While Irene was showering, it occurred to Fausto that attempting peaceful contact with the robbed peddler was not to be taken lightly.
“What are you going to tell them? What if he reacts badly? In my opinion, maybe it is better to leave it alone….” he exclaimed as the woman dressed.
Irene did not mind him and continued to take the clothing as if nothing was wrong, “Take it easy,” he replied, “I will say it was a stupid bet between you and me. I instigated you to see how far you loved me. Isn’t that a good excuse?“
“To what extent…?” repeated Fausto as if those words had been spoken in an unknown language.
“Oh! Challenging sentence. But don’t worry – it’s just a very trivial excuse!“
After that, without adding anything else, she kissed him on the cheek, took the necklace, and left.
Despite the woman’s reassurance, Fausto could not give himself peace. He began pacing up and down the room, mentally calculating the travel time to reach the stall: “That is, if he can find it. What fools we have been! By now, he will have unpacked everything. It will just be a waste of time–but no! If she went there, perhaps, it is because she knows that the desperate man is there all day; perhaps he has already seen her….“
That last supposition put a bug in his head and forced him to look for confirmation among the few pieces of jewelry Irene kept in a bedside drawer. He pulled them all out and began scrutinizing them one by one: a diamond ring, two pairs of very showy earrings, a necklace of probably fake pearls, and three bracelets with Indian motifs — nothing he had seen in that meager display.
“He doesn’t necessarily have to have bought something,” she thought, “After all, that junk wasn’t worth a penny.”
He got up and went to the window. His stomach ached, and an acid regurgitation would not stop tormenting his throat. He took a pill and counted the people he saw passing in the narrow street ahead. He arrived with difficulty at four as the last lights of the evening dimmed into an extremely reddish flicker. Irene did not return.
“What nonsense I have done!” he said to himself. “And why did she so willingly put a patch on it? Would Cora also have behaved in the same way? No, no, definitely not! So, what am I supposed to infer from that? Does that Irene love me? That she feels sorry for me? Or maybe you know the peddler? There would be nothing strange–knowing the guy, it’s possible he tried to fight for his rights!“
Thoughts were crowding in his head, but if they were born with extraordinary ease, with extreme difficulty, they were headed for death. Within 15 minutes, he became so nervous that he could no longer sit still. His legs were shaking, his palms were sweating, and his abdominal pains were becoming more and more acute. As he watched the back of a car disappear inside an old garage, regurgitation got the better of him, and Fausto barely made it to the bathroom to avoid vomiting on the floor.
The opaque stain of viscous blood looked at him without expression.
“A part of me that just now had been a guest in the depths of my heart…” he exclaimed, feeling a chill go up from his chest to his forehead, “And now it just looks like a filthy pigsty reject!“
He let go of the tiny chair and closed his eyes. Why did remorse enter the maze constructed by its law? That petty theft had been necessary, and if he feared for Irene now, the reason had to be sought elsewhere. But where? In love? In the will to protect? In the sense of justice? But then, even if it retained a residual awareness of universal justice, what rights could it still claim over its decisions? When he had possessed the girl, although condescending, the pantomime he had enacted carried the sense of a very different message. Excitement does not lie; the pleasure he had experienced could perhaps be condemned by the envious, but it could never be degraded. It lived by its genuineness, and only the wicked could persist in believing that entrusting third parties with the judgment of their actions would relieve them of the responsibility of being themselves the irreplaceable architects of all evaluation.
Still climbing along the slopes of his reasoning, Fausto heard the movement of the lock. He looked up as if suddenly awakened and saw Irene before him. The woman seemed transfixed and distraught; as soon as she had framed correctly the situation, she approached him and, without allowing him to speak, exclaimed, “Back to Rome. It is not safe for you here!“
Fausto sprang to his feet and ran toward her, shouting, “But what happened to you? Did you have any problems with the walker? Tell me, please!“
“No, I had no problem, but you have to go back to Rome. Do me this courtesy. You cannot stay here any longer. It’s better for both of us“.
