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Assumption is increasingly far away.


part 10 of Common People

Beloved is talking with her grandmother for some time when she realises, 'You have no idea who I am.'

Assumption-of-the-Virgin-Mary is skilled at pretence. Years of not knowing the language, fitting in just the same, making do with what generalities she had: 'Darlink, so good to see you. Aie, don't worry, eh? It all come good in the end. You take care of yourself, lovely one.' Hugs and kisses, careful, attentive listening. The skill comes in handy now, with the faces around her more kind strangers.

Assumption's politeness twigs Beloved to the wrongness. Assumption looks at Beloved, smiles and pats the shorn-haired girl on the leg; such a shame when she'd be so lovely and feminine with long hair. 'Is all right, you a lovely one anyway.'

Assumption is afraid. She knows something's wrong with her head, doesn't know why. 'Shiccizestacoccia,' she says, crying. May this head be killed. 'Checoccia, checoccia...!' laughing, when the fear is not so strong. What a head, what a head!

Explanations of the illness "Demenzia", like demons in the skull, are nonsense. The illness aside, she has no context for the explanation. She is polite to these strangers around her, radiates love, affection, hoping they will not hurt her. The same as when she came to this place the first time, her anger and the fear unexpected. Be polite, be modest, be loveable, and the strangers won't hurt her.


Assumption hunts for her lost lover. She's eighty eight, and he's these forty years dead; checoccia, but he's nineteen, and she's sixteen, she's sure. His father doesn't think they should get together, but he has a will of his own. He rides his motorbike down the long mountain roads, roughing the cobbles between the houses. He takes up his mandolin and sits below her window, never looking high. He croons, as if to himself. She curls on the floor below her opened window, never looking low, while her sisters giggle to see her listening.

He's not much for the eyes. Nowhere near as beautiful as the soldiers who came through those years ago, who warned them the Americans were coming; they had to gather the cows and get them out of the open, into the pens, where the soldato from either side wouldn't hurt them. They helped, too, told the family how to behave so politely when the gestapo came, and no one was hauled away except one fat cow for the butchering. Such lovely blondes, and blue eyes to die for; Assumption has seen nothing but dark curls and blackness to drown in. Except his smile, with the gap in the front between his teeth, is a lot cheekier than any soldato, and who needs beauty with a smile like that, and a mandolin, and the voice he gives her.

'The most beautiful woman from behind is one that looks like a mandolin.' His long fingers, on the strings, his voice drawing the shape of curves in her imagination, the waggling of a behind as a woman in heels walks.

Her sisters are laughing, cruel and cutting; no heels or waggling of behinds while working a farm, both heels and waggling reserved for prostitutes. Assumption curls one hand over the windowsill, but doesn't stand. 'Get away! My backside is nothing like a mandolin!'

'The most humble and best of women is one who never assumes she's the beautiful one.' His laughter, rising on the chords.

'That doesn't sound very nice of him to say, does it? Oh, come on back inside.'

Because every time Assumption hears a motorbike, even a loud car, she's out the front door, by the letterbox, waiting for him who never comes. Assumption startles at the sound of English words, and at the girl who's speaking them by the blue-painted door, leading her back into the house of a stranger. The girl must be her sister, Assumption decides, because the girl is holding her hand, and only a sister or a lover would be so affectionate, and as much as Assumption has loved women, she has never been one's lover. The girl has long hair, and a happy, plastered smile.

Assumption wonders when any of her sisters grew so beautiful as this. She never had sisters so manicured, hair so straight and almost blonde, like the blond soldier blood crept in somewhere, with teeth so white and perfect.


Who are you?

'You'll have to ask in English, I can't understand you.'

But the fear swells, high and hard, overwhelming. Assumption clutches the hand tightly, pastes on a desperately appeasing smile. 'You're a lovely one, you know that? You so beautiful.'

'Thank you! You're a beautiful grandmother, too. Such a lovely smile. How about we go back inside the house?'

