Paolo and Francesca…

a novel about beautiful people in Italy.

Tag: Leo

goldfish and picture books.


Upstairs, she watched as Leo changed into his Toy Story pajamas and brushed his teeth, standing on a stool so he could reach the sink.  He had a goldfish bowl on the vanity and he slowly and deliberately counted out six fish flakes and sprinkled them on the surface of the water.

“Do you remember when we went to the aquarium?” Francesca asked, gently mussing his hair.

“Yes,” Leo said pointedly.  “I got the fish from Daddy,” he continued.

“What’s his name?”

“Luke Skywalker.”

“You named your fish Luke Skywalker?” she asked, trying to suppress a laugh.

“Yes.  He’s my favorite Jedi.”

They walked back to Leo’s bedroom, decorated with posters of the solar system and framed pictures of him at different ages, with Ricci and Giulietta.  For a brief moment, Francesca wondered again if this is what her child would have been like–precocious and sweet, sensitive and blond and curious.  She picked up Leo and hugged him tightly.

“Ouch, Zia Francie,” he kicked against her.

“Okay, okay,” she said, releasing him onto a beanbag chair.  “What book do you want me to read?”  She should have brought him a new book, she thought.  She hadn’t had a chance to pick up anything special for him.

“This one,” he said, selecting a hardcover picture book.  Jumanji.  It had been one of her favorites.

“‘Now remember,’ Mother said, ‘your father and I are bringing some guests by after the opera…'” She began reading, nestled into the beanbag chair next to him.  She finished reading the book even though he had already fallen asleep, then she picked him up and tucked him gently into bed, kissing his forehead before she left.

a conversation with a sea lion.

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.

what are Cheerios?

Giulietta appeared at the top of the stairs in a bathrobe.  “What are you doing here?” she asked Francesca.

“Bruno called me,” Francesca replied.  “He’s looking for Ricci.”

“But why are you here,” Giulietta reiterated.

“Giulietta, I’m sorry, I didn’t know what to do.  It sounded serious.  I thought maybe I could help–”

“You?  Help?”  Giulietta stayed at the top of the stairs; her pose reminded Francesca of an old Hollywood film, right before something awful happened.

Francesca scooped up Leo, who had been clinging to her leg.  “Maybe Leo and I can go out to the aquarium, give you a little time to yourself.”

“How’s Romaldo?” Giulietta asked.

Francesca looked confused.  “Fine,” she said.  “He’s fine.  So,” she continued, ignoring Giulietta’s non sequitur, “Leo and I are going to go to the aquarium, and we’ll come home in a couple of hours.  Do you think Ricci will be back then?”

“I don’t know when he’s coming back,” Giulietta said flatly.

“Ok,” Francesca said.  “Ok.  We’re going to go now, we’ll see you in a little bit.  Leo, say bye to mama,” she directed her nephew.

Giulietta turned and walked away from the stairs into the hallway, and Francesca heard her bedroom door close.  She turned to the maid.

“Can you help me get his clothes and car seat?  And anything else we might need?”

The maid nodded and walked upstairs.  Francesca set Leo down and wandered towards the kitchen.  “What do you think, should we have some breakfast?  I’m pretty hungry,” she told her nephew.

“Are we really going to the aquarium?”

“Of course we are.  Right after we have breakfast and you change into your clothes.”  She looked around the kitchen.  “What do you normally have for breakfast?” she asked him.

“Cheerios,” Leo said, climbing into his chair.

“What are Cheerios?” Francesca asked.

“Cheerios,” Leo replied.  “Cheerios are Cheerios.”

“You’re not helping at all,” she said under her breath.  The maid returned with some neatly-folded clothes.

“The car seat is in the foyer,” she said.  “I’ll put it in your car when you’re ready to leave.”

“Thank you,” Francesca said.  “Antonella, what are Cheerios?”

The maid opened a cabinet and pulled out a big yellow cereal box.  “From America.  Breakfast cereal.  You can tell you don’t have kids.”  For the first time since Francesca had arrived, Antonella cracked a smile.  She served a small bowl for Leo and poured some milk.  “Would you like some?” she asked Francesca.

Francesca looked at Leo spooning the little o’s into his mouth deliberately.  “Ok,” she answered.  Antonella served her a slightly larger bowl of Cheerios and she and Leo sat together and ate breakfast.