That Mess in the pocket

Seven key extracts from Pasticciaccio
in the translation by William Weaver

from chapter 1

Everybody called him Don Ciccio by now. He was Officer Francesco Ingravallo, assigned to homicide; one of the youngest and, God knows why, most envied officials of the detective section: ubiquitous as the occasion required, omnipresent in all tenebrous matters. Of medium height, rather rotund as to physique, or perhaps a bit squat, with black hair, thick and curly, which sprang forth from his forehead at the halfway point, as if to shelter his two metaphysical knobs from the fine Italian sun, he had a somnolent look, a heavy, lumbering walk, a slightly dull manner, like a person fighting a labourious digestion; dressed as well as his slender government salary allowed him to dress, with one or two little stains of olive oil on his lapel, almost imperceptible however, like a souvenir of the hills of his Molise. A certain familiarity with the ways of the world, with our so-called «Latin» world, though he was young (thirty-five), must have been his: a certain knowledge of men: and also of women. His landlady venerated, not to say worshiped him: for and notwithstanding the unfamiliar complication of every telephone trill and every sudden telegram, and night calls, and hours with no peace, which formed the tangled texture of his time. «All hours! He works around the clock! Last night he came home at daybreak». For her he was the «distinguished, single gentleman, government employee» she had long dreamed of, the gentleman preceded by a discreet «to let», in Il Messaggero, evoked, extracted from the infinite assortment of single gentlemen by that lure of «spacious and sunny» and despite the stern, closing injunction: «no women allowed»; which, in the language of the Messaggero’s advertisements can offer, as everyone knows, a double interpretation. And besides, he managed to persuade the police to overlook that ridiculous little matter… yes, that fine for letting rooms without a license… why, when they divided it up, that fine, between City Hall and the police… «A lady like me! Widow of Commendatore Antonini! All Rome knew him, you might say; and everybody who knew him had only the highest regard for him. Now I don’t say this because he was my husband, rest his soul. And they take me for a common landlady! Me? Rent out my rooms to just anybody? Merciful Heavens, I’d rather throw myself in the river…»
In his wisdom and in his Molisan poverty, Officer Ingravallo, who seemed to live on silence and sleep under the black jungle of that mop, shiny as pitch and curly as astrakhan lamb, in his wisdom, he sometimes interrupted this silence and this sleep to enunciate some theoretical idea (a general idea, that is) on the affairs of men, and of women. At first sight, or rather, on first hearing, these seemed banalities. They weren’t banalities. And so, those rapid declarations, which crackled on his lips like the sudden illumination of a sulphur match, were revived in the ears of people at a distance of hours, or of months, from their enunciation: as if after a mysterious period of incubation. «That’s right!» the person in question admitted, «That’s exactly what Ingravallo said to me.» He sustained, among other things, that unforeseen catastrophes are never the consequence or the effect, if you prefer, of a single motive, of a cause singular; but they are rather like a whirlpool, a cyclonic point of depression in the consciousness of the world, towards which a whole multitude of converging causes have contributed. He also used words like knot or tangle, or muddle, or gnommero, which in Roman dialect means skein. But the legal term, «the motive, the motives», escaped his lips by preference, though as if against his will. The opinion that we must «reform within ourselves the meaning of the category of cause», as handed down by the philosophers from Aristotle to Immanuel Kant, and replace cause with causes was for him a central, persistent opinion, almost a fixation, which melted from his fleshy, but rather white lips, where the stub of a spent cigarette seemed, dangling from one corner, to accompany the somnolence of his gaze and the quasi-grin, half-bitter, half-skeptical, in which through «old» habit he would fix the lower half of his face beneath that sleep of his forehead and eyelids and that pitchy black of his mop. This was how, exactly how he defined «his» crimes. «When they call me… Sure. If they call me, you can be sure that there’s trouble: some mess, some gliuommero to untangle», he would say, garbling his Italian with the dialects of Naples and the Molise.
The apparent motive, the principal motive was, of course, single. But the crime was the effect of a whole list of motives which had blown on it in a whirlwind (like the sixteen winds in the list of winds when they twist together in a tornado, in a cyclonic depression) and had ended by pressing into the vortex of the crime the enfeebled «reason of the world». Like wringing the neck of a chicken. And then he used to say, but this a bit wearily, «you’re sure to find skirts where you don’t want to find them» A belated Italian revision of the trite «cherchez la femme». And then he seemed to repent, as if he had slandered the ladies, and wanted to change his mind. But that would have got him into difficulties. So he would remain silent and pensive, afraid he had said too much. What he meant was that a certain affective motive, a certain amount or, as you might say today, a quantum of affection, of «eros», was also involved even in «matters of interest», in crimes which were apparently far removed from the tempests of love. Some colleagues, a tiny bit envious of his intuitions, a few priests, more acquainted with the many evils of our time, some subalterns, clerks, and his superiors too, insisted he read strange books: from which he drew all those words that mean nothing, or almost nothing, but which serve better than others to dazzle the naive, the ignorant. His terminology was for doctors in looneybins. But practical action takes something else! Notions and philosophizing are to be left to scribblers: the practical experience of the police stations and the homicide squad is quite another thing: it takes plenty of patience, and charity, and a strong stomach; and when the whole shooting match of the Italians isn’t tottering, a sense of responsibility, prompt decision, civil moderation; yes, yes, and a firm hand. On him, on Don Ciccio, these objections, just as they were, had no effect; he continued to sleep on his feet, philosophize on an empty stomach, and pretend to smoke his half-cigarette which had, always, gone out.

from chapter 2

It was eleven o’clock on March 17th, and Officer Ingravallo, in Via d’Azeglio, already had one foot on the tram step and with his right hand he grasped the brass handle, to hoist himself aboard. When Porchettini, all out of breath, overtook him: «Doctor Ingravallo! Doctor Ingravallo!».
«What do you want? What’s wrong with you?»
«Listen, Doctor Ingravallo. The Chief sent me», he lowered his voice still further. «In Via Merulana… something horrible’s happened… early this morning. They called the station, it was ten-thirty. You had just left. Doctor Fumi was looking all over for you. Meanwhile he sent me straight over there, with two men, to have a look. I kinda thought I’d find you there… Then they sent me to your house to look for you.»
«Well, what was it?»
«You mean you don’t know already?»
«How should I know? I was just going to take a little ride…»
«They cut her throat, they… sorry… I know she’s kind of a relative.»
«Whose relative?» Ingravallo said, frowning, as if to reject any kinship with whomsoever.
«Well, a friend I guess…»
«Friend? What friend? Friend of who?» Pressing together, tulip-shape, the five fingers of his right hand, he seesawed that flower in the digito-interrogative hypotyposis customary among the Apulians.
«They found the signora… Signora Balducci…»
«Signora Balducci?» Ingravallo blanched, gripped Pompeo by the arm. «You’re crazy!» and he clutched it tight, until Grabber felt that a vise was crushing him, a machine.
«Sir, it was her cousin found her, Doctor Vallarena… Valdassena. They called the station right away. He’s there too, now, in Via Merulana. I left instructions. He told me he knows you. He says,» Pompeo shrugged, «he says he had gone to pay her a visit. To say good-bye to her, because he’s leaving for Genoa. Say good-bye, at this time of the morning? I said. And he says he found her lying on the floor, in a pool of blood. Madonna! that’s how we found her, too, on the parquet floor in the dining room, lying there, with her skirt all pulled up, in her underwear, you might say. Her head turned away, sorta… With the throat all sawed up, all cut up one side. You should see that cut, sir!» He clenched his hands, as if imploring, then passed his right hand over his brow. «And the face! I almost fainted! But you’ll have to see it for yourself in a little while. What a slice! Not even a butcher could have… Just horrible: and those eyes! they were staring, wide open, staring at the sideboard. The face all drawn, drawn, and white as a clean sheet… did she have t.b.?… she looked like it had been terrible hard work, dying…»
Ingravallo, pallid, emitted a strange whine, a sigh, or the moan of a wounded man. As if he too felt faint. A wild boar with a bullet in his body.
«Signora Balducci, Liliana…» he stammered, looking Grabber in the eyes. He took off his hat. On his forehead, at the rim of the crisp black of his hair, a little line of drops: sudden sweat. Like a diadem of terror, of suffering. His face, usually an olive-white, was now floured with anguish. «Come on. Let’s go!» He was damp; he looked exhausted.
When they reached Via Merulana: the crowd. Outside the entrance, the black of the crowd, with its wreath of bicycle wheels. «Make way there. Police». Everybody stood aside. The door was closed. A policeman was on guard: with two traffic cops and two carabinieri. The women were questioning them: the cops were saying to the women: «Stand aside». The women wanted to know. Three or four, already, could be heard talking of the lottery numbers: they agreed on 17, all right, but they were having a spat over 13.
The two men went up to the Balducci home, the hospitable home that Ingravallo knew, you might say, in his heart. On the stairway, a parleying of shadows, the whispers of the women of the building. A baby cried. In the entrance hall… nothing especially noticeable (the usual odor of wax, the usual neatness) except for two policemen, silent, awaiting instructions. On a chair, a young man with his head in his hands. He stood up. It was Doctor Valdarena. Then the concierge appeared, emerging, grim and pudgy, from the shadow of the hall. Nothing remarkable, you would have said: but as soon as they had entered the dining room, on the parquet floor, between the table and the little sideboard, on the floor… that horrible thing.
The body of the poor signora was lying in an infamous position, supine, the gray wool skirt and a white petticoat thrown back, almost to her breast: as if someone had wanted to uncover the fascinating whiteness of that dessous, or inquire into its state of cleanliness. She was wearing white underpants, of elegant jersey, very fine, which ended halfway down the thighs with a delicate edging. Between the edging and the stockings, which were a light-shaded silk, the extreme whiteness of the flesh lay naked, of a chlorotic pallor: those two thighs, slightly parted, on which the garters – a lilac hue – seemed to confer a distinction of rank, had lost their tepid sense, were already becoming used to the chill: to the chill of the sarcophagus and of man’s taciturn, final abode. The precise work of the knitting, to the eyes of those men used to frequenting maidservants, shaped uselessly the weary proposals of a voluptuousness whose ardor, whose shudder, seemed to have barely been exhaled from the gentle softness of that hill, from that central line, the carnal mark of the mystery… the one that Michelangelo (Don Ciccio mentally saw again his great work, at San Lorenzo) had thought it wisest to omit. Details! Skip it!
The tight garters, curled slightly at the edges, with a clear, lettuce-like curl: the elastic of lilac silk, in that hue that seemed in itself to give off a perfume, to signify at the same time the frail gentleness both of the woman and of her station, the spent elegance of her clothing, of her gestures, the secret manner of her submission, transmuted now into the immobility of an object, or as if of a disfigured dummy. Taut, the stockings, in a blond elegance like a new skin, given to her (above the created warmth) by the fable of our years, the blasphemy of the knitting machines: the stockings sheathed the shape of the legs with their light veil, the modeling of the marvellous knees: those legs slightly spread, as if in horrible invitation. Oh! the eyes! where, at whom were they looking? The face!… Oh, it was scratched, poor object! Under one eye, on the nose! Oh that face! How weary, it was, weary, poor Liliana, that head in the cloud of hair that enfolded it, those strands performing a final work of mercy. Sharpened in its pallor, the face: worn, emaciated by the atrocious suction of Death.
A deep, a terrible red cut opened her throat, fiercely. It had taken half the neck, from the front towards the right, that is, towards her left, the right for those who were looking down: jagged at its two edges, as if by a series of blows, of the blade or point: a horror! You couldn’t stand to look at it. From it hung red strands, like thongs, from the black foam of the blood, almost clotted already; a mess! with some little bubbles still in the midst. Curious forms, to the policemen: they seemed holes, to the novice, like redcoloured little maccheroni, or pink. «The trachea», murmured Ingravallo, bending down, «the carotid, the jugular!… God!»
The blood had been smeared over all the neck, the front of the blouse, one sleeve: the hand, a frightful stream of a black blood from Faiti or from Cengio (1) (Don Ciccio remembered suddenly, with a distant lament in his soul, poor Mamma!). It had curdled on the floor, on the blouse between the two breasts: tinged with it, too, was the hem of the skirt, the underside of that up-flung woolen garment, and the other shoulder: it seemed as if it might shrivel up from one moment to the next: surely in the end the mass would be all sticky like a blood pudding.
The nose and the face, thus abandoned, turned slightly to one side, as if she couldn’t fight any more. The face! resigned to the will of Death, seemed outraged by those scratches, by marks of fingernails, as if he had taken delight, the killer, in disfiguring her like that. Murderer!
The eyes had become fixed in a horrible stare: looking at what, then? They looked, looked in a direction you couldn’t figure out, towards the big sideboard, the very top of it, or the ceiling. The underpants weren’t bloodied; they left uncovered two patches of thigh, two rings of flesh: down to the stockings, glistening blond skin. The furrow of the sex… it was like being at Ostia in the summer, or at Forte dei Marmi or Viareggio, when the girls are lying on the sand baking themselves, when they let you glimpse whatever they want. With those tight jerseys they wear nowadays.
Ingravallo, his head bared, looked like the ghost of himself. He asked: «Have you moved her?» «No, sir,» they answered. «Have you touched her?» «No.» Some blood had been tracked around by somebody’s heels, soles, over the wooden parquet, so you could see that they had put their feet into it, into that swamp of fear. Ingravallo became infuriated. Who did it? «You’re nothing but a bunch of hicks!» he threatened. «Lousy goatherds from Sgurgola!» (2)
He went out into the hall and the vestibule: he addressed Doctor Valdarena, slumped on a chair, a kitchen chair, with Pompeo who hovered over him like a kid sticking to his ma. The concierge wasn’t to be seen; she had gone down to her lodge maybe; they had called her.
«Well, what are you doing here?»

