FRANCO RICCIARDIELLO

Michela and the Neutron bomb

Winner of Premio Italia award 1988 for the best non-professional story

translated by the author and Francis Sgambelluri

 

 

Pretending to stretch towards the fruit dish, I thrust the knife into my wife's heart.

I had been premeditating this for a long time, but at the moment of acting I was quivering like a baby: I moved my hand on impulse towards the aluminium dish on Michela's left, in the corner of the small square table where we had just finished our light dinner; yet I carried in my fingers the sharp blade of a bread knife, upon which I leant all my weight.

Michela became aware of it at the last moment and tried to raise a hand to stop me, but too late. I  myself felt the quivering of the stroke; the weapon stopped at the hilt after stretching against her rib. I rested for a second and leant forward across the table, then I dropped down on my chair.

Michela kept still at her seat, as white as Death, her palms on the table cloth close to the cutlery. I lowered my eyes to the dish and heard the sudden scream of the woman sitting at the near table, then a sound like crushed kitchenware: the waiter had let the plates fall to the floor and was looking dismayed at us.

I found the strength to look at Michela, who still was watching me. A tear was dropping from her eyes to her chin, her face looked younger than her age. She was quivering. She had not the courage to  see what I was seeing: the knife driven into her breast to the hilt, the scarlet stain that was spreading on her cambric shirt.

The fainthearted people around kept a wide berth to us: the pale waiter on the threshold, the customers at their table, the girl in apron close to the hors d'oeuvre counter. Michela raised a hand to her breast, eye-closed and tight-teeth, and threw the knife out of it; she rested her hand on the breast  and, without trying to prevent her own teeth from grinding she tried to plug the blood.

While I was staring at the remains into my dish, she could finally speak. “Let's go back to the hotel,” she faltered, “I beg you.”

No one moved, no one breathed. Michela tried to stand up, but fell back to her chair; then I helped her, very slowly, intentionally ignoring the bitter taste of regret for what I had just done. I held her arm and she leant against my shoulder like the first time, years ago in that very city. I surrounded her waist and escorted her to the cloakstand, draped the cape on her shoulders and then we went out the restaurant as no one dared to stop us or even to stir. On the small table, between the glass vase with the fresh cut mimosa and the torn napkin, the knife was stained with blood.

Michela walked uncertainly to the first ferry stop, without one word, without looking at me,  without a lament; just out of the restaurant, I turned to the shopwindows gleaming gold: the customers and waiters were standing still, knowing that their lives were going to change from that very moment.

On the ferryboat, nobody noticed the stain of blood on her blouse, thanks to the cape buttoned to Michela's neck. I would like to ask her if she felt well, but for an inflexible principle I did not do it; anyway, I felt unprepared confronted with her resignation. In my min, while setting the scene, from her cut heart did not come blood but Michela got frightened and fell to the floor, overturning her chair and dragging the tablecloth. At first I thought to do it at home, then I persuaded myself to do it in public, so that I could study the reaction of strangers: which better chance than the trip to Venice for carnival?

We came out of the ferryboat; Michela looked smaller, minute shoulders under her cape, her still unbelieving head that did not look for my eyes. She stumbled, I supported her; at the hotel, with the room key in my hand, we took the ironwrought lift. In the silence of the night, far away from the uproar of carousels in the calli (1), I thought to catch her breath.

In the room I helped her to undress; she had not the courage to take her blouse off, and I had to help her. The wound had healed up, but the skin around was dark with broken vessels. I cleansed the cut and threw away the shirt stained with blood. I made her drink a glass of water. Finally I sat on the edge of the bed, upon the tight blanket, waiting for her to come out of the bathroom to tell me anything she knew.

* * *

It was the eve of last Sunday of carnival; five years before, on the same day, I had met Michela in Venice. In spite of the years that passed, Michela appeared to be as young as then; and the cape she loved to wear, that perhaps was to her the very  symbol of carnival, made this night even more like the other.

On that Saturday night, just arrived from Turin, I found a room in a pensione in Mestre; I went downtown to Venice with my cape until my feet and a cocked hat on my  head. There were already a lot of masqued people, a strong human river that came in and out the cafes, was swarming in the calli, stepping the bridges, filling the squares. I let myself to be carried away up and down Sestiere San Marco by the streams of people on holidays, looking the youngsters play music, the mimes with painted faces on the corner of the churches, the sellers of china and paperpulp masks, the muffled up children, the amateur photographers trying to divine the girl's features under their make up. In the surroundings of the Accademia I stepped into a campo (2) where they rose a stand to dance: there were hundreds of persons, anyone with mask, and neon lights and café sign boards. A  band with acoustic instrumentation played Renaissance tunes, charming ballads of another time that no one in the audience seemed able to dance, although everyone tried to feel a protagonist himself. Even more, the city seemed to me a touchstone to the rest of the world that kept on changing. Shall the substance of Venice ever change? And if yes, what will happen to the world? Will it be the same?

Standing in the front row amongst the non-dancing spectators, I looked at the turmoil on the stand, the promiscuity of time and space of the masks. I stared at the girls laughing and talking in one another's ear: there was one in dark cape and high heeled shoes, nut brown hair and a bautta on her eyes, who danced right in front of me as she was going to pass an examination.

Amongst those I could see, she was the one who could feel the spirit of music better than anybody else. I did desire to dance with her, though I had never done this; I stared at her gloves drawing tridimensional parabola in the night all  around her body, her wavy hair following every movement of her head, the tails of  her cape that unveiled and revealed at every step her blue dress.

I lost her because of a whirl of dancers, and remained in the second row. I was going to turn back to piazza San Marco when the masqued girl appeared in front of me, taking my arm with her hands. “Do you want to dance?” she asked. It was her, the girl I had admired just before. I forgot I was not able to dance. Before I could answer, the crowd closed again raising around us a barrier of sound that only the music could pierce.

I hardly felt her hands on my shoulders, through the tissue of my cape. Under the bautta (3) covering the upper part of her face, I saw her neat lips, her chin, circle earrings as large as a coin. We talked dancing; I was worried about treading on her toes, about  falling out of step or words. Upon me she had the advantage to see my face because I wore only a cocked hat. I approached her,  dancing, aided by her cape being wrapped on one of her shoulders; on the other hand, the tail touched lightly her knees on every step. I felt her slender sides under my hands, and even the cloth of her dress was soft like skin on my fingertips.

I  do not know how long we rested, listening to the musicians more and more tired;  finally I helped my purple cheek lady to go down the stand, and we walked to a café. The saraband outside kept on going for hours while at the marble counter of the bar I could at last admire Michela's face in full, the bautta abandoned under her neck, ribbon-loosened.

The music ended, the people kept on sailing on the calli and on the bridges,  coasting under the balconies and from one café to the next one so to delay the hour of return, in a continuous rearguard scuffle against the night. We found  ourselves among the crowd, refusing to part; we followed groups of dragoons and maids until we reached the Via nuova. We retired at a walking pace towards the railway station, pausing nearly at every step, sitting on the edge of bricked-up wells, chatting on the  staircases of churches, watching with veneration the reflex of lights in the canals.

Dawn found us on the Ponte delle Guglie, sitting with knees in our hands, still talking about ourselves and about the others. There we went back in silence with the utmost respect for Venice and that sweet March morning, to Santa Lucia railway  station, Michela hanged on my shoulder, nimble and sad like that night, five  years later, when I would thrust the bread knife into her heart.

* * *

A few minutes later Michela came out of the bathroom with a large bath towel  draped to cover her breast, so that with a certain relief I could not see the wound. Uncertain if she was supposed to come closer, she stopped in the middle of the bedroom, barefoot on the blue moquette. “For how long have you been knowing the truth?” she asked. As I did not intend to scare her anymore, I lowered my eyes to my toes. “For months,” I answered.

“Months…” Michela seemed to look for confirmation out of the window, in the maze of   calli and electric lightning of the city. “What has made you to understand that?” She asked, waking me up from the fancy that had stolen me. I sighed. "Dreams,” I answered.

“Dreams?” she repeated unbelieving, and then, “Of course, you can't control the dreams…”

I shook my head. “No, not like that," I said. Part of my conscience was saying me that there was no use speaking to her; the other part repeated that, after so many years together, it was as if Michela were really my wife, therefore I owed her some explanations.

