Lunch with Barbara Vine
There we sat at one of the closely placed tables in an Italian restaurant just off Covent Garden, two women of a certain age, respectably dressed, waiting for our pasta, talking shop.“What are your favorites?” I asked my companion, nodding to the waiter that, yes, I would like some more mineral water.“Oh, I love a good push down the steps.” She paused here and gazed off at the photos of Italian actors that covered the walls, thought about this for a while, looked down and moved her knife (I found that significant) an inch to the left, and added, “Or strangling.” Again, a thoughtful pause. “Yes, I have to admit I have a great weakness for strangling. There’s something so tactile and personal about it.”
“I can certainly understand that,” I said, “though I’ve never tried it. Is it easy?” I broke a breadstick in two and began to nibble on it.
“Well,” she began but was interrupted by the waiter bringing my water and her wine. She took a sip, a very small sip, placed her glass down, and continued, “You’ve got to get very close to them, you see. It would seem at first that it’s better to come at them from the back because it would be harder for them to push you away.”
I gave this the attention it deserved, and she continued, raising her hands in front of her, just at the level of my throat. “But since all the strength is in your thumbs, it’s really better if you do it from the front.”
This, too, I considered. Yes, yes, it would be much better that way. She lowered her hands and smiled up at the waiter, who placed our spaghetti with broccoli in front of us and wished us “Buon appetito.”
She put her fork into the center of the spaghetti and twirled it round. “What are you using now?” she asked.
Looking at my plate but speaking to her, I answered, “Last time I beat a man’s head in with a brick. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, ever since I was a kid. In fact, I always used to threaten people: ‘If you don’t stop doing that, I’ll beat your head in with a brick.’ But now I’ve finally done it, and it’s wonderfully invigorating.”
A bit too much garlic in the sauce but still very good.
“Yes, bricks and stones are lovely, aren’t they? They feel so solid in the hand.” She ate another forkful of pasta. “What else?” “Just this week, I was about to stab a man when I remembered I’d already done it, so I decided to use a garrote.”
“Hmm,” my companion responded. “Delicious pasta, isn’t it?” She raised her eyes to the middle distance. “I’ve always longed to use the garrote.”
I ate a bit more pasta. “You should try it, you know.”
She nodded. “I once used a long silk scarf. Same thing, really,
I nodded. I’m sure it was. “What about guns?”
Obviously this touched a nerve. She put her fork down and
looked up. “Oh, I hate them. I always get something wrong: the caliber or the type of bullet, and then people tell me what I should have used and what a mess I’ve left.”
She sipped at her wine again. “And you?”
“Same thing. I’m never sure which way the blood will splatter or how big the holes will be.” I thought about it for a moment, then added, “But I suppose it’s really the noise that puts me off them.”
“Yes, hateful things.” We finished our pasta at the same time. The waiter appeared and took the dishes away.
She lowered her head and wiped delicately at her lips with her napkin. She picked up her wine and took a sip. “I hate poison.”
I sipped my water. “I do, too.”
From the corner of my eye I saw the waiter approaching our
table with menus in his hands.
“Tell me, Ruth, before we order dessert, have you ever watched an autopsy?”
MY VENICE AND OTHER ESSAYS © 2013 by Donna Leon and Diogenes Verlag AG Zurich; used with the permission of the
publisher, Grove/Atlantic, Inc.