Authors: Natalia Ginzburg
Danilo and the prepared girl were married a few days later. Everyone had pictured this prepared girl as being rather ugly, but she was not ugly at all, in fact she would have been rather pretty if she had not had such a worn-looking face and hair all scorched with peroxide. Her hair was terrible, said Emanuele to Ippolito and Giustino as they walked back from the wedding, he himself would never have taken a wife with such scorched-looking hair, with curls that were rough and dead and of a yellow colour that was almost green. He could never stroke hair like that. Her face was pretty but very much the worse for wear, her complexion already faded, her skin rough and dead. Giustino, however, had liked Marisa, he said Emanuele understood nothing at all about girls, goodness knows what scarecrow of a wife he would marry, some snobbish old bird planted on him by his mother. They were coming back from the wedding party at Danilo's, Concettina had been asked too but she had not come. Danilo's mother had started talking to Emanuele in a corner, she was asking whether it was possible to get Marisa taken on at the soap factory too, she was asking whether it had been sensible for them to get married, with Danilo who hadn't yet got his accountant's diploma, and the girl wasn't up to much anyhow, at twenty her complexion was already so much the worse for wear. Emanuele complained that now he would have to quarrel and intrigue all over again, to get Marisa taken on at the factory. However it was not necessary, for Marisa at once found work at the foundry. She got up early in the morning and before going to work she cleaned Danilo's shoes and brushed his suit, and she brushed his bowler hat long and carefully, and it became more and more stiff and lustrous. And then she cleaned the room and Danilo's room was now no longer recognizable, with the floor polished and the curtains ironed, and a little set of bottles and glasses on the chest-of-drawers. But Danilo's mother, when she saw Emanuele coming out of the factory, complained always about the girl, who perhaps was not actually bad but who never seemed content with anything, she went back and washed the salad again after they had washed it ever so many times, and she sniffed the butter and the meat, she sniffed everything. And she was sure that Danilo had not married for love but as a matter of reason, and things which are done as a matter of reason never turn out well.
Danilo resumed his habit of coming to see Ippolito all the time, and Signora Maria had to resign herself to seeing him arrive at the end of dinner, even though it dismayed her each time to reflect that he had been in prison and that he had married a working girl, one who worked all day long at the foundry in a black apron. Danilo always came alone, because his wife was tired in the evenings and went to bed immediately after supper. Signora Maria ran away as soon as she saw him coming, but Concettina did not run away, in fact she would start making jokes with Emanuele and uttering shrill shrieks of laughter, but as soon as she stopped laughing her face would suddenly become all wrinkled and tired. She would disappear and reappear immediately with her hat on and pulling on her gloves, and would open the window and talk to someone waiting underneath, then she would run downstairs and her shrill shrieks of laughter would still be heard, and the sound of a car driving away. She had unearthed her old
and had resumed her visits to the library and had taken up with Racine again, and the young man with the car waited for her at the door of the library, smoking one cigarette after another.
Emanuele related the news he had heard on the radio, but there was never much news. The Germans and the others were carrying on the cold war, on the Maginot Line and on the Siegfried Line, no one was winning or losing, just a few shots in the air from time to time. Emanuele said they had now invented the cold war to make him die of boredom, no one would ever win or lose, the cold war would go on for ever. But Ippolito only asked himself what was happening in Poland, what it could be like there in the winter with the houses fallen down and with the Germans, with the Germans taking people away to die in the concentration camps, and he said his will to live left him at the thought of those camps, where the Germans put their cigarettes out against the prisoners' foreheads. Then Emanuele, too, began to wonder what had become of Franz's parents. But Danilo said that for people who were dying in the camps there was nothing to be done ; on the other hand something could be done for his friends who were still in prison, they had taken them to Rome in a prison van and now they had to stand their trial by the Special Tribunal, and did Emanuele and Ippolito know what a journey in a prison van was like, a journey that went on for ever, all chained together? Did they know what prison was like? They didn't put their cigarettes out against your forehead, but it was not comfortable, and people became consumptive if they ate nothing but the soup they gave them, unless they had money to buy themselves something else. And they needed money also to pay the lawyer at the trial, and money to help their families. To raise money, that was the important thing, not to sit by the radio and be bored because the war was a cold war. Emanuele went red and said that perhaps he could give them just a little money, not much because he could not touch his capital, his uncle who was a colonel would know if he did, he always started to stammer a little when he spoke of his capital. But he could save a little on his cash expenses. Danilo shrugged his shoulders, more was needed than Emanuele's small savings, which he put aside a little each day as a good child does. A good big sum was needed and it must be raised at all costs.
