Here lies the story that started the whole Driftwood/Mr Christian journey, in it’s entirety, without – as the saying goes – further commercial interruption. Hope you enjoy taking the trip again, or for the first time if that be the case.
I have no words – alas!– to tell, the loveliness of loving well!
[Log entry of the SailingVessel Springer: 31 October, 0920 hrs local time.
COG: at anchor;
SOG: 0.0 kts;
Temp: 41˚ f;
Winds: NE at 12 knots, viz +3 NMI;
Barometer 29.91 steady since 2300 hrs last night;
GPS: 44°18’11.36″N by 9°12’35.24″E.
Just anchored in the main harbor, Portofino. Am tired, have grabbed a mooring buoy and raised the Q flag – waiting for Customs now. Cold out, feels much colder than what’s registering, but forecast says warming next few days. I’ll believe it when I feel it.]
The man lay slumped over the wheel in the cockpit of his boat; he lay utterly exhausted in salt-encrusted pain, and trembled now with cold hunger. He had just completed the 220 mile crossing from Marseilles, France to Portofino, Italy in late October, a decidedly foolish thing to do this time of year, and perhaps all the more so because he was alone. The crossing had amounted to little more than a procession of storms – as cold fronts backed-up to the arctic circle came barreling down from the north, dumping snow in the Alps – and gale force winds onto the Mediterranean.
The man’s boat, a stout little sailboat of some forty one feet, had been up to the task, but the man had hardly known what he was doing in a boat six months ago, and wasn’t as yet what most people would have been tempted to call an accomplished sailor. About eight hours out of Marseilles, when the first gales slammed into the boat, the man had begun to question his sanity; his erstwhile friends, most back in New England, had been asking that question for well over a year.
The boat’s deck was now a tangled mass of water-logged lines; the cockpit was in no less a shambles. Hatches and port-lights, long dogged to seal out the weather, remained closed – and condensation rolled down the glass; the scraps of a sandwich lay smeared in the corner of a cockpit seat, abandoned by the man ages ago. Not long ago, just moments after the sun rose, he sailed into the little harbor and had taken up a mooring ball; when he finished his last log entry, the exhausted man hoisted the yellow quarantine flag, stumbled back into the cockpit and promptly fallen asleep. Now, two hours later, and just as a blue customs launch pulled alongside the sailboat, the man was in exactly the same place – snoring fitfully in his crusty foul-weather gear.
The uniformed man in the launch held out his hand to stop from hitting the boat as he pulled alongside, then he tied-off to one of the mooring cleats while he looked at the sleeping man. The man was snoring like an old Fiat, rattling away as if in need of a new exhaust. His sharp, metallic screeches, dripping with exhaustion, filled the empty harbor, and the uniformed official could almost feel sorry for the man, for the sea makes brothers of all men – and he considered himself a seaman.
“Excuse me,” the official said.
Nothing…no response at all…
“Sir! Excuse me!”
Again, the sleeping man didn’t react at all, except perhaps to snore a bit louder.
The official hated to do it, but now he faced an unwelcome choice: he either had to wake the fellow up, or let him sleep. Letting the man sleep, as uncomfortable as he looked, would also – technically – be illegal, and he was the Port Captain and Customs Officer, and the boat had to clear in immediately. He shook his head, reached down and picked up a compressed air horn; he was aware that this device produced a nice, loud, heart-attack generating howl, and he aimed it away from the man and pulled the trigger. The effect was instantaneous, yet somehow not quite what the official had expected.
The sleeping man launched upwards and smacked his head on the awning covering the cockpit, then without skipping a beat, he stumbled backwards and tripped over the aft lifelines and rear-somersaulted into the water. The man hit the water with a loud slap that, to the official’s practiced ear, sounded somewhat like a large fish leaping from the sea – and from a great height falling back to the water’s surface on it’s side. The man sputtered to the surface and looked around with wild-eyed astonishment while spitting water from his mouth; the official hurried over to lend a hand and lost his balance – and as quickly fell into the water. He too landed with a less than graceful form, and he too popped to the surface looking somehow both indignant and embarrassed. The two men swam in startled circles and sputtered, while a small crowd gathered on the promenade pointing at the sight and started laughing – a few even applauded. And then both men started laughing as they swam around the still, morning water.
“Who are Hell are you?” the man asked when he finally caught his breath.
“Customs and Immigration, Captain. May I see your passport, sir!”
Both men started laughing again, and everyone gathered ashore thought the scene was almost comical – yet somehow quite normal. Another launch from the harbormaster’s office puttered out into the harbor and helped the two very wet, and now very cold men back onto the sailboat.
The official leaned over to the man, and spoke in hushed, conspiratorial tones: “Sir, perhaps you would meet me in that building, the yellow one there, in about an hour?” He was pointing at a small building on the waterfront, the official looking office with a small Italian flag flying beside the front door.
“Yeah, I think I can manage that. About an hour, you say?”
“Si. Now, excuse me, please. I must go and find some wet clothes.”
The man looked at the official just as he caught his words; they looked at one another and laughed again, then the official hopped across to his launch and took-off.
The man looked around his boat and shook his head: “Ain’t life grand!” he said as he pushed the companionway hatch open and disappeared into the cabin below. As he often did when he was in this kind of mood, he started singing a Gershwin tune, and people walking along the quay were treated to an impromptu rendering of Summertime – the man’s strong baritone soon echoing from the little boat’s shower compartment. It was considered a cringe-worthy performance…
Later that last October day, on that All Hallow’s Eve, Tom Goodwin left the mooring ball in the middle of the harbor and backed his boat into a small space between two other boats – his stern soon made fast to the harbor wall. It was a choice spot, open now only because it was no longer ‘high season’ along the Riviera; all the mega-yachts and their legions of beautiful people had blown away with the change of seasons, north to St Moritz and Gstaad and to the snow, or west, to Tortola and Antigua to play in the sun. Portofino had survived yet another season of Hollywood intrigue, yet was only now reverting to type – drifting back to her other persona – just one of many decorously sleepy seaside villages peopled by families who have known each other for generations, families and their villages bound by tradition to the sea, just as music is so often an expression of the soul.
Goodwin tossed two sets of lines across to a couple of kids on the stone quay, and watched as they made them fast – efficiently, and expertly; Goodwin then walked forward and tied off the bow to a pair of mooring posts set in the water about fifty feet off the wall. He finished, then turned and looked at the village, and the hills that almost completely surrounding the harbor.
He took in a Mediterranean pastiche that held him close, as if in a sudden, deep embrace. Everywhere he looked he bathed in pastel ochres and terra cottas and deep pinks, hotels and shops and market stalls floating along a sea of turquoise awnings and white umbrellas, pools of shaded tables out front of serene sidewalk cafes, trees still tinged with the green fullness of warmth, potent reminders of summer’s joyous hold on the land. Chestnut-forested hillsides dotted with swaying palms and sleepy rococo villas, a little scooter puttering down an unseen alley not so far away, cool breezes rippling across still water – almost like a heartbeat, the scene carrying hints of pine and garlic frying in olive oil and basil.
“I’m in heaven,” Goodwin said softly, almost as if in prayer. “I’ve died, and gone to heaven.”
“Maybe, maybe not, but nevertheless, I say enjoy it while you’re here.”
The voice came from the boat to his right. English accent, wasn’t it? He turned towards the voice, saw a little white haired man, he guessed fast approaching seventy years old. Book in hand, he was sitting in the cockpit of the other sailboat, looking his way with wry, twinkling eyes.
“Sounds like a good idea,” Goodwin said. The man put his book down, someone below passed up a tray and he began setting out teacups on the cockpit table, and he saw a plate of scones and preserves resting on the cockpit table, ready for afternoon tea.
“That was quite a show you put on this morning. Afraid you might not have been too happy with the reception here.”
“I was dead tired, that’s for sure.” He looked at the smile in the man’s eyes again. “You were watching, I take it?”
“Oh yes, but anything new around here this time of year passes for entertainment. Quite a crowd gathered, actually. Where’d you come in from?”
“Oh? Kind of stormy out, wasn’t it?”
“Yes it was. One right after another.”
“And you’re alone?”
“That’s a fact.”
The old man whistled and rolled his eyes. “Bet you had some fun with that!”
“Took the words right out of my mouth.”
“So, before Marseilles; where’d you come from?”
“Oh, let’s see, Boston, in the States, then Bermuda, Gibraltar, and Barcelona. Left last May.”
“And you did that alone? All of it?”
“I see,” the old man said, and indeed he did. The trip just described was difficult enough – he’d sailed the same route himself many times over the years – but to do so without crew to back you up was almost stupid, almost suicidal. “Well, where will head from here?”
“Going to winter over here, then head east.”
“No real itinerary yet.”
“Indeed. What’s the name of your boat about?”
“Springer? Oh, just a dog thing.” Goodwin thought the old guy was asking a lot of questions, but maybe he was just curious, or worse still, lonely. He didn’t want to ask a question himself and get him started, if that was the case. Then…
“Oh, really? Mary Ann! Come on up here! I’ve found you another Springer nut, and right next door!”
Goodwin heard a kettle whistling down below, deep inside the other boat, and soon enough a head popped out of the companionway and looked his way. “Hello there,” an equally white-haired woman called out. “Be up in a moment. Would you care for some tea?”
Goodwin was starved, hadn’t eaten since the aborted sandwich last night. “That’s very kind, Ma’am, but I haven’t eaten since yesterday. Probably best not to throw hot tea down first thing on an empty stomach.”
The woman went wide-eyed, then turned stern and motherly: “You get over here right this minute, young man! Malcolm, help me with the tea!” The white flash of hair disappeared as quickly, back to the galley, he assumed, and Goodwin listened as plates and cups rattled about down below, and he was left with the distinct impression he’d just seen a turtle pull it’s head away.
“Best not cross the Admiral,” the old man warned surreptitiously. “Not good for your health. Here now, toss me a line so we can get rafted-up a bit closer.”
Goodwin tossed a line over and the old man pulled the two boats closer together, then he climbed over the lifelines and stepped into the other boat’s cockpit. Waves of cinnamon and fresh-baked bread swirled about in the air, and Goodwin felt himself growing acutely hungry as he scuttled under the low white awning and took a seat – just out of the sun.
“Something certainly smells wonderful,” he said, his head reeling as the unfolding scene settled in his mind. Sitting in an Englishman’s boat in an Italian harbor, the sun warming his neck as cool breezes stirred his hair, and all that overwhelming beauty – everywhere he looked…
The woman passed another tray up the companionway, and a small pitcher of cream followed a moment later, then she too came up into the cockpit. Seconds later Goodwin heard the ticky-tick sound of a dog below, then a brown nose popped into view and took a tentative sniff around. A little Springer Spaniel – not even a year old, Goodwin thought – hopped into the cockpit and took an obedient seat between the man and the woman.
“I’ll be damned,” Goodwin said. He held out his hand and the pup looked at him nervously, gave a little growl.
“Now Elsie, you know better than to do that!” the woman said. She held out her hand to Goodwin. “Mary Ann Doncaster. And I suppose Malcolm has yet to introduce himself?”
The old man glowered, threw poisoned hate bombs her way.
“Just getting around to that, Admiral. No rush, now is there?”
“Tom Goodwin,” he said as he took her hand. “Sure appreciate the invitation.”
“Well now, Mr Goodwin, you’re as white as a ghost and look as if you’ve not had a thing to eat in at least a week. I suppose you’re going to say your simply daft? Or merely simple, perhaps?”
“Close,” he said as the grinned. “I recall I held some soup down – a few days ago.”
“Mary Ann, Tom sailed across from Marseilles. Alone.”
“Indeed. So you’re stupid?”
There was that word again – ‘alone’ – Goodwin thought to himself as he smiled, or tried to, anyway. “It was a rough crossing. I’ll say that.”
She nodded at his understatement, poured tea in his cup. “It’s English Breakfast. Cream and sugar?”
“Be fine, Ma’am.” He watched as she fixed the tea, then as she uncovered some freshly baked bread. “I smell cinnamon.”
“Cinnamon and walnuts,” Mary Ann Doncaster said.
Goodwin took some tea, then a slice of the hot bread. “This is wonderful,” he said before he could finish chewing. “Really, really good!”
“The Admiral’s as fine a cook as there ever was, that’s certain,” the old man said with a sidelong glance. “So, Mary Ann, Tom left the States in May, came by way of Gibraltar…”
“Do you have a Springer Spaniel, Mr Goodwin?” interrupted the Admiral.
“I did. She passed about a year ago.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry. It’s very difficult, I know.”
“Yes.” Goodwin looked away. He still missed Sarah. “I have a painting of her down below. You’ll have to come take a look at her sometime.”
“This is our Elsie,” she said again as she patted the pups head, “and we’d be delighted to see Miss Sarah.”
Malcolm Doncaster rolled his eyes. “Oh, good grief Mary Ann. You carry on about dogs like most people carry on over their children. Give it a rest now, would you?”
Goodwin looked at the two of them, their practiced bickering a time-worn routine they put on like an old sweater. “Where do you walk her? I mean, I know where, but isn’t it a problem, you know, when you’re out at sea?”
“Oh, goodness me,” the old man said as he stood. “The only thing worse than a dog nut is when two of ‘em get together! Pass down the dishes when you two finish yakking, right?”
“Sorry about that,” Goodwin said. “I’d best be going too. I have to clean up that mess over there,” he said, pointing at Springer, “before it starts to stink.”
“Oh yes, you must. Certainly before Passeggiata. But do finish your tea before you go.”
Mary Ann Doncaster looked at Tom Goodwin and smiled. “Oh, you’ll find out soon enough. Sooner or later we all do. It’s the secret of life here, you know.”
“Ah, well, I’d better get to it then, and thanks for the tea. And nice to meet you too, Elsie.” He looked at the little spaniel again, her stubby tail thumping on the teak; she grinned now at Goodwin with happy brown eyes. He smiled back at the pup and blew her a kiss before hopping onto his boat and getting to work.
“So, Paulo, I heard a big splash on the way to work this morning. You, perhaps?” Toni Morretti said.
“Not as big as that American’s!” his brother Paulo, the customs official, replied tellingly. “But don’t get me wrong. He is a nice man, this doctor.”
“He is a doctor?”
“Yes. Some big-shot heart doctor, from Boston, I think. He quit recently, however.”
“What do you mean, he quit?” Maria Theresa Morretti said. The staid old woman, their mother, had said nothing at all during their late lunch, but suddenly she seemed unnaturally interested in what Paulo was saying.
“I did not ask him why, Mama. The customs form has a place for one to enter his profession, Mama, and that is all. Would you like me to go ask him, Mama? After lunch, perhaps?”
“Don’t speak to me like that, Paulo, or I shall find my broom and beat you senseless!”
“Yes, Mama,” he said in mock deference. “Anything you say, Mama.”
She leaned forward and playfully slapped his face and laughed, and he laughed too. “Oh, I am turning into a silly old woman, aren’t I?”
“Silly? Mama?” Toni said. “No, not you, not ever.”
“But old, Mama?” Paulo added. “You are as old as Vesuvius, and erupt almost as often!”
“And just as hot-tempered!” Paulo and Toni said together, as they had a million times before.
“Oh, you two!” She laughed with her sons, and as always, she enjoyed the smiles on their faces – and the love in their hearts. She took a bit of cheese from her plate, and some wine from her glass, then sat back and looked out the window as light midday traffic slipped by on the Via Duca degli Abruzzi. She looked thoughtfully as the world passed by outside her window, yet as always, she appeared lost in thought as cool breezes drifted through the room – and over fleeting memories of her life. She watched Vico walking down the lane, and drifted back to other days.
The boys cleared the table and walked into the little kitchen, began doing the dishes.
“She seems okay today, eh Paulo?” Toni asked quietly.
“Yes. Her memories have come today. This will be a good day.”
“God, I would hate to have my memories taken from me. That is the cruelest thing of all.”
“Yes, well, perhaps everything happens for a reason. Perhaps only the good memories remain, those memories that keep the best company.”
“That would be nice,” Toni Moretti said as he looked at his mother. “When does Margherita get off tonight?”
“Things are slow at the hotel. Perhaps in time to walk with us.”
“She would love that. But…”
“I know, I know, I will walk by the hotel on my way back to work and see if she is in. She has been too hard on Mama, and for too long.”
“Well, that doesn’t seem to matter anymore, Paulo, and perhaps it is as you say. Perhaps everything happened for a reason. Perhaps the good memories will not run away so fast, but I would hate to see her lose this time. I think they need each other more than we know.”
Paulo walked back into the living room and sat beside his mother, held her hand while she looked out the window.
“Mama, I’m going back to work now. Don’t forget to wear your shawl tonight. It will be cool again.” He leaned forward and kissed her on the forehead.
She reached up, stroked his face. “And you, Paulo, you try not to pull any more fat Americans from the sea. That man sounded just like a big fish,” she said as she clapped her hands together. “When he hit? I heard it from here…”
“You know, Mama, he made an impression.”
Margherita Moretti had seen her little brother fall into the sea that morning, and she had turned dark and withdrawn later that morning as hotel staff dropped by – only to remind her once again her brothers were still regarded as the town idiots. Yet that was simply a continuation of the attitude they typically expressed to her on good days – when the snobby bastards felt charitably disposed to her at all. Silence was their usual response to her, but perhaps, she told herself again, one day that might change.
Margherita worked the reception at a small waterfront hotel; the least expensive rooms priced out at less than one thousand euros a night in high season, but now the best rooms could be had for under a hundred, on most weeknights, anyway. And for weeks now, with the economy still doing so poorly, almost all the rooms had been empty for over a month – with one or two Scandinavians taking rooms for the winter. She’d seen the owner nervously going over the books, and rumors were flying there would be staff cuts before Christmas.
As was her routine, she’d brought lunch today, made in the little apartment she kept just a block away, yet by midday she had not taken time off to eat; rather, she had gone to the back office and started working on the night audit. One of the housekeepers sat at the front desk while she worked, yet it hardly mattered. No one was scheduled to arrive today, and there were so many mistakes to correct…
“How are doing today?” She looked up, saw her brother Paulo.
She looked at him a long time before speaking. “Fine. How was the water?”
Paulo turned red-faced and sullen, looked down at his hands. “Is there no one in this damn town who hasn’t heard of my great accomplishment this morning?”
“If there is, I haven’t heard.”
“Oh, thanks. Yes, thank you so very much.”
“Don’t mention it. Is there anything I can do for you?”
“I want you to come walk with us tonight. You know it would make Mama happy, and perhaps it would give you some measure of happiness as well.”
“Paulo. You and Tonio have asked me a hundred times, and a hundred times I have said ‘no’. So, now I must ask you – when will you stop? Why can’t you understand, I will never speak to that woman again!”
“You ask me this? Yes, that is true, yet I can’t understand this because she loves you so much, and I know that deep in your heart you love her too. You could not hate her so without loving her equally! And now she is locked away inside a prison, a prison within her own mind, and cannot even remember those days that hold you apart. She only remembers yesterday, and on her good days, she remembers forty, fifty years ago. There is nothing in between. Only love remains, the love in her heart. And that love remains for you, too. I hope you will remember that love, before hate blackens your heart – and before it is too late!”
“Idiot! I pray one day, before it is too late, you and your brother will grow up!”
“Ah. And do you know what I pray for, sister? I pray one day a ray of sunshine will penetrate the darkness that has stolen you from us, that has taken love from your soul, and run far away into the night.”
“Bravo, Paulo! Bravo! Attack the victim! Never the attacker! My, what a strong man you have become!”
“I am not attacking you, little sister,” he said softly. “I am asking you to find forgiveness in your heart. I pray you will find your way there – before the darkness you have embraced eats you alive.”
Paulo turned and walked from the hotel, stopping just once to look at the American on his boat – and just as a group of workers from Margherita’s hotel walked by.
“I wonder?” Paulo said aloud. “If I had such money as that man, would all the cares of my world disappear?”
“Don’t worry about it, Paulo! That will never happen!” He heard a chorus of laughter as the hotel workers walked away to lunch, and he turned and looked after them as they walked across the piazzetta, a dry smile etched on his weary face.
“I’ve found some more, Malcolm, on Google,” Mary Ann Doncaster said.
“Oh my, but of course you have. So, what’s the latest scoop on our esteemed doctor?” He had been working on the generator under the cockpit since lunch and was tired, grease-streaked, and in need of a long, hot shower. Some human affection from her, he knew, was always just out of reach now. Age had taken even that from them – yet not so long ago it had been different.
“Never married, went to Stanford and worked under some chap named Shumway, worked with another heart surgeon there, named Crossfield. Let’s see, worked at The Texas Heart Institute in Houston for a few years, teaching and performing surgeries, then moved to Boston. Says he was instrumental in expanding the transplant program at Massachusetts General Hospital. Oh, he organized a group that goes to El Salvador and Honduras every winter, they built two small clinics, provide free medical care out in the rough – it says. Nothing about his leaving medicine, or what might have happened.”
“You do of course know you are an incorrigible gossip? I mean, you know that, don’t you, dear?” He watched as she scrolled down the screen, thinking what a terrible scourge wi-fi internet was proving to be. She used to have a life…now she had gossip.
“Ah, this might be something. An item in a Boston newspaper…” she clicked on a new link then bent close to the screen: “Here’s one from last year…” She read for a while, and Malcolm heard her exclaim “Oh, I see…” several times while she scrolled down the page. When she finished that one, she went back to Google and refined her search, feverishly opening up new pages at a furious pace.
“The poor, daft man,” she said at last, closing the laptop.
“And what’s this all about?”
“All about nothing, you lout!”
“That’s hardly fair, Mary Ann!”
“And you call me a gossip! My, this poor boat is going to sink under the weight of so much hypocrisy!”
“Bah! I’m going to go up to the showers and steam this muck off. What time do you want to do dinner?”
“I suppose that depends on how long Passeggiata is tonight. And why are you always in such a hurry to eat, anyway?” she said, her tell-tale sarcasm in full bloom now.
“Oh, bugger off, you wench!”
“Bugger off, your own fat self!” She laughed as she listened to him stomp up the companionway steps – then stub his toe on a cockpit winch.
“Stop your laughing down there, woman!”
She sat and thought about what she’d just read. Best not to let the man know she’d been snooping around his personal history, she thought.
“Or should I?” she said aloud. “Maybe he needs someone to talk to.” She felt Elsie come close and drop down by her side, and she reached down and started to scratch behind the pup’s ears.
“Or maybe he needs something else,” she said, looking at the little girl’s shining brown eyes.
Gershwin’s Summertime wafted up through an open hatch – again, and Tom Goodwin drifted along with the music while he washed down the foredeck. He looked over his shoulder at the sun, guessing he had maybe an hour before it slipped behind the trees. Time to start thinking about dinner ‘…and getting out of these wet clothes…’
He was vaguely aware someone was looking his way, he felt the too familiar pain of intrusion. He ignored the feelings, finished rinsing the anchor rode and windlass, then bent down with a chamois and dried the chrome. He sprayed some lubricant on the moving parts, wiped them down again.
He sniffed the air, took in the scent of the lubricant, and wished once again that someone would make a man’s cologne from WD-40. He could see the ads even now… “WD-40! What REAL MEN wear when it’s time to get to work – on her!” ‘Whoever does it is gonna make a billion bucks,’ he smiled – at the thought, and at sheer the idiocy of human vanity.
“But hasn’t it always been like this?” he said.
He felt something cold and wet on his leg and jumped, then turned and saw the little Springer pup standing beside him, her upturned eyes all shiny and innocent. Her stumpy little tail beat the deck to tempos of unseen, perhaps ancient cycles of instinct, and he knelt beside her, looked into her eyes. This time she didn’t growl at him, indeed, now she rolled over on her back and presented her belly to him, and Goodwin grinned at her while he started to rub her soft, pink skin. The tail started thumping away to a slower cadence now, and the pup let slip a long, pure sigh of pure contentment.
“So that’s how it’s gonna be, Elsie-girl?” He sat down beside her, oblivious to the water on the deck and looked away to the village hovering over sun-dappled waters. The air was almost, just almost warm now, and faint traces of winter tickled the edges of passing seasons, but all he could really feel now was the familiar, easy love between man and dog.
