Read Voices In The Evening Online

Authors: Natalia Ginzburg

Voices In The Evening (12 page)

He said, ‘But I should have liked to have gone far away, somewhere abroad, and to have got to know you by chance, in some street or other, a girl one had never seen before. I should like to know nothing about you, nothing of your relations and not to meet them ever.'

‘Instead,' I said, ‘we have grown up in the same village, and played together as children, at Le Piètre. But that does not worry me at all. To me it is of no significance.'

I said, ‘It is of no significance to me. And since you have come to exist for me, our village there has become an unknown land, very big and all full of unforeseeable dramatic things that stir the emotions and can happen at any moment. It can happen to me, for example, to cross the piazza to the post and to see your car standing outside the Concordia, or to see your sisters or to see Magna Maria.'

‘I don't understand,' he said ‘Do you find your emotions stirred at seeing Magna Maria?'

‘Seeing Magna Maria,' I said, ‘makes my heart beat quickly.'

‘I don't understand. When I meet your father in the corridor at the works I don't feel my heart beating.

‘I have a great regard for your father,' he said, ‘but I swear to you that he does not make my heart beat fast!'

‘Because you are not in love with me,' I said. ‘That is the sole explanation.

‘There is no change in your life,' I said, ‘since the day when I came to exist for you.

‘It is for this reason,' I said, ‘that you go on daydreaming about supposing you had met me in a foreign country, supposing everything had happened differently. For me, on the other hand, it is all right just as it happened. We played together as children with those ugly pinafores.'

‘It was you that had ugly pinafores,' he said. ‘I have never worn pinafores in my life.'

‘I said you were not romantic,' I said, ‘and it is not true—you are romantic. You want veiled ladies and unknown cities, not families or parents. This means being a romantic.'

‘I have got so many, so many relations,' he said, ‘a long trail of them.

‘I have a trail of relations like a long snake,' he said. ‘l should not want any more, no. My own are enough.'

‘When you came to my home, the other evening, with the yeast, you said you wanted to try it out. What did you want to try out?

‘You wanted to try out,' I said ‘being my fiancé and you saw that it did not suit you? You don't like it?'

‘I saw,' he said, ‘that it was a bit difficult for me.'

‘And so now it will no longer be nice to come here either, 'I said, ‘now that we have been together there in my home, with my parents, first in the sitting-room, then in the dining-room, then in the sitting-room again. Now that you have had coffee in our pretty flowered cups, now that you have heard the stories about Cousin Ernesto, it seems to me that I shall no longer enjoy being with you here, in this room, or changing the books at the
"
Selecta” or going for walks with you in the park, because I shall always be thinking of how you wanted to try out being my fiancé, and it didn't suit you and you didn't like it. I shall always think that I am all right for you here as a girl friend, but I am not all right for you as a wife.'

‘I have always told you,' he said, ‘that I did not wish to marry you.'

‘True,' I said. ‘You have always said that. And I said, "Patience." I suffered for it, but I said, "Patience. It's better than nothing,''' I said. ‘But now you have tried it out; you wanted to see if by chance you were not making a mistake. And you saw that you were making a mistake, and that you could not go on. And now in the face of that I can no longer say, "Patience.” It hurts me in a way which I do not know how to bear.'

I said, ‘I felt so happy that you had come to my home, that evening, with the yeast, and I was so glad to see you there large as life in our little sitting-room where I was always thinking of you. But instead everything now is ruined. Now we cannot be here either. I have come to hate this Via Gorizia, this room.'

And I began to cry. I said.

‘Why have we ruined everything?'

‘Ah, no,' he said, ‘don't cry, I hate to see women cry.'

But I cried and said just like Catè,

‘Why has everything been ruined?'

The next day in the evening Tommasino came to speak to my father. He had put on dark clothes. He had consulted Betta and Betta had told him that dark clothes were indispensable.

My father opened a bottle of moscado for the occasion, from our own vineyard, nine years old.

