And when he was twenty, the old man from Palermo began to cover his throat when he spoke. He continues to do this because when he was nineteen he tried to kill himself by sliding a Swiss Army Knife across the base of his neck. What remains is a lumped scar that flushes in the sun. He did not know to slice higher where his pubescent muscles were not growing thicker by the day. Nor did he realize that the knife was so sharp. He had applied almost no pressure and it was with genuine surprise when he watched his neck open. Perhaps it cannot be called a suicide attempt at all. Now, on a beach in Cala Gonone, Sardinia, an Austrian boy runs past him and into the sea. And only after the boy’s fun has been had does he notice the old man’s snake-neck, coiled purple against the very white hills behind the city. And then the man from Palermo watches as the mother gathers her petrified son under her arms, purses her lips and coos. Or, he imagines this to be her sound. She smoothes the little one’s hair and her lies begin. This is always the beginning. The old man watches as his life is told to another young boy who, with each word, begins to breathe normally again. The old man listens to the cadences of a story that is certainly finer than his own. When in the hands of others it will always be episodic and end with redemptive love. And, after so many years on the beach, he wants to believe—even if in himself. And when the boy returns to the sea, slowly this time, he stops in front of the old man. His small voice speaks cautiously, haltingly at first, as if he has forgotten rehearsed lines. And he begins to shake across his shoulders. He starts with the same words three, four, even five times, before stopping, breathing heavily, and looking back toward his mother. But the boy remains. After a silence, he opens, warbling a full-throated German, rambling off what the old man understands only as questions. And the man has questions of his own, a desire to speak like a child, to open. But, after so many years on the beach, he knows only to allow children to touch his skin when they reach; to remain quiet because his story has already been told; to hold his aged hand to his neck.
art by Adam Parry