Editor's Note

He tends to lose his way, and ends up crying in the middle of the street. So his mother doesn’t want him going out of the house alone. But she’s given to unshakeable naps, and our boy has a Superman cape to try out and a supermarket to visit. So, what happens now?

To us ‘adult’ readers, Giovanni Lucchese’s ‘The Supermarket’, translated from Italian by Paul Arenson, will seem to be hurtling from the tragic to the tragic. But who’s to say that’s a decent way of seeing the world. The story is not tragic in its telling. Not at all. Its narrative slant is one of marvel and discovery. It is, in fact, an invitation to believe–in metamorphosis, in superheroes, in justice.

— Tanuj Solanki
The Bombay Literary Magazine

Translator's Note

Giovanni Lucchese’s short story ‘The Supermarket’ echoes his debut collection Pop Toys (Alter Ego, 2016) in which dolls and action figures live adventures in a fantastic parallel universe. In ‘The Supermarket,’ Lucchese’s unnamed protagonist goes on a quest to rid his neighbourhood of violent bullies; though the voice is quirky and childlike, the reader gradually discovers the protagonist is in fact a developmentally challenged adult. While writing for an anthology on superheroes, Lucchese brings the superhero trope to the everyday, revealing the heroism of a character discounted by his whole community, as well as the grim life in at-risk neighbourhoods terrorized by gangs. It’s a deeply affecting tale that packs a wallop in a short word count, and stays with the reader for a long time. It’s why I chose to translate it.

As translator, my main goal was to hold tight to the deceptively simple voice and assured pacing. Lucchese builds suspense by carefully feeding details, never tipping his hand. He sharpens the story’s pathos while never overstating or falling into handwringing. The protagonist makes his point of view vividly clear, with correct observations about adults he has to deal with and the world he lives in. (‘Sometimes grownups are very weird.’)

Because Lucchese gets it so right, I tried not to disturb the story’s original wording and phrasing, though I strived for a natural-sounding English. I kept Italian given and brand names but chose not to erect signposts announcing ‘We’re in Italy!’ because this story could happen anywhere. Some references, like the supermarket fish counter or Amedeo’s trash TV programmes, I left as is on the assumption readers would get it. I also translated derogatory words very directly because these are the bad guys’ terms, and the insults add to the drama’s force. In using such words for this translation, I intend no offence to those experiencing disabilities or alternate sexualities.

My main challenge in rendering the protagonist’s voice – pivotal to this story – was glimpsing the word choice of a forty-year-old man with a preadolescent mental level. For this I thought back to grade-school days, not always pleasant, and found words like ‘weird’ for strano, ‘wiener’ for pisello, ‘pervert’ for ricchione, ‘spazz’ for spastico and ‘ew gross’ for che schifo. These choices nonetheless limit my translation, putting it squarely in a late 20th century West Coast of North America linguistic sphere. Choosing the right register was crucial, though our protagonist repeats words he’s heard from others without understanding them, particularly insults and curse words. Yet he’s clearly not a child, and his reserves of heroism shine forth – which is even more scary because we’re rooting for him and we don’t know how the story will end.

My greatest liberty with the original comes on the final line. Literally rendered, the protagonist says ‘My name is Superman,’ wholly fitting because we’ve never been told the protagonist’s name, and therefore in this fantastic universe, his name really is Superman. However, I chose to put ‘It’s Superman’ as we can say in American English if we’re bit impatient with someone who hasn’t gotten our name right. (‘It’s Lois’ or ‘It’s Clark’ we can say, referring to ourselves.) Yet I had a dastardly secret plan – to echo the vintage 1950s Adventures of Superman intro with George Reeves, seen on Saturday morning reruns, and those famous lines ‘Look up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Superman!’ that resonated with me and whole generations.

I’m grateful to Giovanni Lucchese for his permission to translate ‘Il Supermercato’ into English.

— Paul Arenson

My mother never takes me to the supermarket, but tonight I’m going anyway.

That’s it! I’m going.

We usually shop at the market across the street, which is small and dark even during the day, and the guy at the cash register’s always laughing and sometimes gives me a gummy bear.

Lemon-flavoured – the mint ones are yucky.

Mamma says the big supermarket’s for rich people, where they sell the snacks you see on TV, and the brand-name soaps that cost a ton of money.

We only went there once because we needed a quart of milk and they were sold out here, and I had so much fun looking at people pushing their carts full of stuff, long aisles of things to eat and windows full of all kinds of dead fish, so in the end I didn’t want to leave.

They even had Nutella, the real kind.

I say it’s my favourite place on earth, even more than the school playroom, where they let us touch whatever we want for a whole hour as long as we don’t fight and don’t yank away the toys like that dope Mario, who always pushes everyone around because he’s bigger than us.

Mamma won’t let me go by myself either. She says I get lost, I can’t find my way home and I start crying in the middle of the street, but it’s so easy you can’t go wrong.

When you go out the main door, you take eight steps along the path, careful not to scratch your legs on the thorny bushes no one ever trims.

When you get to the street you turn right, which is the side you make the sign of the cross with, that’s what Sister Domiziana taught me at school.

