Contemporary Comedy (Part IV)

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Part IV

When he woke up, Irene had already left. She had left him a note advising him that she would return in the early afternoon; in the meantime, Fausto, should he not wish to return to Rome, could sleep, walk, write, watch television, or, more simply, be bored. Of all the possible options, he first chose to phone Cora.

I answered you only because I still retain a modicum of human dignity,” exclaimed the woman. “But believe me, your behavior admits of no explanation–unless, of course, you ended up in the hospital for a reason beyond your control. Are you dying, then?

Fausto burst out laughing: “It is a strange life! I could agree with you, but in doing so, I would deny the evidence-what a mess!”

It’s a trouble. But for me! For my stupidity! Is it possible to know what happened to you? I’ve been waiting for you all night–have you? You were fooling around with my slutty cousin!

Cora was right; for that, he expected any excuse except the one his mind had hatched as a last resort. Fausto confined himself to a half-truth and told her that he had been with Irene, who had taken advantage of that moment to relieve her nerves: it had been an unfortunate but essential task, which, no doubt, was true.

You could have at least warned me!” exclaimed Cora.

If I had, you would have asked me to drop everything and go home … And, at that point, I would have been doubly embarrassed.”

Ah… Of course, if I had known that your interest would go this far, I certainly wouldn’t have asked you to meet her!

You didn’t,” Fausto pointed out, “If you remember correctly, I was the one who offered myself for this task.”

Incumbency you have brought on yourself! And that’s enough anyway! I don’t know what’s gotten into you, but I understand you’re going off the deep end. Anyway, you will tell me in attendance. Now I have to go back to work“.

The man stopped her, “Do you think it is possible to forget that there is a world beyond one’s cell after one has been forced to visit it?

What are you babbling about? I don’t understand you!

Or,” he continued, heedless of the interlocutor’s protests, “Forget how to speak? After living in a social environment from the cradle?

Cora remained silent. Only his slow breathing and indistinct voices and sounds could be heard in the background.

I could try, of course, but do you think it’s possible? I mean, one can delude oneself or, even worse, try while being aware of inevitable failure, but none of this changes things“.

Did you talk to Irene about this?” asked Cora calmly.

No, no… Irene just told me about her background.”

He told you about his background,” the woman echoed. His tone had changed. A graphic artist would say he paled or bleached, and synesthesia, in this case, is just the most apt choice. His tone lost its color as if suddenly mirrored on a filtering surface. A surface that, staying within the realm of poetics, spoke inside his phone and, for no reason, had begun to change the game’s rules.

The sky had become a sea. Sea wheat. Cement grain and so on without respite. But in this escape, something had remained in place, like a poppy among the ears of corn, and refused to find a new location. Cora was petrified before a poppy because no one had the right to refuse disguise in a masquerade ball. If it does, that will also be a cover. If he does not, he will only sow distress among the participants.

See you soon, Cora,” whispered Fausto.

See you soon,” repeated a metallic voice dispersed in the circuits, “See you soon.”

When Irene came home a little after four o’clock in the afternoon, Fausto hugged her and gave her a small gift, “It’s a little necklace…miserable,” he said, “But it’s not bad, is it?

No. It’s not bad at all, but you didn’t have to …” the woman replied to him, observing herself reflected in the small mirror in the hallway.

Don’t worry. Aside from the fact that at this point in my life, every gesture is inevitably scaled down, in this case… I’m a little ashamed, but I stole the necklace“.

Irene turned around sharply: “Did you steal it? Why?” he exclaimed, squinting his eyes.

I don’t know…”

What do you mean you don’t know better?

That would be to say that I’m still thinking about it,” Fausto replied without any expression.

Irene smiled and then shook her head, “You are completely crazy! But by any chance, is your illness driving you crazy?

Who knows-maybe. But I am the last person to say that, so I trust your judgment. If you think I’m crazy, fine, I’ll be crazy. If you think I’m not, I won’t be — does that spin as an argument?

No!” burst out the woman, “So you attribute a great deal of responsibility to me!

Agreed. Agreed…” Fausto promptly stopped her. “So let’s do this: I accept your judgment only after the fact, after my unconditional actions. What responsibility might you have? At most, it can be an excellent nuisance!

I have no more doubts!” exclaimed Irene, pointing her feet like a wayward child. “You are mad from head to toe!

And you want me to go away, right?

The woman let herself fall on the bed, covering her face, “No…” she whispered, “But you are strange. You came into my life like a bolt of lightning. Last night you wanted to play the rapist, today you tell me you stole a necklace. What about tomorrow? But were you doing this with Cora as well?

