Forensics and Fashionability
translated by Brigid Maher
La Trobe University
Alessia Gazzola (b. 1982) has made a name for herself with a series of crime novels featuring the young – and not yet fully qualified – forensic pathologist Alice Allevi. The excerpt below comes from the first of the series, L’allieva. In these two opening chapters, the scene is set, and the scene of the crime is investigated. The novel straddles two genres, combining typical features of forensic crime fiction with elements of “chick lit”. Designer fashion, career challenges, goofy missteps and romance all occupy the female protagonist’s attention. This genre hybridity inspired the title of the translation; the original title (literally, The Female Student) contained an untranslatable pun on the protagonist’s name.
The translation of Gazzola’s literary style requires a command not only of the technical terminology of forensics, but also of popular culture. Recreating in English the narrator’s tongue-in-cheek tone – a wry juxtaposition of understatement and exaggeration – was essential to conveying Alice’s personality and the humour inherent in the various predicaments in which she finds herself.
The scene of the crime
The annual charity ball organised by those hyperactive sorts in Paediatrics is another reminder that, as a graduate intern in forensic medicine, I’m right at the bottom of the food chain within the Faculty of Medicine and have no prospect whatsoever of upward mobility. All other doctors are convinced they’re at the top.
Drunk on binge viewings of ER, they have a distorted perception of their own professional reality and nobody bothers to sit down and explain to, say, a poor unfortunate nobody in Paediatrics that he’s got nothing on George Clooney. Not that my life has anything in common with CSI, because at my terrifying Institute, great sanctuary of the sport of humiliation, the role of forensic pathologist in training – my own role in point of fact – is about on a par with toilet paper. In fact worse, because toilet paper at least has a certain usefulness. There’s no chance an intern like me would be entrusted with a big forensic investigation of the sort that ends up in the newspaper.
And so, derided by colleagues busy playing at Dr House and excluded by those who think they’re the lead role in a Patricia Cornwell novel, I can only consider myself some kind of useless appendage of forensic medicine.
Perhaps that why the fundraising party for research into paediatric neurological disorders has always been far and away the most catastrophic event of my calendar year.
The temptation to pretend I’m sick is very strong indeed. A sudden migraine, an asthma attack, a salmonella strain completely resistant to Imodium... Everybody knows, though, that at parties people gossip about those who don’t turn up, and to be honest, I’m not keen on suffering this fate. So there’s no point tormenting myself: I’m going to need a great deal of good will – and high-strength alcohol – to endure the evening.
Come on, Alice. It’ll be three hours at most. What’s three hours? Still a whole lot better than a class on asphyxia from Wally.
At the entrance I’m still tempted to flee, but I resist.
In the large hall the seductive voice of Dusty Springfield is singing “The Look of Love”. In all the confusion – we’re crammed in like sardines – I manage to make out my colleagues from the Institute clowning around, stuck more than ever at the maturity level of a bunch of high schoolers.
Every workplace microcosm, like a beehive, has its Queen Bee. We are proud to have Ambra Negri Della Valle in the role, and at this very moment, all my colleagues are orbiting her like planets of the solar system. All apart from Lara Nardelli, who is perhaps the only person attending this party with less enthusiasm than me. Lara and I graduated from university in the same year, we made it through the internship selection process together, and instead of being rivals, which would not work in my favour at all, we have always based our relationship on solidarity. She is probably the only person at the Institute I can trust. Lara smiles sweetly and hands me a small plate piled high with canapés. Her reddish hair, inexpertly dyed, is gathered into an ill-formed bun and she has an air of boredom about her that I find comforting. We both watch Ambra showing off with one of her finest monologues, unable to spot the difference between being scintillating and being irritating.
And yet our Institute’s messiah appears to hold her in high regard.
