“Can I take my tablet?” Carlo asked.
His mother shook her head. “No.”
It took effort, but Carlo said nothing. When his mother was in a hurry, it was usually best not to argue.
The drive was long, but the view became much more interesting once they got into the mountains. There were funny wooden houses in the mountains, and once they got up a bit, the city looked like a toy.
He enjoyed it while he could. Grandma didn’t live in a wooden house. That would have been fun. She lived in an apartment block, next to three other buildings just like it. Her windows looked over the center of the small alpine town, and the mountain behind it, not down onto the tiny houses. All she did was talk, and shower sloppy kisses on his cheek.
Once there, having failed to avoid the kissing, Grandma and his parents talked about boring things like how he was doing at school, and Carlo wandered off to look for Grandma’s cat.
“Carlo,” his grandmother called.
He sighed, but he went.
“I’d like you to look at this,” his grandmother said, putting an arm around his shoulders. He resisted the urge to wriggle free, as he knew she would let him go, but be unhappy all afternoon. She pulled a flat item out of a big bag.
“A tablet!” he said. He was delighted. “But… do you know how to use a tablet?”
Grandma laughed. “Of course I do, silly. It only has one button.”
Carlo thought about this. He’d never seen his grandma using a phone or a tablet before. And he knew that the tablet was new, or Grandma would have loaned it to him long before. But she was right, it did only have one button. “Are there games in it?”
“Let me show you something,” Grandma said. She swiped the console, hit a couple of icons, and a photo of a large, orange cabinet with lights on it appeared.
“What’s that?” Carlo asked.
“That’s where I used to work when your daddy was your age. I used to sit in that chair in front of the switchboard.”
“What’s a switchboard?”
“It’s a machine for making telephone calls get to the right person. That one was in the Alfa Romeo offices in Arese. I think it’s still there, but no one uses it anymore.”
“Why didn’t people just call on the mobile?”
“There were no mobiles then, only regular phones.”
“And the phone was in that machine?”
“Well, yes, kind of.”
“And what are all the little lights?”
“Those aren’t lights, they’re buttons.”
“But there’s a million of them.” He looked closer. “And there’s no drawings on them. How did you know what they did?”
“Practice,” Grandma said. “And that wasn’t all I did. I used to talk to visitors, too. I was the receptionist.”
“Oh,” Carlo said. He wondered if he would ever be smart enough to do that, to manage a machine as complicated as that. No. A million buttons was too many, he decided.
“Do you want to see something else?”
“Are there any games?”
Grandma sighed. “I’ll let you choose what to do next.”
Carlo studied the orange machine, memorizing it before moving along. As he was moving his hand to the menu button, he accidentally swiped to the next picture. To his delight, a picture of an airplane appeared, although it was mounted on some kind of post.
“Is this another old thing from when you were younger?” he asked.
“I took this picture yesterday,” Grandma said.
“Yes, the airplane is nearby. Would you like to see it?”
They took the elevator to the ground floor and walked for a few minutes. Carlo had to run sometimes to keep up, but he was so excited that it didn’t matter. “Is it a real airplane? Will it be there when we arrive?”
But Grandma only said: “You’ll see.”
They got to the airplane. “Wow,” Carlo said. “Was this always here?”
“No, the town put it up in April, because many of the men used to work at the airfield outside of Milan.”
It was on a metal post, beside a street, high in the air. It was huge, and definitely a real plane, but for one person, not like the one that had taken his family to England last summer. He could see the pilot’s seat from where he stood.
“What is it?”
“It’s a Fiat G 91. Your grandfather used to fly one of these.”
Carlo looked at it. It looked hard to fly, sitting there on its metal pole. “Mom said he was a pilot.”
“Not just a pilot. A pilot instructor. He was teaching other pilots how to fly these planes. He was an Italian—”
“Yes, like you.” She ruffled his hair. “I was one of the aides at the airbase. I’m Portuguese.”
He had to think about that. “Like Ronaldo?”
“Yes, just like him.”
He wrinkled his nose, not sure if he liked Ronaldo. “But how can I be Italian if you’re not?”
“After all these years, I’m a bit Italian too. Your grandfather used to fly one of these planes.”
“Did he shoot people?”
“No, he never did. Italians didn’t fight in wars then, our parents were tired of wars. A lot of the pilots he taught had to shoot people, though.”
“Wow. He was like a super-pilot.”
“Yes, he was.”
He stood there looking at the plane for a while, and then they walked back.
“Do you think I’ll ever be a super-pilot?”
“Maybe. Your grandpa always said it was hard work.”
They got back to the apartment, where Carlo’s parents were waiting. Carlo picked up the tablet and Grandma sat beside him.
“You can play now,” she said. “There’s games on it.”
“Don’t you have any more pictures?” he asked.
Grandma smiled as he handed her the tablet. “Perhaps I do.”
Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine writer with over a hundred published stories and three books to his credit. Every Day Fiction is one of his favorite places to get a fiction fix — and he loves the interaction when one of his stories is published here.
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