Thus the Circle Closes by Loredano Cafaro, translated by Sabrina Beretta

When Max returns to Pratonero, he is forced to stay longer than intended, and face the trauma of his past.

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A single raindrop, an imperceptible veil of fog, even a hint of mist would contribute to creating the right atmosphere for the situation. Instead, there is only the autumn sun carrying out its task as a routine, perhaps with too much zeal.

Then again, why expect the opposite? If life were a movie, the soundtrack would be enough to inform us what is about to happen. And who knows, maybe we could even lull the conviction that we choose the music ourselves.

"Did I ever tell you about the illusion of free will?" Max mutters to himself as he downshifts the car to face a climb and listens to the engine revs increase. Then he cracks a smile and lights a cigarette. Ultra-light cigarettes - that's what he smokes now. Had they ever told him he would one day switch to that stuff, he would have laughed for a whole week. But time passes, and things change.

Max turns on the radio and lets the road guide him while memories present themselves at the party without an invitation, dancing in counter-time to the rhythm of the music, eager for protagonism. They don't need an invitation, memories. They come without warning and drag you into their endless loop.

Max puts out the cigarette butt in the ashtray and clasps both hands on the steering wheel. Staring into the future through the windshield, he drives toward his past.

Welcome to Pratonero, reads the sign at the entrance to the town.

"Welcome? And why on earth?" Max wonders.

A black Golf GTI whizzes by at light speed to his left.

"Slow down, you idiot!" echoes a disembodied, anonymous voice out of nowhere, barely anticipating Max's thoughts.

An old red Cinquecento car, the only car in a deserted parking lot, swings and squeaks, swings and squeaks.

Shortly after entering the town, Max halts his grey Tipo car in front of a rusty gate that overlooks the highway. He turns off the engine and gets out.

Carrozzeria Gavi, reads a card written with a felt-tip pen, fastened with wire to the gate. Closed for personal reasons, says another card written with a blue pen, just below it.

"I'm afraid I'll have to prolong my stay in Pratonero more than I expected," Max thinks out loud. He turns his gaze to scan the cars beyond the mesh fence, in search of something familiar that he cannot see. "Well, let's get into the tourism," he says as he steps back into the car and turns on the engine.

Here it is: the town square. Max slows down, looking for a parking space.

"I can't think straight at this time of the morning," Carletto proclaims to his stray friends from a bench in the square. "I can't think straight. What was I saying? Sorry, but at this time of the morning, I can't think straight."

A homeless man in a grey coat, standing by the entrance to the church with a hat in his hand, begs for alms from passers-by. The school bus stops its run in the square and opens the doors. A little girl with curly red hair searches for the homeless man through the window, finds him, and sets to work.

The traffic policeman Angelo, angel by name but not by nature, halts an old man who spit on the ground, strokes the service weapon in the holster, and states, "This is the last warning; next time, you'll end up getting a fine."

"Walk straight or you'll become a hunchback," a mother instructs her bachelor son of forty, chasing him and pulling him up by the shoulders.

"But Mom, I'll be forty-one in a month. I'm old now," he objects, desolate.

"Shut up, boor," is the phrase that accompanies the slap on the head. "It doesn't matter. I am and will always be your mother."

Amid the laughter of her friends in the school bus, the little girl with curly red hair makes faces at the homeless man, showing off the croissant that her mother gave her for breakfast, biting it and chewing it with her mouth open to prove a point.

"Stop it, you're rude!" the homeless man blurts out. "It's not fair for you to do this," he says. "It's not fair..."

"I'd give everything not to be here," Max whispers, parking the car past the church and heading toward a cafe for a coffee. "Even if I have nothing left."

Back in the car, back around the streets of Pratonero.

The red light.

The green light.

The white Uno car in front that will not move.

The time that passes.

A couple of nonchalant taps on the horn.

The Uno in front that still will not move.

A prolonged blow of the horn, followed by curses.

The Uno in front that just won't move.

The yellow light.

The red light.

The observation that the figure driving the Uno hasn't moved the whole time.

Max puts the hazards on, gets out of the car and approaches the Uno. An elderly gentleman in his seventies, lying on the steering wheel; his time has come and gone.

Phone. 112. Carabinieri. Ambulance. Questions.

"Perhaps it was a heart attack."

