Grandfather (from Miransù)

Sometimes in the evening before falling asleep, I see my grandfather again, under a veil, before he died he would often say, what a terrible thing, he wanted to say something, but he realized that he was forgetting the words as he was pronouncing them, so he ended up saying only, what a terrible thing, and in fact it must have been a terrible thing, but not one of us could tell him that he was right, we all had to tell him, see what’s happening to you, it’s nothing, so he had stopped listening to us, we annoyed him, in the end they gave him an injection to make sure that he was dead with no possibility of return, we couldn’t even bury him in the country, where he had been happy and felt safe, we had to bury him in a long row together with strangers, even apart from my beloved brother buried just above, on the next level. We hadn’t spoken much, but holding me by the hand, he put branches to burn in the small hearth, bread to cook in the oven, warmers with embers inside the bed, galoshes on the feet of his grandchildren, polenta in the copper pot, tomatoes past their prime inside bottles, grass in the cages of rabbits, clusters of grapes in wooden tubs. His hands plucked, mixed, and laid figs out to dry in the sun, gathered moss for the crèche, removed the husk from walnuts, brushed against the fingers of those who were learning to walk, dressed scratches, holding my hand in his I said I was a little girl who squeezed petals to make colors, who ran downhill at break-neck speed, who entered a room covered in cages with decoys inside, and I became the woman that I am now, ill at ease in city streets, grateful for the life of cut stalks, for the caper-shrubs that bloom violet and white on the low walls. One Christmas after so many resolute years I had to maintain the courage to substitute immobility with movement, almost all the pain was only the result of a nightmare and in reality necessary certainties existed for us to feel part of a common story fit to continue in time. Everyone was seated at the table, my sister, aunt, a friend, baskets of fruit on the tablecloth framed the smiling and emotional face of grandmother when she leaned from her chair urging me to do the honors, serve the courses in the trays. I could barely manage to glance over on the drowsiness of the kitchen garden, I had to breathe softly, be there as little as possible, not make noise, not raise my voice, like smiling on tiptoe and brushing against things not to knock into them and fall into disgrace. I went into my old room, opened and closed drawers to make sure without probing that I had lived there and that I could allow myself to return. Grandmother gave me some centerpieces that she had crocheted, then she brought me into the cellar, in this way the wooden furniture in the rooms acquired a warmer patina acclimating to my past, nothing seemed disfigured from the pain of an instant, and fear didn’t find an opening from which to burst in. The women cleared the table together, confusing roles in a choral performance of attending to things, aunt, mother, sister, all able to find shelter in the little machine to be filled with coffee, in sweeping crumbs from the tablecloth. Each one handing a small plate or drying a glass to hold back her discomfort and not betray her melancholy. They sat in a circle to play cards, I chose to follow grandfather, who cleaned the dirt from his shoes before entering the house and recklessly drove his gray Appia with the steering wheel on the right when he came into town to withdraw his pension, always natty. The more I ventured next to him along the path, the more I was afraid of having committed an error, of having left the women around the table. Nature appeared distant, indifferent towards me, I had to find the strength to extend my gaze and trust in the shelter that it allowed, while I perceived it incapable of conversing with my conscience about living. After so much immobility the distant horizons hurt my eyes, that sky without the obstacles of tiles and antennae was too much, the dark woods, the dry leaves crumpled on the branches, there was not a voice to run after, or a woman’s skirt to free from the thorn-bushes. On the way back, to answer the questions that I put to him on the state of the fields, grandfather stopped, stroked his bald head with his right hand with the short nails, put a hand on my arm and looked into my eyes to speak at length on his reflections, competent in the aspects of the life that he had chosen and that showed its fruits in the edged roads, in the pruned branches. I was able to take advantage of that incident to offer in my turn a demonstration of fullness, the result of my ability to connect. The things that I had loved, the feelings that I had defended did not find space in his house, there wasn’t a room built on the foundations of previous generations that I had chosen mine, seduced by the joy of resemblance. I felt guilty, incapable of not sowing with my thoughts impotence and melancholy.

The first time that he was hospitalized I lay down next to him on top of the sheet, he was disorientated, lost on account of words, I gave him my hand, let my head fall on his shoulder, remained quiet and suddenly he told me about when he had bought the house and there wasn’t any water, then he had called a water-diviner who had the hill dug up, every evening he would return from the shop and go to see that hole always deeper, but there was no water, so he had stopped the work and went by himself to look in the valley under the house, he had it dug up and a trickle of water appeared, a fine stream of reflections that sparkled giving refreshment to the obtuse density of the clods of earth, he had begun to follow it, to look for its origins and had the stones and the rocks cut to allow this stream to have a bed in which to lie, then the paths of water had become two, when one evening the workers were waiting for him to decide which branch to credit before continuing to dig, he had not hesitated and finally a wide mouth of bright light had moved towards his open arms. You’re a sorceress, he said to me, I didn’t miss even a word. I thought that it had been the stillness, that lying close, hand in hand, as if in embrace, I thought that we had found the water together, a respite for that arid pain that wanted to render him mute.

Bios

Monica Sarsini

Monica Sarsini was born in Florence, where she lives and teaches writing. She is also an artist who has shown her work in Italy and other countries. Libro Luminoso (Exit Edizioni, 1982) was followed by Crepacuore, Crepapelle and others. A collection of her work was published in English under the title of Eruptions (Italica Press, 1999). In Alice nel paese delle domandine (Le Lettere, 2011), Sarsini collects stories written by women from the creative writing class that she taught at Sollicciano prison, outside Florence; a second volume Alice, la guardia e l’asino bianco will be published in October 2013.

Maryann De Julio

Maryann De Julio is a Professor in the Department of Modern and Classical Language Studies at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio. She has translated work by contemporary French and Italian writers as well as the eighteenth-century French activist Olympe de Gouges. Her translations of other work by Sarsini have appeared in Italica Press, Absinthe, Germ, and InTranslation.

Miransù. Copyright (c) Monica Sarsini, 2005. English translation copyright (c) Maryann De Julio, 2013.