Read Voices In The Evening Online

Authors: Natalia Ginzburg

Voices In The Evening (3 page)

While they were on their way home Barba Tommaso said to him,

‘Nebbia was never a Socialist, he was a Communist.'

‘No matter,' said old Balotta, ‘and you shut up, what a ninny you always are!'

At home again, Magna Maria put him to bed. He was flushed and fevered and had difficulty with his breathing.

He died in the night.

In the neighbourhood they said what a tragedy— that old Balotta is dead. Who knows what has become of his children, and the factory is left in Purillo's hands.

They said,

‘All those children and not one of them here at the moment of his death.'

The day after he died his younger daughter Raffaella appeared, the one who had been in the mountains with the Partisans. She was wearing trousers, a red handkerchief round her neck, and a pistol in a holster.

She was eager for her father to see her with that pistol. She came to Le Pietre and found Magna Maria at the garden gate with black crepe on her head. Maria began to cry and said,

‘What a tragedy—what a tragedy!'

Then she embraced Raffaella and said,

‘How splendid you are! Yes, splendid, splendid!' and added,

‘But don't you ever fire that pistol here.'

3
Elsa and her Family

D
URING
the war we went away first to Castello and first to Castel Piccolo for fear that the village would be bombed because of the factory.

My mother kept chickens at Castello and turkeys and rabbits, and had also started a colony of bees. But there must have been somethingwrong with the hives, because the bees thed, the whole lot of them, when the snow came.

At Castel Piccolo she would not have any more animals. She said that when she had to look after animals she became fond of them and she could not bear cooking them any more.

Now we have various animals at our dairy farm. This is called La Vigna and lies in the direction of the woods of Castello about a kilometre from us. My mother goes to La Vigna two or three times every week. But she does not make friends with the animals. The woman on the farm looks after them and Antonia kills, plucks or skins them, and my mother puts them all in the pot widiout troubling herself, because she does not stop to think that they once had feathers or skins.

After the Liberation my sister was called on to be an interpreter, because she had a good knowledge of English. An American colonel fell in love with her and they got married and went off to Johannesburg. In civil life he had a business down there.

I went to the university in the town. I lived together with the younger of the little Bottiglia girls at the Protestant Centre. Giulana Bottiglia completed her teachers' training and I took a degree in literature and then we both returned home.

About twice every week I go to town on one pretext or another—to change the books at the ‘Selecta' library for Aunt Ottavia, to buy threads for my mother's embroidery or a special brand of English tobacco for my father.

I usually go on the motor-bus which leaves at midday from the piazza and get off in the Corso Piacenza in the town two steps away from the Yk dello Statute, where the ‘Selecta' library is.

The last bus is at ten o'clock in the evening.

I was in the little arm-chair. I pressed my hands against the sides of the stove and took them away when I felt them burning and put them to my face, and then put them on the stove again. And so I whiled away half an hour.

Giuliana Bottiglia appeared.

She was wearing black stockings, as was the fashion at that time, and black leather gloves, a very short white raincoat and a black silk scarf on her head.

‘Am I disturbing you?' she said.

She sat down and took off her gloves and scarf and began to comb her wavy hair. Then she shook it out; it is black and fluffed out, with little curls, like commas, on the temples.

‘l went to the cinema today,' she said, ‘at Cignano.'

‘What were they doing?”

‘Fiery Darkness.'

‘But why was the darkness fiery?'

‘Because He was an engineer—gone blind,' she said, ‘and She was a woman off the streets, but He did not know that and believed She was pure and they get married. They take a very fine apartment. But He begins to have his suspicions.'

‘Why suspicions?'

‘Because She had told him that previously She had been poor, and instead He discovers that She was by no means so poor, since She has a good deal of jewellery. He discovers that because the maid tells him she had seen her with the jewellery.'

‘Previously?'

