Authors: Natalia Ginzburg
We had been the previous evening to supper at the Villa Rondine.
I said, âDo you think Raffaella is happy with Purillo?
He said, âNo, I think she is profoundly unhappy. She only has PepÃ¨.'
He said, âHow could you want her to be happy with Purillo?'
I said,” Why didn't you try to talk to her, to make her talk? To help her a little?'
âBecause I should not achieve anything,' he said. On the contrary, if I talked to her and made her talk, I should make her still more unhappy. Do you think it is possible to help another person?
âNothing can be done, not for others,' he said.
âRaffaella certainly does not think about being unhappy,' he said; âshe has driven all her thoughts underground. She is unhappy, but takes care not to admit it to herself, so as to be able to live.
âBesides,' he said, It always ends with living like that.'
âYou, too,' I asked, âwith time going on, will you end with driving your thoughts underground? Do you believe that yourself?'
âOf course,' he said âIn
, in some ways I have already begun. Otherwise, how would you manage?
âIn these months,' he said, âI have driven a great many of my thoughts underground. I have dug out a little grave for them.'
âWhat do you mean?” I said âIn these months, in these last months, since you have been engaged to me?'
âWhy, yes, of course,' he said, âYou know that yourself, too. We are practically always silent, now, together. We remain almost always silent, because we have begun to drive our thoughts underground, right at the bottom, right at the bottom inside ourselves. Then when we begin talking again, we only say things of no account.
âFormerly,' he said, âI told you everything that came into my head. Not any more, now. Now I have lost the wish to tell you things. What I think about now, I tell a little of it to myself, and then I bury it, I send it underground. Then, little by little, I shall not tell things any more even to myself, I shall drive everything underground at once, every random thought, before it can take shape.'
âBut that,' I said, âmeans being unhappy.'
âUndoubtedly,' he said, âit means being very unhappy. But it happens to so many people. A person at a certain moment will not look his own soul in the face any more. Because he is afraid, if he looks it in the face, of not having the courage to go on living any more.'
âAnd you have been all these months,' I said, ârealizing that this was happening to you, and watching how it happened. This is what you were thinking about while we were in the sitting-room in the evening, with Aunt Ottavia? You were turning your back on your own soul?'
âOf course,' he said, âthat was what I was thinking about there in the sitting-room. What else but that?'
We were walking in the park by the river. There was a crowd, noise and music, and they had set up a Luna Park on the lawns behind the castle.
People kept passing by us, or gathered together by the stone parapet which faces the river, and threw themselves on the grassy bank with cries and whistles, for the regatta was on that day.
Many boats were going up and down the river, with little flags fluttering in the wind. The shelter, too, on the landing stage, built on piles, was full of people and little flags fluttered in the wind on its roof.
âFormerly,' he said, âwhen we were up there in that room in the Via Gorizia, I always had the wish to tell you everything I was thinking about. It was fine; there was a great freedom, a sense of breathing fully. Now that wish is entirely exhausted, in these months.'
âAnd do you think,' I said âthat it will never come back?'
âOh no,' he said, It is exhausted. How can it come back?
âFormerly,' he said, I could choose whether to be with you of an afternoon, or not. Now, on the other hand, in these months, I have felt that I could not choose any more, that I had to come to you without any escape, there to your home, because I had jolly well made my choice, once and for all. I had to do what everyone was expecting me to do, what you along with the others expected of me. So, I have taken to driving my thoughts underground. I could not look my soul in the face any more. To avoid hearing my soul cry aloud, I turned my back on it and walked away from it.'
âThis is horrible,' I said. âYou have just told me something horrible.'
âDidn't you know it was horrible?' he said. âYou knew it, too, yourself You knew that you had driven underground this seltawareness. You, too, have done what they all expected you to do. You went with your mother to the upholsterers, and furniture shops and linen shops. And all the time inside yourself you could hear the long cries of your soul, but always farther off, always fainter, always covered with more earth.'
âThen,' said I, âwhy did we become engaged? Why are we getting married?'
âTo be like everyone,' he said, âand to do what everyone expects of us.
âMy love for you,' he said,Â âwas not a great love. You know that well I have often told you it was not a great love, impassioned, romantic. There was something, all the same, something intimate and delicate, and it had its own fulfilment and its own freedom. You and I, up there in the Via Gorizia, alone, without any plans for the future, without anything at all, have been happy in some fashion of our own. We had something there; it was not much, but it was something. It was something very slight, very fragile, ready to break up at the first puff of wind. It was something which could not be captured and brought to the light or it would die. We have brought it to the light and it is dead, and we shall never recover it any more.
âWould you like to go up there in the Via Gorizia for a little while?'Â he asked. I have kept that room on all the time and paid the rent. I went there, you know, sometimes while you were with your mother at the dressmaker's or the draper's. I went there and had a little rest and sometimes made some coffee. I felt a great silence there, a great peace.
âWould you like to go there now for a little while?' he said.
âOh no,' I said, âit would be too depressing, Tommasino.
âOnly one thing is clear,' I said. I am in love and you are not.
I am in love, 'I said, ânow, in the beginning and always, and you, no You, never.'
We went to catch the bus. Not the last one. It was only five in the afternoon, the sun was not yet setting.
The bus was almost empty at that hour. We sat side by side, and talked no more.
The next morning I got up and dressed very quietly, without letting my mother hear me; and I went to theÂ Casa Tonda.
I had never been there alone, I had been there, of course, with my mother, with Gemmina, or with Raffaella often.
Tommasino came to open the door for me. He was already up and dressed, although it was early; and he had put on a thick grey shaggy pullover, although outside a hot sunny day was beginning,
,' he said to me without showing any surprise. I am unwell, have caught a cold; I probably had a bit of a temperature last night. That is why I have put on this pullover.'
