to my grandmother Isabella
I would have liked to have a male child. Everybody’s happy with a male. When your mama had your brother she bent over backwards, after when she had you she was happy, there was already a male, your father when he saw you the first thing that he said was, tell me the truth, they forgive you, I love you the same, did you go with an Indian? You had two very dark eyes… Your mother aborted a bunch of times poor thing, though two times I aborted, me too. It wasn’t painful, in order to abort without consequence it’s best to do it right away. Then it wasn’t allowed, there were women that did it as a profession, I told grandfather, who gave me the money or else, a little pain and then I went to work, he saw that I didn’t want any more. Your mama did like me, sure, after your brother died, we were both sorry. We said, it was punishment from God. They have no idea how many people aborted. Who wasn’t stupid aborted in a rush. Now you take the pill, the IUD, these things came later, then there was only the rubber, that’s how they called it, but a man … I’m careful, I’m careful, if we make a baby have it. Me at Badia from the room I went down to wash myself with water and vinegar, I made myself a douche, the first time I didn’t know anything about it at all, then my brother told me, there’s a special rubber syringe, use that there. If vinegar were enough people would have already taken care. The second time it didn’t work for me.
It’s better not to make love at all. There are women who can’t do without it. I’ve always told you, I used to crochet here, he came home, at six, when the workers had a party, he came into the sitting room, came next to me, gave me a kiss on the head and I was already content. I never felt anything, I’m frigid, it would take me the wrath of God’s time to come to the good point. Sometimes a kiss was enough because he was short of breath, but I was so afraid that I didn’t feel anything. Unfortunately, I menstruated until I was sixty year old. There was also this disgrace, the first time that I didn’t see them, I said, I wouldn’t be pregnant? I had had some hot flashes, so much so that I’d caught a good cold, as soon as I felt that a rush of blood was coming I opened the kitchen window and I slipped into the garden. I was afraid, then the days passed, even grandfather used to say but what’s bothering you. When I was sure that I couldn’t make love without a tremendous pain, they said that they were polyps. I was lucky, your grandfather wasn’t a prurient man, sometimes a caress was enough, to be hugged a bit. Perhaps he also understood that I didn’t have much desire. These polyps then didn’t give me any more pain, it was enough that he didn’t enter me. I went to understand what it was, to the INAM, the workers clinic, in order not to pay. They said it ought to be operated on. And me, I do without it. I was always reluctant, but if you take a husband even if you aren’t going to need to submit, if one doesn’t want to then the other goes elsewhere, there were brothels open then too. Me, I’ve experienced what love means, you understand. With my cousin it was much different from the affection that I felt towards my husband. It was passion, desperation good and proper, you saw him and you felt like swooning. This with grandfather I didn’t feel, even if I cared for him, I respected and helped him. He never bothered me, good heavens, no! Unfortunately he was always on top of me, and at times even without wanting to it drives a man to do what maybe he wouldn’t have wanted at all. When your sister was born I think that your mama had really wanted her. Your grandmother dead, this sitting room we bought it from the notary that was doing the shares of the inheritance. Then, like for the silverware service, I fought to have it. Your grandfather said, I don’t want the stuff either of someone selling in need or of someone who’s dead. But scusa, I said, they’re selling it at auction, they need this money, knives and forks there are twenty-four of them, for fruit, fish, ice cream. There are thirty kilos of silver! The sitting room in their house no one wants it, and they estimate it at sixty thousand lire. We had the money then, and I said to your grandfather, let’s us buy it, there’s no good furniture in the country. But what do you want to do with it, we have little of this furniture! But scusa, that’s beautiful, it’s a sitting room all in walnut, inlaid by hand, it has value, not to keep now that we don’t have a decent person that’ll keep it polished. He hesitated a bit, he didn’t want it, what would we do with it. What would we do with it, I said, I want that sitting room, I wanted it, I thought that at least it would be a memory for your father, he had nothing, they had kicked him out. Your father didn’t deserve it, but I always liked him, not having males for me he was a son, at times when he telephones he says, I only have you for a mama. In order to soften me up. And so your father even so had a small inheritance, something they gave him, then we bought the sitting room and gave these sixty thousand lire, which they divided among heirs. Half of the house was to be his, but your aunt with the say that kept the mother at home, that kept her alive, gave your father only a little of the money, almost nothing. Your mother was pregnant, she didn’t like to abort, me no, children had always annoyed me. I never let you want for anything, you were the best dressed in the school and you had what was possible to have.
