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Authors: Luigi Pirandello

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BOOK: The Oil Jar and Other Stories
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“You
will
get out. But in the meantime I'm paying you. Here, three
lire.”

He took them out of his vest pocket and threw them into the jar. Then he asked, solicitously:

“Have you had lunch? A lunch over here, right away! You don't want any? Throw it to the dogs! It's enough for me that I gave it to you.”

He ordered them to give the tinker lunch; he climbed into the saddle, and trotted off to town. Everyone who saw him thought he was going to commit himself to the insane asylum, from the extent and strangeness of his gesticulations, while talking to himself.

Luckily he didn't have to sit and wait at the lawyer's office; but he did have to wait a good while for the lawyer to stop laughing, once he had explained the case. He was annoyed at the laughter.

“But, tell me, what is there to laugh about? It doesn't affect
you!
The jar is mine!”

But the lawyer kept on laughing and wanted him to tell the whole story over again, just as it happened, so he could have another laugh. Inside, huh? He riveted himself up inside? And
he
, Don Lollò, what did he want to do? Kee ... to kee... to keep him in there ... ha, ha, ha ... to keep him in there so as not to lose the jar?

“Do I have to lose it?” asked Zirafa with clenched fists. “The loss and the shame?”

“But do you know what this is called?” the lawyer said. “It's called ‘illegal confinement.'”

“Confinement? And who confined him?” exclaimed Zirafa. “He confined himself! How am I to blame?”

The lawyer then explained to him that there were two cases. On the one hand, he, Don Lollò, was obliged to release the prisoner at once so as not to be liable to the charge of “illegal confinement”; on the other hand, the tinker was answerable for the damage he was causing through his lack of professionalism and his carelessness.

“Ah!” said Zirafa, with a sigh of relief. “By paying me for the jar!”

“Not so fast!” the lawyer remarked. “It's not as if it were new, keep that in mind!”

“And why not?”

“Why, because it was broken!”

“No, sir!” Zirafa rebutted. “Now it's whole. Better than whole, he says so himself! And if I now break it again, I won't be able to have it mended again. It's a lost jar, counselor!”

The lawyer assured him that this would be taken into account, by demanding a payment equal to the jar's value in its present condition.

“In fact,” he advised him, “have it appraised in advance by him himself.”

“Many thanks, and goodbye,” said Don Lollò, hurrying away.

Upon his return, toward evening, he found all the farmhands making merry around the inhabited jar. Even the watchdog was taking part in the fun. Not only had Uncle Dima calmed down; he, too, had begun to enjoy his unusual adventure and was laughing with the malicious gaiety that sad people have.

Zirafa made them all move away, and leaned over to look inside the jar.

“Ah! Are you comfortable?”

“Fine. In the cooler,”
6
he replied. “Better off than at home.”

“Glad to hear it. Meanwhile I'll have you note that this jar cost me four
onze
new. How much do you think it would be worth now?”

“With me inside?” asked Uncle Dima.

The countryfolk laughed.

“Quiet!” shouted Zirafa. “It's one or the other: either your cement works or it doesn't work; if it doesn't work, you're a swindler; if it does work, the jar, just as it is, must have some value. What value? You judge.”

Uncle Dima reflected for a while, then said:

“I'm answering. If you had' allowed me to mend it with nothing but cement, the way I wanted, first of all I wouldn't be in here, and the jar would be worth just about the same as before. But sloppily mended with these ugly rivets that I was compelled to put in it from inside here, what value could it have? A third of its original value, more or less.”

“A third?” asked Zirafa. “One
onza
, thirty-three?”

“Maybe less, not more.”

“All right,” said Don Lollò. “Let your words be good, and give me seventeen
lire
.”

“What?” asked Uncle Dima, as if he hadn't understood.

“I will break the jar to let you out,” answered Don Lollò, “and you, as the lawyer says, pay me what it's worth: one
onza,
thirty-three.”

“I should pay?” sneered Uncle Dima. “You're joking, sir. I'll rot in here.”

And, with some difficulty pulling his little tartar-incrusted pipe out of his pocket, he lit it and began smoking, driving the smoke out of the neck of the jar.

Don Lollò began to sulk. This additional possibility, that Uncle Dima would refuse to leave the jar, neither he nor the lawyer had foreseen. And how could things be settled now? He was just about to give the command “The mule!” again, but restrained himself in time, reflecting that it was already evening.

