When he arrived at the entrance to the Carabinieri barracks, Fausto was clear on what to do: he had to turn himself in, not so much to atone for the guilt of murder, but rather because in that act, which arose from an apparent taking of his will, he found himself instead abandoned at the mercy of events, like an object that does not deserve the privilege of being able to choose where his freedom begins and whether it ever ends.
He summarily recounted the affair to the complainant, and the complainant, after squaring him from top to bottom, first tried to send him away and then, noting that his advice had no effect, led him straight to the captain, premising that to him he had not seemed mentally ill at all.
“You killed a man in the street,” exclaimed the officer. “Yet we are not aware of any reports of people wanted for murder. Have you checked, marshal?“
“Yes, Mr. Captain,” replied a man in his 60s who was vegetating behind a desk cluttered with papers, “There is no record of any murders committed anywhere in Italy in the last three days … thankfully.”
“Have you heard from Mr. Marinelli? Are you sure about what you are telling us? A dead body under a club sign does not go unnoticed….“
“Of course I’m sure!” exclaimed Fausto, slamming his fist on the desk, “Do you think I’m coming here for a night out instead of going to the movies?“
“Calm down!” replied the captain, abruptly raising his voice, “And remember that if you are telling the truth, you are a conscientious person, but you are still a criminal to be prosecuted…”
Fausto repeated the whole story from the beginning without omitting any details. He recounted every detail: the meeting with Irene, the sex in the grove, the night together, the theft, and so on, until the tragic moment of the discovery of his mistake.
“So you are very ill, even dying, Mr. Marinelli?” asked the man, now unable to get his head around that maze of explosive events.
“Here, take it,” Fausto murmured, holding the last report he kept in his coat pocket, where Cora would never look. “You may as well call the clinic to ascertain that what I am telling you is only the bitter truth.”
The captain would have liked to reply that it was enough to look at his face to convince himself beyond any doubt that his health was more precarious than ever, but he merely said, “Not the case. The certificate is enough.”
“So what? Aren’t you going to have me arrested?“
“There are no extremes for the time being. Leave your details with the marshal and, I tell you in confidence, going against my own duties, but, as far as I’m concerned, you may as well get away from Rome or Italy….“
Fausto shook his head: “No. No — but that’s absurd! Hold me back at least for tonight!” he shouted, turning toward the two military personnel in the room.
“Mr. Marinelli,” replied the marshal, momentarily escaping chronic boredom. “This is a barracks, not a hotel. Go home. If we need you, we will come and find you.“
He stood up like a sad lover, handed the carabiniere his ID card, waited to complete the formalities, and left more tired and disappointed. Instinctively, he reached for his cell phone and verified that no one had looked for him, not even Cora.
By now, the night had extinguished any premature reflections of summer, and Fausto did not feel like going home. He had left without explanation for the second time in less than two days and feared the consequences of any possible action. If the carabinieri had stopped him, he could have let go and reflected on the incident without the danger of making more mistakes. Still, unfortunately, even justice seemed to shun him for fear of who knows what deadly contagion.
He took the car and decided to return to Irene: by explaining what he had learned from his cousin, she would certainly help him and, if nothing else, allow him to sleep at her house for that night. He set off without a second thought and walked down the dark street, seeing in every shadow the hawker’s dull eyes, like a maddening déjà-vu that repeated itself relentlessly, breaking the kidneys of even the most cynical men.
Was that young man at fault? Probably, but why did this question not plummet into oblivion, forcibly compelled by the overpowering power of his will? What had become of the certainties that had animated him the day before? Did he feel compassion? Fear? He asked himself repeatedly, always finding himself at the same starting point. The plan he had constructed had not only been foiled by Cora, but, come to think of it, it was she, with that absurd gesture of jealousy, who had forced him to capitulate that gruesome story.
If Irene had returned the necklace, he could probably be with her, enjoying his last months of life in peace. It doesn’t! That devilish woman had come so far and convinced her cousin to abandon her intentions.
Yes, because Irene was convinced, and had it not been for an absurd sense of duty evoked in her by Cora, she would never have relented. But you know, even in the heart of the coldest criminals lurks a flame ready to start a devastating fire. The only fault attributable to that poor girl was that of having exposed her flank too quickly, confident perhaps of her cousin’s good faith.
What a fool! But how do you pick on her? They barely knew each other, and everything he had done was far beyond their expectations. No! Irene was to be forgiven. The only culprit to be pursued without mercy was Cora.
It was late at night when he reached the woman’s house, and no soul could be seen on the street. Fausto parked in a side alley and walked from the club entrance to Irene’s door. He paused for a few moments at the spot where he had struck the peddler and looked on the ground; he would have expected to find bloodstains or other apparent signs of the scuffle, but to his astonishment, he could not discern anything, as if the whole incident had been merely the rotten fruit of his sick mind. He made a stymied gesture and pulled straight, thinking of a fat shopkeeper throwing a bucket of soapy water on the stain as if it had been dog piss.
Strangely, he felt more relieved and, at the same time, unnerved by that apparent yet unexpected trivialization of events. He rang the intercom without hesitation and waited. A minute passed, but no one answered. He rang again, and once again, his trepidation remained unfulfilled.
“Is it possible that he can’t hear me?” he thought, beating his fist against the old oak door. “Or maybe he realized it was me and pretended he was not home? Damn it!“
He tried again, more out of automatism than conviction. Nothing. No sound could be heard. Everyone was asleep or pretending to be asleep.
It was late, and Fausto felt exceedingly tired: the idea of returning to Rome weighed on him like a boulder, and, on top of everything, he was also in danger of falling asleep at the wheel.
“Yeah,” he said softly, “Like I’m taking a big risk… A thud could put a fitting end to this pointless heartbreak, just as Ezra Pound wrote, quoting his friend Eliot in reverse!“
For the first time since the beginning of that affair, with some amazement, he realized that there was a part of him that was still attached to life. The cynical character, who had not blinked at the report, had not yet managed to eradicate that decidedly misplaced sense of self-preservation. If by now he had accepted his inescapable fate, it was also confirmed that it failed to frighten him to the extent that he continued to hide behind an opaque plastic sheet, which reminded him of its presence but removed his eyes from sight as unpleasant as ever in its surgical precision.
“Mental traps,” he thought as he strained to be clear-headed. “But that doesn’t mean I have to go back to Rome. No-no way. I’ll wait here as long as I can.“.
He sat down on the staircase he had occupied a few hours earlier and rested his head on his knees. Within a few minutes, exhaustion got the better of him, and his senses were lost in a dying sleep.
He dreamed that he had a very tight crown on his head. He tried to snatch it away, but Cora prevented him by repeating that he had no right to lose his mind. Fausto protested by pointing to that absurd honor, but the woman heard no reason. He tried to escape. He ran without direction to a clearing surrounded by evergreen trees. He froze, remembering that he had a giant pink and yellow lollipop in his pocket. He took it and tried to taste it, but the plastic covering it could not come off.
He threw him to the ground and began sobbing, convinced that he had wronged the doctor who had been treating him. He began to plead with him for compassion, and within moments, he found himself in bed next to Cora, who kept biting his right shoulder. He tried to wriggle out, but the grip became stronger and stronger. He shouted for it to stop and, charging with all the energy in his body, gave a tug with his arm to drive away that discomfort. The road appeared before his still foggy eyes. Irene was standing in front of him, looking astonished, her necklace stolen from the center of her cleavage.
“What are you doing here? Do you sleep on the street?” she asked him distractedly.
“Waiting for you. I thought you were at home“.
“Did you play?“
“Yes, of course.”
“And getting no response, you rightly assumed that I was at home–a reasoning that doesn’t make a wrinkle!” exclaimed Irene, pulling the keys out of her purse.
“Will you let me come up?“
The girl approached the doorway without answering. Fausto interpreted that gesture as assent. He stood up slowly, gave a few strokes to his numb legs, and followed her without adding anything else.
“Nice necklace you’re wearing,” she murmured as she let herself fall on the edge of the bed.
Irene turned sharply and frowned as if she were loading a crossbow: “Oh, stop! Now, don’t even come and lecture me! It is not enough all that I had to-what did I do?“
Fausto gasped: “What do you mean by ‘I had to’? I don’t understand…” he asked her, awakened by what seemed to be ancient magical words.
The woman shook her head, stood still for a few seconds, and then, as if she had just solved a highly complex rebus, walked over to him and sat down.
“Listen,” he began, “This has gone on for far too long. Or maybe it was short-lived, but I can’t take it anymore… Anyway, know that it’s all fiction“.
“A fiction?” asked Fausto, partly stunned and partly confused. “What are you talking about?“
“Yes. A bloody fiction concocted by Cora! This is what…“
His eyes remained glued to Irene’s, deprived of the strength to look for other silhouettes to square. What was that nightmare that had taken over reality? Was he sick or dying, or was that also a mediocre farce?
