Saturday, April 29, 2006

finish of short story

Riding in the elevator to her apartment Milena could hear sounds of merriment. She had seen many cars on the street and her father’s voice had filtered through her mind. His phrase was the one he used whenever he saw many cars together in one place, “someone’s having a party”. No matter what the situation might have been, that’s what he said. His phrases were seared into her brain, and his voice would trickle in whenever the occasions arose. The trite and pat sound bytes had been the background of her childhood, and she loved to think that they could continue on to her own children.

When the elevator dinged open she was confronted with a small child peering out of her apartment door. On seeing her, the eyes widened and the door was shut quickly. Milena prepared herself to look surprised. Instead of pulling her key out to unlock the door, Milena knocked on her own door and waited for the ‘shush’ that she knew would come. It did, and a sliver of Adam’s face appeared in the door. “No thank you, we don’t want any”, he joked. She could see that he knew the surprise had been spoiled, but she wanted to play along anyway, “I forgot my key”, she lied. He flung the door open and revealed her whole family in her living room. “Surprise!” they yelled, and Milena laughed and clapped, and felt warm all over.

Her uncles were the first ones drunk, but then they usually were. The two of them had been fraternity brothers in college, made actual brothers when Paul had married Robert’s sister. They now flanked her as she sat on the couch surrounded by presents. Milena had worried for years that they would embarrass her, but now she simply found them amusing. “OK”, said Uncle Paul the doctor, “So now that you’re getting married I can tell you a secret.” Milena peered around at the rest of the family who were all stifling laughter. “And what is that?” she asked. “A secret? I thought you knew, well, it’s a piece of information that you don’t share with others, but why are you asking about that?” The joke was old, but then so was her Uncle. The men in Milena’s family all told bad jokes, it was part of how they registered emotions. She remembered some of the ones from her grandfather’s wake. None had been funny, but everyone had laughed, it was a way to mask deeper feelings. “No,” she said, “what is the secret that you want to tell me?” The adult family members were now biting their hands, some had turned away and she could see them already shaking with laughter. “well,” Paul started, “When you were born into this family, all of the men took a vow to protect you.” His speech was slurred slightly, but there was a serious look in his eye. Milena knew that the seriousness would leave as soon as he reached the punch line, but she felt it best to match his solemn expression. He continued, “and so I went to the priest, and I told him I wanted to pray to God for you, and he gave me a flower. I took the flower to you in the hospital and tried to give it to you, but you wouldn’t take it. You cried when I put it in your crib. So I went back to the priest, and he said that it was a sign from the Lord that he shouldn’t garden for flowers anymore. So I just want you to know that only you can prevent florist friars.”

The room exploded with laughter, and groans from the generations who were too cool to find humor in such things. Through the laughter Milena saw Adam being interrogated by some flirty cousins in the corner, and wanted to go rescue him, but was stopped by Uncle Robert, the banker. “I have a toast to make to you,” he said, motioning towards Adam and Milena. Milena took the opportunity to steal Adam away from her cousins, and they stood in the circle of family with their glasses raised. Robert got up, swaying only slightly, and said, “In Italy we have a special toast for the new couple. I want to say it now instead of at the wedding because at the wedding I’ll be telling embarrassing stories. So here it goes, Tutti filli mosche”

There was a moment of silence in the room while the Italian speakers internalized what Robert had just said. Then they burst into laughter, Milena included. Adam tugged on her hand leaning in to say “what’s so funny?” Milena pushed the laughter back as best she could and said, “He meant to say Tutti filli masche which is an old Italian wedding blessing. It means ‘may all your children be sons’. But he mispronounced it and said, ‘may all your children be flies’”. She burst into another fit of giggles as Robert, thoroughly pleased with himself sat back down on the couch.


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