The old man was lying on the bed, covered with a blanket. It was an old bed, moved around the room many a time, with ruined springs like the beds back in the army barracks. He was meek and he didn’t take his eyes off the window as if Death was about to come from there. He had been waiting for it for a long time, motionless, resigned to the fact that it was coming for him, ready to meet it, and so old that all days to come were a torture for him. He was lying and breathing under the blanket, that’s what he was doing all day long. At noon and less often in the evenings his son Carlo, with patience and respect, helped him get up up and lean against the pillow and forced him to eat with the big spoon. He wiped his chin after every drop, made his bed after he had fed him, put a few logs in the stove and went out to do his work in the yard.
It had been like this ever since the beginning of the winter. The old man’s mischievous look had vanished just as had his habit of leaning towards the fence and watching the women hang out the laundry, his senile gluttony and even his desire to remind others of the past and give his unrequested advice were long gone.
Late in the afternoon Carlo cleaned the mud off his boots, went in wearing his wet raincoat and saw the old man’s head drooping back on the pillow, his eyes were misty and unseeing. He realized that his father had left this world. He went over to the bed as if enchanted, sat down on the end of it and crossed himself. He loved his father. He had been preparing for this moment for so long, he had not stopped imagining how he would see his departing soul, how he would touch his cold hand, how he would whisper some confused words to him for the last time. And now what? He stood there speechless, bedraggled, frightened, sitting at his father’s feet as if he were only a guest, and he was overcome by some kind of animalistic dullness instead of the expected sorrow.
He looked at the dead man’s outstretched hands, his gaunt face, his slightly opened mouth from where his soul had flown away. He remembered what an incorrigible joker his father had been when he was alive. He was a mischievous man, at first sight one might have thought that he was careless, but in reality he was a prudent slyboots, who was always one step ahead of the others, with a cynical joke always at the ready. Women were indignant at the insolent, lascivious looks he gave them, they were offended by his cocky words, and they swept by him with a shudder and hurried glances when they happened to pass him in the street. Everybody always laughed with him, slapped their thighs with their palms, they waited for his next joke and enthusiastically said: “What a card! He’s on fire!”
Yes, that Mosco was gone. He was lying there, now neglectful of everything around him and now his son Carlo was watching his cold body and thinking. He was worrying about his wife, Anelka. She had left a month ago for Greece to clean up after people and since then he had not heard her voice. He was worried about the animals in the barn, they trod restlessly on the straw and were starving. He was worried about himself, too, the fridge, switched off for a long time now, was empty, there was nothing in the cupboard, the bills were not paid either, in other words – complete destitution. Since the old man had gotten ill and given up on life, Carlo had waited impatiently for his pension, his only hope, a decent sum of money that his father received for his former work in the mines. With it they paid off their debts and made ends meet, but Carlo didn’t want to reckon how long this was going to last.
Now, from this day on, not only was he saying goodbye to his father, Carlo was saying goodbye to his only income.
He stood up with a sigh, put on the hat that he had been clutching in his hands and went out. He started bustling around the shed and went over to the fence, he waded into the mud around the tap and started arranging the pieces of iron that stood in front of the cellar. He was trying to escape from one intrusive thought, which had entered his mind back in that dusky room, in the loneliness of his father’s outstretched feet, it had peered out from behind his back while he put on his muddy boots, it dogged his footsteps around the yard, it tormented him. He stopped, angrily threw the spade in the seed bed as if with that he could chase away his thoughts and looked at the crooked curtains.
Yes, he had already decided, he would hide his father’s death for a few days, until the end of the week, when the due date for the pension came around, he would live in a room with the dead man until he had received it. He would take the money from the post office in the village, he had been authorized to receive it on behalf of his father for quite a long time, he would pay the bills, he would arrange the funeral as it should be. What else could he do, where would he get the money otherwise? After all, he was doing it for the family.
