Illustrations by Anna Betts | Photography by Oliver Holms

Valeria Pisani and Her Laugh in Ten Reproductions

SHORT STORY | 7 MINUTE READ
Published in the art and commerce magazine Noon

1

 

Valeria Pisani unfastened all but one of his shirt buttons and placed the palms of her small hands on his chest. His skin was white, like a Rossetti. She ran her palms down, over the shadows of his ribs until his shirt gaped to the last button. Then she stepped back. She said, ‘What was your name again?’ She noted his body tighten. Until she spoke the only sound was Nico's voice turning softly on the record player. It was a first press record, hard to get your hands on she had said as he took it from the sleeve. The thick red curtains, the dark wood vanity table: all the things in her room were old. Nicholas opened his mouth and closed it again. Valeria Pisani laughed and undid the final button of his shirt. The only thing she wanted to get her hands on was his skin.

 

2

 

Valeria Pisani decided to meet Nicholas in a bar round the corner from her house to see whether she liked him. It was an empty, rundown place and you had to shout up the stairs to get the owner to come down and serve you. They took it turns to buy drinks. She told him she was a painter and showed him the tattoos along her arm that she'd designed. He didn't talk about his work. Instead, he taught her a word. Glib, meaning fluent but insincere and shallow. She repeated it back to him, rolled it on her tongue like a sweet. She thought, sciolto, that is like him. After four drinks Valeria Pisani decided that she liked him. 'I like you too,' he said when she told him. He had rolled a cigarette but was not smoking it. He tapped the filter on the table. 'But look.' He brushed at his nose with his knuckle, ‘Look, I wanna see you but I’m not after anything serious.’ Valeria Pisani watched him light the cigarette. After he had blown smoke at her, he said he was just trying to be transparent. 'So you wanna sleep around,’ she said. He looked offended. ‘Not just me,’ he said, ‘us.’ ‘Okay,' she said. 'But I don't want to. I mean I don't have time for that.’ She snorted. ‘If I was gonna fuck around it would be a full time job.’

 

3

 

Later, they crossed the street to buy cans and more tobacco and on the way back to her place, he said, 'Let's go dancing on Saturday.' She skipped ahead of him, laughing because she was drunk and in spite of everything the world seemed full of possibility.

 

4

 

Valeria is in the bathroom towelling herself dry. Earlier, she had walked down the high street with some friends and the poster she had made for a night at The Garage was everywhere, on every bus stop. Every time her friends saw it they started screaming and pointing at it and telling her she was famous. Valeria knows she is not famous but she wants to call Nicholas and explain that yes, it felt good to see her work everywhere, but more than that it allowed her to imagine how much better she would feel if the work was something she had created with real passion and conviction and not some shitty poster. By the time she is dry and dressed she has decided that no, she won't call him because maybe that is what he means by serious.

 

5

 

Valeria Pisani said, 'What do you mean by serious anyway?' Nicholas looked nervous. He shrugged. She pushed herself out of bed, threw on his shirt and left the room. When she came back she was holding two cans. She threw one on the mattress where he was sitting cramped and cross legged. 'Serious. Meaning what?' she said, cracking open the can. ‘I don’t know,’ he stuttered and cut the air in front of him several times with the edge of his hand, as if marking a road going forward into the future. ‘Like, having a baby?’ Valeria Pisani laughed hard. ‘What the fuck made you think I wanted a baby?’

 

6

 

While she stood in The Garage toilet cubicle beside Katie, it occurred to Valeria that she was high. Katie was bending over the fold out baby changer, one red fingernail pressed to the side of her nose. Then something strange happened. Valeria Pisani saw this but she also saw Katie dancing, and Katie sleeping against the bus window, and talking animatedly, and with lines around her eyes, leaning on the shoulder of a young body builder, then the same Katie under a beach parasol with a cocky smile and a baby slung over her hip, and then with rice paper skin sipping coffee in a cafe in this city, and lying on a hospital bed in another city. She saw the multiple roads of Katie's possible lives going forward into the future. Katie, unaware that she was the subject of a vision, reared upright, threw back her head and said, 'Ah, that's good Val.' After it was Val's turn, and she reared upright and threw back her head, she sighed with pleasure, because she saw that just as all those things were possible for Katie so they were also possible for her.

 

7

 

When Valeria Pisani asked Nicholas if he wanted to go to an Andy Warhol exhibition he stared out the window and said, 'Let's go dancing.'

 

8

 

Reproduction. Meaning the act or process of copying something. Meaning the reproduction of offspring by a sexual or asexual process.

 

9

 

The room where the silk screens were hung was very bright. Sunlight breezed through the tall windows and shone in white lines on the stainless steel lift. Nicholas followed her reluctantly. He stopped before a piece made up of ten variously coloured reproductions of a single photo of Marilyn Monroe. He said, ‘Why does he do the same thing again and again?’ Valeria Pisani turned back to him. She knew the answer was several sentences long and full of feeling. It contained the words la paternità and meccanico but she was not sure in what order and the sentences themselves were shifting. Certainly she could not say it in English. She was not sure she could say it in Italian either. ‘He’s fucking with history,’ she said and then she grinned because she realised she did not need the long sentences after all. But Nicholas turned away and frowned at the white plastic placard fixed to the wall as if it might contain an answer. Valeria Pisani waited until the lift doors were about to close before telling him she was pregnant and springing into the lift. She ordered a coffee and iced water from the gallery cafe and took it to one of the circular chrome tables on the piazza. Several minutes later she saw Nicholas run outside. His head swung one way then another until he saw her. When he was close, she heard him say, 'Are you serious?' She sipped her iced water and squinted up at him. The cubes knocked her teeth. He was out of breath and his skin was blotched pink and white like undercooked chicken. She told him no, she was not serious, she was fucking with him. When he deflated in the chair beside hers, he seemed to Valeria Pisani suddenly so pointless.

 

10

 

When she came out of the shower, Nicholas said to Valeria Pisani: 'Let's spend the day in bed and then go dancing.' Valeria Pisani's laugh starts from somewhere behind her umbilical scar. Nicholas is frowning because he does not understand. She knows she could say that she can see no pleasure going out with someone who only ever dances the same dance, but she does not. She watches the rain drip paint the window. Her hair falls across her shoulders in thick, wet coils. Valeria Pisani is laughing because she knows that it is over. After she has told him and he has slammed the door, she will not see him again. 'Before you go,' Valeria Pisani says, 'Before you go, I want to watch you dry me in the rain.'

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