Massimo gaped at the grenade, feeling time slow to a crawl and wondering at it hanging there. Giovanni had winked at him as he cocked his left arm to throw it. Giovanni’s eyes read the vaffanculo of their uprising as he turned his head back to the state troops. A wry grin creased his lips.
The bullet had torn through Gio’s upper chest and forced a sound of air being knocked out when it hit him. Massimo thought it sounded like a free kick thumping off the wall. There just wasn’t as much blood back then. Gio sagged, his knees buckling and the fire in his eyes changing to bewilderment. The grenade in his hand lolled towards the ground.
He had pulled the pin before he leveled the grenade to throw it at the troops daring to break up their (in theory, at least) peaceful protest. Massimo saw the firing pin shoot off with a metallic ping, arcing end over end away from the falling body of Giovanni. If Massimo wasn’t so out of shape, he figured he would have caught the bullet Gio did. Massimo’s brain noted quickly that perhaps twenty years out of playing shape wasn’t so bad.
When Giovanni’s hand finally relaxed enough to free the little explosive, it promptly slipped off of his palm. Massimo’s eyes followed the grenade. Giovanni’s body passed out of focus as it fell away. The faces of Luca and Dino, bearded and afraid, floated as masks of comedy and tragedy in Massimo’s view of the grenade. Luca’s cries for Gio would have been at home in a recording of whale calls. Dino’s smile kept the flame of Gio’s fight.
In that moment, Massimo understood. Set upon by riot police, with the friends and brothers of his son Paolo, Massimo could see the future. The newspapers would say that the police used force to disperse an unlawful assembly. Quotes from an official, il cazzo, would toe the party line. The officious asshole would make sure to mention that if the assembly was so peaceful then why did a grenade go off? Massimo didn’t know, but he could see his neighbor, old and creaky, nodding slightly as he read the paper and considered the pictures, oblivious to the hunger and pain just outside the margins. Swept aside in the name of order. Like Paolo.
The bodies of Massimo, Gio, Luca, Dino, Marco, and Francesco would be captured in their rictus, memorialized in black and white as the dead instigators of the riot. Massimo could make out Dino’s smile and could see the glimmer of spark in Gio’s eyes. The hole in Gio’s chest was just as noticeable, but Massimo turned his gaze away. There, piled among the bodies, lay Paolo. His neck was still canted at an odd angle, but Paolo’s eyes shone in the mental image Massimo was considering.
Taken aback, Massimo regarded his son. Paolo’s shirt was different. Instead of a t-shirt with the symbol of the fifth column he was a member of and that he was wearing the day he died, Paolo wore Massimo’s jersey from his days at Roma. The maroon and gold stood out vibrant against the rest of Massimo’s mental image.
When Massimo had confirmed that it was his son dead on a slab in a basement, Paolo’s face was peaceful. His eyes closed and his mouth, used so recently to tell his father just how disappointed he was in him, was half open in a closing breath. Massimo saw that now his Paolo glared at him with ferocious eyes. The look was Massimo’s most famous. Massimo saw in his son’s eyes the same anger and intensity focused on whomever Roma was playing so long ago. Massimo’s heart jumped. He had missed most of Paolo’s early years and had run around on his mother. Here now was the fire of twenty years ago staring him in the face from his dead son.
Massimo could have held his son’s gaze forever. Paolo broke the spell by casting the indignant gaze towards where the grenade should have been. Massimo followed his gaze and there the grenade materialized as he left the mental image of the aftermath to return to the reality of the falling bomb. Without thinking, Massimo shifted his weight.
He wasn’t used to trying this, or likely couldn’t do it anywhere near as well he could so long ago, but he planted his leg and drew the other back. His weight, ballooning in recent years, strained against the movement. His muscles, though, acted on the repetitive memory of a lifetime devoted to a singular skill.
Time clicked into its normal speed and the grenade plummeted towards the ground. Massimo swung his leg and caught the grenade flush on the tassels of his loafers, out of place when taken in consideration of the bandanna tied around his neck and the boots of the crowd he was a part of.
The hard metal broke two of the metatarsals on his foot with a snap. Massimo ignored the flare of pain and pulled his leg into the follow through. His weight was pulled him onto the toes of his plant foot and, for a moment, Massimo felt the lift and feel of a pure shot from so long ago.
There were no ultras screaming for blood, and Massimo hadn’t really aimed. Nonetheless, the grenade sped from his foot into the back of the covered truck that carried some of the riot police to the square. With a muffled whump, the covering flared and then disappeared as smoke and fire erupted in all directions from the back of the transport.
Unknowingly, Massimo smiled a half smile at the sight of the riot police flung forward by the blast. There was definitely going to be a picture in the paper tomorrow. The smile was still there when the bullets from a squad that had flanked his crowd ripped through the group. Luca and Dino, who had both snapped back to their own realities after the explosion, were cut down. Dino’s smile disappeared in a gout of blood as the bullet struck his jaw. Luca, at least, never knew. The bullet struck him in the temple and threw bright red on the wall behind him.
The bullet that pierced Massimo’s lung was fired by Officer Gianfranco Ambrosini. Had Ambrosini known that the man he was firing on was the same man he grew up idolizing, he may not have killed him. Gianfranco probably would have shot to wound. But as it stood, Officer Ambrosini’s friends were dead and dying from the cacasottos and their grenade. In this moment the officer thought “Me ne infischio” and pulled the trigger again.
On his back in the street, his gaze up and out of the square, Massimo heard the cheers. The smile grew as the blood left his body. A shadow passed over his eyes. Paolo’s glare was replaced with another of Massimo’s trademarks, a smile that only showed up when he had scored a cracker or gotten away with a dive so bad that he was embarrassed to have done it. As Massimo’s smile matched Paolo’s, his son’s face changed to the face of a medic examining him.
The last thing Massimo could think to say came out as if spoken by Paolo.