Carlo stood up, he breathed in the air of the fields, his eyes swept over the fence, he saw the fresh roads between the fields, the perpendicular international highway that was crossed by colorful cars passing each other like bugs in front of the dark abdomen of the hills, he saw unending life, he caught the scent of the inevitable spring and he understood that he must live as all creatures created by Nature lived. He stopped working, he turned around, took off his boots and entered the room. He looked towards the bed.
His father was lying in the same position as he had left him, although one of his legs seemed bent as if by a spasm. Carlo didn’t give in to suspicions, he took a few confident steps and took his hat off out of respect, and he raised his father’s body and leaned it against the pillow, sleeked back the dead man’s bangs and drew his arms apart. It had to look as if his father had just fallen asleep to anybody who would shamelessly peep through the window or open the door, although in the last few years there were not many people who wanted to visit them. Their house was destitute; its residents had turned into brutes and while he was alive Mosco offhandedly chased away everybody with his jokes, even though no one could deny that the village people were curious, suspicious and stubborn. Carlo knew that he had to be aware of uninvited guests, but one could never know.
The first night with the dead man went slowly. When it got dark Carlo moved his bed next to the window – there, illuminated by the light of the streetlamp, it was going to be easier for him to listen attentively to the sounds of the night and, moreover, he was comforted by the thought that he would be further from his father’s body, which made Carlo feel remorseful, although the soul of the dead man had left it. But there were no sounds; it was as if all other living creatures had hidden themselves, frightened by the dead man in the house. The morning came; Carlo stood up, reluctantly made the bed and approached the dead man. He was lying as dead as before, although it looked as if his body had become smaller. He went out in the morning coolness, hurrying to close the door behind him. He sighed with his arms akimbo. The situation was tough, but he had to go through with it, it was not his fault – destitution made him do it. He headed to the animals in order to check on them. He had heard them breathing.
A new thought came to his mind and flustered him – Vena, the widow; she was the one he had to be careful of. Burly, clumsy and insolent, with a neck that was always naked and shameless breasts, she always turned up from somewhere in the days before or after Mosco had received his pension, her hair like lion’s mane popped up above the fence and her eyes sparkled. She would first ask with a mischievous, hoarse and crafty voice about Mosco, the jolliest fellow, the most irresistible enchanting man, and then she would open the door with a blow, she would laugh right in Carlo’s face, her mouth would gape wide open, her breasts would shake under the tight blouse, her glossy calves would clatter along the path, her tempting thighs would sweep the seedbeds and she would storm into the house. Carlo didn’t like her, he hated those days when he could see her coming along the street from afar, dressed in the colorful clothes that hardly fit her body. Everybody knew what a cunning woman she was, how she visited the senile old men in the neighborhood, driving them crazy with her big thighs and her sweaty breasts and how she always managed to get money out of them.
Money, that was all that she was looking for, she didn’t accept presents. Some relatives of her joyous admirers, the old men, chased her away at the door, but Carlo didn’t dare to do so, because while Mosco was still astir, lively and wiry as a vine trellis, he brooked no objections. Whenever he heard Vena’s boisterous laughter, his heart jumped with joy, wherever he was, he gave her a cold welcome, but his lips curled into an impish smile, he gazed longingly at her thighs or at her transparent blouse, bedraggled by recent caresses, he followed her like a dog and she walked proudly and slowly, like a hostess who had returned home, towards the cool small room, where they hid, roughhousing and whispering, behind the cheesecloth curtain. Carlo hated her, on top of the destitution in which he lived, he had to share his family’s last crust of bread with her. And his father didn’t care. He sent her off with flickering eyes, while Carlo and his wife, Anelka, hid behind a tree or found something to do in the small pantry, furious at the thought that a part of Mosco’s pension was now tucked in Vena’s bra.
