I chose to render ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ by the phrase ‘Work is liberty’, which I also took on as the final title of this short story, because this is one of the possible translations of the teasing formula, also to be found in Elie Wiesel’s NIGHT, and because the Orwellian ‘newspeak’ you can feel and taste in that rendering, in my intentions, could offer me a twofold opportunity: to suggest the feel of how crucial the idea of social freedom in relation to having a job nowadays can be, and, more specifically, to straightforwardly refer to the well known notice at the entrances of the most terrible concentration camps, of which I meant to suggest some crueller meaning, or keenly meaningful echoes. The story of this short story is long… but to cut it short: a first, less structured, version of it, not much different, was read publicly on Jan28/2005, Memorial Day – the day after. The current version was also read publicly: on Jan27/2011 after the whole was published in a booklet. The last three paragraphs in Chapter 12 were added on Oct6/2012. The invitation to give a short story of mine for the opening magazine, and to supply its translation, was particularly pleasant to me: by the work of trying to render my text into English, I also revised the Italian original – such a precious work I had one more occasion to do on writing and language brought me to change the time (from past tense to present tense), the narrative (now the story has a prevailing dialog form) and many ghosts left behind in advance came up onto the stage: I hope they can rest in peace by now. (Daniela Matronola)
Table of Chapters
1. Jugs and shivers – storytelling on foot
2. White vacations
3. Some Fordist pattern devised for death
4. ARBEIT MACHT FREI
5. It all used to be neat and polish
6. Sunday afternoon
7. The Monk’s Virtues
8. Family fables
9. Fumes and cartoons
10. In the meanwhile at the mansion
11. Fume and perfume
12. Away towards the furnaces
WORK & LIBERTY
1. Jugs and shivers – storytelling on foot
Caesar and I are actually sitting inside the fireplace, a small room inside an enormous one, a calidarium subversively inserted into a frigidarium: our central lounge at mid level. Right there, as in all the other rooms of our mansion, in the winters of olden times, with no central heating system nor solace, I can imagine it would be common to hear a subdued clattering of jugs: it was the teeth of our mansion’s inhabitants and of their servants (even excluded from the fireplaces), mechanically beating, rattling from uncontrollable shivers.
It is an icy Sunday, around four in the afternoon.
Caesar and I, like the rest of the folks, are striving to catch a strong black coffee from a tray that has been spinning around the other parlors at mid level while chasing after people already half baked with digestion.
–I guess such a system of chimneys waxed somewhat protototalitarian, didn’t it?
–Well, you know, Mauro: at least that was a way to keep warm.
–Each time I think about it, I cannot help but call to mind Ryszard Kapuscinskij.
–You know, the Polish reporter. I also met him, once.
–In Rome, on February 2 / 1994, a Tuesday, around 8 pm.
–Jesus, how can you remember all that so precisely?
–Come on, Ceasar, you are not saying you have forgotten how obsessive I can be.
–We were introduced by the friend who had taken me there: he had just presented Kapuscinskij’s new book with Phillip and Dr. Fofi.
–Geoffrey Fofi, sure! Which book was it?
–Imperium, about the Soviet Empire indeed.
–The core idea, there, was to report about the Republics of the Soviet constellation: in less than ten years since October 1917 the revolutionary state had imposed them a fictitious surface identity…
–The Soviet Union!
–Kapuscinskij had been born in 1932 in Pinsk, in Eastern Poland at the times. Then, after the Wall’s Crash, exactly in 1990, his hometown belonged back to Bielorussia.
–Well, we all know Poland had long been a critical area, almost embarrassing…
–Then, Ceasar, Kapuscinskij was the best representative of the so called literature on foot as he was inexhaustible in going there and watch the facts to report by his own eyes. He always remained an eye witness and a communist…
–So he opposed to the fascist distortions of power…
–Fascism? In the Soviet Union?
–He would oppose to its repressive derailments inflicted in the name of revolutionary safeguard. He would also oppose, when he was very young, to Stalin’s abuses.