Claudio Conforti. Born 1975, star sign Leo, marital status single. He’s handsome, like James Franco in the “Gucci by Gucci” aftershave ads. He’s also an arsehole – for sure the biggest arsehole I know and probably the biggest in the entire universe. And he’s brilliant – he’s the most acclaimed mind at the Institute, the Head Honcho’s best student. He has a legendary CV and is the paradigm of the emerging young academic who, after years of crawling has recently moved from the formless swamp of PhD candidates to the rank of research fellow.
His eyes, of an intense moss green with flecks of gold, express a state of permanent restlessness. When he’s tired or fatigued, the left one squints a little, but not enough to spoil the impact of his striking good looks. His face bears a few traces of past excesses but, perhaps for this very reason, it exudes a faintly dissolute quality that is quite unique and, in my opinion, is the key to his charm. Man of action when the need arises, but overall a speculative-contemplative character, Claudio is adored by everybody at the Institute because he is efficient, savvy and highly presentable, and he is adored by me in particular because, from the time I was lucky enough to start out on this long and tortuous career path, he has been my one point of reference in the sea of indifference and anarchy that constitutes the Institute’s socio-pedagogical makeup.
The Institute for Forensic Medicine – where I work – is a place devoted primarily to autopsies and related activities, alongside a small amount of scientific research. The Institute’s chilling qualities come not so much from the work carried out within its four walls as from the staff that populate it. New graduates in medicine and surgery go through a rigorous selection process that takes into account their prior study, followed by a two-part written exam, upon passing which they are finally permitted to enter this hostile and cursed landscape, whose hierarchy can easily be summarised as follows.
At the top is the man everybody, including me, calls The Head Honcho. Although, just to myself, I sometimes give him a different name, the only one that seems adequate to his professional stature: “Il Supremo”. The Head Honcho has become a legendary figure within the field of forensic medicine. In fact, he is forensic medicine and whenever there’s a complicated case, you can be sure that he’ll have the last word on it.
Immediately below him are an assortment of characters, each worse than the last in their repressive tendencies; rising above them all is Wally, whose personal credo can be summed up in a single theory: “you have freedom of thought until I decide otherwise”.
Among the rest, one who stands out in his own way, due to certain unique talents, is Dr Giorgio Anceschi, a man with a thousand virtues, but who is too weak in character to make a mark for himself in this jungle of guerrillas armed to the teeth. And so, although docile and accommodating, he is sadly, as often happens to the best people, looked upon unfavourably by those at the top. Disadvantaged in appearance by early-onset obesity, the good doctor looks like Father Christmas. Tolerant and benign, he is a man of rare intellectual generosity. Perhaps because he lacks motivation, Dr Anceschi considers his work at the Institute a kind of sideline, something he does when he can spare a little time; however, when he’s present, he’s the best lecturer to deal with: he doesn’t care at all about mistakes, oversights, or problems. He is essentially an epicurean of forensic medicine; that’s why it’s never too big a deal if you happen to get something wrong in his presence.
Not long ago this team was transformed by the much-needed arrival of Claudio, ready to add some sparkle to everybody’s days because deep down he’s a clown and likes to be the centre of attention, a role that he is also extremely good in. In reality, despite the many allusions and ambiguities that pepper his interactions with the limited number of female interns at his disposal, all in a permanent state of idolatry towards him, Claudio has always obeyed the commandment, “Look but don’t touch”, probably because he regards mixing with the plebs as ill-advised. Claudio – the researcher who spent a year at Johns Hopkins, the most eligible bachelor at the Institute for Forensic Medicine – would never seduce an intern, in part because he wouldn’t like Wally or The Head Honcho to hear about it, no, no. Instead he toys with the girls, sometimes pretty intensely, but without ever getting in too deep. He is magnanimous in his attentions though, sharing them around all of us.
In this exact moment, he’s electing to devote his attentions to me. Holding a Bombay Sapphire Martini, he approaches with all the confidence of a predator on the African savannah.
“Ciao, Allevi,” he begins, planting a kiss on my cheek and overwhelming me with his scent, which has remained unchanged as long as I’ve known him: a penetrating mix of Declaration, mints, clean skin and hair gel. “You up for this?” he asks, handing me the drink.
