Read The Silence of the Wave Online

Authors: Gianrico Carofiglio

Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #International Mystery & Crime, #Thrillers, #Suspense

The Silence of the Wave (12 page)

Emma arrived five minutes late. She, too, was dressed in a springlike way. Jeans, white shirt, jacket, leather bag over her shoulder, raincoat over her arm.

“I’m sorry, I hate being late,” she said, sitting down with a friendly smile and spreading around her the perfume that already seemed familiar to Roberto.

“Only five minutes.”

“Six minutes,” she said, looking at her watch. “You know, up until a few years ago I made it a rule always to arrive really late. Twenty minutes, even half an hour sometimes. Then the subject came up at our doctor’s and he explained what it means.”

“What does it mean?”

“It’s a way of exercising power. A kind of bullying, a concealed abuse of authority. Anyway, something I really didn’t like. When he told me that, I said I thought that was nonsense, you can’t attribute a pathological explanation to everything, the reason I arrived late was because I always had too much to do and couldn’t get through it, things like that. I was quite unpleasant in the way I replied, quite aggressive. Which happened often at the beginning.”

“And what did he say?”

“He smiled, which made me even more nervous, and then said that when I felt like it I should ask myself why the subject bothered me so much. And when I felt like it I could tell him what the result of my reflection had been.”

“Yes, I can almost picture him and hear his voice.”

“And of course he was right. I’d gotten upset because he was right. He’d caught me out, as on so many other occasions. It took me a while to tell him that, but since then I’ve started to pay attention to this thing about arriving late. It happens much less now, but some habits are difficult to change completely. When it does happen,
when I arrive even just a few minutes late, I always apologize. I’m still a convalescent. I brought you this.”

“What is it?” Roberto asked.


I Am a Bird Now
by Antony and the Johnsons. Do you know it?”

“No, but I don’t really know much about music.”

“I was just leaving and then I thought I’d like to give you something of mine, seeing that I liked your book so much. So I grabbed this. Do you mind secondhand?”

Receiving a gift was something that hadn’t happened to him for some time, and Roberto realized he didn’t know how to react. He had to make an effort just to say thank you and smile. Then he took the CD and looked at the cover. At that moment the waitress arrived. Emma ordered a light Aperol spritz. Roberto said the same thing would be fine for him.

“I live in the Via Panisperna … Oh, sorry, I already told you that. Do you know the area?”

“Yes, I live here.”

“How do you mean?”

“I’m in the Via del Boschetto.”

“Just round the corner?”

“Yes.”

“No way. Why didn’t you tell me that before?”

“When you told me you lived around here I was so surprised that I didn’t have the presence of mind to tell you.”

“Look at you. We must have passed each other dozens of times.”

She sighed, smiled, shook her head.

“Do you have a cigarette?”

“Do you smoke?” he asked, in a slightly surprised tone.

“Other people’s cigarettes. I never buy my own, or else I’d smoke a pack a day.”

Roberto took out a pack of red Dianas and a lighter, cursing himself for not having thought of buying more.

“These are all I have. They’re not exactly ladies’ cigarettes.”

She ignored the remark, took the pack and lighter, lit a cigarette, and smoked half of it greedily, without saying a word. The waitress arrived and placed their drinks on the table, along with peanuts and chips.

“How long have you been living around here?”

“It was my mother’s apartment. I lived there with her from the age of sixteen to the age of nineteen. Then I left for the Carabinieri’s officers’ training academy. Twenty-five, twenty-six years went by and, just under two years ago, I came back to live here.”

“With your mother?”

“No, she died …” Roberto stopped, completely at a loss. He couldn’t remember when his mother had died. He had to make a great effort to go back first to the year, then to the month, finally to the day. It was like climbing up a wall without any handholds.

“My mother died almost five years ago. The apartment was empty until I came, after … certain things changed in my job.” He had been about to tell her that before, for many years, he had lived in safe houses, service accommodation, hotels, apartment blocks. He had been about to add that he had never had a real home of his own in his life, apart from the years in California. He had been about to do so, but then he told himself that now was not the time, not yet at least.

