Both of them knew that seeing each other again meant throwing oneself blindly into the perdition of sin. They had parted, on the last evening, with a kind of fright, and yet, touching their cold hand, exchanging the last kiss on the edge of their father’s house, a promise had run between them, ineffable, hideous, unspoken in words. , because no word would have dared utter it.
“When? …” she asked him, pressing herself against him, trembling like a frightened lover. He wanted to answer: «Never again! never again!” But he felt that her whole life hung from that desire, and he promised her one next day, he suggested she shut up.
“Goodbye … write,” she said. Then she disappeared into the darkness of the stairs.
But both felt that the torment was growing, that no human strength would save them any more from the wonderful danger in which they felt enveloped.
When the appointed day came, Arrigo went to pick her up, while still, on the father’s table, lunch was not set. All day Loretta had been nervous, irritable, insolent. Since the morning she had retorted her mother because she had allowed herself to observe them:
– Your father is right. Arrigo gives you too many vices: theaters, dinners … You were there a few days ago; what need was there to go back today?
At breakfast she had covered her brother Paolo with insolence, because he, seeing that she was not touching food, began to mutter under his breath:
– Miss has the vapors! Now for her we need snipe and parrot tongues!
Loretta shrugged, then became irritated. And the other, more joking, repeated: – Yes, she has vapors! she has the vapors!
He had them a little in fact; she was as pale as she was powdered, with her eyes growing wider and brighter; she couldn’t stand still; she had badly combed her hair. Around four in the afternoon she had begun to get dressed, little by little, with an infinite number of cares; she had washed herself, perfumed, cultivated, like a flower before putting it in a vase. She had spent an hour smoothing her hair, rubbing her nails; she had also thought about blackening her eyes a little, but seeing that this was bad for her, she had cleaned them with a wet diaper. She had put on her finest shirt, her underwear most adorned with lace, and in particular, before getting dressed, she had looked at herself in her mirror, all naked, with a long shiver. Nevertheless, in spite of so much meticulous care, she that day she was not quite beautiful, she could not be beautiful as usual.
She had spent a few sleepless nights, with the troubled thought that lit her blood, making her turn in bed and crave in the harsh patience of virginity.
When Arrigo arrived, and as soon as she heard the sound of his step, she feared she could not get up, she doubted that everyone would see her upset, as she had felt the blood flow down from the veins of her face.
He too did not have that usual bravado, he was not frank, he moved and spoke with a certain awkwardness, he avoided looking at Loretta.
– Since you’re ready, I’ll take you out to lunch if you want …
“Very gladly,” she said.
The father, the mother, dared not say anything; only Paul observed:
– It would be easier for you to stay here too. Once in a while it wouldn’t hurt you.
“I’ll come another evening, if you like,” Arrigo replied with a certain humility. – The weather is so good this evening, I prefer to eat outside.
– Very well; I was saying to say.
They were sitting down to table; Paolo was already seated in front of his tondo; he waited. Father and mother stood up, a little irresolute, as if they were receiving an unusual visit in their house.
“This is my father and this is my mother,” thought Arrigo fleetingly, looking at the two poor old men.
And a new pity rose from his heart, sharp as a pain.
“I warn you,” Paolo went on, “that” your “Loretta puts on certain airs even like a princess. She tries, if you can, not to warm her head.
She jumped up like a viper:
– No, my handsome young gentleman! I don’t warm my head, I! Instead, think about being less trivial, and you will win.
– Well, dear Arrigo, – intervened the father, – my house is hell. You always hear screaming. What a bad thing!
And his meekness was content with this calm lament. Arrigo, taken by I don’t know what sudden tenderness, went up to him and put a hand on his shoulder:
– Come on, dad, don’t worry. It is the same thing in all families; when we live together there is always some contrast.
– Bah! … – said the old man by way of conclusion, – if you go away, we will begin to eat.
The maid had brought the tureen and the mother was pouring into the bowls; then all three bent their faces over the thick smoke, which smelled, and began slowly, greedily to eat.
The old family table was too big for those three people; the empty seats left you with a kind of sadness, as if someone who should have been there had deserted from it. The eldest, the eldest son, the one in whom the father recognizes himself, in which the mother remembers her first caress, was the first to go. For a long time his chair had remained there, in front of the empty seat, the laundry napkin closed in the aluminum ring, as if he could return from meal to meal; And did not return. Then the elder sister had gone to make another home, with other affections; and now evidently the last one was moving away, the one that last had cheered the house with her screams, the one that reminds the old ones more closely of youth and is like the last flower of a hard-working tree, the most fragile and the most beautiful.