2. White vacations
–LittleFather Stalin had this wild habit of sending his opponents to white vacations in Siberia. Terrible! Such prize trips were awarded, by virtue of holy democratic equity, to overt enemies, or variably acknowledged adversaries, as well as to poor devils with no guarantees: great poets, for instance, dispersed into the light of truth. Like Osip Mandel’štam, who would be defended by Boris Pasternak…
–Yeah, I do know that: Stalin called Pasternak, in order to ask him whether Mandel’ štam was a great poet as they used to say – Pasternak uttered no answer, not to lie by saying no, and not to put Mandel’štam in further troubles by saying yes. It is also reported there was a line failure, …
–Poor Mandel’štam, sent to freeze in Siberia where heating up was chimeric. Well, the convicts had devised an ancestral remedy: they would light up big fires and, around them, at night, or during the pauses, they would pack up again into unionlike, or working, squads, while trying to swallow the rations like heroes: without spitting them out, and repressing violent retches behind miraculously dry eyebrows – just to honor the most correct allegiance to the precepts imposed by the revolutionary rule.
–After all, Mauro, the whole of it seemed to bear a legitimately pedagogical aim. As usual, though, paradox lies in the pupils’ eager responses to the didactic prompts.
–Statistically speaking, there was one and only inconvenience: during such almost seditious gatherings, folks fell down dead like flies. In the Siberian chill, gathered around the fires under merciless moons, half the bodies facing the flames would start to boil, and half the bodies facing the icy dark would fall down into freezing process.
–God, I can figure them out, Mauro: their bodies would battle, standing or squatting. They should revolve to expose themselves to the unbearable heat of fires as integrally as possible. Their absurd hope was they could prevent cankers or thromboses.
–It is reported that many of them, weary to their bones, would quit: they would lie down and die there, and the morning after someone would pick them up and put them down to rest under snow heaps. Others would seem to bear such a high speed in the beginning, but then, eventually worn out, they would fall down: either straight forward into the flames, so they would burn alive – or backwards, into the snow, so they would freeze alive. Nature hammered them: what makes me angry is, such a detail relieved their LittleFather Stalin, with all his martinets, down to the smallest local rings of the power chain, from any immediate, and provable, responsibility in their deaths. Due to the so called degrees of separation any existing ties between the deportations’ driving force and its lethal results over large samples of the population would become loose and undetectable, after all.
–Hey, that’s you at last: still ready to fight for anyone alone in a storm.
–You would also be. I know you are as you were in my case. We pronounced the Hippocratic Oath, after all, didn’t we? Even now, each time I read it or recite parts of it by heart, I can even feel touched…
–Why, you’re no more the usual heart of stone?
–Maybe because I have children now, something must have melted my flinty soul…
We are laughing, Ceasar is almost rolling: where has his balance as a mentor gone?
3. Some Fordist pattern devised for death
–Actually that was some gross extension of the industrial pattern, sort of a homemade device aimed at the automated elimination of enemies, almost never unknown, and activated in such a dirty way, sometimes, by some squirty rogues, so as to result into some crop of chance indeed, and to be its fortunate product in such a way that it would be complicated to detect any acknowledged authorship. You had better hear such verdicts pronounced in your face by Stalin himself, a privilege for a sad few, rather than into some dull halls of the judiciary branch by dismal officials, coarse judges or vulgar jail laborers with no name no face no mouth: all identities to only be pinned at papers, at case files, at clangs of either locks or chains or handcuffs, or cell doors barred behind either innocent backs or guilty ones, though of good guilts, like: to oppose, to refuse being minimised to pawls and gears, to wish, to hope, to dream, to love, to enjoy affections, to think, to have opinions, to act for oneselves.
–You mean, Mauro, the industrial pattern was applied in that case to…
–…humans treated like goods: the production cycle in Stalin’s case was even found by chance. His final product was a negative one, though: the goods’ final disposal, and to have it done a transfer network was needed.
–What do you mean?
–As for Nazi Germany, Stalin’s USSR exploited the railways. The trains to Siberia were crazy wagons running towards a white nowhere that could confuse you with beauty, with immaculate spreads of whiteness. They ran through the taiga just to let all the fields of the soul gradually get used to the low temperatures according to a physical change: from gas through fluid up to the solid density of a punch of cells, just to somehow better watch over it. Maybe trains were open, and windows would blow their curtains out to the outer fields before they would be closed in the instant when the train ventured into a sea of white with no horizon nor border, with ghosts, either solitary or grouped or riding, suddenly showing off, together with the whirling winds of history just come to collect the ill–fated rambler and to take him away into some other sphere of being where he would not be reached for, evermore.