“I’ve also been here for about two years,” she said. “No, maybe a bit longer, nearly three. But I actually grew up here. Right now I’m living in the same building where my parents live. They have two apartments. They’ve given me one, and I live there with my son.”

She had speeded up at the end of the sentence, as if she wanted to be sure she got everything in, or as if to overcome her embarrassment.

“You have a child.” The one you were expecting when you did that commercial for mineral water, he thought, without saying it.

“When he hears someone call him a child he gets really angry: he’s eleven, almost twelve.”

“Almost twelve,” Roberto repeated in a low voice and a slightly absent tone. He was silent for a few seconds and then appeared to rouse himself, as if a thought had crossed his mind and then slipped away.

“And where did you live up to the age of sixteen?”

“In California. That’s where I was born.”

He paused.

“My father was American. When he died, my mother and I left.”

“You mean you have dual personality … Sorry, I meant dual nationality.”

Roberto burst out laughing, and it struck him that he hadn’t laughed like that for quite some time.

“I think dual personality is an excellent definition. And yes, I do have dual nationality.”

“I’m sorry, I say the most awful rubbish, I don’t know how it happens.”

“But that’s exactly how it is, you don’t have to apologize. In fact, maybe dual personality is an underestimate. There are a lot more than two.”

“Roberto. That is your name?”

“Yes.”

“Roberto, there’s something I think I ought to say.”

“Go on.”

“I don’t think I’m ready for a sexual relationship. I want to avoid misunderstandings and I don’t want to offend you in any way.”

“Well, you certainly don’t beat around the bush.”

“I like you. What I’m going to say may seem absurd, but in the few times we’ve met, I’ve somehow grown fond of you. That’s why I want to avoid misunderstandings. My life is still a mess, I’m trying to pull myself out of the disasters of the past, and there are a whole lot of things I’m not ready for.”

She took another cigarette from the pack that still lay on the table.

“I’m talking like a character in a bad film.”

“That’s all right, I mostly watch bad films. And anyway, there are a lot of things I’m not ready for either. Including sex, since you’ve mentioned the subject. I really hadn’t thought our meeting like this would lead to anything sexual.”

Was it true? Roberto didn’t actually know. Maybe it was true, or maybe he said that to overcome his embarrassment, and maybe also to give her a small, harmless lesson. You’re not ready for sex (meaning: with me, seeing that I’m the one with you right now), well, neither am I (meaning: with you, seeing that you’re the one with me right now).

She looked at him, somewhat surprised. She played with her cigarette. Then she lit it. Then she asked him why he didn’t have one too. Roberto replied that he didn’t feel like one right now. She seemed to be about to add something but then gave up. There was a slight tension between the two of them. Nothing to get alarmed about, but definitely there.

“You do know I’m a psychiatric patient?”

“So am I.”

“And as a good psychiatric patient, having just informed you that I’m not ready for a sexual relationship, I was rather annoyed to hear you say that it was the same for you.
I
may have the right not to have sexual
intentions toward a man but it doesn’t have to be mutual, does it?”

He looked at her through half-closed eyes.

“Don’t give me that look,” she said with a smile. “You can’t say something like that, to a woman in general, and an actress in particular. Or even an ex-actress. We’re fragile creatures. We need to be treated gently.”

She hesitated, but it was clearly an intentional pause. Roberto mustn’t say anything, just wait.

“We all worry about other people’s judgment to some extent, we all seek approval. That’s normal. The problem arises—and for actors it arises very easily—when the search for approval becomes a kind of addiction. And the next stage is paranoia.”

“How do you mean?”

“You start to divide the world into those who approve of you, love you, admire you, think you’re wonderful, and everybody else. In other words the bad guys, who, in some obscure way, all agree among themselves.”

She broke off abruptly.

“All right, I have an actress’s paranoia, even though I’m not an actress anymore. I’m really quite pathetic.”

“Is that why you started seeing the doctor?”

She looked at him as if she did not understand. As if the question had been formulated in another language. Then she relaxed. She made an almost amused face, although with a remote hint of dismay.

