Read Voices In The Evening Online

Authors: Natalia Ginzburg

Voices In The Evening (7 page)

They had this argument about the house almost every evening.

‘Xenia,' said she, ‘is not at all unlikeable. She is always very nice to me.'

Meanwhile Nebbia, as not being interested in these discussions, had fallen asleep, with his head on the back of the arm-chair, and was smiling faintly in his sleep.

‘Why does he come here, if he goes to sleep?' said Catè. ‘He has become awfully boring, has Nebbia. He is a perfect fool.'

After Nebbia had gone away they began to get ready for bed; meanwhile Vincenzino was still wandering round the rooms, and would pick up a book and plunge his nose in it.

She was thinking about that violinist whom she had met at Xenia's; and of how he had remained sitting by her side on a stool, and had told her that she had such an interesting head and resembled Botticelli's 

His name was Giorgio Tebaldi. He was a very little man with grey hair, and a rather sing-song voice, just slightly so.

He was so small that he did not come up to her shoulder, and already entirely grey, and not at all young, he could not be.

She did not care about him; and yet had been content to stay there for an eternity, in the drawing-room at the Villa Rondine, listening to that gentle singing voice which soothed her.

That voice seemed to stir plaintively within her if she thought about it again; a kind of plaintive sound which annoyed her, and yet stirred her.

‘How lovely it is, how lovely to be alive! and how dangerous! It is really dangerous, but so lovely.' Those were her thoughts.

‘I am not bourgeois at all,' she said to Vincenzino, who had undressed beside her. ‘Nebbia understands nothing. His wife, yes; she is a true bourgeois. But I, no.'

‘No, darling,' said Vincenzino.

And they fell asleep.

The next day Xenia sent to invite her tip to the Villa Rondine again. They were in the garden Xenia and the violinist, drinking grapefruit juice in green glasses.

Because of Xenia it was necessary to speak French. Catè got on badly in French and was ashamed of it.

Then they went into the drawing-room and Xenia sat down to the piano. He put a handkerchief on his shoulder, set his chin on the violin, tightened the muscles of his face and played Sibelius's
Valse Triste
. Xenia accompanied him at the piano with a dreamy ironic look in her large eyes, so heavily shadowed, and hummed the music with closed lips.

Then the three of them went for a stroll in the shrubbery, with the little dogs ahead of them.

The day after, he came for her and the two of them went alone to the town to the antique dealer, because she had said that she liked those gilded angels, and would like similar ones.

But it was not true that she liked them, and she had only said so to be polite to Xenia, and because she was feeling happy.

The dealer had not got any more of those angels, but there was instead a Moor's head, and he told her that it was very fine.

She bought it.

The dealer undertook to send it to her. Then they went on to a café. The café was very dark and deserted, and they sat down in a corner right at the back. He gazed at her. She did not know what to say and was twisting her scarf in her hands.

She felt she was snared under his gaze as though in the meshes of a net. She was uneasy and had a great desire to run away and at the same time to remain there.

He said with that caressing voice.

‘It is lovely for me to have met you dear.'

She said in a stupid way,

‘You simply must not be so familiar.'

Immediately she felt ashamed of having spoken so. She looked at the clock and said it was time for the motor-bus and she must be going.

As the bus was full, only she was able to sit down and he remained standing near the ticket-desk.

She watched him being some way from him. So small with his grey hair, a light soft hat too big for him, a hand in his pocket, and an absorbed rather sad look.

Then she thought that all men if one observed them rather closely had that air of being unprotected solitary and absorbed and that troubled a woman: and she thought that that was very dangerous.

She asked him to come in for a moment and have some tea.

Vincenzino came in while they were having tea in the sitting-room. As always happened when someone was introduced to him, Vincenzino threw back his shoulders, and had that sharp look of his, like a cold flash of light.

He sat down and talked about music, gazing into space: a long interminable murmur. After a little while Giorgio Tebaldi went away.

