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Authors: Natalia Ginzburg

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BOOK: All Our Yesterdays
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They buried the old man beside his wife in the cemetery and Concettina started sobbing violently. Then the people who had come said farewell, with the usual mysterious, ceremonious air, to the relations of the dead, and the latter went back home, and at home they sat down to dinner and there was macaroni and vegetables as on any other, ordinary day.

Signora Maria made her nephew come to the house to take a bath, because he had no conveniences in the room where he lodged and the public baths were so crowded; and Concettina was annoyed and said to Ippolito that that nephew of Signora Maria's would always be getting in their way now. Ippolito no longer had to do typewriting and read aloud, and now he was studying for his solicitor's exams, walking up and down the terrace with a book in his hand ; each of them knew that he could do what he liked now; Giustino brought home four white mice in a cage that he had bought out of his savings and said he would tame them; and Signora Maria complained that they stank horribly. Anna believed that in a house where someone had died no one ought to laugh for a very long time : instead of which, a few days after the funeral, Concettina was laughing like a madwoman with her and Giustino, because she had made herself a false bosom with wool out of a mattress.

There was a great freedom in the house. But it was a freedom that was a little alarming. There was no longer anyone to give orders. Every now and then Ippolito made a kind of attempt to give orders, but nobody paid any attention to him, and he would shrug his shoulders and go back and walk up and down the terrace again. He and Signora Maria quarrelled over money. Signora Maria said Ippolito was mean, and also that he was suspicious and did not trust her. There were now the mourning clothes to be thought of. But Ippolito did not want to give her the money because he said there was very little of it: he said she must arrange for the mourning to be made at home, as so many people did. Signora Maria went to the chemist and bought some packets of black powder and put the clothes to soak in a big pot: there was a kind of broth in it that looked like lentil soup. But when the clothes were dried and ironed Concettina was not satisfied because they had not come out a fine, deep black ; it was a black that had a brownish tinge in it. Concettina was sulky with Ippolito for several days over this matter of the clothes, because she said she could easily have bought a little cheap material: and she did not come and sit at table but took her meals up to her own room.

Anna did not expect to go and play again at the house opposite. However Giuma went on inviting her. They formed the habit of playing together and not a day passed but he invited her. Anna did not enjoy herself very much with him. She far preferred to play in the street with her own school-friends. But when Giuma invited her she had not the courage to refuse. She did not know why, but she had not the courage. She rather hoped he would lend her
The Child's Treasure-House
some time : but she did not dare to ask him. And she felt rather proud that he should invite her. They scarcely ever played ping-pong ; Giuma liked the game of re-enacting films that he had seen. He would tie her to a tree with a rope and dance round her with a burning piece of paper and her arms were sore because he tied her-so tightly, if they stopped playing this game, then he would begin to talk. That first day he had hardly talked at all but now he talked, he talked so much that he even became a bore. He told her stories of things that had happened to him, but to her it seemed that almost the whole thing was an invention. He told her of prizes he had won in rugby matches and boat races—gold and silver cups ; but it was never possible to see these prizes, he had given them away or his mother had put them in a place where they could not be got at. Sometimes Emanuele and Amalia, Giuma's brother and sister, would come out on the balcony and start listening, and would laugh loudly. “Buffoon Emanuele would say to him. Then Giuma would fly into a rage and run away upstairs to his room. He would come back after a short time with his eyes red and his hair untidy. For a little he would sit silent on the grass, but then he would find the rope and start the rope-and-tree game again. Anna would go home in the evening with her head full of Giuma's stories, and of the stories of the friends who took part with him in his rugby matches and boat races : Cingalesi, Pucci Donadio, Priscilla and Toni. They had strange names and you could never make out whether they were boys or girls. Nor was it possible to make out why he never got them to come and play in the garden with him, and preferred to play alone with a little girl who had never taken part in a boat race in her life. Perhaps it was that with those other friends his inventions and boastings were not so successful. He would walk up and down on the lawn trailing the rope behind him, boasting and inventing. Anna sat on the grass and her neck ached from so much nodding and her lips ached too, from pretending to smile. From time to time she asked him a question or two. They were prudent questions and she pondered them silently for a little while. She asked, “Is rugby a good game ?”—or again, “Was Cingalesi there that day ?” Of Toni she preferred not to speak because she had never understood whether Toni was a girl or a boy.

