Title: The Mouth of Truth

Written by: Frank Joussen

Type: Short Story

Genre: Family

Logline: "No, no", they'd said, "no need to stay together on our last day in Rome."

Thus my parents-in-law and my wife had gracefully given our ten-year-old son John and me permission to travel all the way back to the Capitol and then walk the distance to Piazza della Bocca della Verita. What a long name for such a small place, deriving from a much smaller attraction yet: "la Bocca della Verita", the Mouth of Truth. While John and me were queueing outside the gate to that old stone mask with hollow eyes and a dark-looking mouth my thoughts travelled to our small but often troubled group, by now surely sitting in a cafe. John and me were being totally honest with each other and if the old river god didn't dig too deep into the past we might get off scot-free without our hands being bitten off, but I wondered if the others were also under its ancient spell or beating about the bush, as usual.

"It's fun, isn't it? The Mouth of Truth! It's good Paul is taking the boy there. It's just a joke, but so much fun," my father-in-law kept on repeating.

- He should have had the sense to go there when he visited the Colosseum and the Forum Romanum, alone with him as well. Now I had to spend a fortune for Kathleen's wardrobe in the Via del Corsa and must wait in this lousy cafe which doesn't even serve normal ice-cream.

"It's mere child's play, though, darling, isn't it? You don't actually have to say anything. Then how could it bite you or something?" my mother-in-law piped up.

- I wish it could bite these two here, though. My dear husband with his half truths and white lies. Why did I ever divorce my first house hubby, God rest his soul! I'd never thought I'd have to nurse this one for twenty-odd years, what with his weak heart and everything. And his dear daughter, who'll try to get her dirty hands on the dough before he's cold.

There was a change in the weather when we finally reached the Mouth of Truth. Maybe there was a change of atmosphere too. Although the rain started to wash the dirty street and squares things seemed to lose their clarity and became a kind of muddle, but I don't know. Something was at foot, that much I could feel.

- How nice this ice-cream is! You should let me pay for it. It's Paul's and my turn! -

"I can't see how you can put up with her, father. She must always have the last word and took us to this lousy place the only one without an awning and now it's starting to rain."

- My dear Eveline, it's so nice that you allow us to revisit all the nice cafes and restaurants we've spent such a wonderful time at when we were honeymooning in Italy. -

" You stupid cow! I've been travelling the world much longer than you have. How dare you criticize things you don't even begin to understand! What's a bit of rain when you can get the best ice-cream and espresso in town?"

- Please don't spoil our last day! You are both of you wonderful pathfinders and we just happened to find this place again.

"Why can't you both just shut up? I'm sick and tired of the two of you and would have loved to sit somewhere warm and dry, with my bad cold on top of everything else I've had to go through!" - Yes, poor sweetheart. You've been so brave all along!

"You senile old grumbler. You wouldn't find your ass if the guidebook told you how to and all the street signs showed you a map of it!"

- We're more than happy to be waiting here for our grandson and his dad. It's so cute that they want to see all these fascinating sights of Rome.

"Your husband is a fool in too many ways to count them all, daughter, and you were such a fool yourself to marry him in the first place."

- It's wonderful that you could come on this trip.

"For as long as I live I won't forget this nightmare and I wouldn't go on a trip with you ever again, not even to the next park bench."

"You were saying?"

"Yes, yes. Maybe the Mouth of Truth could be dangerous after all. You never know with these Romans."

When John and me rejoined them, they did not only look wet and ill-at ease. For the first time I could recall they had something deeper in common: a very bewildered expression, like a giant question mark which seemed to ask: what have I been thinking, what have I been saying? Has anyone got bitten after all? Was it me?

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