He took the woman’s hand and whispered, “I don’t understand, Irene. I don’t understand anything anymore! Please! Explain yourself better!“
“But why did I get into this mess? Why?” she said as she stood up and took a glass of orangeade. “The story is straightforward: it was Cora who asked me to-yes, I mean, to keep you company. I don’t know how, but she knew you were sick….“
“Did you know? And how did he know that? It’s impossible! Impossible!“
“I don’t know, Fausto. I don’t know. He just knew it. And had it not been for her pleading tone and the apocalyptic scenario she painted for me, I certainly would have told her to go to hell… Believe me“.
So, was the first fiction the false disinterest? No, of course not. The first pretense had been his: the absurd attempt to hide a truth he should undoubtedly have shared with her instead. But he had acted in good faith, not wishing to place such a significant burden on her, perhaps forcing her to leave him alone with the remorse of not having done his duty. However, regardless of the origin of that turmoil, it remained standing, like an imposing statue of the Soviet regime, with its inextricable development. How far did it go? Was there a fixed star in that vast expanse of absurdity? At that moment, the only certainty was Irene; true or false, she was the only person sufficiently neutral, if only because she had only met him the day before.
“But what exactly did Cora tell you?” he asked her.
“Nothing in particular, don’t get any ideas. He told me about you summarily and told me that you had just found out that you were very sick and that he wanted to do something for you. Something different, something that could make you feel good. So he thought he would call me….“
“But weren’t you sworn enemies? Also, what do you mean he wanted to do something different?“
“Our enmity was part of the pretense, as were many of his exaggerations,” replied Irene, now resigned to confiding without any qualms. “Although our relations have not been clear lately, I have been seeking his help through Catherine. I’ve messed things up for her in the past, and that’s why I felt indebted to her when she anticipated your desire to meet with me… But don’t worry, she didn’t ask me for anything scandalous. After a long talk, he just told me that he wanted to see you free at least during the last period….” uttering those words, she abruptly interrupted herself, almost as if a tremendous sense of decency had forced her to come to her senses before committing another cowardly act.
“During my last period…” finished the sentence Fausto to pull her out of the way. “You can say. If there’s one certainty, it’s that my stomach is writhing in spasms, so … take it easy“.
“All right,” Irene continued. “However, Cora didn’t tell me much. He repeated several times that every time he observed you, he became more and more convinced that your life seemed to be compressed like a sardine and that it was right for you to abandon the straight and narrow at least once…“
Fausto grimaced, “That one is gone…” he whispered, looking nervously at his hands, “But after I left, you didn’t feel anything strange?“
“Weird? How do you mean?“
“Mah… I don’t know. Noise? Cackling? Horn? Sirens?“
“Sirens?” blurted out Irene. “What are you talking about? Now I’m the one who doesn’t understand anything anymore!“
The cold glow of the artificial lights had created a surreal atmosphere: two individuals kept talking, each believing that the other had gone mad or, more simply, the guest of honor at the gala party of absurdity. They squinted their eyes, weighted down by that yellowish glow, and moved their hands as if trying to draw a particularly scabby sketch.
Fausto, now with his back against the wall, threw down his mask: “When you came back, I thought that peddler had threatened you, beaten you up, or I don’t know what… I went into a rage, maybe even because you had pushed me away because of him, and… ironically, after I had been waiting down here for a while not knowing what to do, I saw him standing by the entrance to that little street corner place. It was stronger than me, Irene–believe me! I picked up a rock and approached. I just wanted to put fear in him, but he seemed so damn resigned–Oh my God! When I think back on it, I get chills. Can it go that far? Can it be done?“
“But you can, what?” the woman urged him, realizing that the whole thing had gotten out of hand by now.
