Tancredi, a young Italian boy, has been ill for a few months, so his parents get a villa near the ocean for the remainder of his recuperation. During his illness, he has changed from a willful, capricious boy with curly hair to a short-haired, scrawny, and listless youth. He feels obsessed, guilty, and remorseful but does not know about what.
The villa into which he, his mother, and her maid move belongs to an antique dealer who allows them to stay there in return for favors that the family has done for him. The antique dealer has been using the massive, three-story building as a storehouse, and every room is crammed with ugly, unsalable furniture, paintings, tapestries, and knickknacks. Even its windows fail to provide much light, because many are covered with stained glass. Its rooms smell of old wood, mold, and mice, rather than healthful sea air. Tancredi’s mother finds the house uncomfortable and worries that one of them might damage something, but for Tancredi, the house is both terrifying and seductive. Although he can play outside on the beach, he increasingly spends his time exploring the house. Particularly attracted to its attic, he thinks of the rooms there as being like cells, whose low, whitewashed ceilings and rough floors he is sure contain the secrets of tragic lost loves. The rooms are filled with large, dark paintings, and Tancredi spends hours lying on his back in them, inventing terrifying stories based on their pictures.
One day in the midst of such a reverie, Tancredi remembers that he has made a slingshot and goes outside to test it in an enclosure adjoining the villa. When his sleeve becomes stuck on brambles through which he has passed often before, he believes that the brambles are consciously trying to stop him but still manages to enter the trash-littered sunken enclosure. Although he is outdoors, it is as oppressive as being inside the house; the day is overcast with dark clouds, and the acrid smell of rubbish...
(The entire section is 804 words.)