"Who knows," Max says back.

"Of course, with this heat..."


"Haven't the two of us met before?" asks the marshal who coordinates the operations, once all the operations that need coordination have been coordinated.

"Who knows," Max replies, returning to his car. And for a moment, the slight lameness that will accompany him throughout his life is accentuated and he slows his pace.

"You must come to the station to sign the report!" shouts the marshal to Max's back.

"I'll come."

Max gets in the car.

"Yes, we've already met," he mutters to himself as he turns on the engine. "About a year ago. An ordinary day at work for you. One of those moments that split a person's life into before and after for me."

Memories. Here they come. Memories of what it was and flashes of what it was next.

"What do I want more than anything in the world?" Her voice sounded like home. "The two of us. A house full of you and me. And of the things that are part of you and me."

And her?

"In the morning, I would wake you gently. I'd spread some Nutella on you. And I'd have you for breakfast."

And her?

"You know, sometimes I'm really scared. All this is so beautiful that I am terrified it just can't last forever."

And her?

"Pratonero? Never heard of it before." Yes, her voice was like home.

"Me neither, but they say there's a restaurant nearby where you can eat an amazing mixed fried dish. I'm glad to be going over there tonight; we've tried so long to organize this dinner."

"Yeah, it's about time! But you drive, please. You know I hate driving."

"Sure, don't worry, I'll take care of it! And I'll take care of you."

And her?

You have to think of yourself now.

"Are you sure we haven't met somewhere before?" asks the Carabinieri marshal of Max, once the report has been signed.

"Who knows," Max answers while leaving.

"Of course we've seen each other," Max murmurs again, getting back into the car and heading toward the town center.

On the right, in a small lay-by, a local man is tying a gray mutt with a white muzzle and belly, like Tramp from Lady and the Tramp, to the bumper of an old white Ducato van with a rope. Max really enjoyed Lady and the Tramp.

"What did it do?" Max asks the local man, after pulling to the side of the road and getting out of the car.

"It stole a steak from the kitchen."

"It's all skin and bones. Evidently, you don't feed it enough."

"It's none of your business."

"You say?"

Max bends to his knees and unties the dog, which flees to the meadows and disappears from sight. Then he stands to observe the man's eyes. They smack of anger and violence. Max sees that his hands are shaking and hopes for an instant that the guy will hit him, so he can pay him back for all the wrong he might have done in his whole life. But this does not happen. And Max steps back into the car and drives away.

"Yeah, run! Run!" the local man shouts, his gaze fixed on Max's car as it becomes smaller and smaller down the road to the town center. "Asshole!" he yells at the asphalt. Then he turns to the van and kicks the bumper.

The sun shines fiery in the sky above Pratonero.

"I can't think straight in this heat," Carletto explains to his stray friends from a bench in the square. "I can't think straight. What was I saying? Sorry, but in this heat, I can't think straight."

The homeless man in his grey coat is in his usual place near the entrance to the church when he watches the school bus arrive. The little girl with curly red hair looks at him through the window, purses her lips in an expression resembling a hyena's grin, and takes the cookies from the school bag.

The traffic policeman Angelo halts a child who has thrown a gum wrapper on the ground, strokes the service weapon in the holster, and says, "This is the last time; the next, you'll end up getting a fine."

"Cover your head, or you'll get sunstroke," the mother chases her bachelor son of forty, adjusting the collar of his jacket. "Did you take the cap?" she questions.

A look of understanding with the children next to her, and the little girl with curly red hair starts making faces at the homeless man, wearing the biscuits to her ears as if they were earrings, to then bite them and chew them with her mouth open. "Please, stop it," he begs her. "It's not fair for you to do this," he says, almost with tears in his eyes.

"You didn't understand that it's November, didn't you? You'll end up driving someone insane," Max says, looking up at the sun beyond the windshield. "And judging by what I see around me, it takes very little."

Max wanders aimlessly in Pratonero. Every direction is the same, and so is every road.

An old red Cinquecento car is parked in the shade of a big tree that Max, due to his ignorance, cannot classify. And it swings and squeaks, swings and squeaks.

A black Golf GTI floors it and attempts to jump into hyperspace.

"Slow down, you idiot!" echoes a voice out of nowhere.

