Image credit: Katie Neece, "Office Arcade", Oil on Wood Panel

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With his shapeless white hat pushed far back on his head, its brim forming a halo around his face, which was large and red like a Dutch cheese wheel, Cristoforo Golisch stopped in his tracks right in the middle of the street, his legs spread apart and a little bowed from the weight of his colossal body. He raised his arms and called out:




Almost as tall as he, but lanky and wobbling like a reed, his eyes strangely dazed, a bleak-faced man in his fifties slowly advanced towards him, leaning on a cane with a thick rubber tip. He was shuffling his left leg with noticeable effort. 


“Beniamino!” Golisch called out again. This time his voice betrayed not just the surprise, but the pang of finding his friend, after so many years, in such a state. 


Beniamino Lenzi blinked several times. His stare remained fixed as his eyes started glazing over with something like a veil of tears, but his facial expression did not change at all. Under his mustache, which had already turned gray, his droopy lips unpeeled and struggled for a while with his curled-up tongue to articulate a few words:


Nn… nnow… I feeh beher… I ‘an wah…” 


“Oh… atta boy…” Golisch remarked, petrified by the realization that the person in front of him was no longer a man. He was no longer Beniamino Lenzi, as he had known him, but someone closer to a young boy, a wretched young boy who must be lied to out of pity.


He moved beside him and made an effort to walk at his friend’s pace. Ah, that foot that seemed glued to the ground and had to be dragged, as if it couldn’t free itself from a force that kept pulling it under!


Golisch tried his best to hide the pain, the strange dismay that overwhelmed him as he watched, by his side, that man tapped by death, almost half dead, really, and utterly transformed. He started asking him questions—where he had been all this time, what had caused him to leave Rome, what he had done while he was away, when he had returned.   


Beniamino Lenzi replied, but his slurred words were hardly intelligible, to the point that Golisch was left doubting whether his friend had even understood his questions. Only Lenzi’s eyelids, lowering frequently over his eyes, revealed his struggle and pain, and seemed to be trying to shake off their tense, hard, strange astonishment. But they couldn’t. 


Death, passing by, had given him a casual tap, setting his face into that mask. And now, with that face, those eyes, that air of frightened suspense, all he could do was wait for it to pass by again and tap him a little harder, stiffening him completely and for good. 


“That’s great, just great!” hissed Cristoforo Golisch.


He glared left and right at the people who turned and stared at the poor ill-fated man with a perfunctory expression of pity painted on their faces.


A pent-up anger seethed inside of him. 


How spryly people strolled down the street! Spry necks, spry arms, spry legs... he, too! He could control his every movement, and he felt so strong... He clenched his fist. God! He could feel what a formidable blow it would deal if he brought it crashing down on someone’s back. But why would he do that? He didn’t know...


People irritated him, especially the young ones who turned around to look at Lenzi. He pulled a large blue cotton handkerchief from his pocket and mopped the sweat pouring from his large, burning face.


“Beniamino, where are you headed now?”


Lenzi had stopped, leaned his good hand on a lamppost, and now looked as if he was caressing it, staring at it with tenderness. He slurred:


“...’he ‘ohtor... Fooh es’cize...”


And tried to lift his bad foot. 


“Exercise?” asked Golisch. “You’re exercising your foot?”


Fooh,” Lenzi repeated. 


“Atta boy!” Golisch exclaimed again.


He felt the urge to take hold of that foot, straighten it out, then grab his friend by the arms and rattle him violently, to shake off that horrible immobility.  


He just could not, would not stand the sight of his friend reduced to that sorry state. There he was, his partner in crime during those carefree years of their youth, and the buddy with whom he later cavorted in the leisurely hours of their bachelor nights. Neither of them had ever married; one day a new career path had opened up for his friend, and Beniamino had set out on it—spryly, yes, as he could, too, back then. Oh, so spryly and boldly indeed! So many struggles, toils, hopes... and now, all of a sudden, here he was again. This was how he had returned—in this shape. Ah, what a joke, what a bad joke!


He would have liked to talk to him about so many things, but he didn’t know what or how. Countless questions pushed their way towards his lips, only to congeal before they came out. 


“Remember,” he would have liked to ask, “all our famous bets at the Tuscan Tavern? And Nadina—remember her? She’s still around, you know. You were the one who dumped her on me when you left Rome, you rascal. Such a sweet girl, she really cared about you a lot... She still thinks about you, you know? She even talks about you sometimes. I’ll go and visit her tonight and tell her how I found you, poor wretch... But it’s no use asking you; you don’t remember anything anymore. Perhaps you don’t even recognize me at all, or barely.”


While Golisch was busy with these thoughts, his eyes brimming with tears, Beniamino Lenzi kept staring tenderly at the lamppost as he slowly, slowly dusted it with his fingers. 


That lamppost marked for him one of the three stops of his daily walk. As he shuffled his way down the street, he didn’t see anyone, didn’t think of anything at all. Life whirled all around him, tossed about by so many passions, pressed by so many cares, and all the while he aimed any strength he had left first towards that lamppost, then, further down, towards the window of a general store, which marked the second stop. Here he lingered a little more to gaze with childish delight at a porcelain monkey on a swing suspended with red silk cords. The third stop was at the gate of the little courtyard at the end of the street, through which he then reached the doctor’s house.


