The notebook

I

My name is Adam Molloy.

I woke up one morning feeling nauseated about a smell in the bedroom. At the beginning, I could only barely open the eyes, conquered by an invincible force that would not allow me to open them more; my head laid on the left cheek, half out of the right border of the mattress, and so did my right arm, which instead was folded so, that my fingers could touch the floor and feel the moquette.

I didn’t move my head at first, and so the image that stood in my field of vision was that of a big portrait (Menec ‘86, read the signature). The landscape represented a forest covered by a dense mantle of fog, with greens going to browns and trees I could not name (I’d never been any good at recognizing the trees, my uncle Tobia would never get tired of repeating when I was living with him ── this was after my mom had gone and my father too, but he, at least, not quite as conclusively). In the foreground, a man sleeps in his bed (we observe the scene through a section of a house), and a young girl with a flat nose and a stray eye pours some liquid in his ear.

In the middle of the forest ── it was clearly autumn in some slow corner in Germany ── stood a magnificent and maybe too big tiger. Maybe too fat? It was as if the animal had come in the drawing from some other one, where the proportions were different; but I couldn’t feel it as out of place, or at least, not as much as _I_ was.

I managed to move my fingers and make lever under my shoulder to finally sit on the edge of the bed. The heating was on (Samantha didn’t feel comfortable if it wasn’t very warm) and I only wore the bottom of my pajamas. From out of the window came some muffled sound of cars, here and there: the road was busy as usual, and, judging from the brightness of the light, I think it must have been past ten in the morning. She was taking a shower. I decided to get out of there and to have a walk to clarify my ideas.

II

I walked for many hours, only stopping by a diner to have a miserable lunch of hamburger and coffee with lots of sugar; I kept walking and lost track of the time. I stopped in front of the porch of a house, where the members of a family of three were all seated on rocking chairs, sipping from small cups, barely speaking to each other. The house had a fence, but it was very low, and its inhabitants didn’t seem to care to be observed by the passers-by, even though, I think, I must have been the only one in a very long time. The whole Via della Resistenza was like that: houses with big porches, zero cars, soothing silence. A little boy stared at me from the porch, not really insistingly but rather with curiosity. He raised his left hand, while the right held the cup, in a sign of greeting, nodding slightly. He wasn’t smiling. I raised my hand in the same salutation, then walked away.

At the end of Via della Resistenza was a park. The sun had just set, and the last mums with their kids were chatting by the merry-go-round, which was closed. Some of the trees were similar to the ones I had observed in the drawing that same morning, maybe more spectral.

A man was sitting lonely on a bench and was looking at me. He must have been my age. He wore sunglasses and a strange hat that reminded me of old and bad detective stories. A raincoat covered most of his body but seemed thrown at him rather than actually worn, too big for him by a couple of sizes anyway. His legs were crossed; his arms as well, touching at the elbows, so that his hands pointed to the ground out of the opposite directions, the left to the right, the right to the left. Something calm, and nervous at the same time, seemed to emanate from him.

I couldn’t swear he was really looking at me, because of the sunglasses. For some reason, however, I decided that I didn’t want to let go, not that evening; and went closer, and greeted him ── Good evening, I said. Can I sit?
── Be my guest, he said with a half smile.
── Enjoying the fresh air?
── Something like that.

A pause; he wouldn’t say a word. I learned soon that it was his main characteristic, not being afraid of silence. He didn’t feel the obligation to say something, and he didn’t. I felt nervous for the silence, so I said, looking in front of me at the pond with the reflections of the sun:
── I like this park. (I didn’t really mean it.)
── Yeah, me too, he said, tilting his head. I like it at sunset. And after a pause: What do you like about it?
── I don’t know. It’s pretty quiet, replied I, formally. Well, the whole neighborhood is.
── You seem uncomfortable. Something troubling you?
── No, man, said I, shaking my head slowly. Indeed something is, but I can’t really put it into words.
── Is it the job?
── No. I mean, not that I know. Maybe yes. I feel trapped in a routine; I’ve felt like that for a couple of years already.
── Oh, replied the man, as if he was surprised, or disappointed: it was hard to tell. But, you know ── he said, a little apologetically ── I understand you; I know what it feels to be trapped.

He paused, maybe embarrassed, or maybe confused. After a minute, he waved his hand to his left and broke the silence.

III

── My name is Tommaso, he started. ── My father was Piero Menec, and he was a famous architect. He designed houses and big buildings for corporations; and had a lot of work: the war had just ended, and there was so much to build. He met my mother late in his years. They told me their story countless times, and that story shaped my idea of romanticism and of the pain that love can cause.

My mother, Lisa, was a lawyer. She met my father on a construction site that would be the headquarters of a corporation called the Sovereign. My father didn’t notice her at first, as if he had been sleeping. Then it felt like he was recognizing someone; actually, a part of him recognized her almost immediately, long before his senses did. Does this make any sense to you? I wouldn’t know how else to describe that, apart from saying that he loved. And love is vicious, it is angry. If you don’t become his slave, it’ll torture you and bite at you and chew you and then spit you out.

