Marinella Farella – The game

In the purple evening shadows, the crickets chirping sounded low like a litany. But there was a spot, down in the middle of the grassy basin where the cypresses towered in a circle against the sky, where the sound echoed so intense as to become almost uproar. There, under the bluish foliage, visitors to the old cemetery quickened their steps, because no tomb was placed there and no bench was inviting to contemplative repose. But anyone whostopped to listen more carefully, instead of plugging his ears with a grimace of annoyance, would have recognized some voices that had nothing to do with the little black grasshoppers.
«Try to make up your mind, old idiot. It is night already!» croaked a dark little figure curled up on the lawn.
«Be patient, Number One. Certain resolutions should not be taken in a jiffy. We have to see, consider, evaluate … » murmured someone else in a bored tone.
«Evaluate? Consider? Reason, Number Two: when has this rogue ever made an objective assessment?».
«What would you do? Tell me» said a third voice, as cold as a frozen lake.
Number One rose with a hop. In the residual light peeped a wrinkled face, slightly asymmetrical, over an old hunched body. «I? Why the hell do you ask? I should stay silent, I should! Everyone must attend to his duties, you always say».
«It’s not very useful, since you keep on meddling in my work».
«It’s you, ugly witch, who interfere in mine! I make things pretty well, and you ruin everything». Number Three, who was given these angry words, raised a mangy eyebrow. «Shall we gamble?».
«Let’s gamble, then. But do not cheat, or I’ll never look into your face again».
Number Two, who had given up on settling the dispute, held the frayed basket lying not far away on the grass, and stared at her sisters’ lips to better grasp the meaning of what they were saying. «I’ll be the referee» she whispered when she realized what was about to happen. From the indolence of her movements, however, it was obvious that she did not want to.
The crickets’ sound became more insistent. Now it was almost deafening, but the old ladies did not seem to be disturbed. Number Three fumbled so slowly in a messy apron pocket, pulled out a small white dice and handed it to her sister with a smile. «Who wants to start?» she asked.
«The stakes first» muttered Number One.
«The stakes’ reasons first» crooned Number Two.
«All right» said Number One, gritting her sole three teeth left. «Just look at how it started. His mother did not want him, not even his father: they did not know how to maintain him. He just should not have beenborn, that black haired cutie-pie».
«That is all your fault. Don’t you agree?» said Number Three.
«If you didn’t spare gold and silk… » added softly Number Two, almost apologizing for the statement.
«Hemp is more abundant and costs less», declared Number One. «However, that is not what I wanted to talk about: I meant to remind you that, despite the adverse circumstances, he grew intelligent and rugged, full of joie de vivre».
«True», acknowledged Number Two.
«You have a strange concept of strength», chuckled Number Three; but she had to stop because was all shook by a fit of cough. Once re-established, she wiped with her sleeve the saliva dripping from her mouth. «He was always hungry», he continued. «His emaciated and crippled cat was more fit than him. And you wanted that, Number Two».
«True», she agreed.
«True, true, true», mimicked Number One, hitting her bald head with her fist.
«Besides», Number Three continued, ignoring her sisters’ grunts «he grew, ok, but as a little criminal. How many shopkeepers has he ripped off, pretending to enter their stores to beg?»
«He was hungry!»
«As if that justified everything! He stole out of necessity, I agree, but why make common cause with drug dealers, a few years later? Certainly he didn’t use the money he had earned to feed himself or his family».
«His parents did not deserve anything: obscured by alcohol as they were, they didn’t even remember havinga child. What way could open up in front of an ignorant and needy boy, who had not attended compulsory school and had never seen a penny in his life?»
«True», repeated Number Two.
Number Three was not discouraged. «He didn’t have many chances, all right. But at twenty-five years he had the good fortune to meet that blonde starlet, so elegant and graceful, who was madly in love with him. He had only to accept her help: he could have cleaned himself up and led a decent life».
«Yes … And wagging when she called him, cowering when she was annoyed, licking her face when she reminded him how much he owed her. You define a decent life living as a chained dog? That woman was not in love with him, but with the generosity and selflessness that she liked to flaunt in front of her friends, when they scolded her for her strange sentimental choices».
«Freedom is important, ok, but so is honesty», said Number Three. «If he did not want to engage with her, why didn’t he go out of her villa as naked as he had entered it? After having deceived and beaten her, he saw fit to carry away all the gifts she bestowed him».
«A gift is a gift: it shouldn’t be returned. He jostled her, it is true, but she was going to smash his head with the crystal vase in the living room. Defending oneself is not a crime, but a right».
The crickets were silent at last. Night had fallen. A clear summer night, flooded by the sweet scent of flowers that decked the tombstones. But too dark to be able to read the numbers on the faces of the dice. Number One blew and a faint bluish flame was kindled in the middle of the cypress trees circle.
«However, when the woman’s bodyguard chased him, he could be saved by returning what he had taken away. Why lethimself be incriminated of theft? And why did he try to kill the poor man who was only doing his duty?»
«He didn’t try to kill him, it was an accident. What should he do, that unhappy boy? The poor man, as you call it, is an energumen with a past more questionable than his: he has already killed, you know. He was pointing a firearm against him, there was a scuffle and a shot was fired. That’s all».
«Well, sisters», concluded Number Two, coming out of her silence and pulling a small spindle out of the basket. «Who will be reached by that shot?»
«Even, the brute. Indeed, no one», said Number One.
«Odd, the boy», relaunched Number Three.
Number Two took the time to turn the spindle in her hands, rolling out a thick thread of hemp handing its ending to Number One. Number Three tossed in the air the candid dice, which drew a brighter spiral than a firefly trail before falling on the grass, a few steps away from them. All three leaned to see the result.
«Four: he is saved!» exulted Number One. «The game is over. Will you respect the deal?»
«Sure», replied Number Three, and drew from her pocket a large pair of scissors, with which to cut the thread quickly.
Number Two yawned, putting the spindle away.
«Fuck», muttered Number One.
High up in the clear sky, the stars twinkled.

Translation by Anna Anzani (edited by Irene Tossi)