Grey Film: 4 Mice

by Brantly Martin

illustrator Guglielmo Castelli

Issue VI

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The film begins with the four-year-old Attiliano walking through Piazza San Marco, head down, counting stones: Uno, due, tre, quattroUno, due, tre, quattro… He crosses himself and counts aloud: Uno, due, tre, quattro… Uno, due, tre, quattro… He stares up and counts the lions: Uno, due, tre, quattroUno, due, tre, quattro… He listens to accents, counts Americans: Uno, due, tre, quattroUno, due, tre, quattro… Attiliano, now eight, stands in front of Chiesa San Marco and mentally groups pigeons into fours, sixteens, sixty-fours and two hundred fifty-sixes. Soon, he is able only to function in fours: four bites in four meals a day, four stops—or sixteen—along the vaporetto, constructing rows of sixty-four at the family vineyards. His mother, La Signora Giancarla Mesine, is assured by Father Genozza this obsession will pass and is only a symptom of Attiliano’s father abandoning the family for a fourth, and final, time in Attiliano’s youth. The priest prescribes one thousand twenty-four Hail Marys. Attiliano, spending his summer in the countryside, collects four thousand ninety-six worms from the family vineyard in Valdobbiadene, sets them free on his sixteenth birthday and is relieved of his obsession.


The couple—ambitious, if not quite young—settle into their recently purchased eighth floor condo overlooking Madison Park. The four south-facing, floor to ceiling, windows frame a central fireplace and separate the two bedrooms. The home is Attilianos’s first in New York and Abigail’s first upon returning as both Mrs. Mesine and an expectant mother. This fact—the pregnancy—is one Abby has chosen to keep to herself. A lack of disclosure easily forgiven by anyone familiar with the ways of a mammone. The first two years of their marriage were spent shuttling between the Mesine family villa in Venice and the Mesine family interests —vineyards and agriturismos—sprinkled around Veneto: Montebelluna, Valdobbiadene, Maser, Cornuda, Asolo, Guarda, Bigolino, Nogaré, Castelfranco, Treviso. Were the disclosure, Abigail fears, to have come prior to the packing and shipping of crates, the pressure applied by Mama Giancarla to have her first grandchild delivered close to home might have usurped the cord-cutting Abigail has impressed upon Attiliano. The couple begin the life they’ve planned—scouting locations for a chain of prosecco outlets to be named “Solo Prosecco”—as furniture arrives from Italy. A housewarming party is weeks away when Attiliano receives a call from his cousin Peppe: Mama Giancarla slipped on ice while walking over the Ponte di Rialto, Emergency surgery will be performed tomorrow, He should come at once. Upstate for the weekend with her girlfriends, Abigail feels secure enough to disclose the pregnancy to Attiliano. She calls him to do just that, only to find him distraught and on his way to JFK. 


The film flashes back to the pre-teen Abigail walking along the beach with her father to the family’s summer home on the Gulf Coast. She is carefree and loved, both unaware and certain of her place in the American Future. Her older sister, Rebecca Lynn, meets her and hands over the family bicycle. Young Abigail, riding along the sidewalk, is the incubating image of Cycles Gladiator. After a game of monopoly the family sits down for the Sunday roast while the Saints and Oilers pre-season game plays on TV in the background. The sisters giggle while Mom opens her second bottle of Sancerre and Dad pounds spicy Bloody Marys. As the game turns into the local news, Abigail and Rebecca Lynn, exhausted from a day at the beach and overindulging in mashed potatoes, retreat to their room. Abigail falls fast asleep, while Rebecca Lynn—as she’s prone to do—plots a prank on her younger sister. She sneaks into the pantry, grabs two unopened tubes of Cheez Whiz and empties the processed contents all over Abigail’s meandering, pubescent approaching, red hair. Rebecca Lynn, exhausted but excited for baby sister’s reaction in the morning, joins Abigail in the land of dreams… And just as Rebecca Lynn envisions the Saturday afternoon lifeguard saving her from an oncoming hurricane, Abigail dreams her nose is bloody. Still asleep, Abigail wipes the blood from her nose and slowly, then swiftly, comes to. The scream that comes next punctuates the sisters’ (lack of) relationship for years. A large family of displaced, and rabid, white-footed mice have descended on the Cheez Whiz—which in her sleep Abigail has rubbed into her ears, nose and mouth. In her panic Abigail thrashes her head and slaps at her face, relegating the long-tailed rodents into dead, or dying, carcasses spread throughout her long red locks—now curly from the Gulf Coast humidity. Mom and Dad, passed out drunk and oblivious, find their youngest daughter bloodied and bald in the morning. She’s cut, then shaved, her hair. Her fear of mice never goes away, even with the counseling.


La Signora Giancarla Mesine’s emergency surgery, it turns out, is for a cerebral hemorrhage. The procedure is unsuccessful and she dies. Abigail reaches Venice just in time to help Attiliano transport Mama Giancarla’s body to the family plot in Valdobbiadene. During the ceremony Attiliano notices Abigail has put on some weight and, instantly, has a moment of clarity. The previous months’ timeline comes to him, assembled in fours: the eagerness to leave, the change in diet, cutting out of alcohol, plans for the apartment. Overcome, he walks up to the main house, sets out four shots of amaretto, downs them, looks up to see his long lost father walking in the door and faints. While passed out Attiliano has a vision: He must leave Italy within four hours or his obsession of fours will follow him forever. When he comes to, Abigail at his side, he informs her of his predicament. Not wanting to add stress to the situation, she takes his insanity at face value and they set off for Marco Polo Airport... After a week back in New York things return to normal. The temporary return of “the fours”—as well as Attiliano’s father—is not mentioned. The housewarming party is planned for the following Friday. All is well. On Friday afternoon—prosecco chilling, antipasti ordered from Eataly, furniture set and reset, new speakers tested—Abigail receives a call from her sister, Rebecca Lynn: She’s in town, could she stop by later? Sure, eight o’clock. The guests begin arriving around 7:15. Bottles are proffered, along with nice views and che bellos. Abigail, noticing the flow of prosecco has halted—something rare with Attiliano around—opens two more bottles and places them on the table. That’s when she looks around and doesn’t see Attiliano. She checks the spare bedroom, where former classmates have mixed with Italians. No luck. She heads to their bedroom and, after finding the door locked and fishing for keys, opens the door to see Attiliano rocking on the bed, arms in an X, repeating, Uno, due, tre, quattroAncora un topo… Uno, due, tre, quattro… Ancora un topo… Another what honey? I don’t understand. The doorman rings. A flustered Abigail leaves Attiliano to answer: Yes, send Rebecca Lynn up please. Abigail returns to Attiliano. Still rocking, he looks at her: There were three mice Amore, I threw them out the window, There is still one more, There must be four. Mice?! Abigail pushes her way through the guests, grabs her Fishs Eddy steak knife, opens the door and stabs her sister in the throat. 

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