Authors: Natalia Ginzburg
One evening as they were just finishing supper Emanuele arrived with Danilo. It was the first time Danilo had set foot in the house, and Concettina went very red, with red patches even on her neck. Concettina was peeling an orange and pretended to be deeply absorbed in peeling it, and she did not look at Danilo, and Danilo threw her one quick, knowing glance and went on talking to Ippolito who was saying that he had been expecting him for some time. Signora Maria was very frightened, because Danilo had always frightened her, with his mania for standing quite still in front of their gate. Danilo and Concettina had met at a dance, and after that they had sometimes gone for a walk together, but Concettina said he had made a vulgar remark to her, a very vulgar remark; Signora Maria asked what it was but Concettina would not repeat it. He came of quite a high-class family but they had become impoverished and his mother was reduced to working as cashier in a cake-shop. And there was a sister who was by no means a steady character. Concettina had given him to understand that she did not wish to see him any more. But he remained unconvinced and was always standing in front of the gate, and when Concettina went out he always walked behind her, without speaking but with a threatening look on his face, Concettina said. And now Emanuele had brought him into the house and Ippolito had said that he had been expecting him for quite a long time, and there he was, sitting quietly at the table, peeling an orange that Ippolito had given him. But when he had eaten the orange Ippolito told him to go up with him into the sitting-room ; Emanuele, on the other hand, stayed to try and convince Signora Maria that Danilo was a charming young man, the best in the world, and that it was quite impossible that he should have made a vulgar remark to Concettina, probably there had been a misunderstanding. And it was not true that his sister was not a steady character ; he, Emanuele, had seen the sister and she had seemed to him a very steady character indeed ; in any case he had a whole pack of sisters, from sixteen years old to three months. But Concettina said there had been no misunderstanding at all, it had really been a very vulgar remark ; she did not want Danilo in the house and she was very angry, she rushed out of the room, banging the door. Emanuele and Ippolito stayed talking to Danilo in the sitting-room until late, and Signora Maria had left her work there and wanted to go and fetch it, but Giustino told her she must leave it and that it was impossible to disturb them. And after that evening Danilo took to arriving at any moment with Emanuele, and Ippolito would shut himself up with them in the sitting-room. And Ippolito told Concettina that he would receive anyone in the house that he wanted to, and Concettina started sobbing loudly, and then Emanuele in order to comfort her took her to the cinema to see
with Greta Garbo, and when they came back Concettina was comforted ; she always liked so much to see Greta Garbo, and imagined that she was just a little like her, because Greta Garbo too had no bosom. “This Danilo has got a real crush on Concettina”, said Anna to Giustino. She had learned from her school-friends to say “a crush”, and now she was pleased when she had an opportunity of using the word. But then Giustino said that Danilo didn't care twopence about Concettina, and that when he stood in front of the gate he did it to annoy her. Danilo had quite other ideas in his head. Anna asked what ideas Danilo had. Giustino wrinkled up his nose and his lips and brought his face close to hers with a more and more ugly grimace upon it. “Politics” he whispered into her ear, and ran away.
“Politics” thought Anna. She walked about the garden, amongst Signora Maria's rose-trees, and repeated the word to herself. She was a plump girl, pale and indolent, dressed in a pleated skirt and a faded' blue pullover, and not very tall for her fourteen years. “Politics”, she repeated slowly, and now all at once she seemed to understand: this was why Danilo had taken to coming so often to the houseâ because he was talking politics with Ippolito and Emanuele. She seemed to understand about the sitting-room, and the sentences in German, and Ippolito stroking his face, and his restless eyes that were always looking for something. They were talking politics in the sitting-room, they were once again doing a dangerous, secret thing, as the book of memoirs had been. They wanted to overthrow the Fascists, to begin a revolution. Her father had always said that the Fascists must be overthrown, that he himself would be the first to mount the barricades, on the day of revolution. He used to say that it would be the finest day of his life. And then his whole life had gone past without that day happening. Anna now pictured herself upon the barricades, with Ippolito and Danilo, firing off a rifle and singing. She went very quietly up to the sitting-room and slowly pushed the door open. They were all three sitting on the carpet, with a big bundle of newspapers in front of them, and they got a great fright when they saw her coming in. Emanuele threw Danilo's coat over the newspapers and shouted at her to go away and as she was going she heard Danilo say to Ippolito that he was a fool not to have locked the door.
