Sprezzura! It popped like fizz in his mouth. Sprezzura! How sprightly. How exotic. He felt the two tight zeds peak then dissolve.
Sprezzura had come his way by accident. He overheard it at the local Italian café when he was buying one of his twice-daily half shot takeaway capuccinos. He had seized his cardboard cup and hurried home without taking a sip. The new word clenched in his jaws could only be released when he was back at his formica top desk, where it could be safely checked for transfer.
He was choosy about the words that entered the book. He would sharpen his HB3 to a fine point, then write each one on a fresh page with such focus his tongue would quiver and sometimes slip through the tight gate of his teeth. Date, time, word, meaning.
As much as he revered some words, he despised others. Plank, Scarlet, Tongue-tied, to name some. These words were forbidden. He imagined them in a casket, seething, suffocating, the lid closing down.
Buried in the morass of foul words was his given name. He shuddered with the memory. His adopted name. Clark, was not a superman fantasy, he told himself, and would have told others. It was the clean, smart way it could clack off the tongue.
But there was another word, just as familiar, and more delicious. He rolled it around inside his mouth now, moving it into one soft cavity, then another. He remembered the record in the shiny battered sleeve, West Side Story. His mother had played it every day like it would save her, never looking, while its waves swept over the boy, her silent son. And now she was dead and here he was, alive, billowing with love towards the girl at the café. He’d say it soft, if he could… Maria… Maria… Maria.
Oh yes, she was smooth to hold in his mouth. Smooth as a prayer… not like the marbles that rattled his teeth when he tried making small talk with anyone, especially a female. If he liked them the marbles would grow. Gagging him like gob stoppers.
Maria curdled on his tongue as he turned his thoughts to the task at hand. Practice, Clark. Practice. First you touch her arm, and a split second later, you say it. Maria.
He turned over his hand, and studied his soft pink palm. He liked the underside. Like the pads of a cat. His fingers were tapered with pointy nails. Feline, someone had called them when he was in primary. He’d had to look it up in the Thesaurus with the broken green spine. That was in his early days of sorting out words; the good from the bad.
Sprezzura. He wrote it into the notebook. It would come to pass. 17 April; 3.18pm. Sprezzura: the art of making what is hard look easy.
He reached for cat’s scratching pole, blurred his eyes till her soft cardigan appeared, then reached out his hand. His tongue rolled, ready…