Tresoro

Winner of our literary contest "Fiction from FACETS"

Tresoro

Jack Teehan

When Paolo and I met, he seemed like an out from all of this. No more Hoboken, no more quiet seething resentment. He was older, more refined, a gentleman- he was a real Italian, whatever that means. His family could trace their pedigree back to the likes of the Medici. They were rich, Lake Como and Milanese villas rich. It just all seemed like another life, a life I could be just so lucky to even imagine. The vivid, extreme dichotomy between our two lives was simply the greatest impasse. I, a Hunter College senior struggling to make ends meet living in Hoboken, and he, a Columbia graduate, of Goldman & Sachs or something of the sort. On paper, he was perfect.  

There was nothing I wanted more than to be happy, happy with him, happy together. I guess it seems that happiness has never really been sustainable for me, at least according to mother dearest. She always told me that I was destined for disarray, that no matter what, I would never find the inner peace I so dearly sought. After all, she never could, so why should I? 

The soft pitter-patter of rain on the dash brings me back to earth. There’s this woman looking back at me in my rearview mirror. I think at one point she was me, but no longer. My brain feels like scrambled eggs, thoughts jumbled and tangled like twine. When I look in the mirror, I see her, I see something. Black hair, beady eyes, dark circles. But it’s not me, is it? I’ve been driving for hours, driving my whole life away. Talking heads fade in and out of the NPR station, white noise for the gray clouds. I don’t need to hear Terry Gross right now, but I can’t be alone for much longer. Not much longer left.  

Alone on the road; a cowboy in backwater rural New York. I’d get some air if I wasn’t terrified of seeing another Confederate flag. God, I hate driving stick. I just hate driving in general, I never really properly learned. My dad would take me upstate in his beat-up Alfa Romeo, a cigarette in his hand. We would drive through the back roads of farm country; I would swerve to avoid the occasional deer crossing the street. He never lit the cigarette. He was trying to quit, or so he claimed. It was weird, I never even saw him smoking. He always had that cigarette in his hand, twirling between his index and middle finger. I guess he was trying to prove something to himself. Goddamn Catholics and their self-flagellation.  

He would stumble home late from meetings and we would all ignore the reeking stench of Staten Island hookers. My mother turned a blind eye, she knew that we all had our vices, some of us just hid them better. I rarely saw her wear short sleeves; she didn’t want to parade around the now-faded white stripes adorning her dainty wrists.  

Church on Sunday, confessionals with dirty velvet seats. I’m not sure if they were happy, but they stayed together. They reveled in their shared misery, the only thing they had in common besides me. Coming home from school, the house was always silent. My mother would listen to her Tammy Wynette records, reliving her adolescence in between passing hours while nursing a shitty bottle of Fleischmann’s. In those quiet afternoons, I could almost hear her heartbeat through the flimsy walls of our pseudo-colonial, fluttering at the memory of a life far far away from North Jersey.  

I think my mother hated me. I was the reason she never left her hometown. We share the same name, but we couldn’t be more different. She would throw these extravagant parties for all of the local Mafiosi, masquerading as the housewife she so desperately wanted to be. A real Princess Margaret, she would dance and sing the night away, flirting with any available man just so her husband would realize what he had, or at least until her liver was pickled and our reserves of Royal Crown were depleted. 

There was this one Sunday night, I came home for dinner. Paolo and I had just spent the afternoon together at a gallery opening for a friend in Greenpoint. My tolerance for bullshit was lower than normal, he and I fought after he missed half the reception for a phone call with a client. As I entered what my mother called the foyer, a cramped hallway with peeling striped wallpaper, stained with 30 years of cigarette smoke. She was sitting in the living room, idly slewn across the velvet couch, a copy of the Times in her hand. Her smoke trailed off in the air, forming wisps of gray against the backdrop of maroon damask wallpaper. A ring of the same maroon was left around the filter of a Marlboro White, crumpled in a cheese plate repurposed into an ashtray. 

“Mother,” I greeted her, announcing my presence.

Nose upturned in irritation, she grunted, “Welcome home gioello.” 