In the courtyard of that house, among the flower vases and planters that contained orange, laurel and bamboo trees, several pieces of exercise equipment were arranged—flexible rods secured horizontally on top of sturdy posts. From one end of those rods hung a rope that was wrapped around a spool and tied to a wooden lever fixed to the ground with a stake.  


Beniamino Lenzi would place his bad foot on that lever and push. The rod at the top bounced and vibrated, and the spool, held horizontally by two stops, would spin thanks to the rope. 


Every day, half an hour of this exercise, and within a few months, he would get better. Oh, sure! He would get 100% better...


After watching this lovely spectacle for a while, Cristoforo Golisch strode out of the courtyard, snorting like a horse and swinging his arms with rage.


It looked as if death had playfully tapped his brain, and not poor Lenzi’s. 


He felt disgusted.


Scowling, his teeth clenched, he marched down the street talking to himself and gesticulating like a madman.


“Is that so?” he would say. “You just tap me and you’re off? Ah, no, by God! I won’t end up like that! I’ll make you come back by force, I will! You think you can just stroll alongside me and amuse yourself watching how you roughed me up? Seeing me drag my foot? Slur my words? You steal half of the alphabet from me, you make me say fooh and dea’, and you even laugh about it? Ah, no, my dea’! Come over here! I’ll shoo’ mmassef, I sss-wea’ to God! I won’t be your fool! I’ll shoot myself, I’ll kill myself, I swear to God! I won’t be your fool!”


All that night and the following day, and for several days afterwards, he could think of nothing else and would talk of nothing else, either at home, on the street, at the cafe, or at the tavern. It was as if he had become obsessed. He would ask everyone:


“Have you seen Beniamino Lenzi?”


And if one of them replied he hadn’t, he would say:


“Struck! Half dead! Retarded... How can he keep going without killing himself? If I were his doctor, I would kill him—out of compassion! And instead, they make him spin a wheel. That’s right, a wheel! His doctor makes him spin a wheel in his yard, and he thinks he’s going to get better! Beniamino Lenzi, can you imagine? Beniamino Lenzi, who fought three duels, who, back in 1866, was in the War of Independence with me, when he was just a boy… By God, when did we start caring so much about this damn life? Life is only worth what it gives you, am I right? I wouldn’t think twice…”


His friends at the tavern eventually had enough.


I’ll kill myself… I’ll kill myself… Well, just go ahead, kill yourself and be done with it!”


Cristoforo Golisch flinched and put his hands out. “Er, no, I’m just saying, if ever…”





About a month later, while Cristoforo Golisch was having dinner with his widowed sister and nephew, all of a sudden his eyes rolled back, his mouth drooped as if he were about to yawn, his head dropped against his chin, and he collapsed face down onto his plate.


There, just a soft tap tap on him, too. 


In a flash, he lost his speech and the use of one side of his body: the right side.


Cristoforo Golisch had been born in Italy to German parents. He had never visited Germany and spoke Roman dialect like a Roman native, to the point that his friends had even Italianized his last name as Golicci. His closest buddies even called him Golaccia, on account of his gut and formidable appetite. Only with his sister would he occasionally exchange a few words in German when they didn’t want to be understood by others.


It just so happened that, once he managed within a few hours but with considerable difficulty, to regain use of his speech, Cristoforo Golisch displayed a curious medical phenomenon: he could no longer speak Italian; he spoke only German. 


Opening his terrified, bloodshot eyes, tensing his left cheek almost into a half-smile and stretching his mouth considerably wide on that side, having tried several times to untie his flaccid tongue, with his good hand he gestured towards his head and, addressing the doctor, he stammered:


Hier… hier… wie ein Faustschlag…


The doctor didn’t understand, and had to ask his sister, who was still in shock from the sudden calamity, to act as interpreter. 


In a single moment, Cristoforo Golisch had become German—that is, someone else, because really, he had never been German in the first place. Any memory of the Italian language—indeed, his entire Italian being—had been instantly jettisoned from his brain.


The doctor attempted to give a scientific explanation for the phenomenon. He diagnosed the motor disorder “hemiplegia” and prescribed a cure. But Cristoforo’s sister, alarmed, took him aside and told him about the self-destructive intentions her brother had expressed after seeing his friend afflicted by the same illness. 


“Oh, doctor, he went a month without talking about anything else, almost as if he had felt this doom hanging over his head! He’ll kill himself. He keeps a gun in his nightstand drawer. I’m so afraid…”


The doctor smiled sympathetically.


“Don’t be, Signora, don’t be! We’ll convince him it was just indigestion, and you’ll see that—”


“Oh, please, doctor!”


“I assure you he’ll believe it. Besides, luckily the stroke wasn’t too serious. I’m confident that within a few days he’ll regain the use of the affected limbs and, even if he doesn’t recover completely, he will at least be able to use them little by little… and with time, who knows! This was an extremely serious warning for him, that’s for sure. He’ll need to change his habits and stick to a very strict regimen to keep away, as far as possible, any new incursion of this illness.” 


Cristoforo’s sister lowered her eyelids to hide the tears. Not trusting the doctor’s assurance, however, as soon as he left she made arrangements with her son and the maid to remove the gun from the nightstand drawer: she and the maid would approach his bedside with the excuse of propping up the mattress a little, and in the meantime the boy—carefully, for God’s sake!— would quietly open the drawer and—carefully, carefully—steal the weapon away.


And so they did. The sister congratulated herself quite a bit for this precaution, as it didn’t seem natural to her how quickly and effortlessly her brother had accepted the doctor’s explanation for his illness: digestive indisposition.


