03. The Rain

It was a gleeful rainy night. Water in front, water behind, water on the right and water on the left. More than a tranquil summer storm, it looked like the background of the universal flood. It rained with anger as if divine ire had decided to wash away all the sins of humanity in an instant; it was pouring, in a silent roaring scream that seemed to envelop the world; it was raining like I could not recall ever seeing it rain. And I thought:
Shit, look how much it’s raining.
I had always loved sitting in a soft armchair, in front of the fireplace, watching the tears of the sky through the opaque glass of a window, but in this case the armchair was the seat of an old Panda car held together by adhesive tape and prayers. There was no fireplace and I was starting to get edgy. While I concluded that the most suitable soundtrack for the occasion would have been “Singing in the Rain” celebrated by The Cure, I turned off the radio (which no longer picked up anything) and I paid more attention to the revs of the motor since the Panda’s electrical system was never that great of a masterpiece. At the first raindrop, in fact, the dashboard had gone off and, in the faint reddish light of the lit cigarette, I could see the fuel indicator go crazy and jump beyond full tank. I leave to your guess, therefore, how long and full of dangers the road could be that the current was forced to travel to get from the battery to the candles and the lights, not to mention the actual risk of wetting cap and the like.
I slowed down, unable to even see the roadside distinctly. I had the impression of touring Niagara Falls.
And without Marilyn Monroe.
I mechanically lit yet another Amadis and reflected on whether to stop or not, to wait for the storm to calm down. After all, driving blind was not the best solution, but I had never been able to wait for a situation to resolve itself, doing nothing to screw it up further. I had always preferred to run toward the problem rather than wait for it to reach me, and on that occasion, I didn’t want to be outdone. Reckless, as usual. I began to nervously whistle “Singing in the Rain,” just to play it off, trying in vain for a dark intonation.
To be honest, I was driving along a remote hillside street that I liked very little. I would have challenged the devil himself just to get out of it as soon as possible. It was dark, winding and desolate. In short, one of those streets on which the protagonists of the B series horror movies end up right before something terrible happens to them, while the spectators in the hall think, Well, you are really looking for it! A street so disturbing that at night (and with the rain, too) not even Batman would pass through it.
Now I’ll stumble across Rutger Hauer hitchhiking.
A puddle the size of Lake Garda and the engine started sobbing; it seemed to run only on three cylinders.
“One down,” I whispered. “Fuck.”
And I remembered a boy who had tried the theoretical driving test on my same day, failing to pass the written test and having to fall back on the oral. He was stranded on an answer about the engine, so the examiner, as usual, had then thoroughly investigated.
“What is the radiator water for?” he had asked the boy.
“To extinguish the spark plugs,” he had replied.
Perhaps more power would have been useful: I turned off the rear window heater and lingered for a few moments on the lever of the front windscreen wipers, which by now was no longer of any use, such was the amount of water pouring onto the windscreen.
Oh well, the important thing is that the fan prevents the glass from misting.
I gently lifted the windshield wiper lever. I could not see anything anymore. I lowered it a little less gently.
Such a great idea.
But how could I have considered going to say goodbye to Sergio, before he left for the holidays, in that goddamn place in the ass-end of nowhere in which he lived?!
A puddle the size of Loch Ness and a jolt, stronger than the others.
“Two down,” I muttered. “Fuck, fuck!”
I put out the cigarette, only half consumed, and lit another one mechanically. I could distinctly feel the cold sweat running down my spine.
Okay, I set a precedent: I will stop and wait! I will warm up the engine and maybe stay quiet until it stops raining.
In that instant, all the dashboard lights came on and the dull hum of the fan stopped keeping me company. A few seconds and the windshield was already covered with an impassable halo.
“Oh shit.”
With the help of a hand, my gaze frantically tried to break through the misted glass but was not pleased with the first thing it could see. The dark mass, the braking, the steering. The 180. The engine went out and the lit cigarette fell on my seat between my legs; I managed to recover it, with a sigh of relief, before it could do damage. I looked all around: the dark mass, if there ever was one, was nowhere to be seen.
“Someone loves me up there,” I whispered, watching the reddish light of the cigarette flicker between my fingers. “Sister, you’re the only thing that hasn’t gone out in here,” I muttered a moment before smothering it in the ashtray. “For solidarity.”
No engine, no lights. I tried in vain to restart everything, but it was like trying to resurrect a dead person, and it was not my branch.
I opened the door, got out of the car and was immediately soaked. I noticed with astonishment that there was no asphalt under my feet, but gravel: evidently, I had entered some courtyard, judging by the open space that welcomed me. In the wet night, I thought I caught sight of a wall.
How I managed to slip in here, God only knows.
I opened the hood door, desperately looking for an umbrella I was sure I had left there; I lowered it again peevishly. I was wrong.
Unable to tell where I had come from, I advanced in the dark, in the pouring rain, in any direction. Where there is a courtyard, generally, there is also a house and I would have found it, at the cost of going around in circles for hours.
Or for days.
I slipped a soggy Amadis from the package into my jacket pocket and mechanically carried it to my mouth; the fury of the rain broke it in several parts, leaving me only the filter. My nerves had definitely gone quite up.
“Enough!” I shouted. “Where is the olive branch?”
A dim light lit up before me. I ran forward and found myself in front of a building, a window through which a shadow holding a candle pointed to something on the right.
I found the door, opened it, and entered.