He went away, and the two old men remained bitterly swallowing the heavy food, with a taciturn son, who perhaps remained, only because he felt the possession, the inheritance of the house, descend into his tenacious hands.
Amidst the smoke of the soup these thoughts came to the minds of the two old men, and they perhaps saw that room of theirs once again, when around the square table there were four little heads of children, and it was necessary to shout, to toil, to work harder, but this was not troublesome, if at every point a clear voice rose from the brood to call: dad, mom! with that childish accent in which instinctive love overflows.
And it seemed that, looking at Arrigo, they both said mutely: “It was you! It was you!” it was you!”
“Don’t bring her back too late,” her mother told Arrigo. And the silence returned to the room, barely broken by the noise that the spoons made beating the sonorous dishes.
When Arrigo and Loretta found themselves in the street, alone, and looked at each other, the guilt that had already entered their veins overwhelmed them both with sweetness and fear. They dared not speak to each other at first. Loretta took Arrigo’s arm and they walked along the sidewalk, among the thick people, with hasty steps. The noise of the district stunned them; that bewilderment was delightful to both of them.
– Where do we go? Loretta finally asked.
– We walk. It is still early, ‘he replied in an absorbed voice.
The evening was sweet, a little unnerving, full of languors. Certain broad waves of blond vapors sailed through the almost still air, swinging near the roofs and rising high into space, becoming rarer, fainter, to the first stars. In that vaporous laziness of the air the vast noises some things seemed to grow with a greater sonority. Everything that had a soul, real or fictitious, was in the fullness of his life; every heart felt compelled to desire beyond itself.
They had recently turned on the street lamps, which shone with an almost blue light under the sky still intense with solar trepidation; some closed windows collected the fires and rays of the sunset in the stained glass windows.
“How nice it is to walk at this hour,” Loretta said to her brother, tightening his arm, on which he weighed, a little.
– Do you like? He asked, pouring into these two short words all the sweetness that overflowed from his soul.
– Yes I like it; I like it with you. – And after a pause she continued: – You know? … I’ve been shaking all day ….
– Why did you tremble?
“I thought you’d come …” she confessed, folding her face.
He made a nervous movement and said:
– It was better to forget.
– Ah, no!
In those few minutes that they were close they already felt caught up, bound to each other, and they suffered and enjoyed a joy that was pain.
They looked good together: she blonde and thin, harmonious; him, with his elegant person, with his frank step. Many people turned to look at them.
They reached the most central streets; Arrigo told her:
– Don’t give me your arm. – She obeyed without answering him; but she stayed close to him.
They went to a florist’s to buy flowers; then, as they walked, they stopped to look at the shops with their glittering displays. Arrigo greeted many people. Loretta asked him every time: – Who is he?
Then he would say a name, a sentence that would paint the person, one of those schematic and incisive summaries that are worth better than a long biography.
A guy: – calls himself a lawyer, he has a beautiful wife, his wife has a rich lover, he knows it.
Another: – he had to leave the army due to debts; at the theater he only takes the entrance ticket and visits all the boxes; at night he plays, and always wins.
A third: – he has a racing stable which costs him dearly, but they say he also works as a usurer, so he can pay the costs.
And so on.
Two very elegant, provocative women passed on the same sidewalk. Seeing Arrigo they smiled at him; Arrigo, in turn, did not say hello, but smiled. A long furrow of strong perfume remained behind their steps. Loretta turned to look at them; she asked:
– Do you know them?
– Who I am?
– The one on the right was a mime: now it is maintained by Rinaldo Bastia, a manufacturer of frames, father of that Bastia who killed himself a few months ago. The other is one who lives on income … daily income, when she finds it.
– They are two beautiful women.
– Peuh, not bad!
– Why did they smile at you like that?
– What way?
– I do not know; as if they have something to tell you.
– I do not know; out of habit perhaps.
– Have you been a lover of those too?
– Lover no; I met one, the mime, a few years ago.
Loretta paused for a moment, then said;
– But what pleasure do you feel in changing so many women?
Arrigo began to laugh.
“The same pleasure,” she said, “that you women try to change clothes.”
The sister made no further comments.
After having been silent for some time, and almost in a bad mood, he said:
– I, for example, if I had a lover, I would be very jealous.
– Oh yes? Arrigo exclaimed, looking at her. – And what would you do?
– I don’t know what I’d do; I think it is not possible to know beforehand, do you think?
Then he asked him again:
– Were the lovers you had jealous of you?
– Yes, all of them! He did spontaneously.
– And you?