“Did I start seeing the doctor because of my actress’s
paranoia? No, that would have been too sophisticated a reason. And it certainly wouldn’t be enough to justify spending the money I’ve spent and am still spending on him. The only reason I started seeing the doctor was because my life had fallen to pieces. Just a little thing like that.”

Roberto would have liked to reply that this meant they’d both started seeing the doctor for the same reason. He didn’t do so, because he wasn’t sure he’d find the right tone. She said that smoking a third cigarette was excessive, that it would be better to avoid it. Then, with perfect consistency, she lit one. She blew out the smoke and emptied her glass.

“Part of me is telling me to drop this, another part has a great desire to tell you everything. Can we drink something a little more interesting? I don’t know, a fifteen-percent Primitivo from Apulia? Shall we get them to bring us something to eat?”

He looked at her without formulating the question, although it must have been quite clear on his face. So clear that she was immediately aware of it.

“Now you must be thinking I told you I didn’t have much time.”

“You did tell me that.”

“I wanted to keep a way out open. Who is this man, after all? Someone I met by chance, and at the psychiatrist’s to boot. Maybe I’ll be bored after just ten minutes. Maybe he’s got the wrong idea about me—after all,
he’s crazy like me, like everybody who sees the doctor. Maybe he’s a pervert, maybe he has homicidal tendencies, maybe he’s a potential rapist, whatever. In other words, I wanted to be free to run away at any moment, without any hassle.”

“So what happened?”

“What happened is that I haven’t felt like running away. I like the way you listen. It makes me want to talk. I suppose that means you’re good at your job.”

What job? He didn’t have a job anymore. He still drew a marshal’s salary while on extended leave for health reasons, but a job—something he knew, something he was able to do—he no longer had. When the maximum period of leave for health reasons was over, he would have to come to a decision. Either go back, maybe in command of a station like the one he’d happened to land up in at the beginning of his career, dealing with petty disputes between neighbors, people driving without a license, and thefts of car radios. Did anyone still steal car radios? No, not anymore. So not even that.

Or else leave. That might be the best solution. Was he entitled to a pension? He had never wondered about that, maybe because the question had never crossed his mind until that moment, as he was talking to her. Maybe he was entitled to a disability pension even before he reached the age limit. Or maybe, he seemed to recall, with at least twenty years of service, you had a right to
a pension even though you had to wait until you were a certain age. A certain age, what a horrible expression. Where could he go to find out what it was, that certain age when he would get his pension?

Her voice revived him.

“Hey, are you there?”

“I’m sorry. You mentioned my job and I started thinking. I got distracted.”

“You really did. You looked as if you were somewhere else entirely.”

“Then let’s sort out the rest of the evening. If we want a glass of wine and something to eat, it might be better to go to a restaurant. Do you have any preferences?”

“You bet I do,” she said with a smile. She was suddenly like a little girl, and he could feel his heart breaking and crumbling and becoming something insubstantial. “It’s been ages since I last ate Indian. There’s an Indian restaurant right near here that I used to like a lot. I don’t know if it’s still as good as it was. But we could try it, if that’s OK with you?”

Giacomo

Ginevra hasn’t been back to school—she’s been absent for three days now—and hasn’t even replied to my friendship request on Facebook. Nobody knows why she’s away and I’m starting to get worried.

I think that’s why I woke up very early today and couldn’t get back to sleep. I couldn’t just stay in bed so I got up and started writing down last night’s dream, to pass the time and get over my nervousness.

I fell asleep reading (my mother must have come in to turn off the light) and soon afterward found myself back in the park. Scott wasn’t there, and unlike the other times the sky was quite cloudy, the air was cooler, almost cold, and the grass seemed taller. I looked around, and in the middle of the lawn I saw Ginevra. I waved to her but she didn’t respond; she turned and walked quickly away.

I started going after her, quite fast, but however fast I went I couldn’t catch up with her. The quicker I went, the greater the distance between us. I tried to start
running, but my legs seemed really heavy, I felt as if I was moving in slow motion, and after a while I slipped and fell. Ginevra was getting farther and farther away, and growing smaller and smaller, until she completely disappeared into the grass.

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