"Lipstick" Lucia Marchitto
My mother makes the sign of the cross when she sees her and makes me turn my head on the other side, sometimes, even, when we are too close, she puts her hand over my eyes, walk on she tells me, that woman has the devil in her body, but I always manage to look at her and she looks so beautiful with those tight clothes, those shiny shoes with heels, I can hear them when they touch the street and make a cheerful music, like a summer rain, tick, tick, but most of all I like her red lips. Virginia says she wears lipstick, How do you know? I asked her and she told me that she peeped through the window and saw her as she put it on her lips. So I decided that when I get home from school I'm going to walk past it and spy through the window too. She's a hairdresser, she styles hair and she does it so well on the heads of the ladies that, even if they all say to stay away from her, then they go to her to have their hair done. My mother does not! And neither does my grandmother, who makes three or four crosses when she sees her and tells me not to look at her, that she's not a good girl, that if I look at her when I grow up I shall become a malafemmina too.
It always seems to me that there is little light in my house with the two of them, my mother and my grandmother, who are always praying and wearing dark clothes and black flat shoes; I would like a little more colour on their lips. When I grow up I'll buy lipstick. I won't tell them, they'll punish me, I'll tell myself and I can already imagine how beautiful I'll be.
As soon as the bell rings I'll run out like the wind and go straight to the hairdresser. It's a little cold today even if it's already spring, it's an icy spring because when I put my nose against the glass of the window and it all mists up so what I see inside are just shadows, it seems like a dream, but it's not as bad as some dreams and while I'm standing there squashed against the glass the door opens and she says to me What a beautiful little girl, come inside it's warmer! But I hesitate, I think I hear the voice of my mother and granny telling me that this woman has the devil in her body, but she pushes me inside, What beautiful hair! she says to me combing them with those soft, smooth hands with colored nails. I follow the movement of her hands from the mirror, I look at her red lips, I feel a little cheeky looking at her lips like that and she realizes it, she smiles at me, picks up a dark, shiny tube and takes off the cap, turns and another little red cylinder comes out. Then she puts it on my lips, keep it she says, it's almost finished, I have another one. At that point a man comes in and she tells me that I have to leave immediately because she has something to do, so I go out in a hurry and I nearly bump against Virginia who was walking in the street, she looks at me in a strange way, behind her Rosa, panting, as after a long run. She says we have to go to the castle because she challenged Brunetto, Ernesto and Mario who are convinced that we girls are chickenshit who do not have the courage to face the ghosts of the castle. See you in the afternoon after the homework! I cannot! Yes you can, don’t be silly! I accept the challenge and go home. And remove your lipstick! says Virginia or your mother will never let you out! I rub my lips as hard as I can and when I get home my mother says to me What red lips, have you got a fever? She touches my forehead while my grandmother screams from the kitchen that everything is ready on the table and when she sees me she makes the sign of the cross three times The little girl has a fever, No, my mother answers, Yes, No, Yes, in the end they make me drink hot broth and put me to bed. You never know! They say and in my bed I think how to go to the castle with the others: I'm not a chickenshit! The shutters are closed, there's a grave silence, I don't have to fall asleep in all this darkness!
We arrive at the castle at twilight, we run at breakneck speed, looking for a hole to enter it. Suddenly I see a big ladder leaning against the wall of the tallest tower, the teacher told us, when we talked about it at school, that it is called donjon and was used as last stand against enemies. Virginia looking at the tower makes us notice the “lace”, I thought that lace was for skirts only. So, what are we doing here stock still, it's not the first time we see this castle! Let's move if we want to get in! says Rosa and so we go towards the ladder that goes up to a kind of window. As I climb the ladder seems longer and longer, I can't see the end and I don't have the courage to look down, my legs hurt, my calves, my hands are all scratched, the evening now seems like night while I'm clinging to this ladder that begins to swing in the void with the icy wind that has started to blow, Mamma Nonna Mamma I'll never do it again! I scream and while I'm screaming my mouth hurts because I opened it too much.