I  watched almost unbelieving - and with reason, I thought - the perfect curves of her legs, the ideal details of her knees, the naked socket that the towel was not able to cover. “Not like that,” I explained, “Simply, you have no idea about what a dream is like. You borrowed from a patrimony of descriptions that only comes close to reality; everyone of your books I have read is not able to describe even one of my nightmares.”

She came to bed, sitting on the edge. “So it was so easy, wasn't it?"

Easy? “The solution revealed in dream,” I said again, staring at one point on the front wall. “Having no direct experience, you have never been able to create credible dreams.”

“We can count upon an enormous documentation that was  left,” she sighed.

“That's worth nothing,” said I, "I record in my subconscious the stimula that strike back at night. New unusual stimula mean dreams out of every documentation.  At first I didn't care, but lately appeared forewarning dreams and everything fitted with a terrifying and unquestionable perfection.”

“Terrifying...  incontestable...” resumed Michela. “And now? How do you feel, what are you going to do?”

I did not even ask it to myself, neither after my resolution to thrust the knife  into my  wife’s heart to verify if her form of life was different from mine.

"Are you going to go?” She asked in a qualm of anxiety.

Only then I became aware of the fact I had no idea of what to do, on that Saturday early morning. How was it possible to think of the future in a city like Venice?  "I don't know" I replied. Indeed I did not. And Michela and Venice could not help me. I had to know more.

"What  happened?” I found the strength to ask, becoming suddenly aware of my useless knowledge of the world; “When did it happen? Has it always been like this?”

“Forgive me,” said Michela winking. In spite of this, I saw a warm tear trickle off her cheeks and down to her knees. “Forgive us all..”

* * *

Sunday of carnival, five years before. I awoke late, much later than lunchtime, remembering of a dream: I was inside a park with Michela, the girl I had met the night before, among a crowd of masks. We were making love.

She had given me the address of her pensione in Mestre; I went out and a few minutes later I was knocking at her door.

“It is almost dinner time,” I said when she opened, hair in her eyes and still smelling of sleep.

Seeing I was masqued with a just bought bautta under my cocked hat, she wore her cape and was ready to come outside.

The night fell in a hurry while at the entrance of the Fenice we were  attending the free performance of some mimes. We  entered one restaurant at random, the same one where five years later I would have held a bread knife unsteadily.

At the end of our meal, the crowd was overheated. We followed a platoon of yellow and white ducks until Rialto bridge, where we got rid of the stream and leant on  Canal Grande, large and motionless under the moonlight. I was amazed by that adventure I felt really essential in my life, and without speaking I thought

it was understood that since that moment we would never part.

We wandered about aimlessly; suddenly I recovered and watched around just to  understand where we were. There was no music anymore, neither sounds, only the steps of the crowd around us; I felt Michela's quiet hand into mine and a crawling cold trying to find its way into my neck. Michela walked thinking of something else, her look lost in the windows of front houses - for what I could see under her bautta.

I caught something unusual; I watched the crowd: everybody, adult or children, man or woman, was dressed ordinarily but wearing a mask on his or her face, by cardboard or paper pulp, plastic or paper. There were a few people, but everyone we  met seemed to adopt the same style: raincoat and mask, jacket and mask, full coat and mask. No more hussars, fairies, Egyptians in heavy coloured socks,   capercaillies, Napoleon, Cleopatra, Leonardo da Vinci: only workers, employees, retailers, elderly women with the same, anonymous, aseptic masks.

I looked if Michela had noticed, but she seemed diverted. I stopped at the corner of a small calle, dark and dump, where I plucked Michela by the hand, holding her in my arms.

"What happens?” she asked watching around and noticing we were alone, then she smiled and kissed me. “You look pale,” said watching narrowly, “are you all right?”

I was thinking of the faceless army swarming upon the four thousands islands of Venice, of the colourless tide with artificial features: because in that moment,   in the dark lane with Michela in my arms, I was afraid that the faceless people had invaded all the world.

Michela slackened her bautta to the chin. “Is there something bad?" she asked worrily. She made me gentle. Hiding the quivering of my lips, I kissed her then gathered my courage and with a few silent steps we went outside the lane; a group of foam rubber tomatoes almost hurled us upside down, followed by a bear with his puppy on the shoulders. I wiped off my eyes with the palm of my hand.

