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sabato 18 giugno 2011

Cecilia a tale by Enza Li Gioi - 1st instalment

From the novel “Civico 38” - Translated by the author

The night she first met that extravagant cat lady, Cecilia was exhausted. She had been sick all day because of a food intoxication and, between a retch and another, she had sworn to her mother’s portrait that she wouldn’t have done it again. Never again in her life she would have eaten in any place, any food, prepared by anyone.
 “Never take food in places that you don’t know, where you can’t see what happens in the kitchen. Other people are not like we are, Cecilia. They knead the meatballs after excavating in their nose, they go to the toilet and don’t wash their stinking hands, they scratch their heads full of dandruff on the uncovered pens, they squeeze their pimples and…” She could still hear her voice. She continuously heard her mother’s voice. And how right she was!
But… but with all those warnings stuck in the head how can someone not feel always sick! Cecilia said angrily to herself while, sick and feeble, she entered the elevator carrying tiredly a plastic bag full of medicines and lemons.
 Showing a surprising agility, the old woman almost ran to reach her before she closed the gate.
 A stench of piss, cigarette smoke and a sort of useless perfume entered with her in the lift.
 “You have two beautiful cats.” The woman said planting on her two dark eyes embedded between puffy eyelids and bluish bags.
 “Oh… how do you know?” Asked Cecilia whose sickness was increasing in the presence of that terrible stench.
 “I see them on the window those two big vains. They spend a lot of time up there don’t you know? As soon as they have the occasion, hop! They jump. Just like mine. I have four.”
 “Oh, really?”
 “Hum… would like to know them?”
 “Oh, why not? Sure… maybe one of these days...”
 “Why not now? Look what you can do. You go upstairs and leave your shopping like a good girl and I’ll be waiting for you in my place. Oh, how silly! I forgot to introduce myself!! My name is Mariella and I live here… you see?” And the woman pulled her sleeve forcing her to get out of the lift to show her the door of her apartment. “Fourth floor, one under yours but on the other side. Just in front, understand?” The woman was talking to her as if she was a slow minded child or a stranger, accompanying her words with excessive gestures like a sort of mime.
“I always see you when you walk nervously around your apartment. I can understand you… you are alone, like me.”
Those last words produced in Cecilia an immediate sense of anxiety.
 “Okay than? Okay love? – repeated the woman shutting the gate without waiting for her answer – I’ll be waiting for you. Hurry up!”
 Cecilia went up to her apartment with a vague sense of alarm. Leonardo and Leonetto welcomed her back rubbing themselves around her ankles with an unusual voluptuousness.
Mariella’s apartment was just the same as hers. She knew that those old apartments were all the same but that one, being incredibly full of furniture and objects, looked smaller and oppressive and it seemed to Cecilia, which imagination was always running, that every single object had been collocated in its place once forever, developing even roots. The impression was emphasized by a coat of dust that seemed to weld together, like a flow of grey wax, furniture, ornaments, rugs, walls and floor.
Cecilia imagined with a shudder that pulling away one of those objects from its place it could even bleed.
Stop it, she ordered to herself. But when the door closed behind her she was assaulted by an attack of claustrophobia and her eyes ran desperately to the windows, shaded by some lace curtains so filthy to give the impression they could dissolve in the presence of the air like the frescoes of some ancient tombs reopened after centuries.
Why did she go down there? What was she doing in the place of that unknown, filthy woman, in that tremendous stench and afflicted with that odious sickness? Was it because of the authoritarian way the woman had talked to her? That way that seemed not to tolerate a refusal?
 Was it so easy to make her do things? To make her obey like a dog?
 “Here are my beloved!” Said Mariella in a voice vibrant with proud. On the sofa, lain down on a filthy scarf, four cats of different sizes and colours were staring at Cecilia with a total indifference.
 “Oh, how nice they are! What are their names , madam?”
 “Ooooh, what are their names, madam?” Repeated Mariella in a mockery tone.
 “I beg your pardon?” Cecilia turned her head in alarm, her heart jumping.
 “Why don’t you just call me Mariella?” Said the woman going back to a normal voice and showing on the face an expression of shyness and uncertain expectation but also of embarrassment for that childish behavior.
 “Oh… okay.” Answered Cecilia, still shocked and also not used to be too familiar to such an old person.
 “I’m not as old as you imagine – said Mariella as if she could read in her thoughts – I am only sixty seven, you know? Well, I know I look older but…who cares? I have been beautiful for so long that it finished to bore me.”
 Cecilia thought, feeling immediately guilty, that of all that beauty very little remained.
 Mariella offered her a cup of coffee, that she quickly refused with a shudder, and told her many things about herself and her life while Cecilia was sitting uncomfortable on the edge of a wrecked armchair fully covered with cat hair.
 For forty years Mariella had been a primary school teacher and that long experience with children had made her hate all of them together with the rest of the mankind that anyway she had always hated. Animals were much superior. Human beings should take lessons from them. They were disgusting the so called human beings in their continuous, shameful search of money, and consumes, and sex and all those material things.
Cecilia relaxed and listened with a certain curiosity that monologue that made her visit, unexpectedly, a world of loneliness, resentment and slight insanity of which existence she had never suspected.
Mariella also gave her some good advices on shops where to buy at low prices food and other things for cats and gave her a coupon to support the antivivisection league with a small contribute and, before she left, she asked if she was free the next Sunday because, if she had nothing special to do, she would have shown her something unforgettable.