Then Giuma began to talk about when he would be going away. He was going to spend the winter at Mentone where they had a villa. Giuma did not go to school, he was given lessons by professors, and later perhaps he would go to college in Switzerland and there he would play rugby all day long. And Anna had a feeling of great repose at the thought of his going away. She would return to playing in the street with her own girl friends: there were boys too, and they hit her sometimes. But they did not tie her to trees. Once when Giuma had tied her to the tree it was almost dark already, and he told her he was going to the kitchen to fetch a knife so that he could cut her throat and eat her. So she was left alone in the almost dark garden, and tied up too, and suddenly she was frightened and started shouting, “Giuma, Giuma !”—and it was getting darker and darker and her arms were hurting her. Then Emanuele came out and cut the knot with his penknife, and took her into the bathroom and put Vaseline on her arms where the skin was grazed and purple. “That brute of a brother of mine,” he said.

In the house carpets were being rolled up and trunks and suitcases had appeared. Emanuele was the only one who was not going away, because he had to attend lectures at the university. In truth Amalia did not want to go either, and her stepmother said that if she really did not like the idea of a change she might just as well be left at home; but the old gentleman said that Amalia was run down and was in need of some sea air. Amalia could be heard weeping because she did not want to go away. So then the old gentleman said to the man called Franz that he must try to persuade her and Franz went and spoke to her and came back after a little to say that he had persuaded her and that she would go.

And so, one morning, they could all be seen getting into the car, Giuma with the dog under his arm and Amalia and the man called Franz who was to drive, and Mammina, as they called her, and the old gentleman. Mammina was wearing a very ample tweed cape and dark glasses : and Amalia had also put on a tweed cape which seemed to be more or less copied from the other, but Concettina who was watching from her window said that she looked as if she was everyone else's servant. The old gentleman made them bring him a quantity of newspapers and fixed them in layers underneath his waterproof, because he said there was nothing like newspapers for protecting one's stomach from the cold. Emanuele was left alone on the pavement waving his handkerchief: and he saw Anna at the window and told her she could come whenever she liked and read Giuma's books and, if she had to learn geography, she could look at the globe too. He did not look in the least sad at being left alone, and went back into the house limping and skipping and rubbing his hands briskly together.

3

Anna tried two or three times to play in the street with some of the other girls from her school, but they no longer found these games very amusing and got into the habit of walking along the road beside the river, chatting and strolling arm in arm. There were many things to talk about, and games were less enjoyable now. Giustino, too, used to walk along by the river with his friends ; Giustino had become a big boy now, he wore Ippolito's cast-off clothes and plastered his hair down. At carnival-time he went to the fairground and afterwards told Anna how he had played, a game of
briscola
with the man who played cards with his feet. He was always wanting money and he sold his white mice to a friend ; by now he was bored with his white mice and never remembered to give them anything to eat. Sometimes he was very nice to Anna but then she would discover that he was needing something—to borrow ten lire or the grey pullover that belonged to Anna but which he liked wearing. He had worn it so much that he had completely spoilt its shape. He was bad at his lessons and Ippolito used to coach him in Greek in the evenings, and every now and then he would lose patience with him and hit him with his fist, and Giustino would jump down from the balcony and run away. Ippolito would shrug his shoulders and say that after all he really didn't care. One evening Giustino stayed out all night long, and in the morning Signora Maria was on the point of telephoning to the police-station. But Giustino came back. He did not say a word to anyone and went into the kitchen to find something to eat. His trousers were covered with mud and his hands all scratched. He went the whole day without speaking and then he said to Signora Maria that he had come home, yes, he had come home but he didn't want Ippolito to give him any more coaching, otherwise he would run away again, and for good. And Ippolito said that in that case Giustino could make his own arrangements about learning Greek, and he himself didn't care in the least, no, not in the very least.

