Kyle stood in a trance. His eyes were glued to stale white walls as he enjoyed the seductive dancing of peppery smoke. In the background a harmony of steel against porcelain served as the orchestra. The sound did not pierce his ears rather he looked forward to this every single day.
‘Hey where is my order?!? The big guy is table fifteen is hungry!’ A man in a black blazer and red bowtie slammed his hand against the steel counter-top. His nametag read ‘Rodrigo.’
Kyle turned around. He was surrounded on all sides by a large stainless refrigerator, stoves and sweaty men with knives. He held his own knife tightly. It seemed part of his arm rather than a utensil. He walked towards the counter-top and stared at Rodrigo or to his mind ‘Ricky Riccardo.’ Kyle was close enough to enough to slice the man’s moustache off his loud orange tan. Instead he took the pepper shaker and returned to his station.
Kyle flipped the meat and seasoned it. The sound of searing flesh blocked out Rodrigo’s idle threats. Through the smoky haze the minute hand rose and six P.M struck. He sliced open a piece of bread and quickly stuffed it with the tender slices of seasoned pork. He rang the bell and waved Rodrigo away.
Kyle tapped his reliever’s shoulder and removed his apron. He wore his loose brown leather jacket and headed out the service door. Kyle had asked the head chef if he could go home early today.
Rodrigo the service manager reluctantly agreed despite a busy night. It had to be… it was Valentines Day after all. More importantly it was Kyle’s tenth wedding anniversary.
The number three bus to Crocetta was due to arrive in ten minutes. This was enough time for Kyle to grab a quick bouquet from the florist across the street. Kyle reached the bus stop. He noticed that the line at the florist reached out around the corner. He thought that maybe wasn’t a good idea to have gotten married on valentines.
He looked up at the schedule board and the number three was delayed for fifteen minutes. Luckily the twenty-three was arriving.
Kyle hopped on the bus. Rows of run-down seats decorated with graffiti hearts, gang symbols and local slang lined the sides. In the middle isle a group of young boys with piercings and electric blue hair balanced themselves as they recited poems for their sweethearts… always ending with ‘Ti Amo.’
The bus passed by the Fontana and drove on Via D’Azeglio. This street was packed with bars and always bustled with young couples making out by the steps and sidewalks. Kyle remembered when he first met Martha. He kissed her under a full moon on these steps. They were madly in love like these youngsters…youngsters…when did he feel so old?
Kyle pulled his jacket sleeve back and checked his watch. Six zero-seven P.M., in eight minutes he should be home. He still felt restless. Kyle was cooking Martha her favorite dish, smoked salmon in caper sauce. He learned to cook when he arrived in Parma twelve years ago. He started out in the same restaurant with Rodrigo. They used to be best friends until Martha came along.
Martha was a sales representative for a pasta company and used to go out with Rodrigo. One eventful night Rodrigo asked Kyle to take Martha around as he was running late. A few drinks and the moonlit steps changed everything. All it took was one moment, a kiss and the anger of a heartbroken Rodrigo as he watched Kyle kiss Martha.
Martha was the kind of girl that every man dreamed of. She had pinkish skin, sultry dark eyes and long brown hair with loose curls that flowed like the ocean. Martha’s hair was Kyle’s favorite. He loved running his fingers through her curls as he kissed her.
It had been twelve years since then, twelve years since Rodrigo punched him on those steps. Even if Kyle had to deal with Rodrigo for the next twelve years he would have still kissed Martha on those steps.
The bus passed by the kebap place. Kyle knew the guys at the kebap place. Friendly guys from India, they once told him that they were from Punjab. He didn’t know where it was but he promised them that he would go with them sometime. The guys from the kebap never left. ‘How can we leave our shop?’ they always said.
It looked like the guys at the kebab were selling flowers. Kyle pondered if he should get off the bus and grab the flowers? Hopefully the number three would come in by five or seven minutes. Maybe he should continue on home and cook. Kyle only had thirty seconds to decide.
Kyle walked to the exit and made sure that he had all of his possessions. The stop approached and there was no one on the street. This was good for Kyle since he didn’t have to fight through fifteen year olds to get his flowers.
