Fiorella Malchiodi – The Chest of Drawers

I look at the ancient chest of drawers and wonder if the latest events may be linked to the arrival of this object in my bedroom, close to the wall, and absurdly lying on one side. It is a bizarre idea, though everything began when this piece of furniture forcedly came back into my house, in this anomalous position.
I could do nothing about it. Lidia, the neighbour who lives next door, was going to sell the basement where I had relegated it for years, and she asked me to take it back. I would have left it in the middle of the road, considering how little I cared for it. An antique chest of drawers, with lion’s feet, just my favourite style! But she protested and said that it would be an uncivilized behaviour. “I don’t care about being civilized”, I was going to reply, but then I shut up. I cannot quarrel with Lidia. Her discreet presence is crucial in my life, because she filters my contacts with the outside world. Soon after I moved in, when she realized that I never answered the street doorbell, first she was astonished, of course, and started looking at me inquiringly. Then later she understood. She is smart, and generous, and I did not have to explain or ask anything. On her own, when the bell rings insistently, she answers for me, and if an urgent message arrives, very tactfully she puts a message under my door. And even if now, more and more rarely someone knocks at my door, the presence of this screen is of great relief to me. Thus, to preserve our friendship, I accepted to take the chest of drawers back in the house, at least as long as I found a way of getting rid of it. And I could not find a place where to put it, since everywhere it blocked the passage or the opening of doors or windows. Eventually, the only solution I found was to turn it on one side and push it close to the wall in front of my bed, so that the window was not completely blocked and I could turn around it.
And sooner or later, even if only now I realize it, it was an abnormal, stranger presence, something broken. If I look around, I cannot ignore that this object is unfit with the inflexible geometry of my house, made of simple and undecorated lines. It took so much time to create it! Did I really need that closed bookcase, which was so expensive, to preserve the books from dust? I thought so initially, when I still did not read clearly inside of me. No, I was not worried about the dust. It was the heterogeneity of hundreds of spines that troubled me, all different for shapes, sizes and colours. I feel sick if I think how much time I spent exposed to that exasperating variety. Now it is still there, but it is well hidden behind thick wooden walls. I know it exists, but it is far away, under control, unable to hurt my sight. Then it was the turn of all those silly objects that populated my rooms, such as souvenirs from exotic journeys or futile presents received by friend. I had accumulated them in the course of the years, without realizing that they were jeopardising my psychological balance. I started leaving bags full of things near the garbage can at night, once, and then again, and again, and again, and at last all the surfaces of my house were freed of that useless stuff. Finally, I disposed of the paintings. At that time, my friends still used to visit me and from time to time, and I would propose, “What do you think about this watercolour? If you like it, you can take it”. They refused at the beginning, some more, and some less obstinately, but I went on providing farfetched explanations. “Look, it will be a relief for me, I don’t like it, it seems so outdated”. “It was painted by I friend with whom I broke, I can’t stand it anymore!”. “Do you really like it? A cow under a tree? Look, if you take it, I will be grateful forever!”. I got rid of most of them this way. I gave the last ones to a friend who was going to decorate a coffee shop. She had never been in my house and I did not have to justify these bared walls. And now, I need to give no more explanations, since nobody visits my house anymore. I still remember the last time. My friends had forced me to give a party and I had accepted unwillingly, I hardly tolerated those meetings, where I was obliged to conform to the general good humour. Finally, the group of closer friends (they had obviously planned it before, my so-called friends, always talking behind my back!) started reproaching me. “Why do you go out so seldom, why did you stop coming to the movies, why don’t you spend your holidays with us anymore?”. Such a reprimand, I had to fight the temptation of kicking them all out! “What do you know about my life?”, I would have liked to ask. There was one of them especially, with such a ruffian and complaining tone: “Why do you want to deprive us of the pleasure of your friendship?”. “But what friendship?”, I would have wished to shout at him. On the contrary, I listened patiently, nodding, and behaving as I was impressed by their criticisms, and saddened, and also surprised, as if it was the first time that I reflected about my solitude, and finally grateful for their interest. I promised I would change.
