Authors: Natalia Ginzburg
âThen no more meat,' said Signora Bottiglia.
My mother asked her to come in and have some coffee.
âYesterday,' said my mother, â! 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.
âBut with high blood pressure,' said Signora Bottiglia, âyou should not take coffee. No more meat no more coffee.'
My mother likes coffee
âWhat 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.
âAnd you have got a varicose vein,' said my mother âYou are mad to go about like this in the morning with this cold weather.'
âIt isn't a varicose vein,' said Signora Bottiglia, squeezing the vein with her finger.Â âlt does not trouble me at all.'
âAnd what is it if it is not a varicose?' said my mother.
âWhere is Giuliana?' I said.
âGiuliana,' said Signora Bottiglia,Â âwas up early. Gigi Sartorio came to fetch her, and they have gone to the tennis club.'
âWhat, to the tennis club? said my mother âwhen Gigi has got his arm in plaster?'
âThey are not playing just looking on. Some matches are being played.'
âAh, they are looking on,' said my mother. âAnd why don't you go too Elsa, to look on for a little?'
âI have to catch the bus at midday,' said.
âAh, of course it is Saturday,' said my mother. âPreviously she used to go down to the town only on Wednesdays,' she explained to Signora Bottiglia, âbut now Saturdays as well. To change the book for Ottavia, who reads a lot.'
âBuy me a small packet of brewers' yeast,' said Signora Bottiglia âI want to make a
tomorrow. We are having Purillo to dinner.'
âPurillo all by himself?' My mother was astonished.
âYes, because Raffaela has gone to the sea withÂ PepÃ¨. He has had a horrid bad throat, thatÂ PepÃ¨. Two tonsils like raspberries.'
âPepÃ¨ has always got one,' said my mother, feeling her neck. âIt is curious that if I squeeze hard it still hurts me. It will be my tonsils maybe.'
âAnd after she has done her commissions,' said my mother, âElsa always goes and spends the afternoon with her friends, the Campanas.'
I have known the Campanas since university days.
âThey have a beautiful house in the Via Novara,' said my mother. âThey are very well off.'
âThe Campanas?' said Signora Bottiglia.
âThe children know them, too, the Campanas,' said Signora Bottiglia. âBut he has had a coronary, and is in a clinic at present.'
âA coronary, has he?' said my mother. âAnd how is it you have said nothing about it to me?' she said to me. âWhen did he get this coronary?.
âLast month', said Signora Bottiglia
âA coronary? Consalvo Campana?'
âBut 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
âIt was a small one,' said.
âSmall ! A small coronary?...
âSmall or big, they have taken him to a clinic,' she began again after a little while. âAnd 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.'
âI sent flowers,' said.
âAh, you sent some. What flowers?'
âBut one sends white roses to brides or when they have a baby,' said my mother. âCarnations would be better, for a man.
âAnd where did you find roses at this time of year?' she said. âYon must have spent a fortune, you must.'
While I was getting ready in my room Giuliana Bottiglia came in.
âAm 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.
âLondon?' I said.
âLondon, yes. Gigi Sartorio brought it for me the last time he was there.'
âWhat does Gigi Sartorio go to London for?'
âWhat sort of business?'
âBusiness, I don't know.'
âIs Gigi Sartorio serious?'
âNo Merely a friend.'
âWere the matches good?'
âGood yes. They beat the team from Cignano Terenzi lost.'
âHe always loses.'
âNot always. He lost today.'
She was sitting down and was arranging her hair with her comb.
âI am not your friend any more, isn't that true?' she said.
âOh, do stop that.'
âWe used to be friends once. You had no secrets fromme.'
She said,Â âIs 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,Â âI know it.'
We were now walking down by the path. In my string bag I was carrying the books of the âSelecta' library, bound in blue.
âIf at least you looked happy,' she said,Â âI would not ask you anything. But you don't seem a bit happy.'
She said, âSometimes 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.'
âYou push your hair back, take long strides, and look defiant. But all the time you have a sad expression.'
âIs it true that Gigi Sartorio takes morphine?' I asked.
âHe doesn't take any morphine. He is taking an anodyne at the present time, because his arm hurts him.'
âI have been waiting for you for more than an hour,'said Tommasino.
âI missed the midday bus, and had to wait for the next one.'
âAnd how did you miss the bus?'
I was with Giuhana Bottiglia, and she would stay with me and talk, and so I was late.'
âWhy do you waste time with that stupid woman?'
âShe knows about you and me,' said.
She knows? How does she know?'
âBecause they saw us in a bar, her sister Maria andMaria Mosso.'
âAnd what do they say about us, all these Marias?'Â
âI don't know,' I said. âGiuliana thinks that I don't look happy.'
âShe is a stupid woman.'
âWhy? Anyhow, do I seem happy?