She went to her room, and threw herself on the bed; she had a great impulse to laugh and at the same time was frightened.

‘How small he is, how small! Tiny!' she said and laughed all by herself. ‘And he is not a bit good-looking, he is ugly. Vincenzino is better and even Nebbia and Purillo.'

She could see him as he put the handkerchief on his shoulder, rested his chin on his violin and tightened the muscles of his face: and now she did not know why, but he worried her with that violin and the handkerchief.

Just once she had called him
and had felt very ridiculous, because she was not used to addressing people so.

The next day the Moor's head arrived: and she put it in the sitting-room on a bookcase. Vincenzino found it very ugly; and Nebbia thought it horrible. But Vincenzino told her to keep it there all the same in the sitting-room, if she liked it.

He did not care a bit about ornaments and decorations.

The next day Giorgio Tebaldi again called for her, and they went for a walk in the country.

So, they became lovers.

It lasted for a few days; and then he went away. He sent her two postcards, one from Verona, and one from Florence, just with his signature only He had asked her if she could write to him sometimes, to a poste-restante: but she had said no.

‘It has been nothing, nothing,' she reflected. ‘It happens to so many women, to so many it happens, it is nothing, no one has known of it, and I must go on as if it had never happened.'

But she was sick of the Moor's head, and put it in the shoe-cupboard. Moreover, she found it rather distasteful to go back to the Villa Rondine. However, she went back there sometimes, because now Xenia often gave tea parties and at-homes. It seemed to her that there was a vaguely ironic smile in her heavy weary eyes, as she handed some fruit juice in a green glass, just as on that day a while ago.

One evening while they were coming home from the Villa Rondine she said to Vincenzino,

‘You know, I was a bit in love with that violinist.'

‘What violinist?' he said.

‘Giorgio Tebaldi.'

After a long silence he asked,

‘Did you make love?'

‘No,' she said. ‘No.'

But her heart was as heavy as stone, for having lied.

At times she began to cry when she was alone, and said

‘Oh, why am I so unfortunate?'

And she said, ‘If Vincenzino was not so strange, if he would talk to me, if only he were different! If he were different, more like other people! Then I should be a different woman, much better!

After that she began to make love with those who came her way; she even made love with Purillo. With Nebbia, no, she never made love with him, because it never entered her head to do so with Nebbia; he was tied to Pupazzina.

Vincenzino knew everything, and she saw well enough that he knew everything; she hated him, because he knew, and nevertheless continued to be the same as ever, to go for walks by himself, to drink whisky, to write up plans for the works, and to read books, plunging his nose into them.

Vincenzino and 

the war Vincenzino and Catè separated.

The children were in Rome, at school.

Through the whole period of the war Catè and Xenia with their children had been at Sorrento. Sorrento had been Xenia's idea a happy idea because, in fact, the fighting ad not pass that way.

Later Catè and Xenia quarrelled, over a matter of linen. But it was an excuse, as their relations had deteriorated for some time through inscrutable reasons.

Catè went away from Sorrento and took a house in Rome in the Viale Parioli.

Mario returned from being a prisoner in Germany with his lungs in a bad state and with some internal trouble. He and Xenia went back to the Vila Rondine Xenia had a homoeopathic doctor brought from Switzerland, and installed him permanently in the house to look after Mario.

This doctor treated him, with minute doses of a green powder, and then with certain white pills, and ordered him a diet of raw vegetables which Xenia mixed in an electric shredder, a thing that had just come into fashion and was called a Gogo.

Mario was happy.

All the same, he died in a few months, always happy and foil of confidence in the doctor, with whom he played chess all day long. In these last days the doctor, being scared, had him moved to a clinic in the town, where he died.

Xenia left the Villa Rondine, and Purillo came to live there. Xenia established herself in the town with her children and married the Swiss doctor, continuing, however, always to wear a widow's black clothes, and to have dozens and dozens of eggs sent in from the country, since those of the town did not seem any too fresh.

