FICTION (December 2018)

 

A FAMILY AFFAIR  

By P.F. GRAZIOLI

THE dust, gently blown from the old album, rose like a grey veil which materialised for a few seconds in the ray of light coming from the window, and then slowly fell on the floor of the attic.

“See… In this album, you can find pictures of our family,” the mother said.

“Who are these two?” asked the child.

“Those are my grandparents, that is, your great-grandparents. He is Alfredo and she is Ada. They founded the family business, but more than anything else, the real genius was… him.  It was thanks to him that our pastry shop became famous,” the mother said, touching the photograph.

“It must have started a long time ago, because you have often told me about it.,” said the child.

“Yes, the activity started in 1919. At that time things were different, even if there were difficulties, but your great-grandfather, with intelligence and commitment, overcame them all,” said the mother.

From the windows, the daylight began to filter more weakly, and through those old glasses partly coloured and opaque, gave rise to surreal plays of light that at times, projected on the floor, walls and dusty furniture, thus giving the attic the appearance of a “magical” room.

“Do you see these two people? He is your grandfather Ezio, the son of Alfredo and Ada, with his wife Luisa, my mother, that is your grandmother. They also worked in the family business,” said the mother.

“You must be this little girl , while the other one must be your brother,” the boy said, pointing to a photograph.   

“Yes… he’s your uncle Gianni, he was four years younger than me and I sometimes had to watch over him. You know, he was born during the war, and I think the sirens of the air-raid alarms made him a bit agitated,” the mother said, smiling.

“You mean they bombed the city?” the child asked.

“No, luckily we weren’t a strategic target. We were so afraid, that’s right. But before the English and the Americans arrived to free us, the war made time to leave its mark on us,” the mother said with bitterness.

“Why? What happened?” the child asked.

“The pastry shop was completely robbed by the retreating Germans; they entered with their weapons levelled and took everything away,” said the mother

“But how did they get in? Wasn’t it closed?” the child asked.

“Logically, it had to be closed, but your great-grandfather wanted to keep it open…” the mother replied

“But why?” the child asked.

“I never understood it, this was a mystery to which I do not know the answer and which still torments me. I just remember that grandfather Alfredo, while the Germans were sacking the place, looked at them and said in a whisper: It’s right, take everything… You were right, Fausto, the fortune built on the misfortune of others ends so,” the mother replied 

“Who was Fausto?” asked the child

“He was the owner of another pastry shop, who always accused your great-grandfather Alfredo of having ruined him, making sure, with his knowledge, that the bank denied him a loan he needed,” the mother replied

“But then… great-grandfather was bad!” said the child

“No! Absolutely not! If that wretched man’s business failed, it wasn’t your great-grandfather’s fault. You have to have talent for business, and not blame others by making up stories. That Fausto was a total loser, and in the end, he got what he deserved!” his mother answered coldly.

Intrigued by that answer, the child asked his mother:” Why? What happened to Fausto?”

The woman looked at the child and smiled strangely and then said: “Nothing… he went mad shortly after, and was admitted to the asylum, where a year later, he committed suicide by hanging himself with a belt of cloth, to the bars of a window.  A friend of mine was working there, and she told me everything. She told me that when they pulled him down, they found a piece of paper in his right hand, with these words written: “I’ll wait for you here… you’ll all pay the price!”

“The price of what? That idiot… made up excuses for himself even when he was dead!” the mother said nervously.

The child was frightened to see his mother react in that way. After all, he hadn’t asked to leaf through that old album of faded memories, and now he was starting to feel cold.

His breathing condensed, creating small white clouds, and chills began to run down his body, so he said to his mother:”I want to leave, I’m cold!”

“Cold? Don’t be absurd… I don’t feel cold, I’m fine…” the mother replied, emitting a long liberating breath that did not condense in the air.

The twilight was announcing itself, and the light was giving way to the shadows, which were slowly taking possession of the attic.