from chapter 4

Ingravallo subjected Valdarena, who had already been heard once that day, to yet another questioning. Night had fallen, it was happast seven. He had lighted, as reinforcement, a «special» bulb, which hung down to his desk. He showed him all of a sudden, without forewarning, the corpora delicti: that is to say, the chain, the diamond ring, the ten one-thousand lire notes, not to mention among these exhibits the photograph of Liliana, which, for good measure, he had left in. Valdarena, seeing that money and those objects on the desk, along with Liliana’s picture, suddenly blushed: Don Ciccio had removed a newspaper which was concealing them. The young man sat down: then slowly he stood up: he wiped the sweat from his forehead: he regained his composure: he looked his preyer in the eye. There was a sudden movement of his neck, of his whole head, with a sweep of his hair: as if he had resolved to cast himself into the worst of it. He entered instead the bold, almost eloquent phase, of his own stubbornness and his own apology; he was silent for half a minute, then, «Officer,» he shouted, with the haughtiness of one who insists on the legitimacy of a deed, of another person’s sentiments which, nevertheless, concerns him: «there’s no point in my keeping silent any more, out of fear of what people might say or out of respect for a dead person, a poor murdered woman: or out of shame for myself. Liliana, my poor cousin, yes, she was very fond of me. That’s all there is to it. She wasn’t in love with me, maybe… No. I mean… not in the way another woman, in her place, would have loved me. Oh! Liliana! But if her conscience» (sic) «had permitted her, the religion in which she was born and raised… well, I’m sure that she would have fallen in love with me, that she would have loved me madly.» Ingravallo turned pale. «Like all the other women.»
«Yeah, like all the others.»
Valdarena didn’t seem to notice this. «The great dream of her life was… was to join herself to a man,» he looked at the glowering Don Ciccio, «to a man, or maybe even to a snake, who could give her the child she had dreamed of: “her” child, the baby… she had waited and waited for, in vain, in tears. She wept and prayed. When she began to realize that time was passing and nobody could stop it, then… poor Liliana! In her emotional state she wouldn’t recognize her own incapacity: no, she didn’t admit it. And yet, without saying it outright, without putting it into words, she used to imagine, to dream that with another man, perhaps… Believe me, Doctor, there’s a kind of physical pride, a vanity of the person, of the viscera. We men, of course, some more, some less, by nature, we’re all a pack of… preening turkey-cocks. We like to stroll up and down the Corso.»
«But women have their pride, too: a physical one, like I say. You probably know this better than me.» Ingravallo was biting back his fury, black as a thunderstorm. «She… Liliana… when I talked with her sometimes, all alone, the way cousins do… you know, I could see… she lived on that dream of hers, you might say: that with another man… Another man! A tall order! with all that religion of hers! So… in that fantasy, she… in her guts… she thought… it seemed to her that… the other, that other man, could have been me…»
«Ah,» said Don Ciccio, «my warmest congratulations!» A horrible grimace, his face like tar.
«Don’t laugh, Doctor,» the suspect cried, pompously, his youthful pallor all gleaming in the “special” hundred-watt light. «No, don’t laugh. Time and again Liliana talked to me about it! She told me always that she had loved Remo… sincerely; I mean, she was kind of a goose about it, I’d say, poor thing.» Ingravallo, in his heart, couldn’t help conceding this: «an only daughter! without a mother! with no experience…!» She had loved him «from the first day she saw him,» naturally. «She loved him still, she respected him, poor Lilianuccia!»: the voice hesitated, then got going again: «For nothing in the world, religion aside, would she have thought of betraying him. But when she saw the years passing in that way, the best years of her life, without even the hope for… for the fruit of that love… it was, for her, it was like a tormenting disappointment. She felt humiliated, the way they all feel when the baby doesn’t come off: more than sadness, it’s a kind of spite, to think that other women are triumphant, and they aren’t. The most bitter of all of life’s disappointments. So, for her, the world was nothing but weariness: nothing but tears. Tears that gave her no comfort. Weeping and weariness. A swamp. Enough to drive her mad.»
«Let’s skip the weariness, Doctor Valdarena. What about the chain, and the diamond? Let’s get down to facts. It looks to me like we’re wasting time here. We can do without these flights… these flights of fancy»: he made a gesture as if dismissing some winged creature, urging the falcon up into the blue. «Let’s talk a little about this anchor chain»: and, taking it by one end, he swung it under his nose, looking him steadily in the eyes, blackly, «about this little gadget,» and he weighed it in his other hand, «this tiny little thing.» He seemed, at most, curious, wanting to observe minutely: like an ape into whose hand someone has dropped a toy whistle. Curly and black, that pitchy head, bent thus over the fingers and the metal that makes every mouth water, seemed to emanate tenebrous preconceived notions; and the procedural brightness of the room, as soon as the notions appeared, apparently forced them to curl up in that way, to become permanent, like a shiny, carbon fleece, on the skull: «We have read the will of the Signora Liliana, rest her soul, poor woman, and she left these to you,» and he set down the chain, picking up the ring from the table and beginning to weigh it in the palm of his hand, «because old grandfather Romilio, Signor Balducci says – was that his name? Romilio? Have I got it right? Ah, Rutilio? Grandfather Rutilio wanted it to go to his grandchildren, to his own flesh and blood… all in the family, I understand, I understand, and therefore to you, their pride and joy. But how come we found the stuff in your room? And how did the opal turn into an onyx? a what?… Yes, I meant to say… a jasper?»
Giuliano raised his right hand, which appeared white, vivid, faintly traced with blue, the flexible veins of adolescence: he showed, on his ring finger, the magnificent jasper which prison hadn’t taken from him: the one Ingravallo remembered seeing on his finger at the Balduccis’, after dinner on the 20th of February, as they were taking their coffee. «She wanted it to match this,» he answered, «she wanted me to get married, to have a kid. You’re sure to have one, she said to me every time: and then she would cry. When I told her I was getting married (at first she wouldn’t believe it), that I was going to live in Genoa, as soon as I showed her the snaps of Renata, well, no, I can’t say she was jealous, not the way another woman would have been… No. Isn’t she beautiful? she said, but kind of with her teeth clenched. A brunette, isn’t she? A pretty girl: just right for you, since you’re as blond as an angel. And she started crying. As soon as she was convinced about the wedding, that it wasn’t just a story… Doctor, you won’t believe it… sometimes I think I’m going crazy myself… she made me swear, right away, that I’d have a kid, as soon as I could: a little Valdarena. A Valdarenuccio, she said, through her tears. Now swear! A darling little innocent. She was out of her mind, our poor Liliana. She would adopt that first one: because Renata and I, she said, would promptly make another, and a third, a fourth: and those would be for us. But she had a right to the first one, she said. Providence would give us, Renata and me, all the babies we wanted. Because that’s how the good Lord is, she said: everything to one person, and nothing to another.» And it is in this guise, indeed, that He displays His mysterious perfection. «You’re young, she said, you’re healthy… (like a bull, Doctor, I can tell you) like all the Valdarenas. The minute you’re married, you’ll make a baby: I can almost see him, almost hear him… If you don’t have one on the way already. She laughed, and went on crying, too. And you’ve got to swear that you’ll give him to me. I was to let her adopt it, in other words: like it was her child.
«What’ll you give me, if I give you my baby? I said to her once. Christmas was already past, and New Year’s… it was after the Epiphany. Why, it was past the middle of January. I was only joking. She bowed her head. Like she was thinking… tired, sad: like a poor thing who didn’t have anything to trade me: as if she had to ask for charity. Love? No, no, I didn’t want that: I didn’t mean love – I said, joking. She went pale, and flung herself down in a chair, like she was desperate.» Ingravallo paled, too. «She looked at me with those eyes of hers, imploring. They were clouded with tears. She took my fingers, my right hand. She looked at my mother’s ring, this one here: and she began to slip it off my finger. You’ve got to leave this with me for a few days, she said. Why? Because I say so. Because I want to match something, the present I’m going to give you. So I left it with her. And the next time I went to see her – Remo was off on a trip, he was in Padua, and without knowing it, I went to the house to see her – the next time… as soon as she saw me, she gave me my ring back, then, without saying anything, she made like a sign to me a smile, the way you smile at a kid. Here, she said, and she looked at me: here! She took my hand, and slipped that ring on my finger, her grandfather’s ring; this other one, my mother’s, I wear on my middle finger, as you can see. Here, Giuliano, now take care of it, its grandfather’s ring. My grandfather. Your great-grandfather: what a good and handsome and strong man he was! He was a real man, like you! like you… (That like you, like you, made the bulldog grit his teeth.) «And this is grandfather’s watch chain… And she showed me that, too (it’s this one that they took from me in Via Nicotera) and she turned her eyes to the portrait, you know? the oval one, in the gold frame with the ivy leaves, you know?»
«Ivy leaves?»
«Yes, bright green, in the living room: the big portrait of her grandfather, Rutilio: you can see the chain on his stomach. This very one.» He touched it, extending his hand to the desk, sadly. «With the fob…» He shook his head. «Then she said to me. Lilianuccia… poor Liliana said to me: you told me you have to go to Genoa. Before you get married, you have to fix up your house: on the shore at Albaro, is it? You can’t kid with those Genoese, you know. I know that. Look! So I looked. No, I said, no, Liliana, no, what are you doing?… Don’t make such a fuss, she said, a big man like you. I know a man’s needs, what a man needs when he’s getting married. Take this, for now, take it. Take it, I tell you. Please, do me this favor, don’t make me work so hard. You know I don’t have much imagination along this line. Take it! I moved away, I didn’t want to, I started to run off, I put a chair between us… Here! She grabbed me by the arm, and stuck an envelope into my pocket: that one…» and he indicated it, with his chain, on the desk, next to the banknotes: «the ten thousand lire… it’ll soon be two months ago: the twenty-fifth of January, I remember. Then she wanted to give me the chain, too. At all costs. I couldn’t stop her, believe me.» Ingravallo had grave doubts about the whole story. «We were in the living room.» Then, pensively:
«But there wasn’t anything attached to the chain, I mean, that big bugger of a fob, that bad-luck piece. Tomorrow you must go to Ceccherelli, he’s my jeweler. You have to leave it with him, just a couple of minutes, so he can attach the stone to it, you know… You know what? Of course, come now, you know that it had that stone attached to it: I’ve showed it to you dozens of times! But I’ve had it changed, she said. I had the opal changed for a jasper. It’s to match this one, the one in your ring. That’s why the week before she wanted me to leave it with her. She took my hand, and looked. She said: it looks so nice! they both look so well on you! the gold, too! it looks absolutely pure. They made such handsome gold things in the old days, before the war. But this was given me by Mamma, I said, a memento… after a while, when she had married a second time, the engineer, you know. Well, I didn’t know, she said, with a kind of grumpy expression. I had a jasper put in. A bloodstone, green, dark as a pimpernel, with two coral veins… red! they look like two veins of the heart, one for you and one for me. I picked it out myself, she said, in Campo Marzio. He’s probably finished engraving it by now: he was going to mount it this morning: with your initials, like the one you have on your finger. Because I didn’t want to see that opal in the family any more. Touch wood! And she touched the top of the table there. She made me touch it, too. She laughed. She was so beautiful!» Ingravallo took this, grimly. «I don’t want it in the family any more, that opal. It looks like it’s bringing bad luck to all of us. No, enough; I don’t want it. By now Ceccherelli’s finished his work. The opal – no, it doesn’t exist any more! (And we both had to touch wood again.)
«It doesn’t exist any more, because I don’t want it even if it did belong to grandfather. They say it’s bad luck. And, in fact, poor Uncle Peppe… you see? Cancer. And double, at that. Who would ever have imagined such a thing? He was so good, poor Uncle Peppe! Believe me, Doctor Ingravallo. I remember every single word: it made such an impression on me. I can’t forget that face of hers. How she laughed, and how she cried! Those presents! A scene between cousins. But it could have been a love scene! No, no love, not on any terms!» he seemed to recover himself. «It was really laughable, too, poor Liliana! So you’ll go tomorrow, no, today, she said. Promise me! Yes, yes, to Campo Marzio, to Ceccherelli. Remember. Just before you get to Piazza in Lucina, where there’s that pizzeria. Yes, San Lorenzo in Lucina: now don’t start playing dumb on me, you know perfectly well. It’s on the right, though.»
Ingravallo didn’t want to believe it; he couldn’t. But he realized, little by little, that he was being drawn to believe what he would have believed unbelievable. «Doctor Ingravallo, listen to me,» Giuliano implored, «maybe she was crazy. I don’t want to insult the dead, a poor dead woman. And after the way she died, too! But listen to me, please… I… for her I was… I realized… I…»
«You… what?»
«I,» Giuliano got a little mixed up, laughed nervously, laughing at himself: «I was, for her, like a champion of the race, this great old race of the Valdarenas. Seriously. If she could have, if she had been free… But her conscience, and then… her religion. No, she wasn’t depraved» (sic) «She wasn’t like so many other women» (sic) «It was just because of that idea, that obsession of hers, for a baby. It really was, believe me, a mania, a fixed idea, anybody would have understood that: something that made her think queerly. It was stronger that she was, believe me, Doctor.»
Valdarena’s affirmations had the timbre and the incontestable warmth of the truth. «And how do you explain the disappearance of the iron coffer? and the two bank books?»
«How should I know?» the young man said: «how could I know who did it?» He looked at Ingravallo. «If I knew, that monster would already be in jail for sure, in my place. The coffer? I’ve never even seen it. The chain and the ring, along with the ten thousand lire she gave them to me: she forced me to take them. The envelope she was the one who insisted on hiding it here»: he slapped his hip with his hand: «For that matter… Remo must know about it, too, I should think.»
«No, he didn’t know anything!» Ingravallo contradicted him harshly. «Cousins’ secrets!» under that pitch on his head, he was livid: «And you,» he incriminated him with a forefinger, «You knew that he didn’t know.» Giuliano flushed, shrugged. «Well, like I said before, she was the one who gave me the ten thousand. She stuffed the money here, in my jacket,» and he touched his side again. «That envelope, the one they took from my desk»: Don Ciccio frowned. «Then I ran off, I ran away. I went into the dining room and locked myself in, playing, click. No sooner was I in there when she knocked… Then I opened the door to her: she went to the sideboard… to the buffet.»
«Ah, in the dining room? Near the buffet? Right where you cut her throat?» Ingravallo’s face by now was white, furious. His eyes were those of an enemy.»
«Cut her throat? What I’m talking about was two months ago, Doctor, still in January, the twenty-fifth of January, like I said. About three weeks before… before you and I also met. You remember that Sunday, maybe a month ago, when you were at their house for dinner? well, about three weeks before that dinner. And besides, it’s easy to check, my God. Why didn’t I think of it before? Ask Ceccherelli, the jeweler in Campo Marzio. I went to get the damned jasper myself. He can testify to that. He had instructions from Liliana to give it to me, to me personally, the fob with the new stone with my initials on it, to replace that other one: she had told him to attach it to the chain for me himself, to her grandfather’s chain,» he pointed to it, on the desk, with his chin, «and she told him I’d bring it to him: me, in person. Liliana was so precise about everything; she had arranged it all: she had even showed him my picture. But Ceccherelli, when I went in, made me show him my identification, a license or something, he said: so I showed him my papers. He begged my pardon. But then I was bringing him the chain. What better identification could he want than that, after all…?»
«So it was twenty days before the twentieth of February, even twenty-five days, all right. How is it that you didn’t mention a word of it to anybody? To your grandmother? To your aunt? Why didn’t you show it to the family? Wedding presents, according to what you’ve been saying. Family jewels. Grandfather’s gold: which was to go to the grandchildren. Why hide it then? And how come Balducci, this morning, was so taken by surprise? A memento of your own… great-grandfather… you can surely show it to your grandmother: who is his daughter, if I’m not mistaken.»
«The daughter-in-law would be closer: Grandfather Valdarena, Grandfather Rutilio, was my father’s grandfather; that is to say, if you follow me, the father of my grandfather»: Don Ciccio looked at him furiously with the suspicion that Giuliano was pulling his leg: in his situation? «That’s why I’m called Valdarena, too. My grandmother, grandmother Marietta, who brought me up, was the daughter-in-law of grandfather Rutilio.»
«The daughter-in-law, I know, I know. Aha? Wait. The daughter-in-law? Your father’s grandfather – is that what you said? Then the Signora Liliana was… your aunt?»
«No. Poor Liliana was my second cousin. A generation behind. That’s why, perhaps, I liked her so! That’s why she was so stupendous!» Don Ciccio listened, glumly, bituminous: «she was the daughter of Uncle Felice: Uncle Felice Valdarena, who was my father’s uncle, the brother of my father’s father. Liliana and my father were first cousins.»
«I see, I see. And so you hid everything? Very carefully? You were afraid maybe you’d have to share the stuff? share the gold chain… with the poor? The way Amedeo II shared his Collar of the Annunziata?» (3)
«Vittorio Amedeo…»
«Vittorio, I know, I know. With your poor relations? With some third cousin once removed?»
«Some newly hatched ugly duckling of the younger generation,» sneered the accused.
«Or were you afraid that Signor Balducci, the minute he got off the train… those presents, all that money… might be kind of a weight on his stomach?»
«No, no!» said the accused, with a pleading voice. «She was the one, poor thing. She! I really wasn’t thinking of hiding them: but she said to me: mind you, Giuliano, this is between us, our little harmless secret, a secret between cousins… like in books! The secret of beauty: aren’t we beautiful, the two of us? Of happiness, longed for and not fulfilled. Oh God, what am I saying! And she covered her face with her hands. You’ll have happiness. And then the secret… let me think a minute… the secret of two good souls: who in a world a little better than this one… well, would have created other souls. In this world, though, the way it is (Doctor, if you could have seen her! At that moment!), we have to go our separate ways, like the leaves when the wind tears them from the tree. My goodness! she said, what nonsense is coming out of my mouth, today of all days. This is a fine way to wish you all happiness. And you have to have the baby, Giuliano! Forgive me, forgive me. She was crying; then she smiled through her tears; in fact, she started to laugh. Happy, handsome – you have to make him, she said. And blond, mind you. Like you were, when you were a little tyke, laughing all the time, and wanting to wee-wee without turning your back, right in front of everybody!» Don Ciccio felt called upon to rummage among his papers for a moment, on the desk.
«She laughed, and she said to me: what would Remo say, when he comes back! If he knew I was giving presents to a young man! Even if he is my cousin, my handsome cousin who’s going to be married. She laughed: who’s marrying another girl, poor little me! No, no, you mustn’t even tell your grandmother, poor old soul, or your mother, when you go to Bologna: you mustn’t tell anybody. Swear! And I swore…»
Don Ciccio was in a cold sweat. The whole story, theoretically, smelled like a fairy tale to him. But the young man’s voice, his accents, those gestures, were the voice of truth. The world of the so-called verities, he philosophized, is merely a tissue of fairy tales: and bad dreams. So that only the mist of dreams and fairy tales can have the name of truth. And, on the poor leaves, it is a caressing ray of light.
With his toothless grin, with that latrine-like breath that distinguishes him, Common Sense was already mocking the story, wanting to laugh, swine-like, in Don Ciccio’s face, spit the round no of the smart-ass at his mop of a police dog not yet named cavaliere. But Thought will not be prevented: he arrives first. You can’t erase from the night the flash of an idea: of an idea, slightly dirty, then… You can’t repress the ancient Fescennine, banish from the old earth fable, its perenial Atellan: when aloft, happy and wicked, swirls the laughter from peoples and from the soul: just as you cannot charm away the individual aroma from thyme or horsemint or origanum: the sacred odors of the earth, of the barren mountain, in the wind. Up, up, from the packed cities, from the races, from every street corner, from the railings of every bridge: from the brown shores, and from the silvered, twisted people of the olives, which climb the mountains. When, over the houses and all the rooftops of mankind, a bluish air trembles a little, over their brims. When the warm dung heap smokes, above the frost, resurgent hopes: the fabling hopes of the truth! When every ridge dissolves, in the smoking plowed furrows! When the sharp descent of the billhook consecrates the olive tree to its fruit, and strips away falsehood. To Ingravallo, there came in a flash, between his grief and his contempt, that it was much more natural and much simpler, something very logical, since it really meant so much to Liliana, this baby, that instead of giving him, this handsome crook here (who was before him) the gold chains of the dead… babies… from chains of gold, babies don’t come, surely… it was much quicker if she made him give her, instead, another little plaything, much more suited to the purpose. That story, really, smacked of lies, a lot of nonsense, all made up.
And then, no… there wasn’t a word of truth in it. Her husband, Balducci, was after all a husband: a great hulking husband. If the baby hadn’t come out, so much the worse for him, that ugly bastard. It was no fault of men. He clenched his teeth, livid, collected his papers into the red folder. He had the prisoner taken back to his cell.