And then all of a sudden it came about that Emanuele and Ippolito made friends. It was strange because Ippolito had never been friends with anybody, he had never been heard to speak of any friend that he had. Emanuele and he started talking to each other over the gate, and they lent each other books, and one day Anna when she came back from school found Emanuele sitting at dinner with the others, eating vegetable soup. He gave her a wink and said, “We're old friends, you and I,”—and after dinner he made her pull up the sleeves of her jersey to see whether she still had the marks of the rope on her arms.

Anna thought Emanuele would become one of Concettina's usual
fiancés,
one of those who wrote her letters and gave her flowers and took her to the cinema and fell in love with her. But not at all. Emanuele was not much interested in Concettina. He was quite nice to her, he brought her fashion-plates he had found in Mammina's or Amalia's room. He was quite nice but he was always telling her all the things that were wrong with her : her way of dressing and her way of walking and her way of putting on rouge. When Ippolito was not there he stayed chatting with her in the sitting-room and they turned over the fashion-plates together, and he explained to her how she ought to dress. Concettina said she had not the money to dress well. But he was of the opinion that money had nothing to do with it, you had only to look at Amalia to see that money had nothing to do with it; she bought her clothes from a big dressmaker in Turin and yet she was always got up like a servant-girl. Every time he talked about Amalia he sighed and scratched his head. Now she had had her hair cut
à la fièvre typhoïde
and she looked like a monster. She had fallen in love with that Franz. He, Emanuele, had been aware of this for some time, but no one else in the house had realized it. Franz was a person whom Mammina had unearthed at Monte Carlo and had trailed behind her all the way home. He had told her he was the son of a German baron and had escaped from Germany because of the Nazis, because his father had been a great general under the Kaiser and he still believed in the monarchy. Mammina was ingenuous and always believed everything, and Papa was deaf and easy-going and accepted anything that Mammina put in front of him, just as he accepted the sops of bread that they put in front of him at meals. But he, Emanuele, had from the very first moment distrusted this Franz, and from the very first moment had felt there was something suspicious about his story. And that Amalia should have fallen in love with this fellow was a disaster. To Emanuele he seemed a person who would not think twice about marrying for money. “It's better not to have any money”, said Emanuele to Concettina, and he gave her a little tap on the cheek. But if Ippolito arrived, Emanuele immediately insisted on Concettina leaving the room, and she would go off in a huff with the bundle of fashion-plates.

Emanuele and Ippolito had great discussions, but no one quite knew what they were about, because if anyone else was present they started talking in German. Concettina said they were obviously telling dirty stories, for otherwise they would not have found it necessary to use a language that nobody else knew, or else to be all alone in the sitting-room. Sometimes Emanuele stayed on late into the evening, and the sound of a discussion and of someone walking up and down the sitting-room could be heard, and then all of a sudden bursts of laughter could be heard from Emanuele: he had a way of laughing that sounded like the cooing of a pigeon. And then Emanuele would go away and Ippolito would stay up reading for his exams, for he never had any need of sleep and had accustomed himself to staying up all night, ever since the time of the book of memoirs. But now he no longer looked the same young man as had given his father injections and read Goethe to him, the young man with the subdued, weary look who had been bullied by his father over the tobacco and the dog. Now, ever since he had become friends with Emanuele, he had a shining, restless look in his eyes which seemed always to be looking for something, and his step, when he went to meet Emanuele at the gate, had become vigorous and elastic. Sometimes he stayed all alone for hours in the sitting-room, stroking his face and smiling and muttering to himself. Anna asked him whether he wasn't going to Le Visciole to fetch the dog; she had imagined that after their father's death he would rush off at once and bring it back. But he assumed a strange expression when he heard the dog spoken of. He twisted his mouth in a strange, bitter way, perhaps because he suddenly remembered the bitter, unkind things his father always said to him, at the time when he did not know he was dying and was always talking about his own death, and about the day when Ippolito would go for walks in the town with the dog. In the meantime the dog remained at Le Visciole eating the rotten food the
contadino
gave it, but in any case it had been eating this rotten food for so many years that by now it must have grown accustomed to it.

BOOK: All Our Yesterdays
2.17Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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