The trap: a novella by Luigi Pirandello
La trappola: una novella di Luigi Pirandello
Novella pubblicata sul Corriere della Sera il 23 maggio 1912
No, no, how can I resign myself to it? And why? If I had obligations towards someone else maybe I would. But I don't! So why?
Listen to me. You cannot say I am wrong. No one, reasoning abstractly, can say I am wrong. You too feel what I feel, and so does everyone else.
Why are you so scared of waking up in the night? Because for you, the strength of the reasons of life comes from the light of the day. From the illusions of the light.
Darkness and silence terrify you. And so you light a candle. But it's sad, isn't it? That candle light is sad. Because that is not the light you need. The sun! The sun! With anguish, you ask for the sun! Because illusions don't arise more spontaneously with an artificial light that you yourselves supplied with trembling hands.
Like your hands, your entire reality trembles. It reveals itself fictitious and insubstantial. As artificial as the light of that candle. And all your senses are spasmodically alert, in the fear that under this reality, of which you discovered the vain inconsistency, another reality, dark and horrible, will be revealed to you: the real one.
A breath... what is it? What is that squeaking noise?
And you are suspended in the horror of that waiting, shivering and sweating; in that light, you see the illusions of the daytime before your eyes, moving and looking like ghosts in that room. Look at them closely: they have your very same swollen and watery eye bags, and the yellowness of your insomnia, and also your arthritis pain. Yes, that constant dull pain in the nodes of your finger joints.
And the way the objects around you appear! They are also suspended in an astonished immobility that you find disturbing.
You were sleeping with them all around you.
But they don't sleep. They sit there, day and night.
Your hand is opening and closing them now. Tomorrow another hand will open and close them. Who knows whose hand.. But for them it makes no difference. They contain, for now, your clothes, empty garments hanging and having taken the creases and wrinkles of your tired knees and pointed elbows. Tomorrow they will contain someone else's wrinkly garments. That wardrobe mirror now reflects your image, without retaining any trace of it; nor will it retain the trace of another one tomorrow.
The mirror does not see. The mirror is like truth.
You think I'm talking nonsense? Do you think I'm delirious? Come on, I know you understand me; and you understand even more than I'm saying, since it is very difficult to express this obscure feeling that dominates me and shocks me.
You know how I have lived so far. You know that I have always felt disgust and horror at the thought of fossilizing, of having a form, of fixating myself, even momentarily, in it.
My friends have always been amused by the many.. what do you call them? Alterations, yes, alterations of my features. But you can laugh about it because you never reflected on my desperate need to appear different to myself when looking in the mirror, to delude myself of not being always the same, to see myself as someone else!
Yes! And what could I change? I even shaved my head to see myself bald already; and then I shaved my moustache, but kept my beard; or the other way around; then I shaved both my moustache and beard; or I let my beard grow and styled it in different ways...
I played with my hair.
My eyes, nose, mouth, ears, chest, legs, arms, hands, I couldn't change those, could I? I was sometimes tempted to wear make-up like an actor in theatre. But then I thought that under the mask, my body remained the same... and got old!
I tried to compensate for all that with my spirit. Ah, it was easier to play with the spirit!
You value and never get tired of praising the steadiness of feelings and the constancy of character. And why? Always for the same reason! Because you are cowards, you are afraid of yourselves, that is to lose – by changing – the reality that you created, you are afraid therefore to recognize that it was nothing but your own illusion, and that the only reality that exists is the one we create for ourselves.
I would then ask, what does creating your own reality mean? It means fixing ourselves in a feeling, fossilizing, hardening, stiffening, encrusting in it. And this will stop the perpetual vital movement within ourselves, it will turn us into small and miserable ponds waiting to rot, while life is a continuous flow, passionate and indistinct.
You see, this is the thought that shocks me and makes me furious!
Life is wind, life is ocean, life is fire; not the earth that encrusts and takes shape.
Each form is death.
Everything that leaves the state of fusion of this continuous, passionate and indistinct flow, in order to fossilize, is death.
We are all beings caught in a trap, detached from the flow that never stops, and fixed for death.
The movement of that flow within us lasts for a brief moment, a little while longer, in our separate, detached and rigid form; but then it gradually slows down; the fire gets cooler and cooler; the form dries up, until the movement stops completely in a rigid form.
We died. And this is what we called life!
I feel caught in this deadly trap that separated me from the flow of life in which I flew with no form, and fixed me in time, in this time!
Why in this time?
I could at least flow some more and be fixed a little later, in another form, later... It would have been the same, you think. Yes, sooner or later... But I would have been someone else, who knows who and how; trapped in some other fate; I would have seen other things, or maybe the same ones, but with different eyes and differently organized.
You cannot imagine how much I hate the things I see, caught with me in the trap of this time; all the things that end up dying with me, little by little! Hate and pity! But more hate, maybe, than pity.
It's true, if I were caught in another trap, I would hate that other form as much as I hate this one now; I would hate that other time, just as I hate this one, and all the illusions of life that we, dead beings of all times, create for ourselves with whatever little movement and warmth is left inside us of the continuous flow which is true life and never stops.
A multitude of dead beings, busy with the illusion of creating our own life.
We get together, a dead man and a dead woman, and think we are giving life, but we are giving death... Another being in the trap!
- Here, darling, here; start dying, dear, start dying... You are crying, eh? Crying and squirming... You wanted to flow some more? Calm down, dear! What can you do? Caught, co-a-gu-la-ted, fixed.. It will last for a while! Calm down...
Ah, as long as we are children, as long as our bodies are tender, light and growing, we don't realize we are trapped! But then our bodies get bigger and heavier, and we start to feel that we cannot move like we used to.
I see with disgust my spirit fighting against this trap, in order not to get caught in a body that is already heavy and damaged from the years. I immediately dismiss any idea that tends to linger in my mind; I stop any action that tends to become a habit at once; I don't want duties or affections, I don't want my spirit to become rigid in a crust of concepts. But I feel that my body struggles, day after day, to follow my troubled spirit; it keeps falling, my knees are tired and my hands heavy... my body wants rest! I will give it rest.
No, no, I don't know, I don't want to resign myself to be like all other old people and their miserable lives, dying slowly. No. But before, I don't know, I would like to do something grand, unheard of, in order to vent these frustrations that are consuming me.
I would like, at least... - you see this finger nails? I would like to dig them into the faces of every beautiful woman who, walking down the street, provokes men.
What stupid, despicable and irresponsible creatures all women are! They dress up and adorn themselves, looking here and there with their smiling eyes, and showing their provocative curves as much as possible; and they don't think about the fact that they are also trapped, fixed for death too, and that they contain that trap within themselves, for those who are yet to be born!
For us men they are the trap, women. For a moment they bring us back to that ardent state, just to get from us another being doomed to die. They do and say so much that eventually we fall for it, blind, excited and violent, there, in their traps.
Me too! Me too! I fell for it too! Recently. That's why I am so furious. An infamous trap! If only you could see her.. a Madonna, shy and humble. As soon as she saw me, she glanced down and blushed. She knew I wouldn't fall for her otherwise.
She came here to practice one of the seven acts of mercy: visiting the sick.
For my father she came, not for me; she came to help the old governess take care and wash my poor father, in the other room...
She lived here, in the adjacent apartment, and she made friends with my governess, with whom she complained about her imbecile husband, who would always blame her for not being able to give him a child.
Do you see how it is? When one starts to become rigid and is no longer able to move like before, one wants to see other little dead beings around, so sweet, they can still move like he did when he was a child; other little dead beings that look like him and can still do what he can no longer do.
It is so much fun to wash the faces of little dead beings, who are still unaware of the trap they are in, and comb their hair and take them for a stroll.
So, she came here.
- I can only imagine, - she said, looking down and blushing, - I can only imagine what torture it must be for you, Fabrizio, to see your father in this condition for so many years!
- Yes Madame, - I said rudely, turned my back and left.
I am sure now that, as soon as I left, she laughed to herself, biting her lips to stop herself from bursting into laughter.
I left because, unfortunately, I knew I admired that woman, not for her beauty (she was very beautiful, and even more attractive as she didn't seem to care at all about her beauty); I admired her because she didn't give her husband the satisfaction of putting another unhappy being in the trap.
I thought she was unable to; but no, it wasn't her; it was that imbecile of her husband. And she knew, or at least she suspected it. That's why she laughed; about me, she laughed about me, because I admired her due to her supposed inability. She laughed quietly, in her evil heart, and waited. Until one night...
She came here, in this room.
It was dark. You know that I like to see the day die by the window and then let the darkness slowly envelop me and think: - I no longer exist! - and think – if someone were here now, he would get up and light a candle. I don't need to light a candle because I am no longer here. I'm like the chairs in this room, like the table, the curtains, the wardrobe, the couch, that don't need any light, don't know and don't see that I'm here. I want to be like them, I don't want to see myself and I want to forget I am here.-
So, it was dark. She came in tiptoeing, from there, from my father's room where she had left the night light on, whose suffused glimmer barely affected the darkness through the slightly open door.
I didn't see her; I didn't see that she was falling on me. Maybe she didn't see me either. When she hit something, she screamed and pretended to faint in my arms, on my chest. I bent my head; my cheek brushed hers; I felt the passion of her lustful mouth, and ...
I was shaken, at the end, by her laughter. A wicked laughter. I can still hear it! She laughed and laughed, running away, that wicked woman! She laughed about the trap that she had set for me with her modesty; she laughed about winning over me; and about other things I discovered later.
Three months ago she left with her husband when he was promoted to high school professor in Sardinia.
It takes a while for certain promotions to come.
I will never see my remorse. I will never see it. But I'm sometimes tempted to run to that wicked woman and strangle her before she can put that unhappy being in the trap, the one she pulled out of me through deception.
My friend, I am happy I never met my mother. Maybe if I had met her, I wouldn't have developed these ferocious feelings. But since I have, I am happy I have never met her.
Come over here, come; come in this other room with me. Look!
This is my father.
He has been sitting there for seven years. He is nothing anymore. Two eyes that cry and a mouth that eats. He doesn't speak, doesn't hear, doesn't move anymore. He eats and cries. He is spoon fed; he cries alone for no reason; or maybe because there is still something left in him, something that, despite having started to die seventy-six years ago, still doesn't want to let go.
Don't you think it's atrocious to be that way, even for just a second, still caught in the trap, without being able to free oneself?
He cannot think about his own father, who gave him this death seventy-six years before, a death that is terribly late to come. But I can think about him: and I think that I am a germ of this man who cannot move anymore; that I am trapped in this time and not in another time, because of him!
He is crying, you see? He always cries like that... and he makes me cry too! Maybe he wants to be freed. One night I will set him free, together with me. It's starting to get cold; one of these nights we will light a fire.. If you want to take advantage of it ...
No? You are thanking me? Yes, sure, let's get out of here, let's get out of here, my friend. I see that you need to go outside, you need to see the sun again.
- The end -