“I met a boy.”

Finally, she looked up from her paper. “Oh?”

“Finance. Italian.”

For once, she smiled. “Don’t tell your father.”

“Speaking of, are we dining together tonight?” I asked, my stomach growing tired of the suspense.  

Another puff from her cigarette, and a subsequent cough. “Ask your dear father,” she chuckled, glancing up from her newspaper, “he’s meeting with his ‘accountant’ right now?” 

I didn’t respond.

“At least he’s working up an appetite,” she quipped.   

“Please don’t talk about him like that.” 

“I’ll stop when he does.” 

“You’re such a child, mother.” I dialed his number feverishly, the keys of the landline clicking under my chipped black nails. It rang for what seemed like hours, until the inevitable seemed obvious. I put the phone down, refusing to look up at my mother.  

She scoffed, returning to her reading.  

“Why don’t you care?”  

“When you’ve been alive for as long as I have-” she started 

“You’re 40.”  

“When you’ve been alive for as long as I have, you learn that there are important things. Things like disease, taxes—like your education. They matter. Then, there are unimportant things. In the grand scheme of it all, it doesn’t matter whether I chose a carmine or burgundy lipstick this morning. It doesn’t matter whether Kennedy killed Marilyn. To be completely frank, it doesn’t matter if your father is off screwing some crabs infested goomar. 

 

* * *

 

I always knew Paolo had a past. In the city, what respectable, interesting man wouldn’t? Never really asked, but it was always there. The stares in the shady parts of town, back-room phone calls in the dead of night, the occasional bloody knuckle. We never had an issue getting a table anywhere, even on a Saturday night. At dinner, we never talked about work. I wasn’t interested in educating him on the finer points of Aristophanes and his writing, and he knew I wouldn’t understand what the job of an Equity Analyst could possibly entail. I supported him, of course, but what I didn’t know wouldn’t hurt me. 

I think part of me was scared of what I might find out. His family had connections. There was a time, when we first met, when the work came up in the light dinner conversation. He was polite when I explained my studies to him, in a typical “hearing but not listening” sort of masculine manner. When I turned the question on him, he spoke in vague financial terms about his life. I had seen his car, his horsebit loafers, his trained accent from years of dialect training erasing that campagna twang; there was no way this was feasible on his salary in Manhattan. But he always footed the bill so I didn’t ask. 

One late night after dinner and digestifs at his place turned into an evening together. He had to step out for a call, New York may have been asleep but Shanghai was awake and bustling. I tried to protest, but it was futile; he was gone before the second ring. Curiosity overtook me, and before I knew it I was rummaging through his bedside table. 

As with anyone with a biweekly cleaning service, Paolo’s place was immaculately clean. His slacks were vacuum-packed, his cologne alphabetized. Underneath the uncharacteristically metrosexual ornaments hid his finery. The Rolex his father gifted him after he graduated business school laid alongside various accoutrements, cufflinks and tie clips. Underneath, I couldn’t quite make it out, there was some oblong shape. It was dark, the moonlight streaming in through his windows just barely illuminated the bureau. I didn’t want to think about it, but I knew that there was no reason this Equity Analyst would need a gun, right? 

 

* * *

 

As the rain outside turns to thunder, I pull into a gas station. There’s an uneasy heaviness in the air, permeating my ears like a disease. Terry Gross sounds off in the background, a piece on square-dancing or something hick like that. The pitter-patter of raindrops on the dash sprinkles the silence like confetti, interrupting the disquiet. Outside, the weather shrouds me, droplets adorning my head like a crown of thorns. It’s so cold, my fingers feel blue.  

Shivering, I hook up the finicky Alfa Romeo to the nozzle of petrol, feeding the mechanical beast like a calf. Greedily, it steals the gas like Gollum. The warm glow of the emporium pulls me in, praying upon some forlorn primal instinct. My father always chided me for my attention towards the car. Maybe it was the fact that I grew up on the subway, I never truly learned the value of quality transport. The car, albeit beautiful, was a means to an end. 

