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MORANTE, Elsa



La Storia

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The girl's name was Maddalena, but she was called Lena-Lena by Useppe. Not infrequently, early in the morning, she could be encountered on the stairs, intent on giving the steps a hasty washing with a wet rag; or else she was seen sitting in the lodge, momentarily substituting for her grandmother. Keeping still was a sacrifice for her, however, since she preferred movement; and she didn't in the least mind running up to Useppe's in the morning. She was a little girl of about fourteen, who was as a rule quite cloistered in the family; and she lived not far away, at San Saba, having arrived from the interior of Sardinia. She had a plump little figure, with short legs, also plump; and black hair, kinky and excessively long, which grew upward, compensating for her very short stature, and making her look like a country hedgehog (or porcupine). She spoke an incomprehensible language, all full of u's. which sounded foreign; still, with Useppe, she managed somehow to make herself understood. He would let her listen to his record, and in return she would sing to him, in a harsh, high voice, some Sardinian dirges, all with u. of which he understood not a word; but the moment she finished, he would say to her "again!" as he did after Ida's Calabrian songs.

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the sound suggested certain dins of kindergartens, hospitals, prisons: however, all jumbled together, like shards thrown into the same machine. At the end of the ramp, on a straight, dead track, a train was standing which, to Ida, seemed of endless length. The voices came from inside it.

There were perhaps twenty cattle cars, some wide open and empty, others closed with long iron bars over the outside doors. Following the standard design of such rolling stock, the cars had no windows, except a tiny grilled opening up high. At each of those grilles, two hands could be seen clinging, or a pair of staring eyes.

Ida recognized this confused chorus...all this wretched human sound from the cars caught her in a heartrending sweetness, because of a constant memory that didn't return to her from known time, but from some other channel: from the same place as her father's little Calabrian songs that had lulled her, or the anonymous poem of the previous night, or the little kisses that whispered carina, carina to her. It was a place of repose that drew her down, into the promiscuous den of a single, endless family.
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Seeing he needed solace and distraction, Bella, seated beside him, decided to tell him a story. And, blinking slightly, in a fabulous tone, filled with melancholy, she began by saying:

"Once I had some puppies..."

She had never spoken of them to him before. "I don't know how many there were," she went on, "because I can't count. But when it was feeding time, all my tits were occupied, that's sure, every one!!! So there were lots of them, and each more beautiful than the other. One was black and white. One was all black with one white ear and one black, and one was also all black with a little goatee... When I looked at one, he was the most beautiful; but I would look at another, and this one was the most beautiful; then I would lick another, and meanwhile another would stick his nose up, and he was beyond doubt the most beautiful. Their beauty was infinite, that's the truth of it. Infinite beauties can't be compared."

"What were they called?"

"They didn't have names."

"They didn't have names?"

"No."

"And where've they gone?"

"Where...I don't know what to think about that. From one moment to the next, I looked for them, and they weren't there anymore. Usually, when they go off, they come back later, at least that's what happened with other friends of mine, who also had puppies..." (Bella, like her friends, was convinced that each successive litter was another return of the same puppies) "...but mine never came back again. I hunted for them, I waited for them a long time, but they never came home."
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