The Zipper

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The Zipper by Dacia Maraini


Eroticism, it seems to me, is something hidden, something that doesn’t come out, doesn’t let itself be discovered. In those places where it announces itself, where it is put on view and put on sale, it is not to be found . . . So as to appear later, even slyly, in a place where no one expected to seek it, ambiguous and crafty, furtive and fitting.

Eroticism certainly does not consist in the redundantly displayed coitus that one finds in pornographic magazines. There it elicits only yawns and mechanical acts of masturbation.

Eroticism is elsewhere. But where? I think of the unforeseeable, the unexpected, of those moments in which the imagination lets itself go, as if out into warm water, and turns and sees the lights of the shoreline sparkling before it and feels a sense of uneasiness and glorious euphoria.

I remember a time that I attended a costume rehearsal at the theater. And the actors, vexed and vain, passed continually this way and that before the mirror followed by the seamstress with pins in her mouth.

An actor who I had known for years and with whom I had never exchanged a look that was anything less than professional, asked me to help him zip up his costume in the back.

While I did it, lovingly, as I would have done with any other actor, I felt my fingers burn. My maternal act was transforming itself into something unexpectedly sweet. My cheeks grew hot and my ears, icy cold.

So it is that Eros — that strange chubby child born some say of Aphrodite and Aries, while others maintain him to be the progeny of Iris and the angry West Wind — lets fly his arrow in the midst of an ordinary and innocent gesture. The pale flesh under the heavy brocade was beginning to leaven. Intuition told me that he too was feeling the very same unexpected and surprising emotion.

We did not look at each other. My hands only tarried a second or so longer than was necessary on that dry, taut back.

Furthermore, the man that I loved was there, seated next to me. He, too, was an actor. He was trying on his tights for the part of the prince he was playing.

I had never betrayed him. We were so happy together. And yet the serpent of temptation had ignited my hands, and I felt them begin to caress that half-naked back that offered itself so tentatively to my touch. He would have wanted me to linger as I pulled up that zipper, slowly and more slowly. He would have wanted me to stumble, to breathlessly hang on his neck in that mute and miraculous desire. I would have wanted it, too.

But Iris is a stern mother and requires order in the sentiments. Therefore, with my ears still cold and my cheeks still burning, I put my hands back in my pockets, and I returned to my playwright’s chair. From my mouth came only a small inaudible sigh of resignation. Wisdom appeared before my eyes with their dry eyelashes, and my hands remained idle.

I swear I have not written these lines in order to encourage self-denial. I have not renounced other occasions. I wanted only to show how eroticism is timid and insolent and how it can appear when one least expects it to lay upon one its “natural” claims. It is not always wise to renounce. When one is in love, one must at least try.

Excerpted from the forthcoming anthology, In the Forbidden City: An Anthology of Erotic Fiction by Italian Women, edited by Maria Rosa Cutrufelli, published by The University of Chicago Press. © 2000 by the University of Chicago. All rights reserved.

Dacia Maraini and