In the gardens, it was not the sound of fountains but those of a dry, broken-off branch, a well's pulley creaking in the wind, an orphaned cat whispering an astonished meow and the acacias and jasmines, the lilacs and geraniums were hushed and gave their green light, indifferent to their forthcoming ruin.
The detached houses that had once been their owners' every hope were now covered in dust; there was dust on the blue tiled staircases, dust on the moldings of the elegant façades, dust on the windowpanes and in the stairwells.
No one said anything at first, but when they spoke their thoughts—their surprise at having found someone there, and making a fire—he explained that this was his house and these were his books.
He was a little aloof and unsure but when the couple replied that they lived there too though they'd never encountered him, he came closer and asked how could this be if the barrio had been left empty and everyone had gone away, and seeing the two of them shrug, he smiled and said that that gesture was his as well because he'd been prepared to disobey the orders, and that he'd come back to the place he'd lived in years ago and would oversee the final days of the house in which he'd been born.
And so it was; when the three came inside, everything that might have been considered the comfort and adornment of a home had been placed in piles in the room.
The couple became more and more curious with every object in this chaos: pictures, clothes, glass lamps, high mirrors, old chests…Halfway through the morning they made a succulent meal; the smell that came from the kitchen and that at midday would be carried on the air through the gardens attracted roving cats which watched at a distance as, in the shade of two leafy acacias, the trio would lay a long table with a white cloth, vases of flowers, dishes, and glasses for a long lunch.The smiling stranger, whom they'd dubbed Falstaff, brought new and surprising things from his house every day to amuse the couple who, for their part, showed him stamp collections and talked him through the stories behind old family portraits and laughed at the rigid attitudes and the strictures of those past times.The man was slowly opening them and tearing out the pages and throwing them on the fire.The couple pushed on the gate, which creaked, and the man looked their way, holding their gaze for a moment and taking a few steps in their direction.A man and a woman were strolling along the acacia-lined streets.They were the last ones living there and they'd decided not to leave, not to abandon the place they'd lived together all these years.Since they'd taken the final decision, the couple had been making exquisite meals and they'd amused themselves cooking sumptuous dishes and they'd bought the best wines.And in this first meal with the stranger they made clear the reason for such cares and he was only too happy to take part.But the next day he shouted to them from the street and when he came into the garden they saw he'd brought them a present, an old gramophone that they hurried to turn on, playing record after record; it became clear that they were also equally lovers of music.At points, Caruso's voice or one of Chopin’s waltzes appeared to awaken echoes in the neighboring gardens but if the mechanism ran down they'd hear complete silence and, faraway, the roar of the machines carrying on their ruinous advance.