by Claudia Ravaldi

Since she entered the room, who has warned her? She hasn’t left my bed for an instant, my sweetheart in a white coat, Lara, my granddaughter, my beautiful trusted doctor. How long will it be?

The weather. In what unreal way does time flow in hospitals? Tugging. Interminable for weeks, eyes fixed beyond the window panes, suddenly bursts into unexpected gallops, instants of determined voices, footsteps, doors slamming, and you just wait for the stillness to return. Lara calls me back to the present.

“Now I’ll take care of it, Grandma Anna, don’t worry anymore.” He took a case from his pocket, two brass-colored needles, two light, symmetrical pangs. He fixed them firmly, just above the crease of the wrists, on the inside. While I was prevaricating: “Are you pricking me? What cure is this, Ninin?”, “You know grandma, it’s my acupuncture. This is the fifth point of your Heart channel. In Chinese it is called Tongli . Quiet, trust me, “reassuring far beyond what he intended. The fifth point of my heart, the first, Gabriel.

That was how I remembered this morning and I understood. Gabriele would have been, he was, the fifth little brother, the first boy. “This is a beautiful boy,” the grandmother had been repeating for months, “Pointy belly does not lie.” I was the oldest of four sisters, the daughters of the pharmacist from Narni, The delivery was quick, eight low, silent and invisible socks outside mum and dad’s room. My mum lying down was blowing and crying sweat while Gabriele saw the light dying. For years we dined with his empty high chair and plates and cutlery set for him too, and sometimes there was really, an angel. Other times we dined while waiting.

Last night I entered the door well before dawn, everyone in the house was sleeping soundly. I wandered for hours on pavements paved with faces and voices, noises and smells, the first breaths of the rising sun. Don’t ask me where. Then honking like stones, all a shouting around, a mad din to which I replied angrily. The beam of orange light at times blinded. Was I screaming? Suddenly I slammed into the eyes of the baker behind the house, petrified with the shutter in mid-air he greeted me as if everything were normal, with that jovial way of his. “Greetings to you, Alessio, have a good day.” Answering him calmed me and I shut up. In the ambulance, a doctor, perhaps a nurse, asked me my name. “Gabriele,” I answered firmly. “But dear lady, how can a woman have a male name?” he did, provocative and sly. “What day is today? Where are we, madam?” he added. The interrogation. Having already seen this too, and my denial: “Totally disoriented in space and time, and even by heart, we are beyond the end of reserve, senile dementia”. So I heard him mumble to that other driver, senile dementia, as if he were another race, a Martian species. It is here, I believe, that I am angry again. What does this chubby boy say about my memories and my life? Memory. We live have no memory. We live are memory, living memory that perpetuates itself, indefatigable, generation after generation. So my name is Gabriel, boy, believe it or not. I, my boy, am not my name, nor my address, of which, right now, I really don’t know anything, nor do I intend to know. I don’t know what day it is today, nor the name of this district, town, city it is, but you sure, boy, you don’t understand how this means nothing, the true memory is different, and I have a lot of true memory. It is you who do not understand not me, how can you explain it to you better than with this silence? perhaps now, with these cries of mine? And now please, do not invest me with infallible questions and questionnaires and tests, bullshit, pastimes for you brainy gentlemen, professors dressed in Facis, starched luminaries with two degrees on the wall, real or fake they are. I certainly don’t know how to solve your games and I don’t even want to, but I have a lot of true memory.

What do you think boy? This body of mine, now soft and plump, is almost eighty years old, you know, this body of mine remembers, everything it remembers. I was once a slender and sensual brunette doe. I walked an inch off the ground looking for blueberries and raspberries in the woods, early in the morning, with Eleonora. It was there that we met Antonio, my poor Antonio, went around the mountains for mushrooms, at other times we had noticed him. Today he had two baskets like that, full of blacks. The following year we went married. But immediately the war came, he went paratrooper to the Folgore, I didn’t even try to hold him back, he was such a big head … When he returned, more than three years later, our life started again overnight, almost as if he had missed it. only for the time of harvesting the grain. Antonio and Anna, it was true love. Last year we celebrated our golden wedding anniversary, fifty years of love, side by side, always, every morning, every evening. Think, boy, fifty years together, yarn spun. Then my Antonio left, like a puppy, in my arms. I saw him put his hand around his neck and gasp. “Don’t leave me alone, love,” she whispered, shaking my hands. “I’m cold. Don’t leave me now.” The following instant passed away. I didn’t leave him. I’ll never leave you, Antonio. I know well, he died, I accompanied him to the burial and I didn’t cry a single tear. Why crying? It was very much alive in me. I threw a handful of earth into the pit with my oath: I will find you love and I will always be close to you. This is why every time I go away, I come in search of you, my love, and I inevitably find you. How could I not? You are everywhere, Antonio, in the eyes of every person, in the faces, in the voices. You are all life, love.

