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All on the same day

· Maddalena, the saint of the month, told by Teresa Ciabatti ·

At the age of 15 Maddalena had had many experiences: pills, sex chats with strangers, sex in a threesome. Yes, she had certainly lived. Yet what to her had seemed life, a distinction of privilege – “everyone wants me” – had become a sin. It’s my fault, she had been repeating for a month. God has punished me for what I’ve done; she snuggled down in bed, the shutters open, the night outside, and caressed herself in a foetal position.

He had disappeared on 12 March. He had gone out to watch the football game at the bar and had never returned. No one had seen him. A sudden illness, a voluntary departure? “If only I had been good”, Maddalena repeated, “If only I had worked hard at school, if only I hadn’t gone out secretly”.

In the meantime a month passed. A month without her father. With difficulty she had resumed her usual life. If during the first week she didn’t go to school, she was then obliged to return. Everyone knew and everyone treated her kindly; in addition with pity, little Maddy, poor Maddy.

Giovanni Bellini, “Madonna with Child and Sts Catherine and Mary Magdalene (c. 1490, detail)

However no male asked her to go to the cloakroom or to meet at the gym. What had happened? No one wanted her any more. And yet she was still her same self, the same blue eyes, the same full mouth, the same long legs.

In the corridors she saw others dating, Oh, it seemed to her that the whole world was dating, how much love there was around her! She saw the lives of others moving ahead: Simona was going out with Gianluca, Giada had had sex with Federico, she was thinking of starting an affair, but he had gone out with Carla. Dennis had asked Stefania to meet him in the afternoon, she was hesitating, she preferred Paolo, but Paolo wanted Maddalena as everyone knew.

Nevertheless Maddalena wondered if that was still so. She did not like Paolo, she had never liked him.

Everyone’s lives went on except her own. Hers had stood still on 12 March, nailed there, when instead two months had passed, two months without her father. “Is it my fault?”, Maddalena tortured herself, “has God really punished me?”.

Day after day her guilt continued to be confused with a lost privilege (“everyone wants me”). Together with her father, she too was disappearing, she who was desired by males and envied by females. They were distancing themselves together, father and daughter, day after day. On her bedroom window pane the reflection of her image seemed increasingly faint, an image superimposed on the field outside, on the line of the buildings in the background, the furthest point; and no, her father was not even there. At that point he disappeared and so did she. It was not only the struggle against his absence. She was becoming different, survival, a frenzy in order not to disappear as well. She was still there! She was here – she wanted to cry out as she stood at the window – “Look at me, love me!”.

In her mind everything happened that same day.

Three months. After three months without her father, she approached Paolo and told him that she had to speak to him, a private matter, in the girls’ cloakroom.

In the cloakroom she kissed him. And she kissed him again, while she asked him anxiously, desperately, if he wanted her: “Tell me that you still want me”. And he said “yes”, giddy with excitement, he said yes.

Then something happened. Maddalena stopped. She thought “Daddy”. She thought “God sees me”. In her mind it all happened on the same day. Sin and redemption. Very well, she had pulled down her trousers but then, enough. Half a sin. “Almost no sin, my Lord”.

In fact she returned to the classroom, sat down on her bench, the hour of history passed then the hour of mathematics. Instead, in her memory Maddalena fled from the cloakroom. She fled from school, from the gate. She ran to the field, crossed it, reached the dirt track, got her breath back and then started running again. She entered her house and ran up the stairs, two at a time.

In her memory it was the same day, this is how she was to remember it for the rest of her life, in fact there were 20 days of difference. In the morning being in the cloakroom with Paolo, 20 days later at the window of her room. Twenty days that could have freed her from the idea – almost an obsession – God sees you and punishes you. Or rewards you.

So in her memory she ran up the stairs, entered her room, looked out of the window to the furthest point. And then she saw him. A tiny, tiny figure at the end of the street. Maddalena did not want to shout, she was afraid that he would dissolve, that he would disappear again. She even held her breath. He was nearer and nearer. He was outside the house, opening the gate.

She still stood motionless at the window. She heard voices on the floor below, her mother crying. The footsteps, she heard heavy footsteps which she hadn’t heard for months, she heard them again! And the door of her room opened, and the figure appeared, outlined in a light so bright that she had to blink her eyes in order to focus. Oh, his hair was a silvery halo.

In her mind it all happened the same day. Sin, redemption, and resurrection.

Teresa Ciabatti was born and grew up at Orbetello. She has written the following novels: Il mio paradiso è deserto (Rizzoli, 2013), Tuttissanti (Il Saggiatore, 2013), I giorni felici (Mondadori, 2008), Adelmo, torna da me (Einaudi Stile Libero, 2002). She contributes to La Lettura and Io Donna

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