You go ahead for twenty-two steps, twenty if you have long legs like me or twenty-five if you move slow like Luigina – the lady who lives on the first floor – until you get to the main road, the one with all the trees in the middle that let the cars know they have to stay on their side, or else.

At that point you have to go on a ways, around a hundred ten steps, but after twenty-five you can see the coloured lights on the store sign and you start feeling happy, so you don’t think about how far you still have to go.

Anyhow Mamma’s sleeping now, and when she’s snoring so loud, it means you can’t wake her with a cannonball so it’s a good time to sneak out.

Just in case, I took a peach nectar so if I get tired and thirsty, I can stop a minute and fuel up.

I open the small door and leave, very quietly.

The landing is dark and a little scary. I almost want to go back, with all those monsters with white teeth and long fingers hiding behind the corners at night, but then I remember, before going out I put on the Superman cape that Mamma gave me two years ago for my birthday.

With that cape no one can touch me, I’m invincible.

I wanted the whole outfit, but the toy store didn’t have my size. Then the shop girl said, it was the cape that made Superman so strong he could fly faster than an airplane.

Without the cape he’d just be a tall man in blue tights so tight, when he walks you can see his wiener. That made me laugh, so I said okay.

But Mamma took the cape away because once while I was wearing it, I picked up my cousin Silvia’s cat and squeezed. I just wanted to cuddle it a while, but I broke all its bones and it died.

Ever since, Silvia hates me and I don’t see her anymore, but it’s not my fault if the Superman cape has that effect on you.

I start off down the stairs on tiptoe cause when you’re a superhero like me, you have to be careful not to make any noise, cause if the bad guys know you’re coming, what fun is it to get them?

Downstairs I stop by Amedeo’s door. He was my best friend, maybe my only friend, and whenever he heard me come down the stairs he’d open the door and run towards me, yelling my name. He’d bring me into his house, always super clean and full of colourful strange things. He’d make me hot chocolate and I drank it while we watched cartoons, or shows with men and women, or a weird programme where a lot of men were arguing, and Amedeo made me laugh so hard because he always talked over their fight like they could hear him.

Or, since I already had the cape on, we played our favourite game, where I ran around the house like Superman and he whirled around like Wonder Woman, with the flowered pink robe he always wore, that also fluttered like a cape, but for a woman.

But Amedeo’s gone. I’d give up going to the supermarket to have another hot chocolate with him. But that won’t happen.

He was kind of a weirdo, they always called him fag, pervert or butt boy, which I think are words we shouldn’t say because when I asked Mamma what they meant, she yelled at me there are some things I shouldn’t listen to.

But I say, why should we call anyone by a name that’s not his? Then you get confused, you can’t remember his real name, isn’t that right?

Anyhow, for me his name was Amedeo.

I start down the stairs again, passing Luigina’s door. She’s a big gossip and knows everyone’s business.

The other day I heard her tell the old lady on the third floor, they found Amedeo with his head bashed in two, that he peed himself while dying, and maybe pooped himself too.

They could at least have let him go pee before beating him to death.

I go outside, it’s cold and no one’s out so late but I’m not afraid anymore, even if the bushes do seem like open mouths and evil faces, laughing while they get ready to jump me.

Just try. With this cape I’ll cut you all to shreds.

When I get to the street I turn right, make the sign of the cross two times to make sure I’ve turned the right way, and start walking.

There’s a parked Fiat and inside is Carlo, the apartment manager’s son, who’s kissing a girl I’ve never seen before. You can see their mouths open and their tongues all touching. Ew gross.

Lucky he doesn’t see me, the way he’s all into kissing her. I can’t stand Carlo cause when he sees me on the street he always points and laughs, elbowing the loser friends he’s with, and even if they all know my real name, they get a kick out of calling me different names like they did with Amedeo.

Mongoloid, spazz, retard, moron, freak.

I don’t know what those words mean and when I asked Mamma, she put me on punishment and told me I couldn’t ever go out by myself.

Maybe she’s too strict with me, I’m not a little baby that doesn’t understand anything.

I’m not even thirty-nine any more, I just turned forty last month, and now I can wipe down there all by myself when I go potty. And even if I can’t manage to wash my whole body in the shower, and I take a really long time to tie my shoelaces, still I’m all grown up.

At school I’m the only one in class that can read, and for the Christmas recital I always learn the song by heart, and don’t need any help when I sing it in front of a lot of people.

When I get to the main road I turn right, and a gust of wind lifts up the cape behind me.

I start walking fast, then a bit faster until I’m running as fast as I can, so fast that at one point my feet skip over the ground and I start flying for real.

I knew that cape would work!

I get off the ground and I’m not afraid to fly, well yes it feels a bit weird but even Superman got scared the first time he lifted up in the air, right?

I fly over everything and see from above the apartments we live in, the windows with lights out, our street with the bushes, from up here they don’t look scary at all.

I see through the walls the little people sleeping in bed, I see cars that from far off look like the Hot Wheels Mario likes so much, and if you touch them while he’s playing with them, he’ll break your nose with a head butt the way he did once to Sister Patrizia.

