In the Forbidden City: An Anthology of Erotic Fiction by Italian Women

"Fascinating, fun, and thought-provoking, In the Forbidden City is a very original contribution to contemporary Italian literature in that there is no real tradition of erotic writing by women in Italy."—Rebecca West


The Night of Crossed Destinies
Silvana La Spina
A story from In the Forbidden City: An Anthology of Erotic Fiction by Italian Women edited by Maria Rosa Cutrufelli and translated by Vincent J. Bertolini

     this typed letter will never be signed. Therefore, you will futilely search for me. You will futilely imagine that you know who I am, but who I am is unimportant.
     It is enough for you to know that I saw you by chance the other day. You passed right in front of me and didn't even look at me, but I . . . I understood everything. You don't know it, but I have known you for some time, yes, before ever meeting you I knew of your existence. There are certainties in life that cannot be erased, however much one wants to. At the very most, one can suffer a lapse of faith—did I really, in fact, meet you? did I ever see you on that day? But then there you were, pushing a supermarket cart and wearing a sea-green pullover. At that moment, I didn't immediately recognize you, but then you turned and I understood.
     I can't say exactly how long it is that I have been waiting for you—years, moments, forever really.
     You have never seen me, and therefore you don't know that I have been following you. Now I know where you live, what your name is in this life; of the other life, where we were surely passionate lovers, I don't have any memories, but it must have been somewhere, in some corner of the universe that was in that moment sublime. I've always known it, have you?

     i heard from your doorkeeper that you tried to find out who it is that has been asking about you. Don't do it, it's pointless. I haven't been the one asking questions about you, but another person on my behalf; therefore, you will never in any way be able to find me out. Why have I done this? I have my reasons. And they are reasons such that I will never allow anyone else to discover them.
     Yesterday, I saw you at the window. You were laughing and talking to someone else in the room, but for a second you turned as if you knew that I was watching you. Was it perhaps for this reason that you left the window open? There was a woman with you, I know, I understood that, perhaps even a young and beautiful one. I wasn't able to catch a glimpse of her except in profile, and a profile doesn't reveal very much. The two of you went into the other room, and I followed you—there, too, you left the window open.
     Then you began to undress. It's strange, I didn't feel any jealousy, even though I knew the two of you would make love almost immediately. What mattered to me was seeing you naked. I saw you, in fact, from behind. I recognize the blond hair on your lower back and that scar on your right buttock and, when you turned sideways, I saw your member erect and throbbing. Yes, I recognized your member by its slight curved form, which facilitates penetration. But you too, you too, must also have felt something—but what? a memory? a gaze from outside following your every movement? But then you shook your head as people do when absurd thoughts enter their minds, and you returned to her, to that woman.
     This time I didn't have the courage to continue to watch the two of you, and yet you left the window open again and if I had wanted to I could have heard your moans. Did I moan too in that other life? did I also groan like a wounded beast whom your member sought to satiate?

     i know that you are distraught. I read it in your eyes the other day, when I saw the doorkeeper give you my last letter—I, too, was there, but as usual you did not notice me. I know that these days you are having difficulty with work. That is why I am putting some money in with this letter. I don't want you take any from the others; I don't want you to be humiliated by other women, even if they say to you, "It is a loan, dear, I don't think of it in any other way."
     Your lover is, as it turns out, a rich woman—I know even this, as you see—and her money comes from her husband, a vulgar man, I found out, as she herself is vulgar, notwithstanding the Fendi furs and the sophisticated lingerie made of Spanish lace. She is a vulgar woman, I tell you, a common woman. She has been the lover of other younger men—I've investigated thoroughly, you will note—only for the thrill of feeling like a free and promiscuous woman.
     But that is not even it. She is merely an egotistical women who uses sex with the same recklessness as a bitch running to find a tree to urinate on.
     Soon even you will understand this—I beg you in the meantime not to let yourself be swallowed up in her desires, not to let yourself be humiliated by her bitch's lust.
     You are sensitive, and sensitivity is a gift, not a punishment or an affliction. Were you also like that then? in that other life?

