It was a beautiful warm evening; the brilliant lights of the shop’s interior spread their glow into the square. The gigantic image of Lila in her wedding dress could be seen at a distance, leaning against the center wall. Stefano parked, we went in, making our way among the boxes of shoes, piled up haphazardly, cans of paint, ladders. Marcello, Rino, Gigliola, and Pinuccia were visibly irritated: for varying reasons they had no wish to submit yet again to Lila’s caprices. The only one who greeted us cordially was Michele, who turned to my friend with a mocking laugh. “Lovely signora, will you let us know, at last, what you have in mind or do you just want to ruin the evening?”
Lila looked at the panel leaning against the wall, asked them to lay it on the floor. Marcello said cautiously, with the dark timidity that he always showed toward Lila, “What for?”
“I’ll show you.”
Rino interrupted: “Don’t be an idiot, Lina. You know how much this thing cost? If you ruin it, you’re in trouble.”
The Solaras laid the image on the floor. Lila looked around, with her brow furrowed, her eyes narrowed. She was looking for something that she knew was there, that perhaps she had bought herself. In a corner she spied a roll of black paper, and she took a pair of big scissors and a box of drawing pins from a shelf. Then, with that expression of extreme concentration which enabled her to isolate herself from everything around her, she went back to the panel. Before our astonished and, in the cases of some, openly hostile eyes, she cut strips of black paper, with the manual precision she had always possessed, and pinned them here and there to the photograph, asking for my help with slight gestures or quick glances.
I joined in with the devotion that I had felt ever since we were children. Those moments were thrilling, it was a pleasure to be beside her, slipping inside her intentions, to the point of anticipating her. I felt that she was seeing something that wasn’t there, and that she was struggling to make us see it, too. I was suddenly happy, feeling the intensity that invested her, that flowed through her fingers as they grasped the scissors, as they pinned the black paper.
Finally, she tried to lift the canvas, as if she were alone in that space, but she couldn’t. Marcello readily intervened, I intervened, we leaned it against the wall. Then we all backed up toward the door, some sneering, some grim, some appalled. The body of the bride Lila appeared cruelly shredded. Much of the head had disappeared, as had the stomach. There remained an eye, the hand on which the chin rested, the brilliant stain of the mouth, the diagonal stripe of the bust, the line of the crossed legs, the shoes.
Gigliola began, scarcely containing her rage: “I cannot put a thing like that in my shop.”
“I agree,” Pinuccia exploded. “We have to sell here, and with that grotesque thing people will run away. Rino, say something to your sister, please.”
Rino pretended to ignore her, but he turned to Stefano as if his brother-in-law were to blame for what was happening. “I told you, you can’t reason with her. You have to say yes, no, and that’s it, or you see what happens? It’s a waste of time.”
Stefano didn’t answer, he stared at the panel leaning against the wall and it was evident that he was looking for a way out. He asked me, “What do you think, Lenù?”
I said in Italian, “To me it seems very beautiful. Of course, I wouldn’t want it in the neighborhood, that’s not the right place for it. But here it’s something else, it will attract attention, it will please. In Confidenze just last week I saw that in Rossano Brazzi’s house there is a painting like this.”
Hearing that, Gigliola got even angrier. “What do you mean? That Rossano Brazzi knows what’s what, that you two know everything, and Pinuccia and I don’t?”
At that point I felt the danger. I had only to glance at Lila to realize that, if when we arrived at the shop she had really felt willing to give in should the attempt prove fruitless, now that the attempt had been made and had produced that image of disfigurement she wouldn’t yield an inch. Those minutes of work on the picture had broken ties: at that moment she was overwhelmed by an exaggerated sense of herself, and it would take time for her to retreat into the dimension of the grocer’s wife, she wouldn’t accept a sigh of dissent. In fact, while Gigliola was speaking, she was already muttering: Like this or not at all. And she wanted to quarrel, she wanted to break, shatter, she would have happily hurled herself at Gigliola with the scissors.
From Elena Ferrante’s 2012 novel The Story of a New Name. English translation by Ann Goldstein. I’m not sure how well the passage stands free of any context—I know there are a lot of characters here with backgrounds that won’t be clear to anyone who hasn’t read Ferrante’s novel (read it!)—but I love this passage, where brilliant friends Lila and Lenù collaborate to turn advertising into art, to artistically—and violently, perhaps—erase Lila’s body from the patriarchal order into which she has been inscribed.