“I’m going away! I’m going away!” replied the man, throwing a tattered shirt over the bed. “I understand you don’t want me here, but tell me why! I want to know what happened when you returned the necklace!“
Irene sat down and rested her head on her knees, “Nothing,” she murmured. “Nothing serious has happened, but it is not safe for you to stay here. Back to Rome. If the boy finds you, it could end badly….“
“But then he threatened you!” exclaimed Fausto, going toward her to try to hug her. “Please, Irene! Tell me how it went! I would never forgive myself if he had hurt you!“
“Go back to Rome, Fausto,” she replied without altering the tone of her voice. “Nothing happened to me, but until yesterday, we didn’t even know each other… Pretend you never met me and go back to Rome. I sincerely apologize for what is happening to you, but I can do nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Back to Rome. It is not safe for you to stay here“.
Fausto gathered his few belongings, rearranged his mussed hair, and left without adding anything else. A light summer breeze blew through the street, and the few artificial lights were accompanied by a silence that persisted unabated from morning until late into the night.
He could not believe what happened. Why had Irene chased him away like that? What had happened with the peddler? Had she been beaten? Threatened? He could not return to Rome without first making sure that the woman was in no danger: that would have been a cowardly act since he was the one who had caused that mess.
“No!” he thought as he sat down on a staircase. “I will wait here! Sooner or later, Irene will come out, or maybe she will come calling. He can’t be so insensitive. When we made love, she seemed more sincere than ever. No, no… That bastard must have forced her! For fear of his threats. He has no excuse for that idiot! That necklace is worthless: I could pay him for it without even looking at the amount! Why pick on Irene? I will wait for you here…“
Time passed, and his anger mounted. Of the woman, no trace. After an hour of waiting, Fausto grew impatient, but he had no intention of giving up. He had sworn to himself that he would wait for her, and so he would, even if it meant that his stomach would explode from the cramps that now followed one another relentlessly.
But Irene would not come down, and there was no reason to justify waiting in extremis: realizing this threw him into a panic. He could have looked for a hotel or slept in the car, but doing so would have risked not crossing paths with her. Besides, just as he pondered what to do, he realized he had not lost her phone number. So he was cut off, and the only way he could hope to see her again soon remained simple and boring.
“Yet I would only need to ring his intercom,” he said to himself. “What could I risk? At best, it would invite me to back up. At worst, she would repeat that it would be better if I left her alone. No, no, and still no! Tormenting people is not my style. If he thought it best to push me away, I would wait here on the street. When he sees me, he can no longer reject me“.
As he ranted about the good and bad of his act, he noticed that just at the intersection that the narrow road traced with a perpendicular, there was the entrance to an establishment, perhaps a bar or wine shop. Opposite, some young people, like the living dead awakening at nightfall, chatted smoking; among them, with his blond, messy hair, was the robbed peddler! There was no doubt: the clothes were the same — specifically, a green windbreaker with yellow and brown stripes.
“He lives perpetually with that filth on him!” thought Fausto angrily as he stood up. “Perhaps it was good that Irene did not come down. Now that bastard will be able to threaten me in person — and we’ll see who will be forced to change countries in a hurry!“
His friends entered the club, but the young man, with an unfiltered cigarette in his hand, continued to smoke quietly, leaning against the wall. Fausto stared at him, and immediately, an avalanche of thoughts spilled over into his already quite rehearsed mind; this man, so superficially relaxed, was testing his stamina.
“I am the law!” he said softly, picking up a sharp stone from the sidewalk’s edge. “Me. How could the man threaten Irene and force her away from me out of fear?“
By now, a few meters away from the ambulate, he raised his voice, pointing his finger to accentuate the effect of his anger: “You. Don’t you disgust yourself? Up! Answer me now!“
The man turned sharply and seemed more shocked than disturbed: “Hey, but you’re the asshole from the necklace! What do you want now? Were you not satisfied?“
Fausto pointed his feet and shouted like a madman: “Are you kidding me? You even have the nerve to make fun of me?“
“Listen,” replied the young man without raising the tone of his voice. “You stole a necklace. I saw you. Now what do you want from me? I don’t want to have any trouble. No longer. Keep what you took and leave me alone“.
It had to be an ex-convict or a man who had already received some police warnings. His submissiveness was indisposed; he would have even handed him a ring or earrings if Fausto had continued to threaten him. Why, then, did his angry reaction to Irene? Had the woman instigated him? Or had he felt vital toward that slender, defenseless creature?
“Did you have fun with my girlfriend?” Fausto asked him, venturing the terms.
The man squinted his eyes, “What are you talking about?” he exclaimed, throwing the cigarette on the ground. “Leave me alone! Do you understand?“
Fausto did not even give him time to realize what was happening. She pounced on him and struck him on the forehead with the point of the stone. It was a spontaneous gesture, but the adrenaline rush went through him from head to toe as if he were at the peak of a whirling orgasm. In an instant, he saw Irene’s groaning face again in the darkness of the grove and felt strong, stronger even than the evil that was devouring him.
The excitement, however, did not last long. The sight of the man slumped on the ground, with a trickle of blood soaking his jacket and pants, appalled him; fortunately, no one had noticed the scuffle, and Fausto took the opportunity to run away toward the small square where he had left his car.
He wanted to return to Irene’s, but the risk was too significant: his house was only a few dozen meters from the club, and indeed, by now, someone had noticed the attack. He could not even call her: he cursed his stupidity for not asking for her number right away, but even that road was inexorably barred. His only chance was to escape the village: the grove was the most appropriate place to stop and think. He started his motorcycle and set off regardless of the speed limit.
“But then, what should I think about?” he thought, drumming his hands on the steering wheel. “The bastard got what he deserved. I certainly don’t have to worry about him….“
The stomach ache also awakened his cynicism: “Even if they want to pursue me before they can put all the pieces together, I will be dead and buried. To hell with all of them!“
Of course, Irene would have known everything, and she was the only person who could make sense of that absurd murder, but Fausto did not fear her. He would call her as soon as he could get her number or, at worst, return to her nighttime, perhaps in disguise, with a false beard or dyed hair. He was not taking any risks and had no reason to worry further. He let go of the backrest and tried to forget what had happened.
Undoubtedly, his purpose was a utopia, and only a machine could have obliterated the traces of such an egregious act: the hawker’s terror-invaded face remained in front of him like a haze on the dawn’s early morning light. There was no use in the rational effort to assert his superiority over any external event, and even the gnats he chased away seemed to him to be animated by a dignity that removed them from the death of things.
He began to sweat, and his stomach again began to contract convulsively. He rushed out of the car and vomited more blood at the foot of a large beech tree.
“Idie,” he thought, “I die, and no one notices…”
He staggered back into the car and tried to fall asleep. Sleep, perhaps, would calm the fury of his body. He closed his eyes as he now often used to do, but his heartbeat muted the march of the defeated, and his mind seemed caught in a yoke of swirling images. He tried to banish them by thinking back to Irene’s serene face: that wretch was undoubtedly not dying, although her happiness had always been so precarious and her future as much as ever shrouded in uncertainty; he thought back to the strangeness of their meeting, to Catherine, to the many photographs of her deceased husband, to the hidden garden and, finally, unintentionally, to the sexual intercourse consummated with Cora among leaves and brambles.
“Yeah… Cora,” he whispered without opening his eyes, “I should build an alibi with her…”
That sudden realization brought him back to reality. If, until a few minutes before, the fear of being discovered had been chased away to the sound of libertine logic, now it seemed that every idea had been stripped of all glitter to show the rawness of one’s anorexic body.
“Not a real alibi,” he repeated, looking at himself dazedly in the rearview mirror. “I don’t need an alibi – just an excuse to avoid too much hassle. And if Cora doesn’t want to, I’ll tell her all about myself and maybe throw her carelessness in her face. With insensitive people, the only weapon is evidence“.
A few words spoken in that sterile solitude made him resolve a decision devoid of any logical consequence with his previous behavior. Fausto understood this without, however, paying too much attention to it: weakness, like strength, on the other hand, is such only if someone notices it, and at that juncture, even the person concerned did not seem to be aware of its poignancy. He could avoid several inconveniences with Cora’s unknowing support, and the only danger, having arrived at that point, was inherent only in aprioristic renunciation of a decidedly painful confrontation.
He set out for Rome, trying to listen to the radio to distract himself. The silence of the young hours of the night accompanied him like a mortician to the procession of his funeral.
Filed for legal guardianship with Patamu: certificate
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