Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The Thousand Lire Story

Time for more Giovanni Guareschi, from the book My Home, Sweet Home.

The Thousand Lire Story

I went down to the center of town to make some pur­chases, and in the end found myself without cigarettes and with a single thousand lire note in my wallet.

I went into a tobacconist's, asked for a package of Swiss cigarettes, and laid the thousand lire note on the counter.

The tobacconist looked at it with interest. "What is it?" he asked.

"A thousand lire note," I replied.

The tobacconist called to his wife, who was reading a newspaper at the other end of the counter.

"Maria, look at this!"

The woman turned her head and without bothering to come nearer glanced at the note.

"Ah," she said, "it's back in the center of town again."

The tobacconist asked if I lived at Porta Volta.

"Lambrate," I said.

"Then it's moved around," he remarked. "It hasn't been here in about a month. We all know it."

I looked at the note again and caught my breath. It was the falsest thousand lire note in the world, so shamelessly counterfeit as to inspire the liveliest disgust.

There ought to be a certain amount of care, profes­sional pride, taken in the production even of counterfeit thousand lire notes. But the note I had in front of me was no more than a free and arbitrary interpretation of a real thousand-lire note.

I handed back the cigarettes and picked up the offending note.

"Too bad!" cried the tobacconist. "But in this life you've ,got to learn to take the knocks philosophically."

I started off for the parking lot but of course had to give up the idea of reclaiming my car-or of taking a taxi, or even a bus. I arrived home on foot, in an unenviable state of mind.

"Everything go all right?" Margherita asked me.

"Fine," I replied, ashamed to admit I'd accepted the counterfeit thousand-lire note.

"Oh, good!" Margherita cried. "You were able to get rid of that awful counterfeit note I put in your wallet."

I am not speaking here to children, I'm speaking to grown men, to old hands at matrimony. They'll understand: they know that the ladies play these little tricks.

I maintained my composure. I took the note from my pocket and handed it to Margherita.

"If you're simple-minded enough to accept such a horror," I said, "you ought to be honest enough to face up to it. Take that thousand-lire note and burn it. Furthermore, it's a crime to circulate counterfeit bills. Look, it's down right here, on the note itself, in this little box. Read it."

"Whoever gave it to me," she said, "ought to take it back."

"Who gave it to you, Margherita?"

"I don't know. I shop all over the neighborhood, anybody might have given it to me."

She went out and was back after a couple of hours, so she must have worked fast. To quarrel with the bakery, the grocery, the drug store, the fruit shop, the butcher, the dry goods store, and the tobacco shop takes a bit of time. However, when Margherita returned she still had the counterfeit thousand-lire note.

The concierge, in matters of this nature, is invaluable. Margherita called her and handed the whole thing over to her.

"If you can get rid of it," Margherita said, "we split."

Two days passed; and then the concierge came back and handed Margherita a perfectly good five-hundred-lire note.

"I had to take it out of the neighborhood," the concierge explained. "Everybody here knows that bill by heart. Now let it go where it will."

Then one day the concierge came running up.

"It's come back!" she cried. "An old woman tried to pass it to the grocer!"

In the following days, the wretched thing was seen by the druggist, the butcher, the fruit seller, and the stationer, and the general apprehension increased. Then it wasn't mentioned any more-quite simply because Margherita had it in her purse.

When we found it, we looked at it in horror-which I cut short: I took the infamous note and was about to feed it to the stove. But Margherita grabbed it from me.

"It's a matter of principle," she said. "I took it, I have to get rid of it."

The days that followed were sad ones for all the family. Margherita ventured into far-distant neighborhoods and returned every night dead tired. At last she had to give up. She called the concierge and once more entrusted the note to her, under the same conditions as before.

The neighborhood resumed its state of siege, for the concierge went into action at once, unleashing all the housemaids who came to see her. Then there was peace.

She reappeared after a week and handed to Margherita a glorious five-hundred-lire note.

"I got away with it," she said. "But I had to go all the way to Baggio. Now that it's out in the suburbs, we can all relax."

Margherita, who has her own conception of arithmetic, was particularly content that evening.

"Giovannino," she said, "we're even now. I got five hundred lire the first time, and five hundred lire the second time. A thousand lire went out and a thousand lire came back."

I made no objection to this statement but I went to bed in a guilty frame of mind. At one in the morning, Margherita woke with a start.

"Giovannino!" she cried. "If I get that counterfeit bill back and make the same deal with the concierge, I'll make a profit of five hundred lire."

"Don't think about it," I said.

Four weeks passed. Then one evening I heard a shriek and I ran to the kitchen. There was Margherita, staring wide-eyed into a cabinet drawer. Inside it was the counterfeit thousand-lire note.

This time I didn't hesitate. I picked up the note and took it over to the gas stove. Margherita made no objection. But before the bill touched the flame, the gas went out.

At this, a terrible moan came from Margherita, and she sank into a chair.

Of course it was chance. A reasonable man would laugh and light a match and touch it to the bill. But I did not. I put the thousand lire note back in the drawer. Every once in a while Margherita and I would peek in, and there it was always, evil and obstinate, and so false you could tell it even with the drawer shut.

One day I told the story to a friend of mine who works in a bank, and he said he'd like to see the note. We took it to him.

Margherita shuddered as she saw the ease with which he handled the bill, and felt it, and held it to the light.

"There are defects in the printing," he said finally, "but the bill is not counterfeit."

He put it with some others and gave us two five hundred lire notes.

In the street, Margherita paused and said: "Giovannino, I got five hundred lire from the concierge the first time, and I got five hundred the second time, and just now we got a thousand. That makes two thousand lire. We've made a thousand lire clear! Is it possible?"

"Anything is possible," I said, `but if you ask me, we have paid the wages of sin."

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