“Can I help you?” whispered Michela in my ear. “Thanks, it's gone,” I answered.

It was the end of Sunday.

* * *

I felt compassion for Michela with a towel on her shoulders. The  heating had been turned off since many hours in the hotel room. “Cover yourself, you ought to be cold," said I. I felt her quivering, but she did not make a move; I stretched my fingers until the cape, near me on the bed blanket, and held it out to her. She wrapped, leaning her shoulders on the headpiece of the bed. “When did it happen?" I said,  “Has it always been  like this?”

“No, not always, of course,” she answered at last. “You were younger than one year.”

I shook my head, without knowing what to think. I felt the tears under the glass of my eyes. “The war?” I asked, "A plague? The sun? Nuclear power?”

Michela swallowed and wrapped up herself better in her cape. “The neutron bomb," replied then.

The neutron. I rose, turned my back and stepped to the bathroom; before reeling past the door, I turned and asked in a faint voice: “How many of us?"

Michela rose, while the cape and the towel glipped to the floor; under the  curve of her left breast, there was a  dark ecchimosis. “Only you," she spelled.

I vomited all the dinner out in the sink, screaming like a dog under the lancets of vivisection. I thought I would vomit forth my own stomach. When I became able to focus the watertap, bent on the washstand with my hands on the wall, I felt the hand of Michela on my shoulder. I rose my head to the glass and saw our faces, hers behind mine, unavoidably palid under the white neon light.

I gasped, then I could concentrate on my heartbeat and slow it down. I washed my face, remembering when I did it for the first time in that Mestre pensione with Michela.

I felt her leaning to my back. I lowered my head, then turned to her resting on the wall. She looked for my eyes: "Gone?”

I could not think of her as a human being. She wasn’t a human being. I tried again to slacken the rhythm of my heartbeat then, worked by a doubt, I rose a hand just to rest it upon the breast of Michela, there where her heart was. I stopped no closer than one millimetre from her skin, thinking that it was wrong to make an experiment with her. Michela realised anything just by the look in my eyes. “It does beat," she confirmed.I laid my fingertips; her skin was warm, right as mine and I felt the beating as always. Michela startled faintly, clenching her teeth to resist the pain from the bruise.

I breathed out of my lungs, thinking of that absurdity I had done, but the other side of myself said that Michela had not my own rights, that probably it was not a real heart that bite under her breast but something to counterfeit it.

"So the world doesn't exist?" I asked in the neon light, refusing to quiver on behalf of my wife, naked in the unheated bathroom. "All the people don't exist, the mistakes and cruelty, the ignorance and the heroes? Aren't real Ronald  Reagan and Gorbachëv, Konchalovskij and Ingmar Bergman, Bob Dylan and Lucio Battisti (4), Oriana Fallaci (5) and García Márquez, Evtušenko and García Lorca, Albert Schweitzer and Gandhi? Are they just old TV recordings, spared by the bomb?"

* * *

Monday of carnival. I woke up and for a moment I could not find out where I vas;  then I remembered I was together with Michela in her pensione room where I decided to proceed until I had to go back to Turin. I passed a hand through my hair, then looked at Michela under the blankets, by my side; I rested my hand on her hip and she turned to me, apparently already awake.

“It's almost noon," I said, "It's time to have lunch."

“You're going to make me fat,” she replied with mixed up voice. We  went out in the air sweetened by the sun of March; Michela wore the only dress she had been wearing since I met her: the cape and the black bautta. We chose not to take the ferryboat and to walk the calli, watching the shopwindows. Being not hungry, we walked for hours, planning our last night in Venice: at any cost she wanted us to attend a masqued ball in a private house, for which she had two invitations.

When we arrived at the place, I thought that in the end I had been right in accepting: a wallet opened for us the door into the foundations of the island, and we ascended a high, cold staircase. There were a lot of people, and not everyone knew indeed one another; Michela said hello to someone here and there.

We lounged around the aperitifs counter; everybody wanted to be amused at any cost, but I drew cautiously aside, moody for something I could not define: perhaps a bad dream, as I woke up with this feeling that morning.

After a while Michela guided me upon a staircase, and we ran a long corridor painted in fresco, with large windows on one side and white doors on the other.

