Read Voices In The Evening Online

Authors: Natalia Ginzburg

Voices In The Evening (8 page)

‘Yes,'said Catè.

‘And when we went to the stream with the children, and I wanted us to dive, and you were afraid?'

‘Yes,' said Catè and began to cry once more.

‘That's enough, for God's sake,' said Raffaella

Meanwhile Vincenzino had come for her, so she washed her face and said good-bye to Raffaella and went off with Vincenzino by the path which leads to Casa Mercanti.

What a hideous place!' said Catè. ‘What a hideous, hideous place! A really stupid place! I don't know how I managed to stay here all those years.'

They had to make an inventory of the furniture, empty the cupboards, count the articles that belonged to the one or the other, count the plates and table things.

Vincenzino put on his spectacles and began to write in a pocket-book.

Catè, kneeling on the carpet, set about counting the spoons and forks.

‘I don't care a rap about all these spoons,' she said suddenly.

‘I care less about them than you do,' he said.

‘Then why do we count them?'

‘Because it is the thing to do,' said he.

She sighed and began again,

‘What will you do with this house?' she said, ‘Will you come and live here with someone?'

‘I don't know,' said he.

‘It is a fine house,' she said, ‘and yet I did not like it when I was here and wanted to look for another, and you did not want to. Do you remember?'

‘Yes.'

‘I was foolish,' she said, ‘I was foolish, just because I was young, nothing else.

‘I got depressed,' she said, looking at all those cabbages from the windows of our room. Now there are no more cabbages on that piece of land. Have they begun to build a shop or something?

‘And there, sitting in that arm-chair of an evening,' she said, ‘used to be Nebbia, and it was all so nice, and it seemed nothing to have him sitting there, asleep, and now we shall never see him any more!'

‘Happiness,' he said, ‘always seems nothing. It is like water; one only realizes it when it has run away.'

That is true,' she said. She thought for a moment and said,

‘It is the same with the evil we do; it seems nothing, just seems foolishness, cold water, while we are doing it. Otherwise people would not do it; they would be more careful.'

‘True,' he said.

She said, ‘Why have we ruined everything, everything?' and she began to cry. She said,

‘I can't leave this house. I brought up my children here, I have been here so many years, so many years. I can' t—I can' t leave it.'

‘Then you want to stay here?' he asked.

And she said, ‘No'—and went away the next day.

Vincenzino remained alone.

For a while he stayed at Casa Mercanti, then he moved to the house where Raffaella and Tommasino were, on the brow of the hill.

He went to Rome, once or twice a month, to see his children. Catè was there in Rome, in her apartment in the Viale Parioli. They never saw one another.

He used to take the children sweets and presents. He also took them on one occasion a flute. But they were not interested in music; they only liked mechanical things, motors.

The Christian Left was disbanded and he did not belong to any party after that. He wrote a book about his time as a prisoner in India, and had a resounding success with it.

He was surprised and pleased also; then he immediately put it out of his thoughts.

He was now in sole command at the works. His hands were free, and he was able to do as he pleased. He had many plans in his head and he was able to realize them. There was a whole world of things in his head.

He was always the same, with his fair curly hair thick and close like a carpet. He hadn't a grey hair. He had developed a cool rather weary manner of authority that appealed to the women.

He could probably have had all the women he wanted. But he did not want anyone.

When he went to the town he ended up occasionally by spending the evening at Xenia's. He played chess with the Swiss doctor whom Xenia had married, and drank whisky. The doctor gave him advice about his liver, which he had ruined with whisky, and prescribed some minute doses of that green powder of his in little papers.

In the village he sometimes spent the evenings with Purillo. It surprised him that he liked passing the time in this way, with his old enemies, Xenia and Purillo.

Purillo was still very much scared, when he returned from Switzerland after the war, so scared that before he did return he had waited some time and could not make up his mind. To begin with he remained shut up in the Villa Rondine without ever setting foot in the works. He was thin, wasted away by fear, and there he was in the house with his
purillo
cap on his head and wearing an overcoat because there at the Vila Rondine the water was frozen in the central-heating system and the boilers had burst: they had to burn wood in the stoves, which did not draw and heated badly.