When he died, I had no idea I would get the car. He loved this geriatric creature, for whatever reason. Surprised he didn’t want to be buried with it. If my mother wasn’t soaked in gin during the reading of the will, she certainly would have fought me for it. She loved that car, loved riding in it while the neighbors salivated over the closest thing to Italian craftsmanship any of them would ever see. In an existence so marinated in self-indulgent disgust, she relished the chance to escape. 

Entering the store, I mutter “14 gallons on Tap 3,” sheepishly looking up at the cashier, “please.” 

“You all right ma’am?” he asks, a heavy Hispanic accent buckling his words. I catch my reflection in the anti-shoplifting mirror behind him, deformed and gnarled like a fun-house. God, I’ve never looked worse. My mascara, smudged under my eyes, mingled with the dark circles of 48 hours without sleep. A loose black hoodie, speckled with stains and pet hair, clings to my body from the monsoon. Slick black hair, dripping wet, bears more likeness to the girl from The Ring than the woman I woke up as this morning.  

“Never better.” 

He grunts in response, unwilling to exchange any more pleasantries. Can’t say I entirely blame him either. The click-clack of a cash register punctuates my thoughts. Sun weathered copies of six-month-old Vogue and Elle stare at me, their perfectly coiffed hair, furrowed eyebrows, comically long eyelashes stare back at me as if to say in mother’s voice, Honey, you look like shit.  

“Pack of Marlboro Whites while you’re at it.”  

 

There was this one night where we were enjoying the usual fare at some Lower East Side joint. It was faintly cool out, the type of weather one so greatly craves during the heat of a Manhattan August. We were dining at his favorite table in the back, far enough away from the street that the dying rush hour traffic was merely peppering the air. 

Despite the neon “No Smoking” sign, he fiddled with a cigar while sipping on his amaretto. I stared at him, deconstructing the facade of steel in his skull. It wasn’t an uneasy silence; we often finished our meals in a state of contemplative malaise. But tonight, for whatever reason, I was feeling brave. 

“How was work?” 

Three words broke the peace of two neighboring warlords, crashing down the pre-existing partition. He stared back at me, taking a long pull of his sickly sweet liquor. 

“Why do you ask?” he responded, a note of surprise in his voice. 

“I just-” I started. “Nevermind.” I took a swig of my Muscadet, staring down the stem of the glass. 

He sighed. “Work was fine.” I knew I annoyed him, but it was comforting to know that he could at least say something. There were so many gaps in my mind. I didn’t realize until then how little I actually knew about the man I claimed to love. 

His phone buzzed inside the pocket of his tailored slacks. Glancing down, he muttered, cigar in his mouth, “I have to take this.” I nodded in response. 

As he left, the waiter topped off my glass. “Allora, grazie,” I chuckled, “but I have to get home in one piece.”

He laughed, responding in an accent speckled with the typical Italian inflection, “Of course madamigella. Solamente one more, don’t want you to go home thirsty.”

I rolled my eyes and laughed, downing a greedy gulp of the dry white wine. Looking up, I saw Paolo staring at me through the window. His cold eyes bore into me like a deer in the headlights. He pursed his lips before hanging up the phone, muttering a few pleasantries in goodbye. 

“What were you and the sommelier talking about?” he haughtily inquired, his liquor stained breath hot on my face.

“Just the waiter, actually,” I answered. There was this look in his eyes, the same way he looked after a run, or a difficult meeting. “Everything okay?”

He grunted in response, protesting my audacity to ask about his livelihood. “Just don’t take him home.” 

“What’s that supposed to mean?” 

He just looked at me, his beady eyes scanning me like a piece of meat. 

“Oh come on, he was giving me a glass of wine, not a ring.” He was angry, sure, but I was emblazoned by the five or so glasses at dinner that evening. 

“Didn’t look that way,” he mocked, puffing on his cigar. 

Exasperated, I sighed. “You’re a child.”

He closed his eyes for a second, surveying his next move. Before he got the chance to say anything, I downed the remainder of my wine and got up. “I’m finding my own ride home tonight.”

