But I’m not mad. I have my moments of derangement. And I’m Swiss, in the sense that I was born in the Mendrisio area, Genestrerio to be precise, opposite where the priest lived, on the other side of the street. I could see his house clearly from my window, stone-built with green shutters and a front door that had a medieval look about it. If I concentrate, I can hear the scraping of horses’ hoofs, the giggles of the ladies, the odour of their handkerchiefs rubbed over their private parts and thrown at the feet of that night’s favoured one. Of my father I have no memories. They tell me he lived with us, for a few months. In the attic there are some photographs of him as young man, wearing flared trousers, owlish glasses, a pullover the colour of clotted-blood overrun with the first layer of pus. He was smoking a pipe in the company of my mother, who had him by the ankle, grasping him as if he were the forbidden apple. But for many years I didn’t know I had a father. Or rather, I thought my dad was Don Enrico, whom I’d got used to calling father. In fact I also thought he was my mother’s dad, because she called him father, too. But then, when I was twelve, my maternal grandparents came from Zurich on a visit, and then I understood. It was because at home we never spoke of the grandparents. My father’s parents were dead; mother’s angry. With mother, because she had given herself to my father. In the end, my grandmother got cancer of the womb and, before snuffing it, decided to forgive her. We went out to lunch at a restaurant, the third time I had been to one, and I had spaghetti alla Ernest Hemingway, with strong caciotta cheese and swordfish. They told me mother had been a lively child, maybe excessively so. She would hide under the bed or in the wardrobe when it was time for her nap. She didn’t play with dolls. She didn’t pay attention when they read her stories. She didn’t clear the table. But she smoked cigarettes on the sly. Mary Longs filched from grandmother’s packet.
By Tommaso Soldini
Translated by Simon Knight
Tommaso Soldini was born in Lugano, and teaches Italian at the Bellinzona Cantonal Commercial college. He has written two volumes of poetry: Ribelle di nemico privo and Lato east, as well as a book of short stories, L’animale guida, and the novel One by One.
Photo of Tommaso Soldini © Edizioni Casagrande, Bellinzona