“I killed him, Irene!” exclaimed Fausto as he began to sob. “I hit him with the stone and left him on the ground … agonizing!“
Irene sprang to her feet, shouting, “What have you done?“
“I was an idiot…” replied Fausto as he approached her and held out his arms. “An idiot! But I went to turn myself in. Unfortunately, the carabinieri did not believe me — or, at least, they did not think it necessary to arrest me. I think they are doing their investigation, and sooner or later, they will realize that they have made a big mistake.” he let himself fall back on the bed and observed the woman with a look of unconditional resignation. “A mistake-but, what mistake? I am dying, Irene! I’m dying! I am not a threat to society, or at least I think so, and long before a magistrate can begin his bureaucratic nonsense, I will be in the ground…“
“And that entitles you to kill a man?” continued Irene. “You are completely crazy! That guy doesn’t even know me!“
“I know. I know.” he tried to calm her down. “When I returned to Rome, I saw Cora, and she told me…”
He paused abruptly, as if a paralysis had begun the slow work of demolishing that body, “But if it’s all a sham,” he said under his breath, “Even that was a little story invented to perpetrate the deception…”
Irene immediately understood what he was referring to and, for the first time, was much more disenchanted than he was: “If you are referring to my meeting with Cora,” he replied, “Rest assured-it was very true. We had decided to meet because she had to give me money. I am not rich, and to keep you here, I needed her help… When I met her, however, I began to be afraid. I told her about your theft and that I didn’t feel like playing that part again. You looked crazy to me! First, you wished to fake a rape. Then you robbed a starving man–what next? Yeah… The then took place… You killed an innocent man who, moreover, had been wronged! No, no… You have to leave right away. Now! No one knows you are here except her. Go back to the carabinieri. Supplicate them. Shout. Kick them. Do anything as long as you are arrested immediately….“
Fausto did not answer: Irene was right. That story, which he thought he was mastering, had become far more insidious than expected and subjugated him like an inexperienced child. The walker could not be brought back to life, and the past could not be corrected, but perhaps another disaster could still be avoided.
He stood up, grabbed his things, and turned to the woman, “That man may be better off now,” he said, smiling with the coolness of a Chinese masker.
“Go away!” she shouted, pointing her finger at him, “And shame on you for everything you’ve done!“
“I’m going, I’m going… Will you at least allow me to thank you?“
“You’re welcome!” exclaimed Irene. “You did. Now you can return to Rome“.
“But I can’t…”
“No!” she interrupted him with moist eyes and quivering lips. “No! No! Get out!“
The street of that last return appeared different to him: the turns looked like disused artists slowly making their way to clubs open late into the night. The motionless silhouettes of the trees painted pictures without title or frame, and the few lights in the distance were only lit flames along impassable paths.
Irene was dead. Her clear gaze, her hair of ebony silk, her eyes scattered in the abysmal swirls of a kaleidoscope: every fragment of her was inert, like a burnt match. All that remained of her was a swirl of smoke that the wind had not yet managed to push out of the car’s cockpit.
The cancer, the pain, and the blood rising the slope of his being were just useless vestiges of an existence defrauded of its meaning. The bearer of it, as old as a merchant lost in a maze of nameless countries, had abandoned the scepter of his role to a procession of mad comedians. What was now an outstretched hand, a word suspended in the void of withering speech, a promise, a burst of apparent will? Silence. They were just silences. Silences in the background of music constantly waiting to be played.
But the peddler lying on the ground, with a trickle of blood running down his temple, was more accurate than ever. Cold as the pavement, he continued to kiss with the most naive and tormenting of passions. What about Cora? What was Cora? His mistress? A woman to possess? One among others? No. Cora was only Irene’s cousin, Catherine’s niece, who had read between the lines of that very cryptic book and had perhaps been able to interpret the smiles, sobs, and silences as what they were.
Between the pantomime of rape and the heartbreak of an innocent young man, Cora remained the only beacon still sending light in a sea without horizons. It was nonmeaning. That was the meaning of that life now forced to account for every breath. From the darkness of a cave, Cora had let her song awaken every dormant creature so that nothing would be missing from the first and last of that show, with a single actor petrified and rendered mute by a roar that only he could hear.
By the time he arrived in Rome, it was well into the night, and very few cars were on the streets. He did not know what he would do or who he would talk to. He headed home; he had no more reason to run away and felt too tired to follow any other path.
He parked not far from the building and began walking as if his feet were weighted down with steel chains. He saw the outline of his balcony, with the two French doors opening onto it: it was dark inside.
As soon as he set foot in the house, he had a spasm at the level of his stomach, and, mechanically, like a man who had just awakened from a nightmare, he called, “Cora!“
No one responded. Only the tireless ticking of a wall clock could be heard. The woman was gone, perhaps to Brazil, Indonesia, Hawaii, or maybe just a few feet away. Either way, she was immensely distant, and all that remained of her was a crumbling memory. There were no photographs of him in that house, and never would be.
Fausto let himself fall on the sofa and closed his eyes. “Pathetic!” said Cora to him, pointing to Catherine’s withered face. “She uses photos to weaken her love for a silly woman!“
In the distance, like laughter dispersed in the fog, a siren was hurrying to go to the rescue of an emergency.
Filed for legal guardianship with Patamu: certificate
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