     i saw you yesterday at the window with your absent gaze interrogating the emptiness—or was it me that you were searching for? me only? Now that you know that I can see you at all times this bewilderment comes upon you.
     Unless you want only this: for me to see you, for me to follow you throughout the day, because this all excites you now.
     Yesterday, for example, after she had left, you sat down on the couch in the corner, the one underneath the Klimt drawing. You put something on the turntable—something vaguely sacred, so it seemed to me, maybe Bach—and you slowly undressed.
     So slowly it was to die for. Then, naked, you turned toward the wall, and you wanted your shadow to stand out sharply against the background, and I saw . . . well, you know what. At the end you were heaving as if you were really with me, inside of me. And now I know that you finally desire me, you want me, for yourself. And this having and not having me let the beast slowly come out of you, the one that is in us all. And the beast is not so much sex, but the indulging with another being in the very same beastliness that pursues us all, that waits in that hidden place in the depths, from which we fear our whole lives that it will arise, and yet we want it to so much.
     Suddenly, the ring of the telephone interrupted that moment. Or maybe not? You in fact did not even pick up the receiver. Instead, you remained standing in front of the window staring outside, into the darkness, searching for me.

     i don't know what's happened to you these days. I haven't been home, and I went to a place that I don't intend to reveal to you—a very sad place unquestionably, but one not worth speaking further about.
     One night, however, while I was there, I dreamed of you. The evening before, I had read Borges's story about the Minotaur. And in my dream you were the Minotaur. I saw you unhappily lowing at the moon, to whose divinity you appealed, to the goddess Luna toward whom you raised your big bull's head and bellowed your unhappy man-beast's song.
     I was near you, wearing a peplos like an ancient priestess or a virgin consecrated to holy sacrifice. Yes, maybe that is it. Maybe I was one of the virgins to be sacrificed to you, but not so much to you as to the lunar goddess. You wanted me to kneel before her power, but then I realized that I was kneeling before your power.
     And your heart, commingled with that of the beast you were, made you different from other men. You were the man-beast that every woman desires to know; perhaps for this reason women cloak themselves to such an extent in their oft-proclaimed modesty, otherwise they might have to reveal their own unfathomable bestialities, those which men generally disavow (are we not more than any other being made of earthy substance? maybe this accounts for why we give birth and have humors and intuitions that strike fear into you men?).
     While you, my dear beast, howled at the moon, or asked its blessings, your member rose in the darkness, becoming larger and more incommensurable, until the night itself became entirely made of your bellowings and your immense member. There was nothing else beside that, except for your furious bestial need manifesting its grandiose virility. Singular. Regal.
     At that moment, I was prepared to be sacrificed—now I can understand the myth of Pasiphae. I bowed down like a beast before you, so you could take me and kill me without pity (no, it was not pity that I wanted, as much as your satiating me and my being satiated).

     a week after my last letter I saw you slowly climbing the stairs, as if you were sleepwalking. You were carrying a package, and for the first time when you came in you went right to the window and, addressing me, you showed me the package. Then you left—you did it on purpose, didn't you?
     I waited a long time for you, and you returned very late—from what infamous places, from what unfathomable abysses did you come that night? Don't ever tell me, I don't want to know. Certainly there had to be a reason for your having been away so long. Then, I understood. The package on the table contained some drug. I followed your every preparation, which I could never have imagined to be so complicated. I saw you lie there at length awaiting the effect. Finally you put Bellini's ballad "Casta Diva" on the turntable. It was then I understood what the package contained.
     Where you found that mask I do not know, perhaps in some shop in the old quarter of town, with a leering shopkeeper with sweaty hands inside who, watching you, beautiful as an archangel, felt the need for you to like him and smiled at you with the ruined smile of an old pederast. And perhaps he brazenly asked you, "What do you need it for?" And you just looked at him with empty eyes.
     But ultimately it doesn't matter. What matters is that you found it, the head of the Minotaur. I felt a shiver of pleasure: all this was for me, for me.