"Yes, this heat is definitely not normal this time of year. Someone will go insane," Max continues. "And I'll probably be the first," he concludes, as he parks in front of a guest house overlooking the square and takes a dark leather travel bag from the trunk of the car.

Cartoon sky and apocalypse clouds, what else? All that is torn by a huge hand, with the forefinger facing the ground, to the mortals. And a thundering, majestic, otherworldly voice, like through some kind of loudspeaker.

"Three hours to the Last Judgment."

And the fear, the panic, the hunt for the last pleasures, the last satisfactions and then on, toward the final repentance. The long lines at the confessionals, the frenzy of purification. And the anxiety of confessors: will they have time to confess in turn? All in homage to Buzzati, of course.

And Max?

A lit cigarette, gaze stuck on the apocalypse clouds that obscure the cartoon sky.

"I'll finally have an answer," he says. And the hand that stands out in the sky clenches into a fist, rotates, and raises the middle finger in a solemn gesture.

Odd dreams occur in Max's restless sleep.

Second day in Pratonero.

Carrozzeria Gavi, reads the card fastened to the gate. Closed for illness, says another card just below it.

"I'm definitely afraid I will have to prolong my stay in Pratonero more than I expected," Max says, climbing back into the car and heading toward the town center. He brought a change of clothes just in case, but he didn't think he would stay in Pratonero longer than a few hours. Instead, one night has already passed, and he's still there.

He parks in front of the church and gets out of the car. He crosses the churchyard, smiles at the homeless man standing by the entrance, and slips some coins into the fedora in his hand.

"God bless you, sir," the homeless man says, nodding his head in thanks.

Max nods in turn. "Yes, sure. He already did."

He stands still for a moment to let an elderly lady with red glasses pass, then walks after her through the side door of the entryway. The elderly lady dips her fingers in the stone stoup and crosses herself; she takes a seat in one of the pews on the right, kneels, joins her hands, and prays.

Max disregards the stoup and walks along the aisle, stopping right in front of the altar. He looks up at the crucifix - at the hands nailed to the arms of the cross, at the feet nailed to the shaft, at the pierced side.

Motionless, he stares at the head surrounded by the crown of thorns, resting on the shoulder, perhaps in the hope that it will rise and look at him. How long he stays like this, he doesn't know. But for sure long enough to attract attention. Max feels a hand on his right arm and turns around.

"Job 33:14. For God does speak, first in one way and then in another, although we do not always perceive it," the elderly lady with red glasses says. Then she smiles, crosses the aisle, and disappears through the side door of the entryway.

Max turns back to the crucifix. He would like to scream, to throw out all his pain, but only a few hushed words come out.

"You owe me an answer," he says.

Max lights a cigarette and sits down on a bench near the bus stop. Carletto, sitting on a nearby bench, talks to his stray friends, while on the sidewalk across the street the mother is running after her bachelor son of forty. Max can't make out the words she says, but they are a lot. In the middle of the road, the traffic policeman Angelo yells at a pigeon something about a fine, but the pigeon doesn't seem to be very impressed. The school bus arrives, and sadness takes hold of the homeless man's face.

"I will miss this place," Max mutters with a wry smile, as he gets up and walks in any random direction.

He's just outside downtown, when a sign on the front of a shabby shack catches his eye. For rent, it reads. Call Brondi. Not in afternoon nap hours.

Day three.

Carrozzeria Gavi, reads the card on the gate. Closed due to bereavement, says the card just below it.

"Nothing new under the sun," Max murmurs, climbing back into the car.

Max's Tipo car is parked by the side of the road, near a green cast iron fountain. Max has quenched his thirst and is now sitting on the hood, enjoying a cigarette.

A black Golf GTI emerges from a side street, ignoring the give way triangular signal.

"Slow down," Max whispers.

"You idiot!" echoes a voice out of nowhere.

Not far away, parked right in the middle of a meadow, an old red Cinquecento car swings and squeaks.

Then, the panting of a gray dog with a white muzzle and belly, and Max's hand becomes wet.

"Hi there, Tramp!" exclaims Max, recognizing the mutt from a couple of days before. "Nice to see you, too."

Day four.

Carrozzeria Gavi, reads the card written with a felt-tip pen, fastened with wire to the gate. Finally open, says the card written with a red pen, just below it.

