01. The Book

When Giovanni Rosselli, wandering among the stalls of used books in Via Po, bought that anthology of tales with a funny title, he certainly did not imagine what he was about to face.
His life had unfolded, so far, without excessive shocks: an almost happy childhood, a diploma, a few love stories ended badly, a job, and then, the decision to go and live alone in a couple of rental rooms near Piazza Vittorio. Truth be told, by now his existence seemed inexorably headed toward that sort of monotony that makes life govern man and not vice versa. Not that he could complain about anything, by all means; simply, nothing could bring him joy anymore. There were very few things Giovanni Rosselli believed were worth fighting for, and he didn’t even remember what they were. But little did it matter. You never find what you seek, except by chance. And he didn’t really know what he was seeking, but he was firmly convinced that sooner or later he would find it. Perhaps in a smile, perhaps in dawn, perhaps in a long-forgotten fragrance. Giovanni Rosselli did not believe in God, nor in an alleged life beyond death, but neither could he resign to the idea of leading an existence governed by the insatiable pursuit of pleasure, whether physical or intellectual, to be savored like a delicious food while you still had your teeth to do it. Life was not a wedding feast, let alone a cream cake at its peak. And Giovanni Rosselli, sooner or later, would have grasped its meaning; or, as he thought smiling to himself, he would have died in the attempt. He would have grasped its meaning precisely by refusing to seek it. He would have casually caught it in something apparently insignificant: maybe that anthology of tales with a funny title. He only hoped, in this case, that he would be able to notice it.

***

Shower, dinner with leftovers, news. Then the favorite (and the only) armchair and a few pages of the book he had just bought. A tale, two, three: words without meaning and without style, accompanied by the depressing awareness that a tree had died to allow this.
Just one more, Giovanni Rosselli reflected, and then I will decide if this volume is bound to occupy space in my library or in the container for paper collection.
The fourth tale.
Moments from the life of a man, by F. F. Fiore.

“Hi,” says the man to the woman.
“Hi,” says the woman to the man.
Then they love each other.
“Goodbye,” says the woman to the man.
“Goodbye,” says the man to the woman.

“What a bore, I say!” Giovanni Rosselli muttered, closing the book and casually throwing it on the cabinet next to the armchair. “Poor tree, what a horrible end. It would have been more honorable to turn into a thousand soft sheets of bath tissue.”
A cognac, the bed; the darkness. Sleep.

***

The next day, upon leaving the office, Giovanni Rosselli went to the stalls of used books in Via Po, still with the bitter aftertaste left by the anthology of tales with the funny title (never as much as the content) he had bought the previous day. More resolute than ever to get something to cleanse the palate and deceive the time separating him from sleep and from a new day, he began to examine the thousand colorful titles with almost manic attention. Wilbur Smith, Ken Follett, Michael Crichton: nothing new under the sun; or nearly. In fact, timidly curled up among the self-celebratory reflections of an ordinary intellectual and a romance novel by an author raised in front of the TV, an old original edition of Joyce’s Dubliners only waited for someone to realize the crime committed in having abandoned it there. Giovanni Rosselli noticed it and realized that it would be the ideal reading to spend the evening. He stretched his right hand toward the volume, just in time to touch that of a well-dressed blonde woman who had come to the same conclusion.
“My apologies,” he murmured.
“No, my apologies,” his antagonist replied with a flirtatious smile, subjecting Giovanni Rosselli to an in-depth examination through two splendid green eyes while slipping the volume from the shelf on which it lay. “Shall we flip a coin?” she asked, with the attitude of a feline studying her prey.
“I have a better idea,” Giovanni Rosselli dared, without even realizing the situation. “I’ll buy it, read it, and then sell it to you,” he proposed boldly, contemplating in the meantime the shapes of the unknown woman through the open coat. An operation that, evidently, did not escape the latter.
“What if we read it together?” she suggested.

***

A strange house, an unmade bed. Giovanni Rosselli was already dressed and headed for the door when she woke up.
“Are you leaving?” the woman asked in a sleepy voice.
“I have to. I have to get up early tomorrow morning,” he replied without turning, as he reflected on the banality of those sentences.
“Maybe we’ll meet again at the stalls on Via Po, one of these days.”
“Maybe.”
“It was very nice.”
“Yep,” Giovanni Rosselli spun around, approached the woman still lying between the sheets, half awake, and placed a light kiss on her forehead. “See you,” he murmured.
“Bye,” she said, as she eventually gave up opening her eyes and curled up further under the covers.
And they both knew it was goodbye.
As soon as he was in his apartment, Giovanni Rosselli dove into a hot shower to wash away the tiredness and to relax for the night. Still wrapped in a damp bathrobe, he went into the living room and that’s when his eyes met, on the cabinet next to the armchair where it had been abandoned the night before, that anthology of tales with a funny title.
Maybe you got a point, dear F. F. Fiore, he found himself thinking. There is no need for many words to describe certain things. Giovanni Rosselli picked up the book and collapsed in his favorite armchair.
Yep, how did you say that?
The fourth tale.
Moments from the life of a man, by F. F. Fiore.

“I hate hatred,” says the man.
And hatred meets the man like a dog
that brings the stick back to its master.

Giovanni Rosselli distinctly perceived a chilling heat run down his spine. Yet that was the fourth tale, so how was it possible? Even the title was the same.
Maybe, last night, I fell asleep in the middle of it and I dreamed of a tale that does not exist. Just think! He snorted, closing the volume and dismissing it casually on the cabinet next to the armchair. And anyway, my dream was much nicer than this nonsense: they wouldn’t want it even among the aphorisms of the Baci Perugina.
A cognac, the bed; the darkness. Sleep.

