Chapter 1: GIOVANNI ROMANO
01 MAY 2021 - FIRST DIMENSION
Two hundred years, two centuries, seventy-three thousand days, over one-hundred million minutes; however it is measured, two hundred years is an outstanding amount of time. Have I grown old—no—tired—yes. Since 1821, I have been punished to experience two centuries worth of human carnage. Our ways have not changed, we have just gotten uglier.
My introduction poured out of my consciousness as I strode along the west side of Second Avenue. The white crests of the rolling waves pounded against the fiberglass hulls of the private boats docked in Gowanus Bay. The salinity of the ocean air invaded my nasal passages; taking me to the beaches of Corsica thousands of kilometers away. My absent heart remained there for all eternity. I paused for a moment as the rooster tails of passing cars tugged at the free ends of my trench coat.
My gloved hand backed a hand rolled cigar out of my pocket; I lifted it to my lips and lit it from a spark generated by my fingertips. The smooth smoke filled the cavity of my mouth. I enjoyed its flavor for a moment before breathing it out through my nostrils. The free floating scent of Italian food mixed with the aroma of my cigar. Though I enjoyed its presence, I chose not to be influenced by its teasing ways. I had not eaten in decades.
On May 5, 1821 my first dimension reflection died from an advanced case of gastric cancer. A modern autopsy suggested that it was in stage III at the day of his death. Was gastrointestinal hemorrhaging also responsible—sure? I only visited his grave once; I question if to do it again. Like my reflection, I suffered the same aliment. Only worse, it would not kill me. Instead, I was forced to endure its agony on a daily basis; it was part of my eternal punishment. I am sure some bright-eyed researcher would be delighted to claim the tumor that had been metastasizing within me for two centuries. Heh, ignore that, my cancer hadn’t advanced any more than I had grown old. Like two well acquainted associates, we were frozen in time. I was forever fifty two years young. Fifty two… the natural fifty two year-old would have been born in 1969?
I quietly continued down Second Avenue; the lunch aromas tormented my soul. Thankfully, I would be home soon. I tossed away the remnants of my cigar as I crossed over the narrow bay-side street. I chose to move to Brooklyn, New York thirty years ago. I was accustomed to life in the city; Brooklyn surrounded me with people who shared a similar heritage. They spoke a common tongue; though my native language was largely unknown. I spent decades fleeing my never-aging face. Once it became apparent that I was not growing old, I was forced to abandon my then identity, and create a new one—one that fit my never-aging face.
My mistress, Paige wandered out into the open sun with my daughter on her arm. The bay-breeze rippled the ends of her white sundress. She sported a wide sunhat, and red lipstick. Her naturally bushy hair was tied back in a lengthy braid that trailed down her narrow back. Our six-month old daughter, Amelia, wore something matching, her appearance was charming. Amelia inherited my brown eyes; her irises sucked in the big world around her.
Paige’s eyelids were weighted from a bushel of keloids. They concealed her foggy corneas. She was mostly blind from a horrific accident that stole her sight a little over a year ago. I was convinced that she could see basic shapes, lights and shadows. Her familiarity with our locale masked her near-blindness, and she could somehow navigate my laptop. A while ago, she seized the second key to my new sedan and would disappear with Amelia. I struggled to steal back the fob. The thought of Paige driving was mortifying.
She would cautiously slip under my radar, when I dozed off. My unhealthy sleeping habits would force me into periods of ‘near-death’ during the day, for approximately two hours. Though I still breathed, nothing could wake me. Paige’s stupid stubbornness, and risk taking could only be contributed to primal insanity after enduring more than a year of quarantine.
On the other hand, I had never seen Paige dress so fancy? Her attire was usually defined by her humility. When and where did she buy new clothes? Thankfully she was in a fairly stable mood.
“I am sick of being cooked up, Giovanni, I thought we could get lunch?” She stated as she neared my Cadillac CT6; a pink ticket flickered in the mid-spring breeze from underneath its right wiper blade. I shoved past Paige and ripped the paper free from my pearl, 2021 model vehicle.
Some lousy new cop scribbled out a parking charge in an amount that was illegible. Shit—Paige was the last to take my car into town and parked it up too far. She pulled her antics again. Of course, I hadn’t made it known to the building manager that I recently purchased a new vehicle. I felt inclined to upgrade to a luxury sedan after my only daughter was born in October. My taste in vehicles was consistent. So, I would think that one could assume the car’s ownership? It was common sense. I purchased only Cadillacs over the last three decades—only in white!
“I thought we discussed this before…” I sighed as my fingers crumpled the salmon colored paper.
“Well, I am sorry,” she shrugged and unlocked the passenger-side rear door with her personal key fob.
“Excuse me—! You need to quit this madness!” I strode around to the driver-side as Paige settled Amelia into her car seat, “this is our only vehicle, and you are not even on my insurance! New York would never permit you behind a wheel!”
“Just pay the ticket and I will park it in a different place next time. It’s not like you can’t afford it,” Just pay the ticket? She was dancing around the elephant in the room. Her mentally was absolutely ridiculous!
