Read Voices In The Evening Online

Authors: Natalia Ginzburg

Voices In The Evening (14 page)

My father told my mother to leave me in peace. He said that the young people of today had psychological problems of a subtle, complicated kind which it was not given to them, the old generation, to understand.

However, in those first days my father was very cast down. He felt an antipathy to the factory, and would not go there any more. He said that he was old now, and did not want to work any longer, and was going to retire and take it easy. He just took a post as consultant in a small way at Cignano with a firm of contractors.

When my mother knew about our breaking off she cried, fainted, and had to send for Signora Bottiglia, who stayed all night to look after her.

Then she set about having all the linen of my trousseau put away in the wardrobes. Coming one day on the Spanish shawl to which she had added velvet sleeves and which was now seen to be useless she once more cried long and loud.

For some time, for some months, she refused to leave the house, feeling ashamed before other people.

In the village they said all sorts of things. They said that I had given up Tommasino because going early one moming to the Casa Tonda. I had found him in bed with Betta' s daughter, a child of only fifteen.

They said that I had given him up because my father in his capacity of accountant had discovered that the position of the factory was shaky.

They said that he had given me up because I had too many lovers.

They said that he had given me up because he had discovered that I took morphine, just like Gigi Sartorio.

I went for some months to Lambrate to stay with Cousin Ernesto's sister.

In the meantime Tommasino also had gone away; but he had not gone to Montreal. He had only gone as far as Liverpool for some months, to deal with certain business matters on Purillo's behalf

When I came back from Lambrate they were no longer talking about me and Tommasino in the village.

They were talking about Giuliana Bottiglia and Gigi Sartorio, who had meanwhile married, and had taken a large villa, a long way from his old father, whom they had left alone.

Now Tommasino has returned. In the evening I look across to the lights lit up in the Casa Tonda.

He has come back, and sometimes I meet him in the piazza when I am going to the post.

He salutes me in his usual manner, bringing his hand to his forehead. Sometimes he stops and asks me:

‘How goes it?'

‘All right,' I say to him, ‘thank you.'

And we go off in opposite directions, I passing General Sartorio's wood, and he going by the lane which leads to the Casa Tonda.

Occasionally I meet Magna Maria. She is in deep mourning because Barba Tommaso has died. She waves to me from a distance and smiling shows her long white teeth.

Occasionally I meet Gemmina, who cuts me, and sometimes I meet Raffaella with Pepè.

Raffaella greets me and stops me.

She says, ‘How sorry I am that you and Tommasino have not married.'

I say nothing and fondle Pepè' s hair.

She says, ‘I am sorry because I think you are very nice. Tommasino is nice, too.'

I say, ‘Yes.'

She looks and looks at me with her large black curious eyes, trying to understand.

But she draws away and leaves me, to run after Pepè. She waves a hand to me in the distance.

As for Giuliana Bottiglia, I never see her. She is up there in her big house with three menservants and a gardener. They say, in the village, that Gigi goes to bed with the gardener and the menservants. With his wife, not much.

Signora Bottiglia says to my mother, Giuliana and Gigi, it's quite thrilling to see them, they are so happy.' She says, ‘Gigi is so good, so good. He is always bringing her some present, from Paris, or from London. A crocodile handbag from Paris, absolutely lovely.'

‘And from London?' asks my mother.

‘From London, a silver tea-set. Teapot, sugar bowl and milk jug, three pieces.'

‘Lovely,' says my mother.

‘Pure Georgian, authentic,' says Signora Bottiglia.

‘Georgian? From Georgia?'

Georgia, of course not! Georgian, George— explains Signora Bottiglia.

‘Who is George?'

‘Some king.'

My mother comes home and says to my father,

‘The fact is, with this Gigi Sartorio one cannot make out whether he is a pervert or not. It seems that he is fond of his wife, if one listens to Netta. Yet in the village they say that he has an understanding with the gardener. The gardener, I have seen him, is very ugly —he has long bristles in his nose.'

She says, after thinking it over for a bit,

‘But perhaps he is very virile.'

It was October once again.

We were coming back, my mother and I, from La Vigna, where we had been to see how the grape-harvest was getting on. We were coming back and my mother walked very very slowly. I was a few steps ahead of her, carrying a basket of moscado grapes on my arm.

It was almost nightfaË and beginning to be cold. The lamps were lit in the village The ground on the path had become hardened and the grass was faded and damp. There was a decided nip in the air, probably snow would be coming soon.