There was once a child that didn’t want to be born. The mama was expecting it, but he didn’t want to make up his mind to enter her belly. He was suspended in the air like a grain of dust, without making decisions, in company with other tiny presences. The mama had done everything for years in order to tempt him, she ate delectable foods, found a willing father and a bright and cheerful house in which he would have been able to run. But the baby, in need of liberty, liked the idea of arriving in a family as though by chance, without it needing him. The mama cried at times, weary, but the baby wanted to arrive without being expected, hoping to see him born was really when it became impossible for him to go down that road. Certainly for him too it wasn’t always pleasant to stay in the clouds without name or age. But the fault wasn’t his so much as that woman on earth’s to whom he was destined, who felt half a woman because he hadn’t arrived yet. He didn’t want half a mama, he wanted a whole mama. Let’s hope she forgets about me, said the unborn child to himself, that she finds something already created with which to occupy herself, instead of going after me, whom she still doesn’t know. It needs to be said that he was capricious and that he dug in his heels if he felt desired. I’m not a circus freak, he wrote in his diary, and how then can I entrust myself to someone who if I’m not there doesn’t feel at ease in life. The unborn child wondered why he was destined to that woman and not to another less clingy. You wouldn’t even be a little speck if that woman hadn’t imagined you, it’s thanks to she who thought of you that you can hope one day to take a few steps on earth, murmured to him in slumber a little old lady who was sleeping in a house near the rusted gates of a garden. If she happened to go out it seemed like landing in a country not hers, in which she didn’t know how to get her bearings. It’s not so much that I want to be outside, she said while walking anyway, and was careful to do so that the habitants of the place didn’t notice her state of mind, otherwise she was certain that, as in the fables that grandmother recounted to her when she was little, the power of her imagination would turn them into stone. And she, who was a kind little old lady, didn’t tolerate doing malice not even to those whom she didn’t know. But it was a great strain to come across as curious and satisfied every time that she put her nose outside, another little old lady inside her in spite of the upbringing she’d received would have wanted that no one amble on the roads and that she could, even at her age, walk across, firmly on one leg, singing loudly, even bellowing, in order to pass the time. On the contrary if her stocking fell while waiting for the light to change, instead of pulling on her skirt to hook it to the garter belt, she walked slowly, legs strait, purse placed against her thigh, and she even felt guilty. With the passage of the years the little old lady had not changed temperament, as she was used to telling her friend when they found themselves having lunch, and his presence made more bearable the din of the city and the jumble of smells. Her friend was a butcher getting on in years, a flat checked hat on his head, elegant due to his melancholy air, even if with the clients who crowded in front of the counter he was disposed to make assessments on the cuts of meat that he was laying out on the lever scales. This is heavenly, if you eat it you’ll feel as if you’ve been reborn. This is fantastic, soft like a caress. For this there are no adjectives, it’s superb. The little old lady didn’t buy much meat, but she passed every morning in front of the case and if the butcher’s wife wasn’t there at the cash register they made a date at a bar with tables, in order to be a few minutes in peace to talk about the countryside, where the little old lady didn’t go walking, whereas the butcher lived there in order to be close to his son, who had bought a farmhouse and had installed a kiln in which he inserted rows of miniature porcelain cows to bake, which were selling like hotcakes along the coast, he didn’t really understand why. While they were seated the old lady thought again about how they looked at her on the street when she was a girl, and about how she was preoccupied with pleasing, without wondering if they pleased her those to whom it seemed to her a duty to make their heads turn. The baby wanted to be born in the house of the old lady, even if the other specks told him that it wasn’t possible, since the woman had never thought that he might be born. But that one there, that always thinks about me, precisely because she thinks about me makes it impossible for me to become someone with a name and an age, answered the unborn child with his idea of a hand supporting his idea of a cheek. Out of the blue he made the decision to enter unnoticed, so that his presence began to have a weight in the rooms, even if no one could see him. In fact the old lady though without changing her habits, reluctant as she was to hold human beings in fondness, in going to sleep she began to take pains to stay in a part of the bed without stretching out her legs in the slope of the space that in the night of time had occupied a great love that then had gone away, one rainy morning she took her clothes off some hangers in the wardrobe, a Sunday afternoon she placed on the edge of the basin a towel for guests, just out of bed she plaited her hair on the nape of her neck and one fine day it was set for two, something that astonished her but to which in the following days she no longer paid attention.
The Rail is proudly running Miransù as a serial which began in the December 2013/January 2014 issue and will continue through the fall.
Monica Sarsini was born in Florence, where she lives and teaches writing. She is also an artist who has shown her work in Italy and other countries. Libro Luminoso (Exit Edizioni, 1982) was followed by Crepacuore, Crepapelle and others. A collection of her work was published in English under the title of Eruptions (Italica Press, 1999). In Alice nel paese delle domandine (Le Lettere, 2011), Sarsini collects stories written by women from the creative writing class that she taught at Sollicciano prison, outside Florence; a second volume Alice, la guardia e l’asino bianco was just published in Italy.Maryann De Julio
MARYANN DE JULIO is a Professor in the Department of Modern and Classical Language Studies at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio.