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This article is taken from PN Review 69, Volume 16 Number 1, September - October 1989.

Their Mother (translated by Naomi May) Natalia Ginzburg

Their mother was little and skinny with slightly drooping shoulders; the woollen blouse she always wore was red and her skirt was blue. She had short, black, crinkly hair, which she oiled to stop it frizzing, and every morning she plucked her eyebrows, turning them into twin black minnows that flittered away towards her temples; the face powder she used was yellowish. She was very young: though they had no idea of her exact age, she seemed infinitely younger than the mothers of their schoolfriends, who dumb-founded the boys they were so old, so fat.

She smoked a lot and had stains on her fingers and went on smoking, even after she'd gone to bed, before falling asleep. They slept together, the three of them, in a big double bed with a yellow quilt; because she liked to read and smoke at night their mother had the side by the door, as there was a little table here with a lamp shaded by a red and ragged cloth. Sometimes she came home very late and the boys, waking, would ask her where she'd been. "At the movies," she'd say, or, "with my girlfriend," though who this girlfriend was they couldn't quite make out as she never came round to drop in on their mother. Told to turn the other way while she undressed, they would listen to the rustle of her clothes as she flung them off, and watch the shadows sent dancing on the walls; when ...


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