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Sour Lemon Candy

Olivia Gallo translated by Kit Maude


ariano would come around to visit us pretty regularly. He’d ring the buzzer at about nine at night and when I opened the door, there he was, in the black raincoat he always wore, a couple of magazines under his arm. We’d hug and then he’d grab me by the ankles and carry me upside down into the kitchen where Mom and Dad were laying the table. He’d shake me up and down until I went red in the face, laughing so hard I started to choke. Then mom would say, “That’s enough, Mariano,” and he’d set me back down and give me the magazines. I’d go into my room to read the Holas he brought from Spain, flicking through images of the royal family and the homes of the rich and famous while they chatted and drank wine in the kitchen.

He was always the nicest of all my parents’ friends. He had brown, curly hair and wore tortoiseshell glasses. He dressed differently from my dad and other men their age: worn jeans and sneakers mostly. He lived in a one-bedroom apartment in Almagro with his girlfriend Kari, a morose girl with a pointy nose who was at least fifteen years younger than him. Every time she came to dinner, she would come into my room afterward to give me her leftovers. Usually, she’d barely touched her food.

I went over to their house too. When my mom or dad couldn’t pick me up from school, he’d volunteer. He’d arrive with his pockets full of stickers for whatever album I was trying to complete, or sour lemon candy in plastic wrappers. Sometimes he’d invite a few of my friends into the car and drive fast in zig-zags to make us laugh. We could do what we liked at his house. We’d write, “I love you, Mariano,” in permanent marker on the walls and eat whatever we could find in the cupboards. We’d do gymnastics on Kari’s yoga mats, he’d teach us to do handstands, somersaults and cartwheels, and we’d squabble over who went first and then pretend to be having trouble with the moves even though we knew perfectly well how to do them. We’d pretend we were his girlfriends, and then draw lots to see who got to marry him. The chosen girl would have a napkin clipped over her face for a veil. When I heard Mariano say “I do” to one of the other girls, I’d get so angry I thought I was going to puke.

When Kari got home from work and saw the house in a mess, she’d start shouting. “Get out of here, you little monsters!” she’d cry, dragging us roughly toward the door by our elbows. Mariano tried to calm her down and they’d lock themselves in the bedroom. We’d start chuckling quietly when we heard Kari burst into tears. Then Mariano would come out a few minutes later and laugh with us. After that, Kari would call my dad and he’d come pick us up, dropping the other girls off with their angry parents; they’d had no idea where their daughters were all afternoon. One by one, said parents began forbidding them from coming over, but I didn’t care. Better this way, I thought. Now I’m the only one who can marry Mariano.

A few months went by when Mariano didn’t come over. We still saw Kari fairly regularly and she and Mom would huddle together in the kitchen. I’d try to put my ear to the door to listen in on their conversation but the door was thick and Kari was always breaking down. Apparently, Mariano had broken all the windows in the house and when Kari got home, she found him lying on top of the shards of glass, waving his arms like he was making a snow angel. That was exactly how she said it, “He was waving his arms like he was making a snow angel.” I laughed because it was probably one of Mariano’s jokes, the kind that Kari never got.

But Mom and Dad started talking about Mariano in worried tones. They told their other friends that he’d had an “episode,” which made me think of a TV series. They also mentioned a clinic where they went to visit Mariano sometimes, but even though I begged and begged, they never took me with them. One day, he was released. No one told me that either, I only found out when he came over one night for dinner with Kari. He said hello, and seemed very happy to see me, but we didn’t play. That night I was allowed to eat at the table with them, and Mariano barely said anything. Just yes, no, and a few other words. He smiled a lot. Kari looked as though she hadn’t been sleeping well.


barely saw him anymore, but one day he came by the house to pick me up. I was on my own when the buzzer went. I went downstairs. He was waiting in the car, the same one as before, only now the doors had dents in them. I sat in the front and as I leaned over to buckle my seatbelt I saw a pile of sour lemon candy wrappers on the floor, covered in dust. It was the first time I had ever experienced the awful, delectable feel of nostalgia in the pit of my stomach.

Mariano barely said a word on our journey. He just asked me what radio station I wanted to listen to. I said I didn’t know, I never listened to the radio. He chose one at random. He didn’t say where we were going, but we pulled up at a cinema. He bought tickets for a movie he chose without asking me. We were in the lobby with a tub of popcorn and a box of chocolate-covered peanuts that he poured over the popcorn. The film was for grown-ups, extremely boring. At one point, he said he had to go to the bathroom and got up. I was left alone in the theater and ate popcorn until I fell asleep. I was woken up by an usher, a teenager with rampant acne and a blue visor. The lights had come up and the screen was blank.

The usher walked me out and helped me look for Mariano. We found him on the bathroom floor, his face wet. He said he was fine, he’d just felt faint for a moment but he was OK now. He smiled and took my hand, telling me to walk faster. I turned around to see the usher watching us, scratching his forehead underneath the visor.

Mariano’s hands were shaking so much that it was like they had a life of their own. He tried to stop the shaking by gripping the steering wheel hard, until his knuckles turned white. He didn’t say where we were going this time either, but I assumed he was taking me home. For the first time since I’d known him, I was hoping we’d go there instead of his house.

“I’m going to show you something you’ve never seen before,” he said eventually. I didn’t answer. He said the phrase over and over again, like he’d forgotten he’d said it. “I’m going to show you something you’ve never seen before,” he said again, when we were in the elevator, going up to his apartment.

He made a couple of attempts to open his door, but his hand was shaking too much for him to get the key in the lock. We eventually got inside and he strode straight across the room to the balcony. I watched him from the threshold of the apartment. I didn’t dare go any further. I saw him open the door and go out. That was all I saw, but I heard a loud thud from down below, followed by a flock of flustered pigeons.


few days later, my parents and I went to visit some friends at their place in the country. I was swimming in the pool on my own, when Mom dove in head first. The others were in the house, drinking coffee after lunch. It sounded like a slap when her body hit the water. She quickly climbed back out and went to sit on a white plastic lounger. I went on swimming. I ducked under the water to see how long I could hold my breath. My mom said something and I poked my head above the surface.

“What?” I asked.

“Mariano died today,” she answered.

She and Dad had been to see him in the hospital after he jumped off the balcony; a store canopy had broken the fall. He spent ten days on life support. When Mom told me, I looked at her and it felt like I was crying because my face was wet, but it might just have been the water from the pool.

Olivia Gallo 15 (Foto x Enrique Bellande)

Olivia Gallo


Kit Maude