“Oh, there you are!”
Goodwin came back to earth, jolted by the woman’s voice.
“Is she bothering you?” Mary Ann Doncaster asked.
“No, not at all. Think she just needed a little belly rub.”
“Don’t we all!” the woman said, smiling warmly.
“Yeah, I guess we do.”
“What did you say your girl’s name was?”
“Sarah! That’s right. You did say you had a picture of her, down below?”
“Yup, come on over.”
The boats were still rafted together; the woman had no problem stepping across and Goodwin was amazed that someone her age could still be so nimble. He stood and walked back to the cockpit, then slid open the companionway hatch and led her below – yet Elsie remained in the cockpit.
“Oh my!” the woman said when she turned and looked at the main cabin. “What a beautiful space! I’d never have the patience to oil so much teak. Too much work for me!” She walked over to the painting mounted on the bulkhead. “Is this her?”
“Yes. It was done when she was seven.”
“Is it oil, or acrylic? You know acrylic doesn’t hold up too well on boats?”
“Oh, yes, so I’ve heard. It’s oil.”
“Lovely. I love the way he captured her eyes…the light in her eyes.”
“She, actually. The artist’s name is Margaret Betancort.”
“Was she a friend, Dr Goodwin?”
Tom Goodwin froze. He’d not mentioned his profession to anyone, save for the clearing-in form at the Customs shack…
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to pry…”
“So, what else did Google tell you me?”
She looked away.
“I suppose it’s foolish to think privacy exists in this day and age.”
“Or perhaps,” she said, gently, “it’s foolish to turn and run from simple things.”
Goodwin looked at the woman as if for the first time. She met his gaze unflinchingly, almost defiantly.
“So, what’s this pasa-gia thing?”
“Oh, the Passeggiata? The evening stroll, Dr Goodwin. Most everyone dresses and takes a stroll along the waterfront, through the Piazzetta – along the quay, a walk by the sea perhaps, and then everyone breaks away and drifts off to dinner. But more than that, it’s is a time to reflect, to talk, even to see and be seen. For some, it’s a time to pass-on gossip about friends – to friends. I also think it’s an ancient pathway, a coming together that binds the community in ways most of us have forgotten exists.”
“You needn’t worry about those other things, Dr Goodwin. I should much rather talk to you about that remarkable dog.” She turned again and looked at the painting. “And perhaps, the love you lost when she left you.”
Goodwin looked up at Elsie in the cockpit. “I’ll need to find another Springer one of these days.”
“Soon, I’d say. You should do so without delay.”
“Probably easier said than done.”
“Not at all. We bought Elsie while we were docked here last winter. A decent breeder in the mountains above Positano. English chap, Italian wife. High up in the mountains. Remarkable view, lovely couple. Perhaps they’ll have a litter soon. Would you like me to check?”
“Well, that would certainly give us something to talk about. I think I should change into some dry clothes first, then find a place to eat.”
“Ah. Malcolm went up to the showers; he should be back soon. We know a wonderful spot, and we’d be happy to wait for you.”
“That sounds nice. See you in a bit?”
Doncaster walked up to the cockpit and was gone, yet Elsie stood, transfixed, in the cockpit – and Goodwin looked at her in that moment – just as she looked at him. “Well, come on. I’m not gonna bite!”
The dog hopped down the companionway ladder as if she’d done so a thousand times, and walked right over to one of the settees; she turned and looked at him again.
“Oh, by all means. Go ahead, have a seat.”
Elsie hopped up onto the green leather sofa and turned around several times before finding just the right spot, then she plopped down and rested her face on outstretched paws – and sighed, her brown eyes fixed on his.
“Make yourself at home. I won’t be a minute.”
She continued to look at him, her head now canted to one side.
“Really. Just hang on. I’m sure we can find some nice unspoiled grass out there somewhere.”
Tail thumping now, Elsie grinned when she looked at him; this one wasn’t as stupid as she had first thought, and there was something in his eyes worth getting to know.
Margherita walked across the piazzetta and up the Via alla Chiesa and stopped outside her mothers apartment. She hesitated, then rang the bell and waited. She heard one of the boys clumping down the stairs, then fumbling with the door. It was Toni, she saw, and when he saw his older sister he started to cry, then flew into her arms and hugged her.
“Come, come up,” he finally said, and pulled her up the stairs as if he’d not seen her in decades.
“Mama, look who has come!”
She sat as she had earlier that afternoon, still drifting in through quiet memories, still staring out the window into mirrors of dreams.
Margherita smiled at her own memories of this room, then walked to her mother’s side.
Silence. A ticking clock, a couple quarreling across the way, dogs barking across the piazza.
“Did you see your brother this morning?” she said at last.
“He looks so nice in that uniform.”
“Yes he does, Mama. How are you feeling today.”
“And then he had to fall in the water. At least you taught him how to swim. You were always so good to him. So good.” She looked up at Margherita, a tear on her cheek. “It is going to be cool this evening. Do you have a shawl?”
“No, Mama, I just have this sweater.”
“You wear one of mine. You are old enough now to wear a shawl when you walk.”
The door opened downstairs, and Paulo walked up the stairs and into the room. When he saw his sister he stopped, then smiled. “I see some prayers are answered,” he whispered.
“Yes,” their mother said, “sometimes He listens. But only when you speak from a pure heart.”
Margherita knelt and lay her head on her mother’s lap, held back tears when she felt her mother’s fingers drifting through her hair. Even her dress smelled the same, just as it had so many years ago – rose and eucalyptus, a little garlic that always missed her apron, warm bread and olive oil…
“Mama,” Paulo sighed, “are you ready?”
“Yes. It will be good to walk. We should all walk down to the water tonight.”
“Yes, Mama. Of course.”
They made their way down the stairs and stepped out into the brisk evening air. Paulo wrapped his mother in her best black lace shawl and took her hand. They walked toward the Piazzetta, toward still waters turning black with the coming of night.
“So this passeggiata?” Tom Goodwin said to Malcolm, taking in the glorious sunset. “It’s more than just an evening stroll?”
“Ah, Tom, in a nutshell, the Passegiatta is Italy.” Malcolm was helping lift Elsie from the boat to the stone quay.
“Malcolm, must you always be so obtuse?” his wife said.
“Yes, I must,” the old man said, looking up at the blazing sky. “In fact, the longer I’m around you, the more I think it’s become a deep need.”
“That explains things. Like the past forty one years.” Mary Ann grinned as she shook her head and looked at Goodwin. “Come on, Elsie. Time to find some grass.” She turned toward the Piazzetta and the pup fell in dutifully beside her.
“She’d be happier if it was me on that leash,” Malcolm muttered under his breath.
Goodwin laughed. “You think that would do the trick?”
“Bah! Well, anyway, there are about a dozen definitions in the dictionary, and not one of ‘em gets to the meat of the matter. I guess if I had to distill it down to the barest essential, Passegiatta means to take an evening stroll, but that sort of oversimplification always glosses over the heart and soul of things.”
“Simplifications usually do.”
“I’ve been watching these people for years now, and just when I think I’ve got a handle on things some new aspect of the thing comes into focus. I guess first, and most importantly, it’s a ritual, a tradition, and as such it’s taken on an importance, a meaning to these villagers well beyond taking a simple stroll. You hear some people refer to it as seeing, and being seen. For some it’s simply ambling down to a favorite bench and watching the world pass by. But I’ve come to see it as something more elemental. Evening is that odd time of our day – between day and night. It is a time of passage, a crossing of boundaries. Passegiatta is not simply passive observation either, but active participation in what is a fundamentally communal gathering, a witness to this passage. The people come together and share the passage from day into night, from the promise of another day’s work to the solace of family, perhaps to a lover’s embrace.”
“Malcolm! You’re a poet!”
“Hardly, though I taught literature at King’s College. Still, I’ve had little to say that hasn’t been said before, and others have spoken far better than I ever have.”
“Cambridge? That’s kind of the big leagues, isn’t it?”
“Piffle. I retired years ago. Mary Ann was a reporter for the FT in London; she covered the Middle East, Lebanon mainly. Between the two of us, we’ve managed to come to terms with the world. She has Elsie, and I have Diogenes.”
“Yes, I meant to ask about that, he was the cynic, right? With the lantern? Why did you name your boat after him?”
“Ah, well, let me digress – oh, look, there’s your swimming companion!”
“Oh, the guy from Customs. Right. Didn’t recognize him out of the water.”
Goodwin felt a little self-conscious as they approached, and a shy smile crossed the official’s face.
“Ah, Doctor Goodwin,” the man said when they had closed the distance. “And I see the imminent Doctor Doncaster has conveyed to you a most vital tradition. Oh! Excuse me, I am Paulo Morretti, you remember? This morning? Yes, and this is my family, my brother Toni, my sister Margherita, and my mother.”
“Pleased to see you again, Paulo, but perhaps we could avoid taking another swim,” Goodwin said lightly, though in truth he could hardly make out the two women behind Morretti. “So nice to meet you all.”
The old woman leaned forward and pulled on Paulo’s sleeve; he turned and she spoke softly in his ear.
“Eh, excuse me, Doctor, but my mother wants to know from where you have come. Excuse me, she is most direct, but full of an insatiable curiosity about people and sailboats.”
The old woman came forward and took Goodwin by the arm and started to walk with him. “Margherita, walk with us, please, and translate.”
And that was when Tom Goodwin first laid eyes on her, when he for the first time truly beheld Margherita Morretti. His heart skipped a beat and his vision clouded. The ancient piazzetta was lit by gaslight and pale candlelight from restaurants scattered about, and the soft light caught her face, carrying an impression of ethereal beauty on the evening’s softly honeyed sea-borne breezes.
Her mother began speaking in rapid, soft Italian, and as quietly all of them – the Morrettis, the Doncasters with their springer Elsie, and Tom Goodwin – were fixed in common purpose – joined together in this passage – and now they walked as one into the night.
They walked quietly, reverently, spoke of things that had filled their day, and Tom Goodwin listened to this music of the night as he listened to stories unfold. They walked in the group from the piazzetta along the Molo Umberto, listened to the water and the wind in the trees, to footsteps on old stones, and to each other. An occasional passersby smiled and said hello, a tug on a shawl from time to time as cool air washed away the remaining warmth of the day, then a pause to turn and look at the lights of the village dancing on the starlight-dappled water.
So much life dancing in the night. So many souls basking in starlight, and Goodwin felt a certain clinging past in the air as he looked up to the stars. He wondered if the stars had a music all their own, and what it would be like to drift out there, among such a symphony.
Mary Ann led the group, or perhaps it was Elsie who led them now, out along the quay towards the winding road that stretched out to the cape, out to the far horizon and the call of wild things in the night. Elsie scented her way with nose to the ground and as one they followed, following old roads to new, perhaps, because there was something new and alive in this evening. Elsie stopped from time to time, caught the scent of something interesting on a wayward breeze, then as suddenly, as if heeding distant calls from other lives, she led them further along the lane. She looked up at overhanging branches, stars now hiding behind their vast traceries. There was, the pup felt, something very unusual in this night air. Wild dancing spirits wove furies on these unseen breezes…
Goodwin felt the wildness, too; it was as if Walpurgisnacht filled the darkness around the group with Dionysian purpose – and he looked at the pup, wondered if she could see it too.
These spirits were beyond her, yet she recognized them. She could feel them now, and they grew closer as her group walked along. Yes, it was purpose that drifted on these unseen, seaborne breezes. She could feel them now, as plainly as she could the sea ahead. She lifted her nose to another passing gust and blinked as memory drew close around her…
Margherita walked beside her mother, their estrangement passing into the deepest reaches of memory with each step they took away from their home; Tom Goodwin walked beside Margherita, looked at her from time to time when she asked a question, hoping she would look at him, speak to him in her own voice, but he listened to her mother’s questions and answered them as best he could.
“Were you happy in Boston?”
“Did you enjoy medicine?”
“Why did you choose to leave?”
All these questions he had avoided asking himself for quite some time, yet now he answered them without hesitation: the where of her questions, the who and the how all came so easily – yet none of the old woman’s questions seemed to get to the point, the point Mary Ann had shown him earlier that afternoon.
“Perhaps it was foolish to think you needed to run.”
Isn’t that what she had said?
Indeed. Why had he run?
And did those reasons really matter anymore, now that those other worlds were so far away?
And he had held that world in abeyance ever since, so what was left – exactly – that held relevance in the rapidly morphing kaleidoscope of his life?
Perhaps it was just the woman’s sense of propriety, but there was a boundary in this night, a sense of the finite defining the contours of their passage. He had seen how far she was prepared to go to get at his truth – and, it seemed, no further.
But without truth, there is nothing. He heard that in her voice, too. Then…
“Tell me about your father…”
But they had come to a large tree, it’s overhanging branches reaching out to the sea, and the road looked to make a hard turn to the left. But the way was wild and dark down that road.
The old woman looked at the tree and peered into the darkness, then pulled her shawl close – like an unwelcome memory had crossed her path, and this was a boundary she was unprepared to cross this night.
“Toni, take me home now. I am growing tired.”
Elsie looked at the old woman, and now she too saw angry shadows dancing on her sea-borne memories. She came close and circled nervously…
Toni came to her, knelt by her side: “Mama, come with me, sit down here, on the bench.”
“No, Toni. I must go home now.” Shadows gathering, waiting for her…somewhere out there, in the shadows beyond the rocks…
“Paulo, you stay with your sister, keep her company. Now go on, or you will never catch up to that dog!” She turned and her youngest son took her arm and walked with her back to the village.
Paulo shrugged. “She used to be able to go further, often all the way out to the point.”
“She has aged so much, Paulo,” Margherita said. “I felt frightened when I saw her. Frightened that time passes so quickly for her now.”
Goodwin listened politely to this exchange – in Italian, of course – yet it was as if he could understand every word, and indeed, he could feel the contours of their feelings by the way their words ebbed and flowed. Remorse, regret, the passing of time, the coming of night – these are the universals of life, and they sound, don’t they, the same in any language?
“Has she been seen be a cardiologist?” Goodwin interrupted.
“What?” Paulo Morretti said, startled by his words.
“Has she seen a cardiologist, a heart specialist?”
“Not that I know of,” Paulo said.
“What do you see, Doctor, that makes you ask this question?” Margherita asked. She was looking at him directly now, and he turned to look at her in kind.
“Her lips were turning blue, and her fingernails. And her ankles are swollen.”
“But this is what it means to grow old,” Paulo interjected.
“Shut up, Paulo. You were saying, Doctor Goodwin?”
“Well, it may well be congestive heart failure, right side, but it could be mitral stenosis. That could be fixed, easily. How’s her memory?”
“Poor,” Paulo said, though he was listening attentively now.
“Has she been tested for Alzheimers?”
“No, at least I don’t think so.”
“Had an ultrasound of her neck?”
“What is this, this ultrasound?” Paulo asked.
“Check the carotid arteries, in her neck. If there is blockage in these vessels, that could hurt her mental ability, and this, too, could be easily repaired.”
“But she is more than eighty years old!” Paulo said.
“So?” His sister cut him off. “Would it be hard to get this information? These tests?”
“Oh, they are easy and inexpensive. One visit to a specialist ought to provide the answers.”
“Could you go with us?” she asked. “To see this type of doctor?”
He looked at her, at the concern in her eyes, and he felt their relationship being redefined by his past, redefined in ways he neither liked, nor wanted. Yet he was aware that his past was growing increasingly more relevant with each and every step he took with this woman by his side.
‘Because I am who I am, and what I am,’ he said to himself, remembering the look in Mary Ann Doncaster’s eyes earlier that afternoon.
‘And there are things you will never understand,’ he heard an unseen voice saying, ‘because you’ve never had the eyes to do so!’ He looked around at these unseen voices, unsettled by their insight.
“Let’s continue walking, shall we?” Paulo said. “That dog will have dragged the Doncasters all the way to to the sea if we don’t get along!”
Margherita still held Goodwin in her eyes, but she turned to walk, as if she too turned to the dancing spirits in the dark.
Goodwin turned too, but he held her eyes in his as they walked. “If you need me, of course I’ll come with you.”
To Paulo these words meant nothing, but to Margherita – they simply shattered her world. She felt weakness overcoming her ability to speak, or even to walk. She was Gretchen to this Faust, lost to the wild magic of his night – even as it unfolded around her and pulled her deeper.
“Thank you, Doctor.” She looked ahead but the memory of the look in his eyes dominated her sight, left her unsteady as she walked. Paulo moved ahead as if without a care in the world, leaving his sister adrift in wandering eddies of hope and confusion.
“Do you live in town?” he asked her after they had walked another few minutes.
“Yes, not far from the piazzetta.”
“What an amazing village. It’s as though time has somehow stopped here.”
“Ah, yes, it is now. But two months ago, you would not say so. Portofino was then full of the beautiful people, the very rich, and all through the summer. The town has become pretentious, the flow of money overwhelming. Too many people trying to impress one another, too many people trying to be anything but what they really are.”
“Oh? What is that?”
“Pardon? Oh, just an expression. I don’t know. Perhaps there are too many pretenders, all trying to impress one another. Too much money and so little understanding leads to worlds of illusion. The reality of our lives grows lost in endless charades, and money fuels the moment. That is my village in summer.”
“I guess it’s just a sign of the times. So few, with so much.”
“I think this is not a very good time, no? For the many?”
Goodwin laughed. “I think that about sums it up. So, do you work in town as well?”
“Yes,” then she bit her lip and laughed. “And I saw you go swimming this morning!”
“That figures. I’d be surprised if you hadn’t.”
“Actually, I saw you come in this morning. While I walked to work. Your boat is very nice, almost, I don’t know – is pretty the correct word? Can you call a boat pretty?”
“Yes, I suppose so.”
“Anyway, I watched, then as you fell asleep. You looked very tired.”
“I still am.”
“Oh, excuse me. Do you want to return?”
“No, no, the air feels wonderful, like it’s full of something, I don’t know, something wild and special.” He felt stupid, unable to understand what was happening to his thinking as they walked.
“So many stars out tonight. Ah, look!” she said, pointing to the eastern sky. “The Hunter.”
“Oh yes, Orion, the hunter. This is his time to come back to the sky.”
“Are you a hunter, Doctor Goodwin?”
He slowed, looked away for a moment. No, he wanted to say, I’m the prey, and I have been all my life. “Miss Morretti, I suspect, well, I’ve hunted Death all my life, tried to push Him away from people for as long as possible.”
“But Death hunts you too, does he not?”
“He hunts of all, Miss…”
“You must call me Margherita. Please.”
“Alright. I like the name, by the way. It’s – pretty.”
“Ah, yes, I guess I deserve that! So, you hunt Death. Then there is something I don’t understand. Why have you stopped? Why did you retire?”
“Oh, I think it’s the other way around, really. Medicine quit me.”
“Excuse me? What does this mean? How could something so vital grow so corrupt?”
He laughed again. “I don’t know, but that’s a very good question.”
“And, there is a very good answer?” Her voice held him – soothed him…
“When I figure that one out, I’ll let you know.”
It was her turn to laugh. “Yes. I will look forward to hearing this.”
“Are you two going to catch up?” It was Paulo, already lost in the darkness ahead. They could hear Elsie barking in the distance, Mary Ann calling the dog’s name. “That dog is almost out to the cape!”
“Go on ahead, Paulo,” Margherita called out. “We’ll be along.”
Goodwin stopped, looked east across the bay toward Santa Margherita Ligure and Rapallo; the loom of their lights had settled over the distant hills as an amber mist. “My God, what a sight.”
The waters seemed to breathe with magic now.
“Do you know, the worst part of living here is taking all this for granted. When the newness leaves, so too will it’s hold on your heart.”
“But don’t you find some measure of that feeling once again, when you experience newness through the eyes of another?”
“Perhaps I have lived too long here. I traveled from here but one time, a long time ago, yet it was not a happy experience.”
He watched the darkness fall over her, saw her recede from the present back into the pain she alluded to – a pain that obviously still maintained a deep hold on her.
He started walking again, and she fell in beside him, though she walked a little further away now. He bent down and picked up a flat sock and tried to skip it across the water. He laughed when it plopped noisily into the blackness, but he watched as ripples slipped into the distance.
“I had a boyfriend, you see,” she began, out of the blue. “A musician. My father liked him, but my mother said he was no good. We ran away. To Fiorenza, eh, Florence. That was the beginning of all my bad times.”
“Oh, it is not important now. Papa died, mother refused to see me for years. I came home, found work, and so has it been ever since.”
“What happened to the boy?”
She looked away, walked along silently. Then: “Have you been to Florence, Dr Goodwin?”
“Yes, twice, but long ago. The first time with my father, the second…I was in college. I went with friends – but I don’t remember much beside the Duomo.”
“Is it not a most beautiful city?”
“Yes, I would say so. I would love to go back someday, see what I missed.”
“What about you? Would you ever return?”
“No, not ever.”
This boundary was clear; he felt no need to ask more.
“Mrs Doncaster thinks I should get a dog. To keep me company.”
“I find it strange. Yes, strange in the correct word – that someone would sail so far, and for so long, and to do so by one’s self. Have you had one before?”
“I, well, yes. I had a Springer Spaniel, like Elsie. She died a year ago.”
“Ah. That explains it.”
“You do not want to dishonor her memory, do you? Take another so soon?”
“I suppose, but I don’t know how well a pup would do on a boat, on such a long crossing. I know of people who have taken cats on such trips, but dogs are another matter. I think it might be more than just a little cruel.”
“Perhaps, then, you should find a woman?”
“Ah, well, perhaps, but I think a dog would be a lot less trouble!”
They laughed. Her cares, he saw, seemed to fall away when she laughed.
“You are right, and most wise! Yes, we are too much trouble to love.”
“Oh, I don’t know. It’s a matter of finding the right person, don’t you think?”
“Yes,” she said. “No easy matter, to find that person.” She looked away again, her head fell.
“And I guess you have to be open to love, when it comes.” He found he could not look away from her, but he disliked staring and turned to face the sea again.
“Open, yes. And to follow. Follow with your heart.” And then she turned to look at him.
There it is, Goodwin told himself, the meaning of this night. Would she listen, could he see, would they follow?
He heard panting and light paws running their way, and soon he could just make out Elsie running towards them through the darkness. She came up to them and circled them, then she sniffed his legs. He bent to rub her and felt she was soaking wet.
“My-oh-my, Elsie, but you’ve been swimming!”
“Oh, Lord!” Margherita exclaimed. “I hope the Doncaster’s are not, how do you call it, skinny-dipping again!”
“You’ve got to be kidding me! Aren’t they a little old for that kind of nonsense?”
“Old? Why do say that, Doctor Goodwin? Why would it be any less fun tonight than fifty years younger?” She was smiling, but she was serious too. They resumed walking, the trees had given way to rocks, and now the sea beyond was still. Soon they could hear people ahead, splashing and laughing in the water.
“Well, for one thing,” Goodwin continued, “the water’s too damn cold!”
“And if anyone should know, that would be you!” Another laugh, another smile.
“Oh, thanks so very much for reminding me once again!” he said while looking at her dark hair flowing in the breeze. He could feel himself getting lost in that hair, of wanting…
Elsie ran back through the rocks as they caught up to Paulo; and Goodwin saw the Doncasters had rolled up their pants and were wading in a large rockbound tidal pool. Then Elsie jumped back into the water – and Mary Ann yelped when the wall of spray drenched her.
“So how is it?” Goodwin called out. “Cold enough for you?”
“Come on in!” Malcolm replied “Again!”
“No thanks, I’m trying to quit.”
“Bah! Paulo? What about you?”
Elsie climbed out and jumped up on a rock, then shook herself off, drenching the Doncaster’s once again.
“Good girl, Elsie,” Goodwin said, “you go get ‘em!”
“Eh, no thank you, Dr Doncaster,” Paulo said. “Once today was enough. Perhaps tomorrow I will feel the need to make a fool of myself again.”
“You are not a fool, Paulo.” Margherita said as she took off her shoes and rolled up her pant’s legs, then she walked from the path down to the little pool and walked in. “It is not so cold! Come, Paulo!”
