Authors: Cristina Comencini
Copyright © 2009 by Cristina Comencini
Published by arrangement with Susanna Zevi Agenzia Letteraria, Milano
Originally published in Italian as
Quando la Notte
Translation copyright © 2012 Marina Harss
Scripture quotation on
is from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version (ESV), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Philip Roth quotation is from
, copyright © 2007 by Philip Roth, published by the Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
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[Quando la notte. English]
When the night / by Cristina Comencini; translated by Marina Harss.
1. Mothers and sons—Fiction. 2. Landlords—Fiction. 3. Dolomite Alps (Italy)—Fiction. I. Harss, Marina. II. Title.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.
There’s the not-so that reveals the so—that’s fiction.
HE STEAK IS in the pan; perhaps I should open a window. The clouds hang low over the Dent du Géant. It’s raining up at the alpine lodge, but tomorrow the weather should be fine. I’ll take the Germans up to the camp near the summit; let’s hope they’re as experienced as they claim. They only have to make it past the first slope and over the ledge; after that the final pass is easy. I’ll know right away if they’re up to it, and then I can always lead them back toward the canyon; they can take pictures of the goats and we’ll stop in the woods for lunch.
The light is still on upstairs. She’ll switch it off soon; she goes to bed earlier than I do. The baby starts to cry early in the morning. It doesn’t bother me, I’m already up. She pushes the baby carriage up and down the meadow at the foot of the hill. She talks to the boy, recounting everything they do, as if he can’t see it for himself.
“We’ll go visit the cows, and then we’ll stop at the bakery for some
, how does that sound?”
The child says nothing. I’ve never heard him speak. One night I heard him crying, for a long time.
Luna didn’t talk to our children that way. She let them play in the meadow without supervision. And she was right, even if Clara broke her arm once when she was riding her bike and had to wear a cast for three months. If you don’t fall when you’re little, you’ll fall and kill yourself later, up on the mountain for example.
Damn it! I burned the steak! I’ll eat it anyway; I’m not very hungry; in any case, it tastes better when it’s burned. Tonight, steak and potatoes. They’ve been in the refrigerator for a while and I’d better eat them before I have to throw them out. Luna never left the pan on the fire long enough.
“It makes too much smoke.”
So what? You can open the window.
“It’s cold out.”
Tomorrow I’ll throw away her clogs. I’m going to get rid of everything she left behind. Little jars, big jars.
“What do you need all that stuff for? Soap is better.”
She bought creams and hid them in the refrigerator. And for the kids: markers, pencil cases, toys, clothes.
You only need one pair of shoes per season. That’s all. We don’t want to be like the tourists who come here in summer to hike and in winter to ski. I guide them up the mountain and all they want is to go up to the lodge and eat. They buy shoes and jackets and it’s hot as hell and every year more ice melts.
At first Luna agreed with me. The kids went out in shirtsleeves.
Each of them owned a single sweater. We used laundry soap for everything, even to wash our hair.
Tomorrow I’ll throw everything away. I didn’t want to get married; she was the one who insisted. I hesitated at first. She was a city girl, but she was strong. She knew how to walk and she had studied. She didn’t talk when we went out on the mountain. So I gave in. But I was honest: I told her what I was like, that I know nothing about women, and that my mother abandoned us when we were little. Ran off with an American. I never saw her again. I know she remarried and had more kids in America, because our father told us.
WE WERE DRIVING down to school in the snowcat. Outside, the snow and sky were indistinguishable. When it rains or snows you can’t even see the trees. Albert crashed into a tree on his bobsled once. I watched him as he came hurtling down, like a maniac.
He’ll get hurt one of these days, I thought.
Our mother didn’t allow it; she would yell from the window to slow down because he was frightening her. Then she left, and no one was there to be scared, so he crashed into the trees.
My father was driving in silence, as usual. Suddenly he said: “Your mother remarried and has new children. If anyone bothers you or makes fun of you in the village, you just tell them, My mother is the Snow Queen.”
Stefan was little and asked a lot of questions. My father was a patient man. I never saw him angry, except that one time. I
don’t know whether I dreamed it or it really happened. He said to Stefan: “The Snow Queen lives in a crevasse. If she finds a man there alone, she thaws, conceives a child with him, and then goes back to her home in the ice.”
LUNA WAS MY Snow Queen, but now she’s gone, just like my mother. Except that Luna took the kids with her.
It’s easier here without them. I talk to the tourists when I take them up the mountain. They want to hear tragic stories about mountain-climbing accidents, and where to get the best meal. At home I can sit quietly; no one asks me questions, and I don’t have to listen to Luna telling me all the town gossip. No kids’ noise. They are coming to visit at the end of the month. I’ll put away the suitcases she has prepared for them, and pull out their old shoes, T-shirts, trousers. That’s all they’ll need while they’re here. Clara does as I say, but Simon is lazy and hates to walk. But he won’t have a choice.
TOWARD THE END, Luna was always buying things: pans, plates, tablecloths. But no one ever came over.
In the early years she was even tougher than I was: only organic food in the house, no one to help her with the housework, plus a teaching job in the city. On her way to work she would drop off the kids at the nursery, then in the afternoon she would come back and clean, cook, go to bed early, make love. Often and well. She was satisfied, and she fell asleep quickly, her muscular legs gripping mine. Sometimes
at night I would switch on the light and stare at her large breasts. I couldn’t look at them when we were making love because I was afraid it would make me come; if I touched them I couldn’t control myself. Two perfect round mounds, with pink tips. Our children reached for them with their eyes closed, attached themselves to them, trembling, pulled at them, and fell asleep, pink-cheeked, after sucking them dry. Once it occurred to me to pull one of the babies away from her breast and watch him cry.
One night she said to me, “You never touch my breasts when we make love.”