–Such a lyrical image. I’m quite sure I can see it…
–You did see it, Ceasar, actually!
–Where did I?
–I think you read Pasternak’s Doctor Zivago, didn’t you?
–I can remember the movie starring Omar Sharif, Julie Christie, Alec Guinness, Rod Steiger…
–…that was maybe the most suggestive scene, together with the final one in the streetcar. I’m talking of the novel, though. What a beginning! So touching: Yura as a child being surrounded by adults while his mother is being buried. It was dad’s gift to mom, but my copy at home is uncle Charles’: when he died we had all his books and paintings, remember?
–You mostly used to talk about it when you came to my office: entire sessions on Charles and your father Johnny. Up to the last one. Quite passionately, anyway.
–Maybe I was longing for an ideal family, different from mine…
4. WORK IS LIBERTY
I should be staring at him as if I had gone mad, as, just before bringing it to his lips, Ceasar noisily drops onto the saucer the fumy cup of coffee he’s been long holding on his lap, and he’s also addressing me one of his well known protective glances: more than a brother’s, an uncle’s one.
–Helping for the disappearance of the enemy is a dirty work,
Sitting in front of our friendly fire, as for a striking epiphany I get flashed with a finally proper sense of that little formula, apparently wise then totally crazy, and at last I get the abyss of its perfect obscenity:
–arbeit macht frei: sure!,
I find myself shouting in poor Ceasar’s face. Then I turn to stare at the fire
–I should understand in advance: WORK IS LIBERTY for all those who accomplish it with accuracy within the stiff boundaries of their own role and duties. Strictly keeping to one’s own job description isolates the useful working gestures and snags the network of responsibilities. Each and every operator sublimates his/her own microaction and by bringing it to its completion s/he takes part into the operating chain and raises up the final building just for the measure s/he has been given. Each and every subsection of the machine is perfectly taken care of, unbeknownst to the rest of them, even when not so vague be the goal. The participation in the operating chain becomes metaphysical in the instant when each and every pawl and gear develop their assigned plans and become complete spheres, perfect into themselves, and their own enhancement prearranges the whole machine progress because it brings about the sublimation of every single free gesture.
–Then you mean, Mauro, that the more they got their hands dirty the more in the end, or in results, they would wash their hands clean…
–I mean, the more you lower your mouth on your wild meal, the less you perceive the context, a way to get absolved or to have a self reference sensation of innocence. Not for having not participated, nor for being not part of the machine, but for having so deeply worked inside of it as a tiny chip, that it would not be possible to take any responsabilities on ones’ shoulders, either as to the entire machine or as to the deadly results it achieved by grinding its victims as a big wheel, not just as a minimal ring or girdle like each one would feel…
–You mean it was impossible to decree any individual responsabilities, don’t you?
–I’m not making a judicial point, but one of the conscience. How many times have we heard the disclaiming question?: each one obeyed orders they could not back out of. Understand? As they could not back out of orders, they were not guilty.
–It feels like a leisurely standpoint.
–Mostly it is paradoxical, and tragic, sort of a trick liberating two absurd logics: on one side, the dirty work was up to the martinets, so by keeping their distance the instigators found a way, as for Stalin, to devise a shelter where to stay away of guilts despite their motive, the blind fury towards more and more adversaries to destroy; on the other, the martinets did the dirty work by obeying orders they did not conceive, so they were free of guilts though they were the executors, the deadly sum’s addendums.
5. It all used to be neat and polished
–You know, Ceasar, there was a frightful neatness in that shared device. And it got more and more unquestionable and undisputable in the case of the evil radiance in the black uniforms precisely sewn onto the well known fair gods with neat clean and pure traits, and their puppet–like jerks. They were so entire in themselves that they had the power to inoculate displacement and to impose obedience, and moreover to achieve sovereign power since its basis, just where the catchment would fear it in the local pawls of each and every gear. That would confer a good working autonomy and a best inertial synergy to the whole machine that would be perfect down to its minimal rings, down to its minimally devised units. Anything more it be supplied with, must be considered an extra outcome, some unpredicted assets, an over invoicing, which would open up some comfortably autonomous areas of abuse where nevertheless, despite the watched over system’s perfection, both arbitrary excesses and sources of mistake could start nestling.
