Friday, February 17, 2017

The bewitched jacket

                                                Dino Buzzati (1906-1972)

Although I appreciate smartness of attire, I do not usually pay attention to the perfection, or lack thereof, with which people’s clothes are cut.
One evening however, during a reception in a house in Milan, I met a man of the apparent age of forty who literally shone on account of the beauty, definitive and pure, of his suit.
I do not know who he was, it was the first time I had seen him, and at the introduction, as it always happens, it was impossible to catch his name. Anyway at a certain point of the evening I found myself next to him and we began to talk. He seemed a genial and civil man, yet with an aura of sadness. Perhaps with exaggerated liberty – may God have restrained me – I paid him my compliments for his elegance and I even dared to ask him who his tailor was.
The man gave me a strange smirk, as if he were expecting the question.
“Almost nobody knows him” he said “but he’s a real craftsman. And he works only when he fancies it. For a few initiates.”
“So that I…”
“Oh, try, try. His name’s Corticella, Alfonso Corticella, via Ferrara 17.”
“He must be expensive, I imagine.”
“I suppose he is, but I swear I don’t know. He made this suit for me three years ago but he hasn’t sent me the bill yet.”
“Corticella? Via Ferrara 17, right?”
“Exactly.”, the stranger answered. And then he left me to join another group.
In via Ferrara 17 I found a house as many others and just like many other tailors’ this was Alfonso Corticella’s home. It was he who opened the door. He was an old man with very black hair, although certainly dyed.
Much to my surprise, it was not difficult to persuade him. On the contrary, he seemed anxious that I should become one of his customers. I explained to him how I had obtained his address, I praised his style of cutting and I asked him to make a suit for me. We decided for a grey worsted suit, he proceeded with taking my measurements and he then offered to come to my place for the final fitting. I asked him about the price. There was no hurry, he replied, we could certainly come to an agreement.
What a nice man, I thought at first. Yet, later on when I was going home, I realised that the old man had left in me a certain uneasiness, perhaps because of the too insistent and unctuous smiles. In short, I had really no desire to see him again. But the suit was by then commissioned and after a score of days it was ready.
When they brought it to my place I tried it on for a few seconds in front of a mirror. It was a masterpiece. But, I do not know exactly why, perhaps because of the memory of the unpleasant old man, I did not have any desire to wear it. And several weeks passed before I finally made up my mind.
I will remember that day forever. It was a Tuesday of April and it was raining. When I had worn my suit – jacket, trousers and waistcoat – I pleasantly noticed that it was not too tight and that it did not prickle anywhere, as it invariably happens with new clothes. It fit me to a nicety.
As a rule I do not put anything in the right pocket of my jacket, I keep my papers in the left pocket. This explains why it was only after a couple of hours, in my office, slipping by chance my hand into the right pocket, that I realised there was something inside it. Maybe the tailor’s bill?
No. It was a ten-thousand lire note.
I was dumbfounded. Certainly it was not I who had put it in. On the other hand it was absurd to think of a gift from my charlady, the only person who, after the tailor, had had the occasion to get close to the jacket. Could it be was a false note? I looked at it against the light, I compared it with some others. It could not be more genuine. The only possible explanation was a distraction of Corticella. Maybe a customer had come to pay a bill, the tailor in that moment did not have his wallet with himself and, just not leave the note around, he  had shoved it into my jacket, hanging from a dressmaker’s model. This kind of incidents can happen.
I rang the bell to call my secretary. I would have written a letter to Corticella giving him back the money that was not mine. But, and I could not explain the reason, I dived into my pocket again.
“What’s the matter, sir? Are you O.K.?” my secretary asked as soon as she entered the room. I must had become as pale as death. In my pocket, my fingers had felt the edges of another piece of paper which, a few instants earlier, was not there.
“No, no, it’s nothing.” I said. “A slight dizziness. It’s been happening often lately. Maybe I’m a little tired. You can go, I had a letter to dictate but we’ll do that later.”
Only after my secretary had left I dared to extract the piece of paper. It was another ten-thousand lire note. I tried a third time. And a third banknote came out.
My heart began galloping. I had the sensation of being embroiled, for some mysterious reason, in a fairly-tale such as those one tells children and no-one believes to be true.
With the pretext of feeling unwell I left the office and went home. I needed to be alone. Fortunately the charlady had already left. I closed the doors and pulled down the shutters.
I began extracting the banknotes one after the other with the greatest swiftness, from my pocket that seemed inexhaustible. I worked in agonizing tension, fearing that the miracle should stop from one moment to the other. I would have wanted to go on all evening and all night, up to accumulate billons. But at a certain point my forces failed me. Before me it was lying a staggering mound of notes. The important thing was now to hide them, no-one had to suspect anything. I emptied an old trunk full of carpets and at the bottom, piled up in neat heaps, I put the notes, counting them as I laid them down. They added up to more than fifty-eight million lire.
The following morning I was awoken by my charlady, surprised to find me lying in bed still in my clothes. I tried to laugh, explaining that the previous evening I had drunk too much and I had then fallen asleep.
A new anxiety: the woman invited me to take off my jacket so that she could at least give it a brush-up. I answered that I had to leave at once and that I had no time to get changed. I then hurried to a big clothing store to buy another jacket, made of similar material; I would have left that one to my charlady’s attentions while I would have hidden “mine”, the one that would have rendered me within a few days one of the most important men in the world, in a safe place.
I could not understand if I was living a dream, if I was happy or if I was suffocating under the weight of such a heavy fortune. In the street, through the raincoat, I endlessly felt in correspondence of the magical pocket. And every time I heaved a sigh of relief. Under the cloth I could always hear the comforting rustle of paper money.
But a singular coincidence chilled my joyful delirium. On the morning newspapers a piece of news stood out about a robbery happened the previous day. The security van of a bank, on its way to the central office after having gone round all the bank branches to collect the daily deposits, had been assaulted and robbed in viale Palmanova by four bandits. At the rushing of the crowd one of the gangsters, to force his way through, had started shooting. And a passer-by was killed. But what struck me most was the amount of the loot: exactly fifty-eight millions (like mine).
Could there be a link between my sudden wealth and this brigandish raid happened almost simultaneously? It seemed nonsensical to think about it. And I am not superstitious. Nonetheless, the fact left me perplexed.
The more one has and the more one craves to have. I was already rich considering my modest habits, but the mirage of a life of excessive luxury was pressing. And that very evening I got down to work again. I now proceeded with more calm and less nervous torment. Another one hundred and thirty-five millions were added to the existing treasure.
That night I could not sleep a wink. Was it the presentiment of a danger? Or the tormented conscience of the one who obtains without merits a fabulous fortune? Or some kind of confuse remorse? At the crack of dawn I sprang out of bed, I got dressed and I ran out looking for a newspaper.
As I started reading I felt out of breath. A raging fire, spouted out of a deposit of diesel oil, had semi-destroyed a building in the very central via San Cloro. Among other things destroyed by the flames there were the safes of a big property company, which contained more than one hundred and thirty millions in cash. In the blaze, two firemen met their death.
Should I now list one by one all my crimes? Yes, because I knew by then that the money the jacket gave me came from depravity, from blood, from desperation, from death, it came from hell. Still, inside me there always was the allure of reason that, jeeringly, refused to admit any responsibility on my part. And then the temptation resumed and my hand – it was so easy! – slipped into my pocket and my fingers, with the most rapid rapture, held tight the edges of an always new banknote. Money, divine money! Without leaving my old flat not to attract attention within a short time I had bought a large mansion, I owned a precious collection of pictures, I went around in luxury cars and, having left my firm due to “health reasons”, I travelled up and down the world in company of marvellous women.
I knew that, every time I cashed money from my jacket, something infamous and painful happened in the world. Yet it was only a vague awareness, not supported by logical proofs. In the meanwhile, at every encashment, my conscience degraded itself becoming more and more ignoble. And the tailor? I phoned him to ask for the bill, but no-one answered. In via Ferrara, where I went to look for him, they told me that he had emigrated abroad, they did not know where. Everything conspired to prove to me that, without knowing it, I had signed a pact with the devil.
All this continued until one morning, in the building where I had lived for many years, they found an old pensioner of sixty who suffocated herself with cooking gas. She had committed suicide after having lost her monthly thirty-thousand lire of pension (ended up in my hands).

