New Year’s Day

Federico places Gina’s photograph on the front passenger seat of the Commodore, organises his lunch basket and towels in the back seat, turns the ignition key three times before the engine starts, sits for a few minutes allowing the car to warm up, adjusts the rear-view mirror, winds down his window, alters the side mirror, leans across, opens the glove compartment, takes out his driving glasses, places them carefully on his face, checks he has enough petrol for the trip, presses play on the cassette player (The Three Tenors. Placido Domingo is his favourite. Gina’s, too), puts the Commodore into reverse, backs out, uses the remote to roll down the garage door, slowly continues out of the driveway, presses another remote to lock the front gate, snaps his seatbelt in place, steers onto the road, points the car west, waves to his neighbour of 50 years, Kev, who is tending the chrysanthemums in his front yard, puts the Commodore into drive and zooms off.

Amore, here we go, he says to Gina’s photograph in the passenger seat.

At the top of his street, Federico turns left. For 63 kilometres he will drive southwards along High Street, which turns into Hoddle Street, which becomes Punt Road, which merges into the Nepean Highway, which will lead him to the bayside suburbs and his destination, Seaford Beach.

Once Federico reaches Mordialloc, he looks out his driver’s side window into every side street to catch a glimpse of the magnetic blue bay. The same colour as Gina’s eyes and his children’s. Everyone used to call Gina Mediterranean Sea Eyes, when she lived in the village.

When Federico nears Seaford Beach, he searches for the caravan site directly opposite the foreshore. This is where he would park the car every New Year’s Day when the family visited the beach.

He steers the Commodore slowly into one of the free parking bays, turns off the ignition and The Three Tenors, unclips his seatbelt, waits for passing traffic then opens his door, walks around to the other side, opens the passenger’s side, wraps Gina in her towel, places his own towel over his left shoulder, collects his lunch basket, locks up and walks across the road towards the sandy trail that leads to the foreshore.

First, Federico wants to find the old wooden table among the banksias. This is where the family gathered to eat lunch and play cards every New Year’s Day. He spots the table. Hasn’t changed much. A little more worn but still here. Just like me. He sits down, unwraps Gina’s photograph and places her on top of the table.

It is only 11 o’clock but Federico is ready to eat. As he enjoys his lunch joggers run past, locals with towels across their shoulders make their way towards the beach, retired couples in straw hats walk their dogs. Gina’s photograph sits on the table singing “Volare”.

After finishing his lunch, Federico brings out the coffee flask. He pours a hot coffee into the flask’s white plastic cup lid. Just like you used to make it for our picnics, amore, with a little honey and cinnamon, he says to Gina.

After his coffee, Federico places the flask in his basket, gently wraps Gina in her towel and settles her in the basket as well.

Now, let’s take a look at the beach!

Federico follows a trail and reaches the beach. The stretch of white sand is luminous and the azure bay glitters. He finds an empty bench on the sand. He takes out Gina’s photograph, unwraps her towel and places the photograph on the bench so that Gina is sitting watching the waves, too.

Glorious isn’t it, amore? He is smiling but then he frowns.

I know we insisted we save our money for the children’s education and to pay off the house. And then when the kids left, yes, you got sick, my blood pressure got too high. We made excuses, didn’t we, amore? I wish we had taken a trip back to Sicily, just once.

Gina’s photograph looks towards the waves that gently kiss the shoreline as they roll in and roll out.

Sitting on the bench in the sun, his arms folded across his belly, Federico’s head begins to dip towards his chest.

You won’t mind if I take a nap, amore? Then, we’ll go for a nice long walk. Just like Dr Lewin recommended.

When Federico wakes up, the sun is beginning to make its descent towards the horizon. He looks at his watch. It is 5 o’clock.

Amore, how could I have slept for so long? He looks across and sees Gina sitting on the bench. In the late afternoon light, she is radiant in her floral dress and hat.

Gina? Is this really you?

Yes, amore, I’ve come because there’s something we need to do. Gina smiles and rises from the bench before Federico can reach out to her. Federico, I’ve been thinking while you were sleeping, she says as she takes a few steps. Why don’t we go back to Sicily, right now?

Gina holds out her hand to Federico and walks away from him towards the water. Federico rises from the bench. He begins to follow Gina but can’t catch up.

Come, amore, says Gina. It is low tide. We could walk all the way to Sicily if we tried. We’ll have a nice long holiday on our island.

Federico slips into the water following Gina. With each step he moves deeper and deeper into the bay. The waves are whispering around him. Happy New Year’s Day, Federico. Happy New Year’s Day.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on December 11, 2021 as "New Year’s Day".

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Marisa Fazio is a fiction writer and poet. Her new novella, Piazza Garibaldi, is set among the Italian community of 19th-century Melbourne.

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