–What do you mean?
–They would enjoy it, they were slaves to their own sadism. Well, nobody disliked it. No one of them would strive for keeping any evil excesses at bay. Then it needed watch over the terminating machine, so that the higher goal the whole system was aimed for ended not out of sight, did it?
–Hells of abjection: dangerous ones, you mean? Have I got it?
–To me, Ceasar, the most disgusting abjection was refinement in cruelty…
–That’s what we are speaking about, isn’it
–Changing the morals of ordinary existence, in everyday life…
–Maybe only terrorists in our ’70s got so close to the absurd, is that what you mean?
–In their notices terrorists surely used sort of a machine language, sort of a science fiction one. Nazis were doers, though: terminators on factory scales… they would not indulge in philosophy. They were morally insensible. They just developed a network with no failures: I have always perceived that as something frightful. The notice ARBEIT MACHT FREI used to shine sinister at every station of the national/socialist system spread out over Europe’s railways, an evil interrail chartering industrial sites set for the formal cleaning process supported by the bourgeois morals. The notice used to shine expressly for the comfort and warning of its workers, of its foot soldiers, of all those who put the mechanical gears into action in each and every local area producing the brightest general clattering, the holiest fumes of production, the best job order ever applied onto human matter. It used to shine in support of the estimated necessity that such a dirty work were done in that damned historical trend, when fate seemed to have decreed that, at last, it was up to young and impetuous Germany to set forth at the head of all nations in Europe. So each and every German, provided s/he be pure and uncontaminated, was called to support the plan devised elsewhere, dictated by historical destiny, established over all their heads by some superior will so that each and every German moreover had to show s/he was ready to work against anyone should be an obstacle to the achievement of the sublime mission!
–You’re right, the most creepy side of it all was its mockery. And impunity.
6. Sunday afternoon
On this Sunday afternoon, Ceasar and I are trying to enjoy the intimacy of our new closeness as adults, moreover recently become colleagues, like between olden acquaintances: two half relations indeed, while once we were between doctor and patient with many (unspoken) exceptions to professional rigor.
–Ours was an irregular relation: did you think about it, then, Ceasar?
–Not only did I think of it, Mauro, but I was well aware of it while we were still maintaining such a relation. I took a risk, partly calculated.
–What if the association of psychiatrists had come to know that the physician was an intimate friend to the patient’s family.
–Even worst would it be if they had known that in his youth I had been the most fierce suitor to the patient’s mother, then a rival in love to the patient’s father…
–My dad’s one and only competitor; indeed! He in Person told me when we talked over, years after the massacre.
–Seriously, it would be risky if one among those who knew had revealed I had been of the gang like a cousin, after all, since when the patient had been born. Strict and unpreventable provisions then would be taken: I would be disbarred. And what about you, Mauro, the patient? A severe case!
–I can still see your face when in our last session I told you that the patient had always been the bright copy of me offered on the stage of your therapy designed for me along three years (between my 15 and my almost 19), who had skilfully split just to make you happy. Unfortunately, though, I would be imposed to lose my precious sparring–partner: too cruel for me: even worst than a drug induced coma of the kind I have been instructed to administer, whether a substituting therapist, an alien one, had prescribed some sleeping treatment for me.