I find myself at the top of the ladder, quick I go in through the window, it's dark, I can't see anything and I don't hear neither Rosa nor Virginia, I call them but they don't answer, I put my hand on my chest trying to stop this crazy heart when something bites me on the back, I think it's a dog. I start running in a long, narrow and dark corridor then I feel something grabbing at my ankles, an acute pain, I can't even stoop when something scratches my legs and claws stick to my hair, I scream with pain, fear and terror! Luckily I am a little used to this darkness! I turn around to see where the cat is and where the dog is, I look up to see whose are these claws stuck in my hair, I look for them with my eyes to shelter myself from their bites, from their nails, but there's nothing around me and yet I hear barking, I hear growling, I hear a rustling of wings on my head, I run, my chest hurts, my legs hurt, everything hurts everywhere and I can't breathe, I suffocate, I look for air, there's no more breath, there's no more air, my head is spinning, I have a big stone on my chest, maybe it fell from the ceiling, maybe from the wall, this wall that now pushes me against the other wall, I think I don't want to die, I don't want to be crushed by these stone walls so big, I rebel against the stone, against the wall, I fight, like those wrestlers I saw once at the fair and I manage to get rid of the stone a little. I run to the limit, I enter a room and see three women embroidering under the light of a thousand candles, and it's a beautiful thing! I can't tell you how wonderful it is to find myself in all this light, in this room full of paintings, and embroidered carpets, and walls all drawn.
I turn, enchanted, with my head in the air looking up at the ceiling. All this light! Then I approach the three women, I say good evening, I even make a half bow, but they don't turn around, they don't raise their heads, they keep threading the needle. As I get closer, their hands get bigger and bigger and have lots of chocolate stains on them, they have to be just as sweet as chocolate those hands! They have to be soft just like that woolen dress they're wearing! I wish they would touch me, I wish they would help me, I wish they would chase away this dog-cat-bat enemy that haunts me, but they don't move, they smile, they even say something to me because I see their lips move, but I don't understand what they say, I don't feel anything except this invisible enemy that has started growling again and attacks me from all sides. I try to get rid of it by running from one room to another, I feel like I have ended up in the labyrinth of that fairy tale that once the teacher read to us at school, a labyrinth with many traps to overcome. I enter another room like lightning, quickly I close the door, a big and heavy door with a huge key, I need both hands to be able to turn it then I stop for a moment, I breathe, I feel like I have grandmother's grater in my throat, this breath burns as if it were fire, but maybe I managed to ... No! How did they get through, if the door is closed? But I do not have time to understand or to think because they grab me again, these invisible monsters, invisible! INVISIBLE!
I mustn't give up, I mustn't give in, I knock my hip against a wall and the lipstick in my pocket hurts, the idea almost makes me forget my fear, it's like a light bulb that turns on: click! and the light makes ghosts and fears disappear, I take it out of my pocket, I open it and as if it were a sword I start throwing blows, and I must have hit these ghosts because I see the lipstick strips moving in front of me and I can avoid their assaults, now that they are visible I can avoid them!
This castle is huge, one room inside the other, one corridor behind the other, I reach the window from which I entered, the ladder is still in place, a scream of happiness, of contentment, of liberation, a scream that makes me breathe again. One rung after the other I reach the ground, running I leave the castle behind me, pointing to its tower, its donjon, in the blackest night at the bottom of the cauldron, the one we always keep hanging in the fireplace.
A scream of happiness in front of the castle.
Then I remember my companions, I wonder where they are, what happened to them, how they got along with the ghosts without the lipstick, and then I call them out loud, an echoing voice, and it doesn't even sound like mine, Virginia!!!! Rosa!!!! Where are you?
Someone shakes me hard by the shoulders, I open my eyes. Wake up Jolanda, wake up! You had a nightmare, sweetie. My mother says passing her hand on my forehead.
Brescia, march 25, 2020 - Lucia Marchitto