Anna was always hoping they would start on their politics again, with their newspapers and pamphlets, but Giustino told her they would not start again, all they thought of was finding the money for Danilo's friends in prison, in any case that was politics too, finding the money was called Red assistance and it was very dangerous. But nobody now shut themselves up in the sitting-room and the sitting-room was always deserted, with the shutters closed and a cold fit to kill you, because Ippolito said they must economize with wood, and there was no need to light the stove in that room as well. Signora Maria complained that Concettina could no longer play the piano, but Concettina said she did not care in the least about the piano and in fact she had decided to sell it, the piano belonged to her and she could do what she liked with it, it had been her grandmother's and her grandmother before she died had said she was leaving it to her. Every day at table she talked about selling the piano, and she asked Emanuele what had to be done to put an insertion into the paper, how much it cost and where you had to go. She said she had decided to sell it because she wanted to make herself a trousseau, she couldn't possibly go naked to get married. So Ippolito said that when she had somebody to marry she could then think whether or not to sell the piano, at present she had no one but those
of hers, she had had them for years and years and not one of them was any good to marry. And Concettina said there was one who was extremely good to marry, the one who always came to take her out in his car, and she was marrying him at once, at the end of the month. And he was a young man who was extremely good to marry, he was far better than Ippolito and Emanuele and the usual run of their friends, he was a young man who was fond of her and he had been waiting for her for a great many years. And in any case she had no need to give explanations to anyone and was acting according to her own ideas. She went out banging the door and they were all left looking at each other in bewilderment, and then suddenly they heard the sound of Concettina's violent sobs coming from her room, and Emanuele wanted to go to her, but Ippolito restrained him. Giustino said he knew the young man with the car perfectly well, he was a Fascist and he went round in a black shirt in processions. Emanuele knew him too and said what his name was, he was called Emilio Sbrancagna, Concettina would be Signora Sbrancagna, a fine name too. Emanuele wanted Ippolito to go at once to Concettina and persuade her to give up this fellow ; couldn't they hear how she was crying, she was marrying him because she was desperate and discouraged and goodness knows what ideas she had got into her head, perhaps she had got it into her head that if she didn't get married now she would never get married at all. But Signora Maria said that she had looked at this young man from the window and he was tall, and distinguished-looking, and she had also sought a little information about his family, because she always thought of everything. It was an extremely good family and in good circumstances, they lived in a villa a little way out of the town, the father owned a chemical works and the son worked there too. At this moment Danilo appeared, and asked what they were doing sitting round the table with that troubled look on their faces. So Emanuele explained to him that Concettina wanted to marry Signor Sbrancagna, a Fascist. Danilo asked what was so tragic about that, the Fascist would help them when they got into trouble. Then he at once started talking about something else, as though Concettina had been any ordinary person and he had never waited for her for whole afternoons at the gate.
Next day Signora Maria started cleaning the house, because Concettina had told her that Emilio Sbrancagna was bringing his parents to see her. The sitting-room windows were thrown open and Signora Maria climbed up on a ladder to clean the panes. Anna in the meantime had to dust the piano and the furniture, and she tried to move the piano to see if there were still any pink and green pamphlets hidden behind it. There was nothing, only a few flakes of dust on the floor. Concettina did not help with the cleaning, Concettina stayed lying on the bed in her room, stifling a sob in her handkerchief from time to time. Signora Maria thought she was weeping because of the trousseau, and said Ippolito ought not to allow her to sell anything, he ought to go and draw the money out of the bank, she was convinced there was a heap of money in the bank and that Ippolito was unwilling to touch it. Every now and then she came down from the ladder and went to comfort Concettina, she told her that as a matter of fact not much was needed for a trousseau, just a few practical, washable things, no artificial silk because it was vulgar, just linen or batiste. By eight o'clock in the evening the sitting-room was ready, with the stove lit and the teacups ready on the piano, and Signora Maria had put on her black dress with the lace
and had suddenly started ordering everyone about, Giustino was to warn Danilo that he was not to appear, Concettina was to wash her eyes with boracic lotion and smooth back her fringe, Emanuele was to appear for a moment, say how d'you do and go away at once.
Emanuele, however, refused utterly to go into the sitting-room, he crept away into the kitchen with Anna and together they watched the Sbrancagnas getting out of their car, the father a tiny little man and slightly deformed, with long hay-coloured moustaches, the mother tall and white-haired, the young man with his hair cut
a black feather-brush above a brow high and narrow as a tower. Emanuele kept on saying, “Poor Concettina, what a terrible business, what a terrible business,” and cursed Ippolito for not doing anything to stop the marriage ; he just let things slide, he always let everything slide, in reality nothing and nobody mattered to him, in reality he was a cynic. Concettina, who had helped to burn the newspapers, was fated to finish her career amongst the Sbrancagnas, she was fated to end up in a family of Fascists, with a portrait of Mussolini at the head of the bed, she, the daughter of her father, a man who had died in sorrow at not seeing the revolution. Concettina, out of melancholy, out of spite, goodness knows why, was fated to end like that. And apart from everything else there was also the danger that one of these days she would tell her husband about the time when they had burnt the newspapers, and he could already see Emilio Sbrancagna rushing to report it to the police, and then what a fine to-do there would be. Emanuele limped about the kitchen and kicked out at the legs of the table, and said poor Italy that had to depend on types like Ippolito for the revolution ; Anna nibbled biscuits, until Concettina came running in and took the silver dish away from her. Emanuele followed her into the passage and made her swear on the memory of her father never to say anything about the day when they burnt the newspapers. Concettina swore, but a great fury against Emanuele suddenly came over her, she gnashed her teeth and pulled his ear violently, then she broke away from him and went back into the sitting-room with the silver dish. Emanuele returned to the kitchen to kick at the table-legs, rubbing his ear which was hurting him.