‘Yes, previously. And one evening He hears her talking to someone on the terrace. This is a banker very much enamoured of her who knows about her past, and is blackmailing her. He tells her that either She makes love with him or if not he goes to the blind man and tells him everything. The banker is Yul Brynner.'

‘The one with the shaven head?'

‘Yes, Then the engineer decides to have an operation which either kills him or restores his sight. Well, they do it and He gets his sight; at first all is confused, and then clear, and She is there looking lovely with an ermine cape. And He takes the cape in his arms and cries.'

‘Cries?'

‘Yes Then they go to a villa for a holiday, but Yul Brynner comes, too. And in the night Brynner looks for her and at last finds her in a little room, with some books, a sort of library And he wants to kill her, and the engineer comes in and finds them together.'

‘And then?'

‘Then the end is that Yul Brynner runs away with the engineer after him and they are on a window ledge. She, too, has got on to the ledge to save the engineer and then She falls off it.'

'Killed?'

‘Yes.'

‘And the engineer?'

‘The engineer fires at the banker and he dies. But before he dies in the hospital he tells the engineer that She was as innocent as a saint. And the engineer goes blind again.'

‘Goes blind again?'

‘Yes.'

‘Why does he go blind again?'

‘Because his eyes were still weak and, you see, the retina becomes detached through shock.'

‘It was an idiotic film.'

‘Not at all. They did it well.'

‘And you went to Cignano to see it?'

‘To Cignano, yes.'

‘By bus?”

‘No, on my bicycle with my sister Maria and Maria Mosso.'

Was the Chinese man nice?'

‘Was the Chinese man nice?'

‘The one at the dance at the Terenzis'.'

‘He wasn't Chinese he was an Indian and he was at least seventy. Gigi Sartorio brought him.'

She was smoothing her gloves on her lap, gently, gently, with her eyes lowered and her head a bit on one side, and she said,

‘Tommasino was there.'

‘Where?'

‘At the Tetenzis dance.'

‘He was?”

‘Yes, he was.'

And—well?'

‘Nothing. He was there, that's all.'

She continued to smooth her gloves without looking at me, and said,

‘You do not tell me anything any more. I used to be your friend.'

I stirred the ash in the stove and said,

‘I don't tell you anything, about what?'

‘I come here, we talk about silly little things. I bore you, I know it.'

‘You don't bore me at all I was amused by the story of the engineer.'

I bore you, I know it.'

She pulled on her gloves, and fastened the belt of her raincoat.

‘I must be going now.'

At the door, without turning round, she said,

‘They saw you!'

‘What?'

‘They saw you, with Tommasino.'

‘Who did?'

‘My sister Maria and Maria Mosso. They saw you both in a bar.'

‘And then?'

‘Oh, nothing.'

‘Giuliana! What is the party at the Terenzis'?' cried my mother at the foot of the stairs.

‘I don't know.'

‘Because we met Gigi Sartorio with a salad bowl.'

‘But he was not going to the Terenzis' he was going to the Mossos' to take them some
zabaione
because they had made so much—what was left over. They gave us some as well.'

‘But how much had they made? A barrel?' said my mother

She said ‘What an idea to put the
zabaione
in a salad bowl.'

‘And where should they put it?' said Aunt Ottavia.

‘In a glass dish, good gracious!'

‘We made some
beignets,'
said Giuhana, ‘as we do not care for
zabaione
by itself.'

‘We, on the contrary, 'said my mother, 'like eating very lightly in the evening.'

One could read in her expression her annoyance because we had been excluded from the little
zabaione
party.

4
Balotta's Children

B
ALOTTA
had five children. The eldest is Gemmina. She is now over forty; she has not married and lives at La Casetta. When she came back from Switzerland she said,

‘No one is going to take La Casetta away from me.'

Her brothers and sister wanted to come and live there after they had all returned to the district; but she repeatedly said,

‘La Casetta was Mama's and Papa's and no one is going to take it from me.'

It was useless to point out to her that Mama and Papa were Mama and Papa to the others and not merely to her.