from chapter 5

Three girls. The first, Milena, a little freckle-faced thing, after barely a month of that good food at the Balduccis’, with that pure wool mattress under her and a warm comforter over her in the bed, had promptly started putting on fat: two round little melons under her blouse, a neat hemisphere, behind. But with this calf-fat she had also developed a taste for stealing, and a proportionate one for telling lies. She stole from the sideboard, and from the purse on the night table: and she lied with her mouth. Her tongue followed her nails, without giving it a thought, like your tail goes behind your ass, if you’re a horse.
One day, then, stripping her bed, the maid had found a candle: a Mira-Lanza candle, those stubby ones they made then: which she must have taken from the new package in the kitchen; they were kept on hand in the cupboard, for when the lights fail, sometimes. She – with her ready tongue – said she wanted to light it to the Madonna: because she had a special intention: but she didn’t have matches: she had fallen asleep with the candle in her bed. Doctor Ghianda examined the girl, made her drink citron water, which has a calming effect for certain nervous fantasies, plus a few drops, three times a day, of the anti-hysteric water of Santa Maria Novella of Bologna, which the monks make there with a filter, a specialty of theirs. (This was, afterwards, confirmed: in the Merulanian tones of Sora Pettacchioni.) In any case, to avoid misunderstandings, the Professor was called back, was asked by Liliana for advice. He frowned for a moment, looking at her with a hint of a smile, his mannerism of a severe but kindly father, his usual way with kids. He was a very distinguished pediatrician. With three fingers he toyed with his gold fob, over his waistcoat. After a moment of suspense, he relaxed his forehead, drew a deep breath, and counseled «it seems the best thing, to me», that the child be sent back to her respective parents: who, however, didn’t exist, neither the one nor the other. Whereupon, after a little while, when a reasonable pretext had been hit upon, she was restored to her «uncle and aunt», comforted, in the anticipation of receiving her back, with a nice bank order, of a sea-green colour, the kind that have such a psycho-tonic effect on our beloved Comit. (4) «The Banca Commerciale Italiana… will pay… one the line, for this handsome little sea-green gent here, the sum of lire…» And the more they are, the better it is.
Don Corpi stretched his legs, holding his hat with his forearms, like a shield over his belly, clasping the big fingers of his two hands, which sank into his lap. The second ward, already twenty or twenty-one years old, was Ines, and she, after a little while, had gone off to be married: a wedding that was all in order. She had married a fine young man from Rieti, son of property owners, a law student in his eighth year of college: the full course lasted ten. One fine day, just when Liliana’s tendernesses were condensing over her head, she had suddenly come out with the information that «she wanted to follow her vocation.» And she followed it: with excellent results. From the daughterly, and urban, adventure, she had extracted a bit of a dowry, had collected a hope chest: two big suitcases full of lace-edged linen. Affected, as she was, by a classic form of wifely foresightedness, not, however, of the grasping form of her predecessor, she had been able to captivate wholly the stepmotherly heart, so maternal, or so gently sister-like (Liliana was eight or nine years older than she) and had acted with stubborn assiduousness in infallible determination, minute by minute, and in the systematized premeditation of her every gesture or smile or word or whim or glance or kiss: those which distinguish the tacit will of the woman, when she has «character»: a past mistress, on occasion, in prompting the thought without even giving its outline verbally: with hints, lateral tries and counter-tries, mute waiting: setting off a process of induction, like the stator of a generator: with the same technique whereby she is wont to surround and protect (and direct towards the Right) the first stumbling steps of a little one: channelling it, however, where she wants, which is where he can wee-wee in the most seemly way, and with utter relaxation.
Ines! The urban adventure! From Galilei’s (5) matutinal clarities, when the Lateran office and mystery, the green gaiety of the churchyard receive within the city’s walls the hick with his devout Sign of the Cross, the ass hitched up for a moment, gee!, from the golden pomp, at vespers, or ruby-coloured, and from the full cavate of Maderno, from whose archway the indelible hymn in praise of Mary Mother has burst into the centuries never to return; from the PV and the BM and from the ten holes in the disk of the telephone, and from the big box of the radio which she put out of commission four times, the cothurnate fore-thinker had taken home a certain brisk, cavalier manner in darning socks, that is to say, taking the hole in wide circles, with needle and thread: and then, after that rapid circumnavigation, she pulled it all together and snapped off the thread at once, with her teeth. A first-class darn! Not even Princess Clotilde herself could have done better. A swelling, a musket ball under your heel which warmed your heart, for the whole festive day. Like so many orogenic seams towards the peak of a cone-shaped mountain: from those cones that pierce the clouds, which are the socks of the Lord.
She had brought to her student-husband, in addition to serene days and nights happy in the communion of souls and tongues, she had brought him… everything that a girl can bring in the practical and welcome line, for a student-husband: a great nonchalance in ironing pants, after having scorched six or seven pairs of Balducci’s. That, we know, had been her discipline, her gradus ad Parnassum. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. We learn by mistake. Trial and error.
The third, Virginia! Don Lorenzo lowered his eyes, looking at the ground, though he was a grown man; then he raised his eyes to heaven for half a second, as if to say: be still, my lips! He joined his pious hams in a brief swinging beneath his nose, before his beard: a to-and-fro in the plane of the azimuth, an Italic, decent gesture. «The less said the better!» he seemed to be pleading with Doctor Fumi. It had to be said. The two officers were waiting: Ingravallo, indeed, was on his feet, grim, nervously tapping one leg. The giant’s ten huge fingers slumped in his lap, still tightly intertwined: comb and counter-comb: like an apostle of marble, the kind that stand on the balustrade over the big cornice of San Giovanni Laterano. Twenty-five pounds of finger bones, good for cracking nuts, in that black furrow of the cassock: where, in rapid succession, the black caravan of the priest’s buttons descended: which had neither beginning nor end, like the catalogue of the centuries. The two shoes, at rest, shiny gravedigger colour, but no more so than all the rest, priapated from beneath the garment, like two forbidden objects, camping by themselves near those of Doctor Fumi, under the rack of dossiers, among the four legs of the desk; and inside them, no doubt, two hunks of double feet like a stone Saint Christopher.
«Well, what about Virginia?» Little by little, her character emerged: her headstrong vitality, the impudent type. It turned out that the charmer had charmed two souls: in two unconnected directions. The neighbour women, indeed, said that she had put a spell on both: and some of them played the numbers on the lottery. Her provocative beauty, her health, like a coral devil inside that ivory skin, her eyes! one could really believe that she had hypnotized husband and wife: «those brash ways», that somewhat rustic air, which revealed, however, «a big, sincere heart» (Petacchioni), or as was said, with a smile and a frown at the same time, with the professional tic of Doctor Ghianda, «a case of violent puberty». To this same Professor Ghianda, without being called upon to do so, Virginia had displayed her tongue, with a very rapid expulsion and an equally rapid return to its place, as if automatic, and with the tip pointed in a special way that was her trademark: sustaining then with the cold authority of her full face, though with a spark of malice in her eyes, his irritated, sulphurous gaze, filled with wrath and pitchy emanations. Hearing him called – she thought – piedatrician, or piediatrist, with great respect, by all the ladies of Stairway A, but even by some of B, she had believed that the distinguished man of science, whom she had seen for years going up and down the steps of the building in that mortician’s overcoat to worm the kids, was, at the same time, the Monsignor’s callus doctor, (6) Don Lorenzo’s, that is: that this, in fact, was the basic profession of old frock-coat. An idea which, once it had entered her head, nobody had been able to drive out. The dimensions of Don Lorenzo’s dogs made her certain she was in the right, believing that for such feet you’d need a piediatrist of that high rank. For the rest, my God! she had a pair of hips, two marble breasts: two teats so hard you’d need a scalpel: and with her way of shrugging all the time, so haughty, and that contempt on her lips, as if to say: shit to you! Yes, sir. After hours of silence, her bizarre insolence, her cruel laugh: with those white, triangular teeth, like a shark’s, as if she were going to tear somebody’s heart to shreds. Those eyes! from below the black fringe of her lashes: they flamed up suddenly in a black lucidity, narrowed, apparently cruel: a thin flash, which escaped, pointed, oblique, like a lie revealing a truth, which still unspoken, preferred to fade already on the lips. «She was a spoiled girl, but all heart», the chicken-seller opined, after an hour, when he had been summoned in his turn. «A fine figure of a girl, believe me; she liked to act saucy», the grocer’s wife from Via Villari confirmed: «Ah! Virginia, from the third floor? She was a bag of tricks!» «That girl? She had the devil on her side», her girl friends said. «She had a devil inside her». But one girl, who was from the Patrica hills, let out a different expression: «She had a poker up her ass»: and blushed at once. Commendatore Angeloni, extracted from Regina Coeli for an hour, to let him get a breath of fresh air, too, poor man, when titillated at Santo Stefano del Cacco, promptly drew his head down between his shoulders like a frightened snail: «Well», he merely grumbled, showing a pair of melancholy eyes, till he looked like an ox in a bad humor: yellow, they had become, after only a few days on the Lungara: (7) «I remember bumping into her a couple of times on the stairs, but I don’t know her at all; I can’t tell you anything», he affirmed sententiously, «about a person I don’t know. She was the Balduccis’ niece, or so I was told».
Once, several times (Don Lorenzo went on to say), without being much aware at that point of the «figure» or «position» of mother that Liliana Balducci intended to assume, she – that is to say, this Virginia – in the house there in Via Merulana, when the husband had escaped to his trains, and when the maid was out, she had embraced and kissed the signora. «When she got certain whims in her… her head». Don Lorenzo managed to recover himself: with the steady voice of charity he reported: she, at those moments, well, it had to be one of two things: either she was out of her mind, or else she felt she had to play-act like that. What was certain was that she used to embrace and kiss the mistress of the house.
«Mistress?» interrupted Doctor Fumi, narrowing his brows.
«Mistress, stepmother – it’s all the same.» She kissed her, the way a panther might give a kiss: «Oh Signora Liliana, darling, you’re like the Madonna for me!» then, in a low low voice, in an even more stifled tone of ardor: «I love you, love you, love you; one of these days I’m going to just eat you up»: and she grasped her wrist, and twisted it, staring at her: she twisted it like a vice, mouth to mouth, till each could breathe the other’s breath, tit to tit. Don Corpi rectified, naturally enough: «I mean, moving close to her with her face and bosom.» But both Ingravallo and Doctor Fumi had understood the first time.
One day, in an access of filial love, she really did bite her ear: and that time Liliana took fright. Madonna! How it hurt! She ran all the way to the Quattro Santi, at full tilt. Pale, breathless, she had displayed the part known as the lobule, still dotted by the little circle… of those teeth! My God! All in fun… but nasty fun, just the same. If fun is the word for it.
Then they had tried to drag her into the church, «to make her say some prayers, as many prayers as she could. Prayer, you might say, is the ticket to Paradise: or to Purgatory, at least. If you’re carrying a heavy suitcase, you don’t get past the Customs in Paradise… not the first time. But her pray? Not on your life! She hummed them under your nose, till you wanted to slap her, like a song, those Roman songs they sing with the guitar… sad ones, between nose and throat: or else shaking her head all the time, with her eyes on the tips of her shoes, avemaria avemaria, la-la-la-la gratiaplena gratiaplena, as if to mock the whole lot of us, the Madonna included. The Madonna! Now really! A sing-song that would have put a baby to sleep. Shameless! Because if there’s somebody who can help us out in this world, it’s the Madonna, and her alone: because the good Lord… it looks to me like we do our best to give him a pain in the… the heart…» Don Corpi recovered himself: a second time.
Or maybe she wore her veil, but with her head in the air, at the high mass, in a kind of happy asthenia or bored echolalia: she became distracted, with the mother-of-pearl rosary that Liliana had given her: she held the book upside down, so she couldn’t read it, even if she had been able to understand any of it. The feast of Corpus Domini… would you believe it?… she had the nerve to ape the canons of San Giovanni, as they chanted their office? with a man’s voice? which only the devil could have lent her, at that moment. Even the saints from their thrones seemed to protest, all of them, painted though they were, because she had really made them lose all patience. He had looked her in the face, stopping his chant… sitting at the right of Monsignor Velani. Then, after Mass, he had told her a thing or two, on the spot, under the portico, when they came to say hello to him, her and Liliana! But her only act of contrition was to shrug her shoulders, that animal: «till you wanted to give her a slap.» And he raised and opened his hand over the table; it was so big that both Fumi and Ingravallo were wide-eyed, at last.