“Too strong,” I say, shaking my head. Evidently, though, it’s not too strong for him, because he knocks it back no trouble, as though it were water.
“Enjoying yourself?” he asks, looking around vacantly.
“Yes, and you?”
Before replying he gives me a pained look. “Hardly. It gets worse every year. We ought to boycott these parties, except that it would be politically unwise,” he says, dropping onto a sofa. “Come here, there’s room for two.”
I approach, straightening the pleat in my dress and moving cautiously because I haven’t quite familiarised myself yet with my streetwalker heels, which grant me an extra ten centimetres in height but also a perilous totter. In fact, I very nearly take a tumble but he instinctively catches me by the wrist. “Careful, Allevi. Falling at my feet in front of all these people would lack decorum.”
“Not if you were the last man on earth,” I say with a sour smile. But in reality that’s not true, it’s a complete lie in fact, because, I confess, it would not take nearly so much for me to give in to his advances.
“Sure, I believe that,” he responds with blatant sarcasm and an amusing grimace on his striking countenance. “The truth, Alice, is that one of these days we really must get this thing out of our systems.” He whispers this in my ear, softly brushing my bare shoulder.
A light and simple moment of contact that nevertheless manages to give me a start.
I turn and stare into his eyes. Claudio always does this: a fleeting proposition that has the impact of a hand grenade combined with a lightness of touch and the unspoken message You don’t really think I’m serious? He turns out edifying lines like this almost daily and if I had ever given any credence to his continual proclamations of physical and sexual attraction towards me, I’d have died of disappointment long ago.
I don’t have time to think of a comeback line because an AC Milan ringtone interrupts the conversation.
“That’s so tacky.”
“Devotion is devotion.”
Faithful voter for the centre-right, owner of the Ralph Lauren collection for every season – replaced annually –, of a Mercedes SLK and of a limited edition Montblanc pen that he only ever displays by chance, Claudio is in every way a man from another time, in greater danger of extinction than the panda. He’s a text-book example of the ambitious rising star. It’s a character he has constructed for himself with great care and in this world in which a permanent centre of gravity is a more and more utopian ideal, Claudio gives the reassuring feeling that it is possible to always be yourself.
“Hello? Yes, it’s me. I see. Where exactly? Via Alfieri, number 6? Yes, it intersects with Via Merulana.” He’s speaking loudly, gesturing to me to note this down somewhere. “Perfect. Don’t worry. I’m on my way.”
He puts his iPhone back in his pocket, gets up, casually tidies his thick chestnut hair and looks at me, excited.
“Even though you’re being sourer than ever tonight, probably due to so many years of involuntary celibacy, I’m going to take you with me to inspect a crime scene. You owe me a favour.”
Despite his nasty reference to the fact that I haven’t had a boyfriend in about three years, I can’t help but be enthusiastic. Yay! A crime scene!
“Where are you two going?” asks Ambra, looking at us resentfully as we head towards the exit. She always has to be in control of everything.
“To a crime scene,” Claudio replies hastily.
“I’m coming too!” the Bee exclaims, putting down her drink.
“Alright, but get a move on. And for goodness’ sake,” he emphasises in a nicely snobbish tone of voice, “don’t act like an airhead!”
And in a fraction of a second, combining the bewitching glance she throws at all our other colleagues with a yelp of “wait for me!”, we find her running along at our heels, being the pushy spoilsport she always is, in every marvellous moment of her life.
Coincidence and Causality
The building we arrive at is in the late seventeenth-century classical style, one of those that make the streets of Rome so enchanting. Tall, with rose-pink walls, and bursting with history, it’s clearly inhabited by the upper class. The entrance hall leads to a courtyard swarming with journalists, cameramen and policemen; there’s the kind of fevered agitation that at night gives me a sense of unsettling disorder. Ambra huddles into her red overcoat and for a moment even she seems to feel out of place.
