Read Voices In The Evening Online

Authors: Natalia Ginzburg

Voices In The Evening (11 page)

‘I remember him,' said Tommasino. ‘How is he?'

There he was sitting, with his hands over his knees with a polite subdued air, quite at home.

‘He has got a splendid position,' said my mother ‘at Caracas in Venezuela. He would have liked to work in the factory here, but he and Guascogna the engineer did not get on together, and so he has gone all that distance away.'

Guascogna the engineer is Purillo.

‘If your father was still here and poor Vincenzino, it would be different,' said my mother. ‘Poor Vincenzino, what a sad end!'

She said, ‘There are so many sad things in life. Why read novels? Is not life a novel?'

She said, ‘You know that my Teresita has ended up in South Africa? You remember her? She is a mother now. Even down there such a lot happens, I am never at ease; I have worries and things to think about; my head always hurts me, just here on the back of the neck in the brain, I went yesterday to the doctor's, with Elsa, he thought me quite worn out, and found I had high blood pressure. This new doctor is splendid; he is very careful, and exact, and writes everything down. Today, however, I have felt well all the time, only I have a rasping feeling in the throat, as though I had swallowed some nails—it must be my tonsils.'

‘I have got some penicillin lozenges at home,' said Tommasino, ‘for throat troubles. I will bring some tomorrow for you if you believe in it.'

‘Ah, penicillin?, said my mother. ‘I am rather allergic to penicillin, to tell you the truth. Perhaps because I know that it is made of mould. They cure people now with mould—that is strange.'

She said, ‘Why don't you come to supper tomorrow? Bring those lozenges for me. I will try them; perhaps they will do me good.'

She said, ‘And Guascogna the engineer, how is he? And Raflaella? And Pepè? He has had a sore throat too, hasn't he? I mean Pepè? And so they have token him to the sea? I wonder if the sea would do me good, too? But how on I leave the house, to go to the sea? And then we have not got so much money to spend. For high blood pressure now, will the sea be any good?”

I took the key from its nail and went with Tommasino to the garden gate.

‘Did I behave properly?' he asked. 

‘Properly, oh yes. You were ridiculous.'

‘I was ridiculous? Weren't you pleased?' 

‘Why did you come?' I asked. 

He said, ‘To bring the brewers' yeast. 

‘I came,' he said, ‘to try it out.'

‘To try it out?'

‘Yes, to try it out.'

‘To try out seeing me in my picture frame?. 


‘And what impression did I make on you, in my picture frame?'

‘I, too. What impression did I make on you in your picture frame?'

My mother on the steps was asking whether or not we should invite Gigi Sartorio to supper along with Tommasino.

‘Perhaps no,' she said, because of that arm. What impression would a guest make at table with an arm stretched out on a board?

‘But how is it that you told me you had forgotten it, the yeast? You had not forgotten it; you had bought it and given it to Tommasino.'

‘What a handsome young man,' said Aunt Ottavia.

‘Handsome, yes. Of all Balotta's children he has always been the best-looking,'said my mother.

She said ‘But what put it into your head to take him back to the

She said, ‘But what put it into his head to come here so late, just for a bit of yeast? The result is I had to invite him to supper. I shall make him a spinach soufflé. And a
. I can make a
as well if I do not invite Gigi Sartorio, because they had it yesterday evening.'

‘Too many eggs,' said Aunt Ottavia; eggs in the soufflé, eggs in the
. Better to finish with a fruit tart.'

‘A fruit tart? And aren't there eggs in that?”

‘Tommasino,' said my mother ‘have a little more soufflé. It is very light.'

She said, ‘I wanted to ask Gigi Sartorio as well. But I did not know if you would have liked that. And then he is handicapped at the moment with that arm. One fears all the time that he might knock up against something.'

She said, ‘Gigi Sartorio is rather odd They say he is a morphine addict. I wonder if it is true.

‘Do you Tommasino believe it?

‘They say he has some odd tastes,' said my mother again. ‘He goes abroad a lot and will have picked up queer habits perhaps. I wonder. His father the General is a very distinguished person.

‘They say he has strange tastes. I don't know. You know him well Tommasino?'