He paused but, getting no response, continued, “I doubt she is so posed! He would not admit even a tenth of your weirdness!

I talked to her this morning,” Fausto replied, approaching that body bent like a rag. “I thought back to what happened yesterday and felt a void. Irene, I don’t know if you can understand me, but instead of feeling relieved, I got another cramp in my stomach, and I realized that the only way to make it go away was to feel again the excitement I felt with you“.

But what does Cora have to do with me?

Oh, nothing. I called her because it didn’t seem right to abandon her like that, although she didn’t move a finger to make sure of my condition… At one point, I was even about to burst out laughing: she said she would forgive me only if I were dying in the hospital! How absurd life is–especially when we try to think the impossible, hoping that it will not surrender some of its kingship to turn into the improbable, that is, the probable…

But understand, Cora was not at fault. It was not suitable for her to think falsehoods about me or you. I only told her we had talked about your misadventures and the rest. Perhaps she figured it out for herself. You don’t have to feel obligated, though. I wouldn’t allow it! I don’t want you to compromise what little health there is in your relationship. Why don’t you call her and tell her I left you at home last night? You could, yes, thank her without any spirit of submission and for being interested. The rest we leave to chance“.

If until a moment ago I could still doubt my judgment,” Irene replied, keeping her eyes closed and her head sunk into the pillow, “Now I have no more doubts: you’re crazy!

But why?” the man almost pleadingly protested, “I say this for your own good!

Look, let’s leave my asset alone for the moment and tell me how on earth you came up with the idea of stealing that stupid chain.”

The chain…” murmured Fausto. “Yes, of course. Although I should realize it myself first….

What had happened had not been clear at all. The external gestures and appearances might have been, but not the reasons behind them. After the phone call with Cora, Fausto felt weak and frightened; he let himself go into an armchair and closed his eyes. However, instead of passing, his discomfort had increased. His stomach throbbed as if a rat were trapped inside, and the past few hours seemed like boats disappearing into the distance. He took his medication, increased the doses, and stood waiting.

I’m dying, by God!” he thought. “Some discomfort may be normal! Yet I seek a reason for every pain and every moment of anguish — what a fool!

Immediately after that, the metamorphosis began.

Fear had collided with reality, and with his tail between his legs, he realized how useless his forms were compared to it. Then it had been the turn of frustration which, within a few minutes, had shifted to another desire which, crouching with a particular cat in her mind, had begun to demand more and more attention. At that point, as the pains began to subside, Fausto realized that the night before, he had not indulged in a diversion, as would have been easy to think, but rather that the diversion had possessed him entirely, making him believe that he was the one holding the reins.

Had he been attracted to Irene? Cora was more charming, but nothing like this had ever happened to her. Even his orgasms had never been so intense, although they had spent far longer and better structured moments of passion. What, then, had been the reason for that strong desire? Besides, was the root cause to be found in Irene’s slender figure or something entirely different?

The first answer to come to him was the second: the spring that had awakened that impetus was neither the woman in particular nor her sex in general. It was not the woods at night with their dangers, nor was Irene’s immediate openness to his advances. What had lit the fuse of that device had been the exact opposite of all that: the absence of threat, the impossibility of detection, and the remoteness of any possible disturbing element had been the elements that had helped to unravel his oppressed imagination. Not the risk, then, but precisely the lack of risk!

In that state, among the dark outlines of trees, bushes, and stone spikes, Fausto had felt compelled to be his voyeur, to commit evil to judge and condemn without third parties in the way, finally. He had enjoyed not the sexual act disguised as transgressiveness but the chance, unique in his life, to have the full right to choose between good and evil, which label best conformed to his actions.

If Irene had given herself without at least pretending to dislike that relationship, he probably would not have even achieved an erection. Irene had to refuse because only by removing herself from the panorama of possibility could she, in that context that deprived her of any means of rebellion, become the only necessary cause of her excitement.

But why did he find being beyond the rules so sublime? In the end, it was not at all. He was well aware that he could not allow himself too many freedoms. Still, as soon as this thought surfaced, immediately, like a spring-loaded clown, the answer appeared: rules are made for the living, not the dead, and those who can see themselves as walking dead (That is, anyone, theoretically) are ipso facto placed in a place where lines of force erupting from the shattering of law can never reach.

What risk would he have taken by putting his nefarious power into practice? Men’s justice would not even have time to wake up from its eternal slumber, and divine justice was based only on mental conditioning that Faustus had long since rejected. All that remained was the risk of deteriorating objects that he would not be able to enjoy in the future. Still, even this hypothesis sagged as soon as a gust of wind hit it: he had no future, not even objects from which he could derive enjoyment.

