The doormat

Translated by Emilia Maiella

Old Alvaro’s bad mood, exhausted by senility, shows through when, getting home from a walking, he cleans his shoes in front of the door: if the doormat is not well aligned, it is certain that the atmosphere at Malacostas’ gets menacing.

That rug, a despised present from his son-in-law he hardly can stand, portrays a watermelon, but above all represents his aversion towards that young man named Odoacre, a general practitioner who has the studio on the first floor of the same building and whom, in two years, married his daughter, putting his life upside down. In fact, it was him who forbade Alvaro from smoking not to worsen Alvaro’s emphysema. The old man, however, now firmly asserts that he does not feel how he used to, but it is not clear whether Alvaro means it for the kinship or for the lack of cigarettes. This is why he vent his frustrations by vigorously beating his shoes on the doormat. It seems that instead of cleaning them, he would to slam them on someone's face.

Matilde Malacosta, on the other hand, is the one who takes pride in this relationship with all the building’s residents. She is also Alvaro's wife, clearly, and the doormat often becomes the reason for their disputes.

It is half-morning. The chairs are above the table. In an abrupt, surly way, as she almost wanted to still give a rhythm to her life by those mops, Donna Matilde sweeps the kitchen. It is raining outside. In the background, the radio news: Still no turning point on the escape of the bandits who raided the post office yesterday at noon.

Alvaro sits in the living room, on the armchair just below the picture of his three grandchildren. Hard working, he peels the beans.

From the kitchen, in a tone of reproach, his wife catches him: - Did you notice that the oil is over?

- How come, if I took three bottles last week...

- Are you sure?

- Yes, sure! You, rather: where did you put them?


He moves towards the kitchen: - Don’t you see you hold them in your hands? - He tells her.

- I just found them! - She answers him. He shakes his head, she takes the coat.

- You don’t want to go out with this weather, do you? - He says.

- I’m going to the market: fruit is over – she replies, annoyed.

- Then I'll go. You better take care of yourself.

Matilde is surprised. – Are you able to choose the oranges?

- Oh, well!

- Go to Ms. Valeria, who is so nice. She has the stand at the bottom, after the old Marcello.

- At the bottom where? - Alvaro screams.

- After the old Marcello's stand...

- Marcello has moved: now he is right at the entrance.

- Exactly: at the bottom from the beginning!

 Alvaro with a slow gesture takes his hat and umbrella. Matilde recommends: - And do not be late, and do not take all that chili, and leave the doormat in order when you come back because you know that a rug is the mirror of the house: what will people think?

She wanders around the living room and thinks: since Odoacre prevented him from smoking, he got worse: could possibly the smoke strengthen the brain?

Alvaro opens and softly accompanies the door, leaving inside his wife's recommendations that, moreover, he knows by heart. At the same time Mrs. Tabacci from the third floor, comes out slamming her armoured door; the echo shakes the railing of the stairs.


- Good morning sir. Alvaro.

- Mrs. Tabacci, you are always in shape...

- The stairs are a wonderful gym for the heart.

- I have to tell my wife. Palpitations, arrhythmia...

- Poor. She must keep it slow then...

- And why? Never seen a shot!

- You’re a jokester as always...

- Madam, I am a victim!

- Back to the market?

- I'm going to get some fruits. Vitamins are needed...

- What are you doing with all those chilies?

- If one day I'll see you for a coffee, I'll tell you!

- You know how to cover your back... Can I leave you the mandate for tomorrow's meeting? I'm always in a hurry...

- Of course. It’s a pleasure.

- Goodbye Mr. Malacosta, I have to go.

The woman flees leaving the old man alone. Always running, always running... - mumbles him.

She arrives in front of the guardhouse. The porter is immersed in reading sports newspapers and does not even notice the beautiful lady greeting him. Alvaro stares at him and shouts: - Ah! Fifteen years less!


The porter gives a start, then looks at him and sends him to hell: - Screw you, Mr. Chili...


Alvaro stops in front of the mailbox. He searches for the key; he looks around and opens the door furtively. He takes out a pack of cigarettes and goes out. Greet the other retirees on the front door.


- Hello, old fogeys!

- Hey Alvaro... is it chili pepper's time?


The old Malacosta chuckles satisfied and lights a cigarette. 

At home, Matilde cleans sea breams and basses. Ciccia, the cat, stares at the scraps and rubs herself between Matilde’s legs. Matilde, distracted by a vague buzz, thinks: helicopters! Maybe they're looking for someone or something happened. That dotard just got out, I hope he didn’t pull one of his usual stunts…

She gives the cat the bass’ head, keeping hearing the noise from above, the same feeling of fifty years ago, when a bombing destroyed her parents’ house.

She puts the parsley and garlic, a pinch of chili inside the sea breams; sprinkles a dash of lemon and a tablespoon of oil. She arranges everything and turns the oven on.

She goes out to the balcony to read the newspaper and is not able to do it. Ciccia is at her feet. Matilde looks at the chimneys of the opposite building and higher, to see the helicopter of which keeps hearing the noise.

She is distracted by from the grill. Half an hour and the fish is nice and cooked. Ciccia hangs around her and with her paw she cleans her grey tigerskin fur.

Alvaro is coming back. He enters the door and puts the cigarette pack in the mailbox. He dumps in the vase in front of the guardhouse the cigarette butt he was holding between his lips. He pulls a chili out from the bag: he rubs it all over his coat and starts chewing it. He calls the elevator, which certainly has no silent noise.

Matilde feels her husband coming back and approaches the entrance.

Alvaro turns the key and opens. His wife is waiting for him on the corridor with her hands folded. Matilde takes the shopping bags and checks the shopping, continuing to mumble.

What will he do with all this chili... old dotard!

Outside, the doormat is in perfect order. Ciccia goes out and sits on the rug, with the typical snore like a helicopter in flight.



© Enrico Mattioli 2018