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Red Mushrooms

(Eugenio Montale — I Funghi Rossi)

Late in the evening they would gather in the empty back room of a shop, to consider possibilities and plans for the most appropriate way of celebrating the fall (and preferably the death) of The Tyrant. And since all four were gourmands or — at least in their own estimation — gourmets, their imaginary revels always took the form of tasty, succulent dinners. They had no political ambitions, and besides, the villain’s downfall was so far off, so unpredictable, that it really would have been foolish to think of collecting the remains of the booty in any other way.

‘When “he” dies,’ said Abele in a low voice (you never know, walls have ears), ‘we shall eat risotto Valencia-style, snails Bordeaux-style, and a soufflé in old Prunier. That day I shall pay, of course; I’ll hire the best cook in town.’

‘If they manage to do him in,’ muttered Egisto, looking about him cautiously, ‘I’ll prepare for you a soup of lobster claws such as not even the Eternal Father eats. And as for the wines, the wines, down in my cellar I have…’

‘If he suffers a stroke,’ Volfango interrupted with a shout (but they put his hand over his mouth to quiet his voice), ‘I shall make you cappelletti according to my own recipe, followed by a nice piglet on the spit, a suckling well roasted, and then we’ll down torrents, cataracts of Lambrusco…’

‘When he pegs out,’ screamed Ferruccio, jumping to his feet, wide-eyed and breathing heavily, ‘we’ll need something quite different! A single dish, the sort of thing to drive us mad with pleasure, a stew, a venison casserole, with…’

‘With what?’ said the first three.

‘…with a nice panful of red mushrooms, lightly flavoured with Verdicchio, half a potato, half a tomato, a celery heart, a pinch of ginger, a drop of rum, a dusting of fennel; and then… after half an hour on a low heat, a light dash of cream, just a drop, barely a drop; a suggestion of Modena vinegar; and finally…’

‘And finally?’ anxiously enquired Abele, Egisto and Volfango.

‘…and finally… it’s not finished yet… and finally…’

He racked his brains, he gesticulated with his hands in the air, he staggered. They managed to support him in time and laid him on a sofa. He was deathly pale; he seemed to have stopped breathing. Abele took his pulse and shook his head.

‘We’d better telephone the ambulance straight away,’ he said. ‘I think he’s gone. I knew it; these speeches are always unlucky.’