Loretta came home late because Rafa had kept her too long with him

The parents and brother Paolo finished dinner; a dinner that had been silent and almost gloomy, because each of them, although not daring to talk about it, was thinking about the absent and waiting impatiently for his return.

For a fortnight she had been leading an unusual life; she was always out of the house, morning and evening, without giving any pretext and she could no longer tolerate anyone reproaching her. She too had changed in appearance; an unusual light shone in her eyes, a kind of cruelty laughed over her mouth; In her whole face, once so fresh and clear, a I don’t know what fault and ambiguousness had mixed up, as if the change that had taken place in her could take a visible form in her features.

Now she dressed with great elegance and several times during the day packs and parcels arrived for her with the name of the first city shops: dresses from the most famous tailors, hats from the most ruinous milliners, shoes and boots from luxury shoemakers.

His room was cluttered with all these things; an extreme disorder reigned there; but for some time she had demanded that no one enter it, indeed, when she left the house, she always carried the key with her.

Paolo hardly spoke to her anymore, or if he spoke to her it was to say some bitter rudeness. He had quietly advised her father to kick her out of the house, [326]and his usually mild face grew strangely dark when they talked about her.

The father, poor man, showed himself weak in this as in all the other circumstances of his life; he saw his daughter getting lost, he felt something serious happening behind her shoulders bent over the desk, but in his timid and anguished heart he could not find the strength to put any shelter there. Moreover, many ailments had come upon him; his senile gout did not cease to torment him, he had a bit of asthma, which prevented him from sleeping at night. Sometimes, to console himself for his unspoken pain, he went to the house of Luisa, her eldest daughter, who was a good wife and also a good woman, although perhaps a little selfish. For her, her father’s house was no longer her house: she could only care about the evils that happened there up to a certain point, because her husband’s family was very numerous and they welcomed her as a real daughter. . Moreover, she already had two children, one of four years, the other thirty months; two handsome, fat, robust and florid boys who occupied her all day.

With them the poor old man was comforted; he would take the smallest one on his knees, and although his back hurt, he would begin to make him dance and ride, repeating the same chants that many years ago he had taught his children.

He vented to confide to Luisa with many sighs about her sister’s ailments, and she had said to him:

– Mándala here with me; I’ll talk to you.

She seemed to count immensely on her own authority as a fruitful and respected mother. But the father had replied with the usual resignation:

– Useless, my daughter. Ah, that Loretta of ours! our Loretta! …

The mother did not take much notice of all these things. She had never taken her mission as an educator too seriously, and every now and then, in her gray hair, the woman she had once been, capricious, bizarre and meaningless, stood out. moral. Those beautiful dresses of her daughter filled her with astonishment, and like all of them [327]women who were dishonest in their youth acquired an instinctive sense of pandering over the years. She rediscovered in this youth of her daughter her own youth of her, escaped and adventurous, where after all were her sweetest memories of her life. Only the reproaches of her husband bored her, who, shy with everyone, sometimes allowed himself to be curmudgeon with her, and never ceased to repeat them without mercy:

– You were not a good mother: here are the fruits!

Besides, she did not feel quite old; she still had a certain pretension of beauty and tried very diligently to hide the signs of her undoing. She had gradually collected her fallen hair, to have it made into a fake braid; she lacked several teeth and for a long time she had been bothering her husband to give her the money to buy half dentures.

But the latter, who had always tolerated his whims, now, in recent years, was almost taking revenge; he kept her very short of money and treated her with arrogance, perhaps in revenge for the long years during which he had been silent.

Loretta paid little attention to her mother; she was already grown up when her mother was still indulging in the last few amusements, and so she had learned to sympathize with his mistakes with a kind of indulgent contempt, which now almost took the form of mutual protection.

At home, Loretta did not want to undergo anyone’s authority; however, it was enough for her to start smiling for her father and mother to be at her feet.

But there was always Riotti, who, having aged, having gained weight, had by no means lost the habit of interfering in the affairs of others. The family of the optician had become somewhat his own family, precisely because he lacked the hearth, that sweet domestic kingdom in which, among many subjects, he would have liked to be the tyrant. In a large family, with many children around, he might have been happy; but in her slightly gloomy back room there was only that placid Eugenia, always a spinster, who read or embroidered, embroidered or read from morning to evening.

As for Loretta, he was not very strict; he pitied her with a certain long-suffering and he traced the fault to Arrigo for his perdition. According to him, everything that happened in the house of the optician was Arrigo’s fault.

As he used to do every day after dinner, precisely that evening he had just come to the back room of his neighbors to sip the usual cálice illustrating the most serious news read in the newspapers, when Loretta finally entered, panting as if she had run and a little disheveled.

Nobody opened their mouths; but that silence was full of reproach.

“I’m a little late,” she agreed. – Excuse me.

– A little … says a little! … – Riotti interrupted her, ironic. – It’s half past eight, no less!

– So? – She said, passing in front of him with a haughty manner. She had a bunch of slightly undone roses on her belt and she stood in front of a mirror to smooth her hair.