Kyle thought of what flowers he should get. Sunflowers were Martha’s favorite. She fell in love with them when they went to France. They were lined up in a beautiful array on a vast field. A person could get lost in the field, you couldn’t tell where it started and where it ended. The whole atmosphere was overwhelming and they spent a whole afternoon picnicking on the field.
The stop arrived. Kyle held on the pole. His legs were ready. He imagined to slingshot his body and land smoothly on the hard concrete.
The bus went through the stop. Kyle was still holding on the pole with his knees bent. He watched as the bus stop disappeared down the road. Kyle stared at the driver and exchanged a few words in Italian that included the words ‘Cazzo’ and ‘Bucchino.’ Such words are not meant to be spoken unless you were ready for a stern slapping session by an Italian widow.
Kyle could have gone straight home and prepared the special anniversary dinner. This really would have been the better choice, but he had made up his mind to get the flowers.
Kyle rang the bell and the words ‘Fermata Prenotata’ lit up in a blinking fashion. He felt as if the light taunted him ‘nyeh nyeh nyeh.’
Kyle jumped off the stop at Piazza Santa Croce just at the edge of Via D’Azeglio. He ran to the kebap place which he reached in three minutes and some seconds. His nicotine filled lungs forced him to pant for a moment before heading in.
‘Ciao! Come stai?’ Simran happily greeted. His copper toned skin failed to hide the fine lines on his forehead. Simran’s hair was cropped short and the unevenly placed white cap hid his otherworldly egg-shaped head.
Kyle shamefully worn out replied ‘multo bene.’ Still gasping he pointed at the flowers. All they had were roses… typical.
Martha despised anything typical. She hated to follow the crowd. Gifting her roses for their tenth anniversary was very typical. Nonetheless Kyle purchased a bouquet and walked to the bus stop.
Kyle studied the digital screen and noted the time. Six-fifteen P.M., he still had enough time. An announcement flickered. The number twenty-three would be arriving in ten minutes and the number three in fifteen minutes. This was not good at all. At this rate he would be home just a few minutes before Martha.
Kyle waited. He was too tired to run all the way home and he knew that there was a chance that Martha may come home late. She had been coming home late recently. Martha just got promoted as key account manager and was training this new stagista in her company.
Vincenzo was the stagista from Sicily. He was no more than five-foot-five. Had dark hair that was slicked back with what Kyle could only imagine was olive oil.
Ten more minutes for the number three. Kyle decided to take the number three. With a five minute gap it gave him time to enjoy a nice cigarette.
Benson and Hedges Azzurri Cento, this was his choice in this part of the world. It was cheaper than the rest and packed with more tobacco to destroy his lungs. The way Kyle was smoking these cigarettes he should be working for the tobacco companies.
The bus arrived. Kyle stubbed his cigarette only to catch the flowers in mid-way. ‘Wonderful!’ He screamed. Two elderly women stared at him as they stepped down from the bus. Kyle ignored their glances and found his way to an empty seat at the front.
Kyle loved the number three. No one rode this line except children, old women and nuns. He knew there were churches around Italy and cathedrals of course. However Kyle has never seen a nun inside them. Not that he goes to church at all. It just made him wonder where they came from. Maybe there was a nun factory on the outskirts of the city. In goes all the old women and out came the nuns. That’s probably why he hasn’t seen a retirement home either.
His attention was then diverted to a small group of young Turkish women. He knew they were Turkish because of their accent. He had spent enough time in Europe and travelled around with Martha to experience random eccentricities of people. From the thousand and one kinds of cheeses in France to the all potato and sausage diet of the Germans. One of the women stared at Kyle and smiled. Kyle blushed. The last woman who had smiled at him was Martha. He smiled back and then looked out the window.
Normally Kyle would spend the fifteen minutes travelling home with all the different distractions that only public transportations could produce. Tonight he was just thinking of Martha. Her salmon and burned roses. Not only was he giving Martha typical flowers. He was giving her burned flowers. He didn’t know if he should at all give the bouquet to her. It would have been a waste of time. Kyle looked at the bouquet and rubbed the dark hardened petal. He convinced himself that slightly burned roses were not typical after all.
