Study Guide

If on a winter's night a traveler Chapter 12

By Italo Calvino

Chapter 12

In a network of lines that enlace

  • The story begins with a man explaining how he hates to answer telephones.
  • He seems to have a pretty crazy feeling that whenever a telephone rings somewhere in the world, it's probably for him. Yikes.
  • Every morning, he goes for a run to help keep off his excess weight. He loves to run because he feels he gets to be on his own and not accountable to others.
  • His run is ruined, though, when he starts to hear telephones going off in the houses that he passes. He wonders why no one answers them and eventually gets so uncomfortable that he circles one of the houses to investigate.
  • When he hears a dog barking, he gets scared and continues his run.
  • He is a professor at the nearby university, and soon enough, he decides to get back to campus so he won't keep his students waiting.
  • On his way back, he passes the same house and hears that its telephone is still ringing.
  • Unable to bear it anymore, he goes inside the house and picks up the phone.
  • Without warning, a voice on the other end gives him a strange message about someone named Marjorie who is about to be blown up by a bomb.
  • The mystery voice gives an address and tells the narrator to come get this woman before she dies.
  • The narrator tries to explain that he's not the owner of the house, but the other has already hung up.
  • Flustered, the professor decides to continue back to campus without helping this Marjorie woman, figuring that he'd get caught up in a scandal if he ran to save a woman he didn't even know.
  • He recalls that there is a girl named Marjorie who attends one of his classes, and whom he has taken a shine to.
  • He thinks this young woman might already know that he likes her. After all, he has always stammered around her, and she has always looked at him with an ironic smile, as have her friends in his class.
  • He wonders if she is the same Marjorie who's about to be blown up, then wonders if the call really was for him. Perhaps somebody has been following his every move…
  • He runs all the way to campus without going home to pick up his books.
  • He stops one girl and asks her if Marjorie has come to class, but the girl tells him that Marjorie hasn't shown up for two days. Uh oh.
  • The professor runs to the address that the man on the phone gave him and inside finds Marjorie tied up on a couch and gagged. He ungags her and she calls him a "bastard," which suggests that he's somehow implicated in what's going on. And of course…