece of fiction!

  3. --John: Thanks for the welcome and feedback, I really appreciate it! You got it right about the rough translation. I have a really hard time translating fiction, even my own. Besides, the original piece in Italian is also roughly written (maybe even more), so I think it adds difficulty to the task.

    --Estrella: Thank you, darling! However, even not liking that much the translation, I felt better about it than the original. Hmmm.

    My writing is rusty, akkk! At least the troll stories are bubbling again in the back of my head. Maybe they'll jump out one of these days? :)

  4. Welcome back, Mari-girl!

    You know, I did like this story. Yes, the translation does make it sound "formal" in places. But the story is a good one and just needs a bit of tweaking to polish it up.

    I laughed because I have been at dinners similar to this one and do know the feeling of outrage when someone is spouting nasty ideas!

  5. Wow, that must have been an awkward meal. The brother could have at least defended his girlfriend though!

  6. I love the family scene. It's very Italian, you captured this particular atmosphere very well.
    Writing in another language is fun, the best way to improve your language skills. When I write in English and translate it into Dutch, my native language, the first version always looks weird. It feels as if I have to rewrite it, not just edit it. Interesting process, isn't it.

  7. Hey there and welcome back! This holiday dinner scene isn't just Italian, it's universal with only slight variations. I'm glad the two of them escaped!

    I applaud you for writing in two languages. I certainly couldn't do it. :)

  8. I loved the characterization in this. I was taken with Giancarlo and would have followed his story further. And the grandmother was fabulous. I liked the sentiment in the section where Charelenne invited him up to the room and knew it was only a half hearted offer. There were plenty of teasers of tensions that lay underneath, other storylines that might be followed in a longer piece. Great piece.

  9. What a difficult bunch. You really captured the awkwardness of such a family gathering. That came through the translation loud and clear.

    Welcome back. :)

  10. --Marisa: Thanks Mari-girl! Great seeing you here. :)

    That's a good input, you know? When I started writing in English everything sounded formal because of my previous profession. Since I've been off for several months, I may have retreated to my early writing, uh.

    I think I'll have to practice with some trolls, heh.

    --Icy: He is a jerk, that he is. ;)

    --Anneke: Welcome to Randomities! It's great to contact people whose first language isn't English, like you and Estrella. We could help each other a lot, I think. Maybe we should create a club or something? :)

    That's an interesting approach you've got there. I found the process mostly frustrating, heh. It's good to see things from the bright side though. I might come back to this piece later with a fresh mind. Thanks for the insightful comment!

    --Grace: Thanks, dear! I'm sure you could, if you put your mind into it. ;P

    --Alison and Laurita: Thanks! It's good to know that behind the formal problems the story works. *relieved sigh* :)

  11. Welcome back. I liked the "peek through the curtains" at the Italian culture, the traditions and etiquette.
    Adam B @revhappiness

  12. Interesting piece of fiction. Though some parts translated a little odd, I enjoyed the characters and the story. Welcome back!

  13. --Adam and Cathy (ganymeder): Thank you for the welcoming! I'm glad that the awkwardnesses of the translation didn't prevent you from enjoying the story. :)

  14. Personally, I can't imagine what an onerous task it would be to translate a story and get the colloquialisms right! Loved the conflict of the family meal and clashing of personalities.

  15. I'm with Gracie, this is totally universal. It played out like a scene in a movie, full of humor and conflict and life and love.

  16. --Laura: Onerous indeed. I'm thinking on never trying it again!

    --Lou: Thanks! :D

  17. I enjoyed this. Quite a look into this family.

  18. Welcome back! I've been on haitus, too, as you saw.

    I won't comment on the language since others have. My mom is Belgian, and although she writes well in both Dutch and English, translations are always rough. Your story has great tension, and I felt badly for the girlfriend. Giancarlo was smart to leave his young woman at home. I'm also glad you had the wise grandmother there for a sympathetic character.

    Maybe next year I'll ask my husband to leave me at home when he visits his family for the holidays... ;)


  19. --Eric: Thanks!

    --Cecilia: With all that tension we needed a gentler character, or it'd be a terrible reading! Although, she did have a moment with the mother, didn't she? ;)

    Glad you liked the story, and good luck with skipping the holidays!

  20. Welcome back, darling. Can't wait to hear more about this class you're taking. (and I think the 1000-word rule is meant to be broken!)

  21. --Susan: Thanks! All rules are meant to be broken, right? ;)


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