Again he looked at his sister, attentively, for a long time, then took her arm again, as the sweet hour of twilight was gradually becoming dark. He confessed to her:
– You see, to get jealous, you have to be in love. I, really, have never been yet.
She was grateful to him for this answer and had a visible joy, even though she was silent.
They went on, crossed a square, took another street.
– How happy I would be if you loved me … – she said, softly, bending her face, to hide the mouth that uttered those words.
“But I want you, Lora,” he replied.
– No … it must be something else … you wouldn’t say it that way.
– How am I supposed to tell?
– Nothing, don’t say anything.
She suddenly felt full of sadness; almost a pain trembled in her voice.
– Do you want us to go to lunch? Arrigo asked.
– Here we go.
– I’ll take you to a restaurant you don’t know; it is outside the door, in the middle of the countryside, and the tables are in the garden. Do you want?
– Yes, Rigo.
They got into the first car they found, paying no attention to the driver, who, unhappy with the too long ride, kept cursing between his teeth. Slowly, on the rough pebbles, the little horse began to trot.
Now a few layers of pink fog clouded the transparency of the sky; a clarity pervaded by shadows was raining all around; along a road lined with trees, the perfume of the blooming lime trees hit them, enveloped them, intoxicated them.
Loretta took off a glove, took her brother’s hand and nervously entwined her fingers in his.
– I almost feel like crying … – he confessed in a tormented voice.
– Why, Lora?
– I don’t know … I don’t know; or I can’t tell you …
“Don’t say anything, Lora, but don’t cry,” said Arrigo, trying with every effort to suppress his emotion. And he caressed her hand.
– Why am I not as happy as last time?
– Instead you have to be cheerful! we have to laugh! Don’t think about anything else.
She reached out to him as if to let him know her love.
– I wish you loved me … – she said again, all quivering, in a whisper. – But instead this cannot be … Is it true that it cannot be?
He answered her by shaking her hand, and, troubled, did not add a word.
“Listen,” said Loretta, “tell me something.” Why do I, who am your sister, love you?
– Shut up, don’t say that.
– But it’s true! If it were a bad thing, as it seems to us, it wouldn’t happen. Instead, you see, everything I could feel for another, for a stranger, I feel for you. It hurts, very bad …
“Loretta, my Loretta …” he murmured with fearful trepidation.
– No, be good, I want to talk, I want to talk to you.
She let go of his hand, and gathering up to him, she unraveled him, wrapped his arm with her soft arm.
– This love took me all in a moment … I didn’t know it before.
She reached out to him, so that she moved the curls of her blond forehead over the flower of his mouth, and prayed in a low voice:
– Give me a kiss … slowly, slowly … It’s dark, nobody sees …
Their loving mouths met, they enjoyed all the pain of the evil that was consuming them.
And they went away slowly, at the trot of the weary horse, by straight lanes, by oblique streets, by winding alleys, penetrating the maze of the twilight city that was now studded with lights, like an immense ship stationary on the nocturnal anchorage. When they were beyond the barriers, in the areas of the suburb they hardly knew, it seemed to both of them that they had come a long way from that great hostile city that held them prisoners, subjected to the prohibition, and it seemed to them that they were like two strangers for one. almost foreign land, finally free from the intolerable surveillance of others.
On the sweet spring evening, the suburbs were often filled with people, who had come out of the tingling five-storey houses or small decrepit houses, to crowd the streets with all their children, after the parking lots. It was holiday eve, a Saturday night; the groups inaugurated the joy of Sunday for each district. The trattorias, the taverns, the sorbets overflowed with people, crowded the populated sidewalk with tables. At the gates of the suburban theaters and dances a restless commotion gathered, raising the din of its tumultuous hilarity.
At the entrance to the cinemas, sparkling with an almost violet light, the newsboys in either green or red tunic, with a hoarse voice, with charlatan manners, alternated their astonishing cries luring the crowd with atrocious posters and bloody placards like the basket of the executioner.
Every now and then a guitar would emerge from a dark district, a phonograph screamed its asthmatic song, a beaten child screamed from a porter’s lodge, like a damned soul.
And the little horse trotted; the little horse, insensitive to the warmth of spring, equally worn and resigned in the inclement weather of winter as in the heat of summer, limped on the enemy stone, slowly, with that unshakable philosophy that comes after despair; poor old machine made of bones and pains, indifferent to the strains, the lashes, the care of the customers, as if he knew by now that his whole destiny was to walk, by dint of stumbling and asthma, slowly, but to walk .
The nearby countryside sent some rustic smell between the last houses, and it already appeared all clear, almost wrapped in a purplish air, for the side districts that were no longer paved. In one of them the driver turned.