–I do remember, Mauro, that afternoon when you thought you were supplying any revelation about you as a character instead of an authentic self submitted to me for three years. Maybe you don’t know I had always perceived you along some parallel frequency, and I had always caught, amid the mess you would create for mimicry, that the most honest side of you was a talent for cruel as well as cynical digressions: sort of a dark humor without reserves I could only file as reckless. Even now, before our friendly fire, I see you can’t help but bring your dizzy whirl of imagination right to its end: What you don’t expect is I am able enough to come after you…
–Have you ever though about it, Ceasar? You were there after all: until mid–1900s at least, weather conditions at our place were almost similar to those that had been spreading needs and despair both in gulags and lagers. Although here no notice has ever been found of same huge amounts of deaths, among either staff or family, due to big chill with no solace. Nor traces have ever been found in the records among the archive materials that have been lying, piled up for ages, so far, still waiting, in the basements, for some work in filing them: a competent filing by my father, so that they could ascend the ground floor in order to be bound and classified, and then, ascending one more floor, they could aim for some suitable positions onto the shelves of our family library, out there, at the bottom of mid level, overlooking the valley.
7. The monk’s virtues
–As far as I know, in Rome you substituted me with a priest…
–Friar Lawrence, as the one who got Romeo and Juliet into trouble. Not a priest, he’s in the begging order of St. John of God on the Tiber Island, the friars of DoGood Charity hospital where I work.
–Being an atheist, you are showing courage in trusting a friar.
–Lawrence has become a brother. A stone bridge on Tiber river divides us: on one side the congregation he belongs to, on the other the hospital I work for. I hope their house will never be moved. We meet every day: if they go elsewhere we won’t. He also tells me that, being an atheist, I’m more Christian than true believers. We have been talking for years. He never stops trying to convert me, I never stop resisting. I appreciate that, among his four vows: poverty, charity, obedience and assistance to the infirm, seclusion is not …included! He’s one who helps, he lives in the world, among people, he’s not a monk.
–It almost makes me laugh. You say monk, and, instead of thinking of an abbey, I can’t help thinking of the bowls for the beds.
–GrandPa Herman had always celebrated the monk’s virtues.
–Thank goodness you at least have become a physician as he was.
–You know Ceasar how different my reasons to become an anaesthesiologist were. As a child, though, I used to go and visit him at his doctor’s office, and sometimes, in order to heat me up, more than crossing this central lounge through the internal aisle, I just ran down to the lobby, and, while it was snowing thick and fast at 0C°, I used to slip and slide out through the alley from the little door carved into our front portal under the stony arch. I would knock at his office door left ajar, just in time not to start having freeze feelings, and usually it was GrandPa Herman in person who let me in – for years I had believed he would guess it was me all the times, then I came to know that was his tactics to prevent frightening his baby patients, just to introduce himself right away as a good big daddy, as a friendly doctor. In the waiting room, his nurse Valery, sitting at her combat desk, a Brit table, would wink at me over her reading goggles, then she would turn back to managing the organizer or to answering the phone. As soon as I sat in front of him beyond his office desk, GrandPa Herman used to hook up some fruit toffees into a big glass vase, remember?
–Sure! On your aunt Celia’s pharmacy bar, there was a line of equal glass vases filled with those chewy candies, fruit flavored with deadly colorant E326 whose poisonous effects hadn’t been documented yet: we used to give them to you children!
–My father used to call aunt Celia Josephine Baker… GrandPa Herman would give them to me as he used to do with his baby patients when he had to examine them or to administer them with vaccinations while they were still in their mothers’ arms. He would then start and tell me a lot of family tales. First of all the same old story, that I did much appreciate, about dad’s betrayal: he had not chosen the medical profession, so to relieve his office at the right time. “He has followed his artistic flair, so to play as our home genius, as a great architect… He’s a well of whim!”
–Your GrandPa told everybody about Johnny and his Lucipher–like glance…
8. Family fables
–The same glance that had bewitched Hillary, our mother, and Stephen and I when we were children. GrandPa Herman could not make it, though, to know that he would otherwise betray us all after having teased us for long time.
–Are you still mad at him, Mauro, after so much time?
–As time passes, anger gets worse into bitterness, it becomes a medium distance from where you keep on suffering but as if you had lost your right in it.
–I was sure you two had recovered a good relation after even harsh confrontations.
–Silence doesn’t put out a fire, in case it hatches and then lets it burn out, in Tennessee Williams’ words.
–But you have often talked it over, haven’t you?
–As a matter of fact, betrayal does not disappear: it remains there, il looks at you.
