Authors: Natalia Ginzburg
Tommasino sits down in the arm-chair with his book near the light.
âAlone like this, poor dear,' says Betta. You should find yourself a beautiful wife. You are rich, you are good-looking, you are young, and here in the village there are plenty of good girls, rich and pretty, who are waiting for you.'
She says, âDo you want me to bring you that thingummy, Tommasino?”
The thingummy is a tape-recorder. When Tommasino is alone there in the evening, he talks into the recorder if any ideas come to him.
Then he takes it to bed with him, because when he is in bed and about to go to sleep still more ideas come to him.
The dining-room at the Casa Tonda is a big one with large windows, and almost empty, because nobody has ever thought of putting settees or pictures there.
âI,' says Betta, If I was rich as you, I would put a side-table there with shelves above it up on that wall. As it is, it's awkward with the plates, and I have to go to the kitchen for them.'
From the windows one sees the hillside all bare then the trees of the Villa Rondine, the village, the lights of Castello and Castel Piccolo, the night sky.
Says Betta, âA lad like you should never be alone. A lad like you, so rich, should have friends and girls, always something going on.'
She says âIf I had all that money, I wouldn't stay here. I should always be going about and enjoying the worldâtravelling. I should never stay still, I should always be travelling.'
She says, âPurillo has just diddled you out of the factory.'
She says, âThe money, you have that, but as for managing, he manages, and when Vincenzino's children arrive here, grown up, they will get nothing, because it will all be PepÃ¨'s.'
She says, âBut that is just of no concern to you; you haven't the itch for it, and at the end of the month you get your money all the same.'
She says,Â âYou are a nice kind gentleman, and you haven't the guts to fight against Purillo.'
She says, âNow I am going home, I shall sit by the stove, and remake a dress. It is a brown dress, old; it is not so ugly, but I do not like it any more, so I thought like this. I am unstitching it, as Magna Maria has given me some red silk, not very much, all small pieces. With these small pieces I am entirely remaking the sleeves with the cuffs and the collar.'
âA happy thought,' says Tommasino
âThen the buttonsâI have bought the hearts, and am taking them to Cignano to have them covered.'
âYou have bought the hearts?”
âThose black little balls, for buttons.'
âThe collarâI am making it round.
a la Carletta.'
âWell, good night,
Tommasino remains therehi and twists his hair round his fingers. Then he sweeps his hair back, goes to his typewriter, and taps out some words.
Then he gets up, slips on his overcoat, leaves the house and goes down the hill. He has an old overcoat, too short and worn at the cufis, with the pockets out of shape. Gemmina for some time has said that he ought to get a new one made for him.
He keeps his motor-car in the Concordia garage. The car cannot get up as far as Casa Tonda.
At the bar of the Concordia he has a Martini with quinine, because there is not much choice there.
He gets in his motor-car and goes to the cinema at Cignano.
They are doing
He stays at the back of the almost empty room with a cigarette, his coat collar turned up and his hands in his pockets.
He has a Bisler at the bar in Cignano.
Everyone knows him and greets him. He responds by bringing his hand to his forehead, in a sort of flabby military salute. It is a salute which he has kept up since his schooldays.
He returns home, gets into his pyjamas, wanders barefoot round the kitchen, looks inside a saucepan where the beans are soaking.
Then he sits down on his bed with his typewriter on his knees and taps out a few words.
Then he scratches his head hard, yawns, wrinkles his nose and gets under the bed-clothes.
He has his tape-recorder on the bedside table. He says something, then listens to his own voice, which babbles undecidedly in the recorder, an extraneous and lamentable presence in the empty house.
He thrusts his head under the pillow, turns the light out and sleeps.
Tommasino spends almost all his evenings like that, or he goes to the Villa Rondine, or sometimes to parties and dances with the girls, if it is a waltz.
He does not know any other dances. Only the waltz.
At the Villa Rondine he annoyed Raffaellaâbecause he showed his dislike of PepÃ¨.
The Villa Rondine has not much changed since the days of Xenia and Mario. On leaving the house Xenia had taken all the furniture, but Purillo had bought similar things to replace them. Purillo having, as Vincenzino always said, no personality of his own.
Purillo sits there with Borzaghi in a comer of the sitting-roomâthey play chess.
Purillo asks Tommasino,
âHow are your researches getting on on linear programming?'
Raffaella asks, âThis linear programming! What is it?'
âLinear programming is a sort of line which goes straight from production to consumer. Straight.'
Tommasino explains this, blushing, because Borzaghi is there and he would enjoy having Borzaghi listening.
He explains, with the help of the gestures of his long white thin fingers, and blushing a little because linear programming is dear to him, and he feels shy about talking aloud about it thus.
Raffaella says, âI don't understand a single word of it', and she adds, âTommasino, why don't you join my party?'
Her party is that of the dissident Communists, as always. It is seldom in her thoughts now, and she only remembers it occasionally, principally to annoy Purillo. Communists, dissident or not, give him a stomach-ache. She thinks little about it, because nowadays her only thoughts are for PepÃ¨.
âYou, Tommasino, are no doubt very intelligent.
What a pity you are so unsettled. Why don't you marry?'
âI don't want that!' said Tommasino.
âHe is married to linear programming,' said Purillo, and he winks at Borzaghi, who smiles in agreement.
Tommasino goes practically every day to the works. Sometimes he finds nothing to do there. He has a fine room, a fine table, a telephone with lots of red and green buttons, and a revolving armchair on which every so often he takes a half-spin.
He has a large morocco writing-pad well furnished with blotting-paper, a pen placed upright in a stand, a block for notes, and a pencil on a chain.
He doodles with his pen on the blotting-paper, and writes on the blockâ
âHeart of buttons. Little black ball.'