“I never came this far,” Loretta said. – It seems to be in the country; smell that good!
They had mowed some lawns around there; the hay piles smelled of vegetable fragrances in the spring evening. Even the nag, with that savory odor of maggengo, seemed to feel his greedy soul dilating in his lean hips, and he was aiming harder. The coachman thrust a cigar butt between his teeth and began humming; with the cracking whip he accompanied his monotonous chant. This made Loretta laugh.
– How funny! He said quietly to his brother. And he walked over to him, with a little laugh, which gave him his fresh breath in his face.
He did not speak; a kind of numbness, a sensation never known sweetly enveloped his spirit, communicating a physical tiredness, a kind of sensual dejection. For a brief hour he liked to forget that his little companion, the one whose arm was sweet to feel under his arm and breath in his face, was his own sister, who came out of the same womb who had given life, nourished with the same milk, cradled in the same cune: the daughter of her father and mother, the full sister.
He had at the same time an immense horror, an unconscious horror of himself, and nevertheless found in this his strongest delight. He liked hearing her speak; that voice, which he seemed to have never known before, entered the depths of his heart, giving him a slow and tiring caress. That she said she loved him, that she dared to tell him that she loved him, that her desire was so obvious to him, so ready to let himself be grasped, that he had an almost sick need to wrap himself around her person and make him feel the trepidation of her soft limbs still intact, that she would speak to him as to her first lover … all this dazed him, tempted him, intoxicated him, put a vehement pulsation in his strong heart, in his excited veins an almost shiver of terror, in his rough nerves a kind of torment, of which he slowly savored all the perversity.
In her it was truly the forbidden possession, it was the joy that should not have known itself, it was the crime and the highest voluptuousness.
When she spoke of love to him, he would have liked in turn to answer her: «Yes, I love you! you are the first one I love, the only one I will ever be able to love … You move a great storm inside me that drunk me … “But he was ashamed of this, and the words that sounded inside him seemed impossible to say. . He then he was silent, leaving her to talk about her, to her, since she was almost a child, a little girl, and he could say everything.
But only in calling her, in speaking to her, in uttering her name, did he put an infinite love. It was no longer just her desire, that vehement desire that had assailed him, making him a slave and twisting him to her pain; now it was something more, a kind of sadness, a closed and turbid furor, which possessed him deeply and wounded him like a thorn thickened in his heart.
He, who had never faced his own conscience, was now afraid of himself. He feared something dark; between him and her there was an indefinable, unknown force that terrified him; over her guilty love hung almost a more than human threat. He wanted to be sour, and he could only be sweet; he wanted not to look at her, and his eyes unwittingly went towards her. Even when he was far away and distracted, he had the constant image of it fixed in his mind. He wanted to think of other women, of other loves, and she sneaked into his arms with a stronger promise; he wanted to reject her by himself, as if to purify himself of this guilt, and the guilt returned to him, flowed into his heart through all his veins, like a wave of voluptuousness.
The little horse trotted; the same countryside rested from daytime work, broken by farmhouses, crossed by roads, marked by hedges. A few rows of poplars across the vaporous plain stretched as far as the eye could see into the white night. Behind them the city thickened, dominated by a reddish light, which was, in the still air, the reflection of its many lights.
Beyond a hedge they saw a flock of sheep sleeping; he had spread out on the lawn, in small groups, and slept there whitening. The dog ran up the bank, all bristly, and barked.
“Look,” said Loretta with childish admiration, “look how white they are and how they sleep next to each other.”
Those sleeping sheep gave her child’s heart a singular tenderness. She added:
– Life in the countryside must be better than in the cities. Why don’t you take me away, Rigo?
– Take you away? But where?
– Where it doesn’t matter. One week only. I would like to take a little trip with you, always be close to you, day and night, never leave you, day and night … What happiness, think!
The brother shook his head, and silently patted her on the back of her hands, then on her knees.
– Take me away … – she said again, pleading.
– Can not be done.
At that point they met a cheerful group who were returning to the city singing. A village appeared in the distance, and, before the village, behind a house, a group of thick trees where many lights were shining.
“You see: that’s where we eat,” said Arrigo, marking the light. – A lot of people come in the summer because the food is good there.
They came. A waiter of honest manners advanced from the threshold to meet the arrivals.
– Do you want to wait for us? Arrigo asked the coachman. – I’ll make you lunch.
The man looked at his beast with a merciful air:
“He’s been down for nine hours …” he said; – I should go and change it.
