Authors: Natalia Ginzburg
Vincenzino's wife was called CatÃ¨. She was tall and sturdy. She had a wealth of blonde hair which she did sometimes in two tresses tightly pressed over the ears, and sometimes in a soft heavy mass, twisted and pinned on the crown of her head.
Her round face was bronzed with the sun and slightly freckled. She had high prominent cheekbones and green eyes somewhat slanting upwards to her temples.
She was long remembered in the village returning from the stream where she went to bathe, with the wind catching up her short skirt over her shapely legs. Her hair would be damp and hang untidily over her forehead. Over her shoulder would be a wet towel soiled with sand.
People remembered her, too, coming down the hill, her mouth stained with mulberry juice, a tall handsome blonde with her blonde children.
When she went to the stream in summer she wore a blue dress with a white strip on the bottom of the skirt, and she tied up her hair in a handkerchief with blue and white spots. When she went ski-ing in winter she wore a white pull-over with the collar rolled back. On cool autumn evenings when she sat in the garden she had a black shawl over her shoulders, such as the poorer women wear.
She had married Vincenzino without love. But she had thought that he was so good, if a bit melancholy, and that he must therefore be intelligent.
She had also remembered that he had plenty of money and she had none.
Yet in those early days when she was at Casa Mercanti an infinite sadness came over her. She was there in the long afternoons looking at the cabbages in the garden behind the house. It seemed to her that the whole world was full of cabbages and she used to cry because she longed so much to return to her mother.
Borgo Martino was not so far away, but she did not venture to go there because her husband was against it.
At home in Borgo Martino was her mother a widow, who owned a small stationery shop, and three small sisters who were at school. There was always a great deal of cheerfulness and noise in the house.
By contrast in Casa Mercanti silence always reigned. She went sometimes to the kitchen to pass the time discussing things with Pinuccia, the servant whom her mother-in-law Signora Cecilia had made over to her. She used to tell Pinuccia about her home, and the wild moments of laughter they had there she and her sisters. Pinuccia listened as she peeled the potatoes and occasionally rubbed her nose with her chapped hand.
Late in the evening Vincenzino returned and by then she had fallen asleep in her arm-chair waiting for him.
Vincenzino also had married without love. He had thought she was healthy, honest and a good girl.
He had also thought in some tortuous way that a marriage like that would please his father. For it could in some measure resemble Balotta's own marriage. He had chosen Cecilia from some neighbouring hamlet, choosing her because she was blonde, poor and healthy.
After he had married her Vincenzino realized that he had nothing to say to her They passed the evenings in silence, the one opposite the other in arm-chairs in the sitting-room.
He read a book, picking his nose. Now and again he watched her knitting, her fair head leaning back in the rosy light of the lampshade. He thought her very beautiful, but did not consider that she was his type. He liked brunettes; blondes meant nothing to him.
In the afternoons, shut up in her room, she cried hard, by the window from which the cabbages could be seen. On coming home he found her with swoUen face and reddened eyes Then he gently asked her to go and see her mother the next day at Borgo Martino.
Little by little she got in the way of going there often, on her bicycle. She went almost every day. She also went sometimes on Sunday afternoon. On Sundays Vincenzino at any rate spent the afternoon sleeping, reading or studying plans for the factory and would not notice her going out.
Left alone in the house, Vincenzino went from room to room in his pyjamas All the rooms were cool, dimly lit, and a restful silence reigned in them. Pinuccia had gone out, too. He poured himself out a large glass of whisky with ice and mineral water. He had learned to drink whisky in America. He settled into his arm-chair in the sitting-room with a book and the glass at his side.
He liked being alone in this way. He felt a profound relief and solace.
Then they had children. A boy was born and then a baby girl and then a boy again. In the meadow opposite the house nappies hung up to dry on a line fastened between two pear trees, and on the grass were toys and little pails to be seen. A country woman came from Soprano to look after the children, and she was provided with blue aprons.Â CatÃ¨ was busy and had stopped crying. She did not go so often to Borgo Martino.