Our steps resounded amplified as the only other sounds came soothed from the lower floor; Michela opened the last door of the corridor, closing it behind us, and we found at the bottom of a new staircase. At its top we went outside on the roof,   in the starless night. Shivering and wrapping up in my cape, I stepped along the ridge: there was an iron ladder that lead down to the moulding to join some aerial path lost in the thousand ways of the roofs, as if existed another city laid down upon the Venice that is known to tourists.

I saw people walking in the calli and dancing in the enlightened right-angle of piazza San Marco, not so far away. Spots of golden light cut the sky, revealed by the nightly evaporation.

I remembered the nightmare of the previous day: rivers of faceless people walking  and the cold hand of anguish grasped my heart. Maybe my apprehension was still due to that episode.

Michela enlightened when I turned to look at her and said she had an idea to leave the party without clamour. She took me by the hand leading me along the moulding to  the ladder. I was afraid she could hurt herself because of the heels, but I followed her; we ran the moulding with its iron balustrade, crossed an inclined roof with steps, forded a flat terrace with a stone gallery, then crossed right a bridge suspended on the top of a calle and went down at last through the garret window of a half detached house, laughing.

The night walk had been charming and enticing, having as only guide the dark shade of Michela's cape right before me and her encouragement laugh.

We found ourselves in a calle, where a group of boys with brightly painted faces were dancing to the music that from campo San Polo was crawling till there. We drew aside to watch that silent company with too serious faces to be amusing. I felt the dump wall against my head and skimming the surface I saw there was a freshly glued placard. Michela read with me.

On the placard was painted the tall phallic mushroom of a nuclear explosion and a poem in bold white letters: “Do you remember, / we were standing in the Town Hall Gallery close to Christ, / watching from the window / two boys / sticking the placard / STOP THE NEUTRON BOMB / LIKE ANY OTHER BOMB? / Do you know what I was thinking then? / I was thinking that / for the neutron bomb / I am less than an object, / if the bomb, / kindly saving any object, / will never ever think of saving me.”

I felt the blood freeze in my veins. Michela was astonished too, although for another reason: not because she was seeing a presage in the poster, but something awkward in that time and in that place.

I wept my forehead, then looked far the time: it was midnight; Thursday was beginning.

* * *

It was dawn in the hotel room. In the course of that  night, from the moment I stabbed Michela's heart and to that instant, a whole world had disappeared: the planet Earth I knew in my imagination. It had been demolished for the second time.

I  walked up and down the room while Michela, or the being I knew with this name, she sat hands in bosom.

“Everything seems so perfect, so organised. Who was to plan everything?"

“P1an?” she replied without understanding, “Nobody, I believe. Nobody  could  ever  think the whole humanity would disappear. Everybody but one.”

“Then, if you have no leader, which is the logic you follow? Who did command you to marry me?”

She stood silent. We ceased speaking. I heard the ticking of the clock on the night table; I thought of hearing the bang of fireworks upon Canal Grande, the clamouring of flesh-and-metal puppets in the calli, unconcerning if everything they had lived for up to then had no more reason to subsist.

I took notice of the teardrops that ran down Michela's chin and yet I went through that fight between the two parts of me, one of which was saying that an artificial being cannot really cry.

“No one commanded me to marry you,” said she with a voice so faint that I had to retain my breath to hear. “No one compelled me to love you; no one leads us:  simply, anyone makes what he or she's been programmed to. We want your good, and I believe I'm setting my task at the best.”

“Why you and not another one?”

“I don't know, it happened this way. I got on.”

“And above all, why me and not another one?”

She was not able to reply. In the hotel room I thought I was going to smother. Still I did not know how to behave with Michela.

“I'm going out to take a breath,” said I.

“You can't deal with me as if I were just a machine,” said she faintly before I shut the door, “although my skeleton is metal and plastic and my organs are artificial, I have a thinking brain and my heart can feel above all strong emotions. The fact I was programmed to make you happy doesn't mean that my feeling  are different from yours.”

I shut the door behind me without replying.

The morning air was sharp; I turned the collar of my coat and walked along the walls, looking at the people I met out of the corner of my eye, really scared by their actual substance that I was seeing for the first time only then.

The world was gone, demolished; all I had ever thought to be reality was an incommensurable, inexpressible simulacrum that I could conceive only because of the non mediate analysis of my subconscious.

