Nouvelle Histoire

Lucia Munaro
Nouvelle Histoire
For days now she had been seized by a vague sense of desire. Perhaps it was the warm breeze – the sirocco had left a stickiness behind it – or perhaps it was the gnashing of the sea as it beat indefatigably against the coast down there. And the sea was a god, wedding itself to the acquiescent land in some sort of perennial game.

It seemed to her that she too was being dragged into some sort of game by him. One which involved playing at being serious, at speaking the truth, and not just with words, at wanting to get married, playing at being the beach and the sea and lapping insatiably against each other so as to seal the union.

They both knew – and she could tell by her skin, her lips, and her throat which felt as though they were being touched by white-hot lava and not by an innocent breeze which carried the smell, the stench of the sea – they knew that they had to have each other.

It was all here. And they parted with the certainty of meeting again. There’d soon be an opportunity on the mainland, he had told her. It was this thought alone which allowed her to leave the island, and throughout the journey she did nothing but imagine their next meeting.

In her mind, she submitted to him, and she felt herself a woman, that was the only thing that mattered and soon she would be able to touch him and lick him, like horses and other animals do. And she would welcome his caresses, wherever they landed, and she would be accommodating of his mood. She prepared for it as one would for a liturgy of pleasure, with no script but a readiness to savour every moment. She was led by a boundless faith towards that day, she didn’t dare countenance the idea that anything could come between them, could delay their wedding. Because there would be a marriage, a marriage between a man and a woman who had no restrictions in their acceptance of each other for one brief, ephemeral moment.

In the interim she was biding her time and went back to work with a real desire to carry out those duties which had been suspended for a while, and she lost herself in conversations with colleagues about the holiday, and they could read in her face her infatuation with the nature and the art of that place. Or maybe they couldn’t. She made herself get on with things, but in reality she was just killing time, waiting for his call. He had warned her that he liked to manipulate people sometimes, and by that he meant women. But little mattered to her, only the gulf that separated her from him. And before long it frightened her. The days, the hours, had become the beads of a rosary, the prayer always the same one: that he would call soon, and she would receive some message conveying all the details she needed to be able to reach him.

She smiled, dazed and yet full of agitation, at the world, and the world, so it seemed, smiled back at her. On a grimy bench near Palermo central station where she had stopped to rest for a while from dragging her suitcase around, she decided to eat a piece of fruit, more for nourishment rather than to quell the lethargy that had consumed her for days. A toothless youth passed her and they exchanged a glance and greeting, and the city, and the people in the squalor and the degradation, had seemed so alive to her, and she had felt happy there. It was a strange sort of love nest, all that tarnished beauty – the statues, the churches, the dilapidated palaces – and yet she could quite happily have stayed there, shared a room and hours upon hours of pleasure with him. And then descend, plunge themselves into the river of all those lives which held no particular distinction, take the stench of the fresh fish and the grilled meat in the pop-up market, wake themselves up with a sugared coffee and a sip of water, and then leave, only to return later.

For now, to while away the time until she saw him, she made a list of all the things she would gather together to bring away with her after. It was as though she were possessed by a force, both intemperate and lucid all at once, and she was meticulous in making her list. She would breathe in his scent, commit the profile of his face to memory, register the tone of his voice, his words, seeking in them even a spasm of something new, in him, whose coldness and aloofness could be mistaken for pride, though she was convinced that deep down this was just a defence mechanism.

She was just fine like that, even if she wasn’t used to submitting herself, to undressing and allowing herself to be gathered up. It was one thing to open oneself up with words, to seek out the relevant and the sincere ones, to use the resonances of the logos to reveal and express herself, both to him and to herself. But now there were other sedimentations of the self, signifiers of the soul which had to be broken down, mastered, if she was to enter the Garden of Eden and entrust herself completely to a being other than herself.

The world seemed like a friend to her in those days. Not in any miraculous way, but for her, who was accustomed to cutting people out as though they were just secondary to her occasional projects and who felt somehow more concrete by doing so, it felt like coming out of herself to look at them when they passed her in the street, yes and to take care not to bump into them, and to accept the looks men threw at her without qualms. Waves of excitement gripped her again, now that gradually the few days left were passing, and she was grateful to him for his suggestion that they meet again so soon, for this now mellowed the blow of the separation for her, not just from him but from her happy wanderings through the mythological sites. In Sicily she had felt immersed in legend, the processes of logic to which she generally entrusted the decoding of reality proved themselves disarmingly inadequate in those places.

She hadn’t been counting the days. Should she just have faith and wait? She began to have doubts, whether she could or should have got in touch herself before now. Maybe he thought that nothing mattered to her now that the sirocco wasn’t there to trouble her, maybe the effort of organising a meeting was no longer worth it for him. This game one played with others was so complicated – for so long she had castled herself away on a deserted beach and filled her days with emotions but with no desire to share them with anyone else.

Like that time with that Nekrosius play, Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot performed in Italian, which went on for more than five hours. She went by herself, none of her friends had wanted to go with her, but she was fine with that. For days she hoarded the emotion she had felt and fed off it. And it mattered little to her that she had nobody there to share it with her, she was almost possessive of it.

But now, the idea of joining him made that of spending a night alone in an impersonal room seem unbearable. She still savoured the trembling of their last encounter like it was something precious, like the fire in the altar she tried to keep it alive behind her, but only so that she might pour it into another new, more intense and proximate one, she thought. That charged voice of his, almost playful, when she finally got hold of him on the telephone, made her smile and finally steadied the pitiful drift of her experience.

Anyway she would head towards that new adventure. She had made the decision, deep down, that night on the island, when he had hinted at it for the first time. Now it was just a case of arming herself with a few defence tactics, because you can never know what moves another player has up their sleeve. She was learning to grapple with a game which had its roots in antiquity yet was still always new, and whatever she might find herself up against, she had no intention of giving up.

Translation: Rosanna Forte
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