But she did not like anyone in the village. She found Signora Cecilia tiresome, an old
, a word they used in her home at Borgo Martino. It meant something like a chatterbox. There was a coolness between her and Gemmina; there always had been, from the time when she had married Vincenzino. Possibly Gemmina was jealous of her for her good looks; or perhaps she thought she had married Vincenzino for his money, without love.
She did not take to Purillo. Xenia just seemed to her mad. She liked Nebbia well enough, especially because he came from Borgo Martino. But Pupazzina, Nebbia's wife, no, she did not care for her one little bit. She found her a bore, and thought she looked after her children badly. They were always rather dirty and never went out.
She used to go occasionally with Raffaella, Vincenzino's younger sister, to bathe in the stream. But she got bored with Raffaella, too. At eighteen Raffaella was more like a boisterous hobbledehoy. She let herself go playing with the children and she made them join in games that were too noisy and dangerous. She got them to dive into the whirlpools of the stream or climb up the highest rocks.
CatÃ¨ embarked on spending money, seeing that there was so much of it. She ordered clothes for herself in the town and also a cape of dark musquash She did not wear it often, because it seemed to give her âan air, as they used to say at home in Borgo Martino, like an old kangaroo'. This was a word which in their slang meant âa madame.'
In imitation of Xenia she bought some tight trousers of black velvet. But Nebbia said they did not suit her, because they accentuated her hips.
She took offence at that and told Vinoenzino that he could shut up, could Nebbia, and his wife, too, always dressed in ridiculous bits and pieces.
from Torre and sent Pinuccia to buy the strawberries at Castel Piccolo. Pinuccia would return, heated and sticky after coming up the path in the full sun, but without any strawberries, because they had already been all taken, early in the morning by those people at the Villa Rondine.
Occasionally she went to La Casetta to see Signora Cecilia Cecilia showed her her hydrangeas, carnations and roses, and also a clump of moss-roses grown from seeds brought by Purillo from Holland.
Sometimes she went to Le Pietre, Barba Tommaso would meet her at the garden gate, and kiss her hand, brushing it lightly with his old cheek so rosy and well shaved. This was because he liked it to be said that he was still rather a rouÃ©, and that at seventy he could still pay court to the ladies.
Magna Maria was there, too, with her grey hair brushed back and her long red nose which had a wart on one nostril, the size of a pea, and she would offer, her some apricots and a glass of sweet wine; she would embrace her and then embrace her again and keep saying,
'How are you? Are you well? Splendid, splendid! And the children? Splendid, splendid! And your mother? Splendid, splendid! But how splendid yon are!'
She was not a bit amusing, all the same, that Magna Maria.
She got into the habit of going to the mountains every Sunday with Nebbia, Purillo and Raffaella for rock-climbing in the summer and ski-ing in the winter.
Raffaella behaved herself like a rowdy boy; she came down the slopes bawling like a wild thing and thumping everyone on the back with her hands heavy as lead. In the free air of the mountains she let herself go more than ever. She particularly delighted in playing tricks on Purillo, giving him soap when he asked for cheese, and cheese when he wanted soap. Or she put chestnut husks down his neck, which she had brought specially from the garden. Purillo patiendy disentangled these husks from his woolen pullover. They were harmless tricks, rather stupid, learnt at school.
They all made fun of Purillo because he was such a Fascist, and they mimicked him receiving the Party officers at the works, and being lavish with the Roman salute.
Purillo would smile, arching his little moudi, pushing Raffaella's hand away as she gave him a punch in the stomach, heavy as lead.
Towards evening they stopped off at the rest house to have some mulled wine and sing,
Linda, Linda, my only true love
You're cosy indoors, I've the heavens above!
It was Nebbia's song.
But Nebbia was always in a hurry to get home if he was not to find Pupazzina in a huff.Â CatÃ¨ used to chaff him then for being afraid of Pupazzina.
They had left the car at Le Alpette, a little village on the road. It was always Nebbia's car, because Purilloâhe and his Isotta-Fraschiniâkept his in swaddling-clothes.
