Claudia never actually intended on shooting the gun, that much she knew. That much they both knew, she and her husband.
Every evening, by 6 pm like clockwork, the Capones would get in a fight, and if there was one thing that the Capone family how to do – if they were capable of nothing else in the world, and they weren’t – it was only fight. They were savages. Claudia, a chubby lady, sweet and maternal but also vicious, would take her shot gun, a large black vulgar thing, with a satchel across her chest and wave it maniacally at her husband, a retired cop. They had been married for 25 years, and this was their lifestyle. They lived on the edge, so to speak. Afterwards, they would have the dinner that Claudia so thoughtfully prepared. He will thank her, and when they go to sleep at night Paolo threads his old creased hands in hers and kisses her. To cease fighting for them would mean to cease existing, and sometimes – more importantly – to stop loving.
Every evening, he would hear them, their violent Italian screams bleeding through the thin paper ceiling.
Luca would lie in his bed around ten o’clock, still wearing his unlatched sneakers with holes in them and clean shabby jeans, and he would hear them wail and threaten. They would fight about anything, any little thing that came to their mind, as though their every complaint and anguish was so brilliant it would be a crime for them not to scream it, proclaim it to the world at the top of their lungs in an act of vanity and redemption.
Luca just stared at the denim of his jeans, dusty and wrought and torn by a long day working at a construction site – after graduating from college Magna Cum Laude a couple years ago, he decided he would be happier doing something with his hands, something that made him ache every time he came home. His shoulders were beginning to round under the pressure of the blocks of steel and wood that he carried every day. His back had the slightest curve in it. But the pain was rewarding. When all was said and done, he had created something. His palms and knuckles and finger tips had molded a stone into a building.
He had moved into the same building he had grown up in. His father was the manager in that building, and the living was cheap. He had an apartment on the floor on top of theirs, and he could hear every single word loud and clear.
So Luca would just lie down on his barren mattress with the springs popping up. And listen. And wait.
Hope didn’t come easy anymore.
Luca, their son, is an idiot. An extremely intelligent idiot- some of his old professors would even say brilliant. He was the kind of idiot who, after having screwed himself over, will screw everyone else over as well. Perhaps because he is bored. Perhaps because he is vicious. But mostly because he doesn’t know any better. But at last, he is still essentially an idiot if only for the fact he is incapable of loving and incapable of emotions of any kind, if not blatant self-pity. He is rather easy to detest, scrawny, with deeply narcissistic eyes, brimming with tears and self-pity and loathing, all red and bloodshot. To be honest, those are the only things you notice of Luca Capone. That’s all everyone remembers, even now that he is dead.
The fight between Paolo and his wife died down eventually. At some point in their marriage, they had mutually agreed that they would never go to bed angry. Some way or another, in the most unfathomable of ways, the arguments subsided. Sometimes it would be gradual and simmering. But that wasn’t usually the case. Their fights end abruptly, as though any attempt to formally apologize would not only be superfluous, but also offensive. They never apologize; they don’t need to.
Now it is one o’clock in the morning, and they are eating ice cream and peach cobbler. Their argument had ended the moment the oven beeped. At once, their animated voices had halted. Silently, Claudia had walked to the kitchen, taken the cobbler out of the oven, placed it on the counter, and conjured two forks and plates.
They both sit at the table in the living room, where Paolo has already been patiently waiting with two glasses and a half-filled bottle of wine. The walls are mostly barren, not because of destitution, but because Paolo hides all their valuables so that they don’t become unnecessary casualties. The apartment bears the burdens of their apocalyptic fights, with the occasional wardrobe turned on its side and the smashed plates in the corner, but for the most part it is a clean and orderly household. They eat in silent satisfaction.
Claudia’s round, angelic face contradicts the gun she is holding. Her lupine features bear all the symptoms of age but not the decrepitude that comes with it. She holds the gun like she was born with it in her hand. It fits inside her curved arm and chest easily, locked in an aggressive embrace.
Paolo stares at his wife while she eats. He thinks she looks beautiful.
Paolo puts an arm around her shoulders. “Ti adoro.”
He could scarcely put a finger on it, but Paolo had always known something was wrong. There was something that simply didn’t fit with the rest of his life. A piece that was incongruous to the rest. A piece that was rotten, like a foul odor that pervaded his life and he couldn’t find the source of it.
The gun is unloaded. That is Claudia’s secret. She would never be capable of waving a loaded gun at anything, much less her husband.
Luca discovers this one night when his parents are both out. He slips into their apartment – which he has the keys to – and goes directly to where he knows she keeps the gun. It is in her antique jewelry box under her bed. He is sitting on their mattress restlessly. At the head of the room is a crucifix.
