Time for some more Giovanni Guareschi.
(A fairly complete compilation of Guareschi's stories, both about his family and about Don Camillo) can be found at The Little World of Giovanni Guareschi.
The Children Are Watching Us
I was taking the air at the window that gave out on the garden. Behind the bars of the gate I saw the mailman putting something into the letter box. At that moment the Pasionaria appeared out of nowhere and went humming to the gate. She opened the letter box and took out a newspaper and several letters.
Unaware that I was watching her, she behaved in a completely natural manner: she tucked the newspaper under her arm, opened the letters, read them, and put them back in the envelopes.
I heard Albertino calling: "Anything there?"
"Nothing," the Pasionaria replied, in a tone of annoyance. "All his stuff."
She came into the house, left the letters and the newspaper, and went back out.
A little later, at the table, I brought the matter up.
"Margherita," I said, "did the mail come?"
"I didn't look in the box," Margherita said.
"I did," announced the Pasionaria. She got the letters and the newspaper. "There was only this junk here."
"How odd!" I cried. "Does the mail arrive in this condition now? I'm going to write a letter of protest to the postmaster. I'll have the mailman fired-he'll learn not to open my letters."
The Pasionaria shook her head. "It wasn't him that opened them," she said. "It was me."
I looked at the envelopes, one by one, then showed them to the Pasionaria.
"But they're all addressed to me," I said. "Why did you open them?"
Without the slightest hesitation, the Pasionaria replied: "I had to. She wasn't here when they arrived,, so I opened them."
"Inconceivable!" I cried. "Are you suggesting that your mother opens letters addressed to me?"
"Of course," replied the Pasionaria.
"Of course nothing!" I cried. "This is something new!"
The Pasionaria gave me a compassionate smile.
"Something new!" she repeated. "Just imagine! Then why are you always hollering at her for opening your letters?"
I had her right where I wanted her.
"Exactly!" I hollered. "And if I holler at your mother because I don't want her to open my letters, why do you open them?"
"Oh, you're always hollering," she replied, shrugging her shoulders. "That's all you ever do."
This was too much.
"Do you dare to criticize your parents?" I said.
"Not criticize," said the Pasionaria. "Listen."
Here Margherita intervened. "The children are watching us," she declared in a tone of bitter irony. "Don't forget it, Giovannino. "
"No, Margherita," I said, "I won't forget it. And when they see their mother shamelessly continuing to open letters addressed to her husband even though he's asked her not to, it's only natural for them to open letters addressed to their father or to their mother."
"No," the Pasionaria corrected me, "they don't open letters addressed to their mother."
"Because you don't open letters addressed to Mama. If her own husband doesn't open them, why should her children?"
It was logic all right, and I felt the full impact of its ghastly lack of logic.
"Very well," I said. "Then why open my letters? If you're your mother's children, aren't you also your father's children?"
Albertino was struck by my clear and cogent argument and indicated that he approved it unconditionally. The Pasionaria, however, had something more to say.
"I don't open my father's letters, I open the letters that come for my mother's husband. Father and mother are the same, they're the parents. But the husband doesn't concern the children, he concerns the wife."
I refused to countenance this.
"For children," I said, "parents are exclusively father and mother. And children must see their parents exclusively as father and mother."
The Pasionaria was not so easily vanquished.
"My mama," she said, "is always my mama even though she's your wife. But my papa, like when he upsets my mama, isn't my papa any more but my mama's husband."
"And how about when your mother upsets me?" I cried indignantly. "Who gets upset, her husband or your father?"
"Her husband," was the Pasionaria's cynical reply. "That's her affair, I don't want to get mixed up in it."
The conclusion was both terrible and inescapable.
"Then all this means," I said, "that while your mother, for, you, is always your mother, I am sometimes your father and sometimes a man who has no direct connection with you but with your mother. Sometimes, in other words, I'm a stranger to you!"
The Pasionaria evidently found my reasoning somewhat difficult to follow, for she remained silent for a time, thinking it over. Then she came to a decision.
"When I was born, you weren't there," she said. "You came back later. But Mama was there."
"So what?" cried Albertino. "It's the men who go to war, not the women!"
"What's that got to do with it?" said the Pasionaria with a shrug. "If women went to war, then my papa would have been home and my mama would have been in the war and I wouldn't have been born."
The Pasionaria left with her brother, and when she said "So long" to me, I didn't know whether she was speaking to her father or the husband of her mother.
When I got home at noon the next day, I found several letters beside my plate, all properly sealed. I derive considerable satisfaction from this-and the Pasionaria appeared to derive considerable surprise. I was aware o her glances as I opened the envelopes with a knife. I was content.
But the next day, unfortunately, I got home a little before noon, and as I crossed the hall I saw Margherita standing over the gas stove in the kitchen, holding an envelope over a kettle of boiling water.
The Pasionaria was watching her.
I went out and stayed out a good half hour.
When I sat down at the table, I found three letters beside my plate. They were all sealed.
After lunch, the children left, and I said to Margherita: "I saw you opening my letters like a concierge. With the little girl right there. Fine tricks you teach your daughter!"
Margherita looked around.
"I didn't teach it to her," she said. "She showed me how to open the envelopes that way."
"Margherita, this is terrible."
"She's the one," Margherita whispered. "She's been after me all morning. She said I let my husband walk all over me, she said I'm spineless!"
"Margherita, you're treading on dangerous ground. You must not listen to her."
"I don't know what to do," Margherita murmured. "I don't know what to do. Giovannino, try to understand!"
I tried to understand.
Fortnightly Book, November 29
3 hours ago