The life preserver

Can true love stop time?

by Ramona Aloia

At the restaurant "Il borgo marinaro", Christmas lasted all year round.
Livia and Mario sat around a small blue table, near the large glass door covered with colored lights. The décor was seafaring, with white nets hanging on the walls with shells and starfish hanging from them. The bar counter had been made from the bow of an old fishing boat; next to the box, a Christmas tree covered with blue and silver balls.
The diners were all local, all except Livia, who passed by to visit some of her relatives.
“Days with you run twice as fast as all other days”, Mario followed the unstoppable ticking of the hands of his watch, he couldn't bear the idea that after a few minutes Livia would go away.
"Would you like to try to stop time?" she asked taking an old Polaroid from her purse.
Mario smiled in a gesture of agreement and brought her bearded face close to hers dotted with freckles.
A few seconds passed before the image of their faces in love was imprinted on the paper.

"Days with you run twice as much as all other days"

“Look Livia, look how beautiful we are. And look here, did you notice that life preserver hanging on the wall above our heads? It seems he is there to tell us that only by staying together are we safe. "
She looked at him without stopping smiling.
“Having met her like this, by chance, is a miracle. You saved me, Livia. "
“No, it's you who saved me. From boredom, from fear, from myself. "
"Then promise me we won't get lost."
“We won't do it Mario, I promise you. We will write letters, lots of letters, and when we can, we will take the first train to see each other. "
Mario took out a pen from his pocket and wrote her address on the back of the small snapshot, then handed it to Livia who in turn placed it on her chest, as if that image could pierce her skin until it reached her heart.
"It's late," she sighed, "it's almost half past one, I have to go." Livia closed her eyes in an attempt to find the courage to get up and leave.
When she reopened them, the world she knew ceased to exist. It wasn't her dreams that crumbled, but the walls, it wasn't her vision that clouded over, but the dust that had trapped the air, it wasn't fear that made her legs tremble, but the floor that gave way under her feet, it wasn't her voice screaming "help", but that of the people around her.
Livia remained motionless while everything collapsed along with her certainties; she held her hands around her throbbing head. Everything crashed to the ground shattered, yet she didn't move. Some of her had to take her by the arm and drag her out of her.
The road was a pile of rubble, some women wept on the ground while the men moved frantically trying to help the wounded.
The landscape had lost all its colors, only the gray of the dust and the end remained.
Livia saw a woman shout the name of a man. The pain of that woman tore the knot of hers that tightened her throat and she too began to scream a name: Mario.

The landscape had lost all its colors, only the gray of the dust and the end remained.

She ran limping inside what was left of the restaurant. He began digging through the debris with his bare hands. Her fingers were covered in red tears and mud but she didn't stop digging. Exhausted, she sank down onto a chair-like piece of wood where she had placed her fragile happiness just before.
Attached to a splinter, Livia saw a small snapshot in black and white: she and Mario sitting at the table in a restaurant and a large lifebuoy that surmounted their heads. Below an inscription in pen: January 15, 1968, Gibellina.
Livia never spoke of that terrible earthquake that destroyed the Belice Valley and with her all her dreams. She never returned to Sicily, not even to visit some cousins ​​who survived the disaster who now lived in areas adjacent to those that the earthquake had swept away. It almost seemed that this traumatic episode in her life had never happened or that she, somehow, had managed to forget it forever; at least so she thought she was.
Her niece Viola had just returned from an educational trip to Sicily. Enthusiastic about her, he asked his grandmother to sit next to her and admire the photographs of her taken during her vacation.
"Grandma, what's wrong with you?"
Livia began to wipe her eyes with the hem of her apron. With a distracted wave of her hand he encouraged his niece to continue without giving her an explanation.
Viola was frantically swiping her finger on the screen of her smartphone, her photos were hundreds, they portrayed numerous beaches, museums, churches, parks, nothing could escape the curiosity of her eyes.
Livia did not have time to assimilate those colors, her memories had taken her far away, to places that her memory still knew very well.
"Stop, come back."
Viola began scrolling back through the photographs of her.
"Farther back, farther back, I thought I saw something ..." Livia grabbed her niece's phone and stood silently staring at the screen, her small furrowed eyes had become ancient torrents of water.
Viola looked at her dazed. She didn't understand what was so touching about a photo of a railing on which a donut-shaped life buoy was placed, yet, it seemed her grandmother had found something she had lost long ago, something she had forgotten but was always belonged.
It was not difficult to find the house with the balcony and the life jacket, it was enough to follow the directions of Viola and some inhabitants of the area.
Forty years had passed since Livia had been in Sicily for the last time, and now, against all odds, she was in Trapani in front of a stranger's door with a strange balcony from which a life jacket identical to that of the restaurant "Il seaside village "; with a new detail on the surface, a date: 01/15/1968.
Livia rang the bell and after a few seconds a bearded gentleman with no expression appeared.
She, without even saying goodbye, reached out the hand that held the old snapshot and offered it to him. Mario did not take his eyes off the photograph for a time that seemed infinite, then he looked up at Livia and smiled: "Finally, we are safe".


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