Gemmina remained at La Casetta on her own, with one servant, an old nurse who had brought up all the brothers and sisters one after the other.

Vincenzo and Mario wanted to have her, too, as nurse when they had children.

But Gemmina said,

‘No one takes nurse away from me. Nurse stays with me and anyone who interferes with her can look out for himself.'

Gemmina is tall and thin. Her peroxide hair is cut short. Her face is long and narrow, all chin. Her complexion is mottled. An old rash she had once has left livid marks.

In the winter she wears a Casentino overcoat, a beret of shaggy fur, and ski-ing trousers. She is always busy and runs backwards and forwards on her motor-scooter from Castello to Cignano, and from Cignano to Castello. She has started a hospital at Castello and an arts and crafts shop at Cignano. In the window are displayed knitted slippers, boxes of inlaid wood and pictures of Alpine subjects.

She buys apples for the hospital on her way through Soprano, where they are cheap.

Her greatest delight is in organizing charity teas. She gets eight or ten girls going and sends one to Magna Maria to make her give some nuts of which they have plenty at Le Pietre. These are to stick in the cheese rolls Another girl is sent to the baker at Cignano to beg for broken biscuits which can be ground in a coffee mill and made into a paste with some cocoa. The result is some little cakes, not at all nice, but eatable all the same.

She is mean and does not contribute anything of her own, either money or anything else. She manages to make everyone give her money and things for her hospital and her other enterprises

All the same, she does go and fish out various little things at home, which she does not know what to do with, for raffles and cotillons—cardboard Easter eggs, silk linings, heart-shaped corkscrews, and pincushions.

When she started the hospital she used to be there of a morning to supervise the work, in her Casentino overcoat, with her nose inflamed by the cold, which also made the marks on her face still more livid, her mountaineering boots, and a cigarette in an onyx holder.

She is fond of receptions and parties. On such occasions she turns out very smartly, with her beaver cape, jewellery and one of the various evening dresses which she has made in the town by a good dressmaker.

She likes meeting contessas at these parties, because she is, in fact, a snob.

She is always running to and fro from morning till evening. She stops for a chat with everybody, because she knows everybody in the district, and to everyone she says closing her eyes and snorting, lam worn out.'

She gets home late, and throws herself on the sofa with a pillow under her legs to help her circulation.

She says, ‘I am worn out.'

She stays there with her eyes closed, trying to relax, and not to think of anything; for she has read in a magazine that relaxing gives the skin a rest.

‘Nurse, the hot-water bottle, and my account-book.'

In comes the nurse with soft steps; she is stout and bent and wears a starched white apron. Her unvaryingly dour countenance is brown and wrinkled like leather.

Gemmina begins turning the leaves of the account-book. Here are the records of her transactions, complicated operations of spending and receiving.

Old Balotta considered her by no means stupid, and used to say she was cut out for business. Only he added,

‘Pity she has no sex appeal. And then she has a very bad complexion. Pity she did not take after her mother, who was as fresh as a rose when she was young.'

Gemmina fell in love with Nebbia.

This caused her distress, because love made her still thinner and plainer. In order to be pleasing to him she tinted her cheeks and lips scarlet. She did it badly, without skill, because she only learnt to make up much later in Switzerland, where she had a friend who worked in a beauty parlour. She used too dark a powder, almost marron, to hide the marks on her skin

She used to wait for him every evening at the gates of the factory and everyone knew that she was waiting for Nebbia, Nebbia alone had not understood this, because he was simple-minded and stupid about love and his thoughts were elsewhere.

Nebbia would come out with his fanlike ears, his tortoise-shell spectacles, and his big serious mouth.

‘What are you doing here? he would say. ‘Your father left some time ago.'

She would say,

‘Are you going to give me a lift?'

He put her on the bracket of his bicycle and took her home. He would leave her at some distance firom La Casetta at the foot of the path, and remount his machine.

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