Ja… ja… es ist doch…


He had indeed felt bloated for four days.


Unver… Unverdaulichkeit… ja… ja…


But how is it possible—thought his sister—that he doesn’t feel half of his body is paralyzed? How, given how affected he had been by Lenzi’s recent case, can he believe that mere indigestion would do this to him? 


On the very first vigil she kept over him and each time after that, she began prompting him, with the tenderness of a mother to a child, with the words of his forgotten language. She asked him why he didn’t speak Italian anymore. 


He stared at her, dumbfounded. He hadn’t yet noticed he had been speaking German. It had just come to him all of a sudden, and now he didn’t think he could speak any other language. Still, he tried to repeat the Italian words after his sister. But he pronounced them in a different voice, with a foreign accent, just like a German struggling to speak Italian. He called his nephew Giovannino, Chophanino, and the nephew—that idiot!—laughed about it, as if his uncle were joking. 


Three days later, when news of Golisch’s sudden illness reached the Tuscan Tavern, the friends who rushed to visit him got a sorrowful sample of that new language of his. But he was not at all aware of the most peculiar impression he gave, speaking that way. 


He seemed like a shipwrecked man floundering desperately to keep afloat after having been submerged for an endless instant into the life, utterly mysterious to him, of his people. And from that plunge he had re-emerged as someone else: a child again at forty-eight, and a foreigner, to boot. 


And ecstatic. Yes, ecstatic, because that very same day he had started to move his arm and hand again, slightly. No, not his leg, not yet. But he felt that perhaps, in another day or so, with a little effort, he would be able to move that one, too. He was trying even now, yes, he was trying… couldn’t they tell? Didn’t his friends notice any movement?


“…anozah tay… anozah tay…


“Yes, of course, another day, for sure!”


Although the spectacle he offered no longer caused any apprehension, one by one, before they took their leave, his friends deemed it wise to urge his sister to keep an eye on him.


“Any moment, you never know… His consciousness might awaken, and…”


Each one of them now thought, as Golisch had thought back when he was healthy, that the only option was to take a gun and do away with himself, so as not to be left like this—barely alive, and under the terrible, unavoidable threat of another stroke at any moment.


But they were the ones who thought so this time; not Golisch. Not anymore. Overjoyed, that’s how he felt, when about twenty days later, propped up by his sister and nephew, he was able to take his first steps around the room!


Granted, without a mirror he could not see what his eyes looked like—dazed, lost, just like Beniamino Lenzi’s. But his leg, heck, surely he must realize that he was barely dragging it… And still, how overjoyed!


He felt reborn. Once again he was filled with a child’s sense of wonder, and like a child, he would cry easily over the most insignificant thing. From every object in his room he derived a loving, familiar comfort he had never felt before; and the thought that now he could walk over, with his own feet, up to those objects, and caress them with his hands, touched him to the point that it made him weep with joy. From the doorstep, he would look at objects in the other rooms and pine with desire to go and caress those, too. Yes, off he went… easy, easy, supported by one arm and the other… Then he insisted on letting go of his nephew’s arm and would walk around holding on to his sister and propping himself up with a cane. Then, not holding on to anyone, just with the cane. Finally, he decided to take the ultimate test of his strength:


Oh… oh… looh, looh… no haane…”  


And indeed, lifting his cane off of the floor, he was able to walk two or three steps. But right away they had to rush over with a chair and help him sit down. 


His body, all skin and bones, looked almost drained of flesh; he was a shadow of himself. Still, he did not have the slightest suspicion that his affliction might have been something other than indigestion. Now, sitting at the dining table again with his sister and nephew, condemned to drink milk instead of wine, he repeated for the umpteenth time that he had gotten quite a scare:


“…’uite a s-sare…


However, the first time he was able to leave the house, accompanied by his sister, he secretly confessed to her that he wanted to be taken to the house of Beniamino Lenzi’s doctor. He, too, wanted to exercise his foot spinning the wheel in the courtyard. 


His sister stared at him in shock. He knew, then? 


“So… you want to go today?”


“Yes… yes…”


In the courtyard they found Beniamino Lenzi already at the wheel, right on time.


Beiamìo!” Golisch called out.


Beniamino Lenzi showed no surprise at seeing his friend there, reduced to his same state; he unpeeled his lips from under his mustache, tensed his right cheek, and slurred:


Yoo ooh?


And went on pushing the lever. Two rods now bounced and vibrated, turning the spools with the rope.


The following day, Cristoforo Golisch, not wanting to be second to Lenzi, who walked to the wheel on his own, staunchly refused to be escorted by his sister. Initially, she ordered her son to follow his uncle from a distance, without making himself known; but eventually, feeling reassured, she let him go on his own. 


Every day, now, at the same time, the two tapped men meet along the way and continue on together, making the same stops: first, the lamppost; then further down, the window of the general store to stare at the porcelain monkey on the swing; and finally, the gate of the courtyard. 


Just today, Cristoforo Golisch came up with a funny idea, and now he’s telling Lenzi all about it. The two of them, leaning against their trusty lamppost, look into each other’s eyes and try to smile, one tensing his right cheek, the other the left. They confabulate for a while, with their numb tongues; then Golisch hails a coach driver with his cane. Helped by the driver, they get in his coach and they’re off to Nadina’s house at the Spanish Steps. 