My father couldn’t sleep. He couldn’t think about anything else. His projects were delayed, he met his few friends less and less. After a few weeks of great indecisiveness and torment, my father found the courage to ask her out. They had dinner in the most exquisite restaurant in the city, the Tabor, and walked for hours around the river. Both were avid to know everything about each other. My mother discovered that my father loved painting and my father that my mother had a knack for writing fiction, and had published a book under a pseudonym.

They decided to meet again, and they met for a few months. My father then asked her in marriage, to which she happily replied in the affirmative. He designed the house that would become theirs as a married couple. Two years later, I was born. In my eyes, we were a perfectly happy family with the incredible power and will to build the world we wanted.
But then something changed. I was eighteen.

My father became more and more absent, giving pretexts as to what brought him far from home for so long every day. Sometimes he disappeared for days on end, always with the excuse of work. The Sovereign was expanding very quickly, he said and needed new buildings in the whole country. My mother felt lonely and started growing suspicious. She cried every night. I spied on her from another room, pretending I wouldn’t hear her. I shivered. I had never seen her cry, and that spectacle perturbed me, to the point that I couldn’t move a finger. One night I entered the kitchen, where this pitiful scene was being played again. ── Mum, said I. Please don’t cry. ── I didn’t know what else to say, and in retrospective, it seems pretty stupid. She looked at me, surprised; tried to compose herself. She came close to me, slapped me, and then went upstairs in her room.

Tommaso paused his face in a grimace of sorrow. He waited another minute, never looking at me.

── I went out of the house. I didn’t know what to do, or where to go, so I went to Beniamino’s house. Beniamino was a retired priest who had taken care of me when, a few years before, I was alone and friendless. He supervised the activities of one Catholic association, where the youth of the parish met once or twice a week to just play and stay together. I met my best friends there. I knocked at his door, asking for advice. He was an extraordinary man, always trying to help his kids, as he used to call us. And a man of iron principles. When, many years later, the scandal of the pedophile priests burst in the public eye, he decided he couldn’t take it, and renounced his vows, starting to work as a school teacher. He just couldn’t stand the view of his colleagues anymore and preferred to stay as far from any of them as possible.
── What happened?, he asked me. I told him of my mother. He was sitting on a wooden chair in the dim light of his parlor. From the kitchen sink, we would hear the drops of water from a leak, falling in the basin and causing a metallic beep, beep, beep. He frowned the whole time. It was especially astonishing, to me, because I always had seen him smile. My world was being crossed by a tornado. The people I thought I knew, and the happiness I thought I had, were suddenly changing.
── I don’t want to lie to you, and you’re old enough to know. Your father is seeing a woman. I’ve talked to him already, told him to think about his family, but he wouldn’t listen. He is blinded by his feelings.

I don’t know what I felt, continued Tommaso. By that age, I understood few things, but not that kind of weakness. I wanted to be furious, but I was something else. I think I was only resolute to unmask my father’s lies. I thanked Beniamino. He asked me to go back home and look after my mother; I told him I would, but those were only words. I went straight to my father’s office in the old town.

From the street, I could see the light turned on behind the curtain of the window. I tried the front door, but it was closed. I went to the backyard and tried the back door, and though it was closed, I knew of a small defect in the lock that would allow me to enter anyway. The door gave way under my push: my father hadn’t been careful enough to repair that lock. There was silence in the house, except for a slight swish, like of a big cloth falling down from the thing it was covering, as if it was a magician’s show’s last trick, when the audience is silent, breathless, for the curiosity of what will be unveiled before their eyes, as if it could be a supreme revelation about the essence of their lives and sorrows.

I entered the office and saw a girl dressing up. She must have been our age. I saw the figure of my father partially in the bathroom’s door-frame. He turned and saw me at the same time the girl did. He paled. ── Son; it was the only word he could say. I went straight to the drawer. I took the piece from inside, and without a second’s thought, shot at my father. But the gun contained no bullet. The girl screamed; I was scared; I pointed the gun at her, and shot her too, pointlessly enough. During this whole time, I had been unencumbered by any form of thought. It wasn’t me. I couldn’t feel anything but anger and pain. I watched at the horror in my father’s face, and couldn’t believe it was true. My eyes filled with tears.
My father was trying to talk to the girl, then at me; I wouldn’t listen.

I went away.