Raffaella, who had joined the partisans, did not manage to accustom herself to a quiet way of life again. She enrolled in the Communist Party, and toured the countryside on a bicycle with propaganda booklets. Tommasino was at school at Salice and came home when he had finished there, a tall thin youth of eighteen.

Tommasino and Rafiaella went to live together in a small apartment in the heart of the village, behind the works. They had their meals in the restaurant at the Concordia. But Purillo told them they could build themselves a good house.

Raffaella did not want to and said that the money was not theirs at all, but belonged to the workers.

However, ‘Raffaella and Tommasino did have a house built. A very modem house, quite circular, with a flat roof and an outside spiral staircase. It stands above the Villa Rondine on the brow of the hilL

Raffaella bought a horse. She had had a mania for horses from childhood.

Tommasino enrolled in the Agricultural Society and lived in the town. He came to the country on Saturdays. Raffaella had left the Communist Party, and had joined a little group of dissident Communists which had only three members in the whole district.

In contrast Vincenzino belonged to the Christian Left.

Vincenzino had served in the war on the Greek front, had been taken prisoner and sent to India. He returned to Italy more than a year after the end of the war. Catè and the children were in Rome.

They sent the children to boarding school. By now they were youngsters. Both Catè and Vincenzino were in agreement not to remain together.

Catè had now had her hair cut and wore it very short and brushed back. She had developed a thin hard face with the mouth somewhat drawn down.

As for Vincenzino, he was always just the same.

Only, he wore spectacles now for reading having become long-sighted.

They came back to the village together. Catè stopped at the Concordia, and he went to sleep at Casa Mercanti. They did not consider themselves now husband and wife any longer. They were very polite to one another; but every now and then quarrels broke out between them on the slightest pretext.

Raffaella came to the Concordia to look for Catè.

Catè wished to go to the cemetery to take some flowers for Balotta and Signora Cecilia. They went, she and Raffaella. Balotta and his wife were buried together in a tomb with a dome, like a small villa, surrounded by little trees. Balotta had bought the tomb a long time ago when he fell ill with trouble in his gall bladder.

Catè cried, blowing her nose loudly in a tiny handkerchief. Her mother had died, too, during the war at Borgo Martino. Her sisters had married and gone to live elsewhere. The stationery shop had vanished, a garage having been put in its place.

They went on to Le Pietre. There was Barba Tommaso still, as always, fresh, rosy, handsome, but in his second childhood. He did not recognize Catè and asked Raffaella in a loud voice,

‘Who is it, who is it?'

Magna Maria was in the kitchen with the maid Pinuccia, whom they now had.

Pinuccia and Catè kissed.

Magna Maria gave her some sweet wine and figs, and said

‘So, you have cut your hair off. Ah, splendid splendid!'

She said it, however, with less assurance than of old.

As they came away Catè asked Raffaella to show her the place behind Le Pietre where they had murdered Nebbia.

They went. There was a large tall pointed rock stained with lichen It was just there that they had murdered him.

Catè cried. She touched everything, the rock, the trees around it and the clump of bushes where they found his hat. She looked and touched and wept.

She had not wanted to see Gemmina or Purilla. So they came back by the roadway, avoiding going by La Casetta, and passed by the shrubbery, of the Villa Rondine.

Catè continued to cry. Raffaella said,

‘How you cry I You are a regular fountain!'

However, she took her to her house, and made her lie down on a bed, and gave her a hot-water bottle and some aspirin.

Catè said,

‘Why is everything ruined, everything?'

‘What is ruined?' said Raffaella.

She wanted to take her to the stables to see the horse before she went away. But Catè knew little about horses. However, she looked at it and smiled, being anxious to please, and said its coat was a good colour. She touched its tail with one finger. But the horse started, and kicked, and she was frightened.

‘You have always been a great coward,' said Raffaella. ‘Do you remember when we went to the mountains and your legs were all of a tremble coming down, and Nebbia got cross?'

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