They left happy, they had done their good deed. And when I closed the door, what a satisfaction to cancel their names, one by one, from my cell phone! They must have tried to call me, but now they were unknown names. I never answered, and finally the calls stopped. At last, I was alone. What a relief! I had reached my goal.
A perfect order in my house and in my life, achieved after years of attempts and slight improvements. Now it was all so well organized, a perfectly functioning mechanism. Then, all of a sudden, this obnoxious presence, this stupid bulky object. How could I ignore that such an irregular shape, a real eccentricity, would alter the balance that I reached with so much difficulty? And put it in my bedroom? The first thing I see when I wake up in the morning. It risks spoiling everything!
In fact, shortly after its arrival, the first alarm bell: it cannot have been a coincidence. It was the morning after. I was still looking around in the entrance, to see if there really was no other place to put it, when the street doorbell rang. I was right there, I could not say what really happened, still, without realizing it, as if an ancient reflex that I thought extinct, had arisen again unexpectedly… I pressed the bottom and opened the street door. The metallic sound startled me. “Oh my god, what did I do?”.
I heard Lidia’s door open. Naturally she was curious and was wondering why I had opened the door, while footsteps were coming up the stairs. I did not know what to do. I thought of running away, and hiding under the blankets, but I stayed there, listening to the footsteps, which had arrived at the landing, and to the voice that spoke to Lidia, who was waiting at the door.
– Hi, I am your new upstairs neighbour. Sorry to disturb you, I still don’t have the street door key.
– Don’t worry, – said Lidia. Then they introduced themselves to each other and started talking. So I learned that the guy is a film critic, who works mostly at home, like me.
“That’s a bit of a nuisance!” I thought. The other neighbours have their life scheduled by the work time. I know when to go out without risking of meeting them. But this guy’s habits will be unpredictable. I may bump into him at night, when I go out to get the money at the cash machine. However, some days passed and I did not meet him, with great relief. Was it a relief? Or was it not? I felt his presence in his apartment, however, which is just on top of mine. Sometimes there was music, but from very faraway, it did not disturb me. I also heard his footsteps, which were quiet and soft. “Could he be a cat?” I thought.
Then, a few days after, the episode of the sock. One morning I enter the sitting room and I see a dark object behind the windowpanes. I open the window and it is a typical man’s sock. I lean out to look up and see that the new neighbour has hung out his laundry on drying racks under his window. I take the sock and go upstairs, to leave it on the door handle. But when I arrive there, there is no handle. What should I do? Should I leave it on the doormat? Or go downstairs and put in the letterbox? Maybe the box opening is too small. While I stay there, reflecting, the door opens and the neighbour comes out.
– Oh, you found it! Sorry, I still have to buy some clips. Do you want to come in for a coffee?
He takes the sock from my hands and stands back to let me in. I am petrified, maybe I should hustle down the stairs, or maybe not, and while I stay there confused and motionless, I hear the music that he is listening to and I recognize it. I would like to say, “No, thank you, it’s kind of you, but I’d better go”, but other words come out of my lips, and I cannot believe to my own ears.
The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls.
He looks at me smiling and continues:
and the tenement halls. A great musician, but also a great poet, do you agree?
I nod, while I ask myself from which hidden site of my brain this memory has flown out. It is such a long time since I listened to that song, and I loved it so much. Why did I stop listening to it? And I still remember its lyrics? Now my confusion is really too big. I turn back and rush downstairs, close the door behind me, throw myself on the bed, hide my head under the pillow. I want to stop thinking, stop thinking, stop thinking. After a while I raise my head, open the eyes and see the chest of drawers. The suspect has arisen at that very moment. “It’s all your fault! You decided to spoil my life!”
Yesterday the neighbour slipped a note under my door. “I found the Central Park Concert on Youtube. If you want, we can listen to it together. We don’t need to talk”. Of course, she must have asked Lidia, who has explained. Maybe she described me as an autistic. But I am not angry at her. I keep turning the note in my hands and I feel confused and nervous, but under a heap of fear, uncertainty and disillusions, there is also a weak expectation, and a faint hope.

Translation edited by Amy Scarlett Holt