But then, more than his paternal love for the worn-out animal, he was able to have the gluttony of the promised lunch, and he replied with an air of condescension:
– Well, if you really want, I can also wait for them.
They entered, passed through some rooms cluttered with noisy tables, reached the garden and sat under the pergola.
– How beautiful it is here! Loretta said, looking around.
The tall trees, connected by a wire frame, formed a kind of immense pavilion, crossed by a wisteria in full bloom. Among the dense blue clusters the electric street lamps blazed with an intense, almost purplish light, in which the nocturnal butterflies swarmed.
The sweet smell of the flowered pavilion was breathed in the air, it was absorbed like a drink, and the abundance of that flowering that climbed around all the trunks, penetrated into the thick of the branches, ran through the pergolas, he threw himself from tree to tree, from one lamp post to the other, attacking the house, the windows, the railings, appearing in his thousand flowers to be but a single flower, giving that rustic garden the appearance of a blue court in the middle of an enchanted forest.
Under the pergolas there were a great number of cheerful groups having lunch and feasting; almost all rich people from the suburbs, celebrating on Saturday nights. That good blood of the people, lit by strong wine, burst into resounding laughter; the busy waiters passed by carrying steaming plates; the glasses and cutlery made a cheerful tinkle. In the background, on a well-lit ground, some men in shirt sleeves were playing bowls; others, gathered in groups, commented on the shots. On the first floor of the house, in a room that had the windows open to the terrace, they danced gaily to the sound of a piano.
A wave of joy pervaded their young hearts, because each one can often cancel his own soul to receive the other, above all that of the simple, who are the most communicative.
They were both a little stunned by that evening stroll through the semi-dark countryside; they had in their hearts and eyes the ghost of their imminent guilt, they both suffered the pain of love. For a moment they felt alone in the world, looking out over a danger, over a temptation, which surpassed their fearful senses; – and behold they were in a garden full of people, of people a little trivial, who ate with robust hunger, talking and laughing loudly; the light had dazzled their slightly cloudy eyes, the smell of food had tickled their healthy stomachs, and the rousing music that came from the terrace, and the dancing couples who saw themselves passing behind the windows in a beam of light, they had given both of them the desire to tie themselves to each other, very close, very strong, and throw their hearts into that dance,
Arrigo gave a small blow to the empty plate, which glittered in front of him, and said:
– I am hungry!
He took a loaf, broke it. Loretta began to unbutton the glove that still fitted her right hand up to the middle of the forearm, she slowly slid it down, pulled her fingers out one by one, looked at her hand, above and below, intertwined it with the other on the edge of the plate. She was not wearing Rafa’s bracelet that evening; her two bare wrists, tiny, were thick with veins; the oblique light gilded them with a faint blondness. Her face, a little tired of her, took on a beautiful color, everything from her breathed that indefinable seduction that a woman communicates when she has thought a lot about love.
While the waiter was setting the table, they looked at their neighbors and laughed at them.
An exaggeratedly fat and ruddy woman excited Lora’s hilarity. She sat in the middle of a large table, where many children were chattering, dripping their chins with dripping sauces. And the mothers to scold them, and the men to give them a few slaps. The fat diner wore a low-necked blouse, of a silk with white bullets on a blue background; she was perhaps rich shopkeeper, who went to party on Saturday evenings with all her relatives.
“You know,” said the waiter to Arrigo, “have patience for tonight, sir count!” So many people come on the Sabbath that there is no time to serve properly. But in the days of the week it is quite another thing. Then, if you would like to call earlier, some special dishes could be prepared for you.
A child, with a napkin tied around his throat, ran between the tables to catch a dying butterfly. He happened to be near the Arrigo table and the waiter whipped him away with his napkin, as if he were a stray dog.
She laughed at the waiter, the child, the butterfly and the fat woman; at her he laughed at everything, for a sudden joy that had entered her. In the blue light that rained down from above, her features were wrapped in an almost fluffy outline, her blond hair making a light cloud fall on her forehead.
But this rejoicing was brief; short for both. Little by little they were far from those people, from that din, they withdrew into a world of their own, almost fearing that someone would surprise them, while both, for an unconscious honesty, rebelled against the force of their so perverse love.
We have sometimes, in our fearful instinct, a certain reluctance in the face of happiness, and nothing is so astonished as a simple soul that looks upon a great sin.
Lunch was over: they brought sweets; the spilled coffee smoked in the cups. A few wisteria flowers had fallen on the tablecloth from above; some small mosquitoes, twisted by agony, struggled among the crumbs, no longer flying.
– And Rafa? – Arrigo said suddenly.
– Oh, don’t tell me about him now! She exclaimed with a lively gesture. – I can’t suffer it anymore!