'Ok, whatever you want, my lovely.'

Inside the stranger's house, an old woman is talking to a young girl, who would be lovely if not for her shorn hair. Assumption feels better at the sight of the old woman, who must be Assumption's sister, all wild black curls, fat, agespots in the olive skin, except then a new terror rises: how old must Assumption be, if her sister is this old?

'How old are you, sweetie,' Assumption asks the woman, kindly. 'Are you older than me?'

'Ma, for gossakes, you're my mother, how can I be older than you? You—'

The old woman's trying to trick her: Assumption is sixteen, and she's waiting for her lover to come, and these people keep trying to trick her. The beautiful lady holding her hand is made up like a prostitute, in heels and makeup, with painted nails, but she smiles so beautifully Assumption forgives her. Assumption says nothing to this silly old woman who likes to trick her, or to the crazy girl who cut off all her hair, and talks to the prostitute instead, because Assumption likes beautiful women, and it is easy to feel superior to a prostitute.

'I've seen his cock,' Assumption admits. 'It's very long. I think I love him.'

'Come on!' the prostitute exclaims. 'How could you have seen his penis?'

'Oh, he showed me.'

'That's terrible! Do you think you should be in love with the kind of man who shows you his cock? That's not good behaviour at all!'

'But it was such a beautiful cock.'

The sound of a motorbike: he's coming for her again. The house is so strange, not like she remembers, as though the rooms are moving. Assumption has to escape these people who are trying to keep them apart, or he'll pass by without seeing that she's here, waiting for him. But the door opens to a foreign land, all dust and heat shimmer rising from strange, smooth roads, no cobbles here, no white houses on green hills, no mountains.

He's not there, not even smoke from the bike hanging in this scorching air.

Assumption wants him home. She's twenty one, and he's gone to war and left her with this squalling ugly thing who cries a bitter sea. She doesn't know what to do with babies. Eight sisters she grew up with, but she was the strong one, never delicate, never complaining. She was in the fields with her brothers, shoving at cows and heaving at hemp. The hemp was the best to harvest, they'd tell such jokes as they worked, she and her brothers, and laugh all day. She doesn't understand why he's gone away to the war: he was never a soldato, he was hers. The squalling thing grows into a toddling, chattering little girl, all black curls and his delicate nose, asking for her papa, who is gone and never coming back.

Except Assumption remembers him coming back from the war, speaking a strange language.

'I was in a prison camp in England, which is like the land God remembers, not the way it is here. In England, even the poorest has everything, the running water in the taps, the heating! And the jobs. Many many jobs, for everyone who is strong and can work. I'm not letting my mariuccia freeze in this country, let her starve, when we can go and feast in another land—'

He loves that plump darkhaired girl more that he loves her. Assumption rages. These memories are terrible memories. He hit her once, when she refused to leave her sisters for the sake of that fat child he loved so much, so she hit him back, smacked him with the chair, threw the coffee into his eyes and told him if he ever raised his hand again she would break it from his bones. Little mariu was so quiet after that it was like she never spoke again, not through the eight terrible days on the ship, coming to this strange country which wasn't even the place God remembered, England.

Such a nice, polite girl, the strangers said of the fat child, and Assumption patted the little girl's curly head to force down the cries into her feet.

Couldn't happen. He would never hit her and she would never hit him back, because she loves him and his wonderfully long cock, and his father doesn't want him to be with her; so he sings to the sky on his mandolin below her window, and they never look at each other when they go to church. The end of the war never happened; another trick memory, like this fat old woman trying to tell Assumption they're mother and daughter.

No sisters here, in this strange land they've taken her, with scorched umber skies and sand so dry not even thistles grow. Assumption remembers deep dark loam and long green slopes, the mountains, such mountains; but here the roads are straight and flat, so impossibly straight they could go on forever. She misses her wrinkled country, like an old man's balls, her sisters used to joke, where it looked like the end might be close, but there were still miles and miles to go before he came.

January 2011

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