The meeting with Cora took place in a completely different way than Fausto expected. He had repeated the lines in his head dozens of times during the trip, and by the time the first lights of Rome had greeted him with nonchalance and arrogance, he was now sure that every word would be taken from a script already written.
Despite all predictions, he spotted Cora on her way home. She was transfixed and thoughtful as she reached the front door of the building where he, a few years earlier, had rented the apartment he now cared nothing for.
“Oh! You are here, therefore!” he exclaimed, jerking as if he had seen a ghost.
Fausto hardly ever felt embarrassed, but he felt like a discovered kid about to play hooky on this occasion.
“Yeah,” he answered her with a confused murmur, “I think I still have the right to return to my house sometimes.”
Cora grimaced, “Sure, sure…” she repeated, lowering her gaze to avoid that most unfortunate sight. “But tell me, do you also wish to return to me, or would you rather be alone? I can always sleep over at a friend’s if my presence bothers you“.
Fausto nodded and slipped the key into the keyhole. They both went upstairs in silence and entered the apartment.
“First of all…” he exclaimed, turning toward the woman.
“First of all,” Cora interrupted him, “Your behavior is nothing short of absurd! You offer to talk to my lousy cousin, you go to her, you disappear for a day, you call me to tell me that she stole your heart, and finally, you come back here and look like a walking corpse! Why are you doing this to me? Why? Do I look like a no-good person to be treated like a fish?” and burst into tears as he stretched out his arms toward that bent and aching body.
Fausto played dumb and continued his starting speech: “You are right about the facts, but I cannot allow you to think falsely. I was going to tell you that I didn’t come back here because I feel guilty. Also because nothing has happened that would provoke such second thoughts….“
After the last words, he paused as if realizing that a raucous and discordant sequence of notes had been inserted into the harmonious unfolding of a symphony. Cora stared at him in disgust, unable to understand why she remained motionless in front of a man who now treated her like an unserviceable object.
“But why are you so bad?” she asked him, crying. “Does it cost you so much to tell me that you came back because you love me? What happened is of no interest to me. It has happened. Let’s bury everything and start from the beginning again“.
“Just everything…” echoed Fausto, running a hand over his sweaty forehead.
“Everything. Everything. Irene has already caused far too much damage. And I was a fool….“
“But what damage are you talking about? Irene is oblivious to everything!“.
He uttered that sentence as if Cora was aware of all the details and realized his défaillance, not so much from the echo of the words floating in the air waiting for a well to drown in, but rather from the woman’s not at all surprised eyes.
“Before we continue,” exclaimed Fausto, “It’s only fair that I tell you about a fact — and I’ll tell you right now that I need your help. Nothing is out of the ordinary, mind you; there may not even be a need, but I can’t risk it. You’ll understand.“
“Don’t worry. By now, everything is clear. The necklace was too big a toad to swallow. Too big — believe me“.
Fausto turned red and felt his pulse pounding through his temples, “What?” he blurted out, abruptly raising his voice. “How do you know about the necklace? How?“
The woman bowed her head, squinting her eyes, “What are you talking about?” she replied, blatantly astonished at that remark. “What do I know about that? But if it was through Aunt Catherine that you learned about it! Are you feeling well? From the look on your face, it seems not….“
The weight of danger was lifted, and Fausto was speechless at the misunderstanding. He replied, “Yes, of course — a distraction, sorry. But why bring up that old story again?“
“Old, I wouldn’t say, since he was going to reintroduce himself…”
“I don’t follow you,” Fausto said, “What do you mean?“
Cora sat in an armchair and crossed her legs. She pointed at him with her eyes still streaked with tears and replied, “I mean that if I had not intervened to claim a right of mine, by now, Irene would have dragged you into an abyss and then abandoned you in the bottom and run away.”
“You? Did you intervene?“
“Oh yeah… When I realized that my cousin was convincing you to leave me for who knows what future, I took the car and went to the small town to talk to her. I found her on the street just as I was walking to the front door. We talked for a long time, and she seemed different, changed undoubtedly, and perhaps even more sensible. She didn’t deny that she made a pass at you… And, in the end, without any resistance, she promised me that she wouldn’t go any further. I certainly can’t complain: he kept his word since you are here now….“
Fausto shuddered. The naturalness of those few words split his certainty in two and confronted him with the rudest helplessness. The hawker’s eyes appeared to him like the hazy effigies of a ghost: they stared at him, letting reverberate an exasperating “Why?“
Yeah, why? Because of his will to power? For his sickness? For Irene? Out of a strange sense of justice? No. The truth was quite different: that mockery seemed to be the standard-bearer of wild randomness, which consistently won beyond all calculation and prayer. Fausto Marinelli had been teased by a part of himself that had remained in the shadows, sometimes silent, sometimes exaggerated, waiting for the right moment to bend even more the statuesque certainty of the man already so vulnerable.
“You…” he said with an edge in his voice, “So it was you!“
“I what?” replied Cora, unaware of what consequences her jealous outburst had.
“Nothing! Nothing! You nothing!“
He took his jacket and car keys and left without adding anything else. The woman watched him silently, like a distraught wife following her husband’s remains along the dark wake of Charon‘s barge.
Filed for legal guardianship with Patamu: certificate
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