‘General Sartorio?'

‘No, no, the son. The General surely has not got strange tastes. He is such a methodical man.'

‘They say in the village' said Aunt Ottavia ‘that Gigi Sartorio is engaged to Giuliana Bottiglia.'

‘Just imagine it!' said my mother. ‘They are merely good friends, good companions. For example the other morning he came to fetch her and they went to the tennis club to watch. Do you play tennis Tommasino?'

‘No,' said Tommasino ‘I don't go in for any sport.'

‘That's bad,'said my mother, ‘because you are tail, and have an athlete's figure. Our Elsa here formerly used to go to the tennis club. She played well; they said she had a long reach, a fine reach. But she has given up going. I wonder why.

‘And my Giampiero,' she said, ‘when he was here was passionately fond of sport. Nowadays in Venezuela he has grown lazy; it must be the climate. Indeed, when he came on leave I saw that he had lost his good colour.

‘You, too, Tommasino,' she said, ‘haven't at all a good colour. You are always a bit pale. Perhaps it is the sedentary life you lead.'

‘I am all right for colour,' said Tommasino.

‘No, you are not all right. As a child you were white and red, an apple.'

‘One of the little Bottiglia girls is engaged then?' said Tommasino.

‘Ah, you call them the little Bottiglia girls, too? said my mother. ‘I thought that it was only we who called them that, at home here. They are not little girls any more, by any means.'

‘Why ‘by any means”?,' said my father.

‘By any means,' said my mother, ‘because they are not yet married. For a woman marriage is the finest destiny, a happy marriage. Not an unfortunate one, otherwise it is better with nothing, one knows that.

You, Tommasino, have had the sad experience of an unfortunate marriage in your family. Poor Vincenzino.

‘And perhaps it is for that reason,' she said, ‘that you don't get married. You will think long about it and you are right. For that matter, as a man, you are still very young.' 

‘I,' said Aunt Ottavia, ‘have not married and I am quite happy so.'

‘You were not cut out for marriage,' said my mother; 'you are too fond of your own convenience.'

‘My convenience? And when do I ever look after my own convenience?' said Aunt Ottavia.

‘Well, she has not got engaged, Giuliana Bottiglia,' said my mother; ‘one has seen them about together for years, she and Gigi Sartorio. If they were engaged, I should be the first to know of it. Her mother, Netta Bottiglia, and I are together from morning till evening.'

‘How is your work getting on, my dear Tommasino?' asked my father.

Twisting his hair round his fingers, Tommasino began to talk about linear programmation.

We went into the sitting-room for coffee.

‘Your views are socialistic, aren't they, Tommasino?' said my mother. Is this linear programmation, if I have understood it rightly, something socialistic?'

I could not allow my mother to appropriate linear programmation.

‘Socialism does not come into it at all,' I said. ‘It is useless to wish to talk about what one doesn't understand.'

‘I have understood it perfectly well,' said my mother. ‘My poor brother—I don't know if you have heard him mentioned, Tommasino—was also taken up with these matters. He died some years ago; his name was Cesare Maderna.'

‘Your brother,' said my father, ‘was employed on the railways. How could he have had anything to do with what Tommasino was talking about?'

‘But he was a politician,' said my mother. ‘He was a candidate for Parliament. He was a Socialist. A great Socialist like your father, Tommasino.'

‘Except, however, that he joined the Fascist Party,' said my father.

‘What does that matter? He had to do it or he lost his place. From every point of view he was first a politician and was interested in social problems exactly as Tommasino is now. Isn't that true, Ottavia?

‘Our poor brother,' said Aunt Ottavia, ‘was only a humble railway employee. As a young man he took some part in politics, without much success, however. He was never a candidate for Parliament. You, Matilda, confuse him with Cousin Ernesto. Cousin Ernesto, yes, was a candidate for Parliament. But our poor brother, never. He was just an honourable man. He did join the Fascists, yes, but as for the black shirt he never put it on. He had one, but he never put it on.'