The antique chest is an old wedding present, with a gilded satchel and small engravings along the edges. He opens the satchel rather gingerly at first, and then – losing patience – begins rummaging through the contents of the box. It has jewelry in it, old letters, photographs, money, and of course the false bottom with the gun beneath it. Luca pricks himself on an old brooch while he looks for it.
He takes the gun out gingerly, preciously observing it. It is smaller up close. The gun could even have passed for a rather gaudy toy.
Luca stayed there for at least an hour, simply holding the weapon in his hand, staring at it intently. He did nothing else with it.
Luca had always hurt inside. He didn’t know why or how, and didn’t even know he did at all because it was so common and he was so used to the self-loathing he’d forgotten it was there. He dissolved his anguish and made it pliable like the cement and dirt and clay he molded. He stopped caring, about himself and his thoughts and his spirit, and if souls did exist, he forgot about that too. And he gradually got lost in his body, like a bottle which loses its contents through a crack.
For most people, death is random. It happens sporadically. But Luca Capone is a different story. The story of Luca Capone begins as soon as it ends: at the time of his own death.
When he was seven, Luca got lost in the zoo. His mother, Claudia, had never been so distressed in her life. She frantically paced around the zoo, her face puffy and contorted with tears and anxiety, harassing the security guards, the managers, the guy at the ice from shop, the souvenir vendor, and all the animals. Everyone in her vicinity risked being victim to one of her outbursts, in which she proclaimed what a failure she was as a mother and how she was incompetent just like her grandmother always told her she was and no wonder she was never able to become a doctor and was a nurse instead – all because she was so stupid and could not even take care of her one and only precious son, who could be dead anywhere right now, a lion might have eaten him, or he might have been kidnapped, or even have drowned in the aquarium and been attacked by a seal.
Needless to say, no one visiting the Bronx Zoo that day left unscathed. Lions and tigers and bears are surely intimidating and wild, but not next to Claudia absorbed in the thought of her lost son. Two hours later, a security guard came with little Luca in tow, who looks very similar to modern-day Luca, just more adorable and with precocious eyes.
Claudia’s heart broke a thousand times when she saw her son waddling up the cobblestone lane, as tacit and composed as can be. She couldn’t help observing how, from a distance, he walked like an intelligent midget.
She ran towards him, hysterically kissing him repeatedly on the cheek and thanking the security guards and the managers and the passer-byers. “Don’t you ever – ever – do that to me again. You hear me?” She shook him, trying to seem tough and severe, but one look at her son – who was alive and well (or as well as she could ever hope for) – and her veneer melted. Claudia’s good moods were contagious. While she went around thanking all those who had tolerated her for those eternal two hours, Luca stayed behind her, latched to her hand, being showered in the attention of all the people who had been on the look-out for him.
But some of the observers couldn’t help but noticing that there was something uncharacteristically odd about the little boy. Indeed some onlookers, part of the crowd that had formed during the touching mother-son scene, found a rather disturbing quality about the child. His mannerism simply lacked that ingenuity that came with being young. He walked like he was his own burden to carry. In fact, quite a few of the more observant onlookers couldn’t help but overhear a conversation transpire between him and a friendly guard.
“Aren’t you glad you’ve finally found someone you know, kid?” the tall, black man had asked.
“I don’t know her,” Luca said matter-of-factly, who up until then had remained quiet, immune to his mother’s affections.
“But she’s your mother,” the guard said, unsure whether to be confused or concerned.
“Yes. But why in the world would that mean that I know her?” the little seven year old insisted.
No one ever found out where the child had been for all that time. No one ever knew that little Luca had hid inside a bush behind a trash can, peering intently at his mother while she worried herself to the point of physical sickness.
He could try to capture it. But it’s already gone.
Luca is simply one of those people who yearn to tear from his own skin, leave it behind, shed his flesh and his very being. He ached to peel it off because it had never belonged to him in the first place.
He didn’t believe in God because it was easier to lead life without being judged by a higher entity. But Luca likes to tell himself that he didn’t believe in God because he didn’t believe in any other mythological creatures either. He liked unicorns too, he just didn’t believe in them, much less worship them.
Luca is standing on the edge of his building, peering down at a myriad of life that was swelling below in the city streets, several stories down. Everyone is insignificant from up there. From this distance, the life of man – with all its intricacies and quirks and even “advancements” – seems no more consequential than a busy herd of ants. On the edge of that building, in the cusp between life and something beyond it, Luca feels like his own God.
So he jumps off the building. But suicide isn’t what kills him.
Claudia’s love left bruises. It was the kind of love that stifled the blood circulation in your fingers and wrists when she held them tenderly in her flat chubby palms, both coaxing and volatile, she wouldn’t be happy until she possessed you, melted your body in hers in an act of reverse maternity. Love as a form of aggression. She loved so much she was willing to let it hurt.
