A Cold Winter

Fausta Cialente Estate

A Cold Winter


Year: 2022

Pages: 288

A novel of secrets and female solidarity in the cold post-war city of Milan.

Milan in the winter of 1946 is freezing cold and piles of snow cover streets lined with rubble. Camilla and her two daughters live in a large attic room of their crumbling house, waiting for her husband who has disappeared. But then they meet others, with their secrets, their obscure pasts and their unsettling omniscience.

From A Cold Winter
Fausta Cialente, translated by Seán McDonagh

Suspicion hovered above Regina’s head like a hawk with spread wings: was it, or was it not, a feeble excuse to have come in at such an hour in search of cigarettes? But that hawk came down immediately, and it was without any claws. Enzo’s hands had firmly pulled her towards him, his arms were holding her tightly, and with a sigh, he whispered weakly into her hair: “Sì, Regina, be a good girl. Let me stay with you a while.”

They said nothing more about warming up since that was exactly what they were doing, and set as they were, their faint mutual warmth could only increase and expand, comforting them from the terrible cold, from the terrible snow. The ice was glistening on the window pane like a precious stone. Within the silence, they could hear the gutter dripping, a mouse that was nibbling away in some dark hole. He had forced her to place her head against his shoulder (being quite a bit taller than her), and for a moment Regina had resisted, but then, she had let herself go, like a “good girl,” as he had suggested. Confusingly, she was now feeling that for some time she had been awaiting something similar, but she would never have imagined that it might happen without preamble, without words, and the two of them dressed so barely despite the cold.

“You know,” he murmured, “I always thought, you and I, we’re like two wreckages… This was bound to happen.”

In fact, two ghosts were watching over them: one, the girl who had disappeared years before in the dreamlike ancient river. The other, the loquacious and noble partisan, but from him there remained on the earth a tangible message. He had risked his life, but he had also considered it essential, which was testified by the warm scent emanating from the crib.

Enzo then thought: we have both drifted and drifted, and then, just like wreckage, we end up colliding into each other – but he didn’t say this. It was an out-of-place description that probably would have hurt Regina, and besides, his thoughts were drowning in the nascent crescendo of desire, together with that more precise and generous thought with which he was already justifying himself: the desire to help her forget about “that poor guy” towards whom, without meaning to perhaps, she was harbouring resentment. While, if he could have read Regina’s thoughts, he would have discovered above all her concern of coming across as easy, someone who couldn’t really be trusted: with a baby girl not even six months old, and well, that already she was forgetting about “that poor guy.”

“Listen, let’s go to bed,” he whispered, aroused, detaching his lips from hers. “Otherwise we’ll really catch a cold.”

Inside the room with an almost marital appearance, he was calmly exercising a marital right that fate seemed to have decided upon almost without consulting them. But were they the only man and woman in the whole universe to lie in the same bed, holding each other with endearing tenderness? Were they not instead part of an immense concert? Darkness had fallen, and since the shutters weren’t closed, the white of the snow undulating outside the windows festively accompanied the hesitant inception of their caresses, inviting them to proceed, and to tune their instruments.

The little girl in the soft crib continued to sleep. Perhaps the paternal image was already etched onto her features, but that would not be seen until later, and, in any case, it would have only a relative importance. She didn’t know about the two of them, and even in the act of forgetting the sweet maternal bosom, she would acquire her first, tenuous independence. While those two, despite the bitter experiences of which they were woven, the wounds barely scarred over, the reciprocal compassion, they were now annihilating the past (since life is far more cunning than death). Blood ran quicker in their veins, the laboured breathing of love truly warmed the room. Then they rested, side by side, holding each other by the hand, and before they were able to sleep, they listened in silence to the coursing of the hushed winter night.

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