And then he leans his head on the table, presses his eyelids with his thumbs, and thinks of linear programming, a line which goes straight from producer to consumer, straight.
Tommasino and I met every Wednesday in the town. He waited for me outside the âSelecta'Â library. There he would be in his old overcoat, a bit shabby, his hands in his pockets, leaning against the wall.
He would greet me, bringing his hand to his forehead and taking it away, with a languid smartness.
We only saw one another in the town. We avoided meeting in the village. He wished it so.
For months and months we had been meeting in this way, on Wednesdays, often on Saturdays as well, and we always did the same things; we changed the book at the âSelecta' library, bought some oat-cakes, bought also for my mother fifteen centimetres of black gros-grain.
Then we went to a room which he had hired in the Via Gorizia, on the top floor.
The room had a round table in the middle covered with a piece of carpet and on the table was a glass cloche which protected some branches of coral. There was also a little stove behind a curtain where we could make coffee, if we wanted to.
He said to me sometimes,
âSee, I am not marrying you', and I would laugh and say, âI know that.'
He said, âI don't, want to marry; if, I did, I should probably marry you.'
And he would add,Â âIsÂ that enough for you?' and I would say, I can make it do.'
Those were the words of our servant Antonia when my mother asked her if she had enough cheese.
âAnd the linear programming?' I said
âThanks,' said he, that's all right.'
He remained stretched out with his hands clasped under his head, with his thin fine countenance, and his serious mouth. Sometimes he would ask me,
âAnd you? And the little Bottiglia girls?'
We would return to the village on the last bus, the one at ten o'clock in the evening.
He always sat at a distance from me, at the back, with his coat-collar turned up, and gazed out of the window.
We got out in the piazza, opposite the Hotel Concordia and he saluted me in his usual way, and we made off in opposite directions, he up a steep lane that goes to Casa Tonda, and I by the path which skirts General Sartorio's wood.
I ate a little supper in the kitchen and my mother looked on.
She would say, âToday I have been well all along, though towards evening I felt a sort of cold void in my stomach, and I had to eat a biscuit.'
She said, âHave you brought the oat-cakes?'
When my mother reckoned up in her thoughts the men in the village whom I might marry she never lingered over Tommasino.
Perhaps she thought him too rich; somewhat out of our reach. And then she found him odd, going about dressed like a pauper, and always pale; he must have bad health.
She said that all Balotta's children, for one thing or another, dead or alive, had always had eccentric ideas and had brought trouble on themselves.
When my mother watched me while I ate my supper in the kitchen, how remote was any suspicion that only a few hours before Tommasino and I had been together on the top floor in the Via Gorizia.
My mother does not even know that the Via Gorizia exists; she hardly ever goes down to the town.
Aunt Ottavia says to her,
âWhy don't we go to the town sometimes?'
And my mother says, 'What for?'
Sometimes Tommasino was in a black mood and would not talk.
I used to suggest a walk then, and we walked interminably, in silence, in the park, along the river.
We would sit down on a bench; behind us in the middle of the park was the castle with its red turrets and spires and the drawbridge: and on the side there was the glassed-in veranda of the restaurant, deserted at that hour: two waiters would be there expectantly all the same, among the tables, with napkins under their arms.
There was the silent river in front of us, with its green waters, and the boats moored to the bank, the shelter of the landing-stage built on pues, the wooden steps against which the waves lapped.
He would stroke my face and say, 'Poor Elsa.'
âWhy poor?' I said, âWhy do you think me that?'
âBecause you have fallen in with me who am a disaster.'
âYet,' I would say,
Â have always got the linear programming.'
âThat, yes, I have always got that, he said and laughed.
We walked interminably by the river. He looked about him and said. âBut this is quite country. We come to the town, and then we always go to look for the country, is it not so?'
I said to him, âIt is because we pretend not to kiow each other when we are in the village.'
He said, âBecause we are queer.'
He said,Â âIt is for your reputation. I must not compromise you, seeing that I am not going to marry you.'
I laughed and said, âMy reputation! I don't care a rap for that, not I.'
He twisted his hair round his fingers, and stopped for a moment to think.
âIn the village,' he said, I don't feel free. Everything weighs on me.'
âWhat weighs on you?”
âEverything weighs on me,' he said, âeverythingâ Putillo, the factory, Gemmina, and even the dead. Even the deadâdo you understand?âweigh on me.
âSome day or other,' he said, âI shall pack it up and go away.'
And I would say to him, âAnd not take me with you?'
âI should think, no.'
We walked a little in silence.
âYou,' he said to me, âought to find someone to marry you. Not immediately, of course, but in a little while.'
He said, âYou haven't any need at all to marry immediately. What hurry is there?
âAnd you are quite all right,' he said, âwith me, like this.'
âWith you, like this, Wednesdays and Saturdays?' I said.
âYes, like this, no?”
âWe must go back now,' I said âIt will soon be time for the bus.'
We turned, retraced our steps through, the park, skirted the castle walls, and crossed the bridge which shook under the wheels of the trams.
âI don't say it is ideal for you, like this,' he said.
âAnd for you?' I said to him. âIs it ideal for you?'
âOh,' he said, I am without ideals.'
I laughed and said to him, âPoor Tommasino.'
âWhy poor, when I have all that money?'
It was morning, and I had only just got up and was standing on the balcony. I saw Signora Bottiglia, who had got a hoe and was hoeing the flower bed.Â âHullo!' she called.
Signora Bottiglia is tall and thin. Her face is brown and wrinkled; she wears large tortoise-shell spectacles and is square-jawed.
She was wearing a straw hat, an apron, and slippersÂ on her bare feet.
She said, âWhat did the doctor say, about your mother?”
âHigh blood pressure,' said.
âHigh blood pressure.'
âHigh, high,' said my mother, appearing.Â âVery high.'