You can’t understand, my handsome boy dressed in white, I keep everything tight inside myself, you can’t imagine how much. Memory right into my cells, year side by year, face side to face, still vital, true, real, alive in my flesh, in these wrinkles on my face, I am history. I live for them and I live for this girl, Lara, and I live for the children of the children who, rest assured, will come into this world as they always have come. And you stop it, you too educated babes that you are, stop not trusting yourself, doubting your own mind. What do you think? We remember what is truly valuable to us, we forget what has no real value. You can be sure, boy, you will never forget your son’s name, and the color of his eyes and his voice neither, but all that nonsense: He was, since motionless, given the mortal sigh … I have helped young generations to memorize verses that meant nothing to them, and neither to me. To the poets, perhaps … And then, what do we expect? The immemorial remains stood …You don’t learn death and geography from books. Death teaches you life, living it, who else ?, and the geography that really matters is a vast territory less than two meters, warm topography of valleys and mountains and oceans and shapes of those sixty kilos of life whose eyes are now on you looking, and you realize that they are worth the world. Memory…

Memory is vitality. Billions of cells in synchronous and incessant activity, chromosomes, genes by the millions keep the memory of millennia of life intact and the present comes from it. What did you think, boy? I also studied Pharmacy at Sapienza in Rome. So I know that various apes and pythecanthropes from the most remote past of the planet are breathing in us every moment. This is the only true memory, the one that is not mistaken, the organic one, blood not crosswords. Let that other memory go wrong, keep your head free, empty, ready. Do not waste your mind, it will be comfortable for you. Fresh head, my cousin Fernando repeated, tapping his temple with his index finger, he was a farmhand but as for intuition …

“Come on grandma, now tell this gentleman what your name is. Do it for me.” Lara distracts me again, stubborn and pleading. An imposing big face silently observes me two palms away from me, and then I say it: “My name is Gabriele. Don’t insist any more, guys.” But then, seeing my granddaughter feel sorry, how can I resist her? “Okay. It is not true professor, my name is not Gabriele. My name is Gabriella. I am my daughter. I am the mother of this treasure. She graduated last year. She is very good, you know, my Lara. Always been. “” But now do me a big favor, you naughty guys. Go a little farther and chat. Do not keep me impatient, you and your platitudes, because I am old, tired, exhausted, and this tremor only increases. It will be this heat, this humidity. But where are we here? And remember, Ninin, that fifth point of the Heart channel of yours works, but it’s not called Tongli . What name would that be? His name is Gabriele. “

Half-closed eyes I listen to their footsteps moving away on the marble corridor, psychiatry ward, as usual, I guess. I raise my eyes and observe them, Ninin and Mr. Great Professor, a gazelle and an orangutan from behind. White coats like uniforms, phonendoscopes like badges and frogs, psychiatric hospitals like prisons, ghettos for impeded minds, prisons for forced, foreclosed brains. Are we in the trenches? Are we at war? Are we imprisoned? This is where my legs move, in the opposite direction to those two.

There is another Gabriel in my family, my nephew Gabriel, for everyone he was a Nazarene because of some of his calm and absorbed and also determined ways, which amazed in such a puppy. He grew big and strong, and as good as bread. While still a boy he practiced boxing at the Narni gym. As far as Florence they had called him to fight and he had returned with a sash and medal, and a photograph in the Gazzetta. That sheet had ended up framed on the wall, a pink rectangle next to the fireplace. How much he cared.