–Mauro, you were not the one he betrayed: your mother, in case…
–My mother could come to terms with it. I was simply left there alone to interpret the aftermath. GrandPa Herman could also not get over it, but after his usual complaints he would go through our family fables. He would often tell about when my dad was a child and before dinner the governesses would devote to governing you all for in the view of the night: they used to spread all over the house to get bedrooms ready. At a time the whole mansion would get electrified with a traffic jam due to a range of complex practices. The chimneys burning since hours were paved with embers, the living remains of past fires: thick frizzling bases that, throughout the afternoon, two men in high leather aprons had been stirring with awls before setting some new, well dried and variously sized, logs set loose enough to let air circulate and feed flames… tidy, well lain out heaps, put in apple–pie order with manic care. Not human ones, in our case. In funeral pyres though, such an esthetic trick had offered some advantages: the remnants of incineration were a small pile of ashes and a bit of grease. In the specific case of heaps made of deportees, meanwhile gotten thin like sticks, the advantage was the victims’ collaboration: a net, clean balance for the camps wardens. –Oh God, Mauro, we are back there again…
–I do remember a similar horror flaring in the eyes of the most humane Wermacht officer ever recalled in American movies: emotionless on the surface but secretly touched with compassion in his conscience as he heard of that trick, in a typical depraved lounge, full of officers and tramps, from a superior of his, who would be boasting of such a whimsical trick of his, and would find it natural offering a practical show of it to the advantage of all the ones attending with the help of a box of matches he had been using up to then to light up cigarettes around with gallantry. In that movie, The Young Lions, of 1957, all adversaries, on both fronts, were supposed to host in their consciences some room for doubts and interior conflicts, even in the hearts of two Allied officers. The film director Edward Dmytryk gave flesh on the bones of a dream that maybe only existed in his own imagination: seeing even one and only nazi manic faith tumble and fall, and convincing the two reluctant Allies that they should devote themselves entirely in defence and redemption of all the civilians exterminated in the long march towards Liberation.
9. Fumes and cartoons
–GrandPa Herman told me the elder attendant, of stout build, never used bellows and had long tried to instruct the younger houseboy.
The latter was a rushing youngster who sometimes, unbeknownst, would wedge paper cornets like props into the logs’ cracks, so he could get the immediate pleasure of golden yellow blazes that would wrap him with heat but a minute after would disappear, swallowed from the chimney damper, which would sink him in the usual cold smelling with ashes.
GrandPa Herman had seen the houseboy do that trick many times but had kept it to himself. Then once he saw the elder attendant catch the young houseboy in doing such an incautious operation that was furtherly wrong in that it increased the pungent quality of the air, already disgustingly hanging between a smelly humidity and an irritating warmth onto breathing ways.
The man had arrived at him behind his shoulders at the very moment when the houseboy had just begun to transit from enjoying the big flames to sinking back into sewergas–like cold. Right then the houseboy felt a terrible blow come down on his head and a hand grab him from the collar behind his nape and shake him.
Then in the yellowish dim light the two figures seemed to intertwine, and of course it was the elder attendant that would take over the houseboy due to his physical advantage Anyway, right after, without warning, GrandPa said, he saw them set themselves in more scattered ways as if they should go back to their respective duties: the houseboy bending to pick up some ceramic bowls and the elder attendant taking up the shovel near the fireplace to set forth and wisely operate on embers.
–Come on, Mauro: what is it you have not solved? It’s an old story, isn’t it?
–There is nothing I still have to solve. I prefer to stay to facts.
–They are far away facts, aren’t they? Then they hurt you just because you were a young boy. If you had been an adult yet, maybe you would have taken it all easier.
–I did not believe love would last forever and faithfulness were absolute just because I was a little boy. I’ve never taken such bull shits for real. Nor have I ever believed in perennial friendships. Betrayal is sadly common. I mean, it is common we address somewhere else. What I cannot forgive is ambiguity, and loss of memory. Opacity hurts me. Well, no, it makes me furious. Because it compels to ask for while on the other side there is no awareness one should account for instead of waiting for someone who, having a right for it, be there questioning or investigating, and nailing.
–Is that what your father did? He didn’t account to you for what was in his own right?