from chapter 6

Let’s hear this Ines!
Fumi swung around in his chair, pressed the button, and asked for Piscitiello, he charged Paolillo to have Piscitiello hand the girl over to him, if she hadn’t already been shipped off to Regina Coeli. Paolillo, after a short while, brought in a rather well-supplied girl, with two marvellous eyes in her face, very luminous, shiny; but she was incredibly dirty and disheveled, and her stockings! her cloth shoes, half in tatters, with one toe sticking out. A gust of the wild, not to say worse, breathed into the room; a smell: «Mmm! get a load of that!» all of them said to themselves, mentally.
After a certain amount of preamble concerning her vital statistics, Ines… Ines Cionini, questioned a while by Doctor Fumi and some by Don Ciccio, examined from head to foot by Corporal Pestalozzi, Sergeant Di Pietrantonio, and Paolillo and, behind them, a little by Grabber, Ines understood at once what they wanted from her. They wanted to hear her voice. So she sang out, she spilled the beans. Without having to be coaxed. Had she perchance worked for la Pàcori? Yes, that was where she worked, for Zamira. Zamira? Yes, that was her name. And… how? And… when? And… for how long? Ah, for over a year! And… what did she do, at Zamira’s? What sort of customers did she have? Oh, all kinds. Just about everybody came to her, men and women: because of her cards. And… also, what did she have in her cellar? Cellar? Well, the floor below? Oh, she kept a demijohn of oil! And pecorino cheese, too! Oh, sure, of course. Un huh. And how many girls did she have working for her? How old were they? From sixteen up? There were some that were only fifteen. And the carters? And the horses? Oh, the stables… sure!
And what other animals did she have around? And who took care of them? Aha! Is that so? And they played cards, too, did they? Oh, but only on Saturdays. Naturally, of course. That’s obvious enough. Saturday evening. Just about everybody came. The wine was good. Yes, she had a license: yes, for alcoholic beverages. Et cetera et cetera. It came out that on Fridays and Tuesdays she was also visited by the force, the Royal Carabinieri. Pestalozzi would have liked and, above all, should have tried, to protest. He thought, on the other hand, that it was preferable for him ἐξωτέρῳ, to let a little fresh water run on, from such a generous faucet: and he contented himself, at critical moments, with a shrug and a shake of his head: «nonsense! all lies!» But they all believed it, nevertheless. The police dote on nonsense: in their rivalry with the carabinieri. Each of the two organizations would like to have a monopoly on such stories, on History indeed. But History is one alone! Well, they’re capable of hacking it in two: a piece for each: in a process of detwinning, of amoebic splitting: half for me, half for you. The singleness of History is derogated into a double historiography, it is devolved into psalm and antiphony, it is potted in two contradictory certainties: the police report, the carabinieri report. The one says yes: the other says no. The one says white: the other says black. Dogs and cats get along better.
Ines Cionini had had her fancy-man, she admitted, a good-looking boy: a real and proper lover. Who, they all thought, must have met her and perhaps even… why not?… treated her with some tenderness… in a period far closer to her latest bath. She was very beautiful, to gaze upon, despite the squalor of the room, the moldy light on the brick floor: white of face and throat amid the pools and fringes of dirt: with swollen, red lips: like a baby sylph, precociously troubled with puberty: and rather undulant in her turning, in her leaning forward, pained by certain weights (a little in the manner of some saints, some nuns, believed to be Spanish) as if by an incontrovertible charge, a heavy burden, eternal: laid upon her by the ancient caprice of nature. Surfaces imitating the true, nucleal volume seemed to enfold her repeatedly, like circles surround the stone cast in the water, amplifying «in the minds of the witnesses», that is in male delirium that stupendous suggestion: from her there emanated, along with the above-mentioned aroma, the true and basic sense of the life of the viscera, of hunger: and of animal warmth. The idea proper to stables, to haystacks: and far from all lowly pragmatic sanctions. Her gem-eyes, a child’s, enunciated to all those men, still without their supper, the name of a happiness that was yet possible; a joy, a hope, a truth superior to their papers, to the squalid walls, the dried flies on the ceiling, the portrait of the Shit. The syphilitic Swaggerer. Perhaps, poor creature, the adjective that so suited to the beshat Maltonian (8) was to modify her as well? No, she didn’t look ill: if not with hunger, with beauty, with puberty, with filth, with impudence, with abandon. And perhaps with sleep, with weariness. Her fancy-man had led her into theft, after having had his will of her: because the soft whisperings at nightfall had concluded with «shift for yourself.» Her erstwhile employer and mentor had clarified her thinking, or had enabled her to clarify it for herself. Love, after besmirching her, had handed her over to the whim of hunger. All, now, hoped to find in her the longed-for spy of whom they had need. She understood this; she knew it: and for that matter, hell, who gave a damn? the evil that the blue days had poured over her was such that she had to give it back, to her protectors. So she sang. About her mistress-teacher. «Teacher of sewing? Mistress-seamstress?» Teacher of sewing and not of sewing. La Pàcori: yes, Zamira. In parallel fashion Pestalozzi and Di Pietrantonio reported. Ingravallo shook his huge head also: three or four times.
La Zamira, yes: known to all, between Marino and Ariccia, by the lack of her eight teeth in front (her teeth began with the canines: Ines pointed to her own, as paradigms, opening and twisting with one finger her lovely lips), four above and four below: whereby the mouth, viscid and salivary, red as if burning with fever, opened badly, like a hole, to speak: worse, it stretched at the corners into a dark and lascivious smile, not handsome, and, no doubt involuntarily, coarse. Despite the face, there were murmurs, that rictus, that vacuum held for some of the Royal force and for some non-royalty a perverse allure. Sometimes on certain afternoons, her eyes were flashing, yet soft, swollen underneath, like two serous blisters, filled with a dazed and slightly baby-faced malice: she was a bit drunk: you could see it: you could smell it on her breath: then her wrinkles smoothed out as if by a breath of Favonius. At other times she seemed more herself: her, Zamira: the light must have struck then on something hard, like the flame of a witch’s curse on the face. The harsh roughness and tempestuous dishevelment of her hair, and the parallel, profound wrinkles all over her face, which was brown and dark, wooden, and the greedy ambages of her gaze in those moments delineated better her aspect: like an ancient sorceress, priestess of abominable spells and roots, the stewed roots, in which the soul of a Lucan, of an Ovid is entangled.
Her official activity was that of a mender and re-weaver, trouser-maker, dyeress, and in some cases, notions-merchant empirical in curing sciatica through secret herbs, seer, clairvoyante, card-reader, licensed to sell wines and liquors at I Due Santi, and Oriental Wizardess with a diploma in the first degree: in her workshop-tavern where the carters of the Appia stopped for a half-litre of wine, precisely at I Due Santi. She was consulted in the exorcism line, for casting or removing spells, exorcizing the evil eye from infants in their bonnets, simple-minded babies, and preventive spells in general; gifted also in the branch of washing heads to drive away lice, and when some girl’s monthly was overdue, whether through nerves or other troubles, of which there are many, as all know. An immunologist of great experience and rare knowledge, after the liberation of Italy from the menace of the bolshevik hydra thanks to the Great Balcony of the Holy Sepulchre (October 28, 1922) the cracking of the malocchio sive evil eye, whose infinite case-history was at her fingertips, more and more constituted the chief subject of the appeals to her art. But not all. She was also skilled, sic et simpliciter, another gift of nature, as authoress of propitiatory or even repellent potions, according to the requirements of the case, and of almost all the love philters and powders for both signs, that is positive and negative. She could make pedigreed dogs have a miscarriage, when impregnated by some mongrel stray. She knew how to inculcate, at a reasonable fee, a certain quantum – that is to say the necessary amount – of kinetic energy to the dubious, to the insecure: comfort them in the pragma, corroborate them in the act itself. With ten lire one purchased, through her medicine, the faculty of willing. With another ten, that of being able. She un-kierkegaarded little crooks of the province, channeling them «to work» in the city, known as the Urbs, after having purged their souls of any remaining perplexity, or of their last scruples. She set the bold on their path, showing them that the poor creatures of the weaker sex asked for nothing better, in those years, than to lean on someone, to attach themselves to something, that would be able to share with them a mindless emotion, the sweet pain of living: she catechized them in the Protection of the Homeless Girl, in competition with the better-known organization of the same name. And her catechumens looked upon her as a mistress, though dubbing her, from one drink to the next, filthy, when they thought she couldn’t hear them, of course, and bag and witch: such is the foolhardiness of our time, and their personal coarseness: and even perhaps titling her the old sow, her, Zamira Pàcori! and old procuress, hah! a seamstress of her position! and Oriental wizardess with a diploma of the first degree! Some gratitude. And they even had the nerve to say that the Due Santi, the two saints of the locality… were… a pair of «if you follow my meaning,» accompanying this assertion with an immodest manucaption – prolation of the pair in question, wrapped though they were in the crotch: immodest, oh yes, but not infrequent then, in popular usage. Slander. Foulmouths. Hick scum, that go out at night to steal chickens.
Oh! the clean thread of time, of the Alban time and her own, unwound from the distaff of her divining like truth from an oracle. Murky or serene, but all summoned to her foresight, the days and the events seemed to orbit around her, to rise and vanish in her. To her, then, from that so fearful expectation of the multitude it was only right to prick the long study of the believers, derive from every consultation her little lire, from every delay of the miracle an increment for the faith, from every most secret vapor the aurora borealis of an improbable summoned back to probability. Why yes, indeed, who would ever have thought that? Despite the gratitude and the scared respect by which she was generally surrounded – collective hope and religiosity, Orphic sense of mystery and of the transcendence in the great heart of the people – despite her diplomas and degrees, Oriental and Occidental, and after infinite séances, after all those abracadabras with the skull on her table, and the respected needlework of more than ten years, her girls around her, poor babies, mending or knitting or sewing on rows of buttons, why yes, that’s right, who would ever have thought it? Don’t do good if you are not prepared to receive evil. Even Zamira. The base skepticism of the carabinieri persisted in surrounding her with the usual, unseemly suspicion through which they… many times, succeed in ruining the lives of seers, embittering the souls of card-readers: and even of the most respectable seamstresses. And that is: they thought, indeed they were sure, that she was an ex-whore (and no one could shake them from this opinion), widow, from year to year, of about fifteen former reserve captains in retirement: whose traces, little by little, from one autumn to the next, had become evanescent, from Marino and Ariccia. Having given herself, as the years passed and her incisors with them, to an ever more sly and bold madamship, with its epicenter, in fact, at I Due Santi, in a kind of cellar under the workshop-tavern: cellar or half-basement room that had light, perhaps even sunshine, from the garden. The garden – a few turnip greens, also disheveled: an occasional cabbage, its leaves stripped off by the sirocco, made wormy by Pieridae: with a dour hen, flapping there from time to time, checked by a string that was all gnarls, to lay eggs out of season – was at a level lower than the normal altitude of the road, the Via Appia. The cellar, or half-basement room, was equipped with a urinal: and, more, with a cot: which however creaked at a mere nothing, the bastard, and had the tegument of a «counterpane» of faded green: damasked by undecipherable maculations which, in their authentic obscurity, had a baroque tendency: a full, pompous baroque of the first jet of imagination, though it was washed and dried in the garden, the coverlet: and it seemed to deny even hypothetically any belated, neoclassical restraint. Attached to the wall, to one side of the little bed, you could see a really sweet oleo: a nice bunch of naked girls, at their medical exam, and a doctor with a little black goatee, looking at them one by one, but dressed like an ancient Roman, without eyeglasses, and with sandals instead. He had stuck his thumb in the hole of a little board, and with the other fingers of the same hand was grabbing a bunch of brushes, to paint with iodine who knows what part of their skin, if he found some pimple on any of them. It opened, this little drawing room or examination room, through a door provided with latch and chain, into the sanctum or oracular receptacle, properly speaking. There bloomed the prophecies and the responses (after working hours) of the seamstreess-sibyl: when all the girls were upstairs, on the other hand, at that hour of sewing and clickety-clack, well, at that time, the magical apparatus was visited by some large rats, using all the caution due the situation. Rats half as long as your arm came tiptoeing in, sniffing, those sons of bitches! with mustaches on them! ready to scent a ghost’s sheet two palms away in the dark, and the smell of cheese, at a mile, all the way from the house of the garbage man, who kept their whole family at full board. But they had to be content with a bare smell of that manna, unable to reach it in any other way than with their olfactory sense: they whiffed the Idea, an invisible Presence. The presence of good mountain pecorino, a whole cheese of the days before the Empire landed on us: yes, right on the neck. A trestle in the darkness. A cast-iron stove, A country fireplace: a kettle over it, hanging from a chain: and a fine pot, in one corner, in the midst of such rags! a kind of copper pot which, in a few years’ time, would fall prey to the Immortal Fatherland, War-Bearing, shoulder to shoulder with the Twotone Bruder, at a mere sign from the Deuce, the adored Doochay: thief of saucepans and pots of all peoples: with the excuse of making war on England.
There was everything you could want. A place, in short, this workshop of Zamira’s whose like you would never find, still less its better, for distilling a drop, a single and splendid drop of the eternally prohibited or eternally unlikely Probability. Jerseys to be dyed, trousers to be mended: the moths devour the owl: but some of it was always left, the eyes of the owl live, knowing topazes motionless in the night, in time, surviving the ruins of time. A point of contact of the vital compossibilities: magic, knitting, tailoring, trousering, wine from the Castelli and even from Bitonto (a keg, with a tap: two demijohns, rubber siphons), cheese and beans in April, the grandson of the mustachioed chief rat, rummaging inside the skull, in the cellar, that is to say in the «dyeing room»! in the cranium, where he had entered and where he would come out by an eye, an empty socket, naturally. Packs of cards on the table, the astrologicheral tarot cards: hourglass, cabala of lottery and pentacle: a stuffed owl, with a pair of eyes on him! And pecorino, in a big cupboard, and flasks of oil: ah . . . locked and barred so that not even a rat … no, not even with Zamira! they had had it. They could die of frustration, poor darlings! Abracadabra puffety-poo.
The Elysian gathering of the gentle shades, the summons, the evocation of the compossibilities! Poor, and dear, Zamira! She used to pour out wine for the carters on the Appia, for the carabinieri on their rounds. Standing, these last, having come in from the summer, guns on their shoulders: dusty, overheated, blinded by the immensity: stunned by infinite cicadas: with head and cap amid the cloud of flies, up, up, which gave out a humming at times as of an unseen guitar plucked by the phalanges of a ghost. She, after having brought the drink, took her chair again, wielding her needles, toothless (the front ones) in the circle of her tender novices likewise seated at their work: working with the needle, or knitting. Heads bowed, but raised, however, promptly, from time to time, one after the other, each after her neighbour: to thrust back with one hand, as if bored, the tangle of falling hair. But at that moment! they emitted a flash, those eyes: black, shining, emergent from boredom; then they lingered, bored, on the indifference of an object, a button, the butt of a rifle, the corporal’s service revolver, or a little lower down, or a little higher, a little more to the right, a little more to the left. A scent of country women, in short skirts. What promises, what demographic hopes, poor darlings, for the eternal spring of the Fatherland, of our beloved Italy! What knees, Madonna! what big knees… Stockings – never even dreamed of. Underwear? Hm. The mountain women wore more, to hear the Bull roar in the stands. (9) Their plump legs held tight together, like they were hatching an egg, or brooding over a treasure. Or else, the complete opposite: feet on the crossbar of the chair, so that, if one assumed a position of vantage, there were panoramas – you can imagine. What thighs!
A man’s gaze plunged the penumbra, then in the shadows: it wound, it climbed among the passes of hope, as an explorer of caves dives and climbs, or a chimney sweep. Not to mention carabinieri! Grumpy, as their duty bound them to be, their eyes never stopped searching. And the eyes that came back to them! Eyes? Furtive arrows! Shots, that make the heart die in the chest, of those standing carabinieri: while at the same time the seamstress spoke to them about Libya: the fourth shore: (10) the dates that were ripening, exquisite, and the officers that she had known there and who had «courted» her with success. This remembering courting captains and colonels for the benefit of plain privates was a stratagem of seduction. Her eyes began to sparkle again then, tiny, pointed, black, darting: under the multiple furrowing of her forehead, under the rumpled pergola of her hair, which was gray and hard, like the fur of a mandrill. Considerable saliva lubricated the outburst of her speech, evocative or oracular as it happened to be: the lips, thirsting, fevered like her gums, dry or viscid, which, deprived of the cutting edge of the former ivory, seemed today the entrance, the free antechamber of every amorous magic. Of which, to be sure, the tongue was the chief instrument:

énkete, pénkete, pùfete iné,
àbele, fàbele, dommi-né…

The devil couldn’t resist this summons.
Yes, yes, Zamira had at her disposal a fine supply of niece-apprentices: and reserves, then, scattered along the Via Appia, the Ardeatina, or the Anziate, at this or that milestone, supplementary seamstresses: who, in any unusual situation, clickety-clack, were there to lend a hand: and they lent it: as for example, during the summer manoeuvres of the Fourth Bersaglieri Regiment. For the patrols, for the carabinieri, patient upholders of law and order in the infinite summer, such organization was not required: the roster of the immediate employees and nieces was enough. All of them such, more or less, the nieces, to render those vinous visits sweet, and of the most joyous, the most disturbing, sheltered from the dog-day sun after miles, white miles, for the dusted and sweating bearers of guns. On patrol, after having walked their musket along highway and trails, or the heavy revolver, with all its bullets in it, and a couple of magazines in their cartridge box, the unconquerable servants of duty loved to cool off a moment in that harem of Zamira’s, so warmly shadowed and silent: which was for all adepts the vestibule of the happy hypothesis, the sanctum of consultations, of Alban consolations. The moment of gentle anguish was fleeting, ah, what else can a moment be? but the following moment followed it: the integral of the fleeting moments is the hour: the unmatchable hour, where a precise thought was deviated towards hope and towards anguish, like a flashing shuttle, in the warp of furtive glances, mute dissent or mute consent.
The fact is that the carabinieri used to stop off at her place, la Pàcori’s, the seamstress’s: neither headquarters nor discipline opposed this: and at times, they had recourse to her. Little jobs of mending: when perhaps a button is about to come loose, and its stem must be reinforced. One morning, one of those overgrown boys had taken off his tunic, blushing, to have a tear mended: which he had picked up he couldn’t remember from what berry bush or hawthorn. Another time, another youth, his pants: so people said: for a motive not entirely analogous, they went on to add. Zamira sent him down to the cellar to take them off: and after him she sent Clelia, or – according to other reports – Camilla, to take the trousers and bring them up to be mended, in the workshop. The divestment of the royal servant required some time: such a long, sweet time! Whereupon the girls, above, at a certain point began to cough, to snicker, to say ahem, especially Emma, that bold-face: until Zamira lost her patience, became angry and scolded them all, calling them a word that wasn’t clearly understood, hissing drool from the hole.
Also the sergeant, Sergeant Fabrizio Santarella, hum, one of the two centaurs of the Alban headquarters, the higher in rank of the two motorcyclists, he, too, had taken the seer-dyer some jerseys to be dyed: big packages. He was heralded from afar, from Torraccio, from the last houses of Le Frattocchie, from the Robine Vecchie at other times or from Cassera to Sant’Ignazio, or from the Sanctuary of Divine Love: he approached, scattering shots, he arrived, re-echoing, boom boom boom boom: the motorcycle was stilled at the door. They were women’s jerseys, those packages: because Sergeant Santarella, who one day had been dragged to the altar by one woman (and not even a very swollen one), lived with nine: his wife, her old blind mother and her slightly feeble-minded sister, a sister of his own, unmarried and chaste, with all the psychic ornaments which from chastity descend upon sisters: three daughters, not yet of an age where chastity is a problem, and two tenants, twin sisters, once about to lose their chastity, but by now (after congruent skipping town of the hoped-for dechastizer who, unable to make up his mind, had dropped both of them before turning his hand to… to the task) now definitively returned to chastity. Having one day decided to rent, because of the times and the opportunity and his pay, a small redundant portion of his penetralia, that which turned its mold towards Auster, he thought naturally of the paper with the widest circulation: and when it was time to nuncupate the offer in the Messaggero he hadn’t had the heart to assert to the readers «no women», that cruel «halt!» of the landlady of Ingravallo. No, no, no, in his house… quite the contrary: women there were: and women there would be.
Of the male element, in his house, there was only himself: not counting the male bouche of the Douche, which from time to time resounded in the tympanic chambers, exciting tonic resonances, revitalizing his head no less than that of twelve million other Italians: more so, for his was a sergeant’s head, clever as it was. From time to time, like winding an alarm clock. It came out, the dear voice, needless to say, it came from the box of the radio: with which Fabrizio Santarella had provided himself in Milan, when he had gone there on a «special assignment,» to follow the trail of two gentlemen, both named Salvatore; and he had come back from Milan, with the two Salvatores, and in addition, with a radio with two valves: prodigious discovery of that prodigious civilization. Another male voice, and of the baritonal persuasion also, was that very rich and extremely sweet one of a gramophone, in the moments when it was playing male: because right afterwards, perhaps, it got the whim of being female. The marvellous gadget was transformed, that is, with the most perfect nonchalance, from masculine to feminine and vice versa: with disturbing alternations of impasto: from the Duke of Mantua to Gilda, from Rodolfo to Mimì. For the rest, in the home of Sergeant Santarella, there were women: and women there would be. Malicious-minded men and, even more, women, said that despite the nine women, the eighteen dainty shoes with eighteen women’s heels that clicked about in the hours of domestic loisir… among the… domestic walls, in the presence of the domestic lares, who were two fine plaster cats over the unlighted fireplace, delivered, poor Toms, of a male from Lucca, they said, oh yes, while the gramophone from Via Zanardelli ladled into his soul for the twenty-third consecutive time the tiny frozen hand, for him and the whole neighbourhood, they said, yes they did say, that he had a weakness for some of the niece-apprentices of Zamira, the dyer of I Due Santi. Well, he liked a bit of skirt. Sergeant Santarella did, like all sergeants.
An expert in the art: only logical. At the right moment he knew how to close his eyes. Or open the both of them, on the other hand.
A marvellous mien: his face full, reddish-tanned in cheeks and nose, blue-black where his shaven beard virilized it. The generous skin of the Italics, in their baked harvests, in July, in the thresher’s sun: scorched, to use Carducci’s word. A health like a country horse trader. Those stiff mustachios à la Wilhelm II. That heavy pistol on his left hip, weighing six pounds. He made hearts fill with joy at the very sight of him. The girls, on certain moonlight nights, dreamed of the sergeant. Certain seedy bums with all the poverty of the imminent Empire upon them, certain down-at-the-heel bicycle thieves, dopes who lounged around the streets and dives all day long, at night to labour, were overjoyed to allow him to handcuff them, to be «put inside» by him. When he arrived, goddamnit-to-hell, they could draw breath: their anxiety was over, their danger: it was an end to sweating and running, to fiddling around, jumping at the slightest sound, at the suspicion of a gate’s distant squeak: breaking locks, your heart in your mouth: there now, all suffering was at an end: they were seized with joy again, in their hearts, poor boys! their faith in the morrow was restored. They were so pleased, just to see him, that they forget their sad obligation, damn the judge: the obligation to escape with their haul, and – what was worse – with their tools, too, and overloaded: after so much labour, to have to take to your heels, too! So it goes. They greeted him with a glance, with a little laugh of understanding, a laugh that means «between us…»: they made him spontaneous gifts of whole bunches of picklocks, skeleton keys, whole assortments of jimmies. They asked him, respectfully, for his last match: to light, voluptuously, their last butt. Aaaaah! Ah! they said, exhaling, with voluptuousness in their throats, or expelling the smoke through the nose: «Ah well, all right, you know how it is,» they said: and they held out their wrists: there was born in them a sudden longing for the chains on their wrists: as the weary, exhausted man wants only his bed. They held out two light-fingered paws: he could do what he pleased with them: dazzled by that darkened face, by those steady, black, piercing eyes: by those red stripes, on his trousers, those silver chevrons on his sleeve: by that white calfskin bandoleer like the banner of authority, inquiring, pursuing, handcuffing: by that V.E. in the silver grenade on his cap: by that paunch, by that ass. Yes, ass. Because he turned, he spun, raged, then again wheeled around, planted that pair of eyes on the face of one and of all, mustache erect, pointed, like two nails, and black: he acted, deliberated, telephoned, click, clickety, click, yelled into the receiver, asked for the reinforcement of the two privates from headquarters, imparted orders: which all obeyed, that’s the beauty of it, and in a kind of algolagniac frenzy, of masochist voluptuousness: caught in the magic circle of the V.E., in the gravitational ellipse of that nucleus of energy so happily irradiated into its satellies: and, after them, into all thieves in general. Who longed only for this, as soon as they saw him: to be overwhelmed into the clink by a glance from him. Then, when everything seemed to be over, and when his women were whispering Papapapapapapà, there again came the explosions of the shuddering Motoguzzi, adding glory to glory, life to life. It set off amid clouds of dust, leaving behind murmuring girls: the brides: the nieces of Zamira, barefoot: fugitive demon of the red-striped legion, exhaled from crumbling castles: where Night, surprised by these hours not his, ah, had forgotten to replace him in his cavern: when she extinguishes, instead, on the ruins of every tower, the two yellow circles of the owl. The belated wing becomes flabby, like a remnant of tenebrous velvet, in its nest of shadows and rock. Tapestries of ivy ward off the day. He, on the contrary, as soon as the sky was pink and gold: from Rocca di Papa to Castel Savelli, down, from Rocca Orsina to Monte Nuncupale, up: for already the hoe or the maddock was at work, in vineyard or among the olive trees. Bang, bang bang, off at top speed, reawakened, the motor shaking between his knees. Or he jolted on it with a restrained rumbling in the morning, where the little road penetrates cautiously into the brush: or where, proceeding up the mountain, it is lost to all solid ground, among thorny hawthorn thickets. Or where strawberries and snakes commingle, at Nemi, beneath the brush. He acted, an active agent: he disappeared, reappeared, like a genie summoned by a spell: immobile by the trunk of an ilex, perhaps, he and his Guzzi steed, one foot on the ground: and a little further on, erect, the pole-like private: the haunting presence with red stripes, with bandoleer of white calfskin over the shoulder, with V.E. in the silver grenade on the cap. Ornament, with handcuffs in his cartridge box, of the Alban headquarters: with two chains ready for four wrists and two packs of cheap cigarettes and a dozen shots of reserve, the centaur-arrow of Via Ardeatina and, even more, Via Appia: at a certain milestone on certain days, he overtook Lancias in full tilt, Maria Santissima, and after Her immediately with railroad crossings favorable: he was up with them, there, they let him pass: not yet the red Lancia of Francesco Messina, (11) however, who didn’t yet fly to Sicily, in those years, to kiss his Mamma. He took au ralenti the wicked curve of the Cecchina station: he only turned off the motor and stopped, the situation demanding it, at the station of Santa Palomba or Campoleone: where the Ardeatina and the Anzio road crossed, at the same level, the hurling advent of the Rome-Naples. Terror of hens on guard, the locomotive-leveler arrives with livid flashes on the pantograph and at the springs and joins: and behind it the whole train and the hammering din of the express, repeated, iterated, at every tie, as if to uproot all the points of the switches. And those hens went on clucking, flying up, strangling themselves in their tormented vocalises, showing feathers, and white plumes, in their vortex. What cannot fear do? It even makes geese fly. Or again, halfway through Le Frattocchie, he had to stop: at the Appia crossing, or at Ca’ Francesi, at Tor S. Paolo, at the Ciampino station: heedless, at other times, of the peremptory assertions: Dangerous curve! Railroad crossing! Bumpy road! or of their symbols, imported from Milan. The Milanese, Luigi Vittorio, had sown Italy with the rare seed of their warning, of their «road signs(12) Their outstanding signalism, one fine day, made, of the old boot, a new signal. To warn the people, to inculcate in the velocipederasts respect for disciplined ways, and, at the same time, for their own necks: to teach one’s neighbour how to live in this world: erect iron stakes in all of Italy, hoist on to them road signs enameled, through public oblation, that desire made them water at the mouth: taking as pretexts the most innocuous, the most sleepy crossings, every curve, every fork, every bump, or, as they say, every dip. The technical memento of Bertarelli, of Vitori, of Luis, (13) in those years: then, on reblanched walls at the entrance to every hamlet, the totalitario-politico signs of the Turd: («it is the plow that makes the furrow, but it is the sword that defends it . . . in a pig’s ass»). Sergeant Santarella, Cavaliere Fabrizio, was, was a «great enthusiast» of the Touring Club; as a «life member» he knew its anthem by heart: «The Touring Hymn,» born in Valtellina to the hypocarduccian-hyposapphic (14) Muse of Giovanni Bertacchi: a nobly caesuraed hymn, like the Marseillaise, and like all anthems in general, with a bold impetuousness in the refrain, that ritornello so dear to the hearts of all the life-member motorcyclists:

Forward! And on we go!