Seeing right before her eyes those two panting ghosts who can hardly stand on their feet after the enormous effort of climbing the stairs, poor Nadina is left mouth agape in bewilderment. She doesn’t know if she should cry or laugh. She rushes over to keep them from falling, helps them into her living room, sits them down next to each other, and starts scolding them harshly about such a crazy stunt, as she would with two unruly children who escaped their tutor’s supervision. 


Beniamino Lenzi pouts, and bursts out crying.


Golisch, instead, very seriously, almost sulking, sets out to explain to her that all this was meant as a surprise for her.


A nih sss-pize foh yoo…


How cute! That’s how he speaks now, the big old Kraut!


“But of course, of course, thank you…” Nadina hastens to say. “Good boys! Good boys, really, both of you. You’ve made me so happy. I was just saying it for you… coming all the way here, climbing all those steps… There, there, Beniamino! Don’t cry, sweetheart. What’s the matter? Cheer up, cheer up!”


And she starts caressing his cheeks, her pretty hands all plump and milky, adorned with rings.


“What’s the matter? What’s the matter? Look at me! You didn’t want to come, is that right? He made you, this naughty boy! But he won’t even get a hug from me, no he won’t… You are my good little Beniamino, my big boy you are… Sweetheart, sweetheart… Come on, let’s dry these little tears… just like this, just like this… Look at this beautiful turquoise: who gave it to me? Who gave it to his Nadina? This handsome old geezer, that’s who! Here, this is for you, sweetheart!”


And she plants a kiss on his forehead. Then she springs up and quickly wipes off the tears from her eyes.


“What can I get you two?”


Cristoforo Golisch, still mortified and pouting, doesn’t want anything. Beniamino Lenzi accepts a cookie and nibbles at it, his mouth leaning towards Nadina, who holds it between her fingers and pretends she doesn’t want to give it to him, teasing him and giggling gently:


“No… no… no…”


How cute they are now, both of them, how they laugh and laugh at the joke… 



Col cappellaccio bianco buttato sulla nuca, le cui tese parevano una spera attorno al faccione rosso come una palla di formaggio d’Olanda, Cristoforo Golisch s’arrestò in mezzo alla via con le gambe aperte un po’ curve per il peso del corpo gigantesco; alzò le braccia; gridò:


             – Beniamino!


             Alto quasi quanto lui, ma secco e tentennante come una canna, gli veniva incontro pian piano, con gli occhi stranamente attoniti nella squallida faccia, un uomo sui cinquant’anni, appoggiato a un bastone dalla grossa ghiera di gomma. Strascicava a stento la gamba sinistra.


             – Beniamino! – ripetè il Golisch; e questa volta la voce espresse, oltre la sorpresa, il dolore di ritrovare in quello stato, dopo tanti anni, l’amico.


             Beniamino Lenzi batté più volte le palpebre: gli occhi gli rimasero attoniti; vi passò solamente come un velo di pianto, senza però che i lineamenti del volto si scomponessero minimamente. Sotto i baffi già grigi le labbra, un po’ storte, si spiccicarono e lavorarono un pezzo con la lingua annodata a pronunziare qualche parola:


             –    O… oa… oa sto meo… cammìo…


             –    Ah, bravo… – fece il Golisch, agghiacciato dall’impressione di non aver più dinanzi un uomo, Beniamino Lenzi, qual egli lo aveva conosciuto; ma quasi un ragazzo ormai, un povero ragazzo che si dovesse pietosamente ingannare.


             E gli si mise accanto e si sforzò di camminare col passo di lui. (Ah, quel piede che non si spiccicava più da terra e strisciava, quasi non potesse sottrarsi a una forza che lo tirava da sotto!)


             Cercando di dissimulare alla meglio la pena, la costernazione strana che a mano a mano lo vinceva nel vedersi accanto quell’uomo toccato dalla morte, quasi morto per metà e cangiato, cominciò a domandargli dove fosse stato tutto quel tempo, da che s’era allontanato da Roma; che avesse fatto; quando fosse ritornato.


             Beniamino Lenzi gli rispose con parole smozzicate quasi inintelligibili, che lasciarono il Golisch nel dubbio che le sue domande non fossero state comprese. Solo le palpebre, abbassandosi frequentemente su gli occhi, esprimevano lo stento e la pena, e pareva che volessero far perdere allo sguardo quel teso, duro, strano attonimento. Ma non ci riuscivano... 


             La morte, passando e toccando, aveva fissato così la maschera di quell’uomo. Egli doveva aspettare con quel volto, con quegli occhi, con quell’aria di spaurita sospensione, ch’ella ripassasse e lo ritoccasse un tantino più forte per renderlo immobile del tutto e per sempre.


             – Che spasso! – fischiò tra i denti Cristoforo Golisch.


             E lanciò di qua e di là occhiatacce alla gente che si voltava e si fermava a mirar col volto atteggiato di compassione quel pover uomo accidentato.


             Una sorda rabbia prese a bollirgli dentro.


             Come camminava svelta la gente per via! svelta di collo, svelta di braccia, svelta di gambe… E lui stesso! Era padrone, lui, di tutti i suoi movimenti; e si sentiva così forte… Strinse un pugno. Perdio! Sentì come sarebbe stato poderoso a calarlo bene scolpito su la schiena di qualcuno. Ma perché? Non sapeva…


             Lo irritava la gente, lo irritavano in special modo i giovani che si voltavano a guardare il Lenzi. Cavò dalla tasca un grosso fazzoletto di cotone turchino e si asciugò il sudore che gli grondava dal faccione affocato.


