I’ve never loved music.
Truth be honest, I’ve never hated it either.
I’ve always felt a warm indifference, which never turned into open hostility.
My farthest musical recollections are gathering dust between the notes of Fra Martino Campanaro and the lyrics to Romagna Mia, which my father would hum during ‘Feste dell’Unità’1.
In my adolescent years, when my girlfriends acted as provincial groupies following Pooh, I’d tail after them, but without any conviction. After all, even a Nomadi concert at the Oratory’s sports field was better than my parents’ couch or some images of Princess Sissi showing on TV.
Although Miguel Bosè’s hairless face watched over my teenage dreams from the height of a Sorrisi e Canzoni TV poster on my bedroom wall, I think that that had nothing to do with his music, I can’t even recall a note of his songs, or a title.
I was given an iPod years ago: it stores just a French language course I usually listen to during my comings and goings to my childhood house. My brothers, supported by their kind spouses, appointed me as our parents’ acting caretaker by virtue of my job as a nurse and by being an old spinster, even though single-with-no-regrets sounds more alluring.
(Who could look after our folks better than you? Thanks to your experience you just need a glance to realize if there’s something wrong and, if that’s the case, you can call us. A daily stroll to their place may even be a distraction to you, you have so much spare time…). I could have refused to do that, I could have told them to go to hell, but mum and dad are good people, even though they gave birth to two assholes.
I did not banish music from my life on purpose, it happened by chance; sometimes we even came slightly close without really getting to know each other. At least until thirteen months ago, when I met you. And I discovered jazz music.
I was sitting in second row, dragged to the theatre by Lucia Zanetti, a colleague of mine going through depression. She wanted to go to a jazz concert to feel sufficiently cool.
After much pleading and whimpering, something like By now, at our age, what’s left to us? When a woman is fifty, she’s already past her expiry date…, I decided to go with her, if for no other reason than cutting her ‘by now litany’ short, which was letting years and years of behaviourist psychotherapy go to waste. (My problem is that I never stop being a nurse even when my shift is over, and my therapist hasn’t managed to tackle it either).
I reluctantly wore my special occasions’ sheath dress, which every year gets tighter and tighter round my hips, and I picked up Lucia from her place. The poor creature is even more wretched than I: I am a caretaker for an hour a day, she is doing it full time, considering that she never left her father’s house.
As Luisa was walking down the path, I caught a glimpse of her father’s silhouette peeping at her daughter through the cross stitched little curtains: she looked like someone ready for the dance hall rather than a piano concert.
«I love going out with you! We should do that more often», Luisa twittered smacking three kisses on my cheeks and flooding my Fiat Panda with her Patchouli, a fragrance out of date in the Eighties, never mind now!
“God forbid! Music’s not at the top of my passions, and not even in the middle for that matter; besides, with this night out you’ve used up all of my acts of kindness toward you for the next six months, my darling miss Zanetti!”
This is what I wanted to say to her, but as strong as my temptation was, I kept it to myself.
After a pleasantly humoured drive, during which my colleague informed me in detail about all the symptoms of the first stages of menopause (You’ll see… there is a whole bunch of problems: bursts of heat, insomnia, palpitations… Prepare for it… even tough you’re a little younger than me, you’re not a spring chicken either!), I managed to find a parking spot on a street not far from the concert’s venue.
As my companion, from the height of her heels, was staggering through the cobbled streets downtown, we reached the theatre, of course embarrassingly early.
«Shall we have a drink?», she suggested while dragging me to the most expensive bar in the city. Sitting at the counter, the mirror was reflecting the image of two middle-aged women playing the Sex and the City game.
«Prosecco?», Lucia was looking at my glass of Franciacorta, shocked. «Don’t you know that alcohol is pure poison at our age? And don’t get me started with calories!». However, pouncing at the peanuts, she actually started to discuss the calorie potential of every delicacy inhabitating my fridge, then she moved on to the advantages of a zone diet or a AB0 blood type group one.
To my relief, the hands of the clock above the counter finally reached ten to nine, so we hurried to get to the theatre.
«Do you like jazz?» Lucia asked me, handing our tickets to the usher at the entrance.
«Not really», I answered bluntly; the idea of the concert appealed to me just because it would have prevented me from any conversation with her.
«I’m not an enthusiast either, but they say that this pianist is really good. And then again, I love doing something unusual from time to time!»
The red velvets of the ‘Teatro Grande’ made Lucia lose some of her confidence; sitting among those golden stuccoed walls, she was now smoothing her skirt, too short for that social milieu and, to be honest, for her legs too.
After trying in vain to involve me in a selfie, she resigned to the idea of capturing the moment all by herself . Then she immediately shared the picture on her Facebook page(Our colleagues will be green with envy!).
Meanwhile I started to relax, sinking in my seat in the stalls. At last it got dark and I was already relishing at the prospect of a nap: the glass of sparkling wine was doing his job. A beam of light suddenly lit the piano at the centre of the stage. The audience burst into an applause loaded with expectation, and I joined in with no particular enthusiasm.