"Finally open," murmurs Max, crossing the gate and advancing along the courtyard. He passes the grey shed and heads toward the back, toward the remains of what were once cars. "Where did you hide, my old friend?"

Pain and crumpled sheet metal, here's how you can summarize what Max sees - pain and crumpled sheet metal and memories.

"Memories. God, the memories."

Fiat Uno 45 Fire, burgundy. Originally, at least. Max has only seen the photos in the newspapers and photos of the appraisal, until now, but none of those images could in any way render the idea of what that car has become. Nothing but crumpled sheet metal.

"It's in there that everything happened," Max whispers. "We were in there."

"Is that yours?" The voice of the coachbuilder is heard behind Max.


"I was notified of the release by the Carabinieri station in the town where I live," Max says to the coachbuilder. "I came as soon as possible, but I could easily have waited a little longer."

"Mine is an awful job, you know. Whenever they call me after an accident, I always want a change of job. God only knows how many terrible scenes I had to witness. You cannot even imagine."

"Perhaps, if I try."

"People are crazy. Behind the wheel of a car, people are crazy."

"Not just behind the wheel of a car."

"You're right. Do you see this?" asks the coachbuilder, pointing at the blackened carcass of what used to be a Ritmo car. "The other day a guy poured petrol inside the car, tied himself in the driving seat and set himself on fire. It must be this damn heat driving people insane."

"It can be. Where do I have to sign to have the car scrapped so that I can finally leave this beautiful town?"

It was a Saturday about a year ago.

Waking up a little later than usual, breakfast, a walk, newspaper, lunch at parents' expense, grocery shopping, weekly cleaning, shower, fresh sheets, an appointment with friends, heat, dinner, laughter, glee, happiness.

Too much, maybe.

Then in the car, with her, on the way home.

That's when Max had the impression of God shouting his name.

Memories. Here they come again.

Waking up on a stretcher in a hospital ward, with the Carabinieri questioning him and talking about cranial trauma.

Fighting against pain and against tranquilizers, for a tiny flash of lucidity.

"And her?" asking every time he could.

"Now you have to think of yourself," is the answer which says everything and nothing.

Fighting in vain against the pain of an open femur, contemplating an aching and deformed arm, perceiving the stitches that follow one another on the face and inside the mouth.

Asking again: "And her?"

For the usual answer: "Now you have to think of yourself."

Fighting, sweating, building a life. Finding a job, buying a car, setting up a home; small, modest, but still a home. Building a life, perhaps for the sole purpose of sharing it with her. And then going out, one night, to dinner, and then to bed. Instead, no. Seeing his life reset in an instant. A life that, anyway, he could have no longer shared with anyone.

Suffering without any right to complain. Feeling lucky without any right to joy.

Not remembering, not knowing what happened with certainty. Listening to sentences that begin with it seems and perhaps and only hoping he has done the right thing at the right time. For what it could be worth at this point.

Crying in the dark at night. Longing for a chance to go back, and to trade his life for hers.

Dreaming of opening his eyes one morning and finding her next to him.

Dreaming of an embrace that will never happen again.

Dreaming of a life.

"And her?"

"You have to think of yourself now."

Dreaming. Dreaming it was only a dream. And then waking up.

"I haven't seen my house since. One night I went out, not knowing that I would never return," Max tells Carletto. "And not having been self-sufficient for quite some time, I ended up dissolving the rental contract and moving in with my brother."

They are in the square, sitting on a bench, two blurry silhouettes in the reddish light of the sunset.

"I feel tired, you know?" Max continues. "So tired. I cannot remember when I last opened my eyes in the morning, happy to have woken up."

Carletto stares at him without moving an eye.

"But that's not what matters," Max says, looking away. "She is dead. That's the only thing that matters. She is dead, and I'm alive. I'm the one who survived. I wouldn't want it to be like that, but it is - and I see no reason. You know, I keep wondering what am I to do, what's so important that I've been granted more time."

Carletto purses his lips in a sad expression, then he speaks in a faint voice. "I'm sorry, my young new friend. I'm so sorry. When the sun goes down, I just can't think straight."

Max smiles. "You're not the only one," he says. "For instance, I don't understand why I haven't left yet. I did what I had to do; what am I still doing here?"

