The Accident

Written by  Roberto Pazzi
Ten years at the palazzo on Corso Giovecca in the memory of an author.
The somewhat brief surname of the boy from the city on the plain underwent curious phonetic and associative processes. Rather than pronouncing it by giving the double-z its burning sonority, the people from the city on the plain damped it out with a flaccid lisped z that weakened its marvellous association with madness, leaving behind nothing more than the feeble and annoying buzz of the mosquitoes of the marshlands.

Less of an irritation was another connection: often in town he had to answer questions about whether he was related to the city's oldest firm of undertakers. This he did not resent, since he felt comfortable with the idea of death thanks to his mother who had early on taken it upon herself to demonstrate its presence in the family to him: her parents, two brothers, a sister-in-law, all passed away at a young age.

However, although the dead were a part of everyday family conversation, they were still dead forever. And the boy's fantasies lacked the input that they would have been given by a particular physique, a shoe size, a way of walking, a tone of voice, to allow these intangible presences to be enjoyed to the full.

His mother, who had embraced these living dead, was able to live on these fantasies, topped up by her faithful memory, but the boy? Glowing with love for his mother, he tried to penetrate the realms of the dead, but their names were no more than echoes of her voice; they passed over his head without invoking any spirits. They were not his, these dead people; they belonged to his mother, who knew how to make them love her, who could cohabit with the living and the dead both. The boy liked to be retold the details of those lives which he had heard so often before, as though that re-telling served to make them a part of him, like a shadow in a dream. But they did not visit him, and he felt himself deprived of the tragic force of death, envying his mother's heroic perfection, forever personified in her status as a real orphan.

In comparison with her he felt himself inferior. No-one could pity him as they did her. His own life, full of reassuring and traditional affections like the lives of so many other children, seemed commonplace, and nothing vexed him more that the gratified smile with which his mother, after talking about her parents, would say "AT least you've got your mother."

Whoever would take a boy seriously if he had never suffered bereavement? Who would think him worthy of attention? And so the echo of death in his family name did not displease him. One day he visited the realm of his patrons, the words. His fine surname, spoiled on the lips of his fellow townspeople, was there on the on the main door of the building, in the palazzo occupied by the oldest bank in town, in Vicolo del Gambero, beside the red bell, silent and fleet with its few, nimble letters, and waiting, waiting for recognition of its true sound from strangers, the only people to whom it unveiled its music.
Often, coming home from school, the boy would notice his own name on the bank door and remember the amazement with which, on visiting the director in the flat on the floor below, he had looked up at the ceiling beyond which his life was spent. The reflection of the blend of sounds which represented the existence of his family to passers-by was there, packed into five upper-case letters on the door bell. Every day, like a ship returning to harbour, without fail in all weathers and seasons, the boy's footsteps would lead him there as he came back from school. The world was vast, but it all came down to these few same streets, for the boy just as for his father.

There was a mystery in the accumulation of all those years, months and days of repeated, identical actions, a meaning that escaped him. Examining the granite flagstones on the pavement of the Vicolo del Gambero, which bordered the bank on one side, the boy developed a special way of walking which avoided the cracked paving stones, stepping only on the intact ones, in a game played out between himself and objects which hinted at a secret agreement.

He put the keys into his own front door in a similar fashion, trying to guess the right key at the first, second or third and final attempt. With things being subjected to this numerological ritual, perhaps one day the chains of pavements and days, the unchanging network of streets, might one day open up all of a sudden and real life would appear, naked, free, original.
Because it was increasingly clear that some great undertaking had been begun on his behalf, without consulting him, long before he was born to become a prisoner. The experiment had been launched without him knowing it, and he was continuing it without knowing the reason for his guilt.

Things, however, knew what was what and it seemed as though, although they were sworn to silence, sometimes they hinted at a part of the net that would not hold, a dysfunction in their system of agreements. One day they would speak, but he needed to help them to hurry them up and free themselves from that commitment by evoking the numbers which held the key to their harmony.

The fundamental plan of things and existence itself had been in the hands of a mysterious architect who had destroyed the plans and committed the laws of his grand edifice to memory. But the combination had a precise and absolute formula, and one that had to be sought tirelessly. This was a truth known to the entire cosmos and gave every animal, every being living or inanimate, the force to carry on repeating itself over and over again until one managed to free them all by discovering the number.

No part of the day seemed so close to revealing the truth, the boredom and the fatigue, as that hour between one and two in the afternoon when the boy returned home from school.
Along the way he passed by the shop windows of Invicta, Marcello's barber's shop, the shopfronts of Cà' d'Este, Taddei's bookshop, Martelli the cobbler, Lupi the florist, the statue of St Charles on the church façade, the traffic lights, tired and timeless presences, resigned to allowing themselves to be seen without ever being noticed. And sometimes even the cobbles and flagstones of his pavement, beaten senseless by the infinite comings and goings, could not be distinguished, showed themselves no more.

It must have been during one of those moments when the city-cosmos seemed close to resolving once and for all to refuse to permit the earth to continue rotating that, crossing Via Bersaglieri del Po, something finally happened. He felt himself landing flat on that anonymous asphalt, now intimately close, with something round and mobile weighing on his back - the wheel of a moped. More than pain itself, his immediate gut feeling was the conscious anticipation of physical pain; every part of his body seemed to be alarmed: "now, this IS really going TO hurt, GET ready, legs, arms, hands, head..."

The hot stuff that ran across his skin and dirtied his coat, under his chin, belonged to someone who was no longer managing to belong to his own things and was creating confusion, as if he was making a mistake in attributing their ownership to others who could not accept them.
Baldrati, the baker, should stay there, behind his counter, in front of the oil-bread coppie, not here picking him up and wiping the blood off his chin. It was bread that was his, not blood, the counter, not the boy's chin. And his son, so hostile when they were together, at catechism classes at the priest's house, why was he looking at him so pityingly? His was the face of the urchin who had always been so unfriendly, not this compassionate one.

With his little universe in this seriously upset state, he was carried home, accompanied by a young man, not the one who ran him over who had fled the scene straight after the accident. In the palazzo where the bank was the doorbell seemed to be ringing for the first time. The paving stones of the Vicolo del Gambero showed the plot of their numerological agreement as if viewed from the air. The steps were counted in fear and in blame. His mother's cries, from the top of the stairs, finally seemed to reach from death for him too, the land where he had showed his face, admitted by the favour of a distracted divinity, he of the words who that day had forgotten to provide him with his invulnerability.

The bliss and the terror in his mother's arms brought back to him her tears for the death of his grandfather, those beautiful tears that had made him feel so good and so loved. He felt himself closer to those that she loved, her father, her mother, her two brothers, less excluded from her tragic perfection. He could have died and entered the heaven of his mother's heroes.