He smiled boldly, it was clear that he was afraid but that he was trying to reassure us, when the Germans came to take him. They accused him of flanking the resistance. They were waving an anonymous letter. They shouted incomprehensible insults in German. They took him away at noon, with the soup tureen smoking in the middle of the table and the bread already nice and cut. Raus . Our father didn’t even get up from the table. He was motionless, hard, contracted. Even after the sound of the truck died away, he didn’t speak, he didn’t move. Soup and bread no one touched them. Dad reunited us a month later. He said he didn’t know whether or not Nazarene was from the resistance. His nephew had never been a hotheaded one, but ideals and a sense of justice yes, of course, like every good young man, and perhaps even more so, Nazarene had them. He added that he had been in the German command several times, and that he had tried them all. He swore that he personally took all responsibility, he cried, he knelt down, they took him but let the boy go. He had also offered some money, a ransom, but there had been nothing to do in fact he had the impression that he had almost made things worse. He informed us that he had had the papers prepared, now she was Donna Fiorita, our mother, the owner of the farmhouse and the fields. I, who had a degree, touched the counter in the pharmacy. He was going to the Apennines because the Gabriele affair could not, should not, end like this. We were a great family, healthy, united, we took care to keep ourselves that way. He hugged us one by one, grandmother Cristina was crying. They left the following night, Dino, our sharecropper, also went with him and brought the wolf. We all remained, a family of women. Soon we moved to the farmhouse, which had remained empty, and rented the house in Narni. Months later, at lunchtime, we heard Bullo bark, we ran out into the yard. He was alone, thin, trembling, our mother did not part with him since then as long as she lived. Months later the pharmacy was requisitioned and at me who was shouting my disgust, the German commander whispered that I had beautiful Jewish features, it was better to stay calm, and caress my hair. Damn you. Sometimes I meet him in my dreams and I hate him even more. We had the fields left, and they were enough to grow everyone. The earth is like this, it does not betray, how much work you give it returns multiplied and adds more of its own.

We didn’t know anything more about our father, neither about the sharecropper, my nephew Gabriele instead I saw him again several years later, fattened not to recognize him. He told us that once he was incarcerated the SS had deported him to the French south, to Carcassonne, don’t forget a name like that. A convoy crammed with terrified poor people, guilty only of living, too many have vanished into the nothingness of such infernal wagons. “Nine days of a sealed journey, hand to hand, you couldn’t even sit down, you fasted, worse than animals. The waiting, the uncertainty, the anguish crumbled you, only whispered, terrible voices. moment not to go crazy. ” As soon as he landed, glimpsing the concentration camp at the back, he tried to escape. “It seemed to me a cemetery of the living. Ferocity and resignation. I didn’t choose, my legs turned on themselves, turned around, I left the line. “Walk slowly, look down,” I repeated to myself. “So I went through the gate of the boards nailed with barbed wire. It was raining. The attendant could not fail to see me, he was smoking next to the bar buried in the oilcloth of the order, in practice I touched him. Of course he decided to help me, who knows how many he had seen, he took his own risk and it was good for both of us. Once in the bush I didn’t even try to return to Italy, I remained clandestine in Provence and less than two years later I had a family in Marseille, “he concluded, pointing proudly to his wife and daughter. Listening to him I compared his features with my memories, but nothing, by now he was really a foreigner, Gabriele the French.

The weather is refreshed tonight. I hug in my black squared shawl, I can’t make them any more precise crochet work like this. I have made of cross stitches and shawls … I no longer have the patience, the eyes, the hands. Now I only know how to tremble, slave of my mind in fragments that makes only shreds of past and present, the splintered lens of a skewed telescope. My dear Antonio, at least you have spared this. What do the doctors say? Auschwitz? No, Alhzeimer . A shiver brings me back to myself. Pacing the memories with a labored breath, I arrived at the entrance of the hospital, at the exit, it is guarded by a large wrought iron gate, luckily there are no sentries and barbed wire here. It is ajar. I turn to look at the white gravel driveway framed by the row of poplars: “Libera”. I resume my journey, goodbye asylum, I already feel light, “Free all” I hum. Leaving the road I enter the countryside, the grass is knee-high. Between holes and obstacles I have lost my slippers, I also take off my leggings, they are useless, I walk barefoot in the dew, it is already dark. I struggle to catch my breath. My heart tumbles into my body, I wait for it to calm down, it struggles. In the sky, neither moon nor stars, on earth, cicadas with bass drum, here and there, fireflies, blessed my little treasures of that time, I had not met you for a long time, I feared you were also lost, instead you were waiting for me up here, at the end of the world . The wind makes the night adhere to my hollow cheeks, “Free all” he whispers. I crouch down. Sleeping outdoors, under this sky, you know happiness. Where do these damned sobs come from then? Hug me my Antonio, do it now, and hold me, kiss me stupid.

Carlo Moiraghi.

Winner of the Literary Competition The Words of Love, 2011

Published in the anthology ” The songs are Angels”

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