Halaman utama Call Me by Your Name
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Adorable ! Thank you
07 October 2019 (08:36)
HOW TF DO YOU TEAD IT??
22 March 2020 (02:30)
The best book written since Shakespeare
04 April 2020 (12:22)
I read this book twice.
07 April 2020 (04:10)
Amazing story,great romance i have ever seen
21 April 2020 (11:30)
How do you read it ......
02 May 2020 (23:34)
I can't open it why ?
03 May 2020 (18:47)
um....how do i read this
04 May 2020 (09:12)
there's a download option when you exit the image viewer. Americans, gah!
08 May 2020 (08:35)
How do I read it? Enlightened me
18 May 2020 (09:16)
¿como lo leo en español, se descargo en ingles?
19 May 2020 (07:05)
To download it you click the down arrow and press “convert to text” then it will have the option to download it highlighted in yellow
26 May 2020 (14:10)
hello guys, so i noticed that a lot of people is asking how to read the novel and im here to help :)
first install the app called "ReadEra" (this is the one i use, idk if this is available on iphone since im android) and then i download the book and read it on ReadEra app :)
first install the app called "ReadEra" (this is the one i use, idk if this is available on iphone since im android) and then i download the book and read it on ReadEra app :)
04 June 2020 (22:12)
This book is a holy grail.
11 June 2020 (07:18)
As a shy person myself, I fell in love with Elio and later Oliver so much that I can only say one thing about this book, and that is that it's absolutely stunning.
19 June 2020 (01:45)
If you can't move on with this beautiful book (as much as I was) and wanted to read another novel with the same feels (plus with a retrospective narration), then I recommend Lie With Me by Philippe Besson❤️
22 June 2020 (08:21)
For those who cant open the file.. It is because you downloaded an epub or any filetypes your phone doesn't support. You can convert it into pdf or word or txt. Or u can just download an app that can read epub or other filetypes. Wc
25 July 2020 (11:46)
this is literally the best book ive ever read <3 the movie was also out of this world and this story will never get old.
13 August 2020 (18:54)
Como es que lo leo en español xd
09 September 2020 (01:18)
Just amazing!! No words!!!!????
30 September 2020 (10:58)
I think it's AWESOME
06 October 2020 (11:48)
To those everyone asking how to read it, download it first then download an EPUB reader like Moon+ Reader. Great book btw, makes me want to go to Rome and fall in love along the hot summer days.
25 October 2020 (10:03)
This is the Golden Book. I couldn’t set it down. I read it for hours on end. And I still want more! But nonetheless the book is beautiful
12 November 2020 (19:16)
For those who don't know how to read an EPUB download a software or app like ReadEra for you to read it.
04 December 2020 (13:01)
If you can't read it... Go to google play store and then install "readers" to read epub books.
18 December 2020 (15:49)
App name: " read era "
18 December 2020 (15:51)
loved it , absolutely great , worth the read !!
12 January 2021 (00:20)
i’m so excited to read this!!
16 January 2021 (09:36)
i love this book¡¡
06 February 2021 (07:45)
Once read, you will never forget it.
10 February 2021 (08:32)
no. no. no. no. no.nono.
11 February 2021 (01:51)
yes. yes. yes. yes. yesyes.
11 February 2021 (01:52)
Eh- ITS AMAZING!. I loved it!!! I recommend
11 February 2021 (17:54)
i totally fell in love with this book. and movie! just the tention between both of them is amazing.. i just know that no matter how i try to forget about this movie my heart will always melt when i will ear something about this.. like italy.. peach.. bikes.. everything that is in this movie i will always remember.
13 February 2021 (22:05)
16 February 2021 (14:59)
Why do straight women love to read erotica about gay men? Hmm...!
17 February 2021 (10:58)
Laura Gabriel Gonçalves
if you enjoyed the movie, let me tell you... the book is a hundred times better! It's extremely beautiful ✨
21 February 2021 (08:06)
My favorite book!!! It is so good. Every time i read this, i feel as i were in italy during summertime. Its perfect. The book is so beautiful and it catches you right from the start. 5 stars!
21 February 2021 (16:40)
i hated every page of this
02 March 2021 (05:54)
to read it click the dropdown arrow next to download. convert it to whatever file you want, but i recommend pdf. you dont need to download an epub unless ur on mobile.
08 March 2021 (04:01)
I'm in mad love with this book. I love the authors' extremely long sentences. It took me to that summer and I felt that I was the Elio in the story.
10 March 2021 (06:25)
once u readit u will read it again and again
18 March 2021 (08:40)
so there were a lota questions on how to read it
on a phone download those apps
if u wanna read it on a computer, download it in pdf form
on a phone download those apps
if u wanna read it on a computer, download it in pdf form
25 March 2021 (10:16)
i hope this one is good i feel a lil blue bc of what i've read earlier aaaaaaa
30 March 2021 (08:28)
"Just Angle" I can't thank you enough for recommending "Lie With Me" by Philippe Besson... I just finished reading it and I love it so much I feel empty :(
01 April 2021 (01:09)
hauntingly beautiful. one of the few books that had been done right by the movie. both ends are tragic and beautiful.
01 April 2021 (08:19)
i'm officially dead inside yay anyways i loved it and everyone should read this book :P
06 April 2021 (14:36)
my gay lovin self
is the books gay? plz ansssssssss
03 May 2021 (07:32)
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09 May 2021 (20:09)
I want to watch this movie,but I fail to find any platforms accessible.
11 May 2021 (15:35)
You can download the pdf or txt file on an iPhone then find it in your files and read it by clicking overview
21 May 2021 (13:27)
Alguien me puede explicar bien y de manera precisa cómo raios se puede cambiar el idioma a español???
29 May 2021 (06:11)
I recommend the app, Moon + reader guys, you can read it there
31 May 2021 (21:28)
If you cannot read it, open the .epub file your iPhone's Books app if you have one, or your phone's reading app (android- google books, etc) if you don't you can download a book reader. You just need something that can open an .epub file.
03 June 2021 (14:42)
You have to download it in pdf in order to be able to read it, that’s what I did
04 June 2021 (16:51)
Já estou começando a pensar que tudo isso aqui é uma página para enganar as pessoas, estou tentando a horas baixar um livro e não consigo mesmo fazendo todos os passos certos.?
08 June 2021 (04:06)
You have to click on the arrow beside download (epub, 641 kb) and click convert to pdf to read it. That's what I did.
13 June 2021 (18:58)
why'd I think of montero
15 June 2021 (05:44)
Of course its a great book. no doubt in it but I would really like u people 2 read HOW TO BANG A BILLIONAIRE BY ALEXIS HALL and the other two books also in the series.
02 July 2021 (08:56)
how can i read this ...is this..just for photo??? what hell i want to read this book ..pls help??
09 July 2021 (09:21)
ehhhhh idk the fact that elio is 17 amd oliver is 24 is kind a creepy tbh but this book made me sob for hours after i finished it like the ending hurt i feel so bad for elio
10 July 2021 (10:29)
so beautifully written so descriptive it truly takes you through the book like you actually are in italy
17 July 2021 (10:17)
really makes you feel like you’re in Italy so descriptive
17 July 2021 (10:19)
hmm after reading this wonderful book I want to read books of this kind.. can anyone suggest
25 July 2021 (13:24)
Zin Minn Aung
I can't open it ,why
28 July 2021 (08:50)
Definitely great. I watched the film first back then before trying to read this one.
02 August 2021 (15:01)
the age difference is just....no.
16 August 2021 (20:02)
I wasn't very sure about reading the book but then it turned out to be beautiful! The writing style especially created a huge impression on me. And it definitely left me wanting more.
17 August 2021 (12:26)
this is just an overglorification of pedophila in the guise of lgbtqia+ representation. i'm queer and pretty digusted. the age difference is just gah. dating older people is NOT part of the queer experience. it seems to me that oliver is grooming elio.
24 August 2021 (15:37)
Luca is the new call me by your name
28 August 2021 (06:33)
For the people that are interested in downloading it-
1: sign in to your account. (If you don't have an account, make one)
2: press 'send-to-kindle or email' press your email account and a notification will show on the screen telling you to wait 1-5minutes. (It should be highlighted in pastel yellow.
3: if you don't have any reading apps downloaded, download 'Play Books' from the app store.(I'm using my Android phone so if your using an Apple phone or a laptop it may be different)
4: go onto your email account and press the file attached to the email you should have received by now.
4: You should be automatically taken you your play book app and wait 30 seconds for the book to load.
5: Enjoy the book.
1: sign in to your account. (If you don't have an account, make one)
2: press 'send-to-kindle or email' press your email account and a notification will show on the screen telling you to wait 1-5minutes. (It should be highlighted in pastel yellow.
3: if you don't have any reading apps downloaded, download 'Play Books' from the app store.(I'm using my Android phone so if your using an Apple phone or a laptop it may be different)
4: go onto your email account and press the file attached to the email you should have received by now.
4: You should be automatically taken you your play book app and wait 30 seconds for the book to load.
5: Enjoy the book.
30 August 2021 (23:00)
someone said it before, but i'll say it too, this is just over-glorification of pedophilia pretending to be lgbtqia+ representation. do not recommend.
10 September 2021 (20:00)
first thing i think is montero
13 September 2021 (21:18)
silly superficial movie plot, like eating a donut.
14 September 2021 (19:02)
I can't understand why everyone seems to love this book honestly... I mean you all know that it's a story about a hormonal adolescent that gets obsessed with a womanizer, you all talk about love but this is not about love, I see stupid desire from a kid to possess an older man because he was dazzled and also there's more description of the surroundings than actually narration of the real story I couldn't read more than 100 pages because it was too boring for God's sake I can't understand the hype
22 September 2021 (22:35)
I have watched the movie and read the Chinese edition of this book. I love it so much.
21 October 2021 (10:48)
I dedicate this lovely nd heartwarming novel to my cute nd lovely bf nikhil I love u nikhil. Pls always be my side
10 November 2021 (21:15)
Of course I will be. I love u too karthik
10 November 2021 (21:16)
Sleep now. I'll come to your home tomorrow then we will study physics together I'll help u in solving numericals nd the topics in which u have doubt
10 November 2021 (21:17)
Okay. I love u good night dream bout me bye
10 November 2021 (21:18)
If I remember it correctly Kim Taehyung mentioned this book once. He said he really love this story. Any army here?