Claudio, however, is most certainly not feeling uncomfortable. He always makes his entrance like he’s the Special Guest Star. He has a constitutional self-confidence that he can put to good use in any situation, including this one. As he heads up the stairs, he is indifferent to the staring residents, all gathered on their landings with their ears pricked like antennae in the hope of learning something about what has happened. Ambra and I follow him like a couple of poodles on a leash, trying to be as unobtrusive as possible, but that’s difficult in ten-centimetre heels. Ambra’s might even be twelve.
“So Doc, you’ve brought along a couple of showgirls, I see,” comments Lieutenant Visone sottovoce, convinced that no one can hear him but Claudio. This guy, a fifty-year-old from the south of Italy, irrevocably sly, is a fixture at every crime scene. He’s actually quite nice, but I get an ever-so-slight impression he’s a little sexist. “C’mon Doc, don’t tell me these two hotties are going into forensic medicine? They oughta be on the telly!” he once said to Claudio, who recounted this to everybody at the Institute, complete with perfectly executed imitation of the original delivery.
“Good evening, Lieutenant.” I greet him with a smile.
“Good evening, Doctor,” he says with fake composure.
“What are we dealing with here?” I ask quietly.
“A young girl, Doctor. So sad!”
Claudio signals me to be quiet and Ambra looks at me indignantly.
Suitably chastened, I attach myself once more to Claudio, who begins methodically photographing every corner of the house. The apartment is minimalist in design, and extremely tasteful. The kitchen is in coffee-coloured oak, the walls are decorated with artistic black-and-white photographs and near the black leather sofa is a moribund bonsai. The place has the look of a Manhattan apartment, like you see in the movies, but I’m astonished to learn it’s just a couple of law students living there, Giulia Valenti and Sofia Morandini de Clés, both from very well-to-do families. The victim is Giulia; Sofia found the body. I’d only caught a glimpse of Sofia, a meticulously groomed girl with curly blond hair, in the general melee when we arrived.
We approach Giulia Valenti’s room and suddenly my heart stops.
I recognise her immediately.
In the lead-up to the infamous party, I had decided that such an event justified the purchase of a nice new dress from one of the super-chic shops on via del Corso. I couldn’t decide between a red silk dress priced well outside my range, a lilac one that was perhaps a little out of season, and a black one with an Empire neckline and delightful little lace frills. Over and over I tried one after the other but still couldn’t decide. I’d just eliminated the black one when I heard a soft but melodious voice.
“Would you like my advice?”
I turned and saw an extraordinarily beautiful woman. But it wasn’t just her beauty that struck me, there was something more. She seemed like a creature from another planet – she had more perfect skin than the models in the Clearasil ads, straight black hair almost down to her waist, and a strikingly elegant and expressive way of carrying herself. She was skinny to the point of malnutrition, and her red-painted fingernails clashed with her obvious youth. Apart from the nail polish, she didn’t appear to be wearing a trace of makeup and yet she shone with a kind of unreal perfection. She couldn’t be a shop assistant because she wasn’t wearing a uniform. On the contrary, just like me she was trying on a whole lot of dresses that she had piled up on the stools in her fitting room.
“Please,” I said, liking her already.
“You have to get the black dress. It’s extremely chic. And it fits you perfectly, it really does. All it needs is a string of pearls and you’ll look perfect. Believe me.”
I looked at myself in the mirror yet again, but this time with new eyes.
“You really think so?”
“Trust me, I have a certain gift for choosing dresses. For others, at least,” she said with an enchanting smile. “You really look great.”
What convinced me in the end was the idea that she liked me in that dress. Seeing myself through her eyes, I felt perfect.
Back in my fitting room, as I was getting back into my clothes, I heard her arguing heatedly with somebody.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, have you gone crazy? No? Well then you have an over-active imagination. I don’t want to talk about this anymore. If you want answers, then I’m certainly not the person who can give them to you.”
We came out at the same time, almost bumping into each other. We exchanged smiles, but this time it was like a shadow had fallen across her face.
“I hope the dress brings you good luck,” she said, but without a trace of the verve she’d had earlier.