***

When he left the office, the next day, Giovanni Rosselli was more than ever willing to stay away from the stalls of used books in Via Po; he had never been able to tolerate embarrassing situations, nor did he intend to help create them. His only regret was ultimately for the copy of Dubliners, which remained at his antagonist’s home, while he had paid for it himself.
I guess tonight I will console myself by rereading some passages of the Italian version.
A small side street near Corso San Maurizio, two boys playing with a dog. The youngest, about seventeen, maybe eighteen, held it down while the oldest, in his twenties, was spraying it with alcohol from a plastic bottle; when he then thought he had disinfected the tiny pile of hair enough, he pulled a packet of Nirvana matches from one of the pockets of his jacket.
“You’re done bothering my mother’s cat,” he hissed.
Giovanni Rosselli had never been a great lover of animals, but no living being deserved such a thing. Words would have been useless, but the rigid briefcase was not. The sound caused by the rupture of the boy’s nasal septum with Nirvana could be heard quite distinctly, so much so that Giovanni Rosselli was the first to shudder. The second was the other young man, who abandoned the puppy and ran for it. The third, the one concerned, distracted by the pain and too busy rolling along the pavement rattling. Giovanni Rosselli observed for a few moments the frightened puppy fleeing in the evening, then cleaned the corner of the briefcase with a tissue and headed home.

***

Shower, dinner, news. Then, immediately rummaging through the shelves in search of that old Italian edition of Dubliners purchased in high school.
“Here you are, finally!” Giovanni Rosselli exclaimed, with a gesture of triumph, gently pulling an old dusty book from the bookcase. “And now, dear, sweet Eveline, you won’t escape me anymore.” Holding the precious trophy with the care proper of a sacred relic, Giovanni Rosselli set off toward his favorite armchair, realizing, in the meantime, that a sip of cognac would more than worthily contribute to creating the right atmosphere for reading the work of good old Joyce. Gently placing the volume over the cabinet next to the armchair, his gaze met the anthology of tales with the funny title that he had abandoned, for the umpteenth time, the previous night.
I’m sorry, dear F. F. Fiore, but you are not worthy of being next to Joyce, thought Giovanni Rosselli, collecting the unwary purchase of a few days earlier with the intention to bury it in the container where he piled the paper for recycling. “There, with the fliers that keep filling my letterbox,” he said without emphasis, dropping the book into the plastic bin and then heading toward the opposite corner, toward the cabinet where he kept the alcohol; toward a sudden thought. Totally unexpected.
I met the woman…
F. F. Fiore had said it.
I met hatred…
F. F. Fiore had said it.
This is absurd.
What would F. F. Fiore say now?
A dash of cognac to calm the cold around the heart, a deep breath to regain a glimmer of rationality.
Better than reading the horoscope.
A gesture to recover that anthology of tales with a funny title.
Where were you?
A shy look.
Here you are.
The fourth tale.
Moments from the life of a man, by F. F. Fiore.

The man dies.

***

One day off work, then the weekend; without ever leaving home. As if you only met death on the street.
The anthology of tales with a funny title in the favorite armchair, open on a page that seemed to have a life of its own. It changed and evolved, or so had it done until then, at least.
It was not the fact of having to abandon this valley of tears to upset Giovanni Rosselli, but the awareness that it had already been decided. This, no, he just couldn’t accept it.

Collapsed on a chair facing his favorite armchair, Giovanni Rosselli spent every moment, now, staring with almost tangible intensity at that page that looked like a window to the future; assuming it existed, a future. His gaze faked, from time to time, a hint of distraction, wandering aimlessly around the room for the sole purpose of regaining that window on destiny, in the vain hope that the landscape had changed. Whenever he felt sleep wrap him in its arms, Giovanni Rosselli experienced a long subtle shudder at the idea that he might not wake up anymore. I will die in the attempt, he kept repeating, smiling a hysterical grin. I will die in the attempt.
He fought with all his strength not to give in to fatigue, but the battle turned out to be unequal and, at the frenetic awakening, the disappointment of an unchanged sentence insinuated in him the repentance of not having continued to sleep forever.
Day after day, the man continued to die.

***

Monday morning. The man who responds to the name of Giovanni Rosselli slowly moves through the crowd of worker ants that goes to work. Jacket and tie, briefcase; as if nothing had happened. But the gaze shifts between absence and the frantic search for a lurking danger; the soul between a liberating feeling of ridicule and the fear of not being able to laugh at it. Stronger than ever is the intention, before reaching the office, to buy another copy of that anthology of tales with a funny title to find out if there is really a master plan or if it is nothing but the projection of an innate desire of the man. Or the lust of someone who wants to convince the man himself of this.
The two-tone horn.
The scream of the mother at the sight of her daughter, a little further on, paralyzed in the middle of the street.
In a thousandth of a second, the vain squeal of the brakes and a myriad of perhaps and if… Then the leap, the push to the little girl: away, out of danger.
The collision.
The Nothingness.

***

Giovanni Rosselli’s apartment.
An armchair, an open book; a title.
Moments from the life of a man, by F. F. Fiore.
The rest, a blank page.

END

[First written as “Il libro” in 1995. Re-edited in 2018 with the help of Sonia Lombardo. Translated from the Italian by Sabrina Beretta and edited by Karen Rought in 2019.]

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