Excerpt of The Invisible Mountain by Carolina De Robertis
(Page 9 of 12)
Printer Friendly Excerpt
That's how Nonno Umberto told it. Ignazio listened, surrounded by
wood chips, sure that Nonno was a liar. He could not accept his grandfather hammering at a gondola three days straight—when now his
arthritic hands barely brought fork to mouth. He could not accept an
angel perching anywhere. Nor could he see his own father, Diego, as the
small boy mute with pain, when now he was the farthest thing from
silent, the farthest thing from small. There always seemed to be too
much of him: too much volume, too much hair, too many wine bottles
emptying too quickly. Too much laughter at the wrong times (his laugh
had claws; it unfurled sharply). He eclipsed everyone—Ignazio himself,
his brothers, his sisters, his mother with her broad hips and bullheaded
love, and Nonno, with his rocking chair, his window, his corrugated
skin, the loosened hold on life that caused him to stop carving, stop trying
to shape things, just let them float or sink in their canals.
One summer night, when dinner was over and heat thickened the
house, Ignazio reluctantly left childhood behind. It was a Wednesday.
He was twelve. From the kitchen came the clanging watersong of his sisters
washing pots and pans. His father slid his arms into his coat sleeves.
His cheeks were red with wine. Ignazio's older brothers followed suit and
waited, hands in pockets. Diego Firielli turned to his youngest son and
crooked his finger in the gesture of come. The brothers laughed. Ignazio
flushed and rushed toward his coat.
Outside, their gondola sat, dispassionate, on the water. Ignazio
stepped in last. The wind curled on the surface of the canal, and they
glided along the water in silence. Diego turned to look at Ignazio with a
strange expression, expectant, mocking. The thick bush of his hair
blocked out the city behind him.
It was late, even for Venezia, but the house they went to brimmed
with light, noise, and women. Red velvet drapes hung to the floor; wine
poured freely; languid chords pushed out of an accordion; the women
laughed and swayed and rubbed their bodies against men. Ignazio stood
in a corner between a curtain and an ornate oil lamp and tried not to
look at anyone. He wished the lamp would darken so he could melt into
the wall. He stepped farther from its sphere of light, but his father
approached, a girl on each arm. "Here," he said, thrusting one toward
Upstairs, on the stale mattress, Ignazio's hand shook as he touched the
girl's knee. It was cool and smooth. Her shoulder preened with freckles.
Black ringlets fell around her face. She sat, half reclined, on the thin bed.
He was afraid of her, uncertain, humiliated by the fact of his own fear.
She drew his hand to the hem of her skirt and he did nothing and she
rolled her eyes and reached to unbutton his trousers. Two minutes later,
as he pushed into her body, he heard his father's voice through the curtain
to his left, grunting rhythmically, and realized that his father could
hear him too. What if he made an audible mistake? He groaned in time,
his sounds overshadowed by his father, and the girl lay still. She felt like
a crushed peach, soft, moist, alarming. His father finished and Ignazio
bit the girl's neck to climax in absolute silence.
It began soon after that. The unraveling. When Ignazio turned thirteen,
his voice deepened and his father broke his mother's ribs. At fourteen,
he went to the kitchen one night and saw a thing that itched his
skin: his father, seated at the table, sobbing. He made no sound. His
glass was empty. His chin dripped with snot and tears. Ignazio crept out
and raced to bed, where he lay in the sea of Nonno's snores, itching,
until the sun returned.
Fifteen: Ignazio cut and sanded, carved and built, until his hands grew
raw. He rose for work before dawn, and kept on into the night. One
night, in his exhaustion, he sawed the tip off his ring finger. Still, the
Firielli business teetered on the edge of disrepute. Orders arrived, Diego
ignored them, half-made gondolas lay naked and deserted. Funeral dates
came and went, their commissioned vessels unfinished. Customers grew
wary; the family soups thinned. By the time Ignazio turned sixteen, his
brothers and sisters had married, gondola orders had fallen to half, and
hunger felt as familiar as the pulse of water under wood.
Excerpted from The Invisible Mountains
by Carolina De Robertis Copyright © 2009 by Carolina De Robertis. Excerpted by
permission of Knopf. All rights
reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted
without permission in writing from the publisher.