The neutron bomb had overthrown the plague of life from the surface of the planet,  kindly saving all inorganics: for this reason they had survived, and using all human science they preserved and created a whole world anew to protect their sole protege. Who ever could have conceived them if it had been possible to control the subconscious? As on that level I knew I was not surrounded by human beings. And I received messages in my dreams: people I could not unmask, deserted cities where I wandered without meeting not even one living soul, where people were disassembling  like dummies. But the worst nightmare was that where I thought to wake up hearing a cry; I followed the sighs to the kitchen where I found Michela, hands on her face,  under the blinding neon light, scratching her cheeks and eyes to tear her artificial skin away.

I had been suffering these recurrent nightmares for five years, since the days when I met Michela, right in Venice where everything was ending up to then.

The whole rebuilt world had fallen to pieces as I knew. This poor animal's life and his earnest imitations that still infected the lithosphere were going to change entirely.

* * *

Early Tuesday morning. We were going back to piazza San Marco, our shoulders stiff for dumpiness and the poster with the neutron bomb in our head. The quiet, wonderful, silent dance of those dark faced youngsters had touched our hearts.

Venice was dirt with paper waste and trampled snow, kneaded with fog and sleep, obscured by silence and night. Streams of masks flew where only a few hours before there were rivers. We got in every cafe on our way back, trying to erase that bitter taste from the tongue; far away from the crowd, for the first time and with the strict purpose to profit the best of the few hours left, we talked for a long time about ourselves.

The night was breathing its last breath when we reached Santa Lucia station; on the frozen footpath, beaten by the wind threatening a snow storm, we waited faintly talking for the first train, together with the few silent masks dangling for sleep.

“Venice is unbelievable,” said I while the train peeped from the continental bridge, “it is a firm point, a milestone for everything else that changes in the meanwhile. If the world had to end tomorrow, will Venice be the same?”

On the train, Michela fell asleep; looking at her, warm-heartened, I became aware that I did not spend one single hour with that friend of mine in Mestre. I saw the wan day break on the mists of the lagoon, the light creeping from the skyline to the thin line of the bridge.

I lazed half asleep for a few minutes, enjoying that kind of relax that only tiredness can allow. I shook Michela's elbow when the train stopped at Mestre, and smiling with our eyes we walked to the pensione tangle-hair and tired.

But my sleep was gone; laying in bed, I thought of the nightly walk upon the roofs,  of the pressure of music loudspeakers on my eardrums, of Michela's shoulder under her cape, and of the atomic mushroom on the poster.

“Are you sleeping?” I whispered.

“No.”

We went out to have breakfast; a few people walked in the street, and in the  pasticceria we only met people sighing at the sound of coffee spoons against the cups and of the steam from the espresso machine.

“We had wonderful days," said Michela caressing the outline of a cream dairy, while I was trying to dissolve my bitterness into a hot chocolate with cream. I nodded. Yet there still was, somewhere below the level of perception, the feeling of  something enormous and inexpressible. It took me years before I could define it.

“We have five hours left before the train to Turin,” said I looking at my watch.

“What are we going to do?" asked she, bending her head.

“There is something we haven't done yet, maybe because we were tired.”

We went back to the room were the unmade bed seemed to wait for us.

"We have three hours left before we should leave the room,” said I.

"What's that we haven't done yet?” she asked, awaiting with folded arms.

“The sweetest thing,” said I pulling the rolled-up blanket.

* * *

What will happen when I will be gone?

Like a ghost, I wandered the city I was seeing for the first time with different eyes. Michela, whom I had loved as a woman of the flesh, was standing in the hotel bedroom, alone by the remade bed. The simulacra that had been guiding my life for  twenty-five years, obeying to a bioelectronic primary impulse, crowded now the calle all around me; I did not know if they pretended not to recognise me or if they really could not.

The only one. I thought to carry, in that early Winter morning, the burden of the inheritance the whole humanity had left to me; the androids, my executors, were too much eager in letting me enjoy this inheritance. But I absolutely disliked that responsibility I had not asked for and that prevented me from sleeping, working, even loving. For this reason I thrust the knife into my wife's heart: not only to verify if hitting her in a vital part she could live anyway, but above all because I felt as I had been betrayed by her being one of the others, she whom I had been considering my only companion for years.