For some mysterious reason Cecilia went up to the fifth floor in a state of confusion and anxiety.
That Sunday morning Cecilia made the acquaintance of Nadia. Mariella woke her up at eight, an unthinkable time for Cecilia’s habits, and shocked her with her hit and run driving of the old yellow Volks Wagen. On the way she forced the passersby who dared cross the road at her passage to jump in terror to the sides of the street and she was determined to run over a couple of immigrates who, at the traffic light, offered her to wash the windscreen of the car which was indeed very dirty. To confirm her words, at their insistence she accelerated. Moreover, during the whole trip she kept screaming vulgarities to passersby and other drivers. Nadia was the fattiest woman Cecilia had ever seen. She had an enormous body wrapped in a blue jumpsuit and wore a pair of flip flop sandals. Her feet were swollen, bluish and full of corns, like the hands, moist with water and bleach, that the woman offered her with a childish and disarming smile.
 Mariella’s car turned out to be a sort of little mobile warehouse stuffed as it was with every kind of food and particularly of cat food.
 The fat woman started immediately to unload it , urged by Mariella who gave her sharp orders standing in an authoritarian pose, hands on the hips and cigarette stuck in a corner of the mouth.
 “Can I give you a hand?” Asked Cecilia just to say something.
 “Oh no, Cecilia, thank you. I could never accept a help from a friend of Mariella’s. She is helping enough, don’t you think so? Just look at what she’s bringing to me every Sunday!”
 The woman entered the building and led Cecilia to a small basement apartment where tens of sleepy cats lied down on furniture, chairs, floor, on the sills of the narrow windows touching the level of the street, in shoe boxes full of sawdust scattered all over. Cats, cats and cats. Cecilia felt dizzy but was fascinated by that scene.
 “Oh my! – She said in amazement – How many are they?”
 “Sixty two – answered the big woman. – This is the last one. His name is Cechetto* because a bloody bastard, a blasted beast, ripped his eyes off. You see?”And she showed Cecilia the little snout of the kitten in which two round, red wounds, seemed to stare at her from a vertiginous deepness.
 Cecilia turned her eyes away, her heart torn with pity.
 When Nadia had finished to unload the car, Cecilia asked Mariella how did the two women meet and she told her she first met the fat woman when this one was already keeping in her apartment ten or twelve cats and lived in poverty working sometimes as a domestic in private families. From then Mariella took the burden to give the woman a complete support as long as she only took care of the alley cats and kept in her apartment as many as possible.
 Overflowing from an insecure, greenish plastic chair, Nadia listened and nodded in agreement with a dozen of cats on her, similar to a big trestle covered with foam.
 “Mariella is so good and generous, you know? - She said - She brings us everything… to me and these poor little creatures. Neither a mother would do what she does for me.” Two tears tried to get out of her eyes, immediately reabsorbed as if by magic, so that Cecilia wasn’t sure to have really seemed them. She felt in a slight discomfort while a light shudder run down her spine.
 “Would you like a cup of coffee, Cecilia?” Asked the woman.
 “No! N… no, thank you. – Almost shouted Cecilia, terrorized at the sole idea of drinking anything in that place. - I never drink coffee, thank you, it makes me nervous.”
 “Well, give her something else – said Mariella – I don’t know… a glass of milk? You didn’t have your breakfast this morning, have you?”
 My God! “Oh no!- She said in horror - Thank you, I don’t…”
 “Oh, give her that milk, come on! The poor thing is timid.”
 “No, I… the fact is that…”
 Nadia stood up heavily from the chair, took an opaque and spotted glass and poured in it some yellowish milk from a battered sauce pen that was left uncovered on the table, to the reach of all the cats.
 Help! Help me mom! Help! Cecilia felt like a trapped animal.
 “C’mon, drink!” Ordered her Mariella with an unpleasant little grin.
 Ashamed for being so coward Cecilia took the glass to her lips feeling already a violent retch climbing to her throat.
 She swallowed a sip of that warm milk that had a vague taste of rubber and almost fainted with disgust when she felt on the tongue a sort of strange little grains.
“I suspect you are a bit squeamish, aren’t you?” Said Mariella observing her with that disagreeable little grin still havering on her ugly face.
Cecilia felt as if someone had lifted her skirt revealing some unclean pants. She swallowed the whole milk in a gulp. She would have been sick later, not now.
 “Why should I be squeamish?” She asked with a certain aggressiveness.
 “Oh, never mind. C’mon, let’s go.” Cut out Mariella standing up and shaking a cloud of cat hair off her skirt. “Oh, Cecilia, don’t forget to leave a contribute to Nadia, okay?” She said before getting out.
 “Well, I… I came out without money, you know that. When you came I was still asleep and…” Cecilia was completely confused.
 “Okay, okay! – She interrupted with a half indulgent and half impatient tone. – Il means that this time I will advance her some money for you and you will give it back to me.” And with these words she took off the bag a banknote of fifty thousand lire and handed it to Nadia. “There you go, on the part of Cecilia, – she said – with all her heart. Say thank you.”
 “Thank you Cecilia.” Said the woman rubbing a foot on the floor like an embarrassed child.
 “Oh… don’t mention it.”
 But Cecilia was angry. Not for the money ,to which she didn’t give much importance, but for a question of politeness. She could have prevented her, couldn’t she? Or at least she could have asked her in advance weather she wanted to contribute and how much she was intentioned to offer.
 On the way back no one of them spoke. But Cecilia had the impression that Mariella’s silence was heavier than hers.

(To be continued)

*Diminutive of cieco, the Italian for blind. Little blind.

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