A Peculiar Game

When my grandmother died she disappeared and then reappeared, mysteriously, in the oval ceramic of the cemetery.

When my grandmother died, the home where she had lived has been emptied of all the furniture, the window shutters have been lowered. After some time, the impossible power of the blades of grass have cracked the asphalt of the tiny street that circled the building and the spacings of the flagstones that tiled the yard became green of moss.

The home has been built at the foot of the hill, that, similar to the back of an immense animal, dominated the habitation. It was the unique and uncontested owner of the shadow and the light.

The interiors of the edifice were absolutely inaccessible for us, the musty smell and the cobwebs kept us at a safe distance, but the back yard was the perfect place for any game and, above all, a stronghold that sanctioned the border between the other world, where we felt safe, and the space that belonged to the wood instead.

There existed a peculiar game. A terrible game that, despite it was feared by all, was regularly suggested and, like an ineluctable sentence, accepted.

We left the yard climbing over the garden wall and we went as far as to the edge of the hill, where the last dark line of vegetation perimetered the forest.

In that point the trees were so high, that even when the air was still, they fluttered, if only lightly, in an impossible synchrony, in an harmony that not even by stretching the imagination could belong to individual elements , but just to the will of a single being.

There we stood with our back to the forest, in competition to see who could stand still longer, without being scared and run away.

We were immobile, our hearts swelled and livid by fear, all our muscles tense, ready to run with the first signal of alarm and the horrible certainty that sooner or later a tangle of roots or a cold hand would grip our ankles, or maybe brush our necks. Even though we could see the village just below us and my grandmother’s home just a few hundred meters away, the strong smell of earth and lymph behind us did not allow the mind any kind of refuge; the presence of the forest was unequivocally, terrifyingly real and close.

In those endless moments where I was consumed by the hope that someone surrendered and ran away, legitimating in this way my escape as well, I always thought of a small painting that, I remembered, decorated the entrance hallway of my house. It was a faded old oil painting, depicting a forest.

At the centre of the drawing, an arch formed by two evergreens led to a path whose direction after a few meters was lost in impenetrable darkness where, surely, exactly like in that behind me, everything was humid and overflowing of night. Sometimes I had had the impression of seeing something beyond those painted trees, a light figure, intangible, perhaps only a reflection, or a fast bird. As if a hand was passed quickly in front of my eyes, or as if someone in the painting enjoyed making jokes moving a small mirror.

This thought often grew to an intolerable proportion, I convinced myself that turning around I would not see the forest that covered the hill anymore, but the one depicted in the painting, enormous and without a frame to contain its presences.

At that point I was forced to run away, to regain the stone wall of the yard and surmount it quickly, not worrying at all about the nails that were broken along the way up or the bruises that would result from the violent impact with the ground of the other side.

Once in safety, I could turn around and look, beyond the wall, at the forest, the real one,  the shadows of the trees extended toward me in an almost desperate way, like fingers sprawled out at something that they desire to grab, but now too distant to be able to touch me.