11 November 2021 (12:51)
For Albio, Alma de mi vida Contents Part 1 If Not Later, When? Part 2 Monet’s Berm Part 3 The San Clemente Syndrome Part 4 Ghost Spots Part 1 If Not Later, When? “Later!” The word, the voice, the attitude. I’d never heard anyone use “later” to say goodbye before. It sounded harsh, curt, and dismissive, spoken with the veiled indifference of people who may not care to see or hear from you again. It is the first thing I remember about him, and I can hear it still today. Later! I shut my eyes, say the word, and I’m back in Italy, so many years ago, walking down the tree-lined driveway, watching him step out of the cab, billowy blue shirt, wide-open collar, sunglasses, straw hat, skin everywhere. Suddenly he’s shaking my hand, handing me his backpack, removing his suitcase from the trunk of the cab, asking if my father is home. It might have started right there and then: the shirt, the rolled-up sleeves, the rounded balls of his heels slipping in and out of his frayed espadrilles, eager to test the hot gravel path that led to our house, every stride already asking, Which way to the beach? This summer’s houseguest. Another bore. Then, almost without thinking, and with his back already turned to the car, he waves the back of his free hand and utters a careless Later! to another passenger in the car who has probably split the fare from the station. No name added, no jest to smooth out the ruffled leave-taking, nothing. His one-word send-off: brisk, bold, and blunted—take your pick, he couldn’t be bothered which. You watch, I thought, this is how he’ll say goodbye to us when the time comes. With a gruff, slapdash Later! Meanwhile, we’d have to put up with him for six long weeks. I was thoroughly intimidated. The unapproachable sort. I could grow to like him, though. From rounded chin to rounded heel. Then, within days, I would learn to hate him. This, the very person whose photo on the application form months earlier had leapt out with promises of instant affinitie; s. Taking in summer guests was my parents’ way of helping young academics revise a manuscript before publication. For six weeks each summer I’d have to vacate my bedroom and move one room down the corridor into a much smaller room that had once belonged to my grandfather. During the winter months, when we were away in the city, it became a part-time toolshed, storage room, and attic where rumor had it my grandfather, my namesake, still ground his teeth in his eternal sleep. Summer residents didn’t have to pay anything, were given the full run of the house, and could basically do anything they pleased, provided they spent an hour or so a day helping my father with his correspondence and assorted paperwork. They became part of the family, and after about fifteen years of doing this, we had gotten used to a shower of postcards and gift packages not only around Christmastime but all year long from people who were now totally devoted to our family and would go out of their way when they were in Europe to drop by B. for a day or two with their family and take a nostalgic tour of their old digs. At meals there were frequently two or three other guests, sometimes neighbors or relatives, sometimes colleagues, lawyers, doctors, the rich and famous who’d drop by to see my father on their way to their own summer houses. Sometimes we’d even open our dining room to the occasional tourist couple who’d heard of the old villa and simply wanted to come by and take a peek and were totally enchanted when asked to eat with us and tell us all about themselves, while Mafalda, informed at the last minute, dished out her usual fare. My father, who was reserved and shy in private, loved nothing better than to have some precocious rising expert in a field keep the conversation going in a few languages while the hot summer sun, after a few glasses of rosatello, ushered in the unavoidable afternoon torpor. We named the task dinner drudgery—and, after a while, so did most of our six-week guests. Maybe it started soon after his arrival during one of those grinding lunches when he sat next to me and it finally dawned on me that, despite a light tan acquired during his brief stay in Sicily earlier that summer, the color on the palms of his hands was the same as the pale, soft skin of his soles, of his throat, of the bottom of his forearms, which hadn’t really been exposed to much sun. Almost a light pink, as glistening and smooth as the underside of a lizard’s belly. Private, chaste, unfledged, like a blush on an athlete’s face or an instance of dawn on a stormy night. It told me things about him I never knew to ask. It may have started during those endless hours after lunch when everybody lounged about in bathing suits inside and outside the house, bodies sprawled everywhere, killing time before someone finally suggested we head down to the rocks for a swim. Relatives, cousins, neighbors, friends, friends of friends, colleagues, or just about anyone who cared to knock at our gate and ask if they could use our tennis court—everyone was welcome to lounge and swim and eat and, if they stayed long enough, use the guesthouse. Or perhaps it started on the beach. Or at the tennis court. Or during our first walk together on his very first day when I was asked to show him the house and its surrounding area and, one thing leading to the other, managed to take him past the very old forged-iron metal gate as far back as the endless empty lot in the hinterland toward the abandoned train tracks that used to connect B. to N. “Is there an abandoned station house somewhere?” he asked, looking through the trees under the scalding sun, probably trying to ask the right question of the owner’s son. “No, there was never a station house. The train simply stopped when you asked.” He was curious about the train; the rails seemed so narrow. It was a two-wagon train bearing the royal insignia, I explained. Gypsies lived in it now. They’d been living there ever since my mother used to summer here as a girl. The gypsies had hauled the two derailed cars farther inland. Did he want to see them? “Later. Maybe.” Polite indifference, as if he’d spotted my misplaced zeal to play up to him and was summarily pushing me away. But it stung me. Instead, he said he wanted to open an account in one of the banks in B., then pay a visit to his Italian translator, whom his Italian publisher had engaged for his book. I decided to take him there by bike. The conversation was no better on wheels than on foot. Along the way, we stopped for something to drink. The bartabaccheria was totally dark and empty. The owner was mopping the floor with a powerful ammonia solution. We stepped outside as soon as we could. A lonely blackbird, sitting in a Mediterranean pine, sang a few notes that were immediately drowned out by the rattle of the cicadas. I took a long swill from a large bottle of mineral water, passed it to him, then drank from it again. I spilled some on my hand and rubbed my face with it, running my wet fingers through my hair. The water was insufficiently cold, not fizzy enough, leaving behind an unslaked likeness of thirst. What did one do around here? Nothing. Wait for summer to end. What did one do in the winter, then? I smiled at the answer I was about to give. He got the gist and said, “Don’t tell me: wait for summer to come, right?” I liked having my mind read. He’d pick up on dinner drudgery sooner than those before him. “Actually, in the winter the place gets very gray and dark. We come for Christmas. Otherwise it’s a ghost town.” “And what else do you do here at Christmas besides roast chestnuts and drink eggnog?” He was teasing. I offered the same smile as before. He understood, said nothing, we laughed. He asked what I did. I played tennis. Swam. Went out at night. Jogged. Transcribed music. Read. He said he jogged too. Early in the morning. Where did one jog around here? Along the promenade, mostly. I could show him if he wanted. It hit me in the face just when I was starting to like him again: “Later, maybe.” I had put reading last on my list, thinking that, with the willful, brazen attitude he’d displayed so far, reading would figure last on his. A few hours later, when I remembered that he had just finished writing a book on Heraclitus and that “reading” was probably not an insignificant part of his life, I realized that I needed to perform some clever backpedaling and let him know that my real interests lay right alongside his. What unsettled me, though, was not the fancy footwork needed to redeem myself. It was the unwelcome misgivings with which it finally dawned on me, both then and during our casual conversation by the train tracks, that I had all along, without seeming to, without even admitting it, already been trying—and failing—to win him over. When I did offer—because all visitors loved the idea—to take him to San Giacomo and walk up to the very top of the belfry we nicknamed To-die-for, I should have known better than to just stand there without a comeback. I thought I’d bring him around simply by taking him up there and letting him take in the view of the town, the sea, eternity. But no. Later! But it might have started way later than I think without my noticing anything at all. You see someone, but you don’t really see him, he’s in the wings. Or you notice him, but nothing clicks, nothing “catches,” and before you’re even aware of a presence, or of something troubling you, the six weeks that were offered you have almost passed and he’s either already gone or just about to leave, and you’re basically scrambling to come to terms with something, which, unbeknownst to you, has been brewing for weeks under your very nose and bears all the symptoms of what you’re forced to call I want. How couldn’t I have known, you ask? I know desire when I see it—and yet, this time, it slipped by completely. I was going for the devious smile that would suddenly light up his face each time he’d read my mind, when all I really wanted was skin, just skin. At dinner on his third evening, I sensed that he was staring at me as I was explaining Haydn’s Seven Last Words of Christ, which I’d been transcribing. I was seventeen that year and, being the youngest at the table and the least likely to be listened to, I had developed the habit of smuggling as much information into the fewest possible words. I spoke fast, which gave people the impression that I was always flustered and muffling my words. After I had finished explaining my transcription, I became aware of the keenest glance coming from my left. It thrilled and flattered me; he was obviously interested—he liked me. It hadn’t been as difficult as all that, then. But when, after taking my time, I finally turned to face him and take in his glance, I met a cold and icy glare—something at once hostile and vitrified that bordered on cruelty. It undid me completely. What had I done to deserve this? I wanted him to be kind to me again, to laugh with me as he had done just a few days earlier on the abandoned train tracks, or when I’d explained to him that same afternoon that B. was the only town in Italy where the corriera, the regional bus line, carrying Christ, whisked by without ever stopping. He had immediately laughed and recognized the veiled allusion to Carlo Levi’s book. I liked how our minds seemed to travel in parallel, how we instantly inferred what words the other was toying with but at the last moment held back. He was going to be a difficult neighbor. Better stay away from him, I thought. To think that I had almost fallen for the skin of his hands, his chest, his feet that had never touched a rough surface in their existence—and his eyes, which, when their other, kinder gaze fell on you, came like the miracle of the Resurrection. You could never stare long enough but needed to keep staring to find out why you couldn’t. I must have shot him a similarly wicked glance. For two days our conversations came to a sudden halt. On the long balcony that both our bedrooms shared, total avoidance: just a makeshift hello, good morning, nice weather, shallow chitchat. Then, without explanation, things resumed. Did I want to go jogging this morning? No, not really. Well, let’s swim, then. Today, the pain, the stoking, the thrill of someone new, the promise of so much bliss hovering a fingertip away, the fumbling around people I might misread and don’t want to lose and must second-guess at every turn, the desperate cunning I bring to everyone I want and crave to be wanted by, the screens I put up as though between me and the world there were not just one but layers of rice-paper sliding doors, the urge to scramble and unscramble what was never really coded in the first place—all these started the summer Oliver came into our house. They are embossed on every song that was a hit that summer, in every novel I read during and after his stay, on anything from the smell of rosemary on hot days to the frantic rattle of the cicadas in the afternoon—smells and sounds I’d grown up with and known every year of my life until then but that had suddenly turned on me and acquired an inflection forever colored by the events of that summer. Or perhaps it started after his first week, when I was thrilled to see he still remembered who I was, that he didn’t ignore me, and that, therefore, I could allow myself the luxury of passing him on my way to the garden and not having to pretend I was unaware of him. We jogged early on the first morning—all the way up to B. and back. Early the next morning we swam. Then, the day after, we jogged again. I liked racing by the milk delivery van when it was far from done with its rounds, or by the grocer and the baker as they were just getting ready for business, liked to run along the shore and the promenade when there wasn’t a soul about yet and our house seemed a distant mirage. I liked it when our feet were aligned, left with left, and struck the ground at the same time, leaving footprints on the shore that I wished to return to and, in secret, place my foot where his had left its mark. This alternation of running and swimming was simply his “routine” in graduate school. Did he run on the Sabbath? I joked. He always exercised, even when he was sick; he’d exercise in bed if he had to. Even when he’d slept with someone new the night before, he said, he’d still head out for a jog early in the morning. The only time he didn’t exercise was when they operated on him. When I asked him what for, the answer I had promised