Read Voices In The Evening Online

Authors: Natalia Ginzburg

Voices In The Evening (10 page)

‘Then no more meat,' said Signora Bottiglia.

My mother asked her to come in and have some coffee.

‘Yesterday,' said my mother, ‘! could feel a sort of hard lump in my throat which rasped me. This morning I seem to be all right.'

The two of them sat down in the kitchen, and my mother poured out from a coffee-pot robed in a knitted cosy.

‘But with high blood pressure,' said Signora Bottiglia, ‘you should not take coffee. No more meat no more coffee.'

My mother likes coffee

‘What am I to have then, in the morning? When I get up in the morning my stomach is as cold as ice. Anyhow how can you do without stockings?'

Signora Bottiglia had raised one foot and was looking at her bronzed leg; along her calf was a swollen vein, of a bluish colour.

‘And you have got a varicose vein,' said my mother ‘You are mad to go about like this in the morning with this cold weather.'

‘It isn't a varicose vein,' said Signora Bottiglia, squeezing the vein with her finger. ‘lt does not trouble me at all.'

‘And what is it if it is not a varicose?' said my mother.

‘Where is Giuliana?' I said.

‘Giuliana,' said Signora Bottiglia, ‘was up early. Gigi Sartorio came to fetch her, and they have gone to the tennis club.'

‘What, to the tennis club? said my mother ‘when Gigi has got his arm in plaster?'

‘They are not playing just looking on. Some matches are being played.'

‘Ah, they are looking on,' said my mother. ‘And why don't you go too Elsa, to look on for a little?'

‘I have to catch the bus at midday,' said.

‘Ah, of course it is Saturday,' said my mother. ‘Previously she used to go down to the town only on Wednesdays,' she explained to Signora Bottiglia, ‘but now Saturdays as well. To change the book for Ottavia, who reads a lot.'

‘Buy me a small packet of brewers' yeast,' said Signora Bottiglia ‘I want to make a
torta paradiso
tomorrow. We are having Purillo to dinner.'

‘Purillo all by himself?' My mother was astonished.

‘Yes, because Raffaela has gone to the sea with Pepè. He has had a horrid bad throat, that Pepè. Two tonsils like raspberries.'

‘Pepè has always got one,' said my mother, feeling her neck. ‘It is curious that if I squeeze hard it still hurts me. It will be my tonsils maybe.'

‘And after she has done her commissions,' said my mother, ‘Elsa always goes and spends the afternoon with her friends, the Campanas.'

I have known the Campanas since university days.

‘They have a beautiful house in the Via Novara,' said my mother. ‘They are very well off.'

‘The Campanas?' said Signora Bottiglia.

‘The Campanas.'

‘The children know them, too, the Campanas,' said Signora Bottiglia. ‘But he has had a coronary, and is in a clinic at present.'

‘A coronary, has he?' said my mother. ‘And how is it you have said nothing about it to me?' she said to me. ‘When did he get this coronary?.

‘Last month', said Signora Bottiglia

‘A coronary? Consalvo Campana?'

‘Consalvo Campana.'

‘But you, how is it you have told me nothing about this coronary?' she said to me, when Signora Bottiglia had gone back to her hoeing in her sun hat

‘It was a small one,' said.

‘Small ! A small coronary?...

‘Small or big, they have taken him to a clinic,' she began again after a little while. ‘And how is it you have told me nothing? I should have written a note, sent some flowers. The Campanas are always so nice to you.'

‘I sent flowers,' said.

‘Ah, you sent some. What flowers?'

‘Roses.'

‘What colour?'

‘White.'

‘But one sends white roses to brides or when they have a baby,' said my mother. ‘Carnations would be better, for a man.

‘And where did you find roses at this time of year?' she said. ‘Yon must have spent a fortune, you must.'

While I was getting ready in my room Giuliana Bottiglia came in.

‘Am I disturbing you?' she said.

She was wearing a white pleated skirt and a white pullover,, and had a scarf over her shoulders on which was printed the map of London.

‘London?' I said.

‘London, yes. Gigi Sartorio brought it for me the last time he was there.'

‘What does Gigi Sartorio go to London for?'

‘Business.'

‘What sort of business?'

‘Business, I don't know.'