My mother was so moved that she remained awake all night. She woke my father and said to him,

‘Had you thought of him?'

And she said,

‘When he appeared before me the other evening with that packet in his hand, I thought of it.'

Then she said,

‘But the property, what will that amount to? It must be a fine figure, eh?'

My father, half asleep, said,

‘I don't know.'

‘You don't know? You, the accountant, don't know? A fine accountant! Well, then, who is there who does know?'

First thing in the morning she ran to tell the whole story to Signora Bottiglia. But Signora Bottiglia knew all about it, because Betta had told her when she came in the early morning with the vegetables.

Indeed, she knew even earlier than that that there was something. She had known of it for some time.

Her daughter Mariolina had told her that she had seen me and Tommasino one day in the city, sitting in a café, holding hands.

‘Impossible,' said my mother, just imagine to yourself whether Elsa would let her hands be held by a man in public I wonder what your Maria can have seen.'

She was a bit puzzled, because Signora Bottiglia had not shown surprise, and she had a zest for creating surprises and the whole night she had been anticipating the pleasure of seeing surprise in her old friend's eyes, behind their big lenses, always lit up with a little green sparkle either of incredulity or malice.

Signora Bottiglia said,

‘We mothers are always the last to know these things.'

And she told as a secret to my mother that her daughter Giuliana was about to get engaged to Gigi Sartorio. But they were waiting because they must first take off the plaster of Paris.

‘How does the plaster come into it?' asked my mother. ‘There is not the slightest need of his arm to get engaged with.'

‘But the doctor,' said Signora Bottiglia, ‘has advised that he should not get excited, or perspire, or jerk himself.'

‘There are no jerks in getting engaged,' said my mother. ‘There is no need at all to perspire.'

On getting home she hastened to tell Aunt Ottavia about Giuliana and Gigi.

‘It will rather be that he has to wait to be quite cured of his morphine before he marries, that's what it will be.'

7
The End of the Affair

T
OMMASINO
took to coming to us every evening. In the winter there were heavy falls of snow, and he would arrive with his hair full of snow and my mother would say,

‘Why do you go about without a hat?'

Sometimes he played a card game with my father. Sometimes we sat in the sitting-room, he and I and Aunt Ottavia, who read her novels.

My mother would say,

‘I am leaving your aunt here; it is usual for someone to be with an engaged couple.'

She referred to my aunt as though she was a chair. And as a matter of fact Aunt Ottavia behaved like a chair, silent, motionless. She did not raise her eyes from her book.

Still, she was there, and we could find nothing to say to each other because of the presence of that head and its woolly tresses there under the lamp.

He twisted his hair round his fingers. I knitted.

It just seemed to me impossible that a Via Gorizia could have ever existed, and a room with a little stove behind a curtain where we sometimes made coffee.

We still went often to the town. But we did not go any more to the Via Gorizia. On the contrary we avoided going down that street.

I did not know either if he still kept that room on or continued to pay the rent.

We avoided certain topics We rarely spoke of the old times when we met there in the Via Gorizia. Both of us pretended that those times had never existed.

We used to go to the furniture and upholstery shops to satisfy my mother.

And my mother would ask,

‘Have you ordered the sideboard and shelves? Have you been to see that divan?'

Then my mother took it into her head to come with us every time that we went down into the town. She walked about very slowly, stopping at every shop window, and the hours became interminable.

My mother wanted pictures and carpets for the Casa Tonda. She wanted to pack it from top to bottom so that there should not be a square inch left uncovered.

At night when she could not get to sleep she let her imagination run ahead. She played the devil with the Casa Tonda, broke down walls, had floors up, erected colonnades and arcades, converted loggias into baths and baths into loggias. Also, between sleeping and waking, she dismissed Betta, Betta had told Signora Bottiglia that Tommasino deserved a prettier and richer wife than myself, and Signora Bottiglia had immediately reported this to my mother. So my mother dismissed Betta, imagining to herself a scene in which she caught her stealing. She spoke a few sharp contemptuous words to Betta, and appointed in her place the old nurse, Gemmina's old nurse, promising her a big increase of wages. She did this to spite Gemmina as well, since she did not like her.