This evening I’m wearing the dress that girl, Giulia Valenti, chose for me. Standing here in the dress that was supposed to bring me good luck, I’m looking at her dead body, paralysed with horror.
Giulia is lying on the floor at a strange angle, halfway between her room and the hall, with her eyes closed.
She looks like an autumn leaf, dry and lifeless.
Beneath her, the floor is stained with copious amounts of vivid blood. Her long, manicured nails are still perfect, and still painted red. Claudio leans over her, opens her eyes and touches her to get a sense of her temperature. “She’s still warm. Negri, check for hypostasis.”
Ambra doesn’t need to be told twice – she totters up in a slightly ridiculous manner. That’s how she is, it doesn’t take much to get her excited: she looks for marks on certain parts of the body where blood has settled, an irrefutable sign of death; hardly a task that requires a whole lot of skill. Without putting on gloves – this is one of the Head Honcho’s key teachings, he’s old-school: “I don’t care if it’s gross, you have to touch the cadaver with your bare hands because nothing beats the skin for sensitivity” – Ambra lightly brushes Giulia’s neck, moving her head slightly; and then, just to show that she knows how, she pinches her chin to check the rigidity of her jawbone, another unequivocal sign of death.
“Very little hypostasis. A light shade of purple, but nothing more. Rigidity has not yet set in.”
These are signs of a recent death.
“Negri, you’re always one step ahead. An excellent quality. Allevi, you’re always behind – you should follow your colleague’s example.”
“And for so little…” I murmur, not really disappointed, but simply resigned to the fact that quality and success are almost never synonymous.
Rather than allow myself to be tormented by my persecutors, who even dare to exchange lustful glances during a crime scene investigation, I prefer to focus my attention on details of the room we find ourselves in.
The walls are a rather flat, cold lavender colour; the bed has been hastily made and a black jumper that Giulia must have been wearing over her white shirt is hanging over the edge, looking like it’s about to fall at any moment. On the dressing table is a large Chanel makeup kit; an elegantly strewn pair of stylish black gloves; a grey Gucci purse, open and bursting with credit cards; an old-fashioned silver hairbrush with the initials GV engraved on the back; some black hairpins; a powder case; and a packet of contraceptive pills. There are a number of photos on the wall: some taken at the beach, others in exotic locations I don’t recognise; yet others look like they were taken in a moment of boredom during classes at university. I look at them with great curiosity: several show Giulia with a girl who looks a lot like her, while in others she’s with a guy who is often wearing a cravat. Some others show her with different groups of friends, and Giulia always looks enthusiastic.
I feel a deep sense of anguish. And yet, I look again at the body.
If it weren’t for all that blood, Giulia would look like she was asleep; with her slightly oriental eyes, her thick, dark eyelashes, her ivory skin – she looks like Snow White.
Unfortunately, details catch my attention and it’s always the details that touch me. And so Giulia’s bare little white feet, slightly flat and disproportionate to her considerable height, move me to tears. Her worn little coloured bangle, bought at some market who knows where, which clashes with her valuable diamond bracelet, reminds me that within that corpse had been a life yet to be lived, and she would have no more carefree moments like the one in which she must have bought that bangle.
It’s thoughts like these that make Claudio say I’m not cut out for this line of work.
I approach my mentor, who is intently taking notes.
“What do you think happened?”
“She has a contused lacerated wound on the back of her neck. But we need to look at it more closely, under better lights. See the door jamb – it’s got bloodstains on it. She also has some recent bruising on her arms.”
“Do you think she was killed?”
Claudio furrows his brow, as he manually adjusts the SLR camera he’s using to take photographs from every possible angle. “It’s difficult to say this early on. Maybe. The wound could be due to a fall, for instance.”
I insist: “Yes, but what do you think is most likely?”
