‘The Adventure of a Clerk’ by Italo Calvino, translated by William Weaver and Ann Goldstein

Chosen by Jane Roberts
(Dedicated to those of us who have loved for one night only, and equally to those of us who have never loved for one night only.) 
We meet our protagonist in the early hours of post-coital bliss: “It so happened that Enrico Gnei, a clerk, spent a night with a beautiful lady.” Bedroom antics are hinted at, allowing the reader to wander off the pages of the present and join Enrico in his imaginings of the sensual and tender “inheritance of that night”, whilst embedded in the converse mundanity of the morning’s necessities. The basic human urge to broadcast his nocturnal exploits, seems here something more than the braggadocio of a lad about town. This is the middle class, middle man, middle of the road, clerk who has undergone an abrupt metamorphosis from the constrains of his bourgeois humdrum. The moment merits marking; as we bask in revelation and comedy, Calvino, the descriptive master of both microcosm and macrocosm, ensures the world breathes into life with an intense – almost pixelated – ecstasy of “boundless Edens”.
From the exquisite idealisation of those early hours of the morning when he leaves the house at the top of the hill, Enrico the Adventurer descends back down to earth – or the office – “mad with love among the accountants” – with a bathetic crash. The unexpected illicit beauty and joy of the day is stripped away by thwarted communication of various kinds; and his fate is to wonder the “what if” of a one night stand. Often love can be realised when the moment passes – the orgasmic glory, a fleeting moment of tenderness never to be reclaimed, maybe never to be spoken of again once passed: all eventually fades into a “ secret pang of grief” and a closed account book of passion.

First published in Difficult Loves and Other Stories, 1953. Available in Vintage Classics, 2018
Jane Roberts is a freelance writer living in South Shropshire. Her fiction and non-fiction have been published in anthologies and journals including: Litro, Bare Fiction Magazine, The Lonely Crowd, Wales Arts Review.

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