Goodwin walked down to the water’s edge and reached down to feel the temperature. “Bullshit!” he cried, just as Elsie sprung from the rock back into the water. A wall of spray rose and coated both Goodwin and Margherita; now everyone laughed and cheered, even Paulo, who had escaped most of this drenching.
Goodwin started to unbutton his shirt and Margherita stepped back, watched him cast it aside. He undid his belt and pulled his trousers off and threw those up on the rocks as well, then walked past the pond and up a low wall of rocks along the edge of the sea. The water in front of him was deep, he saw, and he dove into the water and came up floating on his back; he paddled around for a moment – then looked up at everyone, looking at him…
…but Mary Ann Doncaster was buck-naked now, and she came out to the rock and dove in as well, then swam out to Goodwin.
“See what you’ve started!” she said. “My, it is a bit brisk, isn’t it?”
“I think I’m going to wish I’d brought a towel,” Goodwin said, then he turned at the sound of another large splash.
“Bravo, Paulo,” Margherita shouted, and sure enough Paulo Morretti burst from beneath the waves and paddled over to Goodwin and Mary Ann. He said something quite unintelligible into the night, but Mary Ann laughed, replied to him in Italian and they both laughed.
Malcolm was next. Goodwin watched is the old man’s pasty white body emerged from the pool, and laughed expectantly when Malcolm held his nose and hopped into the water like a small boy.
“My God in Heaven!” Malcolm shouted when he burst to the surface. “I think my balls just scooted up somewhere around my nose! It’s bloody cold in here, Mary Ann!” He too paddled out into deeper waters.
Everyone turned to Margherita.
“Well?” Paulo called out.
“Well, what?” she called back.
“You too must come in!” her brother replied.
“And you are crazier than you think!”
Elsie came to the edge and looked at the four of them treading water, then back at Margherita; she barked once then hopped off the rock into the water and swam out to Goodwin. His feet were firmly planted on a slippery rock, his head well above the water’s surface, so he was able to hold Elsie when she came alongside. She looked at him and licked his face, and he looked into her eyes now madly in love with her.
“My God,” he heard Malcolm say, “I do believe…”
Goodwin turned and watched as Margherita, her nude form a moon-silvered-glow, dove into the sea.
Everyone hooted and hollered and splashed about as she stroked out to the deep water, and Elsie added to the commotion by howling – at the rising moon.
Goodwin looked at Margherita as she came close; her hair was sleek and shiny now, the water had pulled shiny strands into a black jet that fell straight down the middle of her back, and now little drops of water on her forehead caught the moonlight. Goodwin thought they looked like diamonds scattered in the night.
He heard a thrashing in the water behind him, and someone gasped.
“Quiet!” Malcolm said. “Everyone be quite still.”
Goodwin turned, saw the fin slicing through the water, then another, and another.
Elsie barked. The fin turned towards the sound.
The fin arced lazily forward, then a dolphin’s grinning face broke the surface and rose into the moonlight. The pod came forward and slipped among the humans, members breaking the surface from time to time just long enough to look at the amazed people before slipping back under the water. The first one, however, remained near Goodwin, indeed, this one seemed to be staring right into Goodwin’s eyes. Elsie let slip a low growl, and yet the dolphin drifted even closer.
“It’s alright, Elsie,” Mary Ann said softly, apparently now quite nervous. “Easy girl. No barking.”
Unconvinced, Elsie looked at the gray face looking at Goodwin; she clung to him fiercely now, dug her paws into his shoulders and began to tremble. The face came closer still, now little more than five feet away.
Goodwin could hear the dolphin’s breathing clearly, even the faint sound of it’s blowhole opening and closing, and without thinking he held out his hand – towards the dolphin. The dolphin turned slightly, looked at Goodwin’s hand. The decision made, the dolphin closed the last few inches to Goodwin and held it’s pectoral fin out, touching Goodwin’s hand; it looked at him for several seconds more, then slipped quietly beneath the surface of the still water and was as quickly gone.
Goodwin noticed Elsie had stopped trembling, only now he was aware that he had been holding his breath.
“Good God!” Malcolm said. “I don’t believe it! I saw it, and I don’t believe it!”
Elsie pushed off now and swam to Mary Ann’s side; she’d obviously had enough excitement and the two of them made their way back to the rocks; Malcolm followed, then Paulo as well.
Goodwin remained frozen, looked out over the water as if waiting for something, and he thought of the breeze, the feeling of wild magic in the night air…
He felt Margherita behind him, felt her breasts against his back, then her hand on his shoulder. Still he did not move, he hardly breathed.
He saw the fin again, but this time there were two – side by side – moving through the water.
He held both his hands out now, watching and waiting – expecting what? He had no idea; he felt Margherita reach around with both hands, reach around and hold onto his chest, her body pressed to his, her flesh cool now, from the sea.
The first one returned; his snout rose slowly from the water and he looked at Goodwin again. Silence, an incredible stillness, only the faintest note of water passing between them, the hot breath of a million cycles, cycles of instinct and understanding – lost and waiting to be regained.
The second dolphin slipped quietly from water and into the moonlight, and this one looked at Goodwin, then at the woman on his back. Then the two dolphins came forward and touched Goodwin’s outstretched hands, and as quickly slipped under the water and disappeared.
Goodwin felt her trembling uncertainty through the hot skin of his back, but from the coldness of the water, or the symmetry of the encounter, he could not fathom the epicenter. She loosened her grip, he turned to face her, felt her nakedness conforming to his, and he looked into her eyes. She leaned into him, kissed him, reached down and rubbed him, then eased onto him.
He felt the warmth of her hand, then the all encompassing warmth of her womb as he entered her. He held her as they began to rock in the ebb and flow of a universe now all around them, her hands moved up and over his shoulders, her legs clasped his hips, and he met her pulsing need with instincts driven by a million cycles of being and becoming.
It built slowly, surely, this release, and he moved into her, with her, held her against the mounting pressure until he felt himself give in to the pressure she alone could commanded, and soon he felt this release pouring into the womb of the night.
Only then was he aware of them, of the two dolphins. They were circling this union, protecting the sanctity of this joining, holding fast to the music of the cycles, to the music of the spheres. Goodwin felt first one, then the other as they swam closer and closer, and finally as they brushed against the back of his legs. He felt them brush against Margherita, felt her orgasm stiffen through the pulses of the bodies that touched her.
That commanded her.
She slowed from this coming together, returned to earth from her journey through the stars, placed her mouth on his and he felt the warmth of love chase the coolness from the water around them.
They held one another, kissed once again, then slipped apart. He put an arm around her waist and turned toward the rocks. The Doncasters and Elsie stood transfixed in the moonlight, as did Paulo. Everything was naked and silent as if on the first day of creation, for there was no context of this union, for this passage. Shocked silence, reverence perhaps, seemed the only response.
Goodwin did not feel uncomfortable or ashamed. He did not know what had happened, or why, only that something beyond human understanding had been commanded, and had as naturally been enfolded into human experience. He felt different, altered, and if there was an opposite to feeling alone, this was the feeling that washed over him now.
He walked up onto the rocks and reached back to help Margherita climb out into the moonlight; Mary Ann passed their clothing and left them to dress in silence, then Goodwin and Margherita walked back to the road. There were no words spoken, only the memory of flesh remained, so hand in hand they walked with their friends back to the village.
Yet Elsie turned and looked back at the blackness, to the hot beating heart of the sea that remained fixed there, then she turned and looked at Goodwin and the woman. She smiled, smiled because she understood, she smiled because these human had over the span of ages lost sight of something elemental, and only now, deep in the womb of the sea, had they regained something precious.
Would they hold on to each other? Would this rebirth be lost in the light of other days?
Elsie turned and ran after Goodwin, settled in beside him as he walked. Every once in a while she looked up at him, at the music in his eyes, and she smiled as the memory came back again and again.
And he listened to the crunch of shoes on the old stone roadway, to the sigh of tidal floods finding land once again; he walked beneath gentle breezes drifting through trees overhead, and when he looked up he could smell loose tidal airs running silent fingers through his hair. The moon, now high in the vault of the night, cast spun silver through the trees, and Tom Goodwin could make out the shadows of his friends on the road as they walked back to the village, and to the boats along the quay he now called home.
But now more than anything, Tom Goodwin felt the dewy fragments of Margherita Morretti’s body washing across his soul, the intensity of the union coursing through his veins like a simmering fire. She walked by his side, walked there now as if she always had been by his side, and always would be there. They had walked out of the sea, had known each other for – perhaps – an hour, yet some wild magic had cast its spell on them.
Now, in the sharp, moon-borne shadows of this night, everything felt different – because everything was different. Trees felt alive in a way he had never understood before, the sea seethed with manifest purpose, like the sea alone held the chalice of memory. This silver moon arcing through the ink-stained night cast its silver light with seeming indifference, silent shadows gliding over glowing stone borne to witness the passage of time, but now Goodwin understood her shadows held more than darkness.
And he felt her arm entwined with his as an echo, her side pressed comfortably against his – like these shadows, perhaps. He could smell her from time to time, smell the intimacy of their union mingling with the primeval flows on the wind and in the sea. She washed over his thoughts like the tide: subtly, predictably, immutably – like their footsteps in the night.
Elsie walked quietly on the road beside them, she still looked up at him – at him – as if she alone understood the significance of events that had just left them all so breathlessly perplexed. He didn’t understand at first, she knew, couldn’t fathom what had happened, but after a few minutes looking at Goodwin she knew she was looking at someone who had just changed before her eyes. He had changed into something else – something new – an echo of something ancient, almost forgotten. The dog didn’t doubt her own ability to perceive; unlike them, she could see that much with her eyes. No, she doubted his ability to perceive. Did he have it in his soul to understand the consequences and the workings of the universe? Or was he really so simple? Were these others really so blind?
As time passed, as they came closer to the village and further from the depths of the encounter, Goodwin seemed adrift in the coolness of air and water. His clothes were wet, he felt a the chill in the air, felt this same chill overtake Margherita and Paulo and the Doncasters. It was as if the further they walked from the precise location of their union the colder they became, as if the fire they had started was in danger of weeping away uselessly into the darkness.
He felt her tremble and he held her tightly.
“We’re not far now,” he told her.
“Tom?” he heard her say.
“Please stay with me tonight,” he heard himself say.
“How did you know that? That those words were with me, and that it was of this that I was thinking?”
“Where else could you stay now?”
“Does it seem so clear to you? Have you felt something between us, as we walk?”
“I don’t have the words to describe what I feel, Margherita. I just have, have – I don’t know – an instinct, maybe? I feel a hand guiding me tonight. Maybe us, tonight.”
“Yes, so many things are alive in this night, I feel purpose. It is hard to contradict such a feeling, but I feel the past, not the future…”
“This pup understands. I can see it in her eyes.”
“Yes. I saw her looking at you in the water, when that animal first came to you. The dog was close to you, and I could have sworn she was talking to the fish, to that dolphin.”
“Really? That’s kind of, well, crazy sounding, don’t you think?”
“Oh, nothing, the whole thing seems other-worldly, almost like it didn’t happen – like a dream, maybe.”
The dog looked up at him, then bounded on ahead.
“Tom, I don’t think she appreciated that comment.”
“Obviously.” He could see his boat ahead, still moored next to the Doncaster’s, and he began to wonder how the rest of the night was going to take shape. He felt exhausted and hungry the closer he came to the village, the lingering warmth from the encounter regressing, moving back to the shadows – as if they could not take exposure to the present for any length of time.
And – who was this woman by his side? She was a stranger, and yet something impossible had just passed between them. Something neither real nor surreal, something beyond imagination and understanding – and it had passed between strangers. Now the realization hit him like a physical blow, winded him as insurmountable implications ran for the shadows.
“Obviously,” he said again. “I think we need to change clothes. Would you like to come aboard? I could make us some coffee?”
“Oh, doctor, I think I too must change into something dry, but . . .”
“But would you meet me for dinner?”
She seemed to drift in the implications of his offer for a moment, then came to a decision in the road. “Do you see that building, by the two street lights, there? That is the Ristorante Lo Stella. I will meet you there, in one hour.”
“And doctor, bring your friends, would you? They seem very nice.”
“Yes, I’ll ask them.”
They came to their boats; Malcolm and Mary Ann were just going below, but Paulo was waiting for his sister, standing in the pale flickering light of an old gaslight on the quay.
“Paulo?” Goodwin said, “would you join us for dinner tonight? Your sister has recommended a place we meet in an hour.”
“Si, doctoré, that would be – nice. We have, I think, much to discuss about this night.”
Margherita seemed to turn ever so slightly away from her brother when she heard that, then she disengaged from Goodwin’s arm and stepped away, stepped out of the light and into the shadows once again. “I will see you both in an hour. Ciao!” she said lightly, but the cares of this night were already growing heavy on her mind.
“Yes. I will see you in an hour,” Paulo said as he turned to walk back to the village.
Goodwin stepped onto the Donacster’s boat to cross over to his; Malcolm was sitting in the cockpit surrounded by complete darkness. He had coffee on the table and was wrapped in a blanket, drying his face and hair.
“Ah, there you are, Sport! Got it together now?”
“I’m not sure that’s a word I would choose.”
“Yes. I don’t suppose I would, myself. Odd, wasn’t it? That animal?”
“Odd? I’m not sure ‘odd’ quite covers the sensation, Malcolm. Matter of fact, I’m not sure about much of anything right now.”
“Quite right. No reason to be. A complex situation, perhaps more so than you might imagine.”
“What are you…? Oh well, you’re both invited to dinner. In an hour, at that Stella place.”
“Sorry, Sport, but Mary Ann ducked into the head and said she’s straight off for bed.”
“Would you join us, then?”
“I’ll ask the Admiral when she gets out. Well, in any event, you’d better get cleaned up and to it. You’re frosty looking, getting hypothermic.”
“Yup, right you are.” Goodwin stepped across to Springer and opened the companionway; he reached in and flicked on a light and disappeared below. Doncaster looked at the village for a moment, then turned to look back toward the rocky cape where they had been not a half hour before. Shaking his head, he wrote in his journal, then dropped below to talk to Mary Ann, now as confused as she had been. Maybe even more so, given what he already knew about these things.
Goodwin and the Doncasters – both of them, as it turned out – walked to the ristorante and stepped inside. Paulo had a table and waved at them as they walked in the door. Goodwin took in the scene: this place was like any one of a million nice, upscale Mediterranean dives that seemed to sprout up all over Boston’s northside with nauseating regularity, but this was, he told himself, the real deal. The mood of the room was delicate, subdued, if not quite elegant then very Old World. The room’s lighting – all amber-hued crystalline shards casting oblique shadows on cream colored walls – only seemed to hint at deeper mysteries waiting to unfold, out there, perhaps, beyond the darkness, but waiting even now.
Goodwin made his way between tables as he followed the Doncasters to Paulo, and was surprised to see the young man dressed imperiously in black suit and tie. He felt a little out of place in his habitual khakis and polo shirt, and he really regretted leaving his boat shoes on.
He took Paulo’s hand. “Nice place…I can smell the kitchen from the boat? Surreal…”
“It is a nice place, doctoré. The octopus is the best in Italy.”
“Oh come on, Goodwin!” Malcolm said. “Remember, when in Rome…”
“Oh Mal, do shut up and leave the man alone!”
“So, Paulo,” Mary Ann ignored her husband again, “where is that delightful sister of yours.”
“Here,” Margherita said, now walking up behind the Doncasters. Goodwin stood and held a chair out for her, and she came and sat next to him. “Sorry I am running a little late.”
“You look beautiful,” Goodwin said, and everyone smiled knowingly when he blushed. They looked at one another and a sudden, awkward silence fell over the table.
“So, doctoré, you have not had octopus before?”
“No, Paulo, ‘fraid not, unless you count calamari.”
“No, no, no! Calamari is bait! You are in for a rare treat tonight, doctoré. You will see.”
“Paulo,” Margherita said, “just because it is your favorite, you must not force it upon the doctoré; you must let our guest choose.”
“Oh really, Tom,” Malcolm interjected, “anything they serve here will be beyond good. Very nice place. Top shelf kitchen.”
Mary Ann looked around the table. “I don’t want to talk about food. I want to talk about what happened out on the point tonight.”
An ancient man, the owner perhaps, came and dropped off a wine list; he looked at Tom as he asked if anyone cared for an aperitif. Paulo asked the weathered old man to bring a bottle of red wine the house recommended, then settled-in to look at Mary Ann and the elusive kindling she had so indelicately thrown into the flames. “What is there to talk about,” he stated. “We saw what we saw. There must be an explanation in nature, and that is all.” He seemed embarrassed, perhaps because he had stood by silently, helplessly, while events unfolded in the water, but he looked down at his own imploring hands now as if asking, no pleading, with his companions to drop such an unpleasant matter.
“I don’t know, Paulo. Something unusual happened,” Mary Ann was placating him, easing him into the topic. She needed an ally, and though the young man seemed reluctant to talk about the encounter, she sensed he was as deeply intrigued by events as she was.
Yet, she could not see fear behind his eyes, and she wondered why.
The ancient man returned with a bottle and opened it, passed the cork to Goodwin – who sniffed disapproval and handed it back. The old man poured a little and arched an eyebrow; sniffed the cork tentatively as he held the glass up to the light and frowned, then walked back to the kitchen.
“This is not something that happens everyday, Paulo, is it?” A tenacious Mary Ann wasn’t going to let the matter drop, and Malcolm sighed as he looked at Paulo.
Paulo shrugged, looked away.
“Paulo! Have you heard of something like this happening before?”
And still Paulo looked away.
Mary Ann grew stern, unrelenting. “Paulo? Why won’t you answer me?”
The ancient man returned with another bottle and began opening it.
“Oh come on, Mary Ann,” Malcolm said. “Leave the man alone. Two fish came up and played with Tom and Margherita. That’s all it was.”
The ancient man’s hands stopped, began to tremble; his eyes darted about the people around the table.
“Excuse me?” the old man said. “What did you say?”
“Tonight, off the cape, two dolphins came up to Dr Goodwin here,” Mary Ann recounted, “and Margherita joined Dr Goodwin and the fish circled them for a while, then swam off.”
The old man handed the bottle of wine to Paulo. “You pass this around Paulo.” He took a chair from another table and sat down next to Goodwin, then looked at Goodwin for a moment, then at Margherita. “Goodwin? From America?”
“Yes, that’s right.”
“I’m sorry to be so indelicate, but was there a union between the two of you? A joining? Perhaps unexpected, out of the blue, light a bolt of lightning on a clear day?”
Margherita looked away, acutely embarrassed.
“That about sums it up,” Goodwin said; he then looked at Mary Ann and Paulo, both now judgmentally red-faced and suddenly quite unsure of themselves.
“You know,” the old man said, his voice now subdued – yet full of ancient purpose, “many people think the name Portofino means something like ‘fine port’, and though of course it is a fine port, those people are wrong. Quite wrong. Yes.”
He looked around the table at each of them.
“Pliny the Elder tells us from that most distant past an altogether different tale, and History has, you understand, a way of repeating itself.” He looked at Paulo again and frowned: “Eh, Paulo, I told you to pour the wine! Now get to it!”
The old man turned to a boy coming out of the kitchen: “Giuseppe, bring Marco here! Now!” he said as he clapped his hands twice, and the boy darted back into the kitchen. He drummed his fingers on the white linen tablecloth impatiently until a man in chef’s attire came to the table.
“Bring us dinner. Nothing too heavy! That is all. Now go!”
“Si, patron!” The chef hurried from the table.
“He is a good cook, but, eh, what is this word . . . conceited? Yes? Too proud of his creations? Quick to abandon my own.”
He looked around the table: everyone looked at him expectantly.
“Anyway. Pliny the Elder. Yes. Pliny tells us that this village was, from Roman times, known as Portus Delphini, which you, Mister Goodwin, would call the Port of the Dolphin.”
“He is, Ludvico, this is doctoré Goodwin,” Paulo corrected the old man. “He is a physician. A heart surgeon.”
“Oh, really? But I thought he was the man you went swimming with this morning, Paulo?”
Goodwin smiled when Paulo looked down at the table; he saw the poor fellow smiling and shaking his head – all while turning pomegranate red. “This will never end, never,” Paulo said, looking up with a warm smile on his face. “I am ruined.”
Goodwin smiled, because he understood all too well.
“Anyway,” the old man continued, “there have always been dolphins in this sea, eh, what is your word, doctoré? This gulf we call the Tigullian. We have always been fishermen, in this village, and long after the Arabs and the Americans leave this is what we shall be again. We are linked, yes, this is the word? To the sea. Over many thousands of years. And as we have come to depend on the sea for our lives, so too the sea has had her gifts to bestow upon us.”
The old man took his glass and passed it to Paulo. “Do I have to ask again? Some wine, please, Paulo, or I will die of thirst!”
“I asked Paulo if the things we saw tonight have happened before,” Mary Ann interjected. “That seemed to upset him, you – Paulo, and I wonder why?”
“It is only legend,” Paulo replied. “An old story told to school children, nothing more.”
“And, what is this legend?” Malcolm asked, a twinkle in his eye – as if he was waiting patiently now, though only he knew how expectantly, for the keys to the kingdom.
“Let us come to that later, professoré,” the old man said. “First, we shall have some oysters and Pinot Grigio.” He clapped his hands and the chef wheeled out a cart heaped with fresh shellfish on a mountain of ice. Another boy brought fresh glasses and ice cold bottles of wine. The old man looked at Paulo and decided he’d better pour this round.
The chef shucked oysters and put them on plates next to shrimp and tiny lobster tails and, Goodwin saw, slender bits of what had to be octopus. He tossed off the rest of the red wine – then suddenly wished he hadn’t.
When everyone had been served the old man looked at them and smiled. He picked up his glass. “To health and love,” the old man began, and the others raised their glasses. Next, he looked first at Goodwin, then at Margherita. “And to miracles in the night,” he whispered.
“To health and love!” the rest said.
“Indeed,” Doncaster said. “That’s as it should be.”
The old man put down his glass and looked at his hands for a moment; he shook his head as if what he saw there was very disagreeable to him. “It is nauseating to get old,” he said. “My eyes see the same world they saw when I was twenty. But then I see these hands, or even my face in a mirror, and I wonder about the gifts that time bestows.”
“So what of this legend, sir?” Mary Ann asked again – in her reporters questing voice, for she was now clearly exasperated and wanted to get to the bottom of it all.
“Ah, yes. Well, you are all educated people, at least I assume this is so. You all know that throughout human history, dolphins have turned up in various mythologies?” He looked around the table, meeting their eyes.
“Of course,” Malcolm Doncaster said pedantically. “But do we see merely shadows on the wall of the cave, Ludvico. That is the more important question. Will men ever emerge from the shadows? Can our eyes stand the sight of truth in the plain light of day?”
“Eh, professoré, this is not an evening for Plato. No, my old friend, this night belongs to Bacchus, to Dionysus, perhaps.”
“My point exactly, Ludvico. How can we see what we do not know. There is no context. Believing and knowing masquerade as much the same thing, you understand. Yet without knowledge, belief is a very shallow vessel indeed.”
Paulo looked around the table nervously, first at his sister, then at Goodwin. This day, which had begun with such innocence and pleasure, was even now turning toward something beyond his understanding, to something he suspected was beyond all their understanding.
“So, professoré,” the old man continued, “you would not believe it if you saw Him tonight, in the sea, would you?”
“Him? You don’t mean Dionysus, do you? That’s bloody ridiculous!”
“Ah, so then, we are left to wander the caves. Indeed, perhaps this will be harder than I anticipated.” The old man took his glass and emptied it in one long pull and poured himself another. “Anyway, Mary Ann, dolphins are inextricably linked to this village, and as I said, our people have always looked to the sea for their living. No, for our very survival. It is said that when times have been hardest, when plague or famine or war have taken our men from the boats and the women have had to take to the sea, the dolphins have come to our aid. They come and drive fish into the net, they tend to women who fall into the sea, and as such, our families have survived. For thousands of years it has been against the laws of our land to kill a dolphin, and in years past, indeed until quite recently, this was a crime punishable by death. They were to us as the Gods, and we knew this on a very elemental level! But this is not so today. No, not at all today. Today we despair to worship anything other than money.”