Enough, enough! Not to sink deeper until reaching the bottom of the abyss, I had to get rid of my jacket. Certainly it was not possible to give it up to someone else, because the abomination would have gone on (who could ever resist to such a temptation?). It was indispensable to destroy it.
I reached by car a remote valley on the Alps. I left my car on a grassy glade and I started off towards a wood. There was not a soul. After having gone through the wood I reached the stony ground of a moraine. Here, between two huge boulders, I took out of my rucksack the infamous jacket, I sprinkled it with petrol and I set it on fire. In a few minutes I was left with nothing but ashes.
But at the last flicker of the flames, it seemed at two or three metres of distance behind me, a human voice resonated: “Too late, too late!”
Terrified, I sprang round with the quickness of a snake. But no-one could be seen. I explored around, jumping from one rock to the other to find that accursed old man. Nothing. There was nothing but rocks.
In spite of the fright I went downhill with a sense of relief. Free, at last. At rich, thankfully. But on the grassy patch the car was not there anymore. And, once I had returned into town, my sumptuous mansion had disappeared; in its place there was an uncultivated field with a sign “Municipal land - to sell”. And my bank accounts, I could not explain how, were completely exhausted. And, from my numerous safe-deposit boxes, all my big wads of stocks had vanished. And dust, nothing but dust in the old trunk.
I have now painfully resumed working, I barely manage to scrape through and, what it is strangest,  no-one seems to be surprised of my sudden ruin.
And I know it not over yet. I know that one day I will hear someone ringing at the door, I will open it and I will find in front of me, with his abject smile, asking for the final payoff, the tailor of the devil.

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