DO YOU LISTEN TO THE RADIO?
Dear Matthias Sapienza,
Do you listen to the radio?
Perhaps you know a program called The Magic of Life. Itís on every night from 3.15 am to 4.15 am and they teach axioms like the following:
You can attract anything you focus on. We are like magnets.
From which it can be deduced, as a corollary, that:
If you focus on the picture of an elephant long enough, sooner or later an elephant will appear in your life.
The trouble is, “sooner or later” could be anytime.
Matthias, we went to the same high school from 1990 to 1992, until I lost sight of you almost-forever because you were three years ahead and went to University abroad.
You might not recall my name at first, because we never formally introduced ourselves, but you will certainly remember the fancy-dress party that Stefano Raddi threw at his flat in February 1991. That was such a great party. Or at least this is what I was told, because I was not invited, but you were, and went along, although with your usual clothing, I believe.
At that time I was slightly obsessed with the subject of death, which I discussed at great length with the teacher of my Religious Education class. If what I was told was correct, at the party Stefano Raddi was getting about all in black, his face painted in white and one big sign at his neck reading:
I AM THAT WEIRDO
DRESSED UP AS DEATH
Well, I am that Clarissa Alessandrini.
You might remember now that I was in the corridor every day at two minutes past eleven, during our morning break, right in front of you, as close as I could. You were always next to the snack machine, smoking cigarettes with your mates, discussing politics and other topics of essential importance to humanity. Communism against Capitalism. Hegelís idealism against Humeís skepticism. Greek democracy and Platonic myths. And all the time I wanted to be one of you, smoking those roll-up cigarettes and building a new world.
When you disappeared, I did suffer, although of course I pretended not to.
Yes, I soon ended up getting stoned on vodka and meth, kissing strangers at the back of sheds turned into clubs, dropping out of university and hitch-hiking around Europe—all the time I was looking for you. No matter what I was doing, I was, to put it in current terms, constantly visualizing a picture of you.
Sometimes I think I have been spending all my life looking for your smile, the same quality of it, in someone else, anyone else.
I was not surprised when I found your first essay in the bookshop. The Tragic Essence of the Contemporary Consciousness. I read it all in one night, and when I closed it I felt a true impulse of joy at the thought that you fulfilled your destiny.
I have all your books lined up on the top shelf of my bookcase, in this studio where I live, near a petrol station and a bakery, where they make these delicious cinnamon pastries that cost only 60 cents each. I have a quiet life now.
I drive a taxi. I work nights. Sometimes customers ask me if I donít feel lonely, or in danger, a woman on her own in the bleakness of the night. But itís the opposite, really. Where I feel unsafe is outside of my taxi, in a world where only the slim get jobs and they can charge you six euros for a Coca-Cola.
I always have my radio on. And sometimes, when the night is long and there are no customers, when you want nothing, not even the radio, and you start thinking stuff you should not touch—when your thoughts become cockroaches and you get sick of yourself, you can always ring the Samaritans.
Their line is open 24 hours. Itís free, they listen for ages, and even if you confess you are a killer or a rapist, they will not call the police. They have to keep everything secret, whatever you tell them, and I am not saying it’s right or wrong, but I know itís tough for them, because Giovanni told me. If you ever ring them, do ask for him. Heís the best, and he knows you, although he will not say anything, because he canít.
Now I want to tell you something that even Giovanni will not know. Yesterday I made a phone call to Your Lucky Day.
You know, this radio show is presented by Carlo Raimondi, the ex-theater actor (from now on I will call him C.R.).
Once you get through, C.R. will ask you how you are. There is only one right answer here: I am having a lucky day. In this way you enter the competition. Then he will ask you to choose a number. In this way you select a pack of gifts at random. In the pack there can be anything, from a pair of socks to a new dishwasher to a holiday in the Caribbean. C.R. reads aloud each gift in the pack and you must say if you will take it or go on. If you go on, you can lose everything or win the Most Fabulous Gift.
What is the Most Fabulous Gift? Nobody knows, because nobody has ever won it, but it’s bound to change your life forever. It’s a fabulous gift. It’s a surprise.
Yesterday morning I was eating soy-and-honey chicken wings from the Chinese downstairs and I had a vision. I picked up the phone and dialed the number and it was busy and I kept dialing and all the time I visualized that I was winning the Most Fabulous Gift. And I was happy, I was jumping all around the kitchen because I felt exactly as if I had already won. For once, I strangely and suddenly felt that it was true what they say, that we are each the masterpiece of our own lives. That we are Magnets, Masses of Energy, Creators of Life. That we are Love.
For once, I believed that life could be an endless supply of gifts, easy to win.
Suddenly, C.R.ís voice was echoing in my kitchen: Hello? Hello?
I turned down the volume on the radio. I turned it to zero and I could still hear his voice. It was inside the receiver, in fact.
I said: Hello!
Donít shout, for Godís sake! Whatís your name?
Clarissa... huh, what a nice name you have. Are you having a good day, Clarissa?
Iím having a lucky day.
Congratulations, Clarissa! And what number will you choose, for your lucky day?
I chose number three, Matthias, because you and I met on the 3rd of October.
Clarissa, are you ready for the Most Fabulous Gift?
I said I was ready.
Are you ready to go all the way?
I said: All the way or nothing.
This is music to my ears, Clarissa! Now, my darling Clarissa, would you like a set of French scented candles?
I said No.
Would you like a gold coin with the face of Enrico Fermi stamped on it?
I said No.
Would you like the New Encyclopedia of Dolphins bound in eco-leather?
I like dolphins, but I said No.