“Just so, Ludvico, but you digress. In fact, isn’t there that remarkable tale of Dionysus and his Etruscan captors? If I’m not mistaken, wasn’t that supposed to have happened nearby?”
“Si, professoré. Yes, as you say, just so, for that tale leads to the heart of the matter. Dionysus was captured by pirates who mistook him for a nobleman, a prince, perhaps. He waited until they were far out to sea, before he struck. He caused the boat to turn to vines, the oars the sailors used turned to serpents in their hands as they rowed. In their panic the pirates jumped into the sea and began to drown. But Dionysus took pity on his captors, on these stupid mortals, and he turned them into dolphins. He commanded them to come to the aid of humans for the rest of their days on this earth. Surely I do not have to recite all of the stories of seamen being rescued by dolphins to table full of sailors?”
He finished this glass of wine while he looked around the table, then poured himself another and took a deep breath. “And yet even so, professoré, since that day at least, dolphins have been an intimate part of life in Portofino. They have helped our fishermen, they have helped sailors who have fallen from their boats make it back safely to their homes. All true.” He looked at his hands again and sighed. “But there has been so much more to this story, Malcolm, that even you do not know.”
“That’s why we’ve kept coming back, Ludvico. Year after year. This has been my quest, you know. For many, many years.”
“I know, old friend. But there was never reason to tell you the tale until now, until tonight. You could not understand. You could not, my friend, because you see only the shadows on the wall.”
“Is it just me,” Margherita said, “or has there been something more than unusual about this day, and this night?”
“Yes, indeed,” Malcolm sighed, “Margherita, I feel we are about to enjoin our mythologies tonight, bring them back into the light.”
“Oh dear God, no,” Mary Ann wailed in mock-hysteria. “Welcome to Mythology 101, starring Dr Malcolm Doncaster!”
“Oh piffle, Mary Ann! Really, must you be so quaintly boring!”
“Yes, lovey, I must. It is a great need of mine – to be as obtusely boring as I can possibly be, especially when you set-out to launch into one of your blasted literary tirades! You see, dear,” she said, turning on a syrupy sarcasm that was as humiliating as it was endearing, “it is my lot in life to serve you – your daily ration of humble pie!”
“You two are simply amazing,” the old man said. “I have known you for twenty years – have I not? – and in all those years you have never changed. Never!”
“Nor shall we ever, Ludvico!” Malcolm said. “Now get on with it. I’m ready to hear this.”
“My, my, professoré! Such haste! Well, as I’m sure you know, accounts in the oldest, deepest mythologies depict dolphins as messengers of the old gods, but particularly of Poseidon, or Neptune as the case may be, and these dolphins were charged to run errands for Neptune, often to warn sailors of impending danger…”
“Holy shit!” Goodwin said. He turned pale as memory overtook conscious thought.
“What?” Malcolm jumped at the exclamation and turned to Goodwin. “What on earth’s the matter with you?”
“Something just came back to me.” He looked shocked as deeper insight gathered in the air around him. “Right after I left the states, just as I was entering the Gulf Stream, a pod of dolphins came alongside. I took their photograph, as a matter of fact. Anyway, one of them seemed very agitated, slapped his tail a lot as he swam alongside, standing right out of the water, swimming backwards and chattering away at me like he was trying to talk to me. That’s what I thought, at the time. Anyway, about an hour later the entire sky behind me filled with dark clouds and lightning, and a really vicious storm came on. I mean fast. Barely had time to get the boat ready for it. Funny, too, though it was really strong it lasted only minutes, maybe a half hour at most, then it was gone. The sun came out a few minutes later, and then the dolphins came back. I had the distinct impression that they had come back to check on me. The same one swam beside me for several minutes. We stared at one another for the longest time, and I remember his eyes.”
“I would like to see the pictures you took, doctoré.”
“Why?” Doncaster asked, now suddenly very intrigued.
The old man only smiled, took another sip of wine.
Goodwin looked at him. “You don’t think it’s the same one, the one out there tonight? That’s…”
“Not impossible, doctoré Goodwin?” the old man said. “Improbable, perhaps, but not impossible. What do you think, Malcolm?”
“No, no, Ludvico. I will wait until I have seen these photographs.”
“Understandable, professoré. But at any rate, while it may help to prove a point, several more need to be made before we achieve an understanding. This mystery has followed me all my life, so perhaps I can afford to wait a while longer.”
Margherita looked around the table, feeling plainly confused. She had been holding Goodwin’s hand for some time, at least until the wine started flowing easily around her, yet now her feelings were wrapped in turbulence, falling into a void. Their simple lovemaking earlier in the evening had now grown into something distorted and otherworldly, and was even now turning into the grotesque parody of an academic lecture. She wanted to leave, to go out under the stars and cry…but there was something in Ludvico’s voice that held her to the table, held her as if she was but a moth – to his flame…
“Well,” Goodwin said, “you’ve got my attention. Do go on.”
“Yes? I choose to believe there is something to this as well, my friend,” the old man said. “Yes, we know from our history the truth of the accusation: dolphins help men, and they do so with apparent purpose. Did you know, doctoré, that alone among all animals, only dolphins look at themselves in a mirror with a sense of recognition? Self awareness, doctoré! Awareness of others in the context of selfhood! Think of the implications! Where did this charge come from, this desire to aid humans in need? Dionysus? Why do they continue to be so inclined when faced with so much human malevolence to their kind? No, no, we will find no simple explanations to suffice the need, doctoré.”
Malcolm Doncaster was frowning now, deep in thought. He was searching his memory for…
“Now, before the next part of our dinner arrives, somebody must tell me exactly what happened in the sea tonight.”
Margherita felt the overwhelming desire to run now, but she remained planted in her chair as if held by forces beyond her control. She felt Goodwin’s eyes on hers, felt herself grow hot and flush with embarrassment.
“Margherita,” the old man said. “You must drink some more wine or this evening will grow intolerable for us all!”
“I am not so thirsty as some,” she replied, her voice dripping with sarcasm. “Sorry.”
“And neither am I, but there are things we need to say to one another tonight, and it is not so easy sometimes to talk with strangers. So please, Margherita, drink some wine. It is good wine, and it will cause you no harm.”
She tossed off her glass and held it out petulantly, waiting for it to be refilled. “It is indeed fortunate this is a good Grigio, Ludvico. And because I get tipsy most easily, I hold you responsible for my actions tonight!” She tossed off this second glass and held it back out. “More!” she said, and Ludvico filled her glass.
Paulo looked-on, mortified, as if he finally understood where this evening was headed. The implications of loose tongues terrified him.
A course of broiled fish was served, and everyone turned to the food as an escape from the hazy implications that drifted lazily in the air above the table – like vultures circling a wounded animal.
The thought hit Goodwin and Mary Ann at exactly the same time, but she beat him to the punch. “Assume for a moment,” she began, slapping the table, “that the two dolphin we saw this evening are residents of this area. If that dolphin you photographed out in the Gulf Stream is the same one that came to you tonight, I’d say the implications would be beyond staggering. Wouldn’t that imply purpose?”
“Ah, si,” Ludvico said, smiling. “Very much, purpose, yes. Perhaps more than simply purpose.”
“How so?” Paulo asked.
“Well, a dolphin, or dolphins, from Portofino,” Mary Ann continued, “venture across the Atlantic to warn a sailor of an approaching storm, check up on him afterwards then disappear. This sailor then comes to Portofino where he is approached – in the water, mind you – by this same dolphin, and this dolphin compels two people into a commanded union?”
“Why, Paulo, the implications are clear as day!” Malcolm almost shouted. “That animal knew where Doctor Goodwin was headed months ago, perhaps before even Dr Goodwin was aware! That dolphin is, or was, protecting Doctor Goodwin! Has knowledge of, or understands the movement of people derived in a manner completely beyond our understanding! Margherita! What’s wrong?”
The young woman was trembling, holding on to the edge of the table as if her world was spinning violently out of control. Wide-eyed, turning pale, they heard her whispering: “It couldn’t be, it couldn’t be – no, it must not be…?”
“No!” Paulo shouted, slamming his hand down on the table. “Enough of this! Margherita! Come with me, now! We must leave!”
Her eyes full of remembrance, and terror, Margherita began to shake and cry. Goodwin instinctively put his arm protectively around her.
Ludvico stood and with both hands on the table leaned toward Paulo. “You must not interfere! Go if you must, but do not interfere, Paulo. There is too much at stake!”
The Doncasters looked at one another, then at Goodwin and Margherita. Even they were both rattled now. Mary Ann stood and went to Margherita’s chair, yet Malcolm stared now. At Ludvico, and the power he beheld in the old man’s eyes.
“Come with me, Margherita. Let’s go wash up, shall we?”
Margherita came back to them, looked around the room as if to make sure of her surroundings, then she stood and left with Mary Ann.
“Paulo, sit down!” the old man said.
“Sit, you fool!” He pointed at the table while he glowered at the young man with surreal fury in his eyes. “And doctoré? Perhaps you would be so kind as to go find this photograph? Would be a good idea, no?”
“By all means,” Malcolm said, “go. In fact, I’m going with you, old sport. I find myself in need of some fresh air.”
Goodwin pushed himself back from the table and stood. He looked from Paulo to the old man and back again, saw the contours of their need in faces he suddenly realized he’d known for ages, and he was disturbed by growing implications he could only now begin to fathom. “Yes. A good idea,” he said absent-mindedly, as his father came to mind. “Yes, Malcolm, let’s go.”
When the others were all gone, the old man looked at Paulo with sad eyes, for sad thoughts filled his heart. ‘So much to tell the boy. So little time.’
“So many things you could have been,” he said silently to Paulo, regret pure in his heart. “Why did you have to become the fool?”
“So, what do you make of all this?” Goodwin asked Doncaster when they were safely outside the ristorante. “And what was that stuff about you being on some sort of a quest?”
“Ah, well, come on Goodwin, let’s get your photographs, shall we? My interests here are probably of concern to only a few moldy old academics like myself. Now, how big are the photographs?”
“Well, they’re not printed up yet, they’re still on the card, but I figured I could download them onto my iPad and show them that way.”
“Can you print them up later, if necessary?”
“Yup, I have a printer onboard.”
“Smashing! Good to know.”
“You know Malcolm, you’re a hoot.”
“Only when absolutely necessary, old boy.”
“Yeah, I kinda figured that.” Goodwin hopped from the quay onto Doncaster’s Diogenes, then they made their way across to Springer. He dropped below and rummaged around until he found his camera bag, then took the CF cards to the chart table and powered up his Macbook.
“Might I come below?” Doncaster asked, his face peeking down from the companionway.
“What? Oh, sure, of course.”
“Holy Mother of God!” Doncaster said when he was fully below. “They must have felled whole forests to build this boat! It’s bloody fantastic!”
“What? Oh, yeah. Thanks.” Goodwin slipped the first card in and opened the catalogue. “Whew! This is the right card. I was afraid I’d have to sort through a dozen to find the right file.” He tapped a few keys and images flooded the screen; when he found the ones he was looking for he downloaded them to his iPad and put them in a slideshow, then closed the laptop. “Okay, that’s it. Let’s boogey!
“Boogey? My God! Are you one of them? A real hippie? I’ve never met one before, you know?”
“Yeah, Malcolm, that’s me. Peace, love, dope, and keep on truckin’! Come on, let’s get back.”
“You don’t want to watch it first?”
“Doesn’t matter much, Malcolm, does it? I mean, without some record of what the dolphin here looks like, there’s no real proof, is there?”
“I wouldn’t be surprised if Ludvico knows.”
“Nothing would surprise me about the guy, Malcolm. Not one goddamn thing.”
Maria Theresa Morretti sat by the open window that looked out over the dark sea, a black shawl draped over her shoulders to ward off the night air. She had been sitting in the same chair since coming in from Passeggiata earlier that evening; now she watched moonlight dancing on tiny waves in the harbor below. She had, she thought, so much to be grateful for. Only that one dark spot on her soul remained. Would that time allow, she drifted on waves of stillborn hope, hoping for a return. She wanted to see him – again.
She had not seen the encounter off the cape; her eyes were no longer good for seeing things so far away, but she had known on the most elemental level of instinct what was happening out there in the darkness, and between whom. She leaned back in her chair, looked at the inconstant moon and the many moods that swung in her orbit, and she smiled. ‘If not me, then perhaps…’
Yes, it is good to have so many memories, she thought – even bad memories have their time, their place. The chance glancing warmth of memory is so comforting, especially when all that remains on a darkening sea is the coming of night.
Toni, her youngest, brought a cup of tea and sat by her side, and the warm china felt good on her bones. Cool breezes drifted by unseen, parted sheer curtains on the window to her world, and like the petals of flowers opening she could smell him once again. She could smell the sea, feel the cool breezes that had pushed them together now more than sixty five years ago. She closed her eyes, saw him falling into the sea again in all his flaming glory. She heard explosions echo through corridors of memory, fire as it consumed the sea, the never ending ruin of war dancing to ghostly anthems beyond understanding and meaning. The men who came to her in their need, and the men who were taken away to march into the fire. Yet the memory of him, of the day he came to her – that alone made her days bearable.
Oh yes, there was that day, and only that. Her day of miracles. The day he fell from a burning sky, the day he came to her on flaming wings, both of them – waiting to be reborn.
Goodwin followed Doncaster back to the ristorante, back to the table. They were there, all of them – waiting in the shadowed light. Mary Ann and Margherita were together now, though the younger woman’s face was red from so much wine and fires of so many conflicting emotions. And Paulo was still there too, looking concerned for his sister, dreading the possibilities the night held in tenuous abeyance. Goodwin sat down, put his iPad on the table as a prosecutor might present damning evidence at trial.
The old man looked at the computer, his eyes full of dancing mischief. He took another sip of wine. “What is this? This is not a photograph.”
Goodwin explained; the old man listened politely to descriptions of digital cameras and compact flash cards, but he waved such folly dismissively from the air with an errant hand.
“I see,” the old man said as Goodwin’s technical explanations fell to the ground, for he knew like all the other bitter illusions of life, this too would pass. “So, this is as it must be, of course. Things change, and I assume for the better, but nevertheless we must begin our journey now, for time grows short.” He looked around the table. “Obviously, I have not seen Goodwin’s photographs before, but I am going to hazard a guess. I am going to say that the dolphin the good doctoré saw, the one so agitated, trying to warn Goodwin of the coming storm, has two small scars on his left side, not far below the eye. He will have two dark spots, small but nevertheless visible, under his right eye. And, I am going to guess that the doctoré’s talisman is indeed a native of these waters.”
“Preposterous!” Malcolm shouted.
“Now lovey,” Mary Ann chided, “do try not to be such an ass!”
“Must I stay for this?” Paulo asked.
The old man looked at the boy, his patience wearing thin. “Si, Paulo, I would like you to stay. I don’t know why, but perhaps you were there at the cape tonight for a reason, so you may yet have a part to play in this drama. Now if you please, doctoré Goodwin, may we see these photographs?”
Goodwin opened the file and the slideshow started; he turned the screen so everyone could see. The first image that came up was of Goodwin’s friends on the dock waving as he pulled away from land at the beginning of his voyage across the Atlantic, then a few more images of friends following him out to sea for a few miles, for a few last goodbyes, then several of a very dramatic sunset followed. The very next frame was of a dark sea, of torpedo shapes beside Springer as the boat pushed through heavy seas. The dolphins in the image were dark grey on top and shockingly white below, a few had specks of dark coppery brown down their sides. The light wasn’t good but the images were in sharp focus, and Goodwin cycled through them until the old man called out: “Stop! There!”
Goodwin turned the screen a bit so he could see better; the photograph showed the dolphin who had warned him, and it was plain that there were no scars or spots in the relevant areas. “So, nothing! This isn’t him,” Goodwin said smugly.
“No, no,” the old man said, now clearly exasperated, “not her! Him! Look at the one behind!”
Godwin looked at the photograph again; he looked at the dolphin behind the one busy warning him. The image was of the right side of this other dolphin, and two dark spots were clearly visible under the eye as the animal just barely arced out of the water.
“Coincidence!” Doncaster shouted. “Nothing but bloody coincidence!”
“Perhaps,” the old man said. “We need to see more of this dolphin, eh doctoré. Surely there is another photograph?”
Goodwin resumed the slide show. The alleged female was visibly agitated in many of the images, and Malcolm made a snide comment about the resemblance of this dolphin to Mary Ann. This earned him a round of laughter and a swift kick under the table.
The next image came and everyone gasped. Goodwin paused the slide show and zoomed in on the image. There was no doubt about it; there below the left eye were two old scars, probably made by an encounter with a propeller years ago. Goodwin looked at the old man; he wasn’t even looking at the images . . . he was eating cheese and reaching for his glass of wine.
“I will be damned,” Doncaster said quietly.
“Oh, surely not, Malcolm,” the old man said. “You’ve led an honorable life.” He smiled at Doncaster, then looked at Margherita. “My dear, you recognize him, don’t you?”
“It is the same one, from all those years ago?” he continued.
“Si, I believe so. But how can this be?”
“And was this the same one you were with tonight?” the old man asked.
“I am not sure. I could not see him well,” Margherita said.
“I could,” Goodwin said. “and it’s him, alright.”
“Are you certain, Goodwin?” Doncaster said. “I mean, absolutely certain?”
“Yes, I think so. But Ludvico, what were you implying when you asked Margherita if this was the same one? From many years ago?”
“Oh, I imply nothing, doctoré,” the old man said impishly. “It was merely an observation of fact.”
“Margherita?” Doncaster asked. “What does he mean?”
She looked around the table uncertainly. Paulo was ashen-faced, his beliefs shaken to their core, Mary Ann was erect in her chair staring off into the infinite. Malcolm leaned forward, rested his forehead in his hands as if nursing a sudden headache. The old man had resumed picking at his food, though he had a smile on his face. Only Goodwin was looking at her now, and she saw in his eyes that he alone was on the verge of understanding.
“Yes, Tom. Many years ago, when I was twelve, no, thirteen, I was fishing with my father on his boat. My foot was caught in a net as it was thrown into the sea, and it pulled me in. The men on the boat did not see this happen, not even Papa was aware.” She looked down now, down into the dark well of deepest memory. “I remember the water, how clear it was, the nets spreading out around me, my ankle caught in the line, but what I remember most was the sunlight, and how it spread out and filtered down through the blue, and I could see Papa’s boat, the propellers as they turned in the water, the bubbles behind the boat as it moved away. I was never afraid, the whole event was almost peaceful. I knew I was to die, right then, and there was nothing for me to do. Then I felt him. Not rude or subtle, but I remember his eyes, the way he looked at me. I knew what he wanted me to do. I put my hand on his great fin and he pulled me to the surface, he swam alongside Papa’s boat until one of the men saw me. Papa jumped in and cut the line from me. The dolphin was gone by then; he left as quickly and as silently as he came to me.”
She had to stop talking now, as gales of memory tore through her, and it was as if she had fallen into the sea once again, and she felt lost in the powerlessness of the moment – once again.
“And you’re saying, if I understand you correctly, this is the same one?” Goodwin asked softly, pointing at the screen. “This dolphin, here with me in the Atlantic last May, is the one who saved you? What, how many years ago?”
“Si, doctoré. Almost thirty years ago. Yes. The same one.”
Goodwin slumped back in his seat, sighed heavily as the weight of implication settled on his soul. ‘Impossible,’ he muttered to himself.
“Yes, doctoré Goodwin. This was no accident of chance.” The old man pointed at the screen with his fork, and for all the world Goodwin had to stifle the laugh that spread through him when he saw the old man so, for he looked just then like an old statue of Neptune he had seen once.
“Alright,” Mary Ann asked, clearly full of subdued anxiety. “I have a picture of these events in my mind, but why would Paulo not tell me what he knew . . .”
“Because,” the old man sighed, “Paulo doesn’t know the story in it’s entirety. He has played but a minor role in these matters. At least so far.”
“Now just what the devil does that mean, Ludvico?” Malcolm asked. “This is riddle upon riddle without end!”
“Eh? Sorry, professoré! Perhaps we will achieve clarity before the sun rises. Perhaps not. It is as you say; we are denizens of the cave, not inclined to accept some truths even in the light of day.”
“Clarity! Who’s talking about clarity? We’re talking about purpose! Purpose beyond our understanding!”
“Just so, professoré. But I do not need Paulo to talk of his role in these matters just yet.”
Goodwin continued to stare at the old man. It was as if by association with these mysteries that he could just see the skin of the old man ripple and reform right before his eyes; he could fathom another being lying just beneath that which was apparent to his senses. It was just an impression, an impression of huge blue eyes and bright red wavy hair, but it wavered in the air before him for a moment – and then was as suddenly gone. He shook his head, told himself he’d had too much to drink while he reached for his glass. But the visage held him, caught somewhere on the very boundary between instinct and memory…
“And what is your role in these matters, Ludvico?” Goodwin asked.
The old man turned to face him slowly, the smile on his face gentle, knowing, and full of incomprehensible power. “It is your time, Tom Goodwin. Your time to finish what was begun. I am just a simple guide, that is all. Do not fear me.”
Goodwin shook his head. “Nope. Sorry. I’ve had enough. I’m tired and I’m going to bed.” Goodwin shut down the iPad and stood. “It’s been nice, a real slice,” he said. “Somebody let me know what I owe for this shindig, okay? I’m out of here.”
“Tom,” Margherita said, an edge of deep sorrow in her voice, “you must not leave me. Not yet.”
“Then come with me. Now.”
“She can not, Tom.” Ludvico continued to smile benignly at him, but now there was more than a hint of power gathering in his voice.
“And why not?”
“Tom, sit down please. Sit, and tell us why of all the places in the world you could have chosen to run, why did you choose to come here. To this village, to this harbor.”
“I’m not sure I’d say I was running away from anything, not really.”
“No? Well, perhaps not, Tom. But then, are you running towards something?”
“What’s your game, old man? What are you getting at?”
“Is it a game, Tom?” Ludvico said calmly. “Are you running from the truth, or to the truth?”
Goodwin sat down, sighed as defeat caught him unawares. “I don’t know,” he said, clearly exhausted. “After what happened out there? I don’t know anything anymore.”
“Tom?” It was Mary Ann speaking now. “Does this have something to do with what happened to your mother? Between you and your father?”
Goodwin looked at Mary Ann; his eyes accused her of an immense betrayal.
“Tom? Doctoré Goodwin? Tell us what this means. It could help us understand.”
Goodwin looked from Mary Ann to the old man. “Why? Understand what?”
“Let us come to that after you tell us of this struggle between you and your father. Please Tom. Do not fail us now. We are so close.”
“Yes, Tom. Close, to the truth. To a resolution too long in coming, too long denied.”
“This doesn’t make any sense,” Goodwin said.
“I know, Tom. You are too close, but to just one part of the story, but I have seen a great unfolding over many years, and I have seen the hearts of many people touched in it’s telling. And this story is too big to be about one person, Tom. Still, you are obviously a key piece of the puzzle, and I need to understand why. You need to know why you were chosen.”
“Yes, Tom. How did these events choose to find you, and why were these dolphins there if not to protect you. To what end? From what? Do you not care? Do you not want to know?”
He looked away – into the heart of memory – and he tried not to turn away. “My mother grew ill, her heart was failing almost two years ago. She wanted me to perform the surgery; I refused, it’s ethically questionable and against medical practice to operate on family members unless no other surgeon is available, and that wasn’t the case. She insisted, then too, so did my father.” Goodwin was lost as these memories washed over him. “I continued to resist, colleagues and administrators supported my decision, we found others to perform the surgery and yet still my mother refused, and so in the end I relented. She went into SCD, sudden cardiac death, and she died, after we got her on bypass.” Goodwin pinched the bridge of his nose as he relived the moment, and he looked away. “My father condemned me, in effect disowned me, told everyone that I had murdered my mother. I left my life behind, rather than face his hatred. I left that life behind because I was tired of all it had taken from me.”
“Yes. He is hot tempered. He always has been.”