“I cannot keep paying parking tickets—they are your tickets but it’s my record, Paige!” I swung my frame behind the leather wrapped steering wheel; I reluctantly gave into her demand to ‘go out’. It would be better than a ‘double’ argument; I did not have the energy to bicker with her anymore. I was too old for this shit.
“Okay, fine. Tell me where to park and I will make sure to park there!” Paige rose up her hands, and flopped into her seat.
“Paige that’s not it! You need to stop driving!” I nearly lost it.
“Well, it’s not like I chose to be this way! From what I remember you had a lot to do with it!” She slammed the door of my Cadillac. Its sound made me cringe; she was convincing me to send her back upstairs.
“Would you not do that—have you no respect?” I popped my key fob into its appropriate place and started my vehicle’s engine, with a scowl stamped into my complexion.
“Do what?” Paige agitated me as the radio loudly blared unexpectedly; setting Amelia off. Her squeals accompanied the sudden racket. I dove to shut off the excruciating sound; it played Paige’s modern…nauseating taste in music. She would commonly change the channel from what I found tolerable. It was like a ‘thing’ for her. I insisted that she did these things strictly to rub my patience raw.
“Nothing—nothing, let’s just go so we can get back!” I snapped, already deprived of stamina. I glanced over my shoulder, put my CT6 in gear and pulled out into traffic. My eye caught a glimpse of my downstairs neighbor, Phil, rushing out of our apartment complex with something in his hand? He tried to wave me down, but I was already too far ahead to stop traffic for him. “You look nice… where did the dress come from?” I probed Paige as she reached around behind her to soothe Amelia’s cries.
“Online…” She responded, “I want to go to that new restaurant in town,” my girlfriend returned to her seat and took off her sunhat.
“The one by the University? That is not the place to take a
child,” I huffed, she insisted on spending my money. Paige’s toxic traits were reminiscent of my first wife, Josephine. Holes riddled my pants on our wedding day. She married me poor—only to suck me like a leech when I finally brought in a substantial paycheck.
“Why not Tony’s?” I mentioned, Tony was a personal friend—who deserved our business, especially during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly three-quarters of American citizens were vaccinated in less than six-months. It disturbed me how the vaccine had been politicized; my eldest son was one of the first to receive Edward Jenner’s small-pox serum many decades ago. I was due for my second COVID-19 injection; as an educator I was required to receive the vaccine—though I didn’t need it to avoid dying. As a man I was subjected to the same illnesses that plagued human-kind. However, I acquired my gastric cancer before I became dammed to the first dimension.
Though herd-immunity was growing through-out the general public, businesses were still forced to operate at half capacity. I intended to give Tony my money; he deserved it more than some rich business owner on Prospect Avenue. Tony also permitted me to pay for a meal, and not actually consume one, he respected my unusualness. Tony was relatable. I had never ‘fit in’ with the upper-class, our personalities clashed significantly; though I walked among them.
I turned down thirty-second street and passed under the interstate; it was backed-up for miles. Everyone ached to get out after enduring quarantine for over a year. The sun had summoned every individual onto the street including some of Brooklyn’s ‘finest’. Paige reclined her seat a few inches and propped her heels up on my dash. I immediately condemned her infernal behavior.
“Paige—for the love of God!” I growled and clawed at her; she then dropped her feet to the carpet and switched on the radio again.
I chose to keep my opinions to myself as she flicked through the channels. She was pouting like a spoiled brat since I denied her a five-star meal. Paige was barely twenty years-old, and her immaturity clashed with my life experience quite often. She was too young to appreciate the miniscule things in life; such as, the fact that I was still taking her to lunch despite her attitude. I pulled in front of Tony’s Pizza and parked my Cadillac. Paige sat in her seat with her arms crossed after giving up on choosing a radio channel. I shook my head.
“Will you please hand me my mask and checkbook from the glove box?” Paige didn’t move as Amelia cooed from her car seat. I sighed and leaned over to console her; she backed away. “Alright, be that way!” I shut off the engine then retrieved my possessions from the glovebox myself; Paige squirmed as I invaded her personal space.
“Giovanni!” She unfastened her seatbelt and flung herself out the door.
“What? It’s not me—it’s you! You and your shitty attitude!” I stabbed my finger in her direction. My voice boomed as I raised it to her. Outside Tony was observing from the street. He wiped the inside of a glass with a stupid grin on his olive face and a standard surgical mask hanging from his ear.
“I swear Giovanni… you wanted to rip me apart since I bumped into you earlier!” Paige rose to my challenge, pulled on her mask and looped it behind her ears, “you are in a mood again! It’s like you have multiple personalities sometimes!” Her words traveled through the thin fabric of her impractical facemask. Its ‘cute’ animal shapes did little muffling of her voice.
“Don’t start Paige; I have already had enough of you today!” I exited my side of the vehicle and noticed Tony shaking his head and chuckling. My maiden then retrieved our child from the back of my car; Amelia’s large head bobbled with Paige’s movements. I followed her and covered my lower face with a plain, black molded mask. The hiss of an alley cat caught me off guard. I jolted as the feral creature rushed past my boots after slurping the contents off a paper plate. Tony was feeding the damned things! Tony openly laughed at my reaction.