never to incite in him came at me like the thwack of a jack-in-the-box wearing a baleful smirk. “Later.” Perhaps he was out of breath and didn’t want to talk too much or just wanted to concentrate on his swimming or his running. Or perhaps it was his way of spurring me to do the same—totally harmless. But there was something at once chilling and off-putting in the sudden distance that crept between us in the most unexpected moments. It was almost as though he were doing it on purpose; feeding me slack, and more slack, and then yanking away any semblance of fellowship. The steely gaze always returned. One day, while I was practicing my guitar at what had become “my table” in the back garden by the pool and he was lying nearby on the grass, I recognized the gaze right away. He had been staring at me while I was focusing on the fingerboard, and when I suddenly raised my face to see if he liked what I was playing, there it was: cutting, cruel, like a glistening blade instantly retracted the moment its victim caught sight of it. He gave me a bland smile, as though to say, No point hiding it now. Stay away from him. He must have noticed I was shaken and in an effort to make it up to me began asking me questions about the guitar. I was too much on my guard to answer him with candor. Meanwhile, hearing me scramble for answers made him suspect that perhaps more was amiss than I was showing. “Don’t bother explaining. Just play it again.” But I thought you hated it. Hated it? Whatever gave you that idea? We argued back and forth. “Just play it, will you?” “The same one?” “The same one.” I stood up and walked into the living room, leaving the large French windows open so that he might hear me play it on the piano. He followed me halfway and, leaning on the windows’ wooden frame, listened for a while. “You changed it. It’s not the same. What did you do to it?” “I just played it the way Liszt would have played it had he jimmied around with it.” “Just play it again, please!” I liked the way he feigned exasperation. So I started playing the piece again. After a while: “I can’t believe you changed it again.” “Well, not by much. This is just how Busoni would have played it if he had altered Liszt’s version.” “Can’t you just play the Bach the way Bach wrote it?” “But Bach never wrote it for guitar. He may not even have written it for the harpsichord. In fact, we’re not even sure it’s by Bach at all.” “Forget I asked.” “Okay, okay. No need to get so worked up,” I said. It was my turn to feign grudging acquiescence. “This is the Bach as transcribed by me without Busoni and Liszt. It’s a very young Bach and it’s dedicated to his brother.” I knew exactly what phrase in the piece must have stirred him the first time, and each time I played it, I was sending it to him as a little gift, because it was really dedicated to him, as a token of something very beautiful in me that would take no genius to figure out and that urged me to throw in an extended cadenza. Just for him. We were—and he must have recognized the signs long before I did—flirting. Later that evening in my diary, I wrote: I was exaggerating when I said I thought you hated the piece. What I meant to say was: I thought you hated me. I was hoping you’d persuade me of the opposite—and you did, for a while. Why won’t I believe it tomorrow morning? So this is who he also is, I said to myself after seeing how he’d flipped from ice to sunshine. I might as well have asked: Do I flip back and forth in just the same way? P.S. We are not written for one instrument alone; I am not, neither are you. I had been perfectly willing to brand him as difficult and unapproachable and have nothing more to do with him. Two words from him, and I had seen my pouting apathy change into I’ll play anything for you till you ask me to stop, till it’s time for lunch, till the skin on my fingers wears off layer after layer, because I like doing things for you, will do anything for you, just say the word, I liked you from day one, and even when you’ll return ice for my renewed offers of friendship, I’ll never forget that this conversation occurred between us and that there are easy ways to bring back summer in the snowstorm. What I forgot to earmark in that promise was that ice and apathy have ways of instantly repealing all truces and resolutions signed in sunnier moments. Then came that July Sunday afternoon when our house suddenly emptied, and we were the only ones there, and fire tore through my guts—because “fire” was the first and easiest word that came to me later that same evening when I tried to make sense of it in my diary. I’d waited and waited in my room pinioned to my bed in a trancelike state of terror and anticipation. Not a fire of passion, not a ravaging fire, but something paralyzing, like the fire of cluster bombs that suck up the oxygen around them and leave you panting because you’ve been kicked in the gut and a vacuum has ripped up every living lung tissue and dried your mouth, and you hope nobody speaks, because you can’t talk, and you pray no one asks you to move, because your heart is clogged and beats so fast it would sooner spit out shards of glass than let anything else flow through its narrowed chambers. Fire like fear, like panic, like one more minute of this and I’ll die if he doesn’t knock at my door, but I’d sooner he never knock than knock now. I had learned to leave my French windows ajar, and I’d lie on my bed wearing only my bathing suit, my entire body on fire. Fire like a pleading that says, Please, please, tell me I’m wrong, tell me I’ve imagined all this, because it can’t possibly be true for you as well, and if it’s true for you too, then you’re the cruelest man alive. This, the afternoon he did finally walk into my room without knocking as if summoned by my prayers and asked how come I wasn’t with the others at the beach, and all I could think of saying, though I couldn’t bring myself to say it, was, To be with you. To be with you, Oliver. With or without my bathing suit. To be with you on my bed. In your bed. Which is my bed during the other months of the year. Do with me what you want. Take me. Just ask if I want to and see the answer you’ll get, just don’t let me say no. And tell me I wasn’t dreaming that night when I heard a noise outside the landing by my door and suddenly knew that someone was in my room, someone was sitting at the foot of my bed, thinking, thinking, thinking, and finally started moving up toward me and was now lying, not next to me, but on top of me, while I lay on my tummy, and that I liked it so much that, rather than risk doing anything to show I’d been awakened or to let him change his mind and go away, I feigned to be fast asleep, thinking, This is not, cannot, had better not be a dream, because the words that came to me, as I pressed my eyes shut, were, This is like coming home, like coming home after years away among Trojans and Lestrygonians, like coming home to a place where everyone is like you, where people know, they just know—coming home as when everything falls into place and you suddenly realize that for seventeen years all you’d been doing was fiddling with the wrong combination. Which was when I decided to convey without budging, without moving a single muscle in my body, that I’d be willing to yield if you pushed, that I’d already yielded, was yours, all yours, except that you were suddenly gone and though it seemed too true to be a dream, yet I was convinced that all I wanted from that day onward was for you to do the exact same thing you’d done in my sleep. The next day we were playing doubles, and during a break, as we were drinking Mafalda’s lemonades, he put his free arm around me and then gently squeezed his thumb and forefingers into my shoulder in imitation of a friendly hug-massage—the whole thing very chummy-chummy. But I was so spellbound that I wrenched myself free from his touch, because a moment longer and I would have slackened like one of those tiny wooden toys whose gimp-legged body collapses as soon as the mainsprings are touched. Taken aback, he apologized and asked if he had pressed a “nerve or something”—he hadn’t meant to hurt me. He must have felt thoroughly mortified if he suspected he had either hurt me or touched me the wrong way. The last thing I wanted was to discourage him. Still, I blurted something like, “It didn’t hurt,” and would have dropped the matter there. But I sensed that if it wasn’t pain that had prompted such a reaction, what other explanation could account for my shrugging him off so brusquely in front of my friends? So I mimicked the face of someone trying very hard, but failing, to smother a grimace of pain. It never occurred to me that what had totally panicked me when he touched me was exactly what startles virgins on being touched for the first time by the person they desire: he stirs nerves in them they never knew existed and that produce far, far more disturbing pleasures than they are used to on their own. He still seemed surprised by my reaction but gave every sign of believing in, as I of concealing, the pain around my shoulder. It was his way of letting me off the hook and of pretending he wasn’t in the least bit aware of any nuance in my reaction. Knowing, as I later came to learn, how thoroughly trenchant was his ability to sort contradictory signals, I have no doubt that he must have already suspected something. “Here, let me make it better.” He was testing me and proceeded to massage my shoulder. “Relax,” he said in front of the others. “But I am relaxing.” “You’re as stiff as this bench. Feel this,” he said to Marzia, one of the girls closest to us. “It’s all knots.” I felt her hands on my back. “Here,” he ordered, pressing her flattened palm hard against my back. “Feel it? He should relax more,” he said. “You should relax more,” she repeated. Perhaps, in this, as with everything else, because I didn’t know how to speak in code, I didn’t know how to speak at all. I felt like a deaf and dumb person who can’t even use sign language. I stammered all manner of things so as not to speak my mind. That was the extent of my code. So long as I had breath to put words in my mouth, I could more or less carry it off. Otherwise, the silence between us would probably give me away—which was why anything, even the most spluttered nonsense, was preferable to silence. Silence would expose me. But what was certain to expose me even more was my struggle to overcome it in front of others. The despair aimed at myself must have given my features something bordering on impatience and unspoken rage. That he might have mistaken these as aimed at him never crossed my mind. Maybe it was for similar reasons that I would look away each time he looked at me: to conceal the strain on my timidity. That he might have found my avoidance offensive and retaliated with a hostile glance from time to time never crossed my mind either. What I hoped he hadn’t noticed in my overreaction to his grip was something else. Before shirking off his arm, I knew I had yielded to his hand and had almost leaned into it, as if to say—as I’d heard adults so often say when someone happened to massage their shoulders while passing behind them—Don’t stop. Had he noticed I was ready not just to yield but to mold into his body? This was the feeling I took to my diary that night as well: I called it the “swoon.” Why had I swooned? And could it happen so easily—just let him touch me somewhere and I’d totally go limp and will-less? Was this what people meant by butter melting? And why wouldn’t I show him how like butter I was? Because I was afraid of what might happen then? Or was I afraid he would have laughed at me, told everyone, or ignored the whole thing on the pretext I was too young to know what I was doing? Or was it because if he so much as suspected—and anyone who suspected would of necessity be on the same wavelength—he might be tempted to act on it? Did I want him to act? Or would I prefer a lifetime of longing provided we both kept this little Ping-Pong game going: not knowing, not-not knowing, not-not-not knowing? Just be quiet, say nothing, and if you can’t say “yes,” don’t say “no,” say “later.” Is this why people say “maybe” when they mean “yes,” but hope you’ll think it’s “no” when all they really mean is, Please, just ask me once more, and once more after that? I look back to that summer and can’t believe that despite every one of my efforts to live with the “fire” and the “swoon,” life still granted wonderful moments. Italy. Summer. The noise of the cicadas in the early afternoon. My room. His room. Our balcony that shut the whole world out. The soft wind trailing exhalations from our garden up the stairs to my bedroom. The summer I learned to love fishing. Because he did. To love jogging. Because he did. To love octopus, Heraclitus, Tristan. The summer I’d hear a bird sing, smell a plant, or feel the mist rise from under my feet on warm sunny days and, because my senses were always on alert, would automatically find them rushing to him. I could have denied so many things—that I longed to touch his knees and wrists when they glistened in the sun with that viscous sheen I’ve seen in so very few; that I loved how his white tennis shorts seemed perpetually stained by the color of clay, which, as the weeks wore on, became the color of his skin; that his hair, turning blonder every day, caught the sun before the sun was completely out in the morning; that his billowy blue shirt, becoming ever more billowy when he wore it on gusty days on the patio by the pool, promised to harbor a scent of skin and sweat that made me hard just thinking of it. All this I could have denied. And believed my denials. But it was the gold necklace and the Star of David with a golden mezuzah on his neck that told me here was something more compelling than anything I wanted from him, for it bound us and reminded me that, while everything else conspired to make us the two most dissimilar beings, this at least transcended all differences. I saw his star almost immediately during his first day with us. And from that moment on I knew that what mystified me and made me want to seek out his friendship, without ever hoping to find ways to dislike him, was larger than anything either of us could ever want from the other, larger and therefore better than his soul, my body, or earth itself. Staring at his neck with its star and telltale amulet was like staring at something timeless, ancestral, immortal in me, in