“Oh, is that so?” he said. “You want to take up residence in my jar? You're all witnesses here! He doesn't want to get out, to avoid paying for it; I'm ready to break it! Meanwhile, since he wants to stay there, tomorrow I'll present him with a summons for squatting on my property, because he's preventing me from using the jar!”

First Uncle Dima sent out another mouthful of smoke, then he replied, calmly:

“No, sir. I don't want to prevent you from doing anything. Am I here for my pleasure? Get me out, but I'm not paying a thing! Don't even say it as a joke, sir!”

Don Lollò, in a fit of rage, lifted one foot to give the jar a kick; but he stopped short; instead, he seized it with both hands and shook it vigorously, trembling and shouting to the old man:

“Scoundrel, who did the damage, you or me? And I'm supposed to pay for it? Die of hunger in there! We'll see who wins!”

And he went away, not thinking of the three
lire
he had thrown into the jar that morning. To begin with, it occurred to Uncle Dima to use that money to have a party that evening along with the farmhands, who, having stayed late because of that strange accident, were planning to spend the night in the countryside, outdoors, on the threshing floor. One of them went to make the purchases at a nearby tavern. As it turned out, the moon shone so brightly it seemed like daylight.

At a certain hour Don Lollò, who had gone to bed, was awakened by an infernal racket. Coming out onto a balcony of the farmhouse, he saw on the threshing floor, in the moonlight, a swarm of devils: the drunken farmhands who had linked hands and were dancing around the jar. Uncle Dima, inside, was singing at the top of his voice.

This time Don Lollò could no longer control himself: he dashed over like a maddened bull and, before they had time to ward him off, gave the jar a big push that sent it tumbling down the hillside. Rolling, to the accompaniment of the drunkards' laughter, the jar smashed up against an olive tree.

And Uncle Dima won.

IT'S NOT TO BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY

Perazzetti? No. He was certainly in a class of his own.

He would say things with the utmost seriousness, so that you wouldn't even know it was him, while he looked at his extremely long, curved fingernails, of which he took the most meticulous care.

It's true that then, all of a sudden, for no apparent reason . . . exactly like a duck: he would burst out into certain fits of laughter that were like the quacking of a duck; and he would wallow around in that laughter just like a duck.

Many, many people found in that very laughter the best proof that Perazzetti was crazy. Seeing him writhe with tears in his eyes, his friends would ask him:

“But why?”

And he would reply:

“It's nothing. I can't tell you.”

When people saw him laughing like that and refusing to say why, they got disconcerted, they stood there looking like fools and experienced a certain physical irritation, which in the case of the so-called “nervous types” could easily develop into a ferocious rage and an urge to scratch him.

Unable to scratch him, the so-called “nervous types” (and there are so many of them nowadays) would shake their heads furiously and say in reference to Perazzetti:

“He's a lunatic!”

If, instead, Perazzetti had told them the reason for that quacking of his . . . But frequently, Perazzetti couldn't tell them; he honestly couldn't tell them.

He had an extremely active and terrifically capricious imagination, which, when he saw other people, would fly out of control and, without his volition, would arouse in his mind the most outrageous images, flashes of inexpressibly hilarious visions; it would suddenly reveal to him certain hidden analogies, or unexpectedly indicate to him certain contrasts that were so grotesque and comic that he would burst out laughing unrestrainedly.

How could he make other people share the instantaneous interplay of those fleeting, unpremeditated images?

Perazzetti knew clearly, from his own experience, how different the basic essence of every man is from the fictitious interpretations of that essence that each of us offers himself either spontaneously, or through unconscious self-deceit, out of that need to think ourselves or to be thought different from what we are, either because we imitate others or because of social necessities and conventions.

He had made a special study of that basic essence of being, and called it “the cave of the beast,” of the primordial beast lurking inside each of us, beneath all the layers of our consciousness which have been gradually superimposed on it over the years. A- man, when touched or tickled on this or that layer, would respond with bows, with smiles, would extend his hand, would say “good day” and “good evening,” might even lend five
lire:
but woe to anyone who went and poked him down there, in the cave of the beast: out would come the thief, the impostor, the murderer. It's true that, after so many centuries of civilization, many people now sheltered in their cave an animal that was excessively subdued: a pig that said the rosary, a fox that had lost its tail.

In restaurants, for example, Perazzetti would study the customers' controlled impatience. On the outside, good manners; on the inside, the donkey who wanted his grain immediately. And he enjoyed himself no end imagining all the species of animals who had their lair in the caves belonging to the men he was acquainted with: this man surely had an anteater inside him, and that man a porcupine and that other man a turkey, and so on.

