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Authors: Maurizio de Giovanni,Antony Shugaar

The Bottom of Your Heart

BOOK: The Bottom of Your Heart
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Europa Editions
214 West 29th St., Suite 1003
New York NY 10001
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www.europaeditions.com
This book is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real people, or real locales are used fictitiously.
Copyright © 2014 by Giulio Einaudi Editore SpA, Torino
Published in arrangement with Thesis Contents srl and book© literary agency
First publication 2015 by Europa Editions
Translation by Antony Shugaar
Original Title:
In fondo al tuo cuore. Inferno per il commissario Ricciardi
Translation copyright © 2015 by Europa Editions
All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.
Cover Art by Emanuele Ragnisco
www.mekkanografici.com
Cover photo: Ex-voto. 19th or 20th century. Musée du Coeur
(Doctor and Mrs. Boyadjian Collection). MRAH, Parc du Cinquantenaire, Brussels
ISBN 9781609453022

Maurizio de Giovanni

THE BOTTOM OF YOUR HEART

THE INFERNO
FOR COMMISSARIO RICCIARDI

Translated from the Italian
by Antony Shugaar

For Paolo Repetti's big,
hidden heart.

I

T
he professor is falling.

He's falling, and as he falls, he spreads his arms wide, as if trying to embrace the scorching summer night that stretches out to catch him.

He's falling, and since the brief struggle knocked all the air out of his lungs, his body now pointlessly demands that he take a deep breath, even though the new lungful of oxygen won't do him a bit of good, won't even have a chance to make it into his bloodstream.

For that matter, his nose won't even register the scents from the blossoms on the trees and the flowers blooming in their beds, the smells from the open kitchen windows throughout the neighborhood, which is immersed in the blistering heat as if in some curse.

He falls with his eyes closed, ignoring the lights still burning in the windows of those unable to get to sleep despite the lateness of the hour, or further out, beyond the roofs of the apartment buildings that slope down to the sea, the streetlights lining the boulevard that marks the end of the network of narrow lanes, the
vicoli
of Naples.

The professor is falling. And as he does, his thoughts shatter into a thousand tiny shards, flickerings of consciousness that will never again construct one of those well-turned phrases for which he is so justly renowned in the lecture halls of the school of medicine. By now those flickerings are like so many fragments of a broken mirror, reflecting what little they can catch in the fall, yearning for the days when they could assemble a single, harmonious picture.

One of those shards catches a flicker of love.

If he only he could linger over the topic, the professor would muse on the strangeness of love. It makes you do such strange things, things you would never usually do; love sometimes makes you ridiculous, and other times fills your life with color. Love creates and love destroys, he would say, employing one of his proverbial figures of speech. Love can even throw you out a window.

But the professor is falling, and when you're falling you can afford nothing more than a few scattered shards of thought. And so, the fertile scientific mind accepts the fear of pain.

Pain is something you can study, the professor would declare, if he had the time and the leisure. Pain is a symptom, a sign that the complex machinery of the human body, about which we know so much and yet so little, is not functioning as it ought to be. A signal, a flashing warning light that demands attention: hurry, come running, something's wrong. With children—the professor would tell us if only he weren't falling—this is the problem: they can't tell us where it hurts, they don't understand the things they feel. They sob, they weep despairingly, but they say nothing; and the poor physician trying to cure the little devils has to blunder around in the dark, palpating here and there until a shout louder than the rest gives him a clue. You're cold, cold, you're getting warmer, hot!

If only he weren't falling at dizzying speed, the professor would reflect for the thousandth time about the strangeness of life, which can lead you to involve yourself professionally in matters you'd usually steer clear of. He, for instance, could never stand children; not even when he was a child himself, the morose only son of a work-obsessed provincial businessman and a weepy schoolteacher whose unctuous hugs he avoided like the plague. But there's not much you can do about it, he would have said with a shrug, if he hadn't been so busy windmilling his arms through the warm night air; a job is a job, and since women produce children, and his profession involved women, he necessarily had to work with children.

The professor is falling. And in a flash he realizes that there is no more time, even though the fall is lasting much longer than he ever would have expected.

There's no time to get back into shape, in the hopes of surviving the struggle that culminated in his being tossed out the window with such laughable ease, which is, after all, the reason he's now falling. And to think that he was proud of his smooth, sensitive surgeon's hands, so different from the rough, calloused hands of the many seekers who begged him to treat them, hats in hand and pockets empty; he was even proud of his flaccid flesh and double chin, clear signs of opulent dinners and highly placed friends, the envy of his jealous colleagues.

If only he'd been a little more muscular, if only he'd continued the long uphill climbs that once took him from his home to the hospital—before he purchased the gleaming new Fiat 521 C, its dashboard equipped with speedometer, clock, and fuel and oil gauges, its bodywork two-tone, black-and-cream, his pride and joy, now standing motionless on the pavement seventy feet below, presumably indifferent to its owner's flight through thin air—it might have kept him from falling. And now perhaps he'd still be presentable, his shirt wouldn't be torn, his suspenders wouldn't be unhooked, his gold-rimmed spectacles wouldn't be askew on his twisted face.