Tom Goodwin reeled under the implications of the old man’s words, his world turned grey, distorted tunnel vision defined his view of the old man.
“You knew my father?”
Everyone around the table turned to look at the old man.
“Yes, Tom. There was a time when I called your father my friend.”
Mary Ann Doncaster’s mouth fell open, Paulo shook his head, a bead of perspiration formed on his forehead.
“Oh-h-h, this just gets better and better,” Malcolm said.
“The seventh of July?” Margherita whispered. “1943.”
“Yes,” the old man said as he looked at the physician. Goodwin flinched as the number bit into him, as memory of another day with his father returned.
“Alright, I’ll bite,” Malcolm said. “What happened in July, 1943?”
“My father’s B-24 was shot down.” Goodwin said stonily.
“Go on,” the old man said, but he was looking at Margherita as he spoke, concern in his eyes racing now, like a wildfire before savage winds.
“His unit was based in North Africa; they were flying raids all over southern Europe. He never talked much about it, but one day over northern Italy his plane got shot up pretty bad. I think he said he was trying to get to Corsica or Sardinia, he didn’t have enough fuel to return to his base in Africa. A German fighter jumped him somewhere near Genoa, the gunners still alive on his airplane held the fighter off, but it managed to shoot up his plane even more. A few of the surviving men bailed-out over land; Dad bailed-out somewhere over the sea and partisans hid him until invasion forces reached the area. Then he went back to flying, finished the war, as a matter of fact, bombing Berlin more than once as the Russians closed in.”
“And so, he continued to fly, even after the war?” the old man asked, though he was still looking at Margherita.
“Yeah, he flew for TWA until he retired.”
“And did he ever talk about the day he crashed? The things that happened to him that day? Or about his time with, as you say, the Partisans?”
“No, not once that I recall.” He looked away for a moment, then back at the old man. “Refused to, as a matter of fact, now that I think about it.”
“Oh, no, don’t tell me…” Malcolm groaned.
“Yes,” the old man said. “I watched him falling, from right over there Tom, from that window. His parachute was on fire, and he hit the water at an incredible speed. There, right off the cape, a few kilometers out there, in the sea.”
“Oh, no…” Doncaster too grew visibly upset, he too began to sweat as implications danced all round the room.
“Yes, Malcolm. That same dolphin brought Tom’s father to our little harbor. To a boat that was moored exactly, Tom, where your boat was this morning. Where you were, if I may be so indelicate, when you so graciously fell into the sea. And to that end, I suppose we should thank Paulo for his part in this drama. Eh, bravo, Paulo!”
“Yeah, glad I could be of help. Now fuck off!”
“There’s an odd symmetry about that, don’t you think, Tom?” Doncaster croaked.
“You know, Malcolm, you continue to be a master of understatement.”
“Thank you so very much.” Malcolm was rubbing his temples now.
“Wasn’t he hurt,” Mary Ann asked, “in the fall?”
“Yes, but not badly. He was tended to by a young woman in the village who had begun nursing school before the war. She had just come home to be with her family when America was pulled into the war.” The old man paused, looked at Goodwin. “Your father fell in love with her, Tom.”
“Who was she?” Goodwin asked. “Is she still alive?”
“Oh yes, very much so. In fact, you walked with her this evening.”
“Mrs Morretti? Margherita’s mother! Oh, come on now! You can’t be serious!”
Paulo had been very still in the moments leading up to this exchange. “Oh si, doctoré Goodwin, this is most serious. Of that I can assure you.”
“My father and your mother! Are we . . .”
“Oh, no, no, doctoré,” the old man continued, “Margherita is in no way related to you.”
“I feel sick,” Goodwin said. “Excuse me…” He stood and left the table, walked out into the night. Margherita looked at Goodwin as he left, then looked at the old man.
He nodded to her, “Yes, you may go to him. He is confused now, so be careful not to offend his sensibilities further.”
Margherita followed Goodwin into the night. She walked onto the piazza and looked around, her eyes adjusting to the darkness, then she saw him sitting along the quay, his feet dangling just above the blackness, looking out to sea. She walked over to him and sat down, put her head on his shoulder, and she smiled inside when he didn’t pull away. She could feel the heat of his soul’s fire on her skin, she could hear his heart beating to the music of the spheres. It was a good, deep, steady heartbeat, strong, his song full of life and, she knew, full of love.
“This must not be easy for you,” he said to her, though his soul felt heavy and careworn.
“I never had any idea, about your father, I mean.”
“Neither did I – who could know all this stuff?” He drifted for a while, thoughts of symmetry crossed his mind’s eye . . . “Can you, would you tell me about your father?”
“He was a fisherman, but only just. He was from Rapallo, over there,” she said, pointing at a glowing smudge beneath the mountains. “But I think he was a very complex man who yearned for a simple life, for simplicity. He went to university to become a lawyer, yes, right after the war, but he stopped for some reason. Nobody knows, but I think he hated duplicity. He went to work for a fisherman, worked for years making barely enough to eat. Then he met my mother, moved to our village and went to work for my grandfather, on my grandfather’s boats. When my grandfather died, he took over for a while. He had married my mother by then; that was, I think in 1953. He developed cancer in his lungs and died years later. He was a very unhappy man.”
“So your mother never mentioned my father?”
“No, not really. But I wonder. There was a man here from time to time. He helped her. When all was lost, when my father was at his worst, I remember a man.”
“If you don’t mind my asking, when were you born?”
“1965. The seventh of July.”
“Oh. Twenty one years to the day. You know, the number seven keeps popping up. Weird.”
“I did not see that.”
“Probably not important. What about your brothers? When did they come along?”
“Paulo in 1967, and Antonio in 1970. Yes, I see what you mean about the number seven. What could this mean?”
“Beat’s me. Numerology was never my thing, but I know a lot of people who read a lot into numbers; the ancient Greeks certainly did. Like the year you were born, 1965. Add the numbers up. That’s twenty one, or seven times three. So your birthday is seven, seven, and seven times three. Twenty one years after your mother and my father…”
“Can this be coincidence?”
“Two ways of looking at the world, Margherita. Things either happen for a reason – or they don’t. If you believe things happen for a reason, then I guess you believe in God. If nothing has reason or purpose, then I guess you can’t believe in something like that. Yet there are the people like me; people who can’t make up their mind.”
“It would be impossible for me not to believe in God. I cannot imagine death without believing there is something more. If I knew there was nothing more, I think I could not live a sane existence. If there would be a world without – purpose, as you say it – then right and wrong, good and evil, all those things our souls struggle with would be without meaning. Do you think this possible?”
“Margherita, I’ve been a physician for almost thirty years. A scientist. I mean hard core science. And I hate to say it, but in all that time I’ve never seen one thing that made me think there was a divine plan to any of this. Why does this innocent baby die while that drunken criminal lives a happy, carefree life. Or just look up at the sky. Imagine the incredible distances involved between us and that smudge in Orion’s belt. And that smudge is alive with stars being born right this instant! The impossible scale of it all!”
“We are small,” she said, yet he could feel the warmth in her voice. “And still we believe that our problems are so big.”
He put his arm around her shoulder. “How do you feel about tonight, Margherita? About what happened out there in the water?”
“How do I feel? I don’t know the right words, but let me say that I felt it was commanded of us. I know that sounds stupid. But I felt purpose, yes, that is the word. I felt there was a greater purpose in what we did, yet I feel something much more important happened to me. To us.”
“I think we, you and I, were brought together. For a purpose, yes, for a reason. But not to join and then fly away on the wind. And…”
“Yes, I know. Your mother, my father; was there a union between them, and what happened to them as a result? Did something else happen, something go wrong? Is that why we were brought together?”
“That would explain much, wouldn’t it? Perhaps Ludvico knows.”
“Who is he? This Ludvico? Is he a relative?”
“No, but he has loved my mother since she was a little girl. They were in school together. Then the war came. His brothers went off to fight, but he was yet too young and remained to help with the boats and the ristorante. He loved my mother, or so she has told me, and then something happened.”
“Yeah. My father happened. He, what did he say, fell from the sky?”
“Si, yes. From the sky. Like an angel.”
“If there’s one thing my father is not…”
“Tom! Quiet!! Don’t move…”
“What is it,” Goodwin whispered.
“Look down, there in the water. By your…”
The dolphin was there, on his side, and he was quite still now, his black eye looking up at them, the two scars plainly visible in the waning moonlight. Goodwin could hear its breath again, could see lights from the village reflected in its eye – or did he see stars reflected in his eye?
“What do you want?” Goodwin asked. “What do you want from me!?”
The dolphin continued to look into Goodwin’s eyes.
“Do not speak now, Tom. Just let him be.”
The dolphin raised his head from the water slightly, then slipped under and was gone.
“I think I just wet my pants,” Goodwin said.
“You ain’t the only,” Malcolm Doncaster said.
“How long have you been standing there!” Goodwin said, his anger welling up.
“I was just coming out to ask the two of you to come back inside when I heard Margherita, telling you to be quiet. I stopped dead in my tracks until I heard you talking to it, then I came forward. When he saw me, by God, I think that’s when he slipped away. Could you see his face, Goodwin? The scars or the spots?”
“Two scars, left side. Just like the photo.”
“You know what, Tom? I’m getting too old for this kind of thing.”
Goodwin laughed. “Alright smart-ass, why don’t you tell me exactly what a good age would be for dealing with crap like this!”
“I see your point. Well taken.”
“Good. I’m glad. That means I’m not the only one going stark-raving mad out here on a dock at half past whatever! And I’m just not drunk enough for this kind of bullshit, you know, Malcolm? It’s time to go and get good and pissed!”
“Here, here. I second that.”
“Would you two be quiet,” Margherita said.
They turned and looked at her; she was staring at something in the little harbor.
“They are both here now,” she said. “There, Tom, behind your boat.”
“I say, Goodwin, I think she’s right.”
He looked at the moon-dappled water…it was hard to make anything out…but yes, there, about ten yards aft of Springer, a dark shape moved on the water, then another.
“Alright, Doncaster. Go and tell the others. Watch from the windows, but don’t come out. Margherita, will you come with me?” He stood, held out his hand and helped her up. She just nodded, then they walked away from Doncaster and the ristorante, and on towards the Springer. The closer they came to the boats, the more apparent it was there were two of them circling behind his boat.
“I am not so sure I want to do this, Tom.”
“Yeah? Well I’m absolutely sure I don’t want to do this!”
“Oh come off it, Margherita. They’re here. They’ve come for us. After what I’ve heard tonight I’m not sure there’s not a goddamn UFO out there somewhere, and these two clowns are here to escort us up to their goddamn mother-ship!”
He heard her giggle and he started to laugh.
“Tom Goodwin! You are a crazy man, but I think I am in love with you!”
Goodwin stopped, looked down at her face, at the moonlight in her eyes, and he kissed her. Gently at first, but soon with a force, a passion that left them both breathless. He could taste wine on her tongue, feel the intensity of her response in his chest.
Suddenly she pulled back from him, but she was smiling and held out her hand.
“Come! Let’s go see them!” she said as she pulled him along. He couldn’t resist the pull of her smile, so he ran along beside her until they came to Diogenes; he jumped on board then turned to help her across, then helped her cross to Springer. He made his way to the back of the cockpit and stepped down onto the swim platform. Margherita had a little difficulty making it over the rail but he guided her leg over, and soon they were sitting on the platform, their bare feet disappearing into the cool darkness.
She felt it first and jumped, then laughed, and she gripped his arm. “Her skin is so smooth,” she whispered.
Goodwin could just make out the cool grey form as it slid by in the darkness, then one of the dolphins burst from the water like a rocket and arced up into the night sky, spinning as it climbed; it came down on it’s back, creating a huge splash and a wave that washed up onto Goodwin and Margherita.
The acrobat slipped alongside Goodwin’s feet, just lightly rubbed along the soles of his feet, then turned and surfaced next to the platform. Lying silently on his side, two scars still visible in the starlight, and the dolphin continued to stare at Goodwin. The other dolphin surfaced and assumed position just beside the first.
Goodwin lifted himself from the platform with his hands, then pushed-off into the water.
“Tom! What are you doing?”
“I have no goddamn idea!” he said as he shook water from his ears.
“You’ll freeze to death! Get out!”
The one with two scars came alongside Goodwin, rolled and presented his dorsal fin, and Goodwin took it.
It was almost like sailing. That was his first thought. Moving silently, swiftly through the water, he held onto the fin as the dolphin slid silently out of the harbor, only once turning to look back at Margherita on the boat.
It was over almost as soon as it had begun. Two Scars and Goodwin were back off the cape and the waters where he and Margherita had joined earlier. He left Goodwin standing in waist-deep water but continued to circle slowly, as if waiting.
It wasn’t long before Goodwin understood.
He heard Margherita’s laughter, saw her head and shoulders gliding across the water toward the cape.
“What, you didn’t have enough of a show earlier?!” Goodwin quipped. Two Scar squirted water from his mouth, the water hit him squarely in his face, then he slid beneath the water; Margherita came alongside and slipped from the other dolphin’s back.
“Well, this seems clear enough,” she said as she drifted over to Goodwin.
The two dolphins surfaced side by side, began to circle the two humans in the water.
“Yes, clear enough.” Goodwin looked into her eyes as she climbed onto him; he managed to push his khakis down, then his skivvies. She had her arms around his neck now, and she lifted herself over him again. She had the barest panties on; he slid these aside and entered her in one slight movement. He felt the warmth of her – like star birth – fusing with him in the darkness.
She arched backwards, looked overhead at the water above, felt the two swimming beside her, joining her in this dance, their sounds together joining in new music. She rocked forward, her eyes half closed as the ecstasy she felt spread from her loins through her body; it was as if she was riding a wave, then wave upon wave built and crested as she rocked and arced through the starry night.
She could feel them now, both of them – swimming furiously around the womb of their night, the sea turning into a milky brine as seeds of a million lost generations mingled, as if inside this primordial moment both purpose and destiny were finally fusing.
She looked at Goodwin, at the look of bewildered intensity on his face, and she was aware that she was swaying now from side to side as the water carried her to and fro like a tattered remnant of seaweed on an ebbing tide.
One of the dolphins lay by her, adrift, dozing on the surface, and she reached out to touch it. She ran her hand along its side, felt deep muscle under smooth skin, and she was amazed by the colors it took from the night. The last of the night’s stars fell on the dolphin’s skin and glittered like tiny emeralds, and though the first warming rays of the rising sun were still far away, there was an amber-winged warmth casting pale light on far away skin, and the cool grays of her seaborne skin melted into the heart-fires of their creation.
She could feel the muscles of her womb contracting, feel the solid length of Goodwin still ensconced in the milky warmth of this second joining. Then she felt the tender arms of sleep carrying her away, away into the last of the darkness, the last of this – eternal night.
0530 hours, 07 July 1943
98th Bomb Wing, United States Army Air Corp, Eighth Air Force
Terria Air Base, south of Benghazi, The Libya
The B-24s were lined-up in formation on hard-packed sand in pre-dawn silence, but already men swarmed around the ungainly beasts – loading bombs and .50 caliber ammunition and hundreds of gallons of gasoline into each of the twenty one aircraft. Mechanics drifted among the aircraft signing off on repair orders and modifications, checking tire pressures and oil levels for the umpteenth time, while gunners walked just far enough away from the fuel-laden Liberators to smoke one last cigarette – before following more bombs and bullets up into the belly of their assigned beasts. The sun was still well below the horizon, yet already the day was shaping up to be another hot one, and tired men were beginning to sweat as fear and exhaustion mingled with piss-stained coffee and nervous, bile-laden vomit that disappeared into a barely warming earth.
Pilots walked from their briefing hut, climbed into Jeeps and trucks, rode out to their assigned aircraft while they shuffled briefing notes and call signs in their minds. One Jeep stopped beside a B-24 that had the name “Hell’s Belles” painted in red and yellow just under the cockpit windows, the words so framed by the arced bodies of a three lingerie clad women thrusting breasts forward in apparent defiance of anyone or anything in authority, each proudly thrusting their middle fingers at, one assumed, Adolf Hitler. The pilot and co-pilot stepped from the jeep as it rolled to a stop and wordlessly began their pre-flight inspections of the aircraft.
The co-pilot, an infantile lieutenant from Freer, Texas by the name of Hank Needham, was a lanky blond haired fellow with a crude joke and a ready smile always on hand. Needham’s reckless smile was almost always graced by a thoroughly chewed-up toothpick dangling from the corner of his mouth; he walked now under the right wing shining a flashlight into exhaust pipes and the landing gear well, spun open tiny fuel valves and checked the color and smell of the fuel in each tank, then he walked over and looked at the chit the crew chief held out for his signature.
The pilot, a captain hailing from a small farm just outside of New London, Connecticut, was a tall, brown haired man whose face was dominated by a mustache the size of California; his name was Paul Thomas Goodwin. He had turned twenty two years old at midnight; Needham and the other members of Hell’s Belles’ had given Goodwin a box of cigars and promised to get him laid when they returned to England in the fall. Goodwin had the reputation of having bedded very nearly every single woman in southeast England in the four months his group had been posted there, and he had now been without a woman for months. He was, quite understandably they thought, in a very foul mood when he lit up his first cigar of the morning.
Goodwin was now similarly occupied checking the left wing’s major orifices, and so satisfied the Liberator was indeed airworthy he vaulted up the entry hatch and hauled his way further up into the cockpit. He stopped off long enough to hand a list of radio frequencies and call signs off to the radio operator, then crawled along to the cockpit and slipped into the left seat. He pulled out the stiff cardboard takeoff checklist and began flipping buttons and setting dials by flashlight, at least until his eyes grew accustomed to the pale red instrument lighting. He heard his co-pilot clambering up from below while he set the fuel tank selector switch to “ALL”, the normal position for take-off, then he slipped his flashlight into it’s holder.
“All set, Queer?” His co-pilot had acquired this inglorious nickname quite naturally: Queer rhymed with Freer, as in Freer, Texas. His full handle was ‘Hangin’ Hal, the Queer from Freer,” and it was said reverentially in some corners that the moniker allegedly had something to do with the Queer’s rather sizeable implement, which was rumored to hang down somewhere south of his kneecaps. Women all over East Anglia were said to be in total awe of The Queer’s equipment, and the boy settled into the right seat, apparently taking great care not to mangle his equipment.
“You betchca, Cap,” Queer said. “Good as gold.” Needham finished his part of the pre-flight checklist then told Goodwin he was done. “How ‘bout you.”
“Calm down, willya? You’re as nervous as a fart in a frying pan this morning!”
The radioman came over intercom and advised: “Captain, all set back here.”
“Roger. Get everything stowed and ready to roll, Perkins.”
Goodwin saluted a ground crewman below and started his number two engine, the engine furthest from him out on the left wing. Needham monitored pressure gauges and temperatures while Goodwin started the remaining three engines, then they sat, waiting, waiting – always waiting – until the Unit Commander signaled and the lead B-24 moved off toward the runway.
After months of practicing extreme low level flying in both England and North Africa, as part of their ongoing preparations for Operation Tidal Wave, today’s mission was straight forward, dull, yet anything but routine. The big mission was still a month or more off, maybe longer. At least everyone hoped it would be longer. Today was still considered a warm up for the main event.
Today a wave of diversionary B-25s was going to make a run at a railway yard west of Milan; Goodwin’s group was going after another much larger railway complex near the center of Milan. It was hoped any German or Italian fighters would be drawn off to chase the B-25s out over the Med and leave the much slower, much heavier loaded Liberator’s unmolested for their long run-in to the target. The fact that the last one hundred miles of their bomb run would be made at tree-top level was a new wrinkle, and it was hoped this new dimension would catch the defenders completely off-guard.
As section leader, Goodwin’s Liberator was number three in line this morning; takeoff and climb-out went as scheduled and the formation took bearings and rumbled off toward the east coast of Italy some ten minutes after six in the morning. They climbed slowly to twenty four thousand feet then, and, as they burned off more fuel, the formation edged higher, closer to thirty thousand feet. The plan they had been briefed-in on called for the group to turn west just south of Venice at high altitude, then dive for the deck about a hundred and fifty miles out and make a straight in run to the target at maximum speed. The departure plan was simply to make for Genoa, then Sicily, where the Allies invasion beachhead was already well established; if all went well the group would make it back to Libya in time for a quick game of baseball. Total mission time was slated for a little over eight hours.
At least if all went well.
It was a ‘bluebirds’ day – not a cloud in the sky – and even as the group headed north they could see, now off to the west, huge billowing clouds of burning munitions and fuel that Allied bombers had hit during the night – somewhere on the north coast of Sicily. The sun was not yet high enough to obscure the yellow-orange glow of the myriad fires rampaging through supplies so critical to the German defense of the island.
Goodwin smiled at the sight: someone had done a pretty goddamn good job last night.
The rising sun lit off cloud tops like soft yellow candles as the formation droned north across the Mediterranean, towards Taranto. The men on Hell’s Belles passed around cool sandwiches and drank stale coffee from pale thermoses as first Bari, then Ancona slid by in a fat grey haze far off the left side of the formation. As they grew nearer to Ravenna and the Adriatic coastline, crews grew increasingly nervous as the droning group passed over the shoreline far below, even as navigators took quick fixes on distant landmarks and refined their positions. Ferrara next formed out of the mists ahead, and while the possibility of real airborne opposition now loomed menacingly, no one saw any aircraft – friend of foe – in the sky ahead of or around the group. Soon, with Verona ahead just visible under coppery layers of late morning haze, the formation turned hard left and dropped like a stone toward the Po River, pilots opened throttles to the stops as their aircraft settled in just a few meters above the treetops and the bombers thundered towards their Initial Point – and the beginning of the final run-in to the target.
Goodwin was in his element down here ‘in the weeds’; he loved low altitude flying, the danger, the immediate – and final – consequences of making any mistake excited him, made him feel more alive than anything he had ever done in his life. He kept one hand on the throttle levers, the other on the wheel, his feet jockeyed the rudder pedals furiously as the B-24 plowed through ground thermals and air currents – usually prop-wash from the aircraft just ahead. He rarely scanned his instruments now, leaving those to The Queer and instead keeping his eyes fixed on the aircraft dead ahead and – peripherally – the ground rushing by barely one hundred feet below. At almost four hundred miles per hour in the thick roiled air, the ride was intensely rough and gunners in the back of the aircraft vomited out their gunports, sandwiches and coffee drifting down onto the treetops and cowering faces of a completely astonished landscape.
The formation achieved complete tactical surprise that morning; as expected, enemy fighters had been drawn to the coast and ground defenses simply couldn’t engage targets coming in at such a low altitude. As the miles reeled by, as the target grew ever closer, the pilots and group commanders knew they had pulled it off.
The bombardier in Hell’s Belles called the IP, but the pilot would continue to fly the aircraft to the target because of the low altitude; dropping the bomb load would be called by the pilot as Goodwin had the best sense of orientation and drift to the target from his vantage point, and because bomb sights were useless at this altitude. Perhaps the biggest danger the men now faced came not from enemy aircraft or anti-aircraft fire, but by bombs dropped from aircraft immediately ahead, and even their own bombs. Bomb fragments and flying debris thrown violently into the air from bombers just ahead would become as deadly as any other hot metal fired at them in anger, and all simply because from this altitude and at this speed their bombs would impact and detonate just milliseconds after being dropped. With this in mind, they increased spacing between aircraft as they approached the rail yard.
Goodwin got word from his bombardier that the target was now less than ten miles ahead – less than a minute away now. He pulled back gently on the stick and the Liberator climbed ever-so-slightly, up to maybe a hundred and seventy feet above the ground, and he commanded that the bomb bay doors be opened. Flak started popping above the formation, then gunners on the ground lowered their aim and began firing into the formation, oblivious to the danger this presented to their own forces on the ground.
Goodwin saw bombs dropping from the aircraft ahead – “too soon, goddamn it!” he yelled – and a wall of flame-filled dirt filled the view ahead of the instrument panel. Now, instead of seeing the onrushing world just ahead he saw black clouds filled with boxcars, flaming fountains of twisted rail and molten meat. As rock and timber, the sinew of all railways filled the air, he heard shattering glass and metal slamming into metal all around, he smelled cordite and scorched earth as smoke poured into the cockpit – and his eyes watered reflexively as the stench washed over him.