–Well, Ceasar, I was too young, ok, maybe I was too delicate and sensitive to cope with my father leaving home. You know, nowadays, if I left my home and my family I would talk with the children. I would never let them there, groping in the dark, without a word. I could be betrayed and still have to leave my home: I would talk to them, and make it easy to reach me. I wasted a lot of time.
–Are you making, let’s say, an economic point?
–Ceasar, what do you want me to admit? My sufferings? You know I have scars all over.
..10. Meanwhile at the mansion…
–I’m trying to understand, Mauro, if some soothed wrath comes over you again.
–No more wrath, Ceasar. If I were rancorous I would be stupid…
–You would be humane!
–…I would not be honest. Honesty is important to me. That’s what I’m talking about. Of the skill people have to stop bending on their own navels and to lift their eyes over the whole world, that is vast, in order to see things into perspective. And to resize.
–Why am I sensing sort of a contradiction in your words?
–…it’s a matter of balance and well-being, not just personal ones, but everybody’s, or at least the family’s: they are not aliens, are they?
–You mean your father should have left Lory (that you hated) so he would have not broken up the little happy family…
–Not at all! He could have talked to me. He talked with everybody, we all know how talkative he can be, how much he enjoys charming entire audiences, mostly ro restate his own success.
–Then… you hate him!
–On the contrary, I have always loved him. But I am the one he simple quit talking to for, if he had, he should have chosen to explain, to be sincere, to expose himself… He could have decided not to keep me groping in the dark because he felt to be right! I had to force him, and we both know how it all burst out.
–The fact that the burst happened years after you gave up having therapy sessions with me gives me the suspicion I didn’t work properly with you…
–Do not feel guilty, take it easy: you had correctly diagnosed I was one easy to get obsessed. But how can you stop a fury? Either destruction or no way out.
–If I can remember well, it was you who saw a fury come over…
–In reply to my last provocation after several ones. Were we not speaking of embers? By the way, imitating the recorded fairy tales by the Faber Bros Publishers, GrandPa Herman told me that meanwhile at the mansion the maids would slip and slide among the bedrooms: after folding the sheets in order to open up the beds for the night, they would uncover them and put some wooden structures cladded inside with copper plates at their centres. Shortly after the houseboy would bring filled up bowls – some were also made of copper, some others were made of earthenware. Inside the bowls, embers would frizzle. Then the red hot bowls would be skillfully located inside the wooden structures and them all would be covered with sheets and blankets.
–Sure! The monk, indeed. Somewhere else they call it the priest or the nun, but we have always called it the monk. Up to the moment when everybody would go to lie down, the beds had these humps at their centres from which internal heat would come out, miraculously able to dry up humidity and to take control of the outer chill.
–As it seems, the sheets would be marked with brown haloes at their centres, sort of burnt glows impossible to remove.
–Oh yeah! The method was home made and perfect: but as it were it was destined to leave a mark, wasn’t it?
11. Fumes and perfumes
–Getting into those beds was a wonder, GrandPa Herman had told me, All sheets released their warm scent, just like some laundry dried up with a red hot iron, combining with the perfumes of the women of the house: sort of maternal warmth into which it was great feeling wrapped up.
–Bed warmers would also do: they were little copper braziers having tops with holes on them and embers inside. They would be located among the sheets directly: that is, no infrastructures: in which case it was inevitable that cotton fibers should dry up and get amber–colored. Bed warmers would surely burn sheets and blankets.
–Beds would result perfectly dry but for no reason you should forget to take the warmers out before entering the beds or it would mean terrible bums to treat with butter or glycerine. Then GrandPa Herman would also praise a big majolica stove powered with charcoal, sort of a towering totem located right in the middle of this central lounge…
–Your father as a child used to speed around it with no restraints, chased after by the nannies. It was a Becchi stove, sort of a steamer, a puffing factory: coming too close to it would mean getting cooked, keeping too far away would make it useless.
–I have told you, Ceasar: all wasted fuel.