him, in both of us, begging to be rekindled and brought back from its millenary sleep. What baffled me was that he didn’t seem to care or notice that I wore one too. Just as he probably didn’t care or notice each time my eyes wandered along his bathing suit and tried to make out the contour of what made us brothers in the desert. With the exception of my family, he was probably the only other Jew who had ever set foot in B. But unlike us he let you see it from the very start. We were not conspicuous Jews. We wore our Judaism as people do almost everywhere in the world: under the shirt, not hidden, but tucked away. “Jews of discretion,” to use my mother’s words. To see someone proclaim his Judaism on his neck as Oliver did when he grabbed one of our bikes and headed into town with his shirt wide open shocked us as much as it taught us we could do the same and get away with it. I tried imitating him a few times. But I was too self-conscious, like someone trying to feel natural while walking about naked in a locker room only to end up aroused by his own nakedness. In town, I tried flaunting my Judaism with the silent bluster that comes less from arrogance than from repressed shame. Not him. It’s not that he never thought about being Jewish or about the life of Jews in a Catholic country. Sometimes we spoke about just this topic during those long afternoons when both of us would put aside work and enjoy chatting while the entire household and guests had all drifted into every available bedroom to rest for a few hours. He had lived long enough in small towns in New England to know what it felt like to be the odd Jew out. But Judaism never troubled him the way it troubled me, nor was it the subject of an abiding, metaphysical discomfort with himself and the world. It did not even harbor the mystical, unspoken promise of redemptive brotherhood. And perhaps this was why he wasn’t ill at ease with being Jewish and didn’t constantly have to pick at it, the way children pick at scabs they wish would go away. He was okay with being Jewish. He was okay with himself, the way he was okay with his body, with his looks, with his antic backhand, with his choice of books, music, films, friends. He was okay with losing his prized Mont Blanc pen. “I can buy another one just like it.” He was okay with criticism too. He showed my father a few pages he was proud of having written. My father told him his insights into Heraclitus were brilliant but needed firming up, that he needed to accept the paradoxical nature of the philosopher’s thinking, not simply explain it away. He was okay with firming things up, he was okay with paradox. Back to the drawing board—he was okay with the drawing board as well. He invited my young aunt for a tête-à-tête midnight gita—spin—in our motorboat. She declined. That was okay. He tried again a few days later, was turned down again, and again made light of it. She too was okay with it, and, had she spent another week with us, would probably have been okay with going out to sea for a midnight gita that could easily have lasted till sunrise. Only once during his very first few days did I get a sense that this willful but accommodating, laid-back, water-over-my-back, unflappable, unfazed twenty-four-year-old who was so heedlessly okay with so many things in life was, in fact, a thoroughly alert, cold, sagacious judge of character and situations. Nothing he did or said was unpremeditated. He saw through everybody, but he saw through them precisely because the first thing he looked for in people was the very thing he had seen in himself and may not have wished others to see. He was, as my mother was scandalized to learn one day, a supreme poker player who’d escape into town at night twice a week or so to “play a few hands.” This was why, to our complete surprise, he had insisted on opening a bank account on the very day of his arrival. None of our residents had ever had a local bank account. Most didn’t have a penny. It had happened during a lunch when my father had invited a journalist who had dabbled in philosophy in his youth and wanted to show that, though he had never written about Heraclitus, he could still spar on any matter under the sun. He and Oliver didn’t hit it off. Afterward, my father had said, “A very witty man—damn clever too.” “Do you really think so, Pro?” Oliver interrupted, unaware that my father, while very easygoing himself, did not always like being contradicted, much less being called Pro, though he went along with both. “Yes, I do,” insisted my father. “Well, I’m not sure I agree at all. I find him arrogant, dull, flat-footed, and coarse. He uses humor and a lot of voice”—Oliver mimicked the man’s gravitas—“and broad gestures to nudge his audience because he is totally incapable of arguing a case. The voice thing is so over the top, Pro. People laugh at his humor not because he is funny but because he telegraphs his desire to be funny. His humor is nothing more than a way of winning over people he can’t persuade. “If you look at him when you’re speaking, he always looks away, he’s not listening, he’s just itching to say things he’s rehearsed while you were speaking and wants to say before he forgets them.” How could anyone intuit the manner of someone’s thinking unless he himself was already familiar with this same mode of thinking? How could he perceive so many devious turns in others unless he had practiced them himself? What struck me was not just his amazing gift for reading people, for rummaging inside them and digging out the precise configuration of their personality, but his ability to intuit things in exactly the way I myself might have intuited them. This, in the end, was what drew me to him with a compulsion that overrode desire or friendship or the allurements of a common religion. “How about catching a movie?” he blurted out one evening when we were all sitting together, as if he’d suddenly hit on a solution to what promised to be a dull night indoors. We had just left the dinner table where my father, as was his habit these days, had been urging me to try to go out with friends more often, especially in the evening. It bordered on a lecture. Oliver was still new with us and knew no one in town, so I must have seemed as good a movie partner as any. But he had asked his question in far too breezy and spontaneous a manner, as though he wanted me and everyone else in the living room to know that he was hardly invested in going to the movies and could just as readily stay home and go over his manuscript. The carefee inflection of his offer, however, was also a wink aimed at my father: he was only pretending to have come up with the idea; in fact, without letting me suspect it, he was picking up on my father’s advice at the dinner table and was offering to go for my benefit alone. I smiled, not at the offer, but at the double-edged maneuver. He immediately caught my smile. And having caught it, smiled back, almost in self-mockery, sensing that if he gave any sign of guessing I’d seen through his ruse he’d be confirming his guilt, but that refusing to own up to it, after I’d made clear I’d intercepted it, would indict him even more. So he smiled to confess he’d been caught but also to show he was a good enough sport to own up to it and still enjoy going to the movies together. The whole thing thrilled me. Or perhaps his smile was his way of countering my reading tit for tat with the unstated suggestion that, much as he’d been caught trying to affect total casualness on the face of his offer, he too had found something to smile about in me—namely, the shrewd, devious, guilty pleasure I derived in finding so many imperceptible affinities between us. There may have been nothing there, and I might have invented the whole thing. But both of us knew what the other had seen. That evening, as we biked to the movie theater, I was—and I didn’t care to hide it—riding on air. So, with so much insight, would he not have noticed the meaning behind my abrupt shrinking away from his hand? Not notice that I’d leaned into his grip? Not know that I didn’t want him to let go of me? Not sense that when he started massaging me, my inability to relax was my last refuge, my last defense, my last pretense, that I had by no means resisted, that mine was fake resistance, that I was incapable of resisting and would never want to resist, no matter what he did or asked me to do? Not know, as I sat on my bed that Sunday afternoon when no one was home except for the two of us and watched him enter my room and ask me why I wasn’t with the others at the beach, that if I refused to answer and simply shrugged my shoulders under his gaze, it was simply so as not to show that I couldn’t gather sufficient breath to speak, that if I so much as let out a sound it might be to utter a desperate confession or a sob—one or the other? Never, since childhood, had anyone brought me to such a pass. Bad allergy, I’d said. Me too, he replied. We probably have the same one. Again I shrugged my shoulders. He picked up my old teddy bear in one hand, turned its face toward him, and whispered something into its ear. Then, turning the teddy’s face to me and altering his voice, asked, “What’s wrong? You’re upset.” By then he must have noticed the bathing suit I was wearing. Was I wearing it lower than was decent? “Want to go for a swim?” he asked. “Later, maybe,” I said, echoing his word but also trying to say as little as possible before he’d spot I was out of breath. “Let’s go now.” He extended his hand to help me get up. I grabbed it and, turning on my side facing the wall away from him to prevent him from seeing me, I asked, “Must we?” This was the closest I would ever come to saying, Stay. Just stay with me. Let your hand travel wherever it wishes, take my suit off, take me, I won’t make a noise, won’t tell a soul, I’m hard and you know it, and if you won’t, I’ll take that hand of yours and slip it into my suit now and let you put as many fingers as you want inside me. He wouldn’t have picked up on any of this? He said he was going to change and walked out of my room. “I’ll meet you downstairs.” When I looked at my crotch, to my complete dismay I saw it was damp. Had he seen it? Surely he must have. That’s why he wanted us to go to the beach. That’s why he walked out of my room. I hit my head with my fist. How could I have been so careless, so thoughtless, so totally stupid? Of course he’d seen. I should have learned to do what he’d have done. Shrugged my shoulders—and been okay with pre-come. But that wasn’t me. It would never have occurred to me to say, So what if he saw? Now he knows. What never crossed my mind was that someone else who lived under our roof, who played cards with my mother, ate breakfast and supper at our table, recited the Hebrew blessing on Fridays for the sheer fun of it, slept in one of our beds, used our towels, shared our friends, watched TV with us on rainy days when we sat in the living room with a blanket around us because it got cold and we felt so snug being all together as we listened to the rain patter against the windows—that someone else in my immediate world might like what I liked, want what I wanted, be who I was. It would never have entered my mind because I was still under the illusion that, barring what I’d read in books, inferred from rumors, and overheard in bawdy talk all over, no one my age had ever wanted to be both man and woman—with men and women. I had wanted other men my age before and had slept with women. But before he’d stepped out of the cab and walked into our home, it would never have seemed remotely possible that someone so thoroughly okay with himself might want me to share his body as much as I ached to yield up mine. And yet, about two weeks after his arrival, all I wanted every night was for him to leave his room, not via its front door, but through the French windows on our balcony. I wanted to hear his window open, hear his espadrilles on the balcony, and then the sound of my own window, which was never locked, being pushed open as he’d step into my room after everyone had gone to bed, slip under my covers, undress me without asking, and after making me want him more than I thought I could ever want another living soul, gently, softly, and, with the kindness one Jew extends to another, work his way into my body, gently and softly, after heeding the words I’d been rehearsing for days now, Please, don’t hurt me, which meant, Hurt me all you want. I seldom stayed in my room during the day. Instead, for the past few summers I had appropriated a round table with an umbrella in the back garden by the pool. Pavel, our previous summer resident, had liked working in his room, occasionally stepping out onto the balcony to get a glimpse of the sea or smoke a cigarette. Maynard, before him, had also worked in his room. Oliver needed company. He began by sharing my table but eventually grew to like throwing a large sheet on the grass and lying on it, flanked by loose pages of his manuscript and what he liked to call his “things”: lemonade, suntan lotion, books, espadrilles, sunglasses, colored pens, and music, which he listened to with headphones, so that it was impossible to speak to him unless he was speaking to you first. Sometimes, when I came downstairs with my scorebook or other books in the morning, he was already sprawled in the sun wearing his red or yellow bathing suit and sweating. We’d go jogging or swimming, and return to find breakfast waiting for us. Then he got in the habit of leaving his “things” on the grass and lying right on the tiled edge of the pool—called “heaven,” short for “This is heaven,” as he often said after lunch, “I’m going to heaven now,” adding, as an inside joke among Latinists, “to apricate.” We would tease him about the countless hours he would spend soaking in suntan lotion as he lay on the same exact spot along the pool. “How long were you in heaven this morning?” my mother would ask. “Two straight hours. But I plan to return early this afternoon for a much longer aprication.” Going to the orle of paradise also meant lying on his back along the edge of the pool with one leg dangling in the water, wearing his headphones and his straw hat flat on his face. Here was someone who lacked for nothing. I couldn’t understand this feeling. I envied him. “Oliver, are you sleeping?” I would ask when the air by the pool had grown oppressively torpid and quiet. Silence. Then his reply would come, almost a sigh, without a single