     this is the way it should be. Now you finally understand.
     Because it is just. I discovered you, I revealed you to yourself. And now you are mine.
     Not in vulgar men's sense of possession, but that kind of reciprocal belonging to a world of desires that all of us contain in ourselves and of which we live in virtual horror.
     I have to reveal to you that I come from a strange land, where there is something savage in the air, always; even our sun is a blasphemy. That is why the Church, when it finally achieved dominance over us, taught with still greater force little else but sackcloth and prayers. Had the Benedictines and Franciscans not yet seen the stone phalli at the entrances to our farms? had they been present at the dances of the peasants of the Girgenti? or at the magic circles of the sorceresses who live near Pantalica? had they never seen Segesta?
     And were our devoutly pious matrons so devout after all? Do not our gorgeous female saints, with their carved breasts or their vacant eyes, arouse one more than others do? And our churches, our palaces of that funereal baroque that smells of death, what abysses of wormlike life do they contain? And our triduums, our novenas, our Good Fridays with a half-naked, beautiful Christ who wanders the streets followed by weeping women, what do they represent?
     And now I understand that wherever we go we carry the flavor and the odor of that land upon us. For this we are so . . . so different. Oh, not in the physical sense, this no, but in the soul, we are murky, dissipated, imbued with a desperate, sickly sensuality (but is it not that way, is not the real sensuality always like that?).

     don't do it again. Trying to rebel is futile. It is futile to refuse the pimping hand of the doorkeeper when she hands you one of my letters. You did finally take it. Finally, after leaving it on the table for three days without opening it, you could no longer resist.
     And now you are reading it, and every now and then you lift your astounded gaze to see if I'm watching you. I am watching you, my dear, and I am infuriated with you for not having opened it immediately.
     I'm enraged because you are my slave, the slave of my and your desires, and like every slave you gnaw at your chains. But he who is the slave of himself will never be free, and I instead want to free you from the ancient enslavement to the desires.
     I know everything about you, don't forget it. I know that you are an orphan and grew up in the care of a devout aunt who wanted to make a priest out of you—even piety has its egotisms. I know that you spent two years in seminary and that you then fled. I also know why: the prefect fell in love with you and tried in every way to entice you. Forgive him, Marco, love is blind, always, even when it destroys.
     I know that to master his fevered desire he had the whole fellowship perform miracle plays and that during one of them he had you dressed as Lucifer, the angel of damnation. And I know that the following evening he called you to his room and, handing you the gleaming vestments, said: "Do it for me, become again Samaele the accursed one." And when he once again beheld your sinister beauty, he broke into tears and fell to his knees at your feet, begging you to love him.
     Yes, my beautiful demon. I know that you have kept those articles of clothing—your abyss, Marco; do you not also see what abysses your heart contains? And now I tell you: dress yourself again as you were then, wear again the robes of the angel of temptation and gaze upon me as you then had to gaze upon your ancient prefect: with malice and fear, but also with the sense of power that comes to you most perfect ones when someone loves you with a love resembling adoration.
     And then with those gigantic wings of an angelic demon, come to me in the night and burn with me every lustful desire of yours.