My mother said, I have got a crick in my neck I wonder why. It cannot be the wind; it must be rather that I turned too sharply when the woman called to me.'

She said, ‘This new woman of ours—I can never remember the name—it is Drusbalda. They have strange fancies for names, in the country.'

She said, ‘They don't seem bad. But they are not overclean. The house, I have seen it, was not very clean. They offered me coffee, and it has turned to vinegar in my stomach.

‘Perhaps the cup was not clean, I drank it with some reluctance.

‘Once of these days,' she said, I will go and visit Giuliana to see the tea-set.'

She said, ‘I wonder how Giuliana actually managed to get married, when she is much more stupid than the other sisters.'

She said, ‘It is always the stupid ones that get married—the girls.'

She said, ‘I didn't go, you know, to Barba Tommaso's funeral. You were at Lambrate. Your father went with Aunt Ottavia. I, no. I was sorry not to go, because of Magna Maria. But I hadn't the strength; I did not feel I could shake hands with Purillo.'

She said, I never saw Purillo any more after it was broken off. I don't talk to you about it, because your father does not wish it. But I am sure it was Purillo's fault. It was he that set Tommasino against us.'

She said, ‘Tommasino is a weak thing, a poor character. In the long run it is as well that you did not marry him. He is weak, he has no character, no definite personality. Down there at the works, he has no precise function either. He sits there behind a desk, because he is Balotta's son, and poor Vincenzino's brother. Now, Vincenzino—yes, he was authoritative, a strong character. Still, you see even for him marriage turned out badly. It is true that it was his wife's fault, that Catè.'

She said, ‘So then Tommasino, because of his weak character, listened to Purillo. He must have told him —Purillo, I mean— to look for a girl with more money and no Socialists in the family.'

She said, ‘Because, you know, they, those who own the factories, are always terrified of the Socialists. Inevitably. They make a pretence of liking them, of course. But it is not so. As soon as they get wind of them, they run away like hares, and good-bye. It is so nowadays. Once perhaps no, it was different. For example, old Balotta was a Socialist, certainly he was.'

She said, ‘But your father does not wish me to talk of this to you. This has been a very great disappointment to us. Your father remains silent, but I know he is always thinking about it. He would like us to move now to Cignano. He has come to hate the village.'

She said, ‘If we go to live at Cignano, I shall have Olga's company, Nino Converses daughter. I saw her the other day in the piazza, and she told me she will be very glad if we come. She has a girl of your age, she could play tennis. She does play, I think. And there is a boy, as well.

‘She told me we can rent the apartment over the chemist's shop. It belongs to Pupazzina's father, Nebbia's widow, poor little thing.'

She said, ‘As for our house here, I should let it. We shall certainly have to sell the dining-room suite, which takes up too much room. I am sorry about that, because it was my papa's.'

She said, ‘However, I should always send for the meat here, once a week. It is much cheaper here. If I dispose of the dining-room suite, I shall buy a refrigerator. Giuliana has one, and they are very pleased with it.'

She said, ‘However, butter and cheese are better at Cignano. They make those round cheeses, small round pieces salted. They are delicious.'

She said, ‘Cignano lies rather lower, Cignano suits my blood pressure better.

‘I wonder if she will be willing—Antonia, I mean,' she said, ‘—to come to Cignano.

‘I wonder if she won't get it into her head that the air is bad for her.

‘In any case if she does not come, I can do without. With the refrigerator and so many conveniences, what need is there of a servant?

‘That apartment over the chemist's is small, but it is a gem, I have not seen it, Olga told me about it, this daughter of Nino's.'

She said, ‘It means that if we are a bit cramped, you can sleep with Aunt Ottavia. The aunt does not worry you at all; it is enough to provide her with a book, and one hears nothing more from her.'

She said, ‘l wonder if there will be fitted wardrobes. I wonder if there is a place for my chest of drawers.

‘Now, as soon as we get home, I am going to take my temperature. I may easily have a bit of fever.

‘I wonder if I should take an aspirin. I don't digest it as a rule. It is like lead in my stomach.

‘The only drawback with that apartment over the chemist's is that the train passes very near. I sleep so lightly, how shall I ever drop off.

‘I wonder if the chemist's bell will wake us in the night. I wonder if it rings loudly.

‘But it will be convenient to have the chemist's shop beneath us. One will only have to go down a few steps if we need anything.

‘I wonder if they keep the stuff that I take for my blood pressure at the chemist's in Cignano.'

THE END

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