             – Beniamino, dove vai adesso?


             Il Lenzi s’era fermato, aveva appoggiata la mano illesa a un lampione e pareva lo carezzasse, guardandolo amorosamente. Biascicò:


             –   Da dottoe… Esecìio de piee.


             E si provò ad alzare il piede colpito.


             –    Esercizio? – disse il Golisch. – Ti eserciti il piede?


             –    Piee, – ripetè il Lenzi.


             –    Bravo! – esclamò di nuovo il Golisch.


             Gli venne la tentazione d’afferrargli quel piede, stirarglielo, prendere per le braccia l’amico e dargli un tremendo scrollone, per scomporlo da quell’orribile immobilità.


             Non sapeva, non poteva vederselo davanti, ridotto in quello stato. Eccolo qua, il compagno delle antiche scapataggini, nei begli anni della gioventù e poi nelle ore d’ozio, ogni sera, scapoli com’eran rimasti entrambi. Un bel giorno, una nuova via s’era aperta innanzi all’amico, il quale s’era incamminato per essa, svelto anche lui, allora, – oh tanto! – svelto e animoso. Sissignore! Lotte, fatiche, speranze; e poi, tutt’a un tratto: eccolo qua, com’era ritornato… Ah, che buffonata! che buffonata!


             Avrebbe voluto parlargli di tante cose, e non sapeva. Le domande gli s’affollavano alle labbra e gli morivano assiderate.


             «Ti ricordi», avrebbe voluto dirgli, «delle nostre famose scommesse alla Fiaschetteria Toscana? E di Nadina, ti ricordi? L’ho ancora con me, sai! Tu me l’hai appioppata, birbaccione, quando partisti da Roma. Cara figliuola, quanto bene ti voleva… Ti pensa ancora, sai? mi parla ancora di te, qualche volta. Andrò a trovarla questa sera stessa e le dirò come t’ho riveduto, poveretto… E proprio inutile ch’io ti domandi: tu non ricordi più nulla; tu forse non mi riconosci più, o mi riconosci appena.»


             Mentre il Golisch pensava così, con gli occhi gonfi di lagrime, Beniamino Lenzi seguitava a guardare amorosamente il lampione e pian piano con le dita gli levava la polvere.


             Quel lampione segnava per lui una delle tre tappe della passeggiata giornaliera. Strascinandosi per via, non vedeva nessuno, non pensava a niente; mentre la vita gli turbinava intorno, agitata da tante passioni, premuta da tante cure, egli tendeva con tutte le forze che gli erano rimaste a quel lampione, prima; poi, più giù, alla vetrina d’un bazar, che segnava la seconda tappa; e qui si tratteneva più a lungo a contemplare con gioja infantile una scimmietta di porcellana sospesa a un’altalena dai cordoncini di seta rossa. La terza sosta era alla ringhiera del giardinetto in fondo alla via, donde poi si recava alla casa del medico.


             Nel cortile di quella casa, tra i vasi di fiori e i cassoni d’aranci, di lauro e di bambù, eran disposti parecchi attrezzi di ginnastica, tra i quali alcune pertiche elastiche, fermate orizzontalmente in cima a certi pali tozzi e solidi; pertiche da tornitore, dalla cui estremità pendeva una corda, la quale, dato un giro attorno a un rocchetto, scendeva ad annodarsi a una leva di legno, fermata per un capo al suolo da una forcella.


             Beniamino Lenzi poneva il piede colpito su questa leva e spingeva; la pertica in alto molleggiava e brandiva, e il rocchetto, sostenuto orizzontalmente da due toppi, girava per via della corda.


             Ogni giorno, mezz’ora di questo esercizio. E in capo a pochi mesi, sarebbe guarito. Oh, non c’era alcun dubbio! Guarito del tutto…


             Dopo avere assistito per un pezzetto a questo grazioso spettacolo, Cristoforo Golisch uscì dal cortile a gran passi, sbuffando come un cavallo, dimenando le braccia, furibondo.


             Pareva che la morte avesse fatto a lui e non al povero Lenzi lo scherzo di quella toccatina lì, al cervello.


             N’era rivoltato.


             Con gli occhi torvi, i denti serrati, parlava tra sé e gesticolava per via, come un matto.


             –   Ah, sì? – diceva. – Ti tocco e ti lascio? No, ah, no perdio! Io non mi riduco in quello stato! Ti faccio tornare per forza, io! Mi passeggi accanto e ti diverti a vedere come mi hai conciato? a vedermi strascicare un piede? a sentirmi biascicare? Mi rubi mezzo alfabeto, mi fai dire oa e cao, e ridi? No, caa! Vieni qua! Mi tio una pistoettata, com’è veo Dio! Questo spasso io non te lo do! Mi sparo, m’ammazzo com’è vero Dio! Questo spasso non te lo do.


             Tutta la sera e poi il giorno appresso e per parecchi giorni di fila non pensò ad altro, non parlò d’altro, a casa, per via, al caffè, alla fiaschetteria, quasi se ne fosse fatta una fissazione. Domandava a tutti:


             – Avete veduto Beniamino Lenzi? E se qualcuno gli rispondeva di no:


             – Colpito! Morto per metà! Rimbambito… Come non s’ammazza? Se io fossi medico, lo ammazzerei! Per carità di prossimo… Gli fanno girare il tornio, invece… Sicuro! Il tornio… Il medico gli fa girare il tornio nel cortile… e lui crede che guarirà! Beniamino Lenzi, capite? Beniamino Lenzi che s’è battuto tre volte in duello, dopo aver fatto con me la campagna del ’66, ragazzotto… Perdio, e quando mai l’abbiamo calcolata noi, questa pellaccia? La vita ha prezzo per quello che ti dà… Dico bene? Non ci penserei neanche due volte…


             Gli amici, alla fiaschetteria, alla fine non ne poterono più.