The second I said it, I knew I made a mistake. I shouldn’t have poked the bear. But it was too late now, I had to leave before he could protest, before he could say anything to change my mind. 

 

My slippery fingers grasp at the lighter, begging for a spark to emblaze the damp cigarette clenched between my lips. After a minute of feverish attempts, I finally hit gold. My lungs heave with relief, the sweet scent of home overtaking me.  

“That shit will kill you, you know,” a familiar voice reminded me, chuckling.  

“You’re not here,” I assure myself. “You’re gone. I’m gone.” 

“We both know that’s not true, Tresoro.” I hear. I hate that name, hate that he insisted on calling me that. Paolo was always obsessed with pet names, but god forbid I return the favor. It would emasculate him, an unconscionable sin for the Roman Catholic.  

Another huff of the cigarette and his voice is gone, evaporated into the smoke. I crack the window, just a touch, and the smoke mixes with the scent of rain. Relax, I tell myself, begging my heart rate to slow before I develop an arrhythmia. Just for a moment, I beg myself to calm down. Close my eyes, my heartbeat echoing in the great dark expanse of the mind. Stalagmites and stalactites of thoughts erode at my conscience, poking holes in me until I deflate.  

“Morning Tresoro.” The rasp of his voice shook me from my sleep. His stubble, prickly like thistle, rubbed against my cheek, a prelude to a dry kiss. I open my eyes to the world, still spinning a bit from last night’s festivities.  

“Hey, you…” I responded, my voice trailing off. With prudence, I slowly rose, met with the sight of Paolo, fully dressed, next to me.  

“You’re up early,” I inquired, my voice cracking, “has the early bird gotten the worm?” 

“In a manner of speaking,” he replied, motioning towards a brown bag with “Tompkins’ Square Bagels” inscribed on the front.   

I smiled, rising with care, prudently covering myself with the thousand thread count top sheet. Like a doe learning to walk, I carried myself to the closet, passing a lesser Basquiat and floor-to-ceiling windows, light streaming through. Somewhere in the background, I heard the scratch of a needle hitting record, Miles David Quintet filling the air.  

My head pounded as I perused the aisles of clothing, finally deciding to don a Stefano Ricci dress shirt, stolen from Paolo. Fastening up the first few buttons, I stared in the mirror, taking the gluttony of it all. If I were just the slightest bit more “SJW” I would hate him for it, but I don’t. My macilent frame stared back, pelvic bones protruding.  

Out of the corner of my eye, I caught sight of something shiny. Bright pink polyester-satin blend, a Vietnamese manufactured waistband, adorned with a lacy white flower in the center. In a moment, I knew. A vision of Backwoods and bar fights, cheap perfume and overwhelming vanilla body lotion. I knew, just as well as my mother, that everything was not alright.  

My vision clouded as I stormed back into the boudoir, a pair of succubian underwear loosely held between my index and thumb. Past the Basquiat and the windows, Lower East Manhattan staring back up at me. His shirt trailed behind me, collar falling to just below my shoulder.  

His back was to me, staring outside at the rising city, sipping his espresso in some gilded cup from the “motherland,” as he would say. The quiet serenity of it all was infuriating, the audacity to refuse to even look at me. I could almost see the fucking goomar, from Dyker Heights or Carroll Gardens or something of the type, pinned up against the wall with him. God, I slept in the same bed as her. Come to think of it, the maid hasn’t stopped by since last week. I probably slept in the same sheets as her.  

Chest heaving, I stopped for a moment and cleared my throat. Paolo turned around, his beady eyes shot right through me, a deer in the headlights.  

“What the fuck is this?” I asked, my chest pounding. He put down his cup, the china rattling as it hit the saucer. His knuckles were a ghastly white, his face mirroring the same. Taking a deep breath, he looked up in my direction.  

“You should put that down.” 

“I will do no such thing.” 

He licked his lips, pausing for a moment. “Can we talk?” His voice cracked, remnants of a faded Italian accent showed through, “Please Tresoro.” 