***

“The house is isolated: no light, no telephone, nothing at all. Luckily, I have a decent supply of candles.”
My host was a brunette in her thirties, petite but well proportioned. Her black eyes radiated heat and the context of her body gave an impression of innocence and fragility; it made you desire to take care of her. Instead, it was she who was taking care of me.
“My car is also isolated,” I said.
She smiled, a sweet smile that invited you to life and made you important. I think I fell in love with her almost immediately.
“We haven’t introduced ourselves yet. I am Elisabetta,” she said, holding out her right hand in a strong, warm grasp.
“I am Stefano.”

***

“I’m sorry I can’t help you. I don’t have a car. I took refuge up here to escape the hectic city life and ended up turning this house into a hermitage. The only contacts I have with the outside world are the fax, with which I send my publisher the stories I write, and the van that delivers supplies of food and necessities. I am sorry, but you ended up in the wrong place.”
“You say? I don’t think so. Suffice it to say that I owe you my life: you saved me from a principle of drowning.”
She laughed again.
“I’m afraid I’m the one who should thank you instead,” she whispered. “Although I love solitude, this rain is really melancholic and seems bound to last forever. A little company will do me good.”
“Do you live here completely alone?”
“Not anymore.”

***

It was like a dream, an infinite instant, unrepeatable and always the same. I stopped counting the days after the first, and time lost its meaning, I wasn’t waiting for anything anymore and nothing was waiting for me; my life had ceased to be that long and grueling wait for someone who is perpetually late. It didn’t matter if, beyond the impassable layer of water that separated us, the rest of the world still existed. Nothing mattered except me and her.
“I love you, Elisabetta.”
“I love you, Stefano.”
Love came for both of us and it was splendid, I didn’t remember ever having been so happy. It seemed that our two souls had once been one and that now, after long wandering, they were finally reunited. We were complete. And happy.
“I love reading your stories.”
“It is much nicer to write them, now that they are for you.”
Food supplies abounded so that, despite being completely isolated, we needed nothing. Or nearly.
“Damn, I quit smoking!” I realized one day, who knows when, as I noticed my jacket resting in the armchair where I had left it the day I arrived. “I had been trying for years. Elisabetta, I quit smoking!”
“You don’t need it anymore: you have me.”
“Do you mean that I’ll soon stop drinking and eating?”
“Maybe.”
And time kept passing, or perhaps there was no time at all? Who knows. Day and night no longer existed, nothing in the surrounding world could reach us, nothing could filter through to us and nothing else besides us counted anyway.
I went to the window and watched it.
The rain…

***

“Elisabetta?”
“Tell me.”
“Which position could we do tonight?”
“The lotus flower whipped by the wind.”
“What would it be?”
“First of all, you have to go out and look for a lotus flower.”

***

I found myself more and more often (if it makes sense to use this term in a timeless life), to my surprise, scrutinizing the nothingness beyond our world. I was complete, what else could I wish for? I was satisfied, happy; always. Always. Always.
God…
Elisabetta understood. She cried. She spoke.
“If you want to leave, you won’t be able to return.”
That was when I understood. Or, perhaps, I accepted a truth that I already knew.
“I know.”
“Isn’t all this enough for you?”
“I am a man, Elisabetta. I am a man. I will never have peace: this is my damnation.”
A quick kiss, no other word. I grabbed my jacket from the armchair and left; the door closed behind me and I was outside.
A couple of steps and I was already soaked. Another pair and I had already turned toward the house, toward Elisabetta.
“You knew it, Stefano. You have made your choice.”
No light, no building; nothing at all. Only water.
Water.
Water.
Holy water, perhaps.
I turned back on myself and moved forward. A couple of steps and I saw the dark mass, a couple more and I could make out an enormous tree against which my old Panda was resting, tired. All that remained was a meager tangle of sheets, the cockpit could no longer be distinguished from the rest of the car. Nobody could have come out alive. Nobody.
Yeah…
I slipped a wet Amadis out of the package in the pocket of my jacket, mechanically took it to my mouth and walked slowly, in the rain, toward the rain.

END

[First written as “La pioggia” 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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