La giacca stregata
THE ENCHANTED JACKET
Although I appreciate elegance of dress, I usually don’t pay attention to the perfection with which my acquaintances’ clothing is or is not cut. However, one evening, during a reception at a house in
I don’t know who he was. I was meeting him for the first time and, as often happens, it was impossible to understand his name when he was introduced. He seemed to be a polite and civil man, yet with an aura of sadness. With perhaps exaggerated familiarity—if God had only dissuaded me—I complimented him on his elegance, and I even dared to ask him who his tailor was.
The man had an odd smile, almost as if he had expected the question. “He’s not well known,” he said, “but he’s a great master. And he only works when he feels like it. For a few insiders.”
“So that I . . . .?
“Oh, do try, do try. His name is Corticella. Alfonso Corticella, Via
“I suppose he must be expensive.”
“I assume so, but I swear that I don’t know for sure. He made this suit for me three years ago and he still hasn’t sent me the bill.”
“Exactly,” the stranger responded. And he left me to chat with another group.
In Via Ferrara 17, I found a house like so many other houses; and Alfonso Corticella’s residence was like those of so many other tailors. He came to the door himself to let me in. He was an old man with black hair, obviously dyed.
To my surprise, he wasn’t at all difficult to work with. Indeed, he seemed anxious that I become his client. I explained to him how I had gotten his address; I praised his work and asked him to make me a suit. We selected a gray flannel, whereupon he took my measurements and offered to have the suit delivered to my house. I asked him the price. There was no hurry, he answered; we could always come to an agreement. What a nice man, I thought at first. Yet later, as I was returning home, I became aware that the old man had left an uncomfortable feeling inside me—perhaps too many insistent and effusive smiles. In short, I had no desire to see him again. But by now the suit had been ordered. And in three weeks, it was ready.
When they brought it to me, I tried it on for a few moments in front of the mirror. It was a masterpiece. But, I don’t really know why, perhaps because of the memory of the disagreeable old man, I didn’t feel at all like wearing it., and weeks passed before I decided to do so.
I will remember that day forever. It was a Tuesday in April. and it was raining. When I slipped into the suit—jacket, pants, vest—I noted with pleasure that it didn’t pull me or bind me anywhere, as almost always happens with new suits. Yet, I was dressed to perfection.
As a rule I don’t put anything in the right-hand pocket of my jackets; I keep my cards in the left one. This explains why, after only a couple of hours in the office, casually slipping my hand into the right pocket, I noticed that there was a piece of paper inside. Perhaps a bill from the tailor?
No. It was a 10,000 lira note.
I was dumbfounded. I certainly hadn’t put it there. On the other hand, it was absurd to think that it was a joke played by the tailor Corticella. Much less, a gift from my housekeeper, the only person, besides the tailor, who had had occasion to be anywhere near the suit. Or could it be a counterfeit? I looked at it against the light, I compared others with it. It couldn’t be any better than this.
The only explanation possible was Corticella’s absent-mindedness. Perhaps a client had come to pay an installment on a bill, the tailor didn’t have his wallet with him at that moment and, rather than leave money lying around, he had slipped it into my jacket, which was hanging on mannequin. Things like this can happen.
I rang the bell to call the secretary. I wanted to write a letter to Corticella, returning the money that wasn’t mine. If only I hadn’t . . . and I don’t know how to explain why I did it, but I slipped my hand into my pocket again.
“What’s wrong, Doctor? Are you ill?” asked the secretary who had just come in. I must have turned pale as death. In my pocket, my fingers were touching the corners of another piece of paper, which hadn’t been there a few moments before.
“No, no, it’s nothing,” I said. “A little dizziness. It’s been happening for some time. Perhaps I’m a bit tired. Go ahead, Signorina; there’s a letter to dictate, but we’ll do it later.”
Only after the secretary had left did I dare extract the piece of paper from the pocket. It was another ten thousand lire note. Then I tried a third time. And a third bill appeared.
My heart began to pound. I had the feeling that, for some mysterious reason, I was caught up in a fabulous plot, like one of those children’s fairy-tales that no one ever believes to be true.
Using the excuse that I wasn’t feeling well, I left the office and returned home. I needed to be alone. Fortunately, the woman who cleans house for me had left. I shut the doors, lowered the shades. With the greatest haste, I began to extract, one by one, a seemingly inexhaustible supply of banknotes from my pocket.
I worked with spasmodic nervous tension, afraid that the miracle might stop at any moment. I wanted to keep going for the entire afternoon and night until I had accumulated a billion lire. But, at a certain point, the forces had dwindled.
Before me lay an impressive pile of banknotes. The important thing now was to hide them, that no one get wind of them. I emptied an old trunk full of rugs and on the bottom, I sorted the money into many little piles and counted it slowly. There was a good 58,000,000 lire.
I awoke the following morning after the cleaning woman had arrived, amazed to find me in bed, still completely dressed. I tried to laugh, explaining that I had drunk too much the pervious evening and had been suddenly overpowered by sleep.
A new worry: she asked me to take the suit off, so that she could at least give it a brushing.
I told her that I had to go out right away and that I didn’t have time to change. Then I hurried to a clothing store to buy a ready-made suit of similar material. I would leave this other one for the cleaning woman; “mine,” the suit that within in a few days would make me one of the most powerful men in the world, I would hide in a secure place.
I didn’t know if I was living in a dream, if I was happy or, instead, suffocating under the weight of too great a fate. On the street, I continually touched the magic pocket through my raincoat. With every touch, the reassuring crumple of paper money answered under the material. And I breathed a sigh of relief.
But a peculiar coincidence cooled my joyous delirium. The morning headlines announced news of a robbery that had taken place the day before. An armored truck belonging to a bank, having made the rounds of its branch offices, was carrying the day’s deposits to headquarters when it was attacked and robbed by four bandits on Viale Palmanova. As people began to arrive on the scene, one of the gangsters had started shooting in order to keep them away. And a passerby had been killed. But, I was struck, above all, by the sum of money stolen—exactly 58,000,000 lire.
Could there be a relationship between my sudden riches and the almost simultaneous attack by the thieves? It seemed ridiculous to think so. And I’m not at all superstitious. Nevertheless, the incident left me very puzzled.
The more you get, the more you desire. I was already rich, considering my modest habits. But the mirage of a life of unlimited luxury impelled me. And that very evening, I began to work again. Now I proceeded with greater calm and with less torture to my nerves. Another 135,000,000 lire were added to my first treasure.
That night, I didn’t close an eye. Was it the presentiment of danger? Or was it the tormented conscience of someone who acquires a spectacular fortune without deserving it? Or was it a sort of confused remorse? At the first light of dawn, I jumped out of bed, dressed, and ran out in search of a newspaper.
As I read, I lost my breath. A terrible fire, started in a fuel oil refinery, had almost completely destroyed a warehouse in the center of the city on Via San Cloro. The flames had devoured, among other things, the safes belonging to a huge real estate company, which had contained over 135,000,000 lire in cash. Two firefighters had met their death in the blaze.
Must I now list my crimes one by one? Yes, because by this time I knew that the money bestowed on me by the jacket had come from crime, from blood, from desperation, from death. It had come from Hell. But my mind was still trying to justify everything and mockingly refused to admit that I was at all responsible. And then temptation conquered again. Then, my hand—it was so easy!—slipped into the pocket and my fingers, with intensely fleeting pleasure, grasped the corners of a continuous flow of new bills. Money, divine money!
Without giving up my old apartment (so as not to arouse suspicion), I soon bought a huge villa, owned a precious collection of paintings, drove around in luxury cars, and, having left my job “for reasons of health,” traveled around the world in the company of marvelous women.
I knew that every time I withdrew money from the jacket, something sinister and painful transpired in the world. But it was always a vague awareness, unsubstantiated by proven logic. Meanwhile, with every collection, my conscience sank lower, becoming increasingly vile. And the tailor? I telephoned him to ask for the bill, but no one answered. In Via Ferrara where I went to find him, they told me that he had emigrated overseas, they didn’t know where. Everything united, therefore, to show me that, without knowing it, I had made a pact with the devil.
Finally, one morning, in the building where I had lived for many years, they found a sixty-year-old retired woman asphyxiated by gas; she had committed suicide because she had lost her monthly pension of 30,000 lire, collected only the day before (which had ended up in my hand).
Enough. enough! In order not to plunge to the bottom of the abyss, I had to rid myself of the jacket. Not by surrendering it to others because the infamy would have continued. Who would ever be able to resist such enticement?. It was imperative to destroy it.
I reached a hidden valley in the
But at the last flicker of flames, behind me—it seemed to be two or three meters away—a voice resounded. “Too late, too late!” Terrified, I turned in a flash like a serpent. But I didn’t see anyone. I searched, jumping from one rock to another, to flush out the scoundrel. Nothing. There was nothing but rock.
In spite of the fright I had experienced, I descended back to the bottom of the valley feeling a sense of relief. Free, finally. And, fortunately, rich.
But my car was no longer in the grassy opening. And, when I returned to the city, my sumptuous villa had disappeared; in its place an uncultivated field with some signs reading: “Municipal Property For Sale.” And my savings accounts, I don’t know how, completely wiped out. And disappeared from my numerous safe deposit boxes, the large bundles of stock certificates. And dust, nothing more, in the old trunk.
Now I have begun, with difficulty, to work again. I barely manage, and, what is even more extraordinary, no one seems to be surprised by my sudden ruin. And I know that it’s not over yet. I know that one day my doorbell will ring, I will go to answer it and I will find, standing before me, the accursed tailor with his nefarious smile, asking for the final payment of his bill.