Claudia has the gun in her hand now.
“Do you see what your son has become?” she shouts like it is an accusation. “Do you see it?”
“We’ve done nothing wrong,” Paolo insists, his voice almost overlapping hers, although truthfully he wasn’t even sure anymore. There was always something that could have been done. Maybe if they had sent him to a different school, in a different neighborhood, maybe if they had read more books to him as a child or maybe spoken to him more often, given him more privacy, maybe if he had had a better job, or not been an immigrant, or played more sports with him…maybe then things would have turned out differently for little Luca.
He wonders briefly when Luca became the way he is now, and realizes in the back of his mind that Luca had never become anything; Luca had been the way he was from the very beginning. When he was born he had looked up into his father’s eyes with a knowing, empty expression and it simply had never left.
“Claudia –“ he cuts into her desperation in an even steady tone, pleading with her. “Luca was never – he hasn’t changed.”
“Yes he has – He isn’t well. I feel like I don’t even know him anymore; I don’t even know how to help him,” she is frantic, and her voice feels cracked and dry, coming from a hollow parched part of her chest. She is pacing, her arms and hands are emphatic when she speaks, like she is trying to launch something out of herself but it’s too heavy.
“Just because you did all the right things – not everyone is who you expect them to be,” Paolo is struggling, leaning towards her with palms outstretched; the words coming out of his mouth feel crooked.
“Don’t say that. We could still help him,” her voice feels like its grating sandpaper into her throat; tearless, gravelly sobs force out of her. Her eyes look both shiny and dry, with red crusts encircling them like she had been weeping sand and not tears. She is holding the gun like a security blanket; the steel barrel is rubbing against her cheek.
“Don’t you get it? He doesn’t want your help.” Paolo hates himself for saying it out loud. “He is beyond help.”
“How could you even say something like that?” Claudia says scathingly, her gun outstretched, facing towards him suddenly. “He’s my son.”
“He’s my son, too,” he says, defeated. “But that doesn’t mean he was going to turn out right.”
“My son is very right.” She is trembling, walking towards her husband, in rapid, clumsy steps. “My son was brilliant. It’s his father whose not-”
Claudia never finishes. She slips over her own feet, and the gun goes off. It resounds in an agitated, pronounced declaration. She is shocked, immobilized and sprawled across the floor. Paolo hears the bullet as it passes by his ear–the subtle mechanical whizzing like a powerful fly–and it goes right through the window. Claudia looks up just as the bullet hits a body flying down past the window.
Claudia knows she is screaming; she feels her mouth open and her lungs collapse beneath the splintering pressure erupting from her throat. She knows she is screaming, but she can’t hear the sound of her own voice.
The best of us will never know why Luca decided to load that gun. Perhaps that had been the original suicide attempt. Perhaps he wanted to see how far his mother could really take it. Perhaps he didn’t even know why he had done it; he had simply succumbed to an innate impulse. He wouldn’t leave this world peacefully. He had to tear it down.
On the cold, hard, listless asphalt ground there is a body. The body is contorted, the arms and legs and limbs are fractured in several places, lying loosely on the cement, lost strands of skin and body lying astray on the dirty silver ground.
The cops are there, and they want to know what was going on. The cops have asked Claudia to identify the body. Claudia is calm, because she knows that this body – this thing, whatever this thing is – is not her son, and it looks nothing like her son.
“It is not Luca.”
The cops look at her questioningly. “Can you be sure, m’am?”
“Yes, a woman can recognize her own son,” she snaps, looking at the cop in disgust, as though the very thought of what he was saying was a personal affront. “This looks nothing like my son, right Paolo?” she continues. Paolo is a few steps behind her, and he is paralyzed. He is trying not to weep in front of his wife.
“Nope. Not Luca,” she repeated, crossing her arms around her chest. Luca was much cuter than this broken body right here. Luca’s hair was not quite so matted and dirty and caked with blood and sweat and the grimy residues of death on flesh; no, his hair was fine and silky. His face did not look like it had to be readjusted and put in place with pliers. His eye sockets, they were not cracked; they were round, with thick eyelashes. She remembered him as a child, when maybe he still used to look on at her keenly. She remembered him; he was full of life; even at death he would never look so destroyed. Her son would never be destroyed.
The cops look at one another, questioningly, dubiously. But they know what to do. “Ms. Claudia Capone, we found your finger prints on the gun. You are being charged with the involuntary manslaughter of your son Luca Capone…” They insult her wrists with the handcuffs. Claudia feels the cuffs click, and they lock.
Claudia would never accept Luca for who he was, even when he was dead. And Luca would make her pay for it.