This last consideration ended his stomach ache and set an unparalleled carousel of shenanigans in motion. However, there was only one mole: how come he felt no satisfaction? Irene had performed admirably, and her sexual performance had confirmed this, but a few hours later, the balloon was deflated entirely, as if the storm of the previous night had blown only the air of a few moans and nothing more.

I felt a heat coming up from my legs as if my whole body was on fire,” he said to himself. “I might try again later, but I already know it wouldn’t be the same-it would take more. More!

In that instant, he understood, or rather perceived, that a rule now dismissed is as inert as a stone. Is it, therefore, conceivable that it may still hold a fair amount of appeal? Of course not! Attention needed to be shifted to commandments hitherto considered untouchable. Throwing every stronghold of common sense off the throne was imperative: that was the key!

He walked around the small apartment looking for distractions, but space was minimal, and so was what could be found inside. He glimpsed a book on a shelf, between a red plastic vase and an empty holder. He took it: it was CamusThe Man in Revolt.

Interesting,” he thought, “And appropriate to the mindset of its owner…”

He had read it a few years earlier and agreed that if man possessed a chance for redemption, it could only come from revolt. However, despite common sense, he saw in it nothing more than a reshuffling of the cards: life could be faced a thousand times, but the only thing that remained constant was the game itself. The deck was cut, and jokers and kings were rearranged, but winners and losers were already known before we started.

If the man knew himself, the games could be over after shuffling the cards. Two machines would not delude themselves into thinking that they have a concrete chance of changing what is sanctioned by nature and conditioned by rules…” he said to himself, placing the small volume back on the shelf. “The only illusory chance is to start over, hoping like fools for the appearance of an unknown factor capable of unhinging all certainty.”

The Shanghai game came to his mind: here was the most apt image of his condition. There was no catch if the cards attempted to give a semblance of order to unfold events with the sticks. Every match was identical, as no one was sharp enough to notice the most subtle differences between one pile and another at a glance. This did not change the subsequent course: the game was already decided, and only distraction, boredom, or, more simply, stupidity could lead to the wrong removal of the sticks.

It would be nice,” he thought. “Being able to lose a game against themselves. Not at different times, of course… I think the man could feel strong if he was able to make two discordant decisions at the same time… What am I thinking? Am I going crazy as well as rotten to the core?

He searched for an answer but failed in every attempt. He even laughed as he observed her dreamy image reflected by a mirror surrounded by cards and photographs. Then, without giving it much thought, he dressed in his few clothes and went out. He did not know exactly what to do, but he understood that staying locked in that tiny apartment would not find any solution. Before Irene’s return, he wished to catch up; at worst, he would ask her to play the part of the helpless victim again, although he was confident that the effect would not even be comparable to that of the previous night.

The small town seemed to be the opposite of Rome: it was small and quiet, and everyone seemed to know each other. Fausto wandered for a long time but soon began to get bored. In less than an hour, he had traveled in both directions down the two main streets that divided the small town into four quadrants and found himself in the small central square, facing a church, two small buildings, and four small stores: a bar, a newsstand, a grocery store, and a butcher store. Even the people always seemed to be the same: a handful of elderly gentlemen sitting at tables in a recreational club, a few women shopping, and very few office workers doing their work.

Most extraordinary, however, was the discovery of a local bank branch that had no security guard in front of the entrance and kept the door open at all times so that customers could enter and exit without any security check. Fausto stopped a few meters from the two steps inside and watched that scene speechlessly.

The director is taking a big risk,” he thought as he listened in passing to the chatter of a couple of gentlemen leaving. “Only in a place like this can one afford certain luxuries… But is it possible that no gang of robbers ever knew how easily they could find their daily bread here?

Like thunder on an August afternoon, the wildest idea of his life finally found fertile ground to develop: he had never stolen anything. But why? Mainly due to the economic conditions of his family. For if one justifies with all possible enthusiasm the theft of a wretch who has to feed his or her loved ones, one cannot tolerate the double slap that the well-to-do man deals to the impoverished society: the first with his undeserved wealth and the second with his embezzlement.

But is there any man poorer than a dying man? What money can heal the wounds of cancer? The answers to both questions came simultaneously: in his current state, Fausto was immune from any possible judgment, and if anyone ever dared to point a finger at him, what risk would he run? The boredom of a police interrogation? Prison? No, for sure! You don’t incarcerate a man in that condition. So, once again, the law, yet another time, had dropped its pants, as he was wont to repeat to sarcastically crown his brainy reasoning.