He gets up and puts a hand on Carletto's shoulder. "See you around," Max says, walking away along the sidewalk.

"I'm alive - this is what haunts me," Max whispers, staring at what's left of the sun on the horizon. "I am still alive. And I cannot understand why."

If life were a movie, we might even believe we are the main character.

Five. One hand's fingers. Even though Max had thought one was enough: the middle finger, maybe. Here comes the fifth day.

The sun shines fiery in the sky above Pratonero, so fiery that there would be nothing to be surprised about if someone went insane.

"Hello, my new world," Max says, leaving the guest house and walking toward the church. "Will you collapse too?"

"I can't think straight right after lunch," Carletto tells his stray friends from a bench in the square. "I can't think straight. What was I saying?"

"That you can't think straight!" the traffic policeman Angelo cuts him off. Then he halts a couple of lovers on a moped, strokes the service weapon in the holster, and hisses, "This is the last time; the next, you'll end up getting a fine."

An old red Cinquecento car advances without haste in the main avenue. And while advancing, it swings and squeaks.

"And you'll get a fine, too!" shouts the policeman Angelo toward the Cinquecento car - which swings and squeaks.

The school bus stops its run in the square and opens the doors. The little girl with curly red hair searches for the homeless man through the window, finds him in the churchyard, stands still, and observes him. Her friends are silent, waiting. Then the first one starts, and the others follow.

"Do it! Do it!" they shout.

"It was just meant to be a joke," she tries to argue. "It's not fun anymore."

"Do it! Do it!"

"Stop it. Please..."

"Do it! Do it!"

It's not that easy to go against the gang. And with shining eyes, the little girl with curly red hair bites into a chocolate bar and starts the show.

"Walk slowly. If you fall, you will scrape your knees," the mother admonishes her bachelor son of forty, holding him by his belt. "And then, don't come crying to me," she warns him.

"But Mom, I'll be forty-one in a month!"

"I am your mother and always will be!" she replies, clenching his belt even more. "And you are my life," she adds softly.

The roar of an engine announces a black Golf GTI that is getting closer and closer.

"Slow down, you idiot!" echoes a voice out of nowhere.

"What was that voice?" Carletto inquires his stray friends, looking up at the road. "You, my new friend, did you hear it?" he asks a gray mutt with a white muzzle and belly sitting in front of him.

Not a second goes by before the Golf swerves out of control. It swerves first right and then left, then right again and then left again.

Then right again. And a bachelor son of forty will not be forty-one next month. And a dazed mother, motionless with her right arm stretched forward, continues to look for a belt that's no longer there.

Then left again. And an old red Cinquecento car welcomes it, in a roar of metal sheets and bodies that come together in a painful and final embrace. And the old red Cinquecento car no longer swings, and the old red Cinquecento car no longer squeaks.

"Stop it, it's not fair..." the tearful homeless man murmurs to the little girl on the school bus, who's now looking around after the din of the crash, while chaos takes over the square and no one cares about him. Just as he cares for nothing but her. "Stop it," he pleads as she locks his eyes again, an instant before pulling an old rusty shotgun from under his shabby grey coat.

The homeless man moves slowly, the old and rusty shotgun still smoking. The little girl with the curly red hair is crouched under the seat, a broken window above her head. A new cartridge replaces the first one, the barrel aims at the group of children in front of the school bus doors. They get close to each other, looking around, still trying to figure out what's going on.

"No," Max murmurs, placing himself between them and the barrel of the shotgun.

Amid the echoes of imaginary laughter, the index finger of the homeless man trembles on the trigger. At this point, there is no turning back.

The gray mutt with a white muzzle and belly comes running and pounces on the homeless man, it bites and scratches, and the shotgun slides on the asphalt. The mutt is thrown away. The homeless man turns his gaze toward the weapon, then toward Max, foretelling a race whose prize is life.

"No," Max says again. And he smiles. Motionless. Except for his arms, which he raises, and outstretches to the sides of his body - the palms of the hands facing forward.

The homeless man approaches the shotgun and picks it up. The traffic policeman Angelo pulls his service weapon from the holster, takes aim, and explodes a shot. The chest of the homeless man turns red. He falls to his knees.

"It's not fair..." he murmurs, before falling face down on the asphalt.