The bus stopped in front of the Gazzetta. An Old Italian couple ran it from six A.M. to six P.M. When they were really lazy they close it at mid-day. Kyle headed to his building and ran up the winding flight of stairs.
Kyle finally reached apartment number four-zero-three. He pushed the door open and flipped the light switch on. He walked on old wooden tiles past the old armoire filled with heirlooms from Martha’s grandmother. Next to the armoire was an group of old family pictures that adorned mint green walls.
Kyle removed his jacket and set the flowers down on the dinner table in the kitchen. He noticed an open wine bottle. Martha must have placed it there before she left this morning. Normally wine was aired for the flavor to truly come out. Now Kyle was not an expert on wine and he didn’t expect to lecture anyone on it. He was puzzled about leaving a bottle of red wine to air for twelve hours, especially since they were having fish for dinner.
Kyle pushed this little thought behind and turned on the stove. He placed a skillet on the open flame and poured some olive oil that he took from the shelf above him. Kyle looked at his watch. In any moment Martha should be walking through the door. He still wanted to surprise her, but he wasn’t sure about the rose bouquet that he bought. Kyle picked up the bouquet and reexamined the rose petals. He thought about spreading the petals on the bed. Martha would not think about a rose bouquet and the bed adorned petals would set the romantic mood.
Kyle walked out the kitchen to his room. The door was slightly ajar and there was a faint light from the crack. ‘When did Martha come home?’ Kyle mumbled. He pushed and door open. ‘Martha!’ Kyle screamed. Martha and Vincenzo were seated at the edge of the bed with sweat glistened faces. Kyle’s head started to throb.
Since Kyle only had enough salmon for Martha and himself. He offered Vincenzo a pizza. Kyle always kept pizza dough in the fridge for emergencies like this. ‘Vincenzo.’ Kyle asked. His hand gripped tightly on the rose bouquet. ‘Are you joining us for dinner?’ No response. It seemed they came straight from work.
The secret of a good pizza was to knead the dough hard to make it thin and soft. After which the rich tomato sauce was added. The redness of the sauce always calmed Kyle down.
Kyle started thinking of little children eating some gooey mozzarella pizza in the restaurant. He and Martha talked about children. She did not want to have children. If she did she would have married her fifth cousin on the outskirts of Calabria. She instead decided to marry Kyle despite threats from her family. They moved soon after to the big city of Parma. Not much of a big city really. Aside from the solitary McDonalds and the famous strip club everything else was quite desolate.
‘Ky…Kyle?!?’ Martha shrieked. She was covered by Vincenzo’s arms groping her naked body.
The throbbing moved from the right side of Kyle’s brain and spread all over his head. His vision grew dim.
Kyle threw the flowers at Vincenzo. The young Sicilian swiped at the bouquet with his forearms. Kyle took a step forward and leapt through the air. He swung his fists at Vincenzo.
‘Signore Kyle!’ The first punch.
‘Please!’ and another.
‘I beg of your mercy.’ Kyle kept on throwing punch after punch until it was all quiet except for his uneven breathing.
Vincenzo laid on the bed. His face was broken in and he bled out of every hole.
Martha cried and pulled on Kyle’s arms. Kyle spat at the crushed face of her Sicilian lover.
The screaming stabbed at Kyle’s ears and his head throbbed harder. The pain was unbearable. He sat for a minute and massaged his temples before getting off the bed.
He turned around and picked up the bouquet of flowers. Kyle crushed the buds in his palms and spread the petals on the bed.
Martha fell on her knees and wept. Kyle knelt beside her and said ‘Happy Anniversary honey.’ He kissed her on the lips and continued. ‘I am glad you got off work early today. I am sure Vincenzo misses you. Don’t worry you can join him when we are done with dinner.’
Martha’s eyes opened wide. She crawled backwards, twisted her waist and ran out the room.
Kyle followed her and slid along the parquet flooring as turned the corner into the kitchen.
Martha bumped the table and the wine bottle crashed on the floor spilling the red liquid all over.
Kyle screamed. ‘What a mess!’