“Do you really think we can tell at this stage? Until the autopsy, all I know for sure is that she’s dead,” he says bluntly, with an arrogant shake of his head. “There are no visible self-defence injuries, however, and that would suggest it might have been an accident.” Then, as though my questions had given him the idea, and with the haughty air that is so characteristic of him in situations where he has to show his professional superiority, the Great Teacher concludes, enunciating each word so that Ambra and Lieutenant Visone can hear him, “Now then, Allevi, it’s time for a quick revision of the methodology for investigating a crime scene.”
God, I hate it when he does this. And unfortunately it happens a lot, because now that he’s leapt up the internal hierarchy of underlings to the Head Honcho, he’s convinced he has to enrich his forensic performances by also showing off as a teacher and all-round dispenser of wisdom. It’s a pity he’s not nearly so eager to share his knowledge when he’s with us interns in private.
Strange as it might seem to him however, I am in a position to respond. Because contrary to appearances, which condemn me to look perennially distracted and almost uninterested in my profession, I adore forensic medicine.
“Fundamental rules? In brief, please,” he demands, though not very attentively, as he continues with the photographic survey.
I tend to stammer when I have to speak in public. That means I come across as uncertain in my understanding of what’s being asked of me. Which of course does not help me to look like a brilliant intellect. Ambra, arms folded, is expecting me to slip up at any moment.
“Examine the environment, scrupulously analysing every detail; describe everything, even those details that might appear irrelevant. Do not overlook the position of the body, the clothing, any lesions. And any clues of potential criminological significance.”
“Signs of a struggle.”
“Assess the possible time of death on the basis of environmental indications.”
“Perfect. Anything else?”
“Do not make any changes to the crime scene until photographs have been taken or notes recorded.”
“That’s enough. Ambra, make some preliminary notes on time of death. And you, Alice, are free to go to the bathroom, since you’re clearly busting.” Ambra covers her fleshy mouth with one hand, as though to hide her amusement, and Claudio winks at me with that unique empathy that makes you forgive even his most sadistic performances.
Eventually he leaves the room to inspect the other parts of the house; I don’t follow him, and instead stay to look closely at everything, putting on the gloves I’ve taken from his bag. I approach Giulia and look at her closely. Her corneas are not yet opaque, and you can still discern their warm hazel colour. She has very long eyelashes. I look around cautiously.
If Claudio catches me he’ll cut off my hands.
These are my conditions. I’ll take you everywhere I go, but you have to keep a low profile.
After a while I hear my name being called: “Doctor Allevi.”
I spin around. It’s Ambra. When she’s around strangers, she pretends to be a professional of great fame, rather than simply an ambitious and sycophantic intern.
“What is it, Ambra?”
“We’re nearly done.” This “we” makes me laugh, because Claudio is such a diva that he would never be willing to share the credit, especially not with a couple of nobodies like us. But if there’s one thing Ambra is sure of, it’s that the world revolves around her. She checks her watch, keeps looking at me impatiently, and then runs after Claudio, who’s heading out the front door without giving a second thought to his two little poodles.
In the car, Claudio looks at me in the rear vision mirror; I’m sprawled on the back seat, exhausted, while Ambra can’t help but chew our ears off with inane chatter.
“What’s up with you?” he asks me.
“You’re upset. I’ve always said you’re not cut out for this job.”
I put my hands to my forehead impatiently. It’s almost two in the morning and I’m so tired I’m about to collapse.
“That’s not true and you know it. Over the last few years I’ve seen it all and I’ve endured every possible sight and smell.”
“So what’s different about this time?” he insists, while Ambra yawns.
“I knew Giulia Valenti, by sight. But in any case, don’t you ever find yourself particularly struck by a case?”
“Only from a scientific point of view. Allevi, you have to learn that this is the only thing that should interest you, otherwise you won’t be able to do your job objectively.
“When are you going to do the autopsy?” I ask, ignoring that little dig.
“It won’t be until Monday or Tuesday now.”
So Giulia will be locked in a cold chamber at the mortuary and will stay there for at least forty-eight hours.
I feel a great cosmic sadness swallowing me up.
