Often in her reflection moments, she would stop and examine the situation, analysing and assessing it to the best of her ability, trying hard to find a border stone on which to make a decision. Time was pressing her, even though there was no deadline, as she was eager to give an answer and with it a resolution that may set herself above all free. She realised that it was not one of those decisions that she could make in a few weeks or months.
Whenever she complained to George about something, he would assure her he could solve the problem quite easily. Or in any case he could help her one way or another. In fact, he said that whenever anyone complained. As soon as a person started talking about some difficulty they were faced with, even it was just during casual small talk, George would whole-heartedly offer to help, or promised to talk to so-and-so (in most cases to his father or connections of his), and he always knew someone who could have an influence on that specific problem. The issues that for her or for others had been serious, and caused them to worry and struggle, maybe even weep bitterly, would become in George’s presence plain matters that were easily sorted out, and that was disconcerting. Disease, work conflicts, long waiting lists for anything from cars to passports, bullying at university, hostile gangs, even unrequited love or overall depression – anything could be tackled with the help of some connection to authorities or psychologists.
His promises always made the interlocutor feel suddenly relieved, a surprised happiness often mixed with a warm sympathy wave for George. He would suddenly slide to the centre of attention, because it was him where the resolutions came from, and when one had some trouble he was the person to run to, resourceful and anytime available. She could see in those moments that George was enjoying it and she read it as a joy in helping people.
She had had to introduce Daniel to George when they ran into each other on the street downtown. George knew who Daniel was from her past attempts to stir his curiosity in exploring her life by telling him about Daniel and Matthew. Daniel just briefly mentioned what he was doing, he was looking for special medicine for his mother, and without knowing he touched on George’s main territory. The latter couldn’t miss the opportunity and promptly assured Daniel that he could easily procure some of that medicine. He was so convinced that it was piece of cake that he patted Daniel brotherly on the shoulder, to which Daniel said nothing, just smiled vaguely. She was terrified for a moment, knowing Daniel all too well, realising the sarcasm that went through his mind at such a gesture.
A few days later she reminded George of his promise to Daniel. He answered to her astonishment:
“Well, you know, Adriana, it’s actually a bit complicated, one would have to…”
Didn’t he know all this from the beginning? Why had he patted Daniel on the shoulder with the reassurance “Don’t worry, Daniel, I’ll take care of that” – why had he made such a fuss if in reality he couldn’t do anything about it?
When she came to the end of these angry questions it was his turn to retort furiously:
“You know what, dear, how long are you going to keep on admonishing me for Daniel?”
It was namely an allusion that she was “admonishing” him – again she was placed on a superior, motherly throne – because Daniel had been her love at some point and now she wanted to protect him as her favourite. Did he really imagine that she was using him to do her protegee favours? In some way he had himself sketched a situation in which he was at a disadvantage as the silly husband helping his wife’s ex-lover.
But even more unnerving was his stupid way of replacing the simple fact of keeping a promise for a sentimental tangle that was in fact no longer active. It was to her just a matter of principle and it could have been anyone else, it just so happened that she had now found out that George was actually not really able to help as he kept promising. Could it be that he made promises just to feel grown-up and important? She found it impossible to understand and she kept working herself up the more she saw that he perceived the conflict as a silly scene on account of that goddamn Daniel!
She wondered suddenly how this boy, who wanted her by his side for all his life, was capable of accepting such a lively presence of ghosts like Daniel or Matthew? How could he accept to know – or to imagine – that his possibly future wife still had a soft spot for Daniel and a few unhealed wounds inflicted by Matthew? This question was no longer admiring, as it had been all along, it was almost critical, as George was humiliating himself to her taking so much compromise, how was it possible that he raised no claims, and especially the fundamental claim we raise when we love, that of being loved exclusively? Was this what they called unconditional love? If yes, she was not sure it was a good thing. If he did not make this claim, what did he want in fact? To see her every day, to eat the food she had cooked and to have children made in the nights spent with her? Was that it?
For all that, she had given him that letter to Matthew to read it, as well as all the unsent letters to Daniel that were lying in her drawers. She had done this impatiently expecting him to get to know her and most of all to tell her what he thought of her. The latter was of utmost importance. She wanted to hear what he had to say, in fact he wanted to hear that George admired, loved, understood her better now after taking the plunge into her privacy, so as to defy Matthew’s stubbornness in labelling her as “feeble”.
But she was disappointed by the way George returned her the sheets of paper. He had nothing to say, she heard none of the words she was expecting from him – and if only it were just the words! Nothing had changed, whether in his eyes, or voice or the topics he talked about. As if nothing notable had happened. “OK, but what have you made of these things, what have found out about me?”, that is, what had he read between the lines?
“I’ve found out that you loved Daniel” he asnwered serenely, in other words “I found out what was plain to see, what else could it be?” She was dumbfounded.
“Fine, but I could have told you this, you needn’t have read all this!” She got his unspoken answer no, indeed, I needn’t have read all this – why did you have me do it anyway???
She could still remember the night when she met Daniel, months after their coming apart. To Daniel she’d been an open book, it wouldn’t have been necessary to have him read any letters or listen to any lecture on what kind of person she was. Daniel was that night, following the detachment of the past , completely changed, he seemed to be looking at her in wonder, caught by surprise at the light she appeared to him now, at the fascination she still seemed to exert on him, although it was him who had said goodbye. Quite unlike him, he had also brought a tiny silver necklace as a present to her, which strangely reflected the change that had taken place within him and seemed to say that he didn’t usually make presents but that was simply an out-of-the-ordinary situation, and an out-of-the-ordinary girl…
“But why?” she had asked beaming.
“Just like that”, he shrugged in his usual, casual way. Then added, “Because you know me. Or because I know you.”
She had been outraged by George saying what he had made of her letters. Her thoughts started racing, incredibly clear, and she hurled them one by one at him, herself astonished at their clear-cut, finished shape, as if she had been long working on them.
No, she wouldn’t marry him, what would they have to do together a whole lifetime? She would cook delicious food, as he and his friends had appreciated, while he would read “The Sports Magazine” and watch TV? She would collect house shoes and papers and sweaters, while he would swear watching some football match, or would read some detective novel? O yes, that’s true, she would be Mrs. George Something, that would be cool in a way, and she’d have the chance to get good soap, or perfume or other fancy things, ok, fine, but what about the rest? What would there be between two presents and two social benefits for them to share? Between two dishes at the lunch table and between two lukewarm sexual intercourses, what would they do to pass the time? What else would he have for her? Or she for him? Besides motherly guidance on how to talk or act, and besides long, complicated stories with funny words where nothing happens – o yes, and besides the blunt reproaches over his untidiness or over his behaviour at the party they were just returning from?
She could never talk to him about her inner life, about a film, a book or just about another human being. She couldn’t talk to him about herself, she couldn’t offer him the happiness of knowing who he is with. By the way, why did he lover her anyway? Because he hardly knew her actually, apart from what an identity document could testify. But nothing else? What was his love founded on?
She went silent. She had been struck with a comparison. This George was like a kid, who by accident had fancied a toy, out of the blue, not because there was any specific reason why he should want it. Of course, when we love we cannot say exactly why we love, but we can feel with our fingers and cry “This is it!” We cannot name, but we can identify. We love somebody for what they are, or, actually, if she came to think of it, for what they aren’t, for the pain and suffering that they do not cause to us. But to George she was probably a pretty girl, who could cook pretty well and was very very kind at heart. Too little. Almost as little as it had been with Matthew.