Mechanical Animal

That night things took a 540 degrees turn.

In those years the predominant suburban fashion on weekends was to frequent British-inspired watering holes, and Crema, being the understated pinnacle of provincial well-to-do-ness, was scattered with anglophile locali with inventive names such as ‘Victorian’, ‘The Irish’, or the more subtle ‘English Inn’.

Antonio and I were out on one of our usual benders. A short drive into the city and there we were, at the Inn, ready to terrorise it with our high-energy antics and to imbibe copious amounts of birra bionda in imperially measured vessels.

The evening proceeded smoothly, fuelled by jovial camaraderie. So much so in fact, that by the end we’d gained a few extra companions and our assembly, originally a duet, had grown to an orchestra, all laughing and joshing like good old chums. But as the Anglo-Saxon custom of early last orders drew the party to an unwilling close, Antonio fetched his rusty steed, a brass-coloured 1979 VW Polo with slicked old tires and a monstrous sound system, and off we went.

Gloria, Francy and Uge, the rest of our ensemble, had been brave (or stupid) enough while inebriated to ask us for a lift back out of the city. Not a big detour, four or five miles further from our original destination at the very most, in a straight line cutting across the flattest, most boring countryside road ever. You couldn’t get it wrong.

So there we were, headed towards their hometown, speedy fast, tanked up and in a rush to get-home-quick-and-get-more-pissed.

Having spent the night trawling over a metaphorical English Channel, singing like merry Pirates and laughing like drunk Limeys, we now felt like bona fide English Folk, braving Britannia’s unfair weather by coasting along a rural B road while the radio underscored our journey with pleasant Anglophone tunes. And by that I mean we were doing 70 under the beating rain, on the wrong side of the road with the radio pumping out Goth Metal at full blast.

The road was glistening in the storm, empty.

Antonio was at the wheel, charioteer of Albion, and us, Druids preparing to give offerings to the Gods of the Holy Well.

I sang all the lyrics in a ceremonial chant as the girls, sitting at the back, bobbed and hummed with the tune, holding tight to the seat and to each other, secretly horrified by our idiotic disregard for road safety.

Use me when you wanna come,
I’ve bled just to have your touch,
When I’m in you I wanna die…

From afar, two bright spots appeared on the flat tarmac. Something in our minds started murmuring, pressing us to suspend our current frame of reference and to conform instead to the Italian highway code. The murmur was drowned for a few moments more by the beating, sexy rhythm of electric goth rock.

User-friendly, fucking dope star obscene.
Would you die when you’re high?
You’ll never die just for me…

As our beaming nemesis drew nearer, Antonio attempted an evasive manoeuvre, swerving to the right to avoid the fast-approaching inevitable. The English rain fell on the Italian tarmac, and the old Panzer, pirouetting past its speeding enemy, banked and initiated a spectacular sideways roll. It was sudden. So sudden that no-one had time to react until the car had settled to a head-first standstill in a roadside ditch. The bass-line beats from the stereo, strangled by the sounds of lamentation, still played in the air as Antonio, hanging down like a bat, uttered the first sensible words of the night.

‘We fucked up!’.

He undid his seatbelt and fell down towards the ceiling and into the water, which was by now entering the vehicle through the shattered rear window. I felt heat radiating from my right ear, but didn’t have time to dwell on it, as I had to abandon the the ship sinking below the water line. I dived out of the cabin, scrambled up the muddy bank and made a quick head count.

There was me – one. Antonio – two.
Eugenia, on the other bank of the ditch – three.
Francesca, bleeding from a huge gash on her forehead – four.
One missing: Gloria.

Then a muffled cry for help from inside the car, almost filled up with ditch-water.

‘Shit, Gloria!’

I dived back in and there she was, stuck between crumpled sheets of metal, face down into the streaming cold water. I lifted Gloria’s head up out of the bubbling stream, and she captured a deep, life-saving breath of air.