muscle moving in his body. “I was.” “Sorry.” That foot in the water—I could have kissed every toe on it. Then kissed his ankles and his knees. How often had I stared at his bathing suit while his hat was covering his face? He couldn’t possibly have known what I was looking at. Or: “Oliver, are you sleeping?” Long silence. “No. Thinking.” “About what?” His toes flicking the water. “About Heidegger’s interpretation of a fragment by Heraclitus.” Or, when I wasn’t practicing the guitar and he wasn’t listening to his headphones, still with his straw hat flat on his face, he would suddenly break the silence: “Elio.” “Yes?” “What are you doing?” “Reading.” “No, you’re not.” “Thinking, then.” “About?” I was dying to tell him. “Private,” I replied. “So you won’t tell me?” “So I won’t tell you.” “So he won’t tell me,” he repeated, pensively, as if explaining to someone about me. How I loved the way he repeated what I myself had just repeated. It made me think of a caress, or of a gesture, which happens to be totally accidental the first time but becomes intentional the second time and more so yet the third. It reminded me of the way Mafalda would make my bed every morning, first by folding the top sheet over the blanket, then by folding the sheet back again to cover the pillows on top of the blanket, and once more yet when she folded the whole thing over the bedspread—back and forth until I knew that tucked in between these multiple folds were tokens of something at once pious and indulgent, like acquiescence in an instant of passion. Silence was always light and unobtrusive on those afternoons. “I’m not telling,” I said. “Then I’m going back to sleep,” he’d say. My heart was racing. He must have known. Profound silence again. Moments later: “This is heaven.” And I wouldn’t hear him say another word for at least an hour. There was nothing I loved more in life than to sit at my table and pore over my transcriptions while he lay on his belly marking pages he’d pick up every morning from Signora Milani, his translator in B. “Listen to this,” he’d sometimes say, removing his headphones, breaking the oppressive silence of those long sweltering summer mornings. “Just listen to this drivel.” And he’d proceed to read aloud something he couldn’t believe he had written months earlier. “Does it make any sense to you? Not to me.” “Maybe it did when you wrote it,” I said. He thought for a while as though weighing my words. “That’s the kindest thing anyone’s said to me in months”—spoken ever so earnestly, as if he was hit by a sudden revelation and was taking what I’d said to mean much more than I thought it did. I felt ill at ease, looked away, and finally muttered the first thing that came to mind: “Kind?” I asked. “Yes, kind.” I didn’t know what kindness had to do with it. Or perhaps I wasn’t seeing clearly enough where all this was headed and preferred to let the matter slide. Silence again. Until the next time he’d speak. How I loved it when he broke the silence between us to say something—anything—or to ask what I thought about X, or had I ever heard of Y? Nobody in our household ever asked my opinion about anything. If he hadn’t already figured out why, he would soon enough—it was only a matter of time before he fell in with everyone’s view that I was the baby of the family. And yet here he was in his third week with us, asking me if I’d ever heard of Athanasius Kircher, Giuseppe Belli, and Paul Celan. “I have.” “I’m almost a decade older than you are and until a few days ago had never heard of any of them. I don’t get it.” “What’s not to get? Dad’s a university professor. I grew up without TV. Get it now?” “Go back to your plunking, will you!” he said as though crumpling a towel and throwing it at my face. I even liked the way he told me off. One day while moving my notebook on the table, I accidentally tipped over my glass. It fell on the grass. It didn’t break. Oliver, who was close by, got up, picked it up, and placed it, not just on the table, but right next to my pages. I didn’t know where to find the words to thank him. “You didn’t have to,” I finally said. He let just enough time go by for me to register that his answer might not be casual or carefree. “I wanted to.” He wanted to, I thought. I wanted to, I imagined him repeating—kind, complaisant, effusive, as he was when the mood would suddenly strike him. To me those hours spent at that round wooden table in our garden with the large umbrella imperfectly shading my papers, the chinking of our iced lemonades, the sound of the not-too-distant surf gently lapping the giant rocks below, and in the background, from some neighboring house, the muffled crackle of the hit parade medley on perpetual replay—all these are forever impressed on those mornings when all I prayed for was for time to stop. Let summer never end, let him never go away, let the music on perpetual replay play forever, I’m asking for very little, and I swear I’ll ask for nothing more. What did I want? And why couldn’t I know what I wanted, even when I was perfectly ready to be brutal in my admissions? Perhaps the very least I wanted was for him to tell me that there was nothing wrong with me, that I was no less human than any other young man my age. I would have been satisfied and asked for nothing else than if he’d bent down and picked up the dignity I could so effortlessly have thrown at his feet. I was Glaucus and he was Diomedes. In the name of some obscure cult among men, I was giving him my golden armor for his bronze. Fair exchange. Neither haggled, just as neither spoke of thrift or extravagance. The word “friendship” came to mind. But friendship, as defined by everyone, was alien, fallow stuff I cared nothing for. What I may have wanted instead, from the moment he stepped out of the cab to our farewell in Rome, was what all humans ask of one another, what makes life livable. It would have to come from him first. Then possibly from me. There is a law somewhere that says that when one person is thoroughly smitten with the other, the other must unavoidably be smitten as well. Amor ch’a null’amato amar perdona. Love, which exempts no one who’s loved from loving, Francesca’s words in the Inferno. Just wait and be hopeful. I was hopeful, though perhaps this was what I had wanted all along. To wait forever. As I sat there working on transcriptions at my round table in the morning, what I would have settled for was not his friendship, not anything. Just to look up and find him there, suntan lotion, straw hat, red bathing suit, lemonade. To look up and find you there, Oliver. For the day will come soon enough when I’ll look up and you’ll no longer be there. By late morning, friends and neighbors from adjoining houses frequently dropped in. Everyone would gather in our garden and then head out together to the beach below. Our house was the closest to the water, and all you needed was to open the tiny gate by the balustrade, take the narrow stairway down the bluff, and you were on the rocks. Chiara, one of the girls who three years ago was shorter than I and who just last summer couldn’t leave me alone, had now blossomed into a woman who had finally mastered the art of not always greeting me whenever we met. Once, she and her younger sister dropped in with the rest, picked up Oliver’s shirt on the grass, threw it at him, and said, “Enough. We’re going to the beach and you’re coming.” He was willing to oblige. “Let me just put away these papers. Otherwise his father”—and with his hands carrying papers he used his chin to point at me—“will skin me alive.” “Talking about skin, come here,” she said, and with her fingernails gently and slowly tried to pull a sliver of peeling skin from his tanned shoulders, which had acquired the light golden hue of a wheat field in late June. How I wished I could do that. “Tell his father that I crumpled his papers. See what he says then.” Looking over his manuscript, which Oliver had left on the large dining table on his way upstairs, Chiara shouted from below that she could do a better job translating these pages than the local translator. A child of expats like me, Chiara had an Italian mother and an American father. She spoke English and Italian with both. “Do you type good too?” came his voice from upstairs as he rummaged for another bathing suit in his bedroom, then in the shower, doors slamming, drawers thudding, shoes kicked. “I type good,” she shouted, looking up into the empty stairwell. “As good as you speak good?” “Bettah. And I’d’a gave you a bettah price too.” “I need five pages translated per day, to be ready for pickup every morning.” “Then I won’t do nu’in for you,” snapped Chiara. “Find yuhsef somebuddy else.” “Well, Signora Milani needs the money,” he said, coming downstairs, billowy blue shirt, espadrilles, red trunks, sunglasses, and the red Loeb edition of Lucretius that never left his side. “I’m okay with her,” he said as he rubbed some lotion on his shoulders. “I’m okay with her,” Chiara said, tittering. “I’m okay with you, you’re okay with me, she’s okay with him—” “Stop clowning and let’s go swimming,” said Chiara’s sister. He had, it took me a while to realize, four personalities depending on which bathing suit he was wearing. Knowing which to expect gave me the illusion of a slight advantage. Red: bold, set in his ways, very grown-up, almost gruff and ill-tempered—stay away. Yellow: sprightly, buoyant, funny, not without barbs—don’t give in too easily; might turn to red in no time. Green, which he seldom wore: acquiescent, eager to learn, eager to speak, sunny—why wasn’t he always like this? Blue: the afternoon he stepped into my room from the balcony, the day he massaged my shoulder, or when he picked up my glass and placed it right next to me. Today was red: he was hasty, determined, snappy. On his way out, he grabbed an apple from a large bowl of fruit, uttered a cheerful “Later, Mrs. P.” to my mother, who was sitting with two friends in the shade, all three of them in bathing suits, and, rather than open the gate to the narrow stairway leading to the rocks, jumped over it. None of our summer guests had ever been as freewheeling. But everyone loved him for it, the way everyone grew to love Later! “Okay, Oliver, later, okay,” said my mother, trying to speak his lingo, having even grown to accept her new title as Mrs. P. There was always something abrupt about that word. It wasn’t “See you later” or “Take care, now,” or even “Ciao.” Later! was a chilling, slam-dunk salutation that shoved aside all our honeyed European niceties. Later! always left a sharp aftertaste to what until then may have been a warm, heart-to-heart moment. Later! didn’t close things neatly or allow them to trail off. It slammed them shut. But Later! was also a way of avoiding saying goodbye, of making light of all goodbyes. You said Later! not to mean farewell but to say you’d be back in no time. It was the equivalent of his saying “Just a sec” when my mother once asked him to pass the bread and he was busy pulling apart the fish bones on his plate. “Just a sec.” My mother, who hated what she called his Americanisms, ended up calling him Il cauboi—the cowboy. It started as a putdown and soon enough became an endearment, to go along with her other nickname for him, conferred during his first week, when he came down to the dinner table after showering, his glistening hair combed back. La star, she had said, short for la muvi star. My father, always the most indulgent among us, but also the most observant, had figured the cauboi out. “É un timido, he’s shy, that’s why,” he said when asked to explain Oliver’s abrasive Later! Oliver timido? That was new. Could all of his gruff Americanisms be nothing more than an exaggerated way of covering up the simple fact that he didn’t know—or feared he didn’t know—how to take his leave gracefully? It reminded me of how for days he had refused to eat soft-boiled eggs in the morning. By the fourth or fifth day, Mafalda insisted he couldn’t leave the region without tasting our eggs. He finally consented, only to admit, with a touch of genuine embarrassment that he never bothered to conceal, that he didn’t know how to open a soft-boiled egg. “Lasci fare a me, Signor Ulliva, leave it to me,” she said. From that morning on and well into his stay with us, she would bring Ulliva two eggs and stop serving everyone until she had sliced open the shell of both his eggs. Did he perhaps want a third? she asked. Some people liked more than two eggs. No, two would do, he replied, and, turning to my parents, added, “I know myself. If I have three, I’ll have a fourth, and more.” I had never heard someone his age say, I know myself. It intimidated me. But she had been won over well before, on his third morning with us, when she asked him if he liked juice in the morning, and he’d said yes. He was probably expecting orange or grapefruit juice; what he got was a large glass filled to the rim with thick apricot juice. He had never had apricot juice in his life. She stood facing him with her salver flat against her apron, trying to make out his reaction as he quaffed it down. He said nothing at first. Then, probably without thinking, he smacked his lips. She was in heaven. My mother couldn’t believe that people who taught at world-famous universities smacked their lips after downing apricot juice. From that day on, a glass of the stuff was waiting for him every morning. He was baffled to know that apricot trees existed in, of all places, our orchard. On late afternoons, when there was nothing to do in the house, Mafalda would ask him to climb a ladder with a basket and pick those fruits that were almost blushing with shame, she said. He would joke in Italian, pick one out, and ask, Is this one blushing with shame? No, she would say, this one is too young still, youth has no shame, shame comes with age. I shall never forget watching him from my table as he climbed the small ladder wearing his red bathing trunks, taking forever to pick the ripest apricots. On his way to the kitchen—wicker basket, espadrilles, billowy shirt, suntan lotion, and all—he threw me a very large one, saying, “Yours,” in just the same way he’d throw a tennis ball across the court and say, “Your serve.” Of course, he had no idea what I’d been thinking minutes earlier, but the firm, rounded cheeks of the apricot with their dimple in the middle reminded me of how his body had stretched across the boughs of the tree with his tight, rounded ass echoing the color and