The mother turned on an old, lived-in-looking oil lamp, and in the aura of that almost ghostly light, continued to leaf through the album with her son, who said, “After the British and Americans came, did things get better? “

“Yes, of course… in fact, thanks to the help of the Allies, the activity of the pastry shop resumed in a great way. Their command made several orders for all sorts of cakes, both for the troops and for the officers’ parties. As it had happened with the Germans,” the mother said.

“So, everything was going well as it was before the war?” the child said.

“Yes, everything went well for a year; then, suddenly, your great-grandfather Alfredo felt bad and died of a heart attack a few days later. His last words were: “Do not continue, get rid of it… or you will pay the price,” the mother said with a sad air.

“What did great-grandfather mean?” the child asked.

“I don’t know, no one has ever given him any importance. After his death in 1947, my father Ezio, your grandfather, took over the business, and together with my mother Luisa, your grandmother, he carried it on with great success throughout the Fifties,” the mother said.

“So everything was back to the way it was before?” the child asked.

“No… even if it was fine, by then it was just a faded memory of what had been our bakery. Nothing would have been the same as it was in the past, and in 1960, my father Ezio also died, while he was cleaning his beloved hunting rifle, which he kept in a wall cupboard in a room of the pastry shop,” said the disconsolate mother.

“After that, what happened?” the child asked

“I took over the business, making many sacrifices. I believed very much in the resumption of the pastry shop, I also did it to keep the memory of my grandparents and my father, even if I had the clear feeling that I should not have done it.” 

“Did Grandma keep helping you?” the child asked

“Yes, she continued to help me and advise me on what to do; then, two years later, she died too, ” the mother said sadly.

“How?” the child asked.

“It was a tragic accident… that happened during the summer. She had gone to put some sweets in the cold room, to prevent them from being ruined by the heat. The door closed behind her, blocking itself, and she… she stayed inside,” the mother said.

“You were left alone then… ” said the child.

“Yes, but then I met your father, and you were born,” the mother replied

“Then, Dad went to America for work,” said the child  

“Yes, he wasn’t interested in confectionery, he said it gave him bad sensations: it anguished him in short. He also told me to sell it, and to move all three of us to America, where he had a family, but I refused, we divorced, and you stayed with me.” 

The child looked at the pictures again… something intrigued him, and he asked his mother: “How come nobody smiles, and they all have their eyes closed? ”

“But because they’re… dead. It’s photos of the dead that we’re looking at. They are all portrayed in the same armchair, the one where they used to sit in the pastry shop to rest. The same one where I’m sitting right now.” Said the mother

“Look, Mom, you’re in this picture too! And your eyes are closed too… why?” the child asked.

“Now… it’s your turn to run the bakery,” said the mother.

The morning sun made its way through the old windows of the attic, quickly chasing away the shadows, and illuminating a mirror in which the face of a young man with dark eyes and hair was reflected.

“Damn it… it’s already dawn and I hadn’t even noticed!”

Coming back here after my mother’s death to sell this pastry shop, finding this old album and leafing through it, had given the young man the feeling of having travelled back in time.

He closed the album and got up from the chair.

At that moment, an old photograph fell at his feet.

“And this…? Where does it come from? Surely it has come off one of the pages?” the young man thought to himself, picking up the photo.

He took it between his fingers and turned it around to look at it.

He was surprised, because it wasn’t one of the photos he had seen.

It portrayed a man with his eyes closed; then, surely dead, but this unlike the others… smiled!

On the back of the photograph, the young man found a name written.

Fausto.

P.F. Grazioli was born in Perugia, Italy, in 1964. After graduating as a surveyor he travelled extensively in the United States and was particularly drawn to St Louis, birthplace of Vincent Price. Grazioli describes himself as passionate about Gothic horror literature, filmology, archaeology and esotericism. He has published a collection of horror stories titled Lost Souls. He is currently working on another collection of stories

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