IV

Tommaso spent the next twenty years moving from place to place, changing jobs and women, without never seeing his father ever again. He knew that her mother had filed for divorce and that he consented. Not long after, he died under unclear circumstances; his mother re-married less than a year later with one Mr. Jonas Fenn, an English merchant, that he met only once.
The only persons he kept in touch with were Beniamino, his mother, and the sister that was born from his mother’s second marriage.
── I came back to this town but three years ago. Beniamino and my mother have both died. The only thing that she left me was a small notebook by some author for which she was the agent. I never opened it for at least a year. One day, I was in great distress over something insignificant, a deal I wanted to get at all cost. I paced the room of my office for hours, had meetings with all the managers in my company, didn’t go home to sleep. The notebook was on a table. I started reading some pages. It contained many stories, most of them very beautiful. I couldn’t stop reading. At first, I thought it was my mother’s work: I knew of her love for writing. However, the handwriting was not the one I remember being my mother’s; and also, there were some initials in the beginning ── E.A. ── which had nothing to do with her name or her pseudonym.
My attention was caught by one of the stories; the facts themselves, though told as in a novel set in an improbable world, were all about my life; in a different context, but pretty much all the important events I had lived, and even before it, from my parents’ first encounter, my confrontation with my father, to my travels, my first love, my failures. I soon discovered it was a faithful chronicle of my life, better written than however I myself could have written it. Why had my mother such a notebook? I’ve started to read the notebook every day, it’s the only thing I do. I’ve read about my death: it will be terrible. I’ll be poisoned by someone who hates me. But who does? I have no enemies; at least, none that would go so far as that.
I also knew you would come today. There was even some detail about you and Samantha, and some words about your father grieving the loss of your mother and trusting you to her brother. There’s the description of a farm. That’s where you were raised, ain’t it? But while on some things the book is very detailed, on others it leaves infinite openings to all sort of miracles to happen around the main script. I didn’t know your face, for example, or the smell of the air, or the subject of conversation of those mothers over there. Little by little, though, I’ve become that notebook’s slave, and, to my surprise, I’ve discovered that so was my father: he was trying to decipher its meaning, too. The notebook itself contained a description of itself and of my father’s and my obsession. To this day, I haven’t found its author.

V

── Do you see that young girl over there, pretending to mind her own business? ── asked Tommaso.
── You mean the blond one leaned against that… beech?
── An oak, corrected he. You were close.
── What about her?
── She’s my sister. I’m 25 years older than her.
── You don’t look old to me. We must be the same age.
── It doesn’t matter when you’re old story anyway. There’s something in the notebook about her. It says that she’s doesn’t know happiness, because I always was our mother’s favorite.

As if some switch had been flipped, the blond girl moved away from the tree and came in our direction. She was dressed lightly: the air was only now starting to get a bit chilly. She was not pretty; but she had something in her look, that gave her something vaguely disturbing. I noticed only when she was close that her right eye didn’t point in the direction of her left one. Her nose was small and flat; on her eyes, she wore a pretty heavy mascara, red and black. Her skirt was very conservative, something Samantha would never consider as part of her wardrobe. She walked assertively, but with a tired face; and something in her whole posture gave me the idea that she might be a very meek person. She must have been the kind of person that never met someone who couldn’t live without her, and she accepted it. She wished me good evening.

── Shall we go back home, Tommaso?
── Yes, Chiara. We can go. Nice meeting you, …
── Adam, quoth I.
── Nice meeting you, Adam.

A month or so passed. One morning, I read in the newspaper that a man had been found dead in his house, where he lived alone. He had been poisoned. I saw the picture: it was Tommaso.

VI

When I was a kid, I observed my mother’s library. It was divided into two parts: on the right, the books she had read; on the left, the books that she would read. Every new book she bought, went straight to the left. I don’t know how many volumes were there. There must have been hundreds. My father, Giorgio, and I were allowed to read any book, but not to move them from the right part to the left, or vice versa. That was my mother’s privilege.

My father owned a small restaurant in the old town; my mother, Erica, wrote books. I don’t know if she ever sold any. I only know that she would spend all the time she had for herself on that one activity. Often, at night, she took one of her notebooks and read me a story to sleep. They were all beautiful stories, even though I found them very curious, compared to what I read for school. There were giants and fairies, and kingdoms and paladins; but also robots and cyborgs, spaceships and galactic odysseys; there was envy, and love, and secrets guarded by dragons, and other secrets, more dangerous, guarded by powerful sorcerers wearing suits and firing lasers. I loved my mother and I hated the world that wouldn’t crown her a famous and honored writer.

Sometimes I would get close to look at her while she was writing. She noticed me, smiled, then lifted her eyes from the papers, and looked at me, and invited me to get closer, in her lap, so she could ask me my opinion on the words she was choosing for the story she was writing. She had a perfume of lavender, and clean towels, and ginger, and prairies under the sun. I was in love with every word she wrote. She said I wasn’t helping her, smiled more, said she couldn’t write anymore, and would just keep me in her embrace, moving her hands in my hair.

One day, she was diagnosed with an illness I never heard about. I was sure she must have written a story and that story contained that word, and then that story had become true and she got sick. She suffered for less than a year. It was the most terrible year of my life. I was twelve. At the funeral, I couldn’t cry.

She had left a will to her lawyer, Mrs. Lisa Mercalli, who also happened to be her agent. Contrary to my belief, she had published some books, and my father and I were to receive the royalties for the future. There were the notebooks, too, so many of them. She kept sketches of her stories in them. Seven of them contained only the stories she had written for me to be read at bedtime. When I found out, I sobbed for long, and couldn’t stop.

Of that invaluable legacy, one notebook was for the lawyer herself. She had signed it with her initials.