“So, you don’t like cats? That’s something I didn’t know about you,” he continued to giggle, “you would object if I were to give one of them to Paige?”
“Don’t give her any ideas!”
“It’s been a while since I have seen you around these parts, Giovanni,” Tony pleasantly greeted me while dismissing our drama, “Paige,” he gave her a nod of his head and covered his lower face.
“It’s always a pleasure. How are you, how is your family?” I asked while entering the front of his pizzeria, Paige pouted beneath her mask behind me. Tony’s was a tiny place with two dine-in tables that were suited for a maximum of four people. He made his money off of take-out and delivery. We were one of his few dine in customers. I approached the counter with my checkbook in hand as Paige took a seat with Amelia.
“You know us; we have been hanging in there… Your daughter looks good, she has gotten so big!” Tony’s voice was cheerful despite the ‘hit’ his business had taken due to the pandemic, “what about you Paige? What have you been up to?” He yapped in her direction.
“I have been fine,” she was brief on purpose. Tony looked me in the eyes; he witnessed our bickering and understood my messy predicament. Paige was a mistake, and now she was on ‘my arm’ for all eternity since I ‘knocked her up’. I rolled my eyes, removed my gloves and positioned my leather-bound checkbook on the table.
“How much is your rent this month?” I asked while clicking
the button on its paired pen.
“Giovanni! You don’t have to do that!” Tony slammed his bulky paw on the countertop; his sudden loudness provoked an outburst from Amelia.
“I insist. So, please… tell me the amount for two of today’s specials and your rent,” I hovered the tip of my pen over a blank check. Paige ousted a huff at my gesture, she was no doubt pouting considering I could have used that money to take her out on Prospect Avenue.
“Uhm, alright,” the Italian American rubbed the back of his
neck and bent further over the counter. I recognized that he was signaling for my checkbook; I passed it to him. Tony swallowed and looked up before filling out its lines, “Giovanni, are you sure this is alright?”
“Yes…” I nodded.
“You are always so generous to us; I want to pamper you today. I want to give you all that you can eat,” he trembled while scribbling in my checkbook. I watched as he ripped out his payment and stuffed it inside his back pocket, “I am in your debt.”
“No thank you, please just feed Paige and Amelia,” I crammed my possessions in my coat pocket and stepped away from the counter.
“Giovanni, I have never questioned you directly, but why don’t you eat nothing? You are getting skinner every time I see ya; your wasting away!” Paige raised her head as Tony interrogated me, “I usually accept your money and let it slide, but this time is different. I want to make it up to you—I may not be rich, but I can cook! What’s the matter, you can tell me, we have known each other for twenty-five years at least? Are ya sick or something?”
“He has cancer,” Paige dreadfully burst out loud. I felt myself shrink in Tony’s presence. She gave away one of the things
we agreed to never to speak of—and to Tony!
“What… you never spoke about this! Oh—” he removed the check from his back pocket and shoved it in my direction, “I can’t accept this Giovanni. You need every dollar that you own, I am old but cancer is not in my vocabulary!”
“Keep it—keep it…” I held up my palm.
“Giovanni, I can’t do that. I can’t cash this; I can’t take money from a sick man!” Tony began to tear up the check in front of me. He made sure that I witnessed its destruction, “how long have you had cancer? Please, no more secrets, just be honest, I am here for you Giovanni.”
“A long time,” I plopped my body in the chair across from Paige. I couldn’t look at her; I had never been so humiliated in all of my life, and was tremendously upset. Tony came around the counter and grabbed a chair. He spun it around and sat in it backwards with his elbows propped on its rear.
“Well, are you going to get treatment? What is it—like a stomach cancer?”
“I really do not wish to talk about this subject any further,” I tried to politely shut him up. He was asking too many questions that I couldn’t answer—that I was unable to answer.
“I apologize, but please tell me that you are at least going to
get treatment. A man like you should have good insurance,” Tony pressed on.
“No,” Paige and I answered in unison. I immediately shot her
a vile stare.
“Quiet Paige! You do not speak for me!” I snarled. I couldn’t undergo treatment due to numerous reasons, mostly because I no longer had a pulse. I was an anomaly that would baffle oncologists, a mortician would understand me better.
“Are you serious? Giovanni—not undergoing treatment—are
you nuts? That is a death wish; you might as well already be
dead!” I expelled a brief chuckle at his remark; it was true. My sudden outburst made Tony pause, “what is so funny, Giovanni?”
“Look, I know that it’s hard to talk about, but I just want to
know that my friend is okay,” Tony tried to reach me on a personal level and deescalate the tension between me and my so-called ‘girlfriend’.
“I am fine, Tony,” my voice suggested otherwise and he knew it.
“Alright, just know that I am here for you. But—today, it’s on
the house. We will keep this between us,” he rose and slapped his palm on my shoulder. I continued to look away into infinity, and silently wallowed in my degradation.