Angelo looks at him, then turns his eyes to the gun which trembles in his hand, then looks at him again.

"No, it's not," he says in a whisper.

Max stares at the homeless man for a few seconds, then lowers his head and arms and turns his eyes to the ground.

The mutt approaches Max, who bends over and proffers a soon-wet hand.

"Well met, Tramp," Max mutters, and his gaze goes to the children behind him. "The circle closes, my friend," he continues, turning to the dog, arching his lips in a dull smile. "It's the answer I was looking for - the reason why I've been granted more time. I am still alive, you are still alive, they are still alive. The circle closes."

It's been about a month. Nothing else of particular importance has happened. The heat wave that suffocated Pratonero has given way to a warm winter. Max, and he has no idea why, rented the old Brondi shack and moved in with the few things he managed to get in the trunk of the car - let it end where it began, perhaps.

He spends his days on the porch in the rocking chair, with Tramp crouched next to him. He smokes his cigarettes, stares at the sky and at the landscape, and rocks slowly. His story in the town is now known to all. Some say he fell victim to his thoughts. Some say he is simply tired and resting. Some say, and this is the most widespread opinion, he is convinced that he has fulfilled his task on this earth and is doing nothing but waiting for the last stop to rejoin her.

At first sight, however, he does nothing but rock.


  1. Our main character is confused and disoriented. Unfortunately, so am I for 3/4 of the story. I wonder if you could start with

    “It was a Saturday about a year ago.

    Waking up a little later than usual, breakfast, a walk, newspaper, lunch at parents' expense, grocery shopping, weekly cleaning, shower, fresh sheets, an appointment with friends, heat, dinner, laughter, glee, happiness.

    Too much, maybe.

    Then in the car, with her, on the way home.”

    It would help me if you did.

    On the other hand, maybe we are meant to be as confused and disoriented as we are. It puts us in his head.

    The shooting of the red haired girl (though missed) was a nice touch. She was just cruel.
    The dog getting free and then coming to save the day was a nice touch.
    There is this sense that he had found some purpose.

    It’s a very sad story, and our main character seems lovely which makes you care.

    Well done!

  2. I too am very confused.
    I suspect it is a linear story told in circular layers, so it takes effort by the reader to piece it together.. I believe the linear narrative is that Max’s girlfriend died in an automobile accident and he is in this town of Protanero to sign something regarding the disposition of the destroyed car. While there, a car accident kills some other people and Max stops a homeless man from shooting a group of school children. Max is grieving and traumatized, I’m not sure he has any arc of internal change, externally he decides to settle down in Protanero, so there is change there. Also, he heroically helps to save a dog and to stop the homeless man’s attack. Max then settles down in Protanero to become another of the characters who live there.

  3. It took me some time to figure out what this story was all about: coming “full circle” in the sense of understanding why the MC was allowed to survive a vehicular accident which claimed the life of the woman he loved. The plot has an uneasy familiarity with contemporary American culture – the man going berserk and opening fire with a shotgun in a public place. That episode made my stomach flip a little. Then there was the spectacle of the policeman threatening any- and everyone who commited the slightest – or even no -- offense. For some reason, the repeating scenario brought to mind the Beatles’ A Day in the Life, off the St. Pepper album. Everything about this fiction had a surreal aspect. Rewarding story.

  4. Rozanne CharbonneauApril 19, 2024 at 6:57 PM

    I read it twice, as I was confused the first time. I agree with Bill. The violence in Protanero feels almost American. Max is traumatized, and his grief cannot be resolved neatly at the end of the story, which is true to life.

  5. It seems that the small town tramp has a hidden shotgun that no one suspects. The ritual nature of the town suggests that this could be a repetitive dream rather than reality. The odd outsider prevents a possible multiple murder, but would the tramp have been able to assault the people in the bus? Overall, I take this as more of someone's imagination or dream rather than real life. Something like "Carnival Of Souls"?
    Mr. Mirth

  6. The narrative is confusing, but I enjoy that as I don't usually go for stories where all the work is done for me so to speak. I thought the voice in this one was strong as in it describes action more than feeling and that works well. It's a kind of Kazuo Ishiguro's The Unconsoled meets pulp fiction of some kind. Did I fully understand it? No. Did I enjoy it? Yes, and that's what matters more.