Would you like a new washing machine, Whirlpool, seven different programs, can load up to ten kilos, dryer included?
This was becoming harder. My washing machine had just broken. I said No.
Would you like a Mini-Cooper, white, fully equipped, CD, airbag, alarm system, you name it, comes with insurance paid for one year, perfect to drive around in the city without going insane looking for parking, would you like it, Clarissa?
I would have liked it, but I said No. No, no, no, no.
Clarissa, youí re a tough nut to crack! Would you like a whole new kitchen, complete with everything, oven, dishwasher, you name it, all electric, sleek and chic, all-glass cabinets, all beyond-traditional to a soft-edge contemporary style, appeared once in Vogue and Your New Home?
I had to be stronger. I said No.
Well, Clarissa, it was very nice to talk to you. Youíve run out of gifts. Have a lucky day!
I hung up.
I tried to ring Giovanni at the Samaritans but he was not starting his shift until the afternoon. I had a headache and could not sleep, so I ran in circles around the kitchen table for 27 minutes. I mean, it’s also good for the circulation since I sit all night in a taxi. And when I felt near the heart-attack zone, I stopped and finally slept—and I dreamt of you.
I always dream of you, I always dream the same dream, although with some variations. I always dream that I come and find you, whether that is in the bar around the corner from where you live, or in a reading at a bookshop, or at the exit of a theater.
This time it was in the metro. I never take the metro, so it’s quite unlikely that we would ever meet there. Nevertheless, in my dream we were both there, and when I saw you we were between Gambara and De Angeli.
You saw me too. I started walking towards you; the carriage was packed but the crowd split open like the Red Sea did with Moses.
Hello, Iím Clarissa Alessandrini.
Yes, Iíve been waiting for you for years.
Yes, since that day in October 1990. Twenty years ago.
Oh my God!
Clarissa, youíre the Most Fabulous Gift of My Life.
And you slipped one hand under my coat, then under my shirt. You touched my right breast and squeezed the nipple against the fabric.
Matthias, I donít think doing this in this place is appropriate, actually.
Clarissa, who cares—Iíve been waiting for so long.
Perhaps we could go to my apartment?
Clarissa, I donít have a lot of time because Iím writing a new book which is a sum of all the human knowledge up to now.
My God, Matthias, youíre the smartest person Iíve ever heard of.
At that point I woke up. I was late for work but I still had to masturbate. Then I ran to the taxi.
Well, today it has happened, Matthias—today, after twenty years, I have seen you.
I think it was you. Not in a dream, but for real. You.
It was nearly six am, and I was driving through Vincenzo Monti, the most beautiful street in Milan, the street of the rich people, wide and tree-lined and full of graceful cafes like a Parisian boulevard. I was driving back from the train station and my taxi was empty and a man stopped me.
Tall, and with a camel coat and a dark scarf, he said: My taxi did not show up. Can you take us to Linate?
Next to him he had his wife, and two kids, one still in a baby-carriage, half-asleep and bundled in layers of blankets. I bent forward and looked up at the man’s face.
I think I recognized you from the roll-up cigarette. I think I recognized the tip of your chalky fingers, gripping the thick roll of tobacco, and your lips around it, thin and cracked from the cold. The straight cut of your lips, like a sealed wound, like a secret.
And I thought: thatís it. These years and years of visualization are finally coming together. This is the magnet inside me which has finally made it. I have reached the Most Fabulous Gift. He finally appears. He—that is, you—is here.
For a few seconds I smiled and smiled. A bubble of joy rose from my chest. Sweet words filled my throat, like shy butterflies. In the infinite space of God, I started swimming towards you.
I am a Magnet, I thought. I am a beautiful, luminous, catalyst for Love Energy.
I am a Soul.
You said: Please, can you take us?
And then you said: Can you hear me?
It hit me hard that you did not recognize me.
I glanced at your wife. She was tall too, blonde, in a black and close-fitting coat, a Max Mara or Caractere coat. Something very expensive. She reminded me of that Argentinian model who was in that soap opera a few years ago. For a second I wondered whether it was her. But it was not, because your wife was even more attractive and sophisticated than her, more interesting, more like you, more like I always thought that your wife should be.
She smiled at me and I cannot explain what happened. I felt cold inside. I could not speak. I squeezed into first gear and drove away.
Through the rear-view mirror, I saw you for the last time, puzzled in the middle of the street, your arms open, clouds of smoke rising above you like question-marks.
I kept driving for awhile. My shift was over and it was not like I knew where I was going. I was driving Nowhere, and when you drive Nowhere itís very different from when you drive Somewhere.
Driving Nowhere took me back to this kitchen, where I am today drafting this letter at 06.42 in the morning, trying to explain why I ran out on you today. I have been writing to you each day after my work shift, and I keep all the letters filed in numbered shoe-boxes, but after today I will not write anymore.
Yes, Matthias Sapienza, today I, Clarissa Alessandrini, write this, my last letter to you.
I make coffee and smoke a cigarette. This is the time of the day, before the building wakes up, when for half an hour you believe there is no one in the world but you.
Then the silence becomes thinner, then the city comes alive again.
If I close my eyes, I can still see your face, that morning I met you for the very first time, I still see the light flooding the corridor, as clear as water, cold and golden, and your face. It was a fine October morning, and life was different then, because I was fifteen, and each morning contained the possibility of a Beginning, of New Hopes, and Fabulous Gifts.
Now, before turning the kitchen radio on, I close my eyes and I listen to my breathing.
Outside, the day is breaking, and I listen to life rolling away somewhere else, like a heart still beating—a weak, human noise gliding into nothing.
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