             –    M’ammazzo… m’ammazzo… E ammazzati una buona volta e falla finita! Cristoforo Golisch si scosse, protese le mani:


             –    No; io dico, se mai…





Circa un mese dopo, mentre desinava con la sorella vedova e il nipote, Cristoforo Golisch improvvisamente stravolse gli occhi, storse la bocca, quasi per uno sbadiglio mancato; e il capo gli cadde sul petto e la faccia sul piatto.


             Una toccatina, lieve lieve, anche a lui.


             Perdette lì per lì la parola e mezzo lato del corpo: il destro.


             Cristoforo Golisch era nato in Italia, da genitori tedeschi; non era mai stato in Germania, e parlava romanesco, come un romano di Roma. Da un pezzo gli amici gli avevano italianizzato anche il cognome, chiamandolo Golicci, e gl’intimi anche Golaccia, in considerazione del ventre e del formidabile appetito. Solo con la sorella egli soleva di tanto in tanto scambiare qualche parola in tedesco, perché gli altri non intendessero.


             Ebbene, riacquistato a stento, in capo a poche ore, l’uso della parola, Cristoforo Golisch offrì al medico un curioso fenomeno da studiare; non sapeva più parlare in italiano: parlava tedesco.


             Aprendo gli occhi insanguati, pieni di paura, contraendo quasi in un mezzo sorriso la sola guancia sinistra e aprendo alquanto la bocca da questo lato, dopo essersi più volte provato a snodar la lingua inceppata, alzò la mano illesa verso il capo e balbettò, rivolto al medico:


              – Ih… ihr… wie ein Faustschlag…


             Il medico non comprese, e bisognò che la sorella, mezzo istupidita dall’improvvisa sciagura, gli facesse da interprete.


             Era divenuto tedesco a un tratto, Cristoforo Golisch: cioè, un altro; perché tedesco veramente, lui, non era mai stato. Soffiata via, come niente, dal suo cervello ogni memoria della lingua italiana, anzi tutta quanta l’italianità sua.


             Il medico si provò a dare una spiegazione scientifica del fenomeno: dichiarò il male: emiplegia; prescrisse la cura. Ma la sorella, spaventata, lo chiamò in disparte e gli riferì i propositi violenti manifestati dal fratello pochi giorni innanzi, avendo veduto un amico colpito da quello stesso male.


             –   Ah, signor dottore, da un mese non parlava più d’altro; quasi se la fosse sentita pendere sul capo la condanna! S’ammazzerà… Tiene la rivoltella lì, nel cassetto del comodino… Ho tanta paura…


             Il medico sorrise pietosamente.


             –   Non ne abbia, non ne abbia, signora mia! Gli daremo a intendere che è stato un semplice disturbo digestivo, e vedrà che…


             –    Ma che, dottore!


             –    Le assicuro che lo crederà. Del resto, il colpo, per fortuna, non è stato molto grave. Ho fiducia che tra pochi giorni riacquisterà l’uso degli arti offesi, se non bene del tutto, almeno da potersene servire pian piano… e, col tempo, chi sa! Certo è stato per lui un terribile avviso. Bisognerà cangiar vita e tenersi a un regime scrupolosissimo per allontanare quanto più sarà possibile un nuovo assalto del male.


             La sorella abbassò le palpebre per chiudere e nascondere negli occhi le lagrime. Non fidandosi però dell’assicurazione del medico, appena questi andò via, concertò col figliuolo e con la serva il modo di portar via dal cassetto del comodino la rivoltella: lei e la serva si sarebbero accostate alla sponda del letto con la scusa di rialzare un tantino le materasse, e nel frattempo – ma, attento per carità! – il ragazzo avrebbe aperto il cassetto senza far rumore e… – attento! – via, l’arma.


             Così fecero. E di questa sua precauzione la sorella si lodò molto, non parendole naturale, di lì a poco, la facilità con cui il fratello accolse la spiegazione del male, suggerita dal medico: disturbo digestivo.


             – Ja… ja… es ist doch…


             Da quattro giorni se lo sentiva ingombro lo stomaco.


             – Unver… Unverdaulichkeit… ja… ja…


             Ma possibile, – pensava la sorella, – ch’egli non avverta la paralisi di mezzo lato del corpo? possibile ch’egli, già prevenuto dal caso recente del Lenzi, creda che una semplice indigestione possa avere un tale effetto?


             Fin dalla prima veglia cominciò a suggerirgli amorosamente, come a un bambino, le parole della lingua dimenticata; gli domandò perché non parlasse più italiano.


             Egli la guardò imbalordito. Non s’era accorto peranche di parlare in tedesco: tutt’a un tratto gli era venuto di parlar così, né credeva che potesse parlare altrimenti. Si provò tuttavia a ripetere le parole italiane, facendo eco.alla sorella. Ma le pronunziava ora con voce cangiata e con accento straniero, proprio come un tedesco che si sforzasse di parlare italiano. Chiamava Giovannino, il nipote, Ciofaio. E il nipote – scimunito! – ne rideva, come se lo zio lo chiamasse così per ischerzo.


