Cigarettes and Gelato: A Bitter-Sweet Story

a short story


2 min read

Giuseppe, Avezzano, Abruzzo, Italy, August 2018.

Meet Giuseppe. 

I order a gelato, “Mezzo pistachio, mezzo nocciola” and sit in the sun.

The server decided to put panna on top. A cute [read: annoying] gesture to let me know that she can tell I’m an American. I scraped that shit off my pristine gelato with one swift swoop of a paper thin napkin. I take minuscule bites with my red cucchiaino. And out of nowhere a yellow candy is thrown in front of me.

A man as old as catholic guilt bursts out in Italian, “A candy for a woman as pretty as this day.” Real slick!

I smile, “Oh grazie, sei generoso”.

He asks to sit down. I say, “Ma certo.”

He proceeds to tell me his life story. That his 82nd birthday is tomorrow. About his many loved ones who have died. About the Germans in WWII taking all of his family’s olive oil and wrecking their home. About the family down the road who had twenty-four children. And the lake that dried up.

He accompanied each story with an artifact from his busted leather wallet. Then pulls out a cigarette and offers me one. I politely decline.

He tells me that he rarely smokes during the day, only at night. Usually a full pack. I ask why. Tells me it’s because he can’t sleep.

And with a look as if he’s just been stabbed in the stomach with a rusted pair of scissors, takes a drag of his cigarette and growls, “There’s no pain like the loss of a wife.”

He lost her seven years ago.

He looks off to the distance as if somehow looking for past memories of her to come back and greet him with a soft kiss on the forehead and the grasp of his hand— the universal gesture for everything is going to be alright.

I allow the silence to take a seat.

Then give a look, eyes heavy with sympathy. Since no words—English nor Italian—will heal his statement.

He talks some more about the history of the town. Eventually we depart, as he is on a strict schedule to feed the pigeons down the street at 6:00 sharp. He gives me two kisses on the cheek. I ask to take his photo, then wish him happy birthday.

And that was that.