He was assailed with regrets for having been a Fascist. That seemed to him an enormous act of folly, quite unforgivable, wMch had put a stain on Ms whole life At times he spoke of making away with himself. Vincenzino had to comfort him and calm him down.

He begged Vincenzino to tell everybody that he, Purillo, had saved Balotta, by taking him away from the village. The Fascists would have killed old Balotta if he had not taken him to Cignano.

‘But they know that in the village,' said Vincenzino, and looked at him sitting there with his
purillo
cap, his badly shaved cheeks, his Adam's apple protruding from his unfastened collar, and his pale hands with folds of skin on their backs. He had hated him so much, he had wasted so much hate on that moustache that turned-up nose—yes, he had wasted so much hatred, and so much fear also, fear that he might take the factory from him, and the power and his father's affection, and who knows what else. And now of all that great hatred there remained nothing at all any more, and even that was saddening.

Raffaella was always coming to see Purillo. She relit the stoves which had gone out, and asked his advice about the horse, Purillo told her that he knew about horses, having had a friend in his youth who owned some stables.

He told Raffaella that he wished to kill himself, since he had blundered so badly and his life made no sense any more.

Raffaella said,

‘But are you mad? You would not seriously want to kill yourself! Put that right out of your head!'

She thumped him on the back with hands heavy as lead, and said,

‘You were not the only Fascist. Italy was full of them!'

Then she said,

‘Come and join my party.'

Purillo said,

‘Communist, I? Never!.

‘But you don't know that I am not a Communist any longer?, said Raffaella. ‘l am a Trotzkyite. For Trotzky…. But bless me you don't know who Trotzky was anyhow.'

Little by little Purillo's spirit revived. He returned to work at the factory. He also began to see something of people again, the Sartorios, the Terenzis, the Bottiglias.

He would not join any party. He said that politics made him feel sick. Nevertheless, sometimes of an evening at General Sartorio's he nerved himself to say,

‘All the same, Mussolini was the right man.'

And he stuck his thumbs in his waistcoat.

‘A pity,' he said, ‘he sided with the Germans. If he had not sided with the Germans, things would have gone very differently. If only Italy, like Switzerland, had remained neutral.'

He took to talking about Switzerland, where he had been so long, and which he said he knew like the seat of his trousers.

He began going round the dairy-farms again as he did before the war, on one excuse or another, and made love to all the peasant women. In the village he had the reputation of being a Don Juan.

In the village, when they see a peasant girl with a baby in her arms, they say,

‘That's one of Purillo's.'

They credit him with hundreds of children.

Then the rumour began to go round that he was marrying Raffaella. People were staggered.

‘Poor thing,' they said. ‘Raffaella, poor thing! What a tragedy, what a tragedy!'

Vincenzino learned of it from Gemmina. He, too, was staggered. Then he was overcome by rage and could have smashed everything before him.

Vincenzino and Raffaella were hving in the same house. They used to have dinner and supper together. Yet she had not told him anything.

‘Purillo,' said Gemmina, ‘must have brooded over and calculated over this for some time. Perhaps even when Mama and Papa were alive.'

She said, ‘It is a good thing that Balotta is not here to see this.' She had a way of calling her father Balotta at times, and she added,

‘Purillo is like a snake which has long sight.'

‘I never knew that snakes had long sight,' said Tommasino, who was also present.

That evening Vincenzino said to Raffaella,

‘Is it true that you are marrying Purillo?

‘Yes,' said she.

Now that he had her before his eyes, he no longer felt angry. He was only very uneasy and put out.

He said, ‘But why?'

She said, ‘Because I am in love with him.'

He reflected that when he married Catè he was not in love with her; on the contrary, he had some strange theories in his head. He remained silent.