     i don't want it. I don't want you so anxiously to try to spot behind which window, among all of the windows directly opposite yours, I hide myself and watch you. It's fruitless, for us it could even be fatal. And then, those windows correspond to so many apartments that it is almost impossible to orient oneself, as it is also in your apartment block.
     But you just the same wanted to violate the rules of our game—they were my rules, actually, but you were constrained to accept them. So yesterday I even heard your voice in my hallway.
     You probably saw Silvia, the prostitute who in her heart still nurtures the dream of love; you probably saw Colonel Arriva, who was with Rommel in the African campaign, but you probably did not grant him time enough to tell you his story. You were searching for me, me alone. You probably saw Signora Rossi Durante, who was in her day a great opera singer, and even now at times I can hear the muted sound of her records playing—old artists are such pathetic creatures.
     And you might even have seen me, but this you will never know for certain.
     I could be the divorced blonde on the third floor with the cigarette hanging from her lip and the decadent face—that's how you imagine me, isn't it? Or Marika, the daughter of Lula the masseuse. Despite her mother, Marika is an extremely good girl, too bad she was born blind.
     Therefore, my dear, don't come looking for me. Instead, dress yourself this evening once again in your betraying angel's robes, or maybe only the wings, my luminous butterfly. Make your body shine in the light of the moon, tonight there is a full moon. Raise your member as straight and high as the sword of he who led the celestial armies.

     is it true? Are you wondering how a creature like myself can content herself with living a dream (or a delirium)?
     And yet you must admit that you have never, never, lived an experience so exciting, and don't you believe that the same is true for me?
     In any case, it is not enough for you, I know. Dreaming is never enough for men.
     I understood this yesterday evening when the young girl knocked at your door. Is this your new lover, a girl? She was the daughter of the doorkeeper, and she came to do lessons with you in what, English? German? Lust?
     She was so pathetic, little Matilde, with her books and notebooks, and you . . . you pretended to be so accomplished.
     So that little girl is the new moth, my monstrous spider, our moth, I should say. Since it is for me that you had all that patience, for me that your hand caressed her back at such length. When will you take her? today? tomorrow? next week?
     When will you place her hand on your groin so she can know its consistency? And she, the child, what will she say? She is thirteen years old, don't forget.

     it went as I had predicted. The flesh has its own laws; lust makes its inviolable demands.
     The child at first sobbed, but you, my patient spider, you finally won.
     I hate you for this, Marco, or perhaps I love you. Did I not lead you on to it, did I not teach you to satisfy the beast?

     that is it. You've won.
     Now, listen. This night, which for the Orientals is a sacred night, the night of crossed destinies, I will knock on your door. I will enter your room and kneel at your feet.
     You will have to remain with eyes closed. With eyes closed you will touch my body, which might be young or very ancient. But just the same you will feel a skin that you have never before felt. My hands will then caress you, my long serpent's hair will run over your body. You nipples will tremble, your member will rise as potent as the Tower of Babel. At that moment, you will think of only one thing: of the profound inner chamber of my being. And when you reach it, something in you that you have never before known will explode. But until then wait, my dear, wait . . .

Marco Vigneri waited all night for the fulfillment of the promise. He put a Bach sonata on the turntable, then a string quintet, then an ancient chant of accompaniment to dervish dances. He was naked, and toward dawn he felt a dark shiver penetrate him. He rose, dressed himself, and went down to the caf‰ to get coffee.
     The day was gray, but there was a strangely clear sky in the distance. A woman next to him was speaking to the counterman about a neighbor of hers who had died that same night, around dawn. And yet, until a day or two ago, she came and went often, and at times could be heard typing.
     To whom, one couldn't help but wonder, since she was almost ninety years old. Old people are so strange, she added.


Copyright notice: Excerpted from pages 99-109 of In the Forbidden City: An Anthology of Erotic Fiction by Italian Women, published by the University of Chicago Press. ©2000 by the University of Chicago. All rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of U.S. copyright law, and it may be archived and redistributed in electronic form, provided that this entire notice, including copyright information, is carried and provided that the University of Chicago Press is notified and no fee is charged for access. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the consent of the University of Chicago Press.

Edited by Maria Rosa Cutrufelli
Translated by Vincent J. Bertolini
In the Forbidden City: An Anthology of Erotic Fiction by Italian Women
©2000, 192 pages
Cloth $30.00 ISBN: 0-226-13223-4
Paper $11.00 ISN: 0-226-13224-2

For information on purchasing the book—from bookstores or here online—please go to the webpage for In the Forbidden City.

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