What Happened to Ettore Majorana?

Lena Bertone

He had given her so many chances to love him. The dirt path ahead of him twisted and writhed, just horse width and bounded on either side by a high stone wall. He’d been walking most of two days and thinking of nothing other than Teresa and her rejections—her countless rejections, heartless rejections, profound rejections. What might he have done differently that would have changed her mind, what variable was not perfectly placed and/or executed to achieve his desired result of winning her love? His feet inside his leather shoes chafed and blistered, dust accumulated in the raw folds of his heels and ankles, his socks snaggled his ungroomed toenails with every step of the endless walking. He didn’t know exactly how long it would take, but at the end of this road he would find a monastery, and there, water, food, and rest. The walls on either side of him were twice his height and they soaked in the heat like ovens, but he didn’t remove any article of his clothing: not his shirt, undershirt, tie or jacket, trousers (summer weight, unlined), socks or shoes; his sense of propriety was such that his cuffs remained buttoned over his drenched wrists in case an imaginary Teresa emerged from behind the scrawny bougainvillea ahead, flowerless except for two wispy lanterns, the color of her untouchable lips. As he dragged his feet toward the future, the possibility of her dress brightened the gray wall it leaned against; her hair as he remembered it shimmered in the unbearable sun. He would see her, he would marvel at her sudden appearance, try to imbue the event with meaning; he would fall to his knees and cry, his throat lumpy and dry, wrap his arms around her waist and press his face to the stiff poplin of her skirt. He would beg her to love him now, one last time, in that last lonely moment after he’d left behind his life, his family, his mother, even his name. He would lift her hand to kiss it, remembering the smooth touch of it, the delicate shape it cupped to naturally on her side, her almond fingernails drawing her hand’s curve to an impossibly perfect close. He would lift that hand toward his face; but this Teresa being imaginary, the hand was limp, ungiving: just like in life. Even in this, his own dream, Teresa would not love him.
            He raised himself to standing, wiped Teresa’s apparition from his hands, and squinted to shield his eyes from the amber glare of the sun. Ahead of him, a tree gnarled into the wall as if it had osmosed into the stone. Three twisted branches writhed like muscled arms—they were not moving, Ettore thought, but they were writhing, the quality of their movement integral to their treeness—they writhed as though they meant to wrench themselves free.

She lived at the bottom of the sea; she lived in an unnamed town; she lived for another man or for another woman, for all he knew! She lived on the other side of his bedroom wall and he could feel her breathing at night with his hand on the rough plaster, the air dragging on the inside of her nostrils and her pupils beating under her eyelids; she lived having no idea who he was or understanding exquisitely who he was and she lived not giving a shit; she lived unavailable to him, by choice or by necessity, he didn’t know—it wasn’t proper for strangers to speak of such matters, unless they wanted to, of course, and only Ettore wanted to speak to Teresa, though he could only assume that she chose not to speak to him, out of some sense of propriety or obligation to a(nother) lover, though she wanted to. Though he had no evidence that she wanted to. She did not express that she wanted to speak to him: not with her words, not with her eyes, not with her body. Perhaps she was more subtle than this, or more shy? Too shy to express her desires? Teresa did not look shy. From the looks of it, she lived to match the curl of her hair to the soft curve of her lip. She lived to coordinate the rustle of her skirt and the click of her heels while she walked the university hall. She lived like a star drawing Ettore into her gravity, his own mass so comparatively slight that she took no notice when her heat crushed him.

He had dreamed of standing on a cliff at Lipari and diving into the water, warm from summer and stinking of sulfur from the hot springs. His body, like an arrow, pierced the dark water and he descended and descended, opened his eyes and parted tangled lanes of tiny fish as he reached down and descended further. When he felt his breath begin to run out and the speed of his body diminish as water pushed back at his chest, he used his hands and feet to grasp at seaweed, rock, and earth, until the underwater had been transformed into a downward hike along a precipice whose peak he stretched toward, and with every reach of his arm, with every clutch of jagged mountain, Ettore pulled himself deeper into the sea. The farther he went, the lighter he felt, the easier the climb/descent, as though he were losing mass, and he didn’t know if the peak he instinctively sought would bring him to an inverted volcano or if this solid earthen/watery wall he’d used to propel him toward Teresa would turn out to be an eroded edifice in a sunken city or a massive stalagmite leading him to the ocean bottom—or if it was the ocean bottom itself. Ettore began to doubt his body’s orientation. He continued to climb in what felt like the most natural direction. The fish were gone and so was his breath. He closed his eyes to the relative darkness and felt Teresa’s presence, her warm breath on his neck and her warm body nearby. He released one hand and let it drift to his side; he felt her fingers clasp his, and she pulled him free, into the open deep water.

Lena Bertone is the author of two short books: Letters to the Devil (The Lit Pub, 2015), and Behind This Mirror (Origami Zoo Press, 2015). Other pieces of the Ettore Majorana story have appeared in Hobart, Nightblock, and Wigleaf.