             Tre giorni dopo, quando alla Fiaschetterìa Toscana si seppe del malore improvviso del Golisch, gli amici accorsi a visitarlo poterono avere un saggio pietoso di quella sua nuova lingua. Ma egli non aveva punto coscienza della curiosissima impressione che faceva, parlando a quel modo.


             Pareva un naufrago che si arrabattasse disperatamente per tenersi a galla, dopo essere stato tuffato e sommerso per un attimo eterno nella vita oscura, a lui ignota, della sua gente. E da quel tuffo, ecco, era balzato fuori un altro; ridivenuto bambino, a quarant’otto anni, e straniero.


             E contentissimo era. Sì, perché proprio in quel giorno aveva cominciato a poter muovere appena appena il braccio e la mano. La gamba no, ancora. Ma sentiva che forse il giorno dopo, con uno sforzo, sarebbe riuscito a muovere anche quella. Ci si provava anche adesso, ci si provava… e, no eh? non scorgevano alcun movimento gli amici?


             –    Tomai… tomai…


             –    Ma sì, domani, sicuro!


             A uno a uno gli amici, prima d’andar via – quantunque lo spettacolo offerto dal Golisch non desse più luogo ad alcun timore – stimarono prudente raccomandare alla sorella la sorveglianza.


             – Da un momento all’altro, non si sa mai… Può darsi che la coscienza gli si ridesti, e…


             Ciascuno pensava, ora, come già aveva pensato il Golisch, da sano: che l’unica, cioè, era di finirsi con una pistolettata per non restar così malvivo e sotto la minaccia terribile, inovviabile, d’un nuovo colpo da un momento all’altro.


             Ma loro sì, adesso, lo pensavano: non più il Golisch però. L’allegrezza del Golisch, invece, quando – una ventina di giorni dopo – sorretto dalla sorella e dal nipote, poté muovere i primi passi per la camera!


             Gli occhi, è vero, no, senza uno specchio non se li poteva vedere: attoniti, smarriti, come quelli di Beniamino Lenzi; ma della gamba sì, perbacco, avrebbe potuto accorgersi bene che la strascicava a stento… Eppure, che allegrezza!


             Si sentiva rinato. Aveva di nuovo tutte le meraviglie d’un bambino, e anche le lagrime facili, come le hanno i bambini, per ogni nonnulla. Da tutti gli oggetti della camera sentiva venirsi un conforto dolcissimo, familiare, non mai provato prima; e il pensiero ch’egli ora poteva andare co’ suoi piedi fino a quegli oggetti, a carezzarli con le mani, lo inteneriva di gioja fino a piangerne. Guardava dall’uscio gli oggetti delle altre stanze e si struggeva dal desiderio di recarsi a carezzare anche quelli. Sì, via… pian piano, pian piano, sorretto di qua e’di là… Poi volle fare a meno del braccio del nipote, e girò appoggiato alla sorella soltanto e col bastone nell’altra mano; poi, non più sorretto da alcuno, col bastone soltanto; e finalmente volle dare una gran prova di forza:


             – Oh… oh… guaddae… guaddae… sea battoe…


             E davvero, tenendo il bastone levato, mosse due o tre passi. Ma dovettero accorrere con una seggiola per farlo subito sedere.


             Gli era quasi scolata addosso tutta la carne, e pareva l’ombra di se stesso; pur non di meno, neanche il minimo dubbio in lui che il suo non fosse stato un disturbo digestivo; e, sedendo ora di nuovo a tavola con la sorella e il nipote, condannato a bere latte invece di vino, ripeteva per la millesima volta che s’era presa una bella paura:


             – Una bea paua…


             Se non che, la prima volta che potè uscir di casa, accompagnato dalla sorella, in gran segreto manifestò a questa il desiderio d’esser condotto alla casa del medico che.curava Beniamino Lenzi. Nel cortile di quella casa voleva esercitarsi il piede al tornio anche lui.


             La sorella lo guardò, sbigottita. Dunque egli sapeva?


             –    Di’, vuoi andarci oggi stesso?


             –    Sì… sì…


             Nel cortile trovarono Beniamino Lenzi, già al tornio, puntuale.


             – Beiamìo!  – chiamò il Golisch.


             Beniamino Lenzi non mostrò affatto stupore nel riveder lì l’amico, conciato come lui: spiccicò le labbra sotto i baffi, contraendo la guancia destra; biascicò:


             – Tu pue?


             E seguitò a spingere la leva. Due pertiche ora molleggiavano e brandivano, facendo girare i rocchetti con la corda.


             Il giorno dopo Cristoforo Golisch, non volendo esser da meno del Lenzi che si recava al tornio da solo, rifiutò recisamente la scorta della sorella. Questa, dapprima, ordinò al figliuolo di seguire lo zio a una certa distanza, senza farsi scorgere; poi, rassicurata, lo lasciò davvero andar solo.


             E ogni giorno, adesso, alla stess’ora, i due colpiti si ritrovano per via e proseguono insieme facendo le stesse tappe: al lampione, prima; poi, più giù, alla vetrina del bazar, a contemplare la scimmietta di porcellana sospesa all’altalena; in fine, alla ringhiera del giardinetto.