Of course, he did not even remotely think about robbing a bank: it would have been a losing proposition at the outset, and despite the natural immunity he enjoyed, he would not have been able to enjoy that act except for a few minutes before the arrival of the carabinieri(who had their little station a few meters from the branch). In addition, which is not insignificant, theft in a bank would not have had any actual sufferers: who would mourn for the loss incurred? The director? Accountants? No. Neither did the shareholders or members because, in that sinister mechanism, the risk had been so diluted that it did not appear even to the most careful analysis.

The goal was to be another, more modest one, but with a person directly involved, a person who had never had any relationship with him and who, for the sheer desire to make and unmake his way, would become the favored object of his first voluntary experiment.

Fausto noticed a stall where cheap bijoux jewelry was displayed in the street that split the town in two from north to south. The salesman was a young blond man with shaggy hair that fell over his shoulders and a constantly distracted air, “He must have just gotten out of prison,” he thought with a cynicism that never belonged to him. “That is the right person. Yes, he is just the right person. I already dislike him with that miserable playboy snottiness….

He walked over and took a look at the items put on display: necklaces, earrings, sunglasses, cell phone covers, and little else: he could have paid for the entire load with the money in his pocket, but that was precisely why the theft seemed even more exciting to him. Cruelty was not hidden in the quantity but rather in the manner: as in the case of sport fishing, a seemingly trivial and goliardic act soon became excruciating torment for the victims.

People walking in a market

He had never stolen anything, and despite the euphoria, he felt frightened: what strategy should he follow? The stall was isolated, and no one came close to observing it; therefore, mingling among the people was impossible. The only chance was direct contact with all the possible risks.

In his youth, Fausto had been a decent athlete, had participated in many competitive races, and managed to run a hundred meters in respectable times. However, he had not run for years by then, and besides, his illness had severely debilitated him: the chances of success were not very high, but giving up would have been much more painful. He resolved for the most risky attempt: by now, losing was a verb dug into the bowels by reality.

The rest happened in a few seconds: she eyeballed the more sober necklace(thinking of Irene), stared at the young man for a moment, and, when the latter seemed distracted, clenched her fist and sprinted in the opposite direction. In the distance, he heard a few indistinguishable words: the rightful owner had given up the fight and was merely cursing loudly at the lowest of thugs.

Are you at least satisfied with this stunt?” the woman asked him, turning that chrome metal between her fingers.

Fausto shook his head: “To you, I could not lie. With Cora, I used to do that, but she preferred lies to the truth… With you, it’s different. No!” he exclaimed with all the appropriate emphasis, “Not only do I not feel satisfied, but I also believe that I have hurt a poor man I didn’t even know…”

Yeah…” replied Irene. “And I don’t think he will have taken it like I did… I mean in playing the victim.”

“Worse!” cried Fausto. “With you, I knew it was fiction, while with him, it was depressing! Without realizing it, I chose the hard way. I did not play smart. I grabbed the necklace and ran off like a little movie thief… I would have expected to be chased, but the guy shouted something at me and stood still!

Irene hoisted herself up with her forearms to get a better look at her interlocutor’s expression, “I don’t want to disappoint you, but I don’t think that necklace is worth a sweat!” and immediately burst out laughing as she fell back on the bed.

Worth more than a car insured against theft,” replied the man while lying beside Irene. “But I don’t care about the value… The struggle was uneven, and the initial euphoria disappeared, suddenly realizing that the boy had not even tried to chase me. What judgment can I make if there is no rebellion in suffering evil? What the heck elements do I possess to decide whether a gesture falls on one side or the other? No, no, no–this is all wrong! I would return to that guy to throw his necklace in his face and challenge him without running away!

This I heartily advise against…” whispered Irene, caressing him. “…And you know my heart does not lie…

They made love again. This time, without parts to play or ulterior motives. For Faustus, that act so natural was nevertheless an oddity among oddities: with Cora, he had never been able to follow desire along the tortuous path that leads from the cradle to its sublime torment; generally, the “procedure” had anticipated every possibility, and pleasure had always been dispensed as a mash for the pigs. On the other hand, Irene continued to be ever different; moment after moment, her body flexed to the motions of the spirit, and even in the most mundane gestures, she did not tire of displaying that uniqueness peculiar only to products of pure imagination.

Shall we go to dinner?” he asked, kissing her sweaty forehead.

Whatever you want, but first, I’ll return the necklace,” she replied, clutching his chest.

Fausto tossed and turned several times as if no position wanted to receive him unreservedly. He only replied, “Yes, maybe it’s better…”

Filed for legal guardianship with Patamu: certificate

Part IPart IIPart III – Part IV – Part V

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