Often, however, Perazzetti's bursts of laughter had a reason that I might call more permanent; and, indeed, that reason couldn't be blurted out, just like that, to everybody; rather, it was to be confided, if at all, very quietly into someone's ear. When thus confided, I assure you that it inevitably provoked the noisiest outbreak of laughter. Once he confided it to a friend to whom he was eager to prove that he wasn't crazy.

I can't tell you the reason out loud; I can only give you some bare indication of it; try to comprehend it from my hint, because, if it were told out loud, among other things it might very well seem to be indecent, and it's not.

Perazzetti was not a vulgar man; on the contrary, he claimed to have a very high esteem for humanity, for all that it has managed to accomplish from ancient Greek times to our own day, in spite of the primordial beast; but Perazzetti was unable to forget the fact that man, who has been capable of creating so many beautiful things, is still compelled daily to obey certain intimate and unseemly natural necessities, which surely do him no credit.

Seeing a poor man, a poor woman in a humble and modest attitude, Perazzetti didn't think about it; but when he saw certain women giving themselves sentimental airs, certain pompous men loaded with self-conceit, it was a disaster: immediately, irresistibly there leaped into his mind the image of those intimate and unseemly natural necessities, which even they definitely had to obey daily: he saw them in that posture and would burst out laughing mercilessly.

There was no masculine nobility or feminine beauty that could escape that disaster in Perazzetti's imagination; in fact, the more ethereal and idealized a woman's presence seemed to him, the more a man had put on an air of majesty, all the more did that accursed image awake within him unexpectedly.

Now, with this in mind, just imagine Perazzetti in love.

And fall in love he did, unlucky man, he fell in love with extraordinary ease! He no longer thought about anything, he was no longer himself, the moment he was in love; he immediately became another man, became that Perazzetti which others wished him to be, the sort of man that not only the woman into whose hands he had fallen wanted to mold him into, but also the sort of man that the future fathers-in-law, future brothers-in-law and even the friends of the bride's family wanted to mold him into.

He had been engaged at least twenty or so times. And he would make you split your sides laughing when he described all the different Perazzettis he had been, each one dumber and more idiotic than the last: the one with the mother-in-law's parrot, the one with the young sister-in-law's interest in the stars, the one with some friend or other's stringbeans.

Whenever the heat of passion, which had brought him into a state of fusion, so to speak, began to abate, and he gradually began to gell into his customary shape and recover self-consciousness, at first he felt amazement and alarm at observing the shape they had given him, the role they had made him play, the state of idiocy to which they had reduced him; then, as he looked at his fiancée, as he looked at the mother-in-law, as he looked at the father-in-law, the terrible laughter would start all over again, and he had to flee—there was no other way—he had to flee.

But the trouble was that they were no longer willing to let him escape. He was an excellent young man, Perazzetti, well-to-do, extremely likable.

If the dramas enacted in those twenty or more engagements were assembled in a book as narrated by him, they would be among the most amusing reading materials of our generation. But what would be laughs for the reader were unfortunately tears, real tears for poor Perazzetti, fits of rage and of anguish, and despair.

Each time he promised and swore to himself that he wouldn't relapse; he resolved to think up some heroic cure that would prevent him from falling in love again. But no! He would relapse shortly afterward, and always worse than before.

Finally, one day the news that he had married burst like a bomb. And he had married none other than ... But no, nobody wanted to believe it! Perazzetti had done all sorts of crazy things; but that he could go that far, to the point of tying himself for the rest of his life to a woman like that ...

Tying himself? When one of his many friends, visiting him at home, came out with that expression, it was a wonder that Perazzetti didn't kill him.

“Tie myself? What do you mean, tie myself? Why is it tying myself? You're all stupid, foolish idiots! Tie myself? Who said so? Do I look tied to you? Come with me, come in here ... This is my regular bed, isn't it? Does it look like a double bed? Hey, Cecchino! Cecchino!”

Cecchino was his trusty old servant.

“Tell me, Cecchino. Do I come here every night to sleep, alone?”

“Yes, sir, alone.”

“Every night?”

“Every night.”

“Where do I eat?”

“In that room.”

“With whom do I eat?”

“All alone.”

“Do you prepare my food?”

“Yes, sir.”

“And am I still the same Celestino?”

“Still the same, sir.”

Sending away the servant, after that interrogation, Perazzetti concluded, opening his arms:

“And so ... ”

“So it's not true?” the other asked.

“Of course, it's true! True as can be! Absolutely true!” answered Perazzetti. “I married her! I married her in church and at the registry office! But what does that mean? You think it's something serious?”