CatÃ¨ used to find Vincenzino still sitting up, reading with his glass of whisky. She would try a little sip of it and make a grimace because she did not care about the strong flavour.
âHow goes it, darling?' he said.
And he went on reading. She went to undress and chose a nightdress from the chest of drawers. She had a great many nightdresses; she liked pretty fine ones of embroidered silk, of
âWhat a pretty nightdress!' Vincenzino said, coming in to undress.
âWhen I was a little girl my mother made me wear nightdresses of flowered flannel with long sleeves, which I could not bear.'
And she said as she was going to sleep,
âHe is not so bad, after all, Purillo.'
For she was happy and felt full of tolerance and friendliness to everybody.
Then she began to go to parties and dances. Sometimes Vinocenzino went with her; otherwise Purillo took her.
In the village they began saying that she was Purillo's lover. She knew that, because Pinuccia the maid reported it to her. She told Vincenzino, laughing.
'l and Purillo!'
But now when she came to La Casetta old Balotta looked at her sternly and found fault with everything she said.
Her two sisters sometimes came to Borgo Martino to look for her. They were as young as ever. They would stay the night and romp with the children after supper. But she had an engagement for the evening and was dressing impatiently.
Vincenzino would say to her,
âWhy don't you take your sisters with you as well?'
She would say as she was putting on her earrings,
âNo, they are too young. And anyhow they have not been asked.'
The truth was she did not want to take them with her for fear that people would find them rather common.
âAnd they haven't anything to wear either.'
âTomorrow you can buy them some clothes.'
Sometimes Nebbia came to spend the evening with them He left Pupazzina at home because CatÃ¨ and she could not bear one another. Nebbia discussed things about the works with Vincenzino, and they two were in agreement against old Balotta, whose ideas were old-fashioned.
She got bored and waited for the conversation to turn on something nice.
âHow tiresome you are!'
âBe quiet for a bit, dear,' Nebbia would say to her.
They used familiar terms to each other because they had been friends from childhood.
âLife,' she said one evening to Nebbia,Â âis really fine.'
She had enjoyed herself very much in the afternoon at a tea given at the Villa Rondine. She had met a violinist, a friend of Xenia, who was staying at the time at the Villa Rondine; a little fellow whom everyone there called
except Xenia, who was more familiar with him.
âLife,' said Nebbia,Â âis fine for me and for Vincenzino because we have things to do But for you it must be an awful bore, because you do nothing all day long.'
âI? I do nothing?' said she.
âWell no. What do you do?' said Nebbia.
âAnd your wife? Your wife, what does she do?,' said she.
âMy wife,' said Nebbia, âdoes not do anything either. You have the servants for the children and the house. You are bourgeoisie and get bored like every fine lady.'
âl am not a fine lady lam not bourgeois! l do not know why, but I am not bourgeois, not even in my dreams.'
Vincenzino began to laugh.
âAnyhow,' said she 'even if I am
, it is nothing to me. And I am not bored, because I enjoy myself. And even if I have a nursery maid, I am busy with the children, and take them out in any sort of weather. Pupazzina, on the other hand, never takes hers out for fear of their catching cold. Look how pale they are. And mine never have sore throats.'
She had spoken rapidly and remained breathless. But Nebbia would not have anything said about his Pupazzina.
He said, âLeave Pupazzina alone. What has she done to you?'
âNothing to me,' she said and shrugged her shoulders.
And then she said, I have been at the Villa Rondine today. They have now set up two big angels, of gilded wood, in the hall. They found them in an antique shop, in the town. They are not a bit pretty.
âWe shall have to move house,' she said. âWe are cramped here. We have not even got an ironing-room, and the ironing has to be done in the kitchen. At the Villa Rondine they have a large ironing-room, complete with fitted cupboards, and the linen well arranged. And now they have renovated the kitchen, with a marble floor; it is lovely.'
âI am not even thinking of moving house,' said Vincenzino. âI am quite all right here.'