He instinctively pickled the bomb release switch on his wheel, felt the aircraft lurch as the load fell away, and he rushed to trim the elevators to keep the Liberator from shooting up uncontrollably into the flak-filled sky. As suddenly, Hell’s Belles cleared the wall of cloud and roared off into open skies. The lead aircraft, just ahead and to his left, burst into flame and disappeared behind him in an instant, black cotton balls full of death paved the way ahead, so he jinked up and right, down and left, left rudder, right rudder, hug the ground, pull up…the men behind held on as Hell’s Belles corkscrewed through the air – still, Goodwin hoped, unscathed.
Goodwin looked left; there were no other aircraft in sight…
“Queer! We got anyone on us!”
Goodwin looked at his co-pilot. The boy was slumped over to his right, his head leaning against shattered glass, blood and bits of brain were splattered all over the cockpit.
“Shit! Needham? You with me?”
He called on the intercom for someone to come up to the cockpit and move Needham’s body from the controls; someone – he didn’t have time to look – came forward and muscled the body aft; again he called, this time for the bombardier to come up and sit beside him and help scan the horizon for enemy aircraft.
“Bandits!” he heard over the intercom. “Nine o’clock high! 190s comin’ down, skipper! Large formation!”
Goodwin looked high over his left shoulder; he could make out yellow spinners on the diving Focke-Wulf 190 fighters as they sliced downward through the clear sky towards the formation. He slammed the throttles forward again, dove as far down into the weeds as he dared and concentrated on sudden obstructions that popped up ahead – and shot-by with dizzying speed. Gunners began calling targets, machine guns hammered the sky and the air filled once again with scorched gunpowder – now mixed with testosterone-drenched adrenalin, vomit and piss.
20mm cannon rounds slammed into Hell’s Belles just aft of Goodwin; he heard men screaming, then smoke filled the air. The aircraft began to yaw left, he slammed in right rudder and looked out over his left shoulder: the number one engine was simply gone! The entire engine cowling and structure had been hot away, now flame-licked soot raced away from the wreckage into the slipstream. Another burst of machine gun fire from his gunners, someone yelling “Got him, I got the bastard!” and Goodwin methodically toggled the number one fire extinguisher and dialed in some aileron and rudder trim to compensate for the yaw inducing drag of the blown away engine.
He turned south toward Genoa and Corsica, slowly nursed his altitude back up to ten thousand feet as the German fighters fell off to refuel. Pavia drifted by, then Piacenza and Parma, all off to the left, while survivors of the formation closed in behind Hell’s Belles. Goodwin was now in tactical command of the group, and he signaled for the formation to tighten up. They would head for Sicily, where the closest Allied forces were located. If anyone had to ditch or was forced to land before making Libya, they could shoot for Sicily. Goodwin worked up a rough course toward Bastia, on the northeast coast of Corsica; from there he would lead the group to Palermo, then toward the Libyan coast, and, be it ever so humble, home.
The Ligurian coastline loomed ahead, Genoa lay just to the right, buried under a vast wall of storm clouds that had ominously – in the intense summer heat – climbed to well over forty thousand feet. The way ahead was now choked with building cumulus clouds, some towering so high Goodwin couldn’t make out the tops from this altitude. Soon he was weaving the formation through tight white canyons of vaulting clouds, and the ambient turbulence became more pronounced with each passing minute. Each time the Liberator shook it sounded to Goodwin as if someone was throwing a metal toolbox into a brick wall; each concussion was followed by jarring rattles and cascades of loose metal detritus finding its way back into the aircraft’s belly.
Goodwin was aware of a flash, then a volley of 20mm cannon fire tore through the Liberator; fire engulfed the right wing and smoke poured into the cockpit – but this time Goodwin smelled raw gasoline . . .
“Get ready to jump!” he called out. “Assume bailout stations!”
Goodwin pushed the nose over while he armed and fired all the primary and secondary fire extinguishers, and Hell’s Belles dove down into cloud…the pure white cloud soon grew dark and cool as sunlight retreated from memory . . . A matter of pure chance now, the cloud’s moisture added to the fire suppressing chemicals flooding the blazing wing, and almost instantly the fires were out. Goodwin looked at his engine instrumentation – only the number two engine remained but there was now almost zero fuel left in the tanks. Hell’s Belles was going down, and going down fast.
Ludvico Ferranté hated Germans. Everything about them. He hated the imperious way they ordered him about, the strutting air of superiority they assumed when coming into his father’s ristorante, their boisterous pretensions of being the ‘master race’ . . . all of it, all of their imbecilic Teutonic braggadocio . . . and yet most of all, he hated Major Gunther Schrader with a fury that would fire his soul until the end of time. In Ludvico Ferrante’s mind, Italy would never live down the shame of having allied itself with these Hitlerite scum; the only way to regain any measure of self respect would be to help throw these mad thugs out of his country. And this he intended to do.
Ludvico had just this day turned twenty one years old, yet here he was, in the ristorante as he was everyday, serving seafood from his father’s boats to German officers and the wives and mistresses of the rich Austrian industrialists who still came to Portofino, despite the war. Portofino had been held in highest regard in the German mind since Goethe roamed the area as a young man; it had become something of a ritual for the sons of wealthy German bourgeois families to find their way to Rapallo and Portofino as a part of their education, a part of seeing how decadence tempted and distorted the Real German Man, swayed him from material achievement into diseased decadence. But oh, how fun it was to be tempted! How rich it was to be decadent, even if only for a summer!
But Gunther Schrader was something else entirely.
“We Germans are your allies!” he had heard time and time again from Schrader, but that was before he had raped half the women in Portofino, and as often as not at gunpoint, and in the company of a half dozen or so other willing ‘noble allies’. Now, with the Americans in Sicily and the invasion of the Italian mainland rumored to be just days away, Ludvico and hundreds of other men and women in the area were forming partisan bands to wage guerrilla warfare against the Germans – until the Allies could reach the area.
‘How easy it would be,’ Ludvico said to himself, ‘to slit this man’s throat right here, right now!’ Or poison his soup, place a bomb in his car! Now, today . . . right now!
‘Do it!’ he told himself. ‘Now!’
Though there were others in the ristorante, including two other German officers, Ludvico went to a cutlery case and pulled out a long knife used to filet fish table side. He was going to carry it over and place it on the serving cart next to Schrader’s table, put it there, then when the time was right . . . strike!
“You! Boy! Bring us more bread, and some real butter, none of this ersatz crap for me!” Schrader pointed at Ludvico with steak knife in hand, the malevolence in the gesture total and unmistakable. “And another bottle of wine, you idiot!” He turned to the woman sitting at his side, a local whore too used to the good life to refuse this crude pig. “That little shit!” Schrader continued, “I’m going to have to beat some common sense and good manners into him before this day is done.”
Ludvico carried the knife to the cart and placed it there, and was going to turn from the window and go to the kitchen when he saw it in the skies over Rapallo. Fire! Fire and smoke! At first it was too far away, there was no sound . . . only an intense, blinding light . . . but soon he heard it . . . the unmistakable sound of a stricken airplane, engine catching and sputtering, even though the noise was still so far away, so far across the bay. He could feel the German’s eyes on the back of his neck, heard his chair scraping back on the stone floor, and he soon felt the man’s dark presence by the window next to him.
Schrader looked at the flaming aircraft, saw parachutes like trailing petals fall from within roiling black plumes and settle on errant breezes, dropping towards the sea. Ludvico looked at Schrader’s face for a moment, saw the hard set of the man’s jaw, the anger and hatred flaring from red, bull-like nostrils, the man’s pale, grey eyes watching, calculating, hoping that death would claim those desperate men. Perhaps he did not want to have his lunch interrupted, or his afternoon with this slut du jour now simpering at his table. Ludvico looked at him, hating him, his anger growing by the minute.
Schrader called out to the two officers seated near the patio door, told them to take a detachment of men toward Santa Margherita Ligure and see to it that any survivors were rounded up and brought to him this afternoon. “NOW!” Schrader screamed, and the men jumped and ran out through the piazza to their waiting truck.
Ludvico reached down, picked up the knife then drove it into Schrader’s neck with ferocious intensity. He felt the blade slice through the larynx, felt cold steel against sinew and bone, and he twisted the blade while he watched with satisfaction as Schrader turned to look at him. Schrader fumbled for the pistol on his belt but Ludvico slashed the blade mercilessly through the German’s neck; blood filled the man’s mouth and sputtered into the air when the knife was withdrawn.
“Excuse me, Sir, while I just go and fetch your bread and butter,” Ludvico said, then he walked over to the whore and drove the knife through the woman’s breast, into her heart, holding his hand over her mouth while he did so.
“Vico!” he heard his father screaming. “What in God’s name are you doing!”
The son turned to the father as the son becomes the father, and as he looked at the cowardly old man he felt a wave of sympathy wash over his soul.
“Help me, father. Let’s get them to the boat, now, before someone comes!”
“Father! Move! We must move them before it is too late!”
His father ran into the kitchen with terror in his eyes; one of the cooks came out a moment later and looked at Schrader’s body, then at the whore’s.
“Eh, Ludvico! Don’t you know how to stick someone without making such a fucking mess!”
Though he might have expected any number of responses to seeing what he’d done, Ludvico never expected this one. Trini LaFortuna was a rogue, almost a harlequin, and a great cook as well, but Ludvico had never once suspected Trini was with the partisans. And Trini had never suspected young Ferranté had the balls to pull off something so utterly brazen and – heroic!
The two young men wrapped the German in an old linen table cloth, then the whore, and they carried the bodies out to the cart they used to bring fish up from the docks to the market stalls. They dumped the bodies in the cart, covered them with garbage – fish guts and cans and scraps of beef and vegetables – and while Trini went back inside to mop up the floor and straighten up the rest of his mess, Ludvico rolled the cart down to his father’s fishing boat.
He looked once toward the sea while he unloaded the cart into the ice well under the deck.
Nothing. He could see little, if anything, of interest out past the cape, just a line of black thunderstorms headed south and east across the bay. Of the darkness that had settled over his heart – he could see nothing at all.
Paul Goodwin felt the last series of blasts shake Hell’s Belles just as he ordered his crew to jump; the next thing he was aware of was hurtling through the sky free of the aircraft. He had no idea if he had jumped or if the aircraft had exploded and he’d been thrown clear; whatever had happened – it didn’t matter now, he knew he was falling inexorably seaward and he had but moments to deploy his parachute before he hit. Cold, powerful gusts from the storms slammed into him, tumbling his body ferociously, and he fought to get his hands on the metal release and pull. He was barely aware, perhaps just once during these first frantic moments, that his flight suit was scorched, indeed, parts of it still seemed to be burning. Concussive waves of thunder crushed the air from his lungs, the hair on his arms tingled as sheets of lightning arced through the air all round his falling body, yet all he could think of in that moment was that he might be on fire!
He found the release and pulled, clouds of silk trailed skyward and opened, Goodwin’s body jerked and twitched as the ‘chute opened, and suddenly he was aware that the fabric of his flight suit around the back of his neck was hot, and suddenly he could smell flesh – his flesh – burning. The pain was instantly unreal, excruciating, and he beat at the unseen furies with his gloved hands, writhing and screaming in anguished frustration – and then he looked up.
Glowing traceries of fire raced up the nylon lines toward his parachute, one by one the lines began to blacken and snap; soon little patches of flame erupted on the ‘chute itself. ‘This is a fucking nightmare!’ he told himself . . . ‘I’m going to wake up . . . now! Time to wake up . . . Time to wake up . . .’
But the nightmare did not end.
He looked down between his feet at the sea. He could see waves now, white-capped storm-driven waves cresting and breaking everywhere he looked, wind-driven foam racing leeward with his last hopes and dreams – and he looked up one last time to see the remnants of his parachute burst into flame, felt the sudden jolt of acceleration that pronounced his onrushing death. He watched in helpless wonder now as the once serenely remote sea reached up for him, ready to smash the spark of life from his body. In one last act of defiance, Goodwin spread his arms and legs wide, tried to make his body produce as much drag as possible then, just seconds before impact, he straightened his body, streamlined his form as rigidly as he could – his toes pointed down, one hand over his nose, the other pointed straight overhead as if beseeching a just God to show just the tiniest bit of mercy on his soul…
He felt nothing, absolutely nothing of the impact. His first awareness was of cool water soothing his burned neck, salt water flooding his nose, stinging his lips. He pulled at the cord on his Mae West and – nothing happened! He remembered something from flight training, what was it? Follow your bubbles, push hard for the surface and follow your bubbles! His lungs began to burn, his eyes too as salt water flooded over them, but he found after a moment that the stinging stopped once he blinked his eyes a couple of times and the pH balanced out. He looked up, saw the roiled surface just above his head and he burst into the air and sucked down as much as he could before a wave rolled over and tumbled him mercilessly back down into the sea. He kicked his way back to the surface again, found the manual inflation tube on the Mae West and began blowing the damned thing up. He chose a few angry words, hurled them carelessly at God when the Mae West proved totally defective, and he began treading water. His best hope now was to stay afloat long enough for a German patrol boat to come looking for his body.
Within a few moments the worst of the storm passed, the sea even began to lay down a bit, and as waves rolled-by he looked from the crests towards land, tried to gauge how far away it might be to the nearest bit of shoreline. Storms obscured his view to the east and south, more storms appeared ready to roll down from the north, and only one small parcel of land was just barely visible off to the west. Trees were not individually visible, so he assumed land was at least five miles away, maybe more, but he just couldn’t tell.
“Well, fuck,” Goodwin said aloud. “It’s either swim or die. So come on, let’s get to it!” He pulled off his boots, cut away the remnants of the parachute and it’s harness, leaving only the yellow vest, his scorched flight-suit, socks and gloves.
On the crest of the next big wave, he caught his bearings and began swimming to the west. It felt good at first, the movement kept him warm, and the sea grew less agitated as time passed. Soon he convinced himself he could make out trees and a few castle-like villas perched on distant hillsides, but he also began to get a better angle on the distances involved. He was still at least four or five miles offshore, and now he could tell that strong winds were blowing him away from land! Every stroke he took seemed to set him back further, and he soon grew dispirited, then angry.
He turned on his back to rest, stroked along slowly, looking up at black-bellied clouds as they raced by just over head, just out of reach. How easy this would all be, he dreamt, if he could just reach out and grab a cloud and drift along with them. He began to feel the storm-chilled waters seeping into his bones, his teeth began to chatter, and he reached up for a passing cloud, tried to grab onto it – and fly – again…
Water washed over his face, into his eyes, and he lazily spit the water from his mouth as he paddled now slowly in aimless circles. Time passed, waves rolled by, yet in the end Goodwin felt himself slowly giving way to a softly beckoning voice, to the ever seductive call, to the sweet release of sleep…
Ludvico and Trini cast off the lines and pushed the boat away from the stone quay and drifted out into the harbor, then Trini started the old one-cylinder diesel and steered clear of harbor moorings on their way from the harbor out to the sea. The boat slipped past the cape and into deeper water; they waved at a group of German troops manning an anti-aircraft emplacement near the lighthouse and watched as the troops looked at them, then waved back. They continued well offshore and threw nets over, began to fish – or at least they hoped they appeared to be fishing. When they were far enough away that no one could see them, they lifted the bodies from the well and wrapped them in an old rusted chain, then rolled the bodies into the sea and watched them sink into the blackness.
They set more nets, ran back and pulled in the first line and landed what was actually a pretty good haul of mackerel and sea bass. They kept at it for another couple of hours, then brought up all their nets, packed the haul in ice, and with tired backs and wicked grins turned towards the harbor. Trini lit a cigarette and checked the compass, took a drag and let the fag settle lazily into the corner of his mouth. Smoke trailed from his nostrils as cold wind blew through his hair; Ludvico set about cleaning trash from the nets and mending all the small tears and frayed lines that inevitably cropped up after an afternoon’s fishing.
They waved at the Germans again as they closed on the cape; Ludvico stood by the cockpit ready to head for the bow and snag their mooring buoy for the night. He was tired, but the adrenaline from the kill still rushed maddeningly through his veins, alternately confusing, then washing over him like jittery fingers. His eyes watered in the cold air, and he reached up and wiped them dry with a careless knuckle from time to time, and once he thought he saw something in the water, so he rubbed his eyes once again and looked again.
There. Something yellow.
“Trini! Look! There, by the entrance marker! What is that?!”
Trini backed off the throttle and the boat settled bow-down into the water as it slowed; he craned his neck out the cockpit and looked. He saw it, rubbed his eyes then looked again.
“It’s moving!” Ludvico shouted.
“Shut your goddamn mouth, or every German between here and Rome will be down our ass before we can get tied off!”
Ludvico went forward, held on to the rail as the boat pushed through the last of the wind-driven swell, and then he saw it clearly.
The yellow he had seen was a life vest, the type worn by airmen; now he saw the airman was alive, indeed awake, and he was holding onto the dorsal fin of a dolphin! The man looked at him and smiled, shot him the ‘thumbs up’ so typical of an American, and Ludvico turned, looked at Trini to tell him to get between the man in the sea on the people on the quay. Trini’s mouth hung open, the cigarette dropped from his mouth, then he caught Vico’s gestures and tried to listen to what he said. Finally he nodded, maneuvered the boat alongside the man in the water and shielded him from view; Vico knelt beside the man and talked to him while he pretended to work with his lines, told him his plan, and Trini slowed as they approached their mooring. Vico took up the mooring pendant and tied off the line, motioned to the airman, asked him to get off the animal’s back – and the man did so, though obviously with no small amount of reluctance. The dolphin circled the man once, twice, surfaced between the man and the boat; the man reached out, rubbed the dolphin’s face with intense affection, and to Vico it was obvious the dolphin understood the feelings and meaning behind the man’s movements.
“He must be American,” Trini said. “Who else but an American could do this?”
The dolphin appeared to nod his head at the man in the water, then looked at the man one last time and slipped silently into the blackness, and he was as gently gone.
Ludvico spoke enough English to at times make a complete fool of himself, but today he somehow managed to make his thoughts clear. He got the American aboard, told him to go into the tiny cabin and wait; they would bring him shoes and dry clothes and food as soon as they could, move him off the boat in the night and up into the hills. Trini hollered to men on the quay; one of them rowed out to pick the two men up.
“Go now, below!” Vico said. “Blanket downs below, gets warm. Engine warm. Be backs soon.” They unloaded their catch and hopped in the little dory and were gone…
Paul Thomas Goodwin slipped below, found a pile of rope and lay down on it. He found a blanket and pulled it over his body. He dug some chocolate out of his flight suit; it was soaked but still, ‘thank God!’ tasted a little like chocolate! He found an orange and some bread in a little bulkhead mounted cupboard and ate those as well, and fell asleep without one more thought of the day’s events.
Vico and Trini made it ashore and hauled their catch to the ristorante, only to pause when they saw dozens of uniformed Gestapo milling around outside, as if waiting for something, or someone. The two men drifted into shadow, watched as a group of Germans hauled his father out of the ristorante and threw him into the back of a truck and drove off into the night.
Vico looked at Trini, then after his father as the truck disappeared into the soft fog that was just settling over the harbor, and the village. Then he looked back at the fishing boat.
“We could maybe trade the American for your father,” Trini said.
“But they will kill . . .”
“No. We must hide until we can get the American off the boat. Then we must get up into the hills.”
“But . . .”
“Trini, do as I say. There is no time to argue. Let’s get food and clothing and some rest. Come, we will be at it for a long time tonight.”
“But where can we go?”
“I know a place.” And he did. He knew she would take them in, knew she would help. He turned to the darkness and made his way into the night.
07 July 1943 2320 hours
He was floating now. Of that much he was sure.
He knew he had been asleep for hours, but it might have been minutes, or days. He looked at his watch, it’s face a fogged-over wreck – and he simply had no point of reference anymore, only the queasy sensation of floating in absolute darkness. But his back was sore, he knew that much, and after his head cleared he reached down to find what was causing the pain. He felt a huge coil of damp rope backed up against the damp wooden hull; the rope was slick with sea-snot, but still as hard as a rock, and he felt indentions in his back…rope shaped and cold.
‘Yes, that’s it. Oh . . . pain . . . move . . . my God! What is that smell?’
He wrinkled his nose; this darkness was rich with gut-twisting smells of old fish and even older seaweed mixed in with what had to be diesel fuel dripping into a bilge full of black, scum-filled water. This world, this little womb Goodwin found himself in, was almost completely devoid of light, his only frame of reference was the opaque sound of water lapping against the hull echoing all around him. Somewhere far away a bell was clanging in the night, perhaps atop a buoy rolling on an unseen breeze, and memory came rushing in as if borne on an inrushing tide.
Of course he was floating. He had been afloat all day.
First on hell-borne wings, then during his descent, looking up through burning silk at storm ravaged clouds, and finally, on endless, storm-tossed seas. Yes, the sea. Floating on the sea. Cold sea-fingers reaching from the depths, drawing ‘round his soul, pulling him from life on vaulted clouds into darkness, cradling him in soothing embrace, each afraid to let go. He remembered the inevitability of it all; surrender had seemed the logical, the easy thing to do. He remembered sinking – yet with his eyes open, and he saw cool gray water, the sun a receding memory of blue-filtered ripples echoing like memories of happier days. Like he was running in lazy circles through flower-tossed fields. He could see his mother standing outside the house, trees swaying in warm summer breezes, leaves dancing to silver-green music, and she was calling him…calling him…
In his soul he could smell cookies and milk, his mother working in the kitchen, his father out in the fields…a cold nose rubbing against his leg…he looked down, saw his best friend in the world, the dog he had always called Ready…because she always was…
The old Springer’s nose was white with age, her eyes clouded by milky lenses that could only have been earned by thousands of afternoons running under carefree skies by his side, and yet Ready was rubbing her cold nose against his legs insistently now, her little stump of a tail wagging in excited purpose, that low growl she used to tell the world she had something to say, ‘and you’d better listen if you know what’s good for you…’
The cold nose slammed into his side again, but harder this time, and he turned, saw he was sinking deeper into the sea, felt the loneliness of solitary death surrounding him and, there it was…a cool grey form gliding by just in silence, a black eye following him, looking at him, measuring him…
The dolphin came closer, rubbed against Goodwin’s body, it’s gracefully arced dorsal fin thumping into him as it flew by. The dolphin turned again, seemed perplexed, then drifted by again, closer still, slowly…
‘Take me, see me, you can be free of this…’
Goodwin reached out, took hold of the offered fin and rose gently back into the light and air of his beginnings. He held onto the dolphin as air rushed into starved lungs, his body draped over the dolphin’s cold gray back, and as he drank in ragged breaths he began to cry. From joy or sorrow he couldn’t tell, but to the others the song remained the same. He felt them rise from the sea, quietly, by his side, and he turned, looked with vacant uncomprehending eyes at the other dolphin there – looking at him, then he saw another and another. They were all looking at him, listening to him, taking the measure of his soul. He grew silent, watched them as he might have watched someone in the mirror of his dreams – and in that uneasy instant he grew silent as a crying child might when confronted with the profound, and the unknown.
He looked around – now there were seven of them in the water beside him…each silently looking at him…their silver-watered forms seemingly aglow with electric expectation…
The seventh dolphin, a small pale creature with luminous, golden eyes drifted forward, came up to him and rested its slender snout lightly on his shoulder. He could see a red worm attached to the dolphin’s eye, a weeping sore surrounded the wound. Goodwin fished in his flight suit and pulled a little metal first aid kit out and opened it. With tweezers in hand he removed the parasite; he opened a tiny silver tube of sulfa ointment and put some on his finger, then rubbed the medicine into the flesh around the eye until it disappeared into the animal’s skin. He stroked its forehead tenderly; the small dolphin rose a bit and opened its mouth, and smooth sounds drifted across the waves as she proclaimed his fitness to the skies, and her group assented, dropped back into the sea, and as suddenly Goodwin was alone again.
The largest one reappeared a moment later and presented its dorsal fin again; Goodwin reached out and held on, his cool body absorbing warmth from the vast flank of pulsing muscle against his belly. They began moving toward land.