In my innate impulse towards heroism, I hadn’t consider the fact that the fire brigade would have taken another 20 minutes to arrive, exactly the amount of time I would end up spending semi-submerged in the freezing ditch while holding Gloria’s head up out of the flow. As I drifted in and out of consciousness with hypothermia on my way to A&E, I could still hear Marilyn Manson’s words taunting me from the car’s radio, still playing, undisturbed.

I’m not in love, but
I’m gonna fuck you til
somebody better
Comes along…

*** *** ***

♫ Prick your finger, it is done
The moon has now eclipsed the sun,
The angel has spread its wings,
The time has come for bitter things… ♫

Sat at my desk, shades covering my crimson-shot eyes, I carve those lyrics onto a piece of cardboard to eviscerate the horror around me, to dent the cage of desperation trapping me inside. Dad has been dead 24 hours, but I am still failing to come to terms with it, although I’ve been given plenty of time to formulate the thought during the weeks leading to today.

His cadaver haunts me from my parents’ bedroom, while my mother and a few aunties busy themselves with rosary-crown motions, in a chanting effort to open a gate to the heavens through which his soul would perhaps transmigrate. My brother, on the other hand, has stopped portraying any meaningful human emotion, an underground bunker keeping his sanity shielded inside, or perhaps protecting us from a burst of eruptive, grief-driven wrath.

This is one of those days made for gothic rock, for Charles Baudelaire, for puffed-up eyes and whispered anger, for blades and forearm blood: the perfect day for outdoors dressing gowns and indoors sunglasses.

It all started about ten weeks ago, when the first imperceptible notes of a requiem built towards an unfathomable crescendo, silencing its audience with its technical intricacies. Ten weeks. That’s how fast a life goes. From day one to ground zero, in seventy days square.

*** *** ***

The morning the first pebble rolled down the mountain we were on the road, on one of our usual unremarkable journeys. A familiar, straight stretch of road on a clear, sun-drenched day. Dad was driving in his typically conservative, fuel-efficient way, never too much throttle or too much braking, and mum was sitting in the back in her relaxed, unconstrained way – nobody wears seat belts when sitting in the back, do they?

The music playing in the in-car stereo was one of my favourite albums, Marilyn Manson’s newest and most mainstream work to date, Mechanical Animals, an album which Mum loathed, exclusively on its musical merits of course, as the content she couldn’t comprehend, not speaking a single word of English.

As quick as a blinding flashlight, a small red vehicle appeared from a secondary road, failing to notice the big GIVE WAY sign pointed in its direction and cut across the main highway in a careless bid at traversing a Piranha-infested stream.

Our navy-blue Astra estate plowed into the small car’s side like a hammer blow, propelling it out to the side of the road. All I felt was a hard jolt forward followed by a small explosion and a punch in the face. Clouds of talcum powder filled the cabin in a dreamlike state of suspension as we rotated sideways from the impact. Turns out the punch and powder are perfectly normal signs of a properly discharged airbag. Lucky me.

I checked on Dad. He was fine.
Mum, not so much, but still alive and breathing.
The girl in the other car was not doing quite so well.
A pride of ambulances, roaring along the highway, arrived soon after and scooped up the

careless lady from the wreckage of her small car. A second ambulance carried Mum to the

hospital, as she needed further orthopaedic attention, but both myself and Dad were discharged at the scene, having suffered only minor grazes.

A couple of weeks went by, and Dad, still feeling a niggling pain in his lower back, sought further medical advice, followed by some in-depth diagnostic tests.

That’s when the drums joined the orchestra. The tests, hoping to find the cause of his pain, revealed instead a dark, cancerous mass in and around his liver, unrelated to the fallout from the car accident. More tests just brought more ill omens, and what at first seemed like an innocuous stiff back turned into a one-way express ticket to the afterlife.

Dad was dying fast, cancer festering in his unaware body. Surgeons preyed on him with the urgency of vultures, but their baleful therapeutic futility only expedited his demise. He never recovered from the post-op complications, and was sent home, defeated, to feign normality for a few more days and spend the last Christmas of his life with us, his unprepared, already grieving family.

There’s not much left to love
Too tired today to hate
I feel the empty
I feel the minute of decay…