‘Is Gigi Sartorio serious?'

‘No Merely a friend.'

‘Were the matches good?'

‘Good yes. They beat the team from Cignano Terenzi lost.'

‘He always loses.'

‘Not always. He lost today.'

She was sitting down and was arranging her hair with her comb.

‘I am not your friend any more, isn't that true?' she said.

‘Oh, do stop that.'

‘We used to be friends once. You had no secrets fromme.'

She said, ‘Is he your boy, really?'

I was bending down and looking under the bed for my shoes.

I must go or the bus will start,' I said.

He is your boy, ‘I know it.'

We were now walking down by the path. In my string bag I was carrying the books of the ‘Selecta' library, bound in blue.

‘If at least you looked happy,' she said, ‘I would not ask you anything. But you don't seem a bit happy.'

She said, ‘Sometimes I watch you go by at the garden gate, and you have a way of walking by which one can tell you are not happy.'

‘You push your hair back, take long strides, and look defiant. But all the time you have a sad expression.'

‘Is it true that Gigi Sartorio takes morphine?' I asked.

‘He doesn't take any morphine. He is taking an anodyne at the present time, because his arm hurts him.'

‘I have been waiting for you for more than an hour,'said Tommasino.

‘I missed the midday bus, and had to wait for the next one.'

‘And how did you miss the bus?'

I was with Giuhana Bottiglia, and she would stay with me and talk, and so I was late.'

‘Why do you waste time with that stupid woman?'

‘She knows about you and me,' said.

She knows? How does she know?'

‘Because they saw us in a bar, her sister Maria andMaria Mosso.'

‘And what do they say about us, all these Marias?' 

‘I don't know,' I said. ‘Giuliana thinks that I don't look happy.'

‘She is a stupid woman.'

‘Why? Anyhow, do I seem happy?

‘I don't know what you seem,' he said.

‘Don't you think that is horrid, not to know.'

‘It doesn't seem to be horrid or not. I don't trouble myself with the problem.'

‘Thanks,' said. 

‘Thanks for what?' 

‘Thanks, just like that … 

‘How hatefull you can be,' I said. ‘What a hatefull person you can be.'

We were in the Via Gorizia and I said,

‘I don' t care about going upstairs today.'

‘What have we come along here for then?'

I walked and he followed. I walked without any purpose, swinging the string bag with the books.

‘Give me the bag,' he said. ‘I will carry it. At least we can leave it with the porter in the Via Gorizia, damned string bag. Isn't your granny fed up with reading all those novels?'

‘She's not my granny,' said. ‘She is my aunt.'

‘Aunt or granny,' he said, ‘what of it?

‘You know perfectly well that she is my aunt,' I said. ‘You are as exact as a registrar's clerk and have a diabolical memory. You just said that to annoy me.'

‘Of course,' he said and smiled ‘I know she is not your granny, she is your aunt. I said it out of temper because I have been waiting for you, and I don't like waiting….

‘I got sick ofthat beastly doorway of the 'Selecta' library while I was waiting for you,' he said.

‘I was afraid,' he said, ‘something had happened to you. That you were ill, or perhaps the bus had crashed.'

He said, ‘So the little Bottiglia girl thinks you don't look happy? …

‘But why aren't you happy?' he said.

‘When I am at home at Casa Tonda,' he said, I look towards your house. I look and wonder, "What will she be doing now? Is she sad or happy?"…

‘Does it please you that I think in that way when I am there alone? …

‘You think it is little,' he said ‘that I give you. Little in the way of love?'

‘Yes,' I said, ‘it seems to me little in the way of love.'

‘Yet it is all I can give you,' he said. I cannot give you more. I am not a romantic. I have a solitary nature. I stand alone. I have no friends I do not look for any.

‘Women,' he said ‘are happy with passionate romantic men.'

‘I was in despair a little while ago waiting for you at the street corner. I said ‘What shall I do if she does not come? Supposing she is dead?'

‘ "If she is dead,” I said ‘how shall I live?" '

We were now in the park and walked among the bare trees treading the grass scorched by the frost.

‘That room in the Via Gorizia,' he said ‘is ghastly. We could get another room in a nicer street. We could take a whole house. Can anyone stop us?