Which eliminates, as one can see, any possibility of going into reverse.
Santarella, setting to a hypothetic melos that life-enhancing meter, went along humming it and savoring in spiritóas one might gnaw on a toothpick after dinneróin its fugitive pregnancy, along the rumbling and the rush of the succeeding miles: from the dusty trapeze of the road. Then, near Ciampino or La Palomba, he raised his eyes: up and up: white caravans of clouds, crossing the sky in mid-March, pursued by no royal representative: but they too, had somebody who saw to hooking them: and this was the silvered peaks of the antennae, like the teeth of a curry-comb biting into cotton into the fleece of the fleeting, the snowy flock was ripped by a perpetual deformability, then was gathered in an unreachable alternation of presages, with the wind high, cold shreds of blue.

from chapter 9

The cupboard, half-wardrobe and half-dresser, emerged from beyond the third bed, between the edge of the mattress not of sweet-smelling corn husks, but responsible – with the other two – for that so «human» sultriness, and the recently whitewashed wall. It looked as if it received, collectively, those futile items, those tangles of yarn, those odd buttons, those lozenge-shaped rags, of which the good women of the campagna and of every other part of the fatal peninsula are cautious collectors, fussy savers towards the improbable needs of a tomorrow where neither yarn nor string is, since there will be nothing to bundle up. Pestalozzi glanced at it, the humble item of furniture, but without special interest.
«Well then?»
«There,» murmured the potato: more with a jerk of the head, since she had little chin, than with a movement of the lips, motioning below the bed, the second one. Moving around it, they discovered and, moments later, brought up a coffer: a little wooden box, bound with dark tin at the edges. The girl armed herself with a key, produced as if by magic, then crouched to reach the chest with both hands, from under the bed. Her face and the full part of her bust lay slightly over the tan blankets: she groped like a blind woman, and a knowing one, gazing straight ahead until she had mastered the removal of the parallelepiped, then as if guessing rags, at random with the divining gestures of a blind musician gifted at striking on the piano the right keys, to erogate from the keyboard the pathetic squadrons of his blindnesses. She took out the chest, opened it. «Go ahead and search. Corporal: there’s nothing there.» And then, since the corporal didn’t move, displaying in his face how much the goatish hovel already disappointed him, and how much his nose was repelled by it, she raised the lid, scraped up a blouse or two, a shawl, some black stockings with white heels, a cardboard box, a man’s shirt, the best one. «And the ring? Where is your ring?» Annoyed by the chief deduction of the corporal: «you mean to say you have another one»: she opened the little bicarbonate box under his nose: raised from it, as from a nest of cotton batting, a poor little chain that seemed of gold, with a light cross which also seemed gold: a brooch with a fake coral, another metal pin with an enamel four-leaf clover.

The corporal took the chain with two fingers, spread the others to hold it out, and let the cross dangle: then the green-enamel pin, as you pick from the hawthorn hedge a butterfly resting with its wings closed, to restore it to its flight. «You mean to say you have another one.» She had told him no. Now she didn’t consider it licit to contradict herself, or in any way to recede from that negative stand. The oily, motionless, stubbornly statuary quality of her physiognomic attributes helped her meanwhile to leave her tongue in repose. Pallor, suet, and potatoship, those two buttons were stuck in it as if into a mound of dough, two round cheeks which looked as if they’d been hit by a good pair of slaps, all her best features, in other words, allowed her to stand there silent and mindless without a word: simulating only an apprehension which, perhaps, disturbed her but slightly. The corporal had eyed the cupboard. He was about to say to her: «turn over the mattresses! let me see under the mattresses! And instead he navigated about the beds and came, after his not-easy periplus, to take his stand between the last bed and the wall, in an attitude as if he were going to interrogate the bedside table. He pulled at its door, noticed that it was provided with a lock, an incredible thing for a night-table: it was a sui generis commode. He asked for its key. The Signorina Mattonari looked under a mattress, found it: she opened the cupboard with a greasy sadness in her face, like a loyal citizen harassed by abuse of authority. Rags again, woman’s stuff, a waistcoat, a pair of worn pants spilled down onto the floor, for the disappointed knowledge of the noncom: they had been placed in there all anyhow, pressed in at random. He picked up with one hand a knitted bodice, a rabbit’s skin, a pale blue undershirt with lysol-whitened zones. Two or three walnuts rolled out. Then, from the rags, there emerged, all decked with worn socks, a chamber pot. Filled with walnuts, and with more than one dent in its enameled convexity, one saw at once that it wasn’t a piece of Capodimonte, nor even a Ginori. «Ah Gesù, my grandmother’s walnuts!» la Mattonari cried, as if to bestow value, in an expression of possessive anguish, on this treasure: which the autumn had deposited in the capaciousness of the vessel, en passant: pilgrim who pays without farewell, before dawn, the debt of the hospitality benignly received. And she started, at the side of the standing corporal, to bend over and take up the recipient and to remove it, animated – so it seemed – by the best of intentions. She meant, with that gesture, to smooth the path for the Requisition, for the Aggravation, for the hard Cross, the Law. But the bloodhound’s evil phlegm had already scented the Hiding Place. «Stop! You take it!» he ordered Cocullo. The girl stood up. The trusty Farafilio bent down. He introduced both hands into the cabinet: to seize, with the one, the brimming chamber pot by the handle, to press it respectfully from the opposite side with the palm of the other, as if caressing its kindliness, so rotund on the opposite and non-handled hemisphere. And he extracted it from the tabernacle (and it was heavy as it rarely had been) in the position proper to the user, or even to the owner, who prepares at night to employ it for its lower purpose. An eighth, a ninth walnut rolled out. Too scarce, then, for the almost boyish opulence of the brave soldier, the olive-drab tunic freed for public view his posterior rotundities, properly covered with cloth of the same colour. Emphasized by the crouching position, they seemed to emulate and to surpass completely the smooth rotundities of the pot, as if a pump had swollen them, the kind on a tripod, that bicycle mechanics have. The incredible fullness was about to burst – so it appeared – the median rear seam of the trousers: which seemed, instead, only to loosen, in the taut zigzag of a line of reluctant thread, of a bluegreen colour, darker than the green of the cloth. The seam being pressed beyond its capacity, the breaking point was not reached. A sharp shot re-echoed in the room instead. No: it wasn’t a revolver’s bullet. Farafilio, poor boy, very probably blushed, with that patchy manner of blushing that he had, in his good, but severe face. Crouched as he was, his face against the commode and the pot in his arms, the purple did not spread. The humble duty had expressed itself: that was all: certain postures favor certain nomenclatures, as if eliciting the sound from the very sources of the same. The girl remained silent, amorphous. The corporal’s brow became clouded: in the silence. Brimming, meanwhile, and heavy with every most dried gift of Vertumnus, the lousy pot was elevated to the honors of the top (of the commode), whence the gleaming fragment of mirror had been slightly removed. The maneuverer stood up, without turning around. «Dope! empty it on the bed!» the corporal said, harshly. The maneuverer obeyed. In his half-turn, the visible side of his face was shown papered with alternating zones, islands of flush and pallor: the flush a bishop colour, the pallor the colour of cheese. He also proved to possess, to an eminent degree, that property of the good, the generous, the honest: the faculty of blushing all the way down the neck. He set slowly, then quickly overturned the vessel where he had been told: with his hands then, all around, diligently confining. Of that treasure of nuts, the silliest, not yet unleashed, would have jumped down with multiple hops and cretinous festive rolls, going to earth, one here, one there, in God knows what corners under the beds: had it not, in fact, been for the hole, that is to say the imprint of the body in the bed itself. But they were screwed. All together, they fell into it, as into a casserole, making a neat pile. On the peak of which there was a little paper packet. Of blue wrapping paper, as if from the grocer’s. Sugar, probably: a secret store of granny’s. Moving from the other side of the bed, with impatient fingering, the corporal unwrapped it himself, that little packet. There appeared, then, a tiny sack of rough canvas: not swollen, and yet heavy and variously nutted at the bottom, in which there was merchandise: hazelnuts perhaps? or a little collection of buttons? or a rosary? choked, towards the mouth, by the tight turns of some string, then knots and double knots. Pestalozzi felt it. His face became illuminated: by the dawn of «this is it.» The punishment that he had mentally comminated to his pupil evaporated from his thoughts. Half a lip curled, upwards, in a grimace of contempt: as if to render more explicit the features of irony: of his irony. The tangle of the many knots was untangled by persistent use of nails: the tightness of the twists of string loosened to clear the path: from the undone sack, overturned, in turn, with every precaution, but on the grandmother’s bed, the middle one, there landslided down, as if comforting one another in this unexpected exit and fall, little green balls, medals, brooches and carnelians, gold bangles, chains, crosses, filagree necklaces, tangled one in the other, and rings and corals: rings distinguished by rare stones, or shining with a single gem, or with two of different colours, before the open mouth of Cocullo, to the pounding of the corporal’s heart: who could already feel the new chevrons climbing up his sleeve, to replace those now there. Sergeant’s chevrons, this time. The objects froze, like little frightened animals, ladybirds who fold their wings, not to be seen, in the wretched lap of poverty; and instead, they were seen: they were seen as so many unmasked lies, recognized by the jeweler with the hooked nose, on the counter, after theft and recovery: of every most curious colour and every form: a little cross of some semiprecious dark-green stone, which the fingertips of the future sergeant could not stop savoring, turning over and over: a handsome, shining little green-black cylinder, for interpreting horoscopes by the shitty priests for Egypt more than Pythagoras drew ravings from the apothegm of the pentagon, standing towards the west to blather, to gaze at the tops of their baked pyramids: mysteriosophic candy, concealed in the ancient womb of the earth, seized from the earth’s womb, one day geometrized to magic. A poor little egg between pale-blue and milk-white like a little gland of a dead pigeon, to be thrown in the refuse: and two earrings, with two big drops a sky-blue, isosceles triangles, rounded at the tops, dangling and weighted, with a marvellous felicity-facility, for the lobes of a boobified laughing girl dressed in blue: who in one of their almost transparent striations laughed enriched, as if by wisps of gold enclosed there, to freeze. And a heavy ring, a goldbound cylinder which had circled the thumb of Ahenobarbus or the big toe of Heliogabalus, with a big caramel orange-green, then a moment later, lemon-colour: pierced by all the rays, slightly, of the equinoctial morning as the tender flesh of the martyr by his hundred and ninety arrows: perfused by pale-green lights, like the sea at dawn, to the brightness of flint: which made the two men dream at once, spellbound, of a mint syrup with soda in Piazza Garibaldi at noon. And a little ring of golden thread, with a red pomegranate seed that a chicken might peck: and a final bangle, a tiny bauble, like a little ball of methylene bluing to get the yellow out of the wash, held by a little gold cap and by a pimple: and through this, attachable, by a golden link-chain, to another and equally essential organ of adornment, whether to the swelling beauty of a breast, or even the male fold of a lapel or the paunched and goldwatched authority of the protector of this breast, administrator, moderator and, in the last analysis, husband, «and damn fool!» thought Pestalozzi, his teeth clenched. A garnet cross, dark red moments of domestic shade. Rings, brooches: unbelieved marvel. And the ruby and the emerald shone and lay in the trench of the little mouse-skin bed, fellow tenants of the moment with the verecond ambages of the pearl, on the worn and almost ragged tegument of that old woman’s couch: amid the precious gleam and the twists or polygons of the gold objects that kindled the minds, after the pupils and the retinas. Pins and earrings were tangled in the little chains, or mixed up with one another, like twin cherries amid the twinned stems of their sisterly couples: the pendants, in the immediate cataract, had taken the rings with them. Ruby and emerald took on a name and a body on the gray poverty of the cloth, or of the tatter, in the closed mute splendor innate in certain beings and signifying their rarity, their natural and intrinsic dignity: that mineralogical virtue which through false fanfares and winks is trumpeted so often, in trumpeting carnivals, by so many bits of bottle-bottoms, as, in said derrières, the quality is totally lacking. The corundum, pleochroic crystals, revealed itself as such on the rat-gray of the ambience, come from Ceylon or from Burma, or from Siam, noble in its structural accepting – splendid green or splendid red, or night-blue, also – of the crystallographic suggestion of God: memory, every gem, and individual opus within the remote memory and within the labours of God: true sesquioxide Al2O3 truly spaced in the ditrigonal scalenohedral modes of its class, premediated by God: despite the value-work of the Gadfly. (15)

from chapter 10

The little door opened a crack. When it was completely open Ingravallo found himself facing… a face, a pair of eyes! gleaming in the penumbra: Tina Crocchiapani! «Her! Her!» he meditated, not without a composite beating of the heart: the stupendous maidservant of the Balduccis, with black gleams under her coal-black lashes, where the Alban light became tangled, broke, iridescent (the white tablecloth, the spinach) from the black hair gathered on her forehead, like the work of Sanzio, from the blue – dangling from lobes and on the cheeks – earrings: with that bosom! which Foscolo would have certified as a brimming bosom, in a troubadoric-mandrillian access, of the kind that have made him immortal in Brianza. At supper with the Balduccis, at Signora Liliana’s! The field of the black and silent goddess, for her, who had been so cruelly separated from all things, from the lights and phenomena of the world! And she, she was the one, the one (the pathway of time became confused and lost) who had presented the filled and badly tilted oval of the plate, a whole leg, all the kidneyed syncretism of a dish of kid, or of lamb, in pieces as it was, had allowed to roll out, on the whiteness amid the silver and the crystal, of a goblet, or no, of a glass, the tuft of spinach: receiving, from Signora Liliana, that heartbroken reproof of a glance, and a name: «Assunta!» Tina, with her face, as in other times, severe, a little pale, but with an inflection of dismay in her eyes, looked at him nonetheless proudly, and he thought she recovered herself: two dark flashes, her pupils, again, bright in the shadow, in the odor of the closed entranceway to the house. «Doctor,» she said, with an effort: and was about to add something else. But Di Pietrantonio alarmed her, even though she had already noted him from the window, after the policeman who seemed to be leading the whole row of overcoats. Tall, and wordless, police-like in his moustache, was he not the punishment feared? comminated by the law? But for what guilt, for what crime, she argued to herself, officially, could they punish her? For having solicited too many gifts, for having received them, from Signora Liliana?