I see trees like dark green spots, the street like a dog’s black tongue, the roof of the big supermarket that doesn’t look so nice, maybe they never worried about decorating the roof since no one’s supposed to look.

I laugh like crazy, the wind brings tears to my eyes and I don’t know if I’m really flying or if my feet are moving fast enough to make me think so, but it’s beautiful and I want to enjoy it all the way.

Well I think, that’s what a superhero is, a normal person, a bit weird like me that everyone makes fun of because no one understands him, but that at some point sets off to do something only he can do, and everyone’s mouth drops open as they watch, they think maybe, if only they’d known he could do something like that, they’d have treated him better, just to have him on their side.

When I’m right over the supermarket, I decide it’s time to come down.

I land carefully so I don’t hurt myself, because when you’re going that fast, you could break a leg without realizing.

The supermarket’s open all day and all night. I think that’s awesome, so if you can’t sleep and you want to go out and buy some peperoni or some shampoo to get the dandruff out of your hair, you can do it now while everyone’s sleeping.

I stop at the dark side alley, the narrow one where the trucks stop to unload the stuff people buy.

There they are, all of them.

Carlo’s friends, the mean ones, all dressed in black, with shaven heads like Lex Luthor, Superman’s enemy who’s evil and super smart but never manages to kill him, even though he’s always trying in all kinds of ways.

Someone like Superman, you can’t outsmart him, I say there’s no point even trying.

They’re always here at night and usually during the day too, I don’t know why they waste their time in an alley like this. They could go around and have fun, or even go into the supermarket.

It’s here Amedeo was found, I sneaked in to watch the news while Mamma was making dinner, because there are some TV programmes she doesn’t want me to watch. I recognized the alley and also the pink robe he wore, that he pretended to be Wonder Woman in. He was stretched out on the ground like he was sleeping, but if you looked you could see he was dead, his legs were all crooked and his face covered with a hanky. And anyway, who would sleep in such a dirty alley?

Those are the ones that killed him and everyone knows it, but nobody says so because they’re scared they’ll get killed too.

But not me, I just flew high in the sky with no wings and no motor, what should I be scared of?

Once, from out the window, I heard them shout towards Amedeo who’d come down to take out the garbage.

Fuckin faggot, they called, sooner or later we’ll rip you a new asshole.

I didn’t understand what they meant. If you already have an asshole, why do you need another one?

Sometimes grownups are very weird.

I come close and smile at the first one who looks at me, because good kids should always smile.

Hey mongoloid, what are you doing around so late, he says, laughing like always.

Earlier, when I was taking my cape Mamma keeps hidden in the kitchen closet, I also took the big hammer with the rubber handle we use to put nails in the wall, in case we need to hang a frame.

I have it here in my pocket. Lucky it didn’t fall out while I was flying.

I pull it out so he can’t see and I get a bit closer.

My name’s not mongoloid, I tell him.

It’s Superman.

— ## —


Credits: Lucchese’s original story ‘Il Supermercato’ previously appeared in Italian in the fiction anthology Super, edited by Antonio Lanzetta and published by La Corte Editore, Torino in 2019.


Image credits: David Ellis, OH Superman Studies, 2008
Black gesso, enamel, and collage on wood panel
34 x 55 x 2 inches pulvinar. Jonathan LeVine Projects.

The curator at the Jonathan LeVine Projects notes: “This piece started with a collage of various works on paper created by Ellis using vintage typewriters and computer word documents. Then he [David Ellis] used black gesso and silver enamel to create the “Flow’ painted elements….Just beautiful.”

We agree. We don’t have machines that can photograph kinds of minds (the ones we have only record neural activity) but we do have narratives and the visions of artists. Incidentally, notice the Superman watermark.


Giovanni Lucchese was born and lives in Rome, where he freelances. He’s a fan of movies, music and pop culture. For many years he studied writing at Scuola Omero, collaborating with them on music reviews and journalism. His stories L’Allievo (‘The Pupil’) and Il più grande cornuto dell’universo (‘The Biggest Cuckold in the Universe’) were published in the review Carie. Lucchese’s debut short story collection  Pop Toys (Alter Ego Edizioni)  appeared in 2016. Also with Alter Ego, Lucchese published his novel Questo sangue non è mio (‘This Blood is Not Mine’) in 2017; it won the crime fiction prize at the Centro Rieti in 2018 and was a finalist for the 2018 Nabokov prize. His most recent novel L’uccello padulo, again published with Alter Ego, ranked third for the 2019 Iguana Prize. In 2023 Lucchese published his most recent book, Un bambino sbagliato (‘The Wrong Child’) with Arkadia Editore.

Translator | PAUL ARENSON

Paul Arenson’s writing has found a home at North American Review, The Rattling Wall and other venues, and has been picked up online in Utne Reader and Art Daily. His nonfiction piece Splendor was chosen as first runner-up for the 2017 Rafael Torch Memorial Prize. He’s an MFA graduate from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Arenson lived in Rome for 15 years, translates from French and Italian, and is currently based in Northern California.

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