Martha grabbed the phone and frantically dialed.
‘Guess what I have in store for you honey.’ Kyle walked over to the sink. ‘It is your favorite! You remember your favorite don’t you?’
Martha screamed at the phone.
Kyle grabbed the knife from a plastic cylinder beside the sink. ‘Salmon.’ He waved the knife across Martha’s face. ‘In caper sauce. You like?’
Martha dropped the phone and ran. Her naked wet body bounced as she slipped on the ceramic kitchen tiles.
Kyle pulled her from her hair and sucked on her neck.
‘Kyle…per favore. Kyle…please…I…I’m sorr…ungh!’
Kyle stabbed Martha’s stomach and repeated stabbing Martha for another three times. He let go of her hair and dropped Martha on the floor. He walked towards the sink and turned on the faucet. His headache reduced. The red blood had calmed him down. Kyle washed his hands under the sink as he sang an old Dean Martin song. It was the same song he sang every year on his wedding anniversary, ‘It’s Amore.’
Kyle walked over to the freezer. He pushed the lid up and pulled out the salmon. He took a big whiff and was satisfied. It was hard work finding the freshest salmon but he would do anything for Martha. Kyle went about his preparation and then stopped. He started hearing these little voices. Very faint crackling voices. Kyle looked behind him but there was no one.
The skillet continued to sizzle. That wasn’t where the voices where coming from. He turned to his right and the phone was dangling. It was quite strange…he didn’t remember anyone using the phone. He returned the phone back to the base and continued singing.
Kyle couldn’t help thinking of how many times he had been in this situation. Martha sitting quietly as she patiently waited for her special salmon. ‘The anticipation of perfection.’ She always said.
Kyle still remembered the moment after he kissed her for the first time. She was smiling. She had permanent smile that dotted a deep dimple on her left cheek. Even through the worst of times it was her smile that filled him up with fuzzy warmth.
Kyle placed the salmon on the chopping board and he looked for the knife in the plastic cylinder. He scratched his head. ‘I remember putting it there last night.’ He saw the knife beside the sink and it was full of blood. It was still dripping and quite warm. He wondered where the blood came from. More than that, he wondered where Martha was. He looked at his watch. It was almost seven P.M.
Suddenly there was a rough knock from the main hall. The doors were fairly thick and the old walls provided an ambient reverberation that was quite mystical to the ears. It sounded like something archaic and primal.
Each person knocked a different way. A personalized rhythm. To fully understand the person knocking Kyle normally waited for three knocks. In this way he would feel like he was listening to a soulful symphony.
Knock number one
Knock number two
Kyle didn’t recognize the knocking. It sounded very rushed. Kyle crept closer towards the door. This time he let the knocks go a bit further as he was not sure on this mysterious companion. Kyle heard mumbled voices in between each knock. He listened more intently. He heard a male and a female voice speaking in a local dialect.
Kyle thought it was the neighbors. The adjacent apartment was occupied by a young couple not more than a week ago. Since today was valentines they must want something to celebrate their love.
Kyle slowly opened the door. An Italian couple stood in front of him. They looked middle-aged with matching clothes. Black slacks, blue shirts and the word ‘POLIZIA’ written across their chests. He thought that they were not his neighbors.
The female officer turned a pale shade when she saw Kyle. The male officer loudly chanted the words ‘Mama mia!’
The male officer broke his chant with a string of machine-gun Italian phrases. The female officer with her three inch boots took slow cautious steps towards Kyle.
Kyle looked down and noticed tiny drops of blood on the floor. This was going to be though to clean up he thought. Kyle traced the drops to his fist. He was still holding the knife and the blood was dripping liberally.
The three inch boots come into his periphery. It smeared the blood as each step moved in closer.
Kyle felt uneasy. His headache returned and he rubbed his forehead before he blacked out once again.
Kyle lifted his head and he looked at the female officer’s chestnut eyes. He broke a small serene smile and asked. ‘What’s the problem officer?’ Kyle licked his lips. ‘I am just having my wife and her lover for dinner.’ There was the last ‘Mama mia’ that Kyle would ever hear again.