He had the vanity or the cruelty to ask her:
She made a vague gesture.
– Perhaps you cannot understand … None of you can understand the heart of a girl.
– Oh, how you talk! He exclaimed, smiling.
– Because? I make you laugh?
The brother began to look at her, fixedly, insidiously, with an ambiguous expression; she held her gaze a little, then lowered her face into the shadow of the hat.
– If you look at me like that, Rigo, you make me blush …
– You are so beautiful, my flower! … – he exclaimed, leaning a little towards her, as if attracted by the breath of her mouth.
And she smiled at him from the bowed face.
– But if you don’t like me … – he murmured, with a timid coquetry.
– You’re so beautiful! He said again; – so much, that you hurt me …
She had no shame; she lifted her face, her mouth laughed, alive, green, full of guilt. Her eyes shone: she had no shame.
– So why? … – he said hesitantly.
– What do you say?
– … why do not you want me?
The question was so serious that she herself went back into hiding. The other nothing answered her; she lit a cigarette, as if she wanted to get drunk on the smoke.
Then, when she no longer expected any answer:
“Because you are my sister,” she said.
She shrugged, meditated.
– Does this name seem so terrible to you?
“You’re a child,” he remarked gravely.
– A little girl? … – And she smiled shaking her head. – No, rather another thing, very simple: I suffer and I don’t want to suffer anymore. I love you, you alone, and whoever you are, I love you! Finally, what do you blame me for? Why do I feel this love? But it’s not my fault. Maybe why am I talking about it? But what would be the use of keeping silent, if you, who are also silent, do nothing but continually think about the same thing?
And her little hands clasped tightly to his hands, who could not answer, who no longer dared to look at her. Then she became meek, persuading, insistent:
– Listen to me, Rigo, listen to me! That courage you should to have you, I had it for the first time. Now don’t condemn me: help me! There is a certain fear in all this, it is true, but it will have to be overcome …
He looked at her in amazement.
“You mustn’t win it,” he said darkly. – Indeed we must heal.
– So is it such a great evil?
– Yes, a horrible evil. Even talking about it, even thinking about it is bad.
“No,” she said firmly. – No!
– See, if you could have any other name than sister’s name … Can’t you hear how bad it sounds on my mouth?
– A name! … what is a name? She said.
– But that’s all, as it means something, as it contains the greatest sin that there is in love.
She made a vague gesture, and a smile.
“It doesn’t matter,” he replied. – I don’t consider you as such; I don’t feel at all that you are my brother. Paolo is my brother, you are not. It is a completely different thing. I don’t even remember what you were like when you were my brother, that is, when we were children. Now you are another.
He paused, then began again:
– After all, it is natural that there is a difference between us. You have had so many other lovers, you have been caressed, kissed, adored by so many … What you can have for me is at the most like the desire you could have for another. Instead I…
– No, Lora, don’t say that! don’t say it! Is absurd! But don’t you see that I am making a terrible effort on myself to save you?
– To save me? To save me, you say? But I don’t want to be saved! For what? Why maybe one day Rafa will take me, or another like Rafa? I am free, do you understand? mistress to do with me what I want. And I am looking for you, not you. If you are afraid of remorse, I want to carry it all on myself. Look: I think coldly, I know what I’m saying. I love you, I want to be yours; only this I like. I want to caress you, to be caressed, to live close to you, to be in love with you, jealous of you … And it is I who want, not you; me alone … is that enough for you?
He looked at that twenty-year-old girl, that simple flower, which had a cálice so deep and ripe, so fragrant and perverse. A kind of tacit admiration arose in him, as if he were afraid of it.
“Loretta,” he said, “at your age one cannot yet know what is good and what is bad, or at least what evil is too great.”
– Too great an evil is not to have the courage to be happy, – she said, perhaps unaware of his words.
Two handsome young men entered, cheerful and boisterous, who were dressing up that evening in the company of two little courtiers, so red with make-up and so eccentrically dressed, that many, among those sated bourgeois, had the air of being scandalized by them. The two chatty girls, holding on to the arm of their gallants, walked on high heels with a shambling step and an ugly wiggle of the hips, every step bursting into certain shrill laughter that wounded the eardrums of others like the false note of an out-of-tune guitar. They were pleasure-seekers or night owls of the lower class and women of low gallantry; they caught sight of the Arrigo table as they passed; one of them greeted him. Ancient knowledge, perhaps from the time he used to tavern with a clique of shady idlers for the infamous bottle shops. The arrivals sat down at a nearby table and evidently began to talk about him. Arrigo, sensing their speeches, for the first time was saddened that they had surprised him in that country trattoria, almost clandestine for a young gentleman, and surprised only two of them, who seemed to be lovers, who must all seem to be lovers, and perhaps they wore imprints. in the face the indelible shadow of their sin.