the shape of the fruit. Touching the apricot was like touching him. He would never know, just as the people we buy the newspaper from and then fantasize about all night have no idea that this particular inflection on their face or that tan along their exposed shoulder will give us no end of pleasure when we’re alone. Yours, like Later!, had an off-the-cuff, unceremonious, here, catch quality that reminded me how twisted and secretive my desires were compared to the expansive spontaneity of everything about him. It would never have occurred to him that in placing the apricot in my palm he was giving me his ass to hold or that, in biting the fruit, I was also biting into that part of his body that must have been fairer than the rest because it never apricated—and near it, if I dared to bite that far, his apricock. In fact, he knew more about apricots than we did—their grafts, etymology, origins, fortunes in and around the Mediterranean. At the breakfast table that morning, my father explained that the name for the fruit came from the Arabic, since the word—in Italian, albicocca, abricot in French, aprikose in German, like the words “algebra,” “alchemy,” and “alcohol”—was derived from an Arabic noun combined with the Arabic article al- before it. The origin of albicocca was al-birquq. My father, who couldn’t resist not leaving well enough alone and needed to top his entire performance with a little fillip of more recent vintage, added that what was truly amazing was that, in Israel and in many Arab countries nowadays, the fruit is referred to by a totally different name: mishmish. My mother was nonplussed. We all, including my two cousins who were visiting that week, had an impulse to clap. On the matter of etymologies, however, Oliver begged to differ. “Ah?!” was my father’s startled response. “The word is actually not an Arabic word,” he said. “How so?” My father was clearly mimicking Socratic irony, which would start with an innocent “You don’t say,” only then to lead his interlocutor onto turbulent shoals. “It’s a long story, so bear with me, Pro.” Suddenly Oliver had become serious. “Many Latin words are derived from the Greek. In the case of ‘apricot,’ however, it’s the other way around; the Greek takes over from Latin. The Latin word was praecoquum, from pre-coquere, pre-cook, to ripen early, as in ‘precocious,’ meaning premature. “The Byzantines borrowed praecox, and it became prekokkia or berikokki, which is finally how the Arabs must have inherited it as al-birquq.” My mother, unable to resist his charm, reached out to him and tousled his hair and said, “Che muvi star!” “He is right, there is no denying it,” said my father under his breath, as though mimicking the part of a cowered Galileo forced to mutter the truth to himself. “Courtesy of Philology 101,” said Oliver. All I kept thinking of was apricock precock, precock apricock. One day I saw Oliver sharing the same ladder with the gardener, trying to learn all he could about Anchise’s grafts, which explained why our apricots were larger, fleshier, juicier than most apricots in the region. He became fascinated with the grafts, especially when he discovered that the gardener could spend hours sharing everything he knew about them with anyone who cared to ask. Oliver, it turned out, knew more about all manner of foods, cheeses, and wines than all of us put together. Even Mafalda was wowed and would, on occasion, defer to his opinion—Do you think I should lightly fry the paste with either onions or sage? Doesn’t it taste too lemony now? I ruined it, didn’t I? I should have added an extra egg—it’s not holding! Should I use the new blender or should I stick to the old mortar and pestle? My mother couldn’t resist throwing in a barb or two. Like all caubois, she said: they know everything there is to know about food, because they can’t hold a knife and fork properly. Gourmet aristocrats with plebian manners. Feed him in the kitchen. With pleasure, Mafalda would have replied. And indeed, one day when he arrived very late for lunch after spending the morning with his translator, there was Signor Ulliva in the kitchen, eating spaghetti and drinking dark red wine with Mafalda, Manfredi, her husband and our driver, and Anchise, all of them trying to teach him a Neapolitan song. It was not only the national hymn of their southern youth, but it was the best they could offer when they wished to entertain royalty. Everyone was won over. Chiara, I could tell, was equally smitten. Her sister as well. Even the crowd of tennis bums who for years had come early every afternoon before heading out to the beach for a late swim would stay much later than usual hoping to catch a quick game with him. With any of our other summer residents I would have resented it. But seeing everyone take such a liking to him, I found a strange, small oasis of peace. What could possibly be wrong with liking someone everyone else liked? Everyone had fallen for him, including my first and second cousins as well as my other relatives, who stayed with us on weekends and sometimes longer. For someone known to love spotting defects in everyone else, I derived a certain satisfaction from concealing my feelings for him behind my usual indifference, hostility, or spite for anyone in a position to outshine me at home. Because everyone liked him, I had to say I liked him too. I was like men who openly declare other men irresistibly handsome the better to conceal that they’re aching to embrace them. To withhold universal approval would simply alert others that I had concealed motives for needing to resist him. Oh, I like him very much, I said during his first ten days when my father asked me what I thought of him. I had used words intentionally compromising because I knew no one would suspect a false bottom in the arcane palette of shadings I applied to everything I said about him. He’s the best person I’ve known in my life, I said on the night when the tiny fishing boat on which he had sailed out with Anchise early that afternoon failed to return and we were scrambling to find his parents’ telephone number in the States in case we had to break the terrible news. On that day I even urged myself to let down my inhibitions and show my grief the way everyone else was showing theirs. But I also did it so none might suspect I nursed sorrows of a far more secret and more desperate kind—until I realized, almost to my shame, that part of me didn’t mind his dying, that there was even something almost exciting in the thought of his bloated, eyeless body finally showing up on our shores. But I wasn’t fooling myself. I was convinced that no one in the world wanted him as physically as I did; nor was anyone willing to go the distance I was prepared to travel for him. No one had studied every bone in his body, ankles, knees, wrists, fingers, and toes, no one lusted after every ripple of muscle, no one took him to bed every night and on spotting him in the morning lying in his heaven by the pool, smiled at him, watched a smile come to his lips, and thought, Did you know I came in your mouth last night? Perhaps even the others nursed an extra something for him, which each concealed and displayed in his or her own way. Unlike the others, though, I was the first to spot him when he came into the garden from the beach or when the flimsy silhouette of his bicycle, blurred in the midafternoon mist, would appear out of the alley of pines leading to our house. I was the first to recognize his steps when he arrived late at the movie theater one night and stood there looking for the rest of us, not uttering a sound until I turned around knowing he’d be overjoyed I’d spotted him. I recognized him by the inflection of his footfalls up the stairway to our balcony or on the landing outside my bedroom door. I knew when he stopped outside my French windows, as if debating whether to knock and then thinking twice, and continued walking. I knew it was he riding a bicycle by the way the bike skidded ever so mischievously on the deep gravel path and still kept going when it was obvious there couldn’t be any traction left, only to come to a sudden, bold, determined stop, with something of a declarative voilà in the way he jumped off. I always tried to keep him within my field of vision. I never let him drift away from me except when he wasn’t with me. And when he wasn’t with me, I didn’t much care what he did so long as he remained the exact same person with others as he was with me. Don’t let him be someone else when he’s away. Don’t let him be someone I’ve never seen before. Don’t let him have a life other than the life I know he has with us, with me. Don’t let me lose him. I knew I had no hold on him, nothing to offer, nothing to lure him by. I was nothing. Just a kid. He simply doled out his attention when the occasion suited him. When he came to my assistance to help me understand a fragment by Heraclitus, because I was determined to read “his” author, the words that sprang to me were not “gentleness” or “generosity” but “patience” and “forbearance,” which ranked higher. Moments later, when he asked if I liked a book I was reading, his question was prompted less by curiosity than by an opportunity for casual chitchat. Everything was casual. He was okay with casual. How come you’re not at the beach with the others? Go back to your plunking. Later! Yours! Just making conversation. Casual chitchat. Nothing. Oliver was receiving many invitations to other houses. This had become something of a tradition with our other summer residents as well. My father always wanted them to feel free to “talk” their books and expertise around town. He also believed that scholars should learn how to speak to the layman, which was why he always had lawyers, doctors, businessmen over for meals. Everyone in Italy has read Dante, Homer, and Virgil, he’d say. Doesn’t matter whom you’re talking to, so long as you Dante-and-Homer them first. Virgil is a must, Leopardi comes next, and then feel free to dazzle them with everything you’ve got, Celan, celery, salami, who cares. This also had the advantage of allowing all of our summer residents to perfect their Italian, one of the requirements of the residency. Having them on the dinner circuit around B. also had another benefit: it relieved us from having them at our table every single night of the week. But Oliver’s invitations had become vertiginous. Chiara and her sister wanted him at least twice a week. A cartoonist from Brussels, who rented a villa all summer long, wanted him for his exclusive Sunday soupers to which writers and scholars from the environs were always invited. Then the Moreschis, from three villas down, the Malaspinas from N., and the occasional acquaintance struck up at one of the bars on the piazzetta, or at Le Danzing. All this to say nothing of his poker and bridge playing at night, which flourished by means totally unknown to us. His life, like his papers, even when it gave every impression of being chaotic, was always meticulously compartmentalized. Sometimes he skipped dinner altogether and would simply tell Mafalda, “Esco, I’m going out.” His Esco, I realized soon enough, was just another version of Later! A summary and unconditional goodbye, spoken not as you were leaving, but after you were out the door. You said it with your back to those you were leaving behind. I felt sorry for those on the receiving end who wished to appeal, to plead. Not knowing whether he’d show up at the dinner table was torture. But bearable. Not daring to ask whether he’d be there was the real ordeal. Having my heart jump when I suddenly heard his voice or saw him seated at his seat when I’d almost given up hoping he’d be among us tonight eventually blossomed like a poisoned flower. Seeing him and thinking he’d join us for dinner tonight only to hear his peremptory Esco taught me there are certain wishes that must be clipped like wings off a thriving butterfly. I wanted him gone from our home so as to be done with him. I wanted him dead too, so that if I couldn’t stop thinking about him and worrying about when would be the next time I’d see him, at least his death would put an end to it. I wanted to kill him myself, even, so as to let him know how much his mere existence had come to bother me, how unbearable his ease with everything and everyone, taking all things in stride, his tireless I’m-okay-with-this-and-that, his springing across the gate to the beach when everyone else opened the latch first, to say nothing of his bathing suits, his spot in paradise, his cheeky Later!, his lip-smacking love for apricot juice. If I didn’t kill him, then I’d cripple him for life, so that he’d be with us in a wheelchair and never go back to the States. If he were in a wheelchair, I would always know where he was, and he’d be easy to find. I would feel superior to him and become his master, now that he was crippled. Then it hit me that I could have killed myself instead, or hurt myself badly enough and let him know why I’d done it. If I hurt my face, I’d want him to look at me and wonder why, why might anyone do this to himself, until, years and years later—yes, Later!