“No, just the opposite, totally ridiculous.”

“Well, there you have it!” Perazzetti concluded once more. “Get out of my way! You've all finished laughing behind my back! You pictured me dead, didn't you? With a noose always around my neck! Enough, enough, friends! Now I've freed myself for good! All it took was that last storm, from which I escaped alive by a miracle ... ”

The last storm to which Perazzetti alluded was his engagement to the daughter of the head of a division at the finance ministry, Commendatore
7
Vico Lamanna; and Perazzetti was perfectly right in saying that he had escaped it alive by a miracle. He had had to fight a sword duel with the woman's brother, Lino Lamanna, an excellent swordsman; and because he was a very good friend of Lino's and felt he had nothing, absolutely nothing against him, he had let himself be handsomely skewered like a chicken.

It seemed as if this time—and anyone would have called it a sure thing—the wedding was definitely going to take place. Miss Elly Lamanna, brought up in English fashion—as could be seen even from her name—forthright, frank, solid, well-poised (read: American-style shoes), had doubtless succeeded in avoiding that usual disaster in Perazzetti's imagination. Yes, a bit of laughter had escaped him when looking at his father-in-law the Commendatore, who even with him remained on his high horse and would sometimes speak to him with that pomade-like stickiness of his ... But enough of that. He had courteously confided to his fiancée the reason for those bursts of laughter; she had laughed over it herself; and when that reef had been passed, Perazzetti too believed that this time he would finally reach the safe harbor of matrimony (so to speak). The mother-in-law was a kind old lady, modest and taci-turn, and Lino, the brother, seemed perfectly suited to see eye to eye with him in every possible way.

Indeed, from the first day of the engagement, Perazzetti and Lino Lamanna became two inseparable companions. You might say that Perazzetti spent more time with his future brother-in-law than with his fiancée: outings, hunting trips, horseback rides together, together on the Tiber at the boating club.

He could imagine anything, poor Perazzetti, except that this time the disaster was to strike him because of his excessive closeness to his future brother-in-law, on account of another quirk of his morbid and ludicrous imagination.

At a certain point, he began to discover in his fiancée a disturbing resemblance to her brother.

It was at Livorno, at the seaside, where he had naturally gone with the Lamannas.

Perazzetti had seen Lino in a sporting jersey plenty of times when rowing; now he saw his fiancée in a bathing suit. It should be noted that Lino really did look ever so slightly feminine, in the hips.

What was the effect on Perazzetti when he discovered that resemblance? He broke out into a cold sweat, he began to feel an unconquerable repulsion at the thought of initiating marital intimacies with Elly Lamanna, who looked so much like her brother. He suddenly pictured those intimacies as something monstrous, almost unnatural, now that he saw the brother when looking at the fiancée; and he writhed at the slightest caress she gave him, seeing himself looked at by eyes now provocative and inciting, now languishing in the promise of a longed-for sensual pleasure.

But, meanwhile, could Perazzetti shout to her:

“Oh, for God's sake, quit it! Let's call it off! I can be very good friends with Lino, because I don't have to marry him; but I can no longer marry
you
, because it would be like marrying your brother.”

The torture that Perazzetti suffered this time was far greater than all those he had suffered in the past. It ended up with that sword thrust, which by a miracle failed to send him to the next world.

And as soon as the wound had healed, he hit upon the heroic cure that was to bar the way to matrimony to him for good.

“But how,” I hear you ask, “by getting married?”

Of course! Maddalena: the one with the dog; by marrying Maddalena, of course, that poor nitwit that you could see every night on the street, decked out in certain hideous hats loaded down with fluttering greenery, pulled along by a black poodle that never gave her the time to finish those “killing” little laughs of hers, directed at policemen, young boys still wet behind the ears, and soldiers, because it was in such a hurry—damned dog—to get who knows where, to who knows what faraway dark corner ...

He married her in church and at the registry office; he took her off the street; he gave her an allowance of two
lire
a day and shipped her off far away, into the country.

His friends—as you can imagine—gave him no peace for quite some time. But Perazzetti had now calmly returned to his habit of saying things with the utmost seriousness, so that you wouldn't even know it was him, while looking at his nails.

“Yes,” he would say. “I married her. But it's nothing serious. As for sleeping, I sleep alone, at home; as for eating, I eat alone, at home; I don't see her; she doesn't bother me at all ... You say, what about my name? Yes: I gave her my name. But, gentlemen, what's a name? It's not to be taken seriously.”

BOOK: The Oil Jar and Other Stories
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