Instinct


The old man, frustrated in everything, sitting by the
doorstep of his house in the warm sun watches a dog
and a bitch giving free play to instinct.

Flies scurry around the man's toothless mouth. His
wife has been dead for some time. She, like every other
bitch, never wanted to know anything about it, but the
instinct was there. The old man–not yet toothless then–
had a nose for it; night would come, they'd go to bed.
Instinct: it was beautiful.

What's admirable in a dog's life is the great freedom:
to rove the streets morning to night; eat a little, sleep
a little, climb up on some bitch's tail a little, not even
waiting for night. A dog reasons the way he sniffs, and
the smells that he gets are for him.

The old man thinks back on an occasion he did it in the
daytime dog-style in a wheatfield. He no longer knows with
what bitch but recalls the high sun and the streaming
sweat and the desire never, never to stop. It was just
like in a bed. Turn back the years and he would always
do it in the fields.

A woman coming down the street stops to watch; a priest
passes and turns aside. Anything can happen out in the
open. Even a woman, shy when face to face with a man,
stands there. But a boy, without patience for the game,
starts pelting stones. The old man rages.


             Italian; trans. Norman Thomas di Giovanni


Cesare Pavese, Italian, trans. Norman Thomas di Giovanni, Lavorare stanca, Edizione di Solaria, 1936.