Loretta realized that something was bothering him and asked:
– Who is that guy who greeted you?
“A lawyer without clients,” replied Arrigo; – a bad guy.
– What about those two girls?
– Oh, I don’t know!
– They talk about us
– I noticed.
– What can they say?
– Nothing good, of course. I’m very sorry that they see us together, because the world guesses certain things, and God knows how.
– Not these, perhaps; but when we show up too many times together, someone else, who knows ever …
– Well, we’ll think about it later.
They both fell silent. In the garden the laughter rang; those who had eaten too much let their stomach work the fatigue of digestion in peace; meanwhile, in the heat of the wine, gay intentions were held. The children were left with the bridle on their necks and they screamed under the pergolas with loud cries; men and women, with that blaze of ardor in their faces that comes from overwhelming food and generous wine, poured on the still cluttered tables the salt of the anecdote, the pepper of the fat joke. Husbands, lovers, lovers were thinking of the near night.
Up above they danced. That wave of somewhat stormy music overflowed onto the terrace with open windows; every now and then a girl would look into it, all hot, her hair untidy, with a mellifluous amateur around her. They breathed a breath of air, and away again, tightly, fiercely, in the bustle of the dance.
Every now and then, if the evening wind swept over the blossoming pavilion, all those blue clusters, exuberant and heavy as the richest harvest, spread a long and fragrant shiver over the garden, shivering some dead flowers, which for a long time it crawled over the gravel, here, there, everywhere, with a prolonged rustle.
Three wanderers entered, and in the pauses of the piano they began to sing serenades.
Those two who loved each other suddenly stopped talking.
The evening, and the music, and that scent of open country, tormented the sadness of their hidden dream. Loving each other was sad, wanting each other was a great sin, refusing each other was more than suffering …
He called the waiter, paid quickly, said to his sister: - Come on, let’s walk.
They went out. A clear moon had risen over the whitewashed countryside; the ditches shone from a distance; the trees, thick or thin, marked in the purity of the night certain motionless, almost violet shadows.
They took between the fields. The green wheat flashed with silver threads; running water, hidden, perhaps far away, made a noise so faint that it seemed to be only a freshness.
She gave her brother her arm; their mixed shadows accompanied them in the moonlight.
– You love Me? She asked softly, clinging to him. He untied her arm, wrapped it around her belt, squeezed her close, without answering.
They passed under great trees, powerful with antiquity, alive with an occult nightlife.
Then, fearfully, in that shadow they kissed. Mouth to mouth, in the scent of the night, in the trembling of their senses, they madly kissed. That kiss ran through them from the forehead to the ankles like a multiple caress, unnerved them, conquered them, made their love a very tight and painful knot.
In the short wood there was wild mint which smelled too strong.
Crying, grieving, laughing, overflowing with joy, feeling that the veins beat, intoxicated, with a delirium full of tormented happiness … That kiss multiplied on the mouth, on the eyes, on the forehead, on the neck … on the mouth.
To be so full of love, and not to be able to love each other! To be so close, so alone, in a very white night, with the lively spring around, the spring that overwhelms and gives the dizziness … There in the woods, all the fragrant herbs that burned like censers; mint, basil, rue; a water that passes hidden, a mandolin that trills, already far away; among the foliage, for the rorida countryside, the twisted mulberries, the apricot trees all a flower …
They looked up into the foliage; they saw the sky full of stars. The little stars fell through the fiery air, like a rain, a whirlwind of minute red sparks …
She was the strongest of them two, because of sin he knew only the name: he was the most lost and the most intoxicated, because he enjoyed sin to the fullest of the grueling evil.
This passion ravaged his heart with claws and thorns, slowly wearing out his tenacious will. He was already close to forgetting, to overcome the insurmountable name, (a name … – she had said, – what is a name? …) and was already looking with clear eyes in mortal sin. He wanted to be cynical, to prepare a sweet feast, not to spoil a thrill, to enjoy it slowly and skillfully … he let himself fall little by little, insensibly, into temptation, as if to get used to that formidable courage.
But when he was already about to say to himself, and to her, the most feared word, an enormous roar rose in the vastness of his spirit, and suddenly, as if it came from who knows what remote distance of being, as if it rose from under the weight of his will, as if he were mixed in blood, indestructible among his ghosts, a cold, melancholy image appeared in his mind.