The next two days went slowly and painfully for Carlo. The days were bearable and bright and the time went by, even though it was filled with meaningless work. Then darkness fell, Carlo hid himself without lighting the lamp, he chewed a slice of bread topped with butter and looked at his father from time to time. He lay unwillingly in his cold bed without falling asleep, he remembered far-off events, sometimes he got out of bed, walked around, he opened the windows and turned on the lights for a moment, and he caught a glimpse of the pale face of the dead man and quickly turned off the lamp, he threw himself in bed, covering his head up with the blanket, as if he was hiding from reality. If only he weren’t alone, if only his wife, Anelka, were there, although she would have never allowed him to hide his father’s death, she would have never lived with a dead man, even if they needed his pension more than ever.
On the fourth day, while he was bustling around the basin in the yard, he heard someone’s heavy steps. Vena the widow walked up, stopped and looked defiantly at him. It seemed to him that she was still sleepy, but she had fresh make-up and a clean blouse on and the upper buttons could not withstand the weight of her breasts.
“I came to see Mosco”, she said laconically and belligerently.
“He is sick…very sick!”, Carlo whispered haltingly.
“I will heal him,” she said firmly and nodded towards the house behind his back.
“He is not in the mood for guests…go away”
She stepped forward confidently and smiled impudently and her big teeth with lipstick on them shone. “He is happy to see me, even when he is sick!”
Carlo looked at her hair, thick and held by a hairpin, he was surprised by her sleek forehead and her perfectly shaped eyebrows, he breathed in the smell of coffee that spread around with her every word, he imagined how she drank it while she was still in bed, stretching her bare shaved leg all over the sheet and how she pulled down her nightdress, that must had rolled above her pink knees while she had been sleeping, he almost heard her far-off gasps from her roughhouses with his father in their summer kitchen.
“Find yourself somebody else!” Carlo said in a soft voice.
“You wish! These things don’t happen like that.” Vena answered laughing as if she had guessed what he was thinking and she headed towards the door. “I’ll just say hello to him and I’ll leave,” she added.
“Leave…he is sleeping now,” Carlo snapped at her and stood in front of the door.
She looked at him suspiciously and started towards the window, stumping with her patent leather shoes. She stood on her tiptoes, craned her neck and cried out and her big mouth was reflected by the glass: “Mosco, sunshine, are you in there?”
Carlo could not take it any longer; he pressed his lips together spitefully and dashed towards her. His eyes bulged, he pushed her, out of breath after the few steps he had taken, afraid that that insolent woman would find out and ruin everything. She staggered , stretched out her big arms and fell on one knee. Despite her stoutness she instantly stood up, quick as a cat, and took her fallen shoe from the dirt. Bitter like Carlo, she bared her teeth at him:
“Bastard…bumpkin…I’ll show you how to treat women,” she said and backed out of the yard, looking at the window.
After a few hours, in which Carlo was on edge, he saw a small group approaching. They were led by Vena, with a serious expression and limping with a grazed knee, she was followed by a man in a uniform, some kind of a police officer, next to him walked the bald doctor, who came to visit them from time to time and always went home drunk. They all walked into the yard together and the frowning police officer shouted:
“We want to see Mosco…your father!”
He pointed to the door in despair and collapsed on the threshold. He felt free and suddenly relieved and took a deep breath of the spring air. He heard how Vena, who had already walked in, sobbed in shock and horror. He also heard the steps; the people were walking around the room, looking it all over and the boards of the wooden floor were creaking. Then, as if from somewhere far-away, he heard snatches of their conversation:
“A real crime…psychiatric hospital…dead for days…what are kids capable of…he must be arrested…investigation…ventilate the room…inquest”
Carlo sighed with his head down. What could these people do to him, they couldn’t cause him any trouble, he had not killed a man, after all, he had not deceived anybody, nor had he lied or insulted anybody. This damn poverty made him do it, wasn’t that an excuse?
A warm breeze came from the field and shook the budding branches of the trees in the yard. The animals restlessly trod on the straw. Yes, he tried, but he did not make it, he was only few hours away from succeeding with his plan. If he had taken the pension the next day, everything would have turned out fine, his father would have found the peace he deserved in the graveyard and Carlo would have been left with some money to get by somehow… but hope was the most important thing… after all, the dead man inside was his father, not him, and life would go on for the living.