“What could you possibly say here? Do you honestly want me to believe that this is your sister’s?”Some metamorphosis ran rampant through my brain, as the back of my left hand hit his face, knuckles bending to the contour of his cheekbone.  

“Say something.” 

He stared at me, the cogs in his brain turning.  

“Anything? At all?” 

“Sit down,” his voice growled, “let’s talk.” 

I didn’t move a muscle, just staring at him, begging for some sort of explanation. 

“Fine, whatever. But we need to talk.” 

“Then talk. Please, talk.” 

“Tresoro-” he started, his voice wavering. I could see the tears in his eyes, somehow this would become my fault.  

“Don’t you dare call me that.” 

“Maria,” he began “I’m not perfect. You know that. You know my parents, you know my family. We both came into this knowing that we were both flawed. God knows you are.” 

“What’s that supposed to mean, huh Tresoro?” I responded, the anger growing in my voice. 

“You know exactly what it means, don’t you dare pretend that you’re perfect.” 

“I’m not. Ever. But you know what I’m also not doing? Screwing other men.” 

“Can you let me finish?” his voice lowered, something inside him crying like a hurt animal. I nodded, leaning up against the dresser.

“I’m sorry. I messed up, and this is my mistake to fix.” he hung his head, his soul seemed to be filled with indignation. I wanted to comfort him, tell him everything would be okay, I really wish it could be. 

“Who is she?” 

“Does it matter?” he responded, his voice weak. “I handled it.”

I took a deep breath, my heart in my throat. “What did you do Paolo?” 

“We will never have to deal with her again.”  

I stopped for a moment; my brain froze as everything went silent. There was nothing he could do this time, no magic rabbit he could pull out of his hat to get me to stay this time.  

“Say something, please, Tresoro.”

I just look at him. He was playing some game of convoluted chess with me. A woman was dead. Gone, forever. Maybe he wants me to thank him.

Why should I pity him?

I started to reach for my phone on the nightstand.

“What are you doing?” His head was low, he was barely even making eye contact. He almost looked like a Doberman, sheepish and guilty. 

 “Calling the police.”

He looked up at me, a look of abject surprise distorting his visage. A switch flipped in him. From a broken man to an enraged bull, he charged at me. In a matter of seconds, his white knuckle turned white-hot, grazing my face like a comet. My mouth grew dry, I looked at his fist. There seemed to be nothing I could say.  

He pinned me up against the bureau, his manicured nails ripping at the starched shirt. One after another, punches landed like rain. Everything went gray, a feeling of static, like the TV on a wrong channel, ate away at my mind. Eventually, my body went limp, an ame floating from a punching bag. The bitter metallic taste of blood hit my tongue, molars biting down on the insides of my cheeks.  

 In a last hail Mary, I slowly reached my hand into the ajar drawer of the bureau. Fingers fumbled around the drawer, grasping at accoutrements. Tracing the outline of one of his Rolexes, a bottle of cologne, until they finally reach the firm contours of the revolver squirreled away within his goodies.   

 

I shake awake, my body spasming as if it fell. It’s nearly nighttime, a dusky sunset glows with tones of orange and mauve. The daze of an unearned nap overtook me, a sudden anxious burst of energy to escape the parking lot. Haul ass, Maria. It’s time to go.  

Grappling the gear shift of my father’s Alfa Romeo, I move into reverse. Quiet bumblings of evening jazz buzz like a bee in my ear. Slowly but surely, the car traverses the spot, backing up at its own pace. I adjust the rearview mirror, reflecting away the dying sun creeping in.  

Sometimes, I wonder if any of this was worth it. I know in my heart that I had to get out, at any cost. But sometimes, I know it’s selfish, I just want the chance to see him again, to feel loved and appreciated and valued. The gifts didn’t matter that much, I love nice things and I loved him.  

Two beady brown eyes stare back at me. Framed with long, black eyelashes and an extant furrowing of the eyebrows, Paolo’s corpse lays across the backseat, the matted blood in his chest matching the red tint of the car. Tresoro, he growls, the rasp of his voice in the wind.  

Tresoro