“Now I know what it feels like to be a torpedo!” he said after plowing through a couple of large waves, but soon he got into the rhythm of the animal’s motion through the water and in time ducked and breathed with some measure of this new music. He saw land growing near and realized he didn’t want this time to come to an end…the longer he remained on the dolphin’s side the more intensely he wanted to stay with the animal, to be with this animal…to become one this animal. He sensed that the dolphin felt much the same way, only perhaps – differently, and he felt the animal wished to be human, longed to walk among trees and flowers again and again and again…
Soon Goodwin saw a boat ahead, a man on the foredeck framed by purple clouds and an apricot sun looking on him, clearly stunned by what he saw. As they came closer, Goodwin smiled at the man and shot him the ‘thumbs up’: I’m real – he wanted to say – and I’m going to be your friend.
Now, in the cold and damp of the rocking boat Goodwin felt disoriented and alone, but worst of all he felt an immediate need to relieve himself. He had seen soldiers on the beach and on the quay and he didn’t want to expose himself to scrutiny or in any way reveal his location; he knew the consequences would be disastrous for not only himself but the men who had offered him this refuge. Now he faced a stark choice; get back in the water or foul himself…
He heard – something – thump along the hull, then again. He didn’t hear any voices, but again something soft collided with the boat.
Was it the men?
Had they returned?
He froze, listened to every sound in the darkness, but soon his heartbeat was drowning out everything as a racing pulse hammered through his head. The need to relieve himself became overwhelming in the cold darkness, and with each new bump against the hull the pressure built and built. Finally he could take it no longer . . .
He gently pushed back the companionway door and slipped into the back of the boat on his belly. He crouched next to the gunwales and raised his head, slowly looked around. The village was almost dark, only a few lights flickered behind old yellow curtains; he raised himself up and slid over the side as silently as he could into the cold darkness.
Sudden light flooded his eyes, he heard voices, German voices yelling menacingly nearby, then gunshots. The water by his face exploded, bullets slammed into the wooden boat behind him and he pushed himself down into the blackness…
And there he was…waiting…for him…
The dolphin swam alongside again and Goodwin latched himself to the proffered dorsal fin and the two of them rocketed under the sea until out of the harbor, breaking back into the night air with the harbor several hundred yards behind. He smiled now, his relief immense, and he hoped the fast flowing currents had washed all the pee out of his flight suit. The joy surrounding the day’s encounters returned with overwhelming intensity, this feeling of being alive, this sudden joy, yet it was all a mystery. This animal was his friend. Why? How?
And still his friend kept swimming, swimming toward a spit of land ahead and to their right. Soon he was among slippery black rocks, the water shallow enough to stand in, the harbor now so far away no one could possibly see him.
Had the dolphin been thumping the hull, trying to warn him? The thought hit him like a blow to the stomach. Not possible! Everything that had happened that afternoon was impossible, and yet – here he was.
The large dolphin drifted lazily on the surface just a few yards away, staring, then Goodwin felt another body closer still. He turned, saw the smaller dolphin, the one with the wounded eye, and when their eyes met she came to him, placed her snout on his shoulder again and seemed to sigh. He held her close in shocked surprise for a while, then she slipped under suddenly and was gone again.
Lightning still danced across the far horizon, distant thunder rumbled through the sea. Had she seen something?
Goodwin heard footsteps on the rocky beach and flattened himself against the black stone and held his breath. They seemed like aimless footsteps, the footsteps of a wandering soul taking in the remnants of another storm-tossed day. He chanced to look, wanted to get an idea of what he was up against. He slipped upwards, his eyes lifted just above the kelp-crusted rocks, and his breath slipped away into the night…
She was taking off the last of her clothes now, standing on the rocks in her panties and tattered black stockings, looking out over a pitiless sea; soon she sat and peeled these last bits of another life from her skin and slipped first one foot, then the other into the inky black wetness. She walked out into the water not ten feet away from Goodwin, walked past him and kept moving silently as if to her death, and then it hit him.
She had come to her end. This was her night of endings. It was too cold outside for a leisurely swim, and now the water was uncomfortably cold – with the sun’s warmth so far away.
She was committing suicide!
He couldn’t stand by and watch this unfold silently; he had to act, and that being his nature, he did.
He pushed himself away from the rocks, slipped through the water until he came to her and he reached out, touched her shoulder. If he had expected surprise on her face he was disappointed. The woman, perhaps his age, perhaps a little younger, reacted to his presence with barely the slightest shimmer of recognition, her eyes felt black and lifeless, her skin slack, as if she had already moved on and was now beyond redemption. She pushed his hand away, walked further into the sea. She never said a word.
The large dolphin moved to block her way and the woman stopped, moved away from the animal as if afraid, then another dolphin appeared, and another – until soon all seven were around her, boxing her movements. The woman turned, looked at Goodwin, began speaking in Italian as her confusion rent the air; Goodwin put his fingers to his lips and she instantly understood, and in that moment of pure silence she become unimaginably beautiful, and completely full of wrathful vengeance.
They both heard the voices at the same time. More Germans, he guessed, and probably looking for him, too. Goodwin pushed himself from another rock and drifted to her side, took her arm and pulled her back into the shadows. He turned, looked where the dolphins had been and saw now only a smooth black sea.
Voices, hard angry voices, flashlights sweeping silvered water, footsteps on gravel, laughter, footsteps receding into the night, voices falling away on dying breezes.
And then . . .
The woman’s cool skin on his, her teeth beginning to chatter as the cold penetrated her bones. He took her in his arms and rubbed her vigorously and she held him, put her arms around his body, her face on his shoulder and she sighed. To Goodwin the symmetry was complete, and astonishing. She grew calm as if taking energy from him, soon she pulled back from him, looked into his eyes for a long moment, a silent moment pregnant with swirling purpose, then she leaned into him again and put her face on his shoulder – again.
Forces unseen and unseeable drifted on the surface of the water and coiled around the man and the woman, pulled them from the rocks into deeper water as if to wash the woman’s wounds in this man’s embrace. She held his face, now, oh now, instantly aware of unimaginable impulses gathering in the waters all around, and she leaned into him again, this time her mouth on his, breathing the breath of his breath, kissing the kiss of his mouth. Soon it was as if the water around them boiled in furious abnegation of human frailty; she unzipped his flight suit, reached down, took him in her hand and squeezed him roughly. His hands sought her downy smoothness and he kissed her roughly, his need savage now. She leaned back, pulled the flight suit from his shoulders and pushed it down his body, took him in her hands and dragged her fingernails into the stiffening skin and squeezed again, hard. He gasped as she rose in the water and lowered herself on his need, their surrender complete as other bodies in the water began spinning furiously around this new union.
They were there again, all seven of them. Looking on almost tentatively, almost reaching out to touch them, they had formed a rough circle around the man and the woman and they watched carefully, as if measuring their choice. The small one, the female Goodwin had helped earlier, drifted closer and rubbed against him, then began to swim around the humans slowly, soon almost continuously in contact with both of them. Another one came forward, this one larger than the female, and he moved in beside this apparent mate and swam by her side.
Goodwin felt them rub across his back and his legs occasionally, but they were intently focused on their own dance now, leaving Goodwin and the woman alone in the vortex they were creating. He felt a lightness of being warping the air around them, the water growing warm and intensely briny as electric impulses arced between the woman and his groin, then he felt her stiffening, her back arcing like lightning, her legs behind his now, pulling him deeper as he came. He twisted under her vaulting orgasm, his back arched and he exploded into her, wave after wave flooding into her…and then the drifting began…
He was aware the two of them were as seaweed drifting in the currents of a sunless sea . . . almost like two flowers dancing in mountain breezes – they swayed and swayed and swayed within invisible currents, the power of their union dissipating into the towering vault of the heavens above.
The sand – the stars – and all that lies between – then the moon shone from between deep cloud…and they returned from the stars to the sea, to cool air chilled water, and as each became aware of the other, still within this deep embrace. Man and woman looked into one another for a startled moment, then she was in a state bordering on pure panic. She pushed off him, swam away with her back to him, covered her breasts under crossed arms, and he watched her retreat into the moon-kissed rocks. Soon he heard her crying and he remembered her coming to the water, the agony and anguish and the total despair of their meeting and everything else that had happened to him this day.
What of her day? What had murdered her soul this day?
He reached down into the blackness and pulled his flight suit up, covered his body with the armor of his profession and zipped it closed.
He saw men on the rocks, their black form silhouetted against the distant village as they jumped from rock to rock, closing in steadily on his position. He slipped through the water toward the woman; she turned and started to speak but saw his anxiety and followed his eyes into the darkness.
Yes, she saw them too.
She slipped deeper into the water as he drew close beside her, and she felt him pulling a knife from a scabbard on his ankle. He sank down next to her, their noses just clear of the surface of the water, and they waited. He could see the men clearly, two of them at least, crouched low and moving smoothly among the rocks as if looking for someone, or something.
They came to the girl’s clothes; one of them held something to his face and he felt the girl’s embarrassed jerk as she turned away. The men moved their way now, still slowly, still so low to the rocks they almost – almost – blended into the blackness.
“Mr American…?” he heard one of the men whispering loudly. “Air Force…?”
Goodwin could just make them out now; they were the two men from the boat.
“Over here!” Goodwin whispered. The closest man turned at the sound in the water and crept their way; he stopped short when he saw the woman in the water, her pale nakedness standing like an insinuation in the pale light of the storm-lined moon.
The kid leapt at Goodwin, the knife in his hand slashing at Goodwin’s throat as he landed in the water. Goodwin pushed the scrawny kid away, held him by the neck and pulled him under, twisted the knife from his hand and pulled him by the hair back into the air.
The kid started to yell and Goodwin drove his fist into the boy’s sinewy neck; the boy sputtered and coughed, tried desperately to catch his breath while Goodwin held on to him.
The woman came over and took the boy from Goodwin’s gripping hands and began talking to both of the newcomers in soft soothing tones; words Goodwin couldn’t understand, but her tone conveyed sorrow and understanding, even resignation.
Goodwin turned, saw another man standing over him.
“Ha-low,” the man said. “You American flyer?”
“That’s the rumor, Amigo.”
“Yeah, buddy, that’s me. I drive big plane that go boom-boom.”
“Yes! American pilot!”
“Oh, si, good. You comes us go hills yesterday sleep goats.”
“I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
“Yes. Good. We go sleep with goats. Really. Sounds like fun.”
“Fun? Maybe no, but you come anyway, yes? What happen Ludvico?” The man was gesturing at his friend, who was – still – choking in the water.
“Ah. Ludvico slip on rock and fall on face.”
“Eh, fuck you mother, goddamn Yankee!” Goodwin heard the kid – Ludvico? – croak between gasps.
“What Vico say?” the other man asked.
“He says he wants to fuck my mother.” He heard the girl laughing at that one…
“Shit, pal, don’t sweat it. My mother can handle him.”
“Sorry? Cans speaks slowly?”
Goodwin hauled himself up onto the rocks. “We go find goats now. Germans there.” He pointed down the beach.
“No Germans,” the man smiled as he mimed slitting throats.
“Fantastic!” Goodwin said, now terrified. These clowns would have an entire Panzer Division crawling around here by first light. “Please go find goats. Now please.”
The man started speaking in rapid fire Italian to his friend in the water, then he leaned down to help the kid out. Only then did this older man see the woman in the water was as naked as the day she was born, and he stared at her breasts while he licked his lips.
“Go get clothes,” Goodwin said to the man while he helped the other kid stand. Goodwin could already see a nasty bruise forming over the front of the boys neck, and he felt bad for unloading on him so hard. He told himself that was better than getting his own throat cut. The kid had meant business!
The other man returned, held the woman’s clothes out to Goodwin, but Goodwin handed them over to the kid and picked his way carefully across the slippery rocks in his stockinged feet. He was cold now, real cold, and hungrier than he’d ever been in his life. He still had, he hoped, a little chocolate in his flight suit; he felt for the fragment of the bar but it was gone, probably, he thought, lost in the water. The two men came up a minute later, the girl right behind them, and they started looking for her shoes. All the while she talked to the kid in low, soothing tones, but he dismissed her brusquely; his pride had obviously been badly wounded on many levels by the encounter, and he had to put the girl in her place now.
“Jesus, Kid, just give her a little respect,” Goodwin said quietly. “She’s had a pretty rough night herself.”
She heard him, but if the kid had he didn’t let on. Goodwin saw her turn and look at him, and he could just make out the smile on her face. He walked over to her.
“You speak English?” he asked.
“Yes, I do.” She spoke with an English accent, which struck him as vaguely funny until he realized that’s probably how she learned the language.
“We need to get out of here, and fast. This kid says they killed some Germans on the beach, and we don’t want to be anywhere around here when the goons find out – or we’ll be up Shit Creek, without a paddle.”
“Sorry? Where is this Shit Creek? I do not know this place. But you . . . do?”
“Yes, Ma’am, I’m well acquainted with the place. It’s just right down there, right by those dead krauts. And we need to get away from here, pronto, ‘cause we don’t want to be here when those bodies are found!”
“Oh, si, pronto! I understand. Yes, we go fast.”
The kid came up and gave the girl her shoes. She held onto Goodwin’s shoulder while she slipped them on, and this, Goodwin saw, infuriated the kid further.
“Come,” she said to Goodwin, “we go now.” She turned and rattled off a stream of instructions to the men and they fell in behind her. Goodwin fell in behind them all, bringing up the rear as he hopped along, the rocks chewing into the bottoms of his feet. He turned once as they made their way into the trees and the safety of shadow, he turned and looked at the rocky waters off the cape.
Yes, they were still there – just offshore – watching him, and waiting…
He came to know her as Maria Theresa. Just that, and only so.
She was beautiful, so beautiful that some days it hurt, really hurt to simply look at her. Goodwin felt himself falling in love with her from the very first moment he had seen her in that first morning’s light. Her auburn hair drifting among graying leaves of sleeping chestnut trees as she slept on the ground that morning…her willowy legs as she climbed silently, fearlessly into the rocks, ahead of them all – leading them into the hills…
She led them later that first day through deepest wood to a small farm. These people were good, she said, she had cared for their children once when she was still in school, and they would help. And these people had indeed been good, they helped Goodwin and Vico and Trini – and Maria Theresa every way they could. They shared what food they had, helped them move off into the woods and build shelters among the rocky cliffs that overlooked the sea. They helped keep the small group fed, and when others from the village began winding their way up into the hills, these simple friends vetted them and put them in contact with Maria’s Group if not found wanting.
And that, after just a short while, was how the group came to be known: Maria’s Group. Vico and Trini and Paul Goodwin followed her everywhere, protected her, and soon followed her orders. They scouted groups of Germans who still vacationed in Portofino, still came for the sun and the sea despite the American invasion that was marching relentlessly up the shinbone of the Italian boot, and when a particularly high-ranking officer visited they slipped through the night, and silently took another life and returned it to the sea. They drifted like shadows in the night and spiked guns, filled petrol storage tanks with sugar and honey, started small landslides that denied German trucks access to the more remote areas around the villages and farms on the peninsula, and they cut communications lines and power lines and the throats of more than a few officers who ventured from the safety of numbers for a final walk in solitude.
She had been raped the night they met, Goodwin learned later. That night of fierce unions.
Two men, two Germans had come upon her walking home from the clinic where she worked, and they took her right there in an alley off the Via Roma. Not roughly, not savagely, just two drunk kids far from home and full of themselves, full of the power and fear their uniforms conveyed upon the helpless and the ignorant, they took her into the shadows and ripped her nurses uniform from her body. They were clumsy lovers, not rapists, just desperate, shy pretenders, but they had taken something from her, something precious and vital, and in the emptiness of their passage her heart filled with shame.
She ran to the sea seeking release.
She ran in shame to the sea and found Paul Goodwin, and her soul’s ease.
By early August most Germans had left the area as the American Fifth Army prepared to lunge for Genoa. Besides, it was no longer safe for them on the little peninsula, and with the looming Allied Army growing near, troops could not be spared to search the hills for the partisans. By September, far off in the distance, not so far to the south but far beyond what villagers in Portofino could see, the drumbeat of distant cannon filled the earth with blood. Cities were cast aglow as fire fell upon them, as rampaging hordes of American bombers rumbled unopposed through the night. Soon the skies around Italy shook with distant thunder by day, while her nights were dominated by hell-spawned fire – and Paul Goodwin looked wistfully to the sky for signs of the advancing columns. He knew wherein his final destiny lay, and it wasn’t by the sleepy harbor.
He loved her, but she would never be his.
No, the sky was calling, always calling out to him.
And one day he was gone.
And she knew he would never return.
Most wars end, some are destined to play out through the ages as never ending conflict fuels ever-widening disparity, and perhaps the Second World War falls into this latter category, for while the war ended in magnanimous glory for some, for others, their stained world withered away on the parched edges of fleeting prosperity. For still other souls caught in torment, destiny is held in abeyance, and they must wait.
For Maria Theresa, her war ended when the American Fifth Army made it’s final push for Genoa, in the final weeks of the war in Italy. Paul Goodwin disappeared when he was found by an advance group of American Pathfinders, when they swept through the mountain near Portofino. One day he had been an integral part of all their lives, and the next day – he had simply vanished.
Two months after their first joining she miscarried, but she kept this knowledge from everyone. Whatever it was that had been growing inside of her, this being was in a moment of contractive release gone, and with it some part of Goodwin she had longed to hold on to forever. Or had it been a part of Goodwin? Could it have grown from the wanton seeds planted by two German boys? Had some purpose been violated that night? Had destiny come for them too late?
Vico drifted from her life for a while, but he was the one constant in her universe, the one friend she could always count on. She knew he’d never recovered from his humiliation in the sea that night, that he felt unworthy of her – yet she loved him on those terms. From afar, always just out of sight, and as such he remained a protector, if he kept to the shadows, content to keep her safe, she pressed him no further. She met another man and married him, and in time she resumed nursing, even once thought of trying to go to medical school – yet he remained faithful to his charge, to the damaged woman he loved.
For Maria Theresa, time slipped by slowly, quietly, gently, yet for one who lived with two hearts of war-ravaged love beating savagely under her breast, she gave in to the vagaries of time and fell into the comfortable routines of a simpler life – devoid of love. She tried to force all thought of Paul Goodwin from her mind, she buried herself in nursing, setting up a new clinic in the village.
She gave birth to a daughter one hot July night, and very nearly died from blood loss, but the little girl’s presence in her life renewed her sense of purpose. She had to admit to herself, with new love in her heart, that she still missed Paul Goodwin, that she thought of him, dreamt of him, that she still longed for him. She longed to feel his smile, feel his hands on her face, the kiss of his mouth. She walked from time to time, she returned to the boundaries of her Passeggiata, she walked through the village, and from time to time she walked all the way out to the cape. On those few nights she walked through the hills and the trees out to the rocks by the lighthouse, she would sit in cool breezes and watch the moon rise, listen as wind came to the trees, the sea to the rocks below, longing to feel him again, there, at the boundary between earth and sea – lost in wild embrace – again.
And with them – again.
She longed to see – them – as well, to be with them, but after Paul left the village they never came. She felt this loss every time she looked at the sea, yet what came to her gently, quietly from her window, was an understanding that the life she was destined to live had been carelessly cast aside – the cooling remnants of her love left to wither in the sun. She wondered when the winds would gather again and carry the cold dust of her life away. That time, like a river, would carry her back to the sea, leave her to drift through eternity within the brine of their creation.
But other winds were gathering, out of sight, and far, far away.
New winds, from where no one could say, were headed her way. Winds cold, fierce and unexpected.
Paul Goodwin remained in the Army Air Corp through the end of the war, and like many pilots returning home to the explosive economic prosperity of post-war America, he began looking for work with airlines ramping up service around the world. After sixteen long years of depression and war, and with an economic outlook almost alien to most people in the United States, times were indeed good, and promised to get only better. Goodwin made the rounds – American, Braniff, Pan Am, but he joined Trans World Airlines after talking with pilots who already worked for the company. Within a year he was flying Constellations cross country, from New York to San Francisco, and he fell in love with the City by the Sea and decided to make it his home. It was a decision he never regretted. He bought a cottage in Menlo Park on a lark, and times were better than good. Life was sweet.
From time to time he thought of Maria Theresa, but the whole affair had always looked impossible to him, and now – with time and distance to comfort his decision – his renunciation took on a fixed air. The two of them were far apart in so many ways – in almost every way, when he sat down and really thought about it – that after a couple of false starts at contacting her he simply gave up on the idea of going back to Italy and finding her. He put her out of his mind, and in the end – he moved on.
But there was always something there, watching and waiting in gray shadow – just beyond the farthest reaches of his mind. It was like an itch he couldn’t scratch, he never could put his finger on what it was about the entire episode that simply would not – or could not? – leave him alone. Once while flying over Connecticut the thought hit him, that perhaps he’d seen his first best destiny, and he’d turned his back on it. What did that say about him? About the choices he’d made? He remembered looking down at the sea, feeling su
If indeed, it meant anything at all…
A friend from his squadron in The Libya, a fellow pilot named Pat Patterson who now worked for an accounting firm downtown, invited him to lunch one Saturday at the San Francisco Yacht Club; they had a ripping good time tossing-off three too many fierce rum drinks while flirting with a couple of waihinis – and before too long Patterson asked Goodwin if he’d ever been sailing. “Nope, sure haven’t,” he said, and they were off to the races, literally.
Drunk as two skunks, Goodwin and Patterson and the two young women did their level best to kill each other out on a blustery San Francisco Bay, yet still managed to come in a respectable second place. Patterson reportedly went off with one of the girls, Goodwin married the other one three weeks later.
Her name was Doris Matthews; she had graduated from UC Berkeley’s Boalt Hall Law School in 1944, and after a stint in the San Francisco DAs office while she prepped for the Bar, Doris went to work for an ‘old name’ firm in The City. Then, on a lonely Friday afternoon one blustery September day, one of the girls in the office came by with an invite to go to a swank yacht club the next day with an old sweetheart, and he had asked her to bring a friend along.
Sure, why not. Nothing better to do.
And so the worm turned.
It turned out, as these things often do, that Miss Matthews had been engaged in a long standing affair with such old reliables as Jack Daniels, Glenlivet, and Gordon’s, and getting married hardly staunched the flow. And it turned out that Doris was a mean drunk, and could be something of a bully when she went out close to the edge.
Which, as Goodwin soon learned, was every night.
In 1950, the Goodwins had a baby boy. Thomas they called him – Tom as he grew older, and Tom was a serious kid, abnormally bright as it turned out, which was a good thing, considering. Tom had figured his mother out – all the games she played, the outright lies she lived behind, the self-deluding half-truths she foisted on his father – by the time he’d left kindergarten. He figured out his father hated his mother a few years later, and by the time he started middle school he was on a first name basis with more than one of his father’s stewardess/mistresses.
Paul Goodwin left the military with profound respect for words like duty and honor, and had made a solemn oath when he married Doris Matthews. He could not imagine in his wildest dreams violating something so sacred. He was in it “‘til death do us part”, and his son grew up hating him for this one simple failing, if only because this one hideous hypocrisy lay behind his father’s ongoing infidelities. If you didn’t love someone, so Tom’s thinking went, why stay with them?
When he was thirteen, she managed to pour herself behind the wheel of her Mercedes one dark and stormy night and, while driving home from the country club at one in the morning, ran a red light and slammed into the passenger side of a little Chevy Corvair. A teenaged girl died in the accident, and yet his mother managed to pull every legal string she could – and walked away unscathed, at least in a legal sense. She became something of a pariah in San Francisco and begged Paul to transfer to New York; her drinking only grew worse.
Paul’s parents were getting on in years by that time, and were thinking of selling the family’s old farm outside of New London, Connecticutt. In a nervous fit Paul sold the house in Menlo Park, took title to the farm and transferred to New York. His mother found work at the UN and started traveling, and drinking her way through an endless series of affairs. In January, 1966 his father began flying 707s from Kennedy to Rome’s Fiumicino and back several times a month, and his mother did little to conceal her own infidelities. Paul arranged his schedule over the coming years to take on much difficult schedules – entailing much longer layovers, and Tom had to admit to himself that he really didn’t care anymore. He watched his father let his mother fall away, let her sink as far down into the night as she dared.