             Oggi, intanto, a Cristoforo Golisch è saltata in mente un’idea curiosa; ed ecco, la confida al Lenzi. Tutti e due, appoggiati al fido lampione, si guardano negli occhi e si provano a sorridere, contraendo l’uno la guancia destra, l’altro la sinistra. Confabulano un pezzo, con quelle loro lingue torpide; poi il Golisch fa segno col bastone a un vetturino d’accostarsi. Ajutati da questo, prima l’uno e poi l’altro, montano in vettura, e via, alla casa di Nadina in Piazza di Spagna.


             Nel vedersi innanzi quei due fantasmi ansimanti che non si reggono in piedi dopo l’enorme sforzo della salita, la povera Nadina resta sgomenta, a bocca aperta. Non sa se debba piangere o ridere. S’affretta a sostenerli, li trascina nel salotto, li pone a sedere accanto e si mette a sgridarli aspramente della pazzia commessa, come due ragazzini discoli, sfuggiti alla sorveglianza dell’ajo.


             Beniamino Lenzi fa il greppo, e giù a piangere.


             Il Golisch, invece, con molta serietà, accigliato, le vuole spiegare che si è inteso di farle una bella sorpresa.


             – Una bea soppea…


             (Bellino! Come parla adesso, il tedescaccio!)


             – Ma sì, ma sì, grazie… – dice subito Nadina. – Bravi! Siete stati bravi dav vero tutt’e due… e m’avete fatto un gran piacere… Io dicevo per voi… venire fin qua, salire tutta questa scala… Su, su, Beniamino! Non piangere, caro… Che cos’è? Coraggio, coraggio!


             E prende a carezzarlo su le guance, con le belle mani lattee e paffutelle, inanellate.


             – Che cos’è: che cos’è? Guardami!… Tu non volevi venire, è vero? Ti ha condotto lui, questo discolaccio! Ma non farò nemmeno una carezza a lui… Tu sei il mio buon Beniamino, il mio gran giovanottone sei… Caro! caro!… Suvvia, asciughiamo codeste lagrimucce… Così… così… Guarda qua questa bella turchese: chi me l’ha regalata? chi l’ha regalata a Nadina sua? Ma questo mio bel vecchiaccio me l’ha regalata… Toh, caro!


             E gli possa un bacio su la fronte. Poi si alza di scatto e rapidamente con le dita si porta via le lagrime dagli occhi.


             – Che posso offrirvi?


             Cristoforo Golisch, rimasto mortificato e ingrugnato, non vuole accettar nulla; Beniamino Lenzi accetta un biscottino e lo mangia accostando la bocca alla mano di Nadina che lo tiene tra le dita e finge di non volerglielo dare, scattando con brevi risatine:


             – No… no… no…


             Bellini tutt’e due, adesso, come ridono, come ridono a quello scherzo…

Translator's Note

 In Luigi Pirandello’s 1906 short story “Tap Tap,” Cristoforo Golisch’s friend Beniamino Lenzi has recently had a stroke. Shocked to see Lenzi walking with a cane and slurring his words, Golisch vows to kill himself if the same fate should ever occur to him. However, when Golisch himself suffers a stroke, he eagerly believes the doctor’s cautious lie about the possibility of recovery and adapts immediately to his new condition, becoming a mirror image of his friend. 

The most peculiar challenge of translating this story was how to render, graphically, the effects of the stroke on the main characters’ speech. The specific impairment that affects Lenzi, dysarthria, weakens the muscles used to produce speech, which becomes slurred. In the case of Golisch, as a result of the stroke he loses his ability to speak Italian, but his mother tongue, German, resurfaces in compensation, to the point that he has to relearn to speak Italian, and when he does, it is with a German accent. It is helpful to remember that illness—physical and mental—features prominently in much of Pirandello’s production, and that its depiction is never approximate; thus, reproducing the two men’s impaired speech in a realistic way was crucial not only out of fidelity towards the spirit of Pirandello’s story, but also out of respect for the specific medical condition. Failure to do so would have turned compassion into derision. I am grateful for the expertise of Mary Pitti, Clinical Associate Professor in the Department of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology at Ithaca College, who helped me identify which specific letters and sounds, in English, are affected by dysarthria, and brainstormed with me how to convey them in writing. I am also indebted to James Harker, of the Language and Thinking Program Coordinator at Bard College Berlin, for humoring me when I pestered him with questions on how to respectfully render a German accent in English.  

This story exemplifies Pirandello’s humor, which he defined as a “certain perplexity between weeping and laughing.” “My art is full of bitter compassion for all those who fool themselves,” he wrote in 1912-13, “but this compassion cannot help but be succeeded by the ferocious derision of a destiny that condemns man to deception.” Already the title is, in typical Pirandellian fashion, chillingly humorous: “La toccatina” refers to the playful touch of death which turns first Lenzi, then Golisch, into grotesque masks of themselves. Musical terminology traditionally carries over unmodified from Italian into English, therefore the Italian title could have been maintained. However, the specific qualities of the composition and of the term itself would have been lost to readers not familiar with the field of music or with the Italian language: a short virtuoso piece, a toccatina can serve as a warm-up for a longer composition, in a similar way as the stroke suffered by the two friends is death’s way of warming up before dealing the final blow. Furthermore, while the element of tocco, touch, is immediately visible in Italian, the association between toccatina and touch would not be so obvious. For these reasons, a more suitable solution was to opt for a title that, though moving away from musical semantics, still conveyed, through the repetition of “tap tap,” the spirited, magician-like ability of death.

Marella Feltrin-Morris


In the Classroom