a taste of ‘The Company of Men’

by  Luisa Brenta

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My Grandmother’s world comes back to me in curiously still flashes, as if I had been taking pictures, long ago, and they had turned yellow and brown through the years …

I follow my ten-year-old mind as it wanders from the boring French dialogue that Grandmother wants me to memorize, into the large room that always seems so familiar and yet so puzzling. Why have they put the windows so high? Swallows

Grandmother has gone up to her room and is not to be seen. Pearls

My estimate is that no answer is required, as Grandmother seems gone with her thoughts, again. And I don’t know what I should answer, anyhow. I learned long ago that is when you should shut up … Late in the season

“Don’t you forget now, Young One,” she said. “We have already decided that you will never throw yourself away, and that is settled. You do remember, right?” Renovations

“I had expected … you know … an older lady … The person I talked to on the phone said that the owner was letting the house as she was retiring away from the city.” Opening

There is a part of my past that you have witnessed, albeit through the eyes of a child; there is another part that you know nothing about – that you are probably too young to picture for yourself. Letters

I’m bored. I can’t talk to Gigi – Grandmother would wake up instantly and tell me not to distract the driver from his task. It’s so hot in the car. Company

“How could she do this to me, what the hell do I tell people when they ask? How could she jeopardize everything?” Sinking pebbles

When Aunt Ada raises her eyes to the noise, Bisnonna waves the cane in the air and calls out, “About time you paid a visit, Daughter!” The linen room

One tall man in a dark-grey suit stands at the churchyard gates, face indistinguishable under a black umbrella. Alone and motionless, he looks at the small crowd to which he doesn’t belong. Pendulum

She does show up for lunch, though; her place at the table has instantly opened up again, after all those mealtimes of slow but constant shrinking. Pearls

I am now convinced that if I had, earlier in life, I would have arrived where I am now at a lower price, for myself and for others. Letters

Bisnonna appears on the balcony over the salon, unnoticed at first. But she makes herself heard right away, by banging the cane on the banister, bang bang bang. The linen room

Our whole family is expected to visit Grandmother at least once on each of her three annual vacations; we the children find this a very unpleasant duty, given the number of rules and regulations that haunt the life of the young in all of Grandmother’s homes. Company

Outside, it rains heavily. The so-called friends of a lifetime walk up to Grandmother and wait in line for their turn to touch cheeks with her in a kiss that won’t ruin anybody’s make-up. Pendulum

Bisnonna has died after summoning me to her side once more. As in the past, what she needed to say was “important and urgent.” Renovations

Today the kitchen is going to be particularly interesting, because Agata is there. Agata is Gigi’s wife. She comes over as extra help twice a week, but we don’t get to see much of her as she usually stays in the linen room, next to the pantry. Sinking pebbles

Grandpa is finally growing old; his eyes are now capable of a mellow look that they never knew in his ribald years; I often catch him smiling at his wife’s back as she turns to leave the room. Renovations

There is a fireplace, under the large mirror. I have never seen a fire in it. Swallows

He walks in and takes a quick look at the large mirror in the hall, then once more at the ceiling, but his eyes keep coming back to me. He must have noticed that I have noticed, because he smiles apologetically … Opening

Grandmother asks about the car. “She runs like a deer and sounds like a violin,” Gigi always answers. Company

“Oh, fettuccini, how lovely!” she says. She actually says “how lovely”, and looks around as if inviting the rest of us to share in the pleasure of the fettuccini surprise. Pearls

It’s clear by now Grandmother has not been taken by someone for ransom, like that movie on TV. Sinking pebbles

She looks at me and seems to see me for the first time in years. Then she relaxes back in the chair and smiles. “Of course. Sometimes one doesn’t want to think.” Late in the season

Their stay is preceded by a phone call; but the phone call is made from their hotel in Milan, where they have spent their first night on Italian soil after so many years – and where they have no intention of spending another, of course, since they have relatives in the city and are surprising them at last with a long-overdue visit. The linen room

I am almost surprised to see all that pain on my father’s face. It seems to me that he has lost someone he has never really had anyway, someone he has never known that well. Pendulum

I don’t have an answer. I am still recovering from the shock of seeing two men hover in space and then escape the inevitable ten-meter drop. Opening

I was uneasy with his disregard for conventions; I would have been downright embarrassed, had we had more company than we did at the time. Letters

Speak up? That is something that Grandmother wouldn’t have said to anybody, three years ago. Much less to a Young Lady. Late in the season


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