In the sitting-room Signora Sbrancagna was sitting with Signora Maria on the sofa, Signora Maria sat with two fingers pointed on her knee and talked about her travels, about the time when Concettina's grandmother's fur coat had been stolen at the Grand Hotel in Cannes, a fur coat made of “skuntz”. She talked and talked and all of a sudden was seized with nervousness, she looked at the biscuits and they seemed very few, she looked at the door in anguish lest she should see Danilo coming in. Ippolito was silent, stroking his face, Concettina was crumpling a handkerchief in her sweating hands, and to Signora Maria it seemed that Concettina was looking ugly that evening; with her fringe smoothed back and the blue dress she had put on she no longer looked like a
but on the other hand she looked like a schoolmistress. Signor Sbrancagna ate the biscuits and got his moustaches all full of crumbs, and tried to make conversation with Ippolito, but it was not easy to force a word out of Ippolito when he started gazing into the void and stroking his face. But young Emilio Sbrancagna appeared to be quite indifferent to conversation and to everything, and lay back in his armchair with his fingers intertwined and his feather-brush standing up straight on his forehead, and he looked at Concettina with a very gay and knowing smile, and he sat in the armchair as though he had always been there, rocking his long, loose-limbed body backwards and forwards in it, then suddenly he jumped up and played a few chords on the piano, and Signora Maria, on the sofa, gave a start and looked at the piano, thinking that now it could never be sold, now that they had all seen it. Signora Sbrancagna wanted to know about Cannes, she had never been there, her husband had refused to take her there because he had heard that the women went on the beach stark naked. She herself had once been robbed of a brooch in an hotel at Vicenza, a brooch of great value, but her husband told her not to talk nonsense, no one had ever robbed her of anything, she had lost the brooch because it was not properly fastened, in any case it was an ugly brooch and worth only a few pence. Signora Sbrancagna whispered to Signora Maria that her husband always behaved like that, he took great pleasure in mortifying her in front of other people. All of a sudden, when no one was expecting it, Signor Sbrancagna started saying that there was no reason for keeping silence about the thing that lay so near all their hearts, his son and Concettina wanted to get married, well then let them get married, he would have preferred a girl with a certain amount of dowry, but if there was no dowry never mind. Signora Maria said that Concettina, after all, had something, a share of Le Visciole was hers ; Signor Sbrancagna said he knew this but that that little piece of land, which had to be shared between four, could not be called a dowry. However he intended to pass over the question of a dowry. There remained the question of politics, which was a more thorny one, he wanted to be sincere and he knew that Concettina's father had been a revolutionary, and he himself had always had a great fear of revolutionaries, and he rose to his feet and fixed Ippolito with two staring eyes. However he knew that he had also been a fine person, he knew that even amongst revolutionaries there were fine people, it seemed strange but there were fine people to be found everywhere. He said this in a very low voice but his wife was at once frightened, she looked all round and asked if the maid slept in the room next door, with maids you could never be quite sure, and a person could find himself in trouble over a misunderstood word. Then he grew angry with his wife, he had not said anything, wrong, what he had said could perfectly well be shouted aloud in the piazza, that there were fine people even amongst revolutionaries. Then Signora Maria said that Concettina's father had been far more than a fine person, he had been a very superior man, he had spent his whole life in love for his children, and also, as well, in writing a book of memoirs, but in the end he had burned the book, goodness knows why. Young Emilio Sbrancagna all of a sudden burst out laughing, he rocked backwards and forwards in his armchair and laughed, pulling up his knees and shaking his feet. Everyone looked at him in astonishment and his mother asked him severely why he was laughing like that. He said he couldn't help laughing at the idea of his father shouting aloud in the piazza in defence of revolutionaries. And after this burst of laughter they all felt light-hearted, and Concettina, too, seemed to be soothed and serene, and Signor Sbrancagna as he went out shook Ippolito's hand warmly and said he hoped to be able to have more conversation with him, for the moment he looked into his eyes he had felt a great liking for him, and he hoped he was not a revolutionary but, when all was said and done, never mind even if he was, and his wife was thumping him in the back all the time, and she explained to Signora Maria that in her house it was always like this, her husband and her son said things they ought not to say. Finally the Sbrancagnas went away, and the others found Emanuele still in the kitchen, sleeping with his head on the table, so they woke him up and sent him off to bed.