—he’d finally piece the puzzle together and beat his head against the wall. Sometimes it was Chiara who had to be eliminated. I knew what she was up to. At my age, her body was more than ready for him. More than mine? I wondered. She was after him, that much was clear, while all I really wanted was one night with him, just one night—one hour, even—if only to determine whether I wanted him for another night after that. What I didn’t realize was that wanting to test desire is nothing more than a ruse to get what we want without admitting that we want it. I dreaded to think how experienced he himself was. If he could make friends so easily within weeks of arriving here, you had only to think of what life at home was like. Just imagine letting him loose on an urban campus like Columbia’s, where he taught. The thing with Chiara happened so easily it was past reckoning. With Chiara he loved heading out into the deep on our twin-hulled rowboat for a gita, with him rowing while she lounged in the sun on one of the hulls, eventually removing her bra once they had stopped and were far from shore. I was watching. I dreaded losing him to her. Dreaded losing her to him too. Yet thinking of them together did not dismay me. It made me hard, even though I didn’t know if what aroused me was her naked body lying in the sun, his next to hers, or both of theirs together. From where I stood against the balustrade along the garden overlooking the bluff, I would strain my eyes and finally catch sight of them lying in the sun next to one another, probably necking, she occasionally dropping a thigh on top of his, until minutes later he did the same. They hadn’t removed their suits. I took comfort in that, but when later one night I saw them dancing, something told me that these were not the moves of people who’d stopped at heavy petting. Actually, I liked watching them dance together. Perhaps seeing him dance this way with someone made me realize that he was taken now, that there was no reason to hope. And this was a good thing. It would help my recovery. Perhaps thinking this way was already a sign that recovery was well under way. I had grazed the forbidden zone and been let off easily enough. But when my heart jolted the next morning when I saw him at our usual spot in the garden, I knew that wishing them my best and longing for recovery had nothing to do with what I still wanted from him. Did his heart jolt when he saw me walk into a room? I doubted it. Did he ignore me the way I ignored him that morning: on purpose, to draw me out, to protect himself, to show I was nothing to him? Or was he oblivious, the way sometimes the most perceptive individuals fail to pick up the most obvious cues because they’re simply not paying attention, not tempted, not interested? When he and Chiara danced I saw her slip her thigh between his legs. And I’d seen them mock-wrestle on the sand. When had it started? And how was it that I hadn’t been there when it started? And why wasn’t I told? Why wasn’t I able to reconstruct the moment when they progressed from x to y? Surely the signs were all around me. Why didn’t I see them? I began thinking of nothing but what they might do together. I would have done anything to ruin every opportunity they had to be alone. I would have slandered one to the other, then used the reaction of one to report it back to the other. But I also wanted to see them do it, I wanted to be in on it, have them owe me and make me their necessary accomplice, their go-between, the pawn that has become so vital to king and queen that it is now master of the board. I began to say nice things about each, pretending I had no inkling where things stood between them. He thought I was being coy. She said she could take care of herself. “Are you trying to fix us up?” she asked, derision crackling in her voice. “What’s it to you anyway?” he asked. I described her naked body, which I’d seen two years before. I wanted him aroused. It didn’t matter what he desired so long as he was aroused. I described him to her too, because I wanted to see if her arousal took the same turns as mine, so that I might trace mine on hers and see which of the two was the genuine article. “Are you trying to make me like her?” “What would the harm be in that?” “No harm. Except I like to go it alone, if you don’t mind.” It took me a while to understand what I was really after. Not just to get him aroused in my presence, or to make him need me, but in urging him to speak about her behind her back, I’d turn Chiara into the object of man-to-man gossip. It would allow us to warm up to one another through her, to bridge the gap between us by admitting we were drawn to the same woman. Perhaps I just wanted him to know I liked girls. “Look, it’s very nice of you—and I appreciate it. But don’t.” His rebuke told me he wasn’t going to play my game. It put me in my place. No, he’s the noble sort, I thought. Not like me, insidious, sinister, and base. Which pushed my agony and shame up a few notches. Now, over and above the shame of desiring him as Chiara did, I respected and feared him and hated him for making me hate myself. The morning after seeing them dance I made no motions to go jogging with him. Neither did he. When I eventually brought up jogging, because the silence on the matter had become unbearable, he said he’d already gone. “You’re a late riser these days.” Clever, I thought. Indeed, for the past few mornings, I had become so used to finding him waiting for me that I’d grown bold and didn’t worry too much about when I got up. That would teach me. The next morning, though I wanted to swim with him, coming downstairs would have looked like a chastened response to a casual chiding. So I stayed in my room. Just to prove a point. I heard him step lightly across the balcony, on tiptoes almost. He was avoiding me. I came downstairs much later. By then he had already left to deliver his corrections and retrieve the latest pages from Signora Milani. We stopped talking. Even when we shared the same spot in the morning, talk was at best idle and stopgap. You couldn’t even call it chitchat. It didn’t upset him. He probably hadn’t given it another thought. How is it that some people go through hell trying to get close to you, while you haven’t the haziest notion and don’t even give them a thought when two weeks go by and you haven’t so much as exchanged a single word between you? Did he have any idea? Should I let him know? The romance with Chiara started on the beach. Then he neglected tennis and took up bike rides with her and her friends in the late afternoons in the hill towns farther west along the coast. One day, when there was one too many of them to go biking, Oliver turned to me and asked if I minded letting Mario borrow my bike since I wasn’t using it. It threw me back to age six. I shrugged my shoulders, meaning, Go ahead, I couldn’t care less. But no sooner had they left than I scrambled upstairs and began sobbing into my pillow. At night sometimes we’d meet at Le Danzing. There was never any telling when Oliver would show up. He just bounded onto the scene, and just as suddenly disappeared, sometimes alone, sometimes with others. When Chiara came to our home as she’d been in the habit of doing ever since childhood, she would sit in the garden and stare out, basically waiting for him to show up. Then, when the minutes wore on and there was nothing much to say between us, she’d finally ask, “C’è Oliver?” He went to see the translator. Or: He’s in the library with my dad. Or: He’s down somewhere at the beach. “Well, I’m leaving, then. Tell him I came by.” It’s over, I thought. Mafalda shook her head with a look of compassionate rebuke. “She’s a baby, he’s a university professor. Couldn’t she have found someone her own age?” “Nobody asked you anything,” snapped Chiara, who had overheard and was not about to be criticized by a cook. “Don’t you talk to me that way or I’ll split your face in two,” said our Neapolitan cook, raising the palm of her hand in the air. “She’s not seventeen yet and she goes about having bare-breasted crushes. Thinks I haven’t seen anything?” I could just see Mafalda inspecting Oliver’s sheets every morning. Or comparing notes with Chiara’s housemaid. No secret could escape this network of informed perpetue, housekeepers. I looked at Chiara. I knew she was in pain. Everyone suspected something was going on between them. In the afternoon he’d sometimes say he was going to the shed by the garage to pick up one of the bikes and head to town. An hour and a half later he would be back. The translator, he’d explain. “The translator,” my father’s voice would resound as he nursed an after-dinner cognac. “Traduttrice, my eye,” Mafalda would intone. Sometimes we’d run into each other in town. Sitting at the caffè where several of us would gather at night after the movies or before heading to the disco, I saw Chiara and Oliver walking out of a side alley together, talking. He was eating an ice cream, while she was hanging on his free arm with both of hers. When had they found the time to become so intimate? Their conversation seemed serious. “What are you doing here?” he said when he spotted me. Banter was both how he took cover and tried to conceal we’d altogether stopped talking. A cheap ploy, I thought. “Hanging out.” “Isn’t it past your bedtime?” “My father doesn’t believe in bedtimes,” I parried. Chiara was still deep in thought. She was avoiding my eyes. Had he told her the nice things I’d been saying about her? She seemed upset. Did she mind my sudden intrusion into their little world? I remembered her tone of voice on the morning when she’d lost it with Mafalda. A smirk hovered on her face; she was about to say something cruel. “Never a bedtime in their house, no rules, no supervision, nothing. That’s why he’s such a well-behaved boy. Don’t you see? Nothing to rebel against.” “Is that true?” “I suppose,” I answered, trying to make light of it before they went any further. “We all have our ways of rebelling.” “We do?” he asked. “Name one,” chimed in Chiara. “You wouldn’t understand.” “He reads Paul Celan,” Oliver broke in, trying to change the subject but also perhaps to come to my rescue and show, without quite seeming to, that he had not forgotten our previous conversation. Was he trying to rehabilitate me after that little jab about my late hours, or was this the beginnings of yet another joke at my expense? A steely, neutral glance sat on his face. “E chi è?” She’d never heard of Paul Celan. I shot him a complicit glance. He intercepted it, but there was no hint of mischief in his eyes when he finally returned my glance. Whose side was he on? “A poet,” he whispered as they started ambling out into the heart of the piazzetta, and he threw me a casual Later! I watched them look for an empty table at one of the adjoining caffès. My friends asked me if he was hitting on her. I don’t know, I replied. Are they doing it, then? Didn’t know that either. I’d love to be in his shoes. Who wouldn’t? But I was in heaven. That he hadn’t forgotten our conversation about Celan gave me a shot of tonic I hadn’t experienced in many, many days. It spilled over everything I touched. Just a word, a gaze, and I was in heaven. To be happy like this maybe wasn’t so difficult after all. All I had to do was find the source of happiness in me and not rely on others to supply it the next time. I remembered the scene in the Bible when Jacob asks Rachel for water and on hearing her speak the words that were prophesied for him, throws up his hands to heaven and kisses the ground by the well. Me Jewish, Celan Jewish, Oliver Jewish—we were in a half ghetto, half oasis, in an otherwise cruel and unflinching world where fuddling around strangers suddenly stops, where we misread no one and no one misjudges us, where one person simply knows the other and knows him so thoroughly that to be taken away from such intimacy is galut, the Hebrew word for exile and dispersal. Was he my home, then, my homecoming? You are my homecoming. When I’m with you and we’re well together, there is nothing more I want. You make me like who I am, who I become when you’re with me, Oliver. If there is any truth in the world, it lies when I’m with you, and if I find the courage to speak my truth to you one day, remind me to light a candle in thanksgiving at every altar in Rome. It never occurred to me that if one word from him could make me so happy, another could just as easily crush me, that if I didn’t want to be unhappy, I should learn to beware of such small joys as well. But on that same night I used the heady elation of the moment to speak to Marzia. We danced past midnight, then I walked her back by way of the shore. Then we stopped. I said I was tempted to take a quick swim, expecting she would hold me back. But she said she too loved swimming at night. Our clothes were off in a second. “You’re not with me because you’re angry with Chiara?” “Why am I angry with Chiara?” “Because of him.” I shook my head, feigning a puzzled look meant to show that I couldn’t begin to guess where she’d fished such a notion from. She asked me to turn around and not stare while she used her sweater to towel her body dry. I pretended to sneak a clandestine glance, but was too obedient not to do as I was told. I didn’t dare ask her not to look when I put my clothes on but was glad she looked the other way. When we were no longer naked, I took her hand and kissed her on the palm, then kissed the space between her fingers, then her mouth. She was slow to kiss me back, but then she didn’t want to stop. We were to meet at the same spot on the beach the following evening. I’d be there before her, I said. “Just don’t tell anyone,” she said. I motioned that my mouth was zipped shut. “We almost did it,” I told both my father and Oliver the next morning as we were having breakfast. “And why didn’t you?” asked my father. “Dunno.” “Better to have tried and failed…” Oliver was half mocking and half comforting me with that oft-rehashed saw. “All I had to do was find the courage to reach out and touch, she would have said yes,” I said, partly to parry further criticism from either of them but also to show that when it came to self-mockery, I could administer my own dose, thank you very much. I was showing off. “Try again later,” said Oliver. This was what people who were okay with themselves did. But I could also sense he was onto something and wasn’t coming out with it, perhaps because there was something mildly disquieting behind his fatuous though well-intentioned try again later. He was criticizing me. Or making fun of me. Or seeing through me. It stung me when he finally came out with it. Only someone who had completely figured me out would have said it. “If not later, when?” My father liked it. “If not later, when?” It echoed Rabbi Hillel’s famous injunction, “If not now, when?” Oliver instantly tried to take back his stinging remark. “I’d definitely try again. And again after that,” came the watered-down version. But try again later was the veil he’d drawn over If not later, when? I repeated his phrase as if it were a prophetic mantra meant to reflect how he lived his life and how I was attempting to live mine. By repeating this mantra that had come straight from his mouth, I might trip on a secret passageway to some nether truth that had hitherto eluded me, about me, about life, about others, about me with others. Try again later were the last words I’d spoken to myself every night when I’d sworn to do something to bring Oliver closer to me. Try again later meant, I haven’t the courage now. Things weren’t ready just yet. Where I’d find the will and the courage to try again later I didn’t know. But resolving to do something rather than sit passively made me feel that I was already doing something, like reaping a profit on