There he was in the dining-room, with his pullover drawn down over his thin body, and the cuffs full of handkerchiefs.
He had a small sponge in his hand and was cleaning his tape-recorder.
âDo you want to speak something into the tape-recorder?' he said. âHearing one's own voice is interesting. To begin with I could not bear it; I found my voice horrid, falsetto. Then I got accustomed to it. But it is interesting. Try it.'
I said, âNo.'
I had sat down, I had my hands in my jacket pockets, and looked at him. I looked at him, I looked at his head, his ruffled hair his long big pullover, his thin hands which could not keep still and made continuous gestures.
âI have come to return the ring to you,' said.
I drew it out of my pocket; it was small with a small pearl; this ring which he had given to me had belonged to his mother Signora Cecilia
He took it and laid it on the table.
âYou don't want to marry me,' he said.
âNo,' I said. âHow can you think that I want to marry you still after the things that you said to me yesterday?'
âYesterday,' he said, âI was depressed, taking a gloomy view of things. I probably felt that I was going to have a temperature.
âHowever, of course,' he said, âyou are right; it is better so.'
I gazed round, and said,
âI have pictured everything, only too clearly. I have pictured you and me, here, in this room, in this house. I have pictured everything with great exactness down to the smallest details. And when one sees the things of the future so clearly as though they were already happening, it is a sign that they should never happen. They have already happened in a sense in our minds, and it is really not possible to experience them further.'
I said, âIt is like, on some days, the air is too clear, too transparent, and one sees everything sharply and exactly outlined, and then one will say that rain is coming.'
âHow calm you are!'Â he said âYou do not cry; you say everything so calmly.
âAnd I?'Â he said. âWhat shall I do?'Â
âYou will do as you have always done,' I said.
âAnd you?' he said. âWhat will you do?'Â
âI too, shall do as I have always done,' I said.Â
âHow calm we are!' he said. âHow cool quiet, calm!
âI hope,' he said twisting his hair round his fingers,Â âthat you may some day meet a better man than I am.'
âYou see, it is not in me,' he said, âno real vitality. This is my great want. I feel a shudder of disgust when I should assert myself. I want to assert myself, and then I have this shudder. Anybody else, with a shudder like thatâwell, he does not take any account of it, he puts it out of his mind at once. But I keep it in my mind for a long time.
âIt is because I have the feeling,' he said, âthat they have already lived enough, those others before me; that they have already consumed all the reserves, all the vitality that there was for us. The others, Nebbia, Vincenzino, my father. Nothing was left over for me.
âThe others,' he said, âall those who have lived in this village before me. It seems to me that I am only their shadow.'
He said, âIn earlier days, after Vincenzino died, I thought that I should have realized all his plans. He had heaps of them ready, designs for the factory, canteens, rest-rooms, quarters for the work-people. They were sensible, practicable things, not just dreams. He never had time to bring them to completion. I thought that I should do that myself.
âInstead,' he said, I have been no good at doing anything. I always say "yes" to Purillo. I have not the will to hold out against him, to contest. I knuckle under and say "yes”.
âSometimes,' he said, âI have an idea of going away from this place. To find a bit of vitality.
âI shall go to Canada perhaps,' he said, âSome time ago last year, Borzaghi told me he could get me some work there, in Canada, at Montreal.'
âCanada,' said I. âI don't know what it is like. I imagine that it must be a place full of wood.'
âYes,' he said and smiled, âthere must be quite a bit of wood there. Forests.'
One could see the Villa Rondine from the windows, one could see Purillo playing tennis in the garden with Borzaghi's son.
âLook at him there,' said Tommasino, gazing through the panes. âLook at him thereâPurillo, fine fellow. Now, he has got plenty of vitality, or rather he has not so much got it as that he behaves as if he had, and he gets the results he wants.
âPerhaps it is just because he is stupid,' he said, âand he has never realized they have already exhausted all the vitality that was available in this place.
âHow a place can get one down!'Â he said. âIt has a weight of lead, with all its dead. This village of ours, it just gets me down; it is so small, a handful of houses. I can never free myself from it, I cannot forget it. Even if I end up in Canada, I shall take it with me!
âIf only you had been a girl,' he said, âfrom another village! If only I had found you in Montreal or somewhere, if only we had met there and married! We should have felt so free, so unburdened, without these houses, these hills, these mountains. Free as a bird, I should have been!
âBut even if I took you with me to Montreal now,' he said âit would be just like it is here; we should not be able to create anything new. We should probably still go on talking about Vincenzino and Nebbia and Purillo It would be exactly the same as being here.
After all,Â âI wonder whether I shall ever go there, to Montreal,' he said.
âAnd now you must go along,' he said and he took my face between his hands. âYou must go, like this, without crying, without shedding even a single tear. Go along with dry eyes, quite open and calm. It is not worth while to shed tears, and I want to remember you like that.
, good-bye, Elsa,' he said, and I said,
, good-bye, Tommasino.'
And I came away.
In the days that followed Purillo came to see my father and explain to him that Tommasino and I had agreed for our own reasons to break off the engagement.
Breaking off engagements was jam for Purillo. He had formerly undertaken Vincenzino's affair with the Brazilian girl, Mamita's daughter, many years ago now.
He offered my father compensation for the expense to which he had been put. My father refused it coldly and was offended.
But he harboured no ill feeling for Tommasino. Besides, I told him that we were both agreed not to think of marrying any more, for our own reasons, and that there had not been any fault on either side. My father could not bear Tommasino any ill will, because he was fond of him, and continued even now to be fond of him. He was fond, too, of old Balotta and respected his memory.