She wanted to tell Giustino that she had seen the newspapers. Giustino started waving his arms about as though he had been scalded, and then he pinched his lips together with four fingers so that they stuck out and looked like the lips of a negro, and at the same time he made whispering and squealing noises. He pinched
lips together, too, with his four fingersâso hard that he hurt her. In the end they came to blows. Signora Maria clapped her hands in the next room, because it was their bedtime. Giustino blew contemptuously in the direction of this hand-clapping. “Newspapers that come from France”, he chanted under his breath, putting his books back in his satchel. He turned towards her, and again pinched her lips together. “Mum's the word !” he said.
And soon Concettina, too, began to understand. Danilo came to the house at all hours, till late at night there was a light burning in the sitting-room and Ippolito thumped on the typewriter, as in the days of the book of memoirs. Concettina and Danilo would sometimes meet on the stairs and greet each other distantly, she always rather red and frowning, he with his usual impertinent, sly smile. Concettina used to go and sit in the dining-room with stockings to mend, and there was the sound of footsteps and chairs being moved in the sitting-room above, and of Ippolito thumping on the typewriter: and, from time to time, that laugh of Emanuele's that sounded like the cooing of a pigeon. Signora Maria complained that one could no longer be in the sitting-room, it was the warmest and most comfortable room in the house, and the piano was there too and Concettina might feel inclined to play a little. Signora Maria considered that Ippolito had become altogether too arrogant, he who had seemed so subdued when his father was alive and who had now suddenly taken to lording it over everybody. He could surely have seen his friends somewhere else; they even had the unpleasant habit of rummaging about in the kitchen, late at night they would start rummaging in the kitchen, and eating bread and cheese; for obviously that young man Danilo did not get enough to eat at home, and so he came to their house to satisfy his hunger. Concettina went on mending her stockings without replying; and every time the bell rang at the gate she would give a start and run over to the window to see who it was. Signora Maria told her she had been very nervous now for some time, and what she needed was to go and take a good cure at Chianciano, for nervousness depends entirely on the liver; but Ippolito was too mean to think of sending her to Chianciano, the only thing he was not mean about was cheese, which he gave to his friends even at night. Signora Maria had not understood anything, and still believed that Danilo came to the house in order to pester Concettina and eat cheese; and when Emanuele and Ippolito started talking German, she was offended and said it was not at all polite to talk a language she did not know in her presence. In any case she had rather forgotten about the Fascists, since the time when the old man had been there, talking about them all the time: and if she recollected them for a moment, it seemed to her that the old man had gone much too far in his anger against the Fascists, because in the end they had taken Africa, where later on they meant to grow coffee. She still brought her nephew to the house to have baths, and then made him stay and keep warm beside the stove in the dining-room, because he had had pleurisy as a little boy; and she used to bring him Ippolito's books to read, so that he could learn something. And Ippolito was much annoyed when he saw Signora Maria standing on a chair, looking in his shelf for some book for her nephew.
“Papa and Mammina are coming back”, said Emanuele. There was in fact a great beating of carpets in the house opposite, and they had put all the chairs out in the garden, and the windows were wide open all over the house and you could hear the hum of the vacuum cleaner. Papa and Mammina came back, but Giuma did not. Giuma was at school in Switzerland.