A lanky, gaunt-faced thirty-year-old man entered the stage and sat in front of the keyboard. The other members of the band emerged from the darkness. Notes started floating in the air, and suddenly the swing took hold of me.
The acknowledgement happened between an arrangement of Summertime and a rag version of Un gelato al limon. Your hands were flying on the piano keys, your eyes half-closed in an almost physical pleasure.
I dried up mine and I struggled to get my breath back. My hands were strained on the armrests, moist with sweat, my heart was giving out dangerous signs of tachycardia but, despite of what Lucia said before, it had nothing to do with menopause. The recollection of ancient blushes emerged from a memory I thought lost forever; a renown languor, though forgot for a long time, crept up on me. The songs went on, one after another, grains of a rosary which held me more and more tightly to your slender body and to your husky, thick voice. My mind, terrified, was shrinking from an emotion that I was refusing to name.
The end of the concert left us breathless.
Drained from your interpretation of Night and Day, you looked bewildered at the audience hidden in semi-darkness. I felt your fleeting gaze was caressing me and for the first time in a long time I wished I was beautiful.
The homecoming was silent. Miss Zanetti, collapsed on the passenger seat, had fallen in a noisy, sound sleep. She opened her eyes only when I braked to a halt in front of her house.
«Home already? Good night. See you tomorrow at work», she mumbled.
«Bye, Luisa. Thank you for the pleasant evening» I told her. And I was sincere.
I didn’t sleep that night. The songs were still echoing in my ears. I closed my eyes and saw you again, sitting at the piano, concentrating on the notes of Guarda che luna.
Dawn was coming: I stood up and turned my PC on: you’re neither married, nor engaged and, so it seems, not gay. As for me, I felt like a complete idiot, and a bit pathetic too.
That day, when my shift at the hospital was over, I put my trainers on, retraced the same street of the night before and found myself in front of the theatre. I must have looked quite odd: a woman wearing a tracksuit and quilted jacket staring at a closed door in a daze
I went into the first record shop I found, one of the few surviving in this digital era, and I bought every CD which featured your name. I came back to my place and, still wrapped up in my jacket, I inserted a disk at random into my laptop (at that time I didn’t even have a radio). Your voice spoke to me again. That night it was the first time I had danced in my life.
It’s been thirteen years since then: I changed my iPod, I know who Miles Davis and Franco Cerri are, I bought a stereo.
And I followed you: Milan, Bologna, even Barcelona last summer.
Lucia seems ecstatic to have found an accomplice with whom she can escape from mum and dad’s embroidered curtains at weekends. She’s not that depressed anymore, hanging out in jazz clubs and theatres makes her feel very ‘radical chic’.
Last week Doctor Ferrini, head of geriatrics, bought me a coffee in the hospital’s bar (apparently, I’ve become visible these last few months) and asked me out to dinner.
«It’s the traditional charity event organized by the clinic. I would be really pleased if you accompanied me», told me in his warm and kind voice, the same that makes all the grannies in the ward blush with embarrassment.
I picked up the ivory-coloured card his neat hand was handing to me and I read: We request the honour of your presence at the traditional Christmas dinner. The proceeds will be allocated to the association “Insieme si può” [Together we can do it]. To gladden the evening, the jazz of Marco Piovani.
As I was reading your name, it all turned black.
While Dr. Ferrini caught the sudden blushing going all over my face I caught his satisfied expression: he is a good man, but he’s not immune to male egocentrism either.
I took some time and told him that I would have thought about it.
Now the card lays on my bedside table, among throat pastilles and handkerchiefs. I open up the wardrobe and I wonder which dress I could wear that night: the old sheath dress has been set aside for a while in a black sack for the charity shop. Even though jazz music renewed my wardrobe, I can’t find anything suitable for the occasion, anything apt to disguise this old bag in love with you.
Trousers… skirt… long skirt… short dress… hair dye… new haircut… old haircut… red lipstick… no lipstick…
But I do not intend to dream about how to camouflage myself any further: I will not be there.
I’ll pretend to be sick and apologize to Dr. Ferrini, who won’t surely doubt my good faith and my genuine regret.
I could tell you that I don’t feel up to it, that I fear to appear invisible to your eyes. But that would still be bearable, though sorrowful.
What really scares me it’s the remote but real possibility, that you are not up to it, and then these thirteen months would be nothing but a wonderful mystification. So I’d rather not meet you. I’d rather not know.
I pull out the blue dress from the wardrobe; I wanted to use it for the first time next month, when you’ll be back in our city’s theatre. The frosting caress of satin on my naked skin makes me shudder involuntarily.
I tear the ivory-coloured card to shreds and I turn on my stereo. Your voice is whispering Via, via, vieni via con me. My feet are already moving: here I am, eloping with you, I follow you, dancing… for as long as the song lasts, two minutes and forty-five seconds.
Translation by Monica Frigerio (edited by Sabrina Macchi)
1 ‘Festa de l’Unità’ is an annual social-democratic celebration in Italy, originally organised by the Italian Communist Party to finance and spread its official newspaper l’Unità [Unity], and now organised by Partito Democratico.