And he saw his father’s face, impoverished by old age, fatigued by misfortunes, looking at him with those pale eyes, more painful than the eyes of a wounded animal, looking at him and repeating mutely, as when he had come out of the house: you! it was you!…”
She did not see these ghosts; she stared at the greatest sin with the smallest fear. She had only one strength in herself: that of her own desire; only one unconsciousness: that of her own femininity. In her troubled virgin heart, the sense of tragedy was lost in a subtle pleasure.
Since in loving him she was only looking for a lover in him, so it seemed natural to her to say to him: «Take me in your arms, even if I bear a name that scares you! Hold me and hold me, for this, stronger! ” Since she was close to him she felt protected, enamored, submissive and full of shivering, since he, looking at her, touching her, exasperated her virgin torment, her other fears, her other anguish, they were nothing but repudiable shadows for her.
And so she told him the word with persuasion, with impetus more feared, so that he would lead her away with him, towards the room where they would be alone, in the middle of the night, without human eyes seeing them.
And he too dreamed of that room, the room where he would slowly, fearfully, undress her, veil by veil, with shivers, as one discovers a forbidden treasure.
He would have seen first her white, turgid throat appear, then her soft fragrant arms, with the blue veins of the wrists, which would have made a knot, a strong knot in the spasm, around her neck, and her breasts still not kissed, steep, aware of the kisses, divided in the middle by a shadow that naturally clothed her nakedness …
And he thought of turning off the light in the room to have more courage, but he wished that a light filtered through, a dim light gradually more discernable, perhaps from the street lamps of the district, perhaps from a veiled lamp in the neighboring room. And he smelled the odor of his dissolved body, the same, but sweeter, that he had on his mouth, kissing him; an intense and multiple odor, which bloomed from her skin, as if roses were hidden in the folds of her body. He tasted the freshness of that spring flesh, he imagined caressing her round naked shoulder, he slipped his groping hand into the velvety warmth of his armpits, he gathered in his tight arms his torso flexible like a shoot, he felt against himself the unstoppable throb of his womb , the entanglement of the person that she would do against her person, to offer herself and to defend herself,
But suddenly she felt ill. Truly, as in her vision, he had seen her turn white with that same pallor, he had felt her arms grasped by her convulsed hands, then, seeing her stagger, he had supported her against him.
– What’s wrong, Lora?
He didn’t answer; her teeth chattered; she was shaking.
– Time! Time! what do you have?
– Nothing … – he stammered, – passes …
It was nothing but a daze, and her mouth soon smiled back. They retraced the journey; he held her up to her carriage.
The coachman chattered; the little horse resumed trotting towards the city of his martyrdom, where there were the rough stone, the slippery rail, the post office and the stable. On this side, on the other side of the two hedges, fragrant in the white night, the cultivated land cultivated grains and fruits for the voracious city; some cricket in love with the moon raised his shrill song, infinitely greater than himself.
Now her head ached, she had an iron circle around her temples, hammering. To ease that pain she took her brother’s hand and bandaged his forehead.
– Do you suffer?
– Yes a little.
He surrounded her forehead, from temple to temple, with many little kisses.
– Hold me close, very close … and I will heal.
In a garden they encountered, the roses of May opened their swollen càlici of spring.
– Are you still feeling bad?
– Yes, a sweet evil …
Beyond a row of poplars the red flame of the city reappeared like a vast cloud suspended in the firmament. The first houses arrived, with moon-white walls. Now the crickets were a hundred, they were a thousand, lost in the maggengo hay, and one, the most angry of all, seemed to be chasing them from near along the hawthorn hedge.
Suddenly she threw her head against his shoulder, as if a beginning of fainting overwhelmed her.
– Rigo, I feel bad … – he stammered, pressing his chest.
– What’s wrong with you? He said, bewildered; – why do you suffer like this?
She closed her eyes and again wanted to smile at him from her all white face.
– I feel dizzy … I don’t know …
– Do you want to stop? What do you want to do?
– Nothing; now it passes … it passes … I love you …
When they reached the last farmhouse, the stray song of the cricket dispersed far, infinitely far, and died. But in front of it appeared the monumental duty, majestic as a triumphal arch, under the starry sky. The customs guards, seated at the toll booth, laughed and smoked, chatting with women of ill repute. In the midst of throngs of children some vagabonds were playing the raffle of a street vendor; a devourer of flaming tow opened his enormous sooty mouth wide before the astonished spectators.
– I love you … – she said again, in a whisper, to her pale lover.
And the sackcloth of inconsumable guilt covered their desperate flesh like a cloak of thorns.