‘And what did it matter to him even if he did lose his place?' said my father. ‘His wife was rich; he would go on just the same. ‘His wife,' said he turning to Tommasino, was a Terenzi of Cignano. Vineyards, woods, pastures, a fine inheritance. They had no children and left everything on their death to the priests.'

‘That was she, his wife,' said my mother. ‘He could not bear to look at the priests. But he was already dead when she died.'

‘A Terenzi of Cignano,' said Tommasino. ‘Relations of the Terenzis of this place?'

‘Distant relations.'

‘And on the other hand, as regards Cousin Ernesto,' said Aunt Ottavia, the Fascists beat him up, and he was in prison, too. He died poor.'

‘And our cousin's daughter,' said my mother, ‘had a very beautiful voice. She went to America and sang in the biggest theatres. Then, suddenly, she lost her voice. Now she cannot sing any more, not even
Garibaldi's Hymn.

‘That is because she was in a fire over there, in America,' said Aunt Ottavia. ‘The hotel caught fire one night and she had to jump from the window, and everyone called out to her to jump, and she stuck there astride of the window-sill and would not jump. At last she jumped, because they had spread the safety net, you know, underneath. She jumped, but she lost her voice.'

‘Partly fear, partly the smoke,' said my mother.

‘Now, however,' said Aunt Ottavia, ‘she has consoled herself and married a dentist.'

‘Because after she had lost her voice,' said my mother, ‘she went practically mad through grief and was treated in a clinic. Once a week a dentist visited the place to see the patients' teeth, and thus he fell in love with her. She had a very beautiful mouth.'

‘So, we have heard the whole story of Cousin Ernesto's daughter,' said my father.

‘Ada, don't you remember Ada?' said my mother. ‘We have not seen her again for years and years. But she was a tall, beautiful woman.'

‘You have told this story to me millions of times,' said my father. ‘Why do you want to bother Tommasino with it, with persons he has never seen and never will see?'

‘It serves to make a bit of conversation,' said my mother. ‘Do you want us to sit here all evening gazing into each other's eyes? One tells stories and talks, someone says one thing, and someone else another.'

She said, ‘Tommasino, do you want me to sew that button on your sleeve? You will lose it otherwise.'

She said, ‘This overcoat is almost done for. Why don't you tell Gigi Sartorio to bring you a mont-gomery from London the next time he goes there? They are very practical.'

She said, ‘You are not offended with me for saying this? I am a regular mother, am I not?'

‘He has been very well brought up,' said my mother to my father when they were alone in their room. I heard them through the wall

‘You see,' said my mother, ‘that Salice school is a good school.

‘Perhaps he is not as odd as all that,' she said. ‘Perhaps the little oddities he has are faults of youth.'

‘He is very likeable,' she said. ‘He has Signora Cecilia's nose. His mouth is that of Magna Maria.'

‘I don't see any trace of Magna Maria in Tom-masino,' said my father.

‘Because you don't understand resemblances,' said my mother.

‘Well, then, what impression did I make on you in my own picture frame?' I said.

We were in the room in the Via Gorizia, and I was lying on the bed. Tommasino was sitting up to the table with his elbows on it, and smoking.

‘An unfavourable impression, yes?' I said.

‘And I,' he said, ‘what impression did I make in your picture frame?' he said.

‘You are always in my frame,' I said. ‘You never leave it

‘I keep you there always,' I said, ‘among my things, and I talk to you and everything goes on just as when we are together here. But you, you put me away from yourself. You go back to your Casa Tonda, and I am not there. Occasionally, but only occasionally, you look down towards my house. But only occasionally and, as it were, by mistake.

‘I do not,' I said, ‘put you away from me. I keep you there among my things. If I did not, there are times when I could not put up with my picture frame.'

‘You put up with it,' he said, ‘before l existed for you.'

‘Yes, I did,' said. ‘It irked me, but I put up with it. But I did not know then that life could have another pace. I imagined one vaguely, but I did not know.

‘I did not know,' said, ‘that life could go at a run, with drums beating.

‘For you, it is different,' I said. ‘Your life, after I came into it, went on at its usual pace, without any sound.'

‘There is a little sound,' he said, ‘a little, yes, for me. Not really loud, but it is there.'

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