âI don't know what you seem,' he said.
âDon't you think that is horrid, not to know.'
âIt doesn't seem to be horrid or not. I don't trouble myself with the problem.'
âThanks for what?'Â
âThanks, just like that â¦Â
âHow hatefull you can be,' I said. âWhat a hatefull person you can be.'
We were in the Via Gorizia and I said,
âI don' t care about going upstairs today.'
âWhat have we come along here for then?'
I walked and he followed. I walked without anyÂ purpose, swinging the string bag with the books.
âGive me the bag,' he said. âI 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?'
âShe's not my granny,' said. âShe is my aunt.'
âAunt or granny,' he said, âwhat of it?
âYou know perfectly well that she is my aunt,' I said. âYou are as exact as a registrar's clerk and have a diabolical memory. You just said that to annoy me.'
âOf course,' he said and smiled âI 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 waitingâ¦.
âI got sick ofthat beastly doorway of the 'Selecta' library while I was waiting for you,' he said.
âI was afraid,' he said, âsomething had happened to you. That you were ill, or perhaps the bus had crashed.'
He said, âSo the little Bottiglia girl thinks you don't look happy? â¦
âBut why aren't you happy?' he said.
âWhen 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?"â¦
âDoes it please you that I think in that way when I am there alone? â¦
âYou think it is little,' he said âthat I give you. Little in the way of love?'
âYes,' I said, âit seems to me little in the way of love.'
âYet 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.
âWomen,' he said âare happy with passionate romantic men.'
âI was in despair a little while ago waiting for you at the street corner. I said âWhat shall I do if she does not come? Supposing she is dead?'
â "If she is dead,” I said âhow shall I live?"Â '
We were now in the park and walked among the bare trees treading the grass scorched by the frost.
âThat room in the Via Gorizia,' he said âis ghastly. We could get another room in a nicer street. We could take a whole house. Can anyone stop us?
âWould you like us,' he said, âto look for a house a nice convenient one with a kitchen where we can cook up something to eat?'
âBut is it worth while for so short a time?' I said. âOnly two afternoons Wednesdays and Saturdays?'
âWhy shouldn't it be worth while? Isn't it worth while to be comfortable even for a few hours?
âWould 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 âSelecta' one by one She looked at a tide-page with a scornful expression.
âCat on a Hot Tin Roof,' she said. Oh, poor creature.
âAnd whereas the brewers' yeast?' she said. âHave you forgotten it?'
âWhat was the brewers' yeast for?'Â Â said Aunt Ottavia. We haven'I got to make a tart.'
âBut it was not for us, it was for the Villa Bottiglia,' said my mother. âThe little girls there always remember when one gives them commissions.'
There was a ring at the garden gate.
âAnd who can that be, at this hour?' said my mother. It is almost eleven. Oh dear, it will be a telegram.'Â
Antonia took the great rusty key off its nail, and went to open the garden gate.
âBe quick, be quick,' said my mother, âit will be a telegram.'Â
âIt is the gentleman from the Casa Tonda,'said Antonia, hanging the key on the nail again. âI have shown him into the sfctmg-room.'
âFrom 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.
âThe brewers' yeast,' he said.Â âI kept it in my pocket.'
âAh, the yeast,' said my mother, âYou should not have put yourself out for a small thing like that, Tommasino, at this hour.'
âSit down,' she said
My father appeared at the door with his pipe.
âOh, 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.
âCan we offer you something, Tommasino?'Â said my mother.
She said, âSo 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.
âAnd 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 ofÂ
She is so industrious, so splendid, how splendid she is,' she said, entering into the vein of Magna Maria.
âHave you had any supper, Tommasino?' I said.
âI? Yes, and you dear?'
âAh, you are on intimate terms. Of course, you have known each other since you were little children,' said my mother.
âYou used to play together,' she said, âas 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.'
âI don't remember,' said.
âI remember a little,' said Tommasino âYou had some long pinafores, all with bows.'
They were horrible, those pinafores,' said.
âThey were very pretty,' said my mother. âl embroidered them myself I like embroidery. But I have never learnt
âWe played together two or three times. at the most,' I said.
âAnd then you lost sight of one another,' said my mother.Â âlt seems strange, one lives two steps awayâ it is a nutshell of a villageâand yet we never see each other. We don't see much of anyone any more. Just occasionally the Bottiglias. The brewers' yeast was forÂ them. I don't use it. I find ! get on better with Angel's Foam.'
âWhat is Angel's Foam? What a romantic name.' said my father.
âAngel's Foam,' said Aunt Ottavia, âis 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.
âBrewers' yeast Angel's Foam? But you are crazy!' said my mother.
âWere the books we got all right?' said Tommasino.
âAh, then you went together to the "Selecta" as well,' said my mother. âIt 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.