– Then I just say it’s shameful! – Riotti decreed, swelling with anger at that provocative response. And he added with contempt:

– Dressed like a ballerina!

Loretta looked at him jokingly, laughed aloud and said:

– Good evening.

– Where do you go? Asked her father.

– I go to my room, since I only receive impertinence here.

‘Come on,’ said the mother, ‘come and eat; I made you save your lunch.

She stood back in front of the mirror and began to take off her hat, but slowly.

– You have a scent that gives a headache! – Paolo observed nervously, leaning against the table sipping a last glass of wine.

– Veh, poor thing! … – Loretta said. – How delicate you are!

Against her he quickly became angry; his little eyes turned evil, his mouth took on a hard expression.

– Other than ironies! She grumbled. – It is time for us to explain ourselves once and for all! So it is not possible to go on.

“Right,” Riotti ruled.

– At least let her eat … – the mother intervened. – You will discuss later.

– Not at all! figúrati, mom! indeed, indeed! …. I’m not hungry. If there is to be explained, let’s also explain; come on!

And with a bold air he came close to his brother.

“It is you who must speak,” Riotti said to the optician, making an energetic sign.

– Okay, – replied the latter. – But now … her mother is right: let her eat.

– Thank you, thank you so much. I’m not hungry; I am here and I listen to you.

A long silence followed.

“Come on, then,” she said to her brother, “you speak that you are so tongue-tied!”

– Eh … if I had to speak! – threatened his brother looking at her.

– But speak then! Nobody begs you to be silent. I know you hate me … So speak up.

The other, in silence, took a long sip of wine.

“In short, Loretta,” Riotti exclaimed out of the blue, “you lead a life that dishonors your family!”

She bit her lip.

– Listen to her! … – he said in a hissing voice; – Please give these lessons to your daughter, who perhaps needs them; not me; because she in here is a nuisance and nothing else.

Riotti jumped to his feet with superb agility; his voice gurgled in his throat and he couldn’t say a word.

Finally he railed:

– Shameless impertinent! To an old man you should respect as your father …

– So let’s see … – Donna Grazia intervened. – Calm down, Mr. Riotti. She also offended her.

– No offense!

– Well, – said the father, with difficulty gathering his little energy, – who has to speak is me and not others!

His voice was heard. Riotti wanted to leave, but curiosity overcame him and he sat down again.

Loretta went up to her father, put one hand on his shoulder, with the other she caressed his face.

– Come on daddy, don’t scold me … – he said. – What do I do wrong then?

The old man shook his head and she bent over him. She was so pretty, she smiled … He didn’t dare say anything to her anymore.

But Paolo made a gesture of impatience.

“You, Papa, are too weak with that girl,” he said. She shows you what she wants.

He paused, then added:

– And since you don’t talk, I’ll talk.

He rose to his feet and approached his sister in a threatening manner.

– What is this?! – She said, pinching the fabric of her blouse with two fingers. – And this? and this? and this! She continued vehemently, marking the skirt, the shoes, the hairdo, the bracelets.

“My stuff,” replied Loretta, turning a little pale.

– Your stuff? … – said the other with contempt. – It is not true! You don’t have the money, we don’t have the money to buy you this stuff!

He was extraordinarily excited; his rather coarse anger inflamed his face. His mother approached him cautiously and tugged at his sleeve.

– Leave her alone … – he said, almost pleading.

– So, answer! – Paolo commanded stubbornly, regardless of that advice. – What do you mean you dress like a puppet and worse? what do you perfume? that every moment brings stuff for you? that you go, that you come, that you wear things of gold and consider us all as if we were your servants? Things?…

And he stood by her in a threatening attitude. She showed that she was a little afraid of him, because her eyes became large, steady, and she approached her father who was silent.

– You don’t answer, eh? … – said Paolo with a grin. – And you are right to be ashamed, because we too, all of us, – he said with more force – are ashamed of you!

He rolled over on his heels, punched the table and sat back down. His chest gasped from the indignation with which he had spoken; he refilled his glass, brought the rim to his lips, but did not drink, and set it down forcefully. A few drops of wine stained the tablecloth.

“Until now,” he cried, “no one in our house had ever done this fine job!”

Loretta had grown extremely white; her lips trembled a little, and she gasped.

Then she moved resolutely, went to get her hat, the gloves left on the cupboard, and, biting her lip in taciturn anger, walked towards the door.

But on the threshold he turned:

‘If you are ashamed of me,’ he said, ‘just have a little patience; I’m leaving in a few days and I won’t bother anyone anymore.

– Are you going? … – stammered his father, getting up from his chair with difficulty.

– Yup! She replied relentlessly. – In a few days I will be twenty-one and no one will be able to stop me.

-Let’s see, let’s see … – Riotti intervened in a friendly voice. “You must never warm your head,” he went on, looking at Paolo who had his two elbows on the table and was staring at the glass. – You, Paolo, were a little bit harsh, and you Loretta …

– Not at all Loretta! She interrupted angrily. And she went out slamming the door.

Her perfume, the rose of France, remained behind her like a scarf.