Still—the professor might be thinking, if the fall wasn't practically over by now—a person doesn't expect to have to fight for his life while he's sitting in his office planning out tomorrow's schedule. He expects, at the very worst, some unexpected visitor he can dismiss with a few caustic jokes; he certainly doesn't count on a hasty, desperate bare-fisted brawl, which caught him by such surprise that he didn't even have a chance to shout for help. Not that there would have been many people to hear him at that time of night, but a male nurse, a janitor, some intern with a vulgar, athletic build, the physique of a laborer, might have heard and come running; and now, instead of plummeting toward the pavement at dizzying speed—a speed he could have calculated if he weren't falling—he would be filing a criminal complaint for assault and battery.

It's strange the way time dilates in moments of extremity, the professor would have thought if he'd survived the fall. And he'd have described the way the brain, as it observes the fragments of thought flying through the air, lingers on some things but not all, by virtue of the wonderful rapidity with which this fantastic product of evolution is able to make certain connections and exclude others. The professor would explain how untrue it is what people say, that your whole life flashes before your mind's eye; for instance, there's not a trace of either his wife or his son in his rapid-fire thoughts, as they explode like fireworks, blazing and brilliant against the dark backdrop of night. Nor is there any sign of any of the numerous individuals who, in a convulsive choreography, populate the working day of a prominent professor of medicine with an endowed chair and plenty of hospital duties. Duties that he performs with zeal; in fact, let it be said, if he had only taken them a little less seriously, he'd now be sleeping comfortably in his bed instead of flapping through the darkness like a bat.

But what he does see, behind the lids of his closed eyes and the grimace on his face as he braces for impact, is the cheerful, vivid image of Sisinella.

Sisinella with her white teeth gleaming in the sunlight, or her red lips pursed in that tiny pout that drives him crazy. Sisinella laughing in the wind, holding her cunning little hat with both hands as they zip along at top speed with the top down in his magnificent automobile, purchased, basically, just for her. Sisinella as she takes him to a special and highly personal paradise, in the feather bed hauled up by no fewer than four porters to the new apartment in Vomero. Sisinella who makes a boy of him, he who never really was a boy, not even in his youth. Sisinella with her soft hands, Sisinella with her long legs, Sisinella with her strawberry-and-cream flesh. Sisinella.

The professor is falling, and as he falls he thinks about how much he would have liked to see her face, her expression as she unwrapped the package he was going to make sure she found, as if by accident, under her pillow. The jubilation that would have ensued, how she'd have been as excited as a little girl, her cheeks still red from lovemaking, her small nose wrinkled with joy, and her sumptuous young breasts heaving with pleasure. The reward she would have confered upon him for that gift. A pity. A real pity.

The professor is falling, but all things come to an end, and so does his fall. And that magnificent machine, evolution's most extraordinary creation, the brain that has produced so many acute, brilliant thoughts, taking its owner to the very peak of his profession, is largely ejected from the bony container that held it for more than fifty years and which now shatters like a walnut on its sudden impact against the ground, not much more than two seconds after the professor's foot first left the floor, seventy feet overhead.

In one final, immense flash, the giant fireworks display is extinguished in the memory of a childish, lustful smile.

II

T
hey would meet at the Palace of the Immacolatella, and there was never any need to make a date. They met every time word got around that a steamship was about to set sail, those huge ships with twin stacks and a horn that would split your eardrums and shake your chest, if you stood too close.

They'd meet in the late afternoon, when he had an hour off from his work as an apprentice and she could get away from her housework, while his master napped, snoring openmouthed in the chair behind the workbench, breath reeking of wine, and her mother sat sewing until she started yelling for her again, at the top of her lungs, to come and help make dinner.

He was twelve, but he had the eyes of a centenarian, the filthy ravaged hands of someone learning to master a trade, and a skinny, wiry body wrapped in a tattered jacket that had been turned inside out, a jacket that had once belonged to who knows who, who knows when. She was eleven, but her mouth, clenched tightly against hard work and tears, was that of a hundred-year-old woman; her nose was razor-sharp and her lips were thin, her eyebrows furrowed in her determination to survive.

He always got there first, and he'd always sit in the same place, between the mountains of coiled hawsers that were each the thickness of one of his arms. A carefully chosen observation post, from which it was possible to see the ship and the wharf, and the barges loading crates and bales full of things to transport far away. And you could also see
them
, sitting on the ground or stretched out, still asleep from the previous day, waiting for a departure they'd longed for and dreaded, a departure they'd secured by scrimping and saving for years. Some of them slept, others looked out to sea as if they'd never seen it before, garbed in the cheap clothing they'd washed and ironed almost as if for a party. The big ship awaited them, two sailors guarding the gangway, suspended in a long pregnant pause, waiting for the whistle that would signal the beginning of boarding.

The ship. A black beast, colossal, with its immense belly that would gobble them all up, take in everything, objects and people, leaving nothing behind it but the usual, terrible emptiness.

BOOK: The Bottom of Your Heart
10.18Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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