–Well, you know, Mauro, the stove would dry away humidity. Of course this lounge is enormous, then there were the draughts coming up from the door driving to your family chapel. Consider that when your father really wanted to make the homemaids get mad he just left the door of the chapel ajar. He had not gone down along the dark steps, he used to hide, and so did I, behind the opposite door, the one leading down to the big kitchen, just in order to watch the fuss mostly taking place on such occasions. He really enjoyed arousing in the maids the doubt that he had gone far away from home simply through that dungeon down to the alley. The chapel was frightfully dark – only sometimes faint lamps were on and gave poor light; so the poor maids started to see who would be the ‘one’ to go down into the dungeon surely inhabited by the house passed–over spirits. None of them would have the guts to go, and in the end it was generally the youngest and the most afraid ever to be chosen and sent down there: so he would laugh and laugh again and laugh all the time behind the opposite door. Then unfortunately the elder attendant would come up from the kitchen and we got caught, the two of us, and right then we could almost have a heart attack. I can still feel tenderness and shivers when I figure out that, into the French wallpaper, among pages and damsels, jumpers brooks trees and bushes, the door spreading on the chapel’s drop is hidden right there: your father deliberately left it ajar, he knew I was scared to death just staring at that dimlight beam and thinking that spirits were there just waiting for the right moment to act up…
–To leave ajar, what a suggestive verb! Then only tricks and deceptions, my dad was, as a child…
–He was a pest, a hurricane Johnny. All of us used to call him Johnny.
–Not mom! Even now she calls him John, just to let him know he cannot relax…
–Your GrandPa was the only one to call him Little Johnny: he was partial to him…
12. Away towards the furnaces
–When I was a boy, he brought me to the theatre to watch Borsalino. Our Becchi stove was a hellish, frightful furnace just like to the fireboxes fed with wood on the old choo–choo trains, he softly told me in the dark, during the scene when a terrified Riccardo Cucciolla is thrown by his head into one of them to be finished off by the henchmen from an adversary gang.
–What a funny chap, Johnny was! Don’t you remember The GodFather?
–Well, you know, I can’t forget the cut off head of the pureblood racehorse among the kitchy silk sheets and his fraudulent owner’s feet right into it…
–Then again, we went together to see Sacco and Vanzetti…
–Cucciolla there was playing the innocent anarchist Nicola Sacco, electrocuted with his companion Bart Vanzetti, played by Gian Maria Volonté. Of that movie, directed by Giuliano Montaldo, I will never forget Joan Baez’s lashing soprano voice singing the ballads by Ennio Morricone. In Borsalino, though he looked crestfallen, Cucciolla was a boss no less cruel than his own butchers and their instigators, the bold couple Delon–Belmondo: he was no innocent that time, as the rest of them and like anyone, as it often is, in any conflict…
–Well he had been surely addressed to some cruel fate, too humiliating for a boss…
–But this time, Ceasar, as I got at once, the roleplay had nothing to do with it.
–Here’s Lory. Your father’s around, then.
–That’s no more a matter of equally distributing innocence and guilt to the parties, due to either equitability or hypocrisy. The victims were right there and they were totally innocent, just like the butchers were totally and overwhelmingly guilty.It was due to the latters’ perfect unguiltiness that the innocent could not be rescued, and the demons’ hands could be overcharged of exemplary sacrifice, as well as the well working machine could be engineered oiled and run in.
–You mean your father was your torturer?
–Nooo! I’m referring back to our talk on the deportees, remember?
–Aah! Well, an invincible device. In that case.
–Sure! A keen gadget. Keen, yes – ruthless and keen.
–We could have our coffee now, do you agree?
I gulp down mine, now warm, in reply. Ceasar gets rid of his own cup and goes to meet John who is worldwisely indulging at the door just to offer the bystanders his appearance as an actor. The blazing white of his teeth matches with the candor of his wavy, a bit long hair, but the actually shining trait in his face is the ashy light blue of his eyes. He’s looking around, sharing smiles, handshakes, gallant handkisses, hugs. As usual, this one and only fact seems to be taken by the recipients like a priceless gift, even as a public praise. Every two hugs he addresses me such an intense look that he slightly blushes. He’s coming across the separating metres even though, due to the large central table full of dishes, he must follow a lateral track over human obstacles. He stops with a cheerful lady whom I don’t know, as if already leaving her.
–Hi, old boy, I tell him as we tightly hug. In olden times, I would groan to Ceasar: