A Mute Witness

by Grace Robinson (United Kingdom (Great Britain))

Making a local connection Italy


“You did what?” “I killed a swan.” I have been an unofficial resident of Lombardy, an Alpine region in northern Italy, for forty-seven days. In forty-seven days I have learnt how to ask for a plastic bag in the supermarket. I have learnt to accept tardiness with an Italian-style shrug and a smile. I have learnt that Pisogne, the small town in which I live, is not actually pronounced ‘piss-on-ya’, as I originally thought. I have met some of the locals, one of them being this Mountain Boy sat beside me now, who has, for reasons unknown, appointed me as the rightful person in whom to confess his act of felony.  “You know you would get in big trouble for that in England, right? All swans belong to Her Majesty The Queen.” “You’re not supposed to kill swans anywhere, I don’t think… Do you want to see where I did it?” We’re in the van. The seatbelt alarm - broken - beeps for six sets of nineteen, as usual, and we turn up the radio and sing loudly to drown out the sound, as usual. We slice through the darkness down an offbeaten track. Applying some pressure to the brakes, he indicates with his eyes to through the window on my side to a spot of long silver grass. He tells me that this is where he crouched panting, his arm taut around the animal’s body, which was thrashing against the interior of his backpack in a postmortem spasm, as he lay low, avoiding the headlights of a passing vehicle. Then we keep going, following the story, the moon following us, until the track comes to an end and we find ourselves beside the lake.  Lake Iseo is a vision, appunto. It is the 60% water that flows through the valley people, home to all of their outdoor passions, the ‘aqua pura’ that is vital to their very existence. It is full-bodied and honest. If it is slightly green, it means that it is going to rain. Now, beneath the watchful eyes of the stars, it is coy. It hides behind those magnificent old mountains, whose beauty I haven’t yet (and will never) become accustomed to. Mountain Boy bends down to pick up a small, round stone - perfect for skimming - and, for the first time, I am conscious of his presence beside me.  He didn’t do it alone. Turns out, it was an accomplice who had pulled the trigger that night. He had finished off the job with a swift decapitation, ‘just to try to stop the flapping’, once they had hurled it onto the boat and realised, in a panic, the sheer size of the thing. He describes to me the width of a swan’s wing up close, its weight, the relentless drum of his own heart beating in his chest. He tells me that swans always travel in twos, that the female had flown away in fear and that, in the weeks that followed, his guilt would lead him back to this very spot time and time again with grainy peace offerings for her, until eventually she disappeared and took her loneliness with her.  I imagine it now, a childhood spent between these mountains. Soft heels against rock before diving into water. The cold bite of the snow in the peaks. The thrill and tranquilty of nature. And as he looks at me, his eyes wild and full of perversity, I wonder if he feels the distance between us. If he sees the empty cider bottles scattered across a multi-storey car park, the graffittied walls that tell the story of a childhood spent far away, in another corner of creation, reflected in my eyes. Two young lives lived, both hungry for more, stumbled momentarily upon the same coordinates. Each one’s world getting wider with each year swallowed up. Then he turns to me and says: “Do you want to try some? It’s in my freezer.”