That’s Enough, Paolo

Dario Voltolini

Artwork by Elephnt

Paolo is eating dinner with his parents. For a few months now his mother has been mixing some new grains into her yogurt. His father is spreading Stilton cheese on his bread. He is washing it down with a special reserve port. The alcohol has decorated the surface of the glass with slender arches. Dinner is about to end. The mother begins to gather the dishes and silverware while Paolo plays with the steel corkscrew. He raises and pushes down the two levers imitating the flapping of wings. Paolo accompanies his game with whirring and whistling.

“That’s enough, Paolo!” his mother says.

Paolo continues to play. He flies the corkscrew over the artisanal Altamura bread, glides it between the bottle of imported Tŷ Nant spring water and the bottle of Marzemino wine, then lands it on the linen tablecloth.

“Paolo, stop it!” says his mother. “Tell your son to put that thing down,” she orders her husband, who barely looks up and says, “That’s enough, Paolo.”

Paolo walks away from the table with the corkscrew in hand. While circling around the room, he continues to make noises announcing, “The Imperial Eagle of Asgard is arriving!”

“Do you hear what he’s saying?” the mother asks her husband.


“He’s saying ‘Imperial Eagle’ and ‘Asgard’! When I talk to him he doesn’t seem to understand anything I say, but then he comes back from school with all these stories in his head. Are you listening?”

“Take it easy, all right? What’s the problem? He’s just playing, so let him play.”

The husband pours himself a finger of port. Then he sets the bottle down on the tablecloth between two egg cups made of jade, souvenirs from a trip. Eggshells lie scattered on the table—they’ve had eggs à la coque for dinner.

The mother intercepts the Eagle’s flight and tears the corkscrew from Paolo’s hands. She clears the table. Her husband sits in an armchair in front of the floor-to-ceiling window that takes up the whole wall. Down below, at the foot of the hill on which the house is built, the freeway cuts across the valley. The sounds of traffic would be audible from the balcony as they rise up the precipitous slope: trailer trucks moving uphill towards the border and car haulers descending into the city. But a double layer of glass insulates the room from the outside world.

The mother shuttles between dining room and kitchen. Her husband has taken his Dunhill pipe from the pipe holder. He packs the pipe bowl with fine Balkan Sobranie tobacco. He strikes a match, waits until the sulfur has burned away, and only then lights his pipe.

“Do you want more port?” the woman asks, bottle in hand.

“No, thanks,” he says.

“I’m putting it away,” she says. And she disappears into the hallway.

He puffs out a cloud of smoke, inhales slowly, savoring the aroma of the mixture. Her voice reaches him from the kitchen, “Send Paolo to me, please.”

He looks around. Then he responds, “He’s not here” and takes a stack of papers from the magazine holder. While he is flipping through them, she comes back to the dining room. She picks up the tablecloth. She returns to the kitchen. Then she comes right back.

“But where is Paolo?” she asks her husband.

“I don’t know. He was in the other room with you.”

“Not at all. I thought he was here.”

“Why don’t you check in his room?” he suggests. She goes away, but after a few seconds she’s back. There’s no trace of Paolo.

“Jesus Christ, the two of you!” her husband says, getting up from the armchair. He deposits the pipe in the crystal pipe holder. “Come on, where could he be?”

The woman looks bitterly at her husband. They set out to look for Paolo together. He is not in their bedrooms. Nor in his own room when they check again. They search the bathrooms but can’t find him. They go to the husband’s study where the French doors are open. The woman dashes out onto the balcony. But Paolo is not there. Her husband catches up with her. He leans over and looks down below. Seeing his movement, the woman screams. 

“Cut it out,” he commands.

They return inside. They call “Paolo! Paolo!” but Paolo does not respond. The entrance hallway is empty. They open the door and peer out into the night. There’s no Paolo on the staircase, so they need to go outside and search the garden. It has just stopped raining and she is wearing slippers, so she heads back to put on more suitable shoes. As she brushes past her husband, she hisses, “Asshole.”

He smiles, follows her, and forces her to stop, crushing her arm.

“Excuse me, what did you say?” he asks, crushing her arm even harder, still smiling. The woman jerks free and rushes to the utility closet. He goes after her, repeating, “I asked you a question.”

She opens the closet door with such fury that it almost hits her husband who is right behind her. In the closet, inside an old, green plastic bucket, all curled up, is Paolo.

“Paolo, what on earth?” yells his mother.

“I am the egg of the Imperial Eagle,” Paolo says.

translated from the Italian by Stiliana Milkova