I rested aside of the calle, my head in a whirl; I swayed into an open door and I found myself into an ink drawings vernissage.

I leant groaning against the wall. Why me?, I  thought, why only me?... Why did they do it? For the neutron bomb I am less than one object, if the bomb, kindly saving any object, will never ever think of saving me.

How could I survive alone? Did the organic components of the androids damaged? Did they suffer?

"Are you well?” asked me a middle aged lady, laying her hand on my shoulder. I rose my eyes, deeply breathing; I saw that behind her there were people looking at me out of curiosity. Idiots, I thought, don't you recognise me? You should gather round to help me, making me lay so that I don't faint: I am your objective

I badly drove the woman back, then running over a fire extinguisher I fled to the darkest corner of the hall.

Anyone I knew was an android: my father, my mother, my school mates, my friends, my colleagues. Michela.

Michela never needed to sleep, yet she pretended; she pretended in the pensione bedroom in Venice, and at home, and on holidays and that time when I looked warm-heartened at her on the train from Venice, feeling tired and happy for those days and trustful for the future. Michela was driven to take care of me by an impulse stronger than love: it was this, I knew, the bitter truth of all.

They expanded logically the basic rule inserted in their instruction by the ones who programmed them, before the holocaust: protect human beings. In their opinion,  they acted rightly: to protect a human being, it is essential to preserve his humanity uninjured. But what is the definition for Humanity? Is it possible to separate it from the faults of human race? They remade the world like it was, and perhaps it was this the only way to make a human being of me: I was supposed to live a normal, anonymous life, not too easy and not to troubled; I was to know love  but never the truth about the neutron bomb.

If my subconscious did not react to those stimula it perceived as alien, I could not become aware of the mystification: I would have kept on living as usual, with the same plans about my future, with my car in instalments and one month of holidays per year, with the music on the radio and Evtušenko's poems on the night-table, with our neighbours' children at home and Woody Allen in his movies, the English evening lessons and Saturdays night in pizzeria with friends, the celtic music concerts in the cloister of the deconsacrated church, and the Trade Union card, the advertisements of travels in USSR, my pen pals, my wife's friends.

What would happen then, when everything seemed not to make sense? How would my guardian angels react?

I noticed they were all around me wearyfaced - so seemed to me. But like the waiter and the customers at the1restaurant, they did not dare to approach. I passed a hand in my hair, and stepped forth; they withdrew.

I walked through a double hedge that opened in silence and respect. I went out in the street and there they were awaiting; they kindly moved aside as I passed. I went back to the hotel under the sight of that silent array of people standing shoulder to shoulder, and nobody dared to speak me.

Venice was silent, the world was silent. Michela seemed to be the only one who still dared to speak to me.

I went up the hotel staircase, with short steps, without using the lift. I felt all the weight of Past, Present and Future of the world, engraving at every step.

I opened the bedroom door; Michela was sitting at the small writing desk in the corner, completely dressed as she were going to go out. She turned her back on me, but when she heard me coming she put down the pen she was holding.

“Are you going to go out?” I asked faintly.

She did not answer, but her will to go was clear. I went near her, laying my hands on her shoulders; on the desk, there was a note with a few words of her own handwriting.

I felt my heart wringing. Without releasing her shoulders, so she could not rise and leave me forever, I picked up her note. She had written the verses of one poem she read in the book upon my night-table: “If  I stopped loving you, I don't ask you to forgive me. If I loved you, forgive me.”

 

Franco Ricciardiello

 

 

Written in January, 1987.

 

First published on the fanzine "THX 1138" n. 5/6, Bari 1987

Greek translation in "Nea Elerotipia", Athens 2002

 

 

Notes

(1) calle (pl. calli) - the lanes of Venice.

(2) campo - the squares of Venice.

(3) bautta - sort of mask covering the upper part of the face.

(4) Lucio Battisti - Italian composer and singer of pop music; he also sang in English (lyrics translated by Powell and Hunter), German (translations by Udo Lindenberg) and Spanish (by C.Ramón-Amart>

(5) Oriana Fallaci - Italian writer, author of “Niente e così sia” (reportage from Vietnam during the war), “Un uomo" (story of Alekos Panagulis) and others. Now she lives in New York City

 

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