But all that night in bed he tossed about between the sheets and said, ‘But how can one be in love with Purillo.'

He gave himself no peace over it, and even asked Tommasino first thing in the morning, while he was shaving in the bathroom,

‘How can one be in love with Purillo?'

Tommasino did not know either.

Gradually he ceased to think about it. Why vex oneself over other people? Everyone did as he thought best.

He gave Raffaella a refrigerator for a wedding present They were beginning to come into fashion. But no one in the village so far had had one.

Raffaella went to live at the Villa Rondine. She wanted to take the horse with her; but Purillo fore-bade it. Where were they to put it at the Villa Rondine? There was no stall there.

So the horse stayed on at Casa Tonda; that is what Raffaella called the house on the brow of the hill.

It remained there for a while, and was groomed by the peasant woman's sons. To begin with Raffaella came almost every day to see it. Then she forgot about it.

Finally they sold it.

Raffaella and Purillo had a baby which was called Pepè.

Raffaella as a mother proved a great coward. She carried Pepè bundled up in wool and she did nothing but put on and take off his pullovers and shorts. She never dreamed of plunging him in the icy waters of the stream as she had done with Catè and Vincenzino's children, all that long time ago.

Vincenzino and Tommasino talked occasionally when alone. Vincenzino had taken a fancy to his younger brother. He told him things that he had never mentioned to anyone. He would begin usually in the evening after supper. He gazed into space and began to speak with that long slow murmur.

Sometimes he spoke of Catè. He had a strange notion of their relations.

He spoke of the day when as a little child still he had seen Purillo kill a dog by stoning it.

Purillo did not like animals, one had always known that. That was why he had not wanted the horse.

According to Vincenzino the strong impression which had been made on him as a child when the dog was stoned had bred in his soul a great horror of cruelty.

Through this horror of cruelty he had given Catè the freedom to detach herself from him by not exerrising any force on her, in order that she should not be wounded and suffer.

And so he had lost her.

Tommasino was not much convinced by such a complicated chain of thought. But he agreed, because Vincenzino did not at all like being contradicted once he had got an idea in his head.

Vincenzino said that he had many times regretted what he had done to Catè. He realized well enough that without intending it he had wounded her and made her suffer.

And so often her voice echoed in his memory when she said,

‘Oh, why, why have we ruined everything?'

Many a time at night he could not sleep and could hear her lamenting in that way.

They talked until a late hour, and drank whisky. Then they went to bed. In his room on the top floor Vincenzmo lay in a bed with a support so that he could read sitting up before going to sleep. He had copied it from Purillo.

Vincenzino now knew a good many people in the town. But in his heart he liked to be with Tommasino —that was enough; or at most with some others of his family, with Raffaella and Gemmina, or even with Magna Maria.

This was perhaps because these had known Catè; all the other people in the town had never known her.

He set about writing another book, and had a number of plans and ideas

He had an accident with his motor-car, while he was on his way to Rome to see his children. He was done. It was beginning to get dark and it was raining. The car skidded on the asphalt.

Some peasants found him soon afterwards, flung across the steering wheel, and they summoned a motor-ambulance.

He died in hospital. Purillo was telephoned for and got there in time to be with him at the last. But Tommasino—no, he did not make it in time.

6
Elsa and Tommasino

T
OMMASINO
eats by himself with a book propped against his glass. Betta, the peasant woman, comes to summon him to meals.

Betta comes and goes to and from the kitchen; she is squat broad and fat, wearing a cambric dress with white spots.

Betta says,

‘Did you like the steak, Tommasino?'

Betta addresses him familiarly, having known him as a child.

‘And tomorrow,' she says, ‘as there is some of the beef left, I will cut it up in small pieces and do it ever so slowly with onion.'

She says, ‘Now I'll finish the dishes, and then sweep and then wash out those two cloths. Then I'll put the beans to soak, so that tomorrow, when I come, I can put them on to cook with a httle parsley, garlic and meat, eh?'

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