Nor did Amalia come back, for she had gone to Florence to a nurses' training-college. Emanuele said it was difficult to understand just what had happened, Franz had suddenly left Mentone, and there had been no sign of him and no one knew anything about him; and then Amalia had produced this idea of the nurses' college, she wanted to be a Red Cross nurse, she wanted to nurse the wounded if war came; she was disgusted with Mentone, she was disgusted with the idea of coming home, she just wanted sick people to look after, nothing else. Of course she could have had sick people to look after at home, said Emanuele, for Papa suffered a great deal with his gastric ulcer, and Mammina had a kind of nervous exhaustion: she lay all day on the bed in her room, with her eyes closed, and the shutters closed, and refused to see anyone.
Emanuele had also been at school in Switzerland for two years, like Giuma, at the same school where Giuma now was. He had not liked it very much, and was always begging Mammina to take him away: he had never managed to be left alone for a minute, and when he had started reading in his room they used to come and call him to go out on one of those silly lakes. Giuma, on the other hand, would be very happy in Switzerland, said Emanuele, because Giuma was a brute and brutes are happy anywhere.
Emanuele was rather annoyed at his parents' return, because Papa always sat up waiting for him at night, he waited for him at the top of the stairs and asked him where he had been till such a late hour. Emanuele would answer that he was preparing for his exams with some friends of his, but he had to shout, because Papa was getting more and more deaf and his apparatus never worked very well; and then Mammina would wake up too, and would ask from her room in a feeble voice what had happened; and Papa would become very angry because they had woken up Mammina in that way; so every night there was trouble. Emanuele said he had no more patience with Papa and Mammina, they had really worn him out and he was finished with them. Danilo had now taken to saying “Mammina” when he mentioned his own mother, in order to tease Emanuele; he would say “Mammina” and make a kind of mewing noise. Danilo's little
the cashier at the cake-shop, was a great big woman who sat perpetually knitting at the cash-desk, with round, bulging eyes and a big bush of white hair. Danilo used to say that his
had brought him up by slapping his face, with the idea that slaps are good for strengthening the facial muscles. But after he had reached the age of fourteen she had left him alone, in fact she had declared that she had had enough of bringing him up, and that now he must see to bringing himself up. His father, on the other hand, had never tried to bring him up at all; he was a type of person who counted for little in his own home, he had changed his job very many times and now was travelling all over Italy selling post-cards. When Danilo came home late at night, his mother was always up and about still, washing and ironing, but she never said a word to him and all she did was to take out of the drawer two or three
cigarettes which she had saved for him. As for our parents, Danilo used to say, as soon as they have finished bringing
up we have to begin bringing
up, because it is quite impossible to leave them. as they are.
Then, all of a sudden, Danilo vanished. A whole week passed without Danilo's face being seen, and Signora Maria was very pleased, and she asked Emanuele whether at last he had broken off relations with that odious Danilo. But Emanuele at once disillusioned her : Danilo had gone to Turin on business and would be back soon.
One morning, while Anna was dressing to go to school, there was a loud ring at the gate. She went to answer it: Signora Maria was out doing the shopping and Concettina was still asleep. She found herself face to face with one of Danilo's sisters, the sixteen-year-old one, the one whom Concettina believed to be not a steady character. She asked for Ippolito, but Ippolito had gone out. Then she asked for Concettina. Anna went upstairs to call Concettina. Concettina was fast asleep, with her untidy fringe sticking out above the bedclothes. It was not at all easy to wake her up ; for some time she went on groaning and turning over on her other side. At last she woke up. When she heard that Danilo's sister was there she was seized with anxiety, she thrust her trembling feet into her slippers and went downstairs tying the girdle of her dressing-gown.
Danilo's sister was sitting waiting in the sitting-room. She had a quantity of little comma-shaped curls on her forehead and temples, and she was wearing a beret stuck on all crooked, with a long silk tassel that hung right down to her shoulder. She had come to say that Danilo had been arrested in the station at Turin. And Danilo, before he left for Turin, had told her that if by any chance anything bad happened to him, Ippolito must be the first to be informed. She spoke very slowly and quite calmly, and as she spoke she smoothed down her comma-curls and shook her tassel up and down. Concettina turned so pale that she seemed on the point of fainting, and she clasped her dressing-gown round her with trembling hands.