When I finally get back home, climbing the stairs of my elevator-less building requires superhuman effort. I live opposite Cavour metro station in a miniscule apartment at exorbitant rent. It’s so small that sometimes I can barely breathe and it’s also quite dilapidated, but our scrooge of a landlord, signor Ferreri, refuses to spend a single euro to make it any more liveable. “The location is fabulous,” is his only response to our complaints. By “our”, I mean mine and my flatmate’s. Her name is Nakahama Yukino, or simply Yukino here in the West. Yukino is Japanese, from Kyoto. She’s doing a degree in Italian Language and Literature and is spending two years in Rome to improve her skills. She’s twenty-three years old, extremely petite, she dresses extravagantly and wears her black hair styled into a little bob with a fringe so perfect and immobile that it looks fake.
I adore Yukino. She’s my household guardian, like an almond-eyed version of the ancient Roman spirits of the home.
When I open the door of the house I find her sitting in an armchair in a yoga position, her pretty little face staring dumbfounded at the television, with a manga in her hands.
“Still awake? Is something wrong?” I ask as I hang up my overcoat.
She gives me that look that, for some reason, always strikes me as a bit bewildered. “Three,” she replies, holding up three of her tiny fingers. “First, I lost my membership card for the university canteen. It took all afternoon to get a new one. Second, it’s raining through the silly and signor Ferreri won’t pay for repairs. Third, I’ve been watching E! for an hour and I feel like throwing up. And yet I can’t… how do you say it, I can’t drab myself away from the television.”
“Drag myself, Yuki. And it’s ceiling, not silly.”
“Not really. In any case, we’ll have to phone Ferreri again. I’ll threaten to get a lawyer in.”
“We can’t get a lawyer in. We don’t have a rental contract!” Cash in hand is the only way to negotiate lower rent.
“But we can’t have it raining inside the house either! There’s a limit to everything!”
Yukino turns off the TV and stands up. “You’re right. It’s better if you call though. He can’t understand anything I say.”
“I’ll call him tomorrow,” I say with a sigh, pulling my hair back into a loose ponytail.
Yukino smiles delightfully. “Feel like a pyjama party? I bought barbecue Pringles.”
“I’m exhausted. Really.”
“You’ve been at a party. That’s no reason to be tired,” she replies with a sullen pout.
“I’ve been at a crime scene. Some party.”
Yukino opens her eyes wide. She does this all the time, and in such an exaggerated way that she really does look a lot like a character in a manga. I sometimes expect a speech bubble to appear over her head.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” she says sadly. “So you need to unwind!” she exclaims a moment later, happy to turn the situation to her own advantage.
“I can’t do it, really. I just want to go to sleep.”
“You can choose between Karekano, Inuyasha and Full Metal Panic,” she proposes, holding out the DVD cases. “And let’s not forget Itazura na kiss, but we’ve seen that one so many times already.”
“Yukino, it’s late!”
“I know, we’ll just go until three and then we’ll go to sleep, I promise. When I go back to Japan… how do you say it, you’ll regress it when I’m gone.”
“Regret it.” I don’t correct her out of pedantry, but because she has explicitly asked me to.
“Versailles No Bara?” She’s not giving up.
“I know! That episode of Karekano where Tsubasa meets her stepbrother and he thinks she’s only twelve years old. I’m becking you!”
“The word’s begging.”
“Soon I’ll be going back to Kyoto…”
And so, cravenly manipulating the fondness I feel for her and my desperation at the thought of her moving back to Japan, she picks a marvellous episode of Karekano, thus buying up my very last reserves of energy, and I give in to the atmosphere of infinite possibility that night-time brings.
Brigid Maher is Senior Lecturer in Italian Studies at La Trobe University. Her research focuses largely on literary translation and contemporary Italian literature, including crime fiction. Her English translations of novels by Nicola Lagioia and Milena Agus have been published in Italy, Australia and the UK.
The Australian Journal of Crime Fiction
Vol 2 No 1 2016
Editors: Barbara Pezzotti and Brigid Maher