money I hadn’t invested, much less earned yet. But I also knew that I was circling wagons around my life with try again laters, and that months, seasons, entire years, a lifetime could go by with nothing but Saint Try-again-later stamped on every day. Try again later worked for people like Oliver. If not later, when? was my shibboleth. If not later, when? What if he had found me out and uncovered each and every one of my secrets with those four cutting words? I had to let him know I was totally indifferent to him. What sent me into a total tailspin was talking to him a few mornings later in the garden and finding, not only that he was turning a deaf ear to all of my blandishments on behalf of Chiara, but that I was on the totally wrong track. “What do you mean, wrong track?” “I’m not interested.” I didn’t know if he meant not interested in discussing it, or not interested in Chiara. “Everyone is interested.” “Well, maybe. But not me.” Still unclear. There was something at once dry, irked, and fussy in his voice. “But I saw you two.” “What you saw was not your business to see. Anyway, I’m not playing this game with either her or you.” He sucked on his cigarette and looking back at me gave me his usual menacing, chilly gaze that could cut and bore into your guts with arthroscopic accuracy. I shrugged my shoulders. “Look, I’m sorry”—and went back to my books. I had overstepped my bounds again and there was no getting out of it gracefully except by owning that I’d been terribly indiscreet. “Maybe you should try,” he threw in. I’d never heard him speak in that lambent tone before. Usually, it was I who teetered on the fringes of propriety. “She wouldn’t want to have anything to do with me.” “Would you want her to?” Where was this going, and why did I feel that a trap lay a few steps ahead? “No?” I replied gingerly, not realizing that my diffidence had made my “no” sound almost like a question. “Are you sure?” Had I, by any chance, convinced him that I’d wanted her all along? I looked up at him as though to return challenge for challenge. “What would you know?” “I know you like her.” “You have no idea what I like,” I snapped. “No idea.” I was trying to sound arch and mysterious, as though referring to a realm of human experience about which someone like him wouldn’t have the slightest clue. But I had only managed to sound peevish and hysterical. A less canny reader of the human soul would have seen in my persistent denials the terrified signs of a flustered admission about Chiara scrambling for cover. A more canny observer, however, would have considered it a lead-in to an entirely different truth: push open the door at your own peril—believe me, you don’t want to hear this. Maybe you should go away now, while there’s still time. But I also knew that if he so much as showed signs of suspecting the truth, I’d make every effort to cast him adrift right away. If, however, he suspected nothing, then my flustered words would have left him marooned just the same. In the end, I was happier if he thought I wanted Chiara than if he pushed the issue further and had me tripping all over myself. Speechless, I would have admitted things I hadn’t mapped out for myself or didn’t know I had it in me to admit. Speechless, I would have gotten to where my body longed to go far sooner than with any bon mot prepared hours ahead of time. I would have blushed, and blushed because I had blushed, fuddled with words and ultimately broken down—and then where would I be? What would he say? Better break down now, I thought, than live another day juggling all of my implausible resolutions to try again later. No, better he should never know. I could live with that. I could always, always live with that. It didn’t even surprise me to see how easy it was to accept. And yet, out of the blue, a tender moment would erupt so suddenly between us that the words I longed to tell him would almost slip out of my mouth. Green bathing suit moments, I called them—even after my color theory was entirely disproved and gave me no confidence to expect kindness on “blue” days or to watch out for “red” days. Music was an easy subject for us to discuss, especially when I was at the piano. Or when he’d want me to play something in the manner of so-and-so. He liked my combinations of two, three, even four composers chiming in on the same piece, and then transcribed by me. One day Chiara started to hum a hit-parade tune and suddenly, because it was a windy day and no one was heading for the beach or even staying outdoors, our friends gathered around the piano in the living room as I improvised a Brahms variation on a Mozart rendition of that very same song. “How do you do this?” he asked me one morning while he lay in heaven. “Sometimes the only way to understand an artist is to wear his shoes, to get inside him. Then everything else flows naturally.” We talked about books again. I had seldom spoken to anyone about books except my father. Or we talked about music, about the pre-Socratic philosophers, about college in the U.S. Or there was Vimini. The first time she intruded on our mornings was precisely when I’d been playing a variation on Brahms’s last variations on Handel. Her voice broke up the intense midmorning heat. “What are you doing?” “Working,” I replied. Oliver, who was lying flat on his stomach on the edge of the pool, looked up with the sweat pouring down between his shoulder blades. “Me too,” he said when she turned and asked him the same question. “You were talking, not working.” “Same thing.” “I wish I could work. But no one gives me any work.” Oliver, who had never seen Vimini before, looked up to me, totally helpless, as though he didn’t know the rules of this conversation. “Oliver, meet Vimini, literally our next-door neighbor.” She offered him her hand and he shook it. “Vimini and I have the same birthday, but she is ten years old. Vimini is also a genius. Isn’t it true you’re a genius, Vimini?” “So they say. But it seems to me that I may not be.” “Why is that?” Oliver inquired, trying not to sound too patronizing. “It would be in rather bad taste for nature to have made me a genius.” Oliver looked more startled than ever: “Come again?” “He doesn’t know, does he?” she was asking me in front of him. I shook my head. “They say I may not live long.” “Why do you say that?” He looked totally stunned. “How do you know?” “Everyone knows. Because I have leukemia.” “But you’re so beautiful, so healthy-looking, and so smart,” he protested. “As I said, a bad joke.” Oliver, who was now kneeling on the grass, had literally dropped his book on the ground. “Maybe you can come over one day and read to me,” she said. “I’m really very nice—and you look very nice too. Well, goodbye.” She climbed over the wall. “And sorry if I spooked you—well—” You could almost watch her trying to withdraw the ill-chosen metaphor. If the music hadn’t already brought us closer together at least for a few hours that day, Vimini’s apparition did. We spoke about her all afternoon. I didn’t have to look for anything to say. He did most of the talking and the asking. Oliver was mesmerized. For once, I wasn’t speaking about myself. Soon they became friends. She was always up in the morning after he returned from his morning jog or swim, and together they would walk over to our gate, and clamber down the stairs ever so cautiously, and head to one of the huge rocks, where they sat and talked until it was time for breakfast. Never had I seen a friendship so beautiful or more intense. I was never jealous of it, and no one, certainly not I, dared come between them or eavesdrop on them. I shall never forget how she would give him her hand once they’d opened the gate to the stairway leading to the rocks. She seldom ever ventured that far unless accompanied by someone older. When I think back to that summer, I can never sort the sequence of events. There are a few key scenes. Otherwise, all I remember are the “repeat” moments. The morning ritual before and after breakfast: Oliver lying on the grass, or by the pool, I sitting at my table. Then the swim or the jog. Then his grabbing a bicycle and riding to see the translator in town. Lunch at the large, shaded dining table in the other garden, or lunch indoors, always a guest or two for lunch drudgery. The afternoon hours, splendid and lush with abundant sun and silence. Then there are the leftover scenes: my father always wondering what I did with my time, why I was always alone; my mother urging me to make new friends if the old ones didn’t interest me, but above all to stop hanging around the house all the time—books, books, books, always books, and all these scorebooks, both of them begging me to play more tennis, go dancing more often, get to know people, find out for myself why others are so necessary in life and not just foreign bodies to be sidled up to. Do crazy things if you must, they told me all the while, forever prying to unearth the mysterious, telltale signs of heartbreak which, in their clumsy, intrusive, devoted way, both would instantly wish to heal, as if I were a soldier who had strayed into their garden and needed his wound immediately stanched or else he’d die. You can always talk to me. I was your age once, my father used to say. The things you feel and think only you have felt, believe me, I’ve lived and suffered through all of them, and more than once—some I’ve never gotten over and others I’m as ignorant about as you are today, yet I know almost every bend, every toll-booth, every chamber in the human heart. There are other scenes: the postprandial silence—some of us napping, some working, others reading, the whole world basking away in hushed semitones. Heavenly hours when voices from the world beyond our house would filter in so softly that I was sure I had drifted off. Then afternoon tennis. Shower and cocktails. Waiting for dinner. Guests again. Dinner. His second trip to the translator. Strolling into town and back late at night, sometimes alone, sometimes with friends. Then there are the exceptions: the stormy afternoon when we sat in the living room, listening to the music and to the hail pelting every window in the house. The lights would go out, the music would die, and all we had was each other’s faces. An aunt twittering away about her dreadful years in St. Louis, Missouri, which she pronounced San Lui, Mother trailing the scent of Earl Grey tea, and in the background, all the way from the kitchen downstairs, the voices of Manfredi and Mafalda—spare whispers of a couple bickering in loud hisses. In the rain, the lean, cloaked, hooded figure of the gardener doing battle with the elements, always pulling up weeds even in the rain, my father signaling with his arms from the living room window, Go back, Anchise, go back. “That man gives me the creeps,” my aunt would say. “That creep has a heart of gold,” my father would say. But all of these hours were strained by fear, as if fear were a brooding specter, or a strange, lost bird trapped in our little town, whose sooty wing flecked every living thing with a shadow that would never wash. I didn’t know what I was afraid of, nor why I worried so much, nor why this thing that could so easily cause panic felt like hope sometimes and, like hope in the darkest moments, brought such joy, unreal joy, joy with a noose tied around it. The thud my heart gave when I saw him unannounced both terrified and thrilled me. I was afraid when he showed up, afraid when he failed to, afraid when he looked at me, more frightened yet when he didn’t. The agony wore me out in the end, and, on scalding afternoons, I’d simply give out and fall asleep on the living room sofa and, though still dreaming, know exactly who was in the room, who had tiptoed in and out, who was standing there, who was looking at me and for how long, who was trying to pick out today’s paper while making the least rustling sound, only to give up and look for tonight’s film listings whether they woke me or not. The fear never went away. I woke up to it, watched it turn to joy when I heard him shower in the morning and knew he’d be downstairs with us for breakfast, only to watch it curdle when, rather than have coffee, he would dash through the house and right away set to work in the garden. By noon, the agony of waiting to hear him say anything to me was more than I could bear. I knew that the sofa awaited me in an hour or so. It made me hate myself for feeling so hapless, so thoroughly invisible, so smitten, so callow. Just say something, just touch me, Oliver. Look at me long enough and watch the tears well in my eyes. Knock at my door at night and see if I haven’t already left it ajar for you. Walk inside. There’s always room in my bed. What I feared most were the days when I didn’t see him for stretches at a time—entire afternoons and evenings sometimes without knowing where he’d been. I’d sometimes spot him crossing the piazzetta or talking to people I’d never seen there. But that didn’t count, because in the small piazzetta where people gathered around closing time, he seldom gave me a second look, just a nod which might have been intended less for me than for my father, whose son I happened to be. My parents, my father especially, couldn’t have been happier with him. Oliver was working out better than most of our summer residents. He helped my father organize his papers, managed a good deal of his foreign correspondence, and was clearly coming along with his own book. What he did in his private life and his time was his business—If youth must canter, then who’ll do the galloping? was my father’s clumsy adage. In our household, Oliver could do no wrong. Since my parents never paid any attention to his absences, I thought it was safer never to show that they caused me any anxiety. I mentioned his absence only when one of them wondered where he’d been; I would pretend to look as startled as they were. Oh, that’s right, he’s been gone so long. No, no idea. And I had to worry not to look too startled either, for that might ring false and alert them to what was eating at me. They’d know bad faith as soon as they spotted it. I was surprised they hadn’t already. They had always said I got too easily attached to people. This summer, though, I finally realized what they meant by being too easily attached. Obviously, it had happened before, and they must have already picked up on it when I was probably too young to notice anything myself. It had sent alarming ripples through their lives. They worried