Gemmina had asked us to dinner, me and Tommasino, and had given us rabbit. My mother considered that a great lack of respect. Rabbit seemed to her by no means a choice dish, not by any means intended to celebrate an engagement.

And on one occasion when my mother had been to call on her at the Casetta, tiring her legs out on the way up, Gemmina had unloaded on her four tickets for the arts and crafts exhibition and a very ugly little tablecloth with tassels which cost eight hundred lire.

Next, my mother, between sleeping and waking, dismissed Purillo from the works, I don't know how, and put Tommasino in his place. She changed the whole organization of the works and increased the workers' pay. On the other hand, she reduced Borzaghi's salary, because she did not like Borzaghi, having quarrelled with his wife on some occasion in a shop when Signora Borzaghi had wished to be served first.

My mother had somewhat forgotten her ailments in the excitement, and when she remembered them she blamed Gemmina for a cold which she felt in her bronchial tubes, after that day when she went to La Casetta and had got hot on the way up and there had been a breeze.

We were invited, I and Tommasino, once or twice to supper at Le Piètre. Barba Tommaso pointed at me with his finger and shouted,

‘But who is she? Who is she?”

And Magna Maria kissed me loudly on the cheeks and said,

‘Splendid, splendid!'

On the way back Tommasino asked,

‘Do you still find it moving to see Magna Maria?'

And I said,

‘Much less.'

‘Then,' said he, ‘you leave become more like me because I have never felt moved at seeing members of your family.'

And he asked me,

‘Anyway are you happy?'

And I said,

‘Yes.'

The days were running on with ever-increasing rapidity of rhythm, impetuous and deep, and the whole of my life was going forward with drums beating. The drums beat so loud within me as to be deafening.

Tommasino and I used to go for walks in the country. The snow was beginning to melt, but there were still traces here and there to which the sun gave a rosy tinge.

He said, ‘It is nicer here than in the park. We have had so many walks in the park and through the town. In contrast it is nicer here. Yes? No?'

He said, ‘Yet you are not happy It is true that you are not so happy?'

And I said, ‘Yes, it is true.'

But I could not explain why.

He said, ‘Then what do you want?'

He said, ‘You wanted me to marry you and I am marrying you. What else do you want?'

I said, ‘I don't know.'

He said, ‘How complicated you are! How complicated and tiresome women are!'

He said, ‘And at the house one of those little evenings awaits us in the sitting-room with Aunt Ottavia?'

He said, ‘And tomorrow we have to go into town with your mother to look at divans?'

He said, ‘But if only you were happy at least! Instead, no you are not happy, and I don't know what you want.'

We were to be married in July.

We had gone down one afternoon to town, the two of us alone, without my mother, who had stayed at home to do some work on a big Spanish shawl of black lace, out of which she wanted to make a dress for the wedding.

It was also Corpus Christi day; all the shops were closed and we had nothing in particular to do. Only, Tommasino had to look in for a moment at the tailor's for a second fitting of the new suit which he had ordered, a tailor whose name Purillo had given him.

So we went in there and I sat in a little room to wait for him. Then Tommasino appeared to let me see the suit. The jacket was all full of basting stitches and the collar was a piece of canvas.

He walked up and down in front of the looking glass, and the tailor followed him with his mouth full of pins. It was a dark suit which he was to wear at the reception in our house, the evening before the wedding.

After that we walked about the town and ended up at the park. Tommasino was mimicking the tailor who spoke with
e
in the place of
a
, being from Bari.

He said, ‘Purillo must have a boy friend from Bari, because he is always giving me addresses of people from there; a garage owner to whom he sent me was also a man from Bari.'

He said, I wonder how Purillo finds them out, all these men from Bari?'

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