At ten past three the phone rang. ‘Pronto,’ I said, and the voice answered: ‘I am Signor Calvino.’ It was the novelist Italo Calvino; I was due to interview him later that afternoon. We had scarcely agreed on the place when something hard hit me on the back of the head. The room spun; there was a glare of light. Calvino assumed it was a bad connection.
I sat for a while on the marble steps outside the flat, my vision blurred and a taste of copper in my mouth. I remember moments of lucidity when I was aware of a burning pain in my head and blood running down my face.
Had Gilly not come home early that evening I might have died. At about six o’clock she opened the door to our flat on Via Salaria. Bloody handprints covered the walls where I had tried to steady myself. A pungent smell filled the air. Down the hall in the bathroom she found two damp bath-towels stained with blood. I was in the kitchen, sprawled face-down on the floor. Blood had congealed in a pool round my head. In a panic Gilly tried to sit me up but my movements were unco-ordinated and my speech garbled. I seemed to be ‘speaking backwards’, Gilly later told the police.
It was an age before the ambulance arrived. . . .