a conversation with a sea lion.

by s.m.

When she got back to her flat she collapsed on the sofa and returned Paolo’s calls.

“What happened to you?” he asked when he answered his phone.

“I’m sorry.  I’m really sorry.  It’s this thing with my brother, and his bank.  Something happened last night–I’m not entirely sure what it is, but it’s bad, and Ricci’s involved–and I felt like I had to come home to see him.”

“You didn’t even wake me up,” Paolo said finally.

“I know.  I didn’t know what to do.  I just felt like I had to come back to Milano.  If I had gotten you up, maybe I would have changed my mind.  But I think I did the right thing.  I got to spend some time with Leo, I took him to the aquarium–Giulietta just seemed a little bit off, I mean, obviously, but still, when I got there it was like she was on something.  So I took him out, and we had fun–he’s such a funny little kid.  Sometimes I think he’s like Ricci and sometimes he reminds me of myself.”  She paused.

Paolo waited to speak.  “I would have come with you.”

“What?”  She was surprised.  “No, you wouldn’t have.  It would have been too weird.”

“I would have.  I wish you had gotten me up before you left.”  He sounded hurt.

She sighed.  “Really.  You would have driven two hours with me, gone to my brother’s house, tried to have a conversation with my crazy sister-in-law, who probably would have asked you all sorts of ridiculous and strange questions because she’s like that anyway plus she’s on some sort of sedatives, then you would have taken my three-year-old nephew to the aquarium and had inane conversations about whether fish sleep or not, and then, to top it all off, go out for lunch at a Chinese restaurant with my brother who just lost a ton of money that wasn’t his to begin with and really seems to be at the absolute end of his rope.  You would have done that.  I don’t think so.”

“You didn’t even give me the chance.”  He was hurt, undoubtedly.  She couldn’t understand why.  It wasn’t like she had left him to go to Paris and party with Kanye West.

“I’m sorry,” she said.  “I really wasn’t thinking about anything other than getting home.”

“It’s ok, I know.”

“I had a conversation with a stuffed animal sea lion.”

“A what?”

“A sea lion,” she said.  “It’s a marine mammal.  Looks like a seal, but with whiskers.  Like a walrus, but no tusks.”

“How exactly did this happen?”

“I bought it for Leo at the gift shop.  And then one thing led to another, and there was a point when I asked the sea lion what his favorite Chinese food was.”

Paolo laughed, and for a moment, Francesca was relieved.