«Officer Ingravallo, sir, what is it?»

«Who lives here, in your house?» Ingravallo asked her, harsh: harsh as he was required to be, at that moment, his «other» soul: to which Liliana seemed to address herself, calling to him desperately, from her sea of shadows: with her weary, whitened face, her eye dilated in terror, still, forever, on the atrocious flashes of the knife. «Let me in; I have to see who’s here.»

«There’s my father, sir; who’s sick, he’s bad off, poor soul!» and she was slightly breathless, in disdain, very beautiful, pallid. «He’s going to die on me any minute.»

«And then, besides your father, who is there?»

«Nobody, Signor Incravalli: who could there be? You tell me, if you know. There’s a woman, a neighbour, from Tor di Gheppio, who helps me take care of the sick man… and maybe some other neighbour woman, you may have seen outside.»
«Who is this one? What’s her name?»
Tina thought a little. «She’s Veronica. Migliarini. Hereabouts we call her la Veronica.»
«Let me in anyway. Come on. Let’s go. I have to search the house.» And he examined her face, with the steady, cruel eye of one who wants to unmask deceit. «Search?»: Tina frowned: wrath whitened her eyes, her face, as if at an unforeseen outrage. «Yeah, search, that’s what I said.» And thrusting her aside, he came into the darkness toward the little wooden stairway. The girl followed him. Di Pietrantonio after her. It occurred to him, then and there, that Liliana’s murderer, in addition to having received from Tina information which was useful to him «or rather indispensable: did I say useful?» could have also entrusted the jewels to her:… «to his fiancée?» They went upstairs. The steps creaked. All around, outside, the house was observed: three policemen, not counting the little man who had guided them there. Those two black and furious eyes of Tina – Ingravallo felt them aimed at his nape; he felt them piercing his neck. He tried, he tried to sum up, rationally; to pull the threads, one might say, of the inert puppet of the Probable. «How was it that the girl didn’t rush to Rome? Didn’t she feel it was her duty?»: this was a compulsory idea, now, in his atrociously wounded spirit: «to the funeral at least?… Doesn’t she have any heart or soul in her, after all the kindness she received?» It was the painful bookkeeping of the humble, the ingenuous, perhaps. The horrible news, perhaps, hadn’t reached Tor di Gheppio until too late, and in that solitude… terror had paralyzed the poor girl. But no, a grown woman! And news flies, even in the jungle, in the wastelands of Africa. For a Christian heart the inspiration would have been another. Although, the father, dying…

The wood of the steps continued to creak, more and more, under the rising weight of the three. Ingravallo, once at the top, pushed the door, with a certain charitable prudence. He went in, followed by Tina and by Di Pietrantonio, into a large room. A stink, there, of dirty clothing or of not very washable or seldom-washed people in illness, or sweating in the labour that the countryside, unremittingly, at every change of weather, demands: or rather, even more, of feces poorly put away near the illness, so needful of shelter. Two long tapers painted in the vivid colours, blues, reds, gold, of a colouristic tradition unbroken in the years, hung on the wall from two nails at either side of the bed: the dry olive twig: an oleograph, the blue Madonna with a golden crown, in a black wood frame. Some rush-bottomed chairs. A plaster cat with a ribbon around its neck, scarlet, on the commode amid bottles, bowls. Near the Illness was seated an old woman, her striped skirt halfway down her tibias, with a pair of cloth shoes, no laces (and, within, her feet) which she had rested on the crossbar of the chair, open like slippers. In the bed, broad, under worn and greenish blankets, covered in part by one good one (and warm, and light, gift of Liliana, Ingravallo deduced) an outstretched little body, like a skinny cat in a sack set on the ground: a bony and cachetic face rested on the pillow, motionless, of a yellow-brown like something in an Egyptian museum; were it not, on the other hand, for the glassy whiteness of the beard, which indicated its belonging, not to an Egyptian catalogue, but to an era of human history painfully close and, for Ingravallo, in those days, downright contemporary. Everything was silent. You couldn’t understand whether the man was alive or dead: if it was a man or woman, who in proceeding among the consolations of offspring and of the hoe in a swarm of mosquitoes towards the golden wedding, had sprouted that beard: a virile beard, as was wont to say, even of feminine beards, the Founder of the fiveyear-old Empire. The two tapers, here and there, seemed to be waiting to be stuck into suitable candlesticks, lighted by a match held in a charitable hand. Intolerant of this new mess of the dying parent and yet cautious and pitying, the imagination of Doctor Ingravallo kicked, bucked, galloped, heard and saw: he was seeing and already dismissing the coffin without drapery, of poplar planks, flowered with periwinkles and primula, surrounded by the absolving mutters or the prompt insurgence of some phrase chanted, or perhaps nasalized for better or worse amid the murmurings of the women and the good odor of the incense, issuing (con cuidado) from the parsimonious sway of the censer: to signify the great fear suffered and the repentance of the deceased, and the imploration and hope, all around, of the living and the surviving, once that coffin was closed and nailed and well-hammered: and in short, a kind of convinced serenity in every heart (better to go like this than to suffer for another month or more), in watching the planks, the flowers… target of the reiterated spatterings of the asperges: between a shuffling of soles and a creaking of iron on the cobbles, if there were cobbles. But the reality was as yet different from the dream: those images of an almost raving impatience regarded the future, however near that future might be. Don Ciccio restrained the galloping of his delirium, tugged at the reins of his pawing rage. The patient, so thin, seemed ripe for the last rites: Eternity, infallible physician, was already, bent over him. Lovingly, she gazed upon him (and gulped some saliva down) with the succoring and greedy gaze of a Red Cross woman or a nurse who was slightly necrophilic: concerned with wiping his forehead in a light caress with the more delaying hand: and with the other, expert one, maneuvering under the covers and even under the body, between the sacroiliac and the bedpan, had finally found the right spot to stick into him the little point, the ebonite straw, for the service of perpetual immunization. Strange borborygms, under cover, contradicted the coma, and, more strangely, death: they gave the impression of a miraculous imminence: that the sheets and the blankets were on the point of bulging, swelling: of rising and floating in midair, on the paralyzed gravity of death. The old woman, Migliarini Veronica, was huddled in the chair, frozen in a commemoration of the ages that had, on the other hand, dissolved into non-memory: she had one of her hands in the other, resembling Cosimo pater patriae in the so-called portrait by Pontormo: dry, lizardy skin, on her face, and the wrinkled immobility of a fossil. There wasn’t, in her lap, but she would have liked it, the earthenware brazier. She raised her eyes, gelatinous and glassy in their tan colour, without interrogating any of those people who, to her, must have seemed shadows, neither the girl, nor the men. The spent quiet of her gaze was opposed to the event, like the mindless memory of the earth, from paleontological distances: alienating that face of a hundred-and-ninety-year old Aztec woman from the acquisitions of the species, from the latest, quick-change artist’s conquests of Italian eyeing. A majolica pan, as if from a clinic of the first category, was set on the brick floor, and not even near the wall: and neither did it lack some undeciphered content, on the consistence, colouration, odor, viscosity and specific weight of which both the lynx eyes and the bloodhound scent of Ingravallo felt that it wasn’t necessary to investigate and analyze: the nose, of course, could not exempt itself from its natural functioning, that is, from that activity, or to be more accurate, that papillary passivity which is proper to it, and which does not admit, hélas, any interlude or inhibition or absence of any kind from its duty.

«Is this your father?» Don Ciccio asked Tina, looking at her, looking around, and then taking off his hat.

«Doctor, you see the state he’s in. You wouldn’t believe me: but now you’ve got to believe me, finally!» she exclaimed in a resentful tone, and with eyes which seemed to have wept, the beauty. «I’ve given up hope by now. It’d be better for him, and for me too, if he died. To suffer like that, and without any money or anything. His behind, if you’ll pardon the word, is just one big sore, now: it’s a mess, poor Papa!» She was trying, thought Ingravallo harshly, in her grief she was trying to turn her father to use, his direct decay. «And he even has a rubber bedpan,» she sighed, «otherwise his bedsores would have been infected. This morning, at eight o’clock, he was in pain again, it hurt him bad, he said. He couldn’t stay still ten minutes, you might say. Now he hasn’t moved for three hours: he doesn’t say a word: I have a feeling he’s out of his suffering now, that he can’t suffer any more»: she dried her eyes, blew her little nose: «because he can’t feel anything now, good or bad, poor Papa… The priest can’t get here before one, he sent word. Ah me, poor us!» she looked at Ingravallo, «if it hadn’t been for the signora!» That remark sounded empty, distant. Liliana: it was a name. It seemed, to Don Ciccio, that the girl hesitated to evoke it.

«Of course,» he said, wearily, «the bedpan!» and he remembered the unbosomings of Balducci, «I know, I know who gave it to you: and that jar, too,» and he indicated it with his head, his chin, «and the blanket,» he looked at the blanket on the bed, «you were given them by… by a person who promptly got paid back, for her goodness. Don’t do good, if you don’t want to receive evil, the proverb says. And that’s how it is. Aren’t you going to talk? Don’t you remember?»

«Doctor? what should I remember?»

«Remember the person who helped you so much, when you deserved so little.»

«Yes, the family where I worked: but why didn’t I deserve it?»

«The family! Signora Liliana, you mean! who had her throat cut by a murderer!» and his eyes were such that, this time, Tina was frightened: «by a murderer,» he repeated, «whose name,» he spoke, curule, «whose full name we know!… and where he lives: and what he does…»

The girl turned white, but didn’t say a word.

«Out with his name!» yelled Don Ciccio. «The police know this name already. If you tell it right now,» his voice became deep, persuasive: «it’s all to the good, for you.»
«Doctor Ingravalli,» repeated Tina to gain time, hesitating, «how can I say it, when I don’t know anything?»
«You know too much, you liar,» shouted Ingravallo again, his nose to hers. Di Pietrantonio was stunned. «Cough it up, that name, you’ve got here: or the corporal’ll make you spill it, in the barracks, at Marino: Corporal Pestalozzi.»
«No, sir, no. Doctor: it wasn’t me!» the girl implored then, simulating, perhaps, and in part enjoying, a dutiful fear: the fear that whitens the face a little, but still resists all threats. A splendid vitality, in her, beside the moribund author of her days, which should have been splendid: an undaunted faith in the expressions of her flesh, which she seemed to hurl boldly to the offensive, in a prompt frown, with a scowl: «No, it wasn’t me!» The incredible cry blocked the haunted man’s fury. He didn’t understand, then and there, what his spirit was on the point of understanding. That black, vertical fold above the two eyebrows of rage, in the pale white face of the girl, paralyzed him, prompted him to reflect: to repent, almost.

Translator's Notes

1. Faiti and Cengio are mountains where the Italian army fought bitterly and suffered severe losses in the First World War, and where Gadda’s brother was killed. For a moment, here, Gadda identifies himself openly with Ingravallo and attributes his own bereavement to the fictional character.

2. Sgurgola is a small village not far from Rome, often used by Romans to indicate a backward locality, place from which peasants come.

3. Vittorio Amedeo II of Sardinia once gave his Collare dell’Annunziata (a decoration corresponding, more or less, to the Garter) to a group of poor subjects – an episode included in all Italian schoolbooks for the edification of young students during the Monarchy.

4. «Comit» is the abbreviation for the Banca Commerciale Italiana.

5. Alessandro Galilei (1691-1737), architect of St. John Lateran, the beloved «San Giovanni» of the Romans.

6. Virginia assumes that the word pediatra (pediatrician) has something to do with feet (piedi).

7. Rome’s Regina Coeli prison is on the Via della Lungara.

8. Another reference to Mussolini, son of Rosa Maltoni.

9. The mountain is that of the French revolutionary Convention. The «bull» is Danton. An obscure reference, prompted by Gadda’s wide reading in French history.

10. The «fourth shore,» an Italian jingoist slogan, referring to the shore of Libya, Italy’s onetime colony.

11. A private reference. The Sicilian sculptor Francesco Messina was, apparently, at one time the owner of a red Lancia.

12. The Milanese engineer Luigi Vittorio Bertarelli was President of the Italian Touring Club and sponsored, about this time, a campaign to set up the standard Italian road signs all over the country, arousing Gadda’s ire.

13. Vitori and Luis are Milanese dialect for Vittorio and Luigi, the names of the hapless Bertarelli.

14. «Hypocarduccian» is a reference to the patriotic poet Giosuè Carducci (1835-1907).

15. Paolo Ignazio Maria Thaon di Revel, Mussolini’s Minister of Finance, 1935-43. “Gadfly” is a play on the words tafano (gadfly) and Thaon.

[Notes by William Weaver]

Published by The Edinburgh Journal of Gadda Studies (EJGS)

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Please note that the above excerpt is for on-line consultation only.
Reproduced here by kind permission of Garzanti editore © 1957 & Quartet Books Ltd, London © 1985 & George Braziller Inc © 1965.

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