‘Would you like us,' he said, ‘to look for a house a nice convenient one with a kitchen where we can cook up something to eat?'

‘But is it worth while for so short a time?' I said. ‘Only two afternoons Wednesdays and Saturdays?'

‘Why shouldn't it be worth while? Isn't it worth while to be comfortable even for a few hours?

‘Would you like us to go to Via Gorizia now just for a little?' he said.

I had just got home, and was having my supper at the kitchen table. My mother was emptying the string bag on the table, taking out the books from the ‘Selecta' one by one She looked at a tide-page with a scornful expression.

‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,' she said. Oh, poor creature.

‘And whereas the brewers' yeast?' she said. ‘Have you forgotten it?'

‘Yes.'

‘What was the brewers' yeast for?'  said Aunt Ottavia. We haven'I got to make a tart.'

‘But it was not for us, it was for the Villa Bottiglia,' said my mother. ‘The little girls there always remember when one gives them commissions.'

There was a ring at the garden gate.

‘And who can that be, at this hour?' said my mother. It is almost eleven. Oh dear, it will be a telegram.' 

Antonia took the great rusty key off its nail, and went to open the garden gate.

‘Be quick, be quick,' said my mother, ‘it will be a telegram.' 

‘It is the gentleman from the Casa Tonda,'said Antonia, hanging the key on the nail again. ‘I have shown him into the sfctmg-room.'

‘From the Casa Tonda? What gentleman?' said my mother.

I went into the sitting-room and my mother followed me. Tommasino was standing there in his short overcoat, which was unbuttoned, with a small packet in his hand.

‘The brewers' yeast,' he said. ‘I kept it in my pocket.'

‘Ah, the yeast,' said my mother, ‘You should not have put yourself out for a small thing like that, Tommasino, at this hour.'

‘Sit down,' she said

My father appeared at the door with his pipe.

‘Oh, good evening, my dear Tommasino,' he said.

My father was fond of Tommasino because he had been fond of Balotta, with whom he had been in the first war, on the Carso.

‘Can we offer you something, Tommasino?' said my mother.

She said, ‘So you met today in the town and did the shopping together?'

She was sitting in an arm-chair and arranging die embroidered collar on her breast.

‘And how is your aunt, Magna Maria? I must go to see her, one of these days. She has promised to teach
me petit point.
She makes rugs and bedspreads of 
petit 
point. 
She is so industrious, so splendid, how splendid she is,' she said, entering into the vein of Magna Maria.

‘Have you had any supper, Tommasino?' I said.

‘I? Yes, and you dear?'

‘Ah, you are on intimate terms. Of course, you have known each other since you were little children,' said my mother.

‘You used to play together,' she said, ‘as children in Magna Maria's garden. And Barba Tommaso used to take you to climb on those rocks, behind the house, just where they killed Nebbia, poor fellow.'

‘I don't remember,' said.

‘I remember a little,' said Tommasino ‘You had some long pinafores, all with bows.'

They were horrible, those pinafores,' said.

‘They were very pretty,' said my mother. ‘l embroidered them myself I like embroidery. But I have never learnt
petit point
.'

‘We played together two or three times. at the most,' I said.

‘And then you lost sight of one another,' said my mother. ‘lt seems strange, one lives two steps away— it is a nutshell of a village—and yet we never see each other. We don't see much of anyone any more. Just occasionally the Bottiglias. The brewers' yeast was for them. I don't use it. I find ! get on better with Angel's Foam.'

‘What is Angel's Foam? What a romantic name.' said my father.

‘Angel's Foam,' said Aunt Ottavia, ‘is nothing but brewers' yeast.'

She had come into the room and sat down in a corner, and had the books, bound in blue, on her knees.

‘Brewers' yeast Angel's Foam? But you are crazy!' said my mother.

‘Were the books we got all right?' said Tommasino.

‘Ah, then you went together to the "Selecta" as well,' said my mother. ‘It is a good library, the "Selecta," everything is there, including foreign novels. My sister reads a great deal; I cannot, I haven't the time; I am too much taken up with the house, and am never still a minute. Then I have-too much to think about, too many worries. I never stay still a minute, and cannot lose myself in a novel. My children are so far away. Do you remember my Giampiero, Tommasino.

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