Maybe, Paul thought, this life was inevitable. Maybe by turning his back on what had seemed his first best destiny, forces unseen and unknowable had aligned to visit unhappiness and strife on Paul Goodwin’s his family. At times, he admitted to himself, that’s what it felt like.
And while he loved flying to Rome and used his layover time in the city to walk her storied ruins, Paul managed to find every reason in the world to stay away from Portofino, and for a year he did.
And yet oddly enough it was his son who forced the issue.
Tom Goodwin was increasingly viewed as an academic prodigy by teachers and peers alike; he graduated from high school at sixteen and had offers to attend all the best eastern colleges. He chose Stanford in California simply because it was close to where he grew up – and perhaps because the Bay Area felt most like home. Paul understood the feeling; he bitterly missed San Francisco and the wild sea that surrounded The City.
On Tom’s high school graduation Paul offered to take his son to Italy and, taking a few weeks off from work, the two of them embarked on a tour of the Italian countryside together. A father hoped to get to his son better, he wanted a real father and son trip, as this was the sort of time the two had never experienced. Doris thought it a grand idea and promptly booked tickets to Acapulco.
The ‘boys’ – as Doris derisively referred to them now – left in late June. They spent a few days in Rome then hopped a train to Florence. A couple more days following in Michelangelo’s footsteps, then north to Venice – which Paul had always wanted to see and Tom took very little interest in – then they were off, across the top of the boot to Genoa.
It was in Genoa that Tom saw photographs of Portofino on travel posters in the train station, and he told his father he’d really love to see the village. He’d read good things about the place, and these posters excited his imagination. Tom noticed but was unconcerned with the subtle shift in his father’s voice when he heard the very name Portofino, yet he thought nothing of it once they were on a little red bus winding through steep, chestnut covered hillsides to the sea.
Paul looked at the passing hillsides with clinched jaw and knotted muscle; as they drew near the village he could see goat trails on hillsides he’d run down at night while being chased by German patrols – he could still smell all their fear in the close, seaside air. Another group of rocks where they’d jumped a squad and Vico had been shot in the leg, the grueling climb back into the hills with the boy draped over his shoulder was still as fresh in his memory, as if it had occurred only last week. Tom looked out the window at rocks and trees and cliffs, and finally, at the sea, while his father tried to hide from this wounded landscape by staring stonily ahead.
But there was nowhere to hide now. When he closed his eyes, when he tried to close this landscape of memory away from his soul, everything came back in nauseating, vivid detail.
There would be no running this time, Paul Goodwin knew. Time had carried him here for a reckoning; his son would simply be an innocent bystander.
The bus dropped them in the piazza a little before noon on the Seventh of July, 1966; the air was hot and still, few tourists were about under the sun, and Paul walked over to a small inn and inquired about rooms while Tom stumbled along the quay looking at fishermen tending their nets, and over the shoulders of artists working feverishly away in front of oil-stained easels. His father came out and joined him, and they poked around the harbor for a while, then he moved off to a ristorante for lunch.
Ludvico saw Paul from the kitchen and very nearly passed out. He stumbled back and fell, as if he’d been slugged in the neck again, and indeed he felt as if life had been crushed from his soul. He fought the impulse to go to his old friend, not sure who the boy was and what they were doing; he decided to wait and see if Goodwin had sought him out, or was it only coincidence that brought him to his ristoranté to eat?
But no, he watched as they left after lunch, and as they walked away along the coast road south of town, marveling at villas hewn from cliffs above the bay, perched high over the water below, and at the endless cobalt sea that spread out once past the harbor entrance. Vico followed them, listened to them, watched as the boy pointed at a pod of dolphin that had just entered the harbor, then watched as his Paul staggered backwards at the sight of the dolphins. He fell, clutched his chest as if he was having a heart attack, and Vico bolted from his hiding place and ran to his friend’s side. He knelt beside Paul on the dusty road while the boy sat beside his father on the rocks.
“Dad! Dad! What’s wrong?”
“Eh, it’s okay boy. Its just too hot this time of day. We need to get him back to town, he must have water.”
“Vico? Is that you?”
“Si, Paulo, me. Just me.”
Goodwin sat up and took his friend in his arms and held him. He cried for what – to his son, at least – seemed like a very long time. Then his father did the damnedest thing; he stood up and brushed himself off, shook his friend’s hand and without saying another word walked back to the village – and into the hotel.
Tom looked at his father walking away, then at the other man. He wanted to ask this other man questions, for questions were hanging in the air apparent, waiting to be asked, waiting to be answered, so he ignored the dolphins and took off after his dad. He waved once to the man when his father disappeared in the hotel, but he never saw the tears in the other man’s eyes.
The episode echoed in Tom’s mind for an hour or so, then was as quickly gone.
He went up to the little room out over the sea and found his father; he had apparently come into the room and slipped off his shoes, then quickly gone to sleep; Tom flipped through a copy of Goethe’s Torquatto Tasso until he could stand it no longer. He grabbed a pair of swim trunks and headed down to the sea.
He walked out a road until he came to a rock-strewn cape. Blue water filled rocky bowls rimmed with deep black granite walls. It was the most inviting water he’d ever seen, and wordlessly he slipped his shoes off and made his way across the rocks to the water’s edge. For a moment he thought he saw a dolphin in one of the pools, but as he made his way down to the water’s edge he saw only cool blue pools waiting for him, and he dove in.
He had dinner with his father that evening, and Tom talked about his walk out to the cape, and about swimming in the amazing clear blue water, yet for some reason his father remained quiet and contemplative throughout the meal, almost inattentive – if not quite distant. Tom never mentioned the episode on the road, and his father never brought it up again. Only once during the meal, when Tom mentioned having seen a dolphin in close among the rocks did his father react, and then not as he’d expected him to. His father’s hands shook, he looked at the sea as if distracted by a million memories hammering away at his soul, and a tremor crossed his face like a brief summer’s thunderstorm crossing prairie seas. An odd thought pressed-in against the young man, some sense of recognition, perhaps, but the thought left as quickly as it came, leaving only a vague impression having been out among the stars for a moment.
Dinner passed pleasantly enough, though in time the evening passed quietly to further recesses of memory. Tom, now quite tired and sunburned from his afternoon on the rocks, said goodnight to his father and walked across the piazza to the little inn, and up to the tiny bedroom. There was little about the day to hold his attention now, aside from his father’s roadside collapse, but years later – when he was applying to medical schools – he would mention this episode as instrumental in his decision to pursue medicine. He had felt helpless there by the sea, powerless to meet his father’s immediate need, and of all that happened that day, this impression of need remained with him over the years.
The father told the son as they parted at dinner that he was going to take a stroll – a Passeggiata, he called it – before coming to bed. He finished the bottle of ice cold Pinot Grigio and fired off a cigar while he sat back and thought about the day, about his reluctance to seek out his compatriots, and all he could think of was that his renunciation those many years ago had been total and complete. To seek out these people would be an abnegation of all his earlier reasoning, an admission of profound error on his part.
As he sat watching cigar smoke curling up toward the ceiling, the realization that his reasoning had in fact been faulty washed over his soul, his renunciations had in fact been denial of the very best part of his life. The most meaningful events of his life, he knew – and he had, in effect, cast it all aside. His refusal to talk about those times with anyone, even his son, was simply a reflection of his inability to deal with the inherent contradictions within the choice. While he had taken the easiest way out, ‘out’ had in fact turned into a slow poison.
And when he thought of Doris that evening, he knew he had found the perfect mate with which to kill his soul. Wasn’t that funny, he asked himself?
He walked out of the ristorante down to the quay, and he looked into the familiar black water, expecting to see one of the dolphins at any moment, waiting for him there, but he saw only his own vapid reflection in the water. He kicked a pebble into the water, and watched ripples form and spread a little way across the harbor, and he saw the first amber edge of the moon rising above faraway mountains. The air was calm, almost still, as he looked at the moon through feathered edges of distant trees; soon the orb was rising, casting its bilious glow across the old stone quay as if it was painting a scene for him, and he watched the harbor take on velvety amber-hued glows as she rose on her way across the stars.
He walked off to the cape, through trees waiting on their hillsides. There was no reason behind his choice, nothing, not even instinct could absolve him of the trespasses waiting in the darkness.
And little had changed, he saw. The road along the quay was as it had been twenty something years ago, even the smells were the same. The chestnut and linden, the wayward pine, the iodine rich smell of tides come and gone, garlic and peppers frying in olive oil – they lay in wait, unchanged, never the calm silence of being – just waiting – as he assumed they always would – within the anxiety of becoming.
And forever out of reach, like a forgotten memory’s whisper. Why? Why? Why did you leave us?
Trees arced overhead as he climbed the hillside road, stars could just barely be seen floating beyond wayward branches that hung out over the water, and by the light of flickering starlight and the lonely moon, he walked quietly onward. It still seemed as though he knew every rise and bend on the way out to the cape, every tree a companion he longed to reach out and touch. He wanted to cast aside all his repudiations, open his arms to time and hold his memories close once again.
But, he asked himself, when you look into the past and ask about forgiveness, who decides if not oneself?
He followed the bend in the road to the final clear stretch, a forgotten road that drifted lazily past the cape on its way to a lighthouse, and even all the old black rocks were as he remembered them. They stood like sentinels guarding the way to the water’s edge, as if it was their purpose to deny the sea to all who came seeking impure absolution. Yet the sea smelled the same as it ever had, waves still washed ashore in hypnotic rhythms all their own, and she sat there as he had expected her to. Quiet diffidence, purpose and resolve lashing the air like a cat’s tail, an indifference to indifference bathing her features with holy purity.
He walked to her.
Sat on ancient stones next to her.
He took her hand, carried her skin through deep sea breezes to his mouth and he smelled her, remembering the remembering as a singer sings the song of life.
He started to speak but she silenced him.
They were waiting. All seven of them. She pointed at the sea and he followed her hand as he always had, as he hoped he always would.
She stood, dropped her sweater to the ground as walked through the stones to the water’s edge. When her nakedness was complete she slipped into the water and walked out among the rocks and waited.
The moon stood in silent witness to this union. The seven moved in with explosive purpose, swirled and danced in time to ancient music, delirious purpose long denied, gathered impossible forces in the air and released spent fury into the night, and all was as it should have been long ago, and as it might be again and again.
Paul and Tom Goodwin left the village early the next morning, bound for Rome and after an ungodly number of hours aloft, home.
Tom Goodwin would always remember the time with his father as the best time they ever had, perhaps even the best time of his life. Over time, he remembered little of their time in Portofino, the dinner at the quaint ristorante stood out for a few years, his father’s collapse lingered through medical school, but in time all these memories and impressions left him – with little beyond the gauzy blur of their passing – key moments hidden in the fabric of time, perhaps, but they faded nonetheless.
As the bus pulled away from the village, Paul Goodwin looked out the back window as dust swirled in harmony with his feelings. Maria and Vico stood there, as always just in shadow, and he waved at them as they faded from his life once again. He saw Vico put his arms around her, he was there holding her as she cried, then the bus rounded a curve and the village was gone.
Nine months later Paul’s second son was born, and Maria Theresa named him Paulo.
Yesterday + Portofino
Margherita drifted in milky ways, her still loins afire, her solitary mind soaring free of merest earth, soaring in canyons of white cloud as cool air ran through her hair like a million naked fingers. She felt him still, buried deep inside her, deep inside the womb of their night, as she swayed in cool currents of what had been a cradling sea. Her hand was resting on a dolphin’s back, her mind in flight, now faraway. She began to feel the passage of time as something distinct – yet unreal; it was as if she was drifting through time and space with this creature as her guide, or was she her guardian? Everything was clear to her one moment, the next she felt the anomie of cloudscapes – vast and willowy yet alive with ambiguous purpose. Yet purpose and knowledge were unknowns in this landscape, she had was only the gray flesh of instinct by her side, and nowhere was everywhere with it’s arms all around her.
Flat, bare trees rose from the withered backs of scorched plains far below, and as she sailed between white clouds in cobalt skies a red church formed in the air beside her, deep red blood ran down baked stone steps, fell to parched soil miles below. Beings unknowable swam through the air, looking at her, looking at the fire in her womb. She became self conscious and humble, then proud and defiant. She yearned for independence and knowledge, longed to be as the clouds, yet she understood her purpose as the keeper of their fire.
She was at one with the future.
She felt hands on her shoulder, fingers drifting through her hair, chills running down her spine like drops of cold rain. Words, his words, looking for her, searching the clouds, calling her name, coming for her on emerald wings.
She did not want to leave the clouds. There was so much she didn’t understand. For one so willing there was so much more to explore.
She heard him calling her name again, or was it the wind?
Who? Who am I? Why am I here now?
Who was this man from that other world. This man who commanded nothing but her heart.
Tendrils of distant cloud held her fast to the dream.
“No, not yet…”
“Margherita? Where are you?”
Still she resisted – “so much here to see, so much to understand…”
She felt cool hands on shimmering, water-kissed skin, warm words bathing her soul, caressing wounds she had long thought healed.
She opened her eyes.
He was there.
“Where are you?” Tom asked. His eyes were kissed by fire, his soul buffeted by raging gales of doubt, and she saw clouds in his eyes, as if echoes of her dream had touched him.
She could only shake her head, tears unbidden welled and dropped like soft rain on his chest, and she squeezed tightly with her arms and legs, held her loins on his need as if all life depended on this union. Could he understand? Could mere words reveal what she had seen, what she had felt? If words did not yet exist to reveal these landscapes, how could she understand what was to come?
“I’m alright,” she heard herself say. “I was dreaming, I think…”
“So is our friend here.”
She looked at the dolphin next to them. Its warm skin radiated unknown joy, its eyes were demurely fixed on both of them. The dolphin opened her mouth and water filled the pink-gray space, she closed her mouth and water spilled between her teeth back into the sea.
“What does that mean?” Margherita asked the dolphin. “Tell me, please.”
The dolphin rolled her body around them and seemed to sing for a moment, then drifted through rocky pools back to the open sea.
“I do not understand,” Margherita said softly. “I cannot see you. Only shadows now…”
“I can. You’re cold and going into hypothermic shock. We’ve got to get moving.”
“No. Stay…I must go back…”
Goodwin slipped out of her, pulled her back to the shore, lifted her gently onto cold rocks. Her body was glowing in soft blue-white hues under the arcing moonlight; Goodwin could see the first amber streams of sunlight coming across the bay, and he gathered her clothes and helped her into them. He stood with her inside the darkness, helped her stand and held her to his warmth, rubbed his warm body against hers, felt her flaccid muscles wilting in the cold beyondness…
“Come on, let’s walk,” he said as he led her through rocks to the road.
He found Elsie sitting up there on a wide flat rock by the side of the road; apparently she had been watching, and waiting for them. When she saw him she came up to Goodwin and licked salt from his legs, then fell in beside him as they all walked back to the village. The little Springer stayed very close to Goodwin, almost protectively so, as they walked through the hills and trees.
They came to the quay, to Diogenes. Malcolm was sitting there, watching the amber fingers of the sun stream through the sky, waiting, in the cockpit. He helped Goodwin and Margherita aboard, called down to Mary Ann. Tea and fresh-baked bread appeared, and Goodwin marveled at the prescience of true friends. The bread warmed Margherita, the tea restored the color to her cheeks.
“I am so sleepy,” she said.
“No doubt,” Malcolm Doncaster said. “It’s after six in the morning.”
“You can sleep here,” Mary Ann said – and Elsie growled.
“Let’s get her over to Springer,” Malcolm said when she had finished her tea, and Elsie jumped across to Goodwin’s boat, circling anxiously, her tail still as she waited for them.
“Well, she seems to think that’s a fine idea!” Mary Ann grumbled as she looked at her traitorous dog – and now clearly miffed.
“She’s been sticking right to me ever since we got out of the water,” Tom said.
Goodwin pushed the hatch open and helped Margherita down the steps, then into the shower. He went to the electric panel and flipped switches; back in the head he turned on the water and let it warm, then helped her out of her clothes.
“Oh God, that feels so good.”
She held on to a grab rail and he rubbed her body with lemon scented soap, massaged her back and neck, then her breasts and legs. Her head bowed low, as if in prayer, the hot water ran through her hair, down the cleft of her back; Goodwin continued to rinse her body until the water cooled, then he turned it off and began toweling her warm, supple nakedness. She bent like a sapling in the breeze to his touch, her still warm skin now pliant and yielding; now as clouds receded from her mind she grew aroused and viciously hungry for that other fire.
They backed out of the head and ducked into the aft cabin; Elsie looked at them expectantly then moved away to sit at the chart table, looking at a new course all her own.
Margherita pushed Goodwin down onto the berth and knelt between his legs, he began to speak and she silenced him once again while she wrestled with his shorts. She didn’t pause, she simply took him in her mouth, and she tasted the remnants of their earlier joining through salt-washed skin, she swirled her tongue across the head and was satisfied when she felt him jump. She had never felt like this before, the intensity of her curiosity, the loss of whatever reserve she felt around this man – all was collision and sundered in this sudden feeling. All came to her as a flower opening to the sun, the thorns of passing roses tearing into her, willing her deeper and deeper into this new need.
She felt the man grow hard under her tongue. She felt need meeting need against the roof of her mouth, everything physical now as images of black trees and scudding clouds and that wild magic tore through her once again. Moving ever faster as the strange music ran through her like a summer’s rain, as light danced through her soul as onrushing thunder, she opened her mouth to him and the river ran down her and through her, filling her with understanding and desire to know more and more. She crawled up his body and opened her mouth to his, let his seed mingle between tongues as she drifted up through sun drenched clouds again, then she closed her eyes and was glad when sleep finally found her.
They surfaced for lunch, Elsie now by Goodwin’s side, and they walked the few steps to the piazza and sat under the November sun on the terrace outside Vico’s place. They ordered Campari and cheese from a young waiter, what fruit there was to be had too, and some crusty bread. They ate silently, Vico came by once and left them as quietly, respecting the need of this moment, to come to whatever understanding there was to be had from this union. He seemed concerned, almost fatherly to them both, as if he alone knew what had been commanded of them, and the sacrifices that had yet to be asked.
Elsie lay across Goodwin’s feet on the stone – as if by the force of her will alone she was now holding him to the earth. She reminded him more and more of Sarah, and he missed the old girl; Elsie looked up at him with those same liquid-brown eyes, and he knew she held his heart – a feeling beyond all human understanding – in her gaze.
As they ate Goodwin saw an artist nearby on the piazza, sitting at her easel, and even from their table he could see Springer and Diogenes on the canvas. When they had finished and left their table, he walked down to the water’s edge and looked at the composition: under clear autumn skies the two boats lay to their moorings by the quay, and he could feel the clear skies and crisp winds that rippled the water even now. Just aft of Springer seven dolphins formed a circle in the water, and Margherita took his hand when she saw the image.
He looked at the artist, an older woman – perhaps in her late seventies – sitting on a wooden stool laying paint out on an ancient mixing board.
“Did you see dolphins in the harbor this morning?” he asked her after the shock faded.
“Oh yes,” the woman said through a thick Scandinavian accent. “They were behind the boats there, for perhaps ten minutes earlier this morning. Very unusual, don’t you think?”
“If I may, I’d like to purchase this painting when you’ve finish,” Goodwin said. Elsie was at the easel looking up at the canvas, silently looking at the shifting colors in the sunlight.
“Ah. Well, you see, I do not make painting to sell. This is simply for an old woman’s pleasure.”
“You’re very good, if I may say so, but you see, that is my boat, and I, well, I have seen those dolphins before. I would very much like to have a painting, to remember my time here.”
The woman turned to look at Goodwin, her silver eyes were most shockingly clear – but could not hide the simple honesty he saw in her face. She looked at Goodwin for a long while; it felt to him as if she was taking stock of him, seeing if was worthy of her experience.
Finally she bowed her head slightly. “Very well. Come back in an hour or so. If you like what you see, perhaps we can come to terms.”
Goodwin smiled at the woman. “Alright then, an hour.” He turned to walk away, and Margherita and Elsie fell-in beside him. They walked away from the boats, along the opposite side of the harbor, until they came to a jewelers. Goodwin walked to the window, saw a white gold necklace with a dolphin pendant attached, afloat in a sapphire sea; he went inside and asked to see it. Elsie came right in with them, very curious now.
“Do you like it?” he asked Margherita.
She held the necklace to her chest and looked at her reflection in a mirror the proprietress held up to her. “It’s lovely,” Margherita said. “Truly very lovely.”
Goodwin pulled a wallet from his pocket and handed a card to the woman, then helped Margherita fasten the chain behind her neck. He leaned forward and kissed her forehead. Margherita blushed, for obviously in such a small town she was no stranger to the woman. He signed the slip and they walked back into the sun; Goodwin could see the woman still painting by the water at the head of the harbor, then he rubbed his head.
“I need a hat!” he said out of the blue. Elsie looked up at him with puzzled eyes.
“Yes, a hat! My head is going to get cold. Winter’s just around the corner, and I don’t have a hat!”
“Come,” Margherita said, and she led him across the piazza, then up a small lane. She stopped at a window display overflowing with hats of every description. “Presto! Avanti!”
They went into the little shop; an ancient man came out from behind an emerald curtain, saw Margherita and smiled. Goodwin could not keep up with the staccato bursts of Italian that filled the close little shop, but more than once he thought the old man looked a lot like the Wizard of Oz. Margherita turned once to Goodwin and he could just make out a word or two about winter and a few disparaging words about men growing bald. The old man laughed, took Goodwin by the arm and led him to a shelf full woolen berets.
“These not so undistinguished for you?” the man asked. “Try camel color.”
Goodwin did, and they all laughed. Margherita covered her eyes.
“What about those,” he asked, pointing to some broad rimmed berets on an upper shelf.
“Those common in Catalan. Mountains around Barcelona. Religious men. Not so much here, but very practical.”
“How ‘bout a dark gray? Have anything like that?”
The man got a step-ladder and climbed up and handed one down to Goodwin. It fit perfectly, and felt wonderful.
“This’ll do!” he said. Margherita rolled her eyes and Elsie looked at Goodwin, then growled at the thing on his head, the hair on the back of her neck standing on end.
Margherita fired off another burst and the shopkeeper laughed with her for a long time. Goodwin paid and thanked the man, shook his hand, then they walked back to the piazza, the sun now casting long shadows across the stone – all the way to the water. They walked out onto the piazza and saw the woman was gone.
Goodwin frowned. Elsie barked, pointing now, and they turned to see her aimed at a café.
“There she is,” Margherita said, “getting coffee in the bakery.”
They walked to the café and into the warmth and took a seat next to the old woman and her easel, and again Elsie planted herself across Goodwin’s feet.
“I’m sorry, I could not wait, but my hands…” she held out her fingers – they were white now, her hands apparently numb from the chill air.
Goodwin took her hand in his and looked at it closely. He pressed his thumb against one of her fingernails, watched it color; then did it again while he looked at his wristwatch. He looked at her blue-tinged lips, then into her eyes.
“Yes, I know,” the woman said. “There is nothing to be done, or so they say. I am an old woman, and this is my life.” She looked wistfully at Goodwin. “So, you are a physician?”
“Well, here is your painting. What do you think?”
Goodwin was astonished. It was a Monet in texture and color, very much an impressionist’s work, and revealed a monumental talent. He looked at the woman and was surprised to see her crying.
“Oh, it was just the expression on your face. No one could wish for more.”
“I really must pay you for this. It wouldn’t be right…”
She looked at him a moment longer, as if making up her mind.
“Alright,” she finally said, slowly. “This is my price, and it is non-negotiable. I want you to take me sailing, on your boat.”
Goodwin smiled at her smile, nodding his head. “That would be my honor.”
“Oh, you see, I have not been sailing since I was a little girl, with my father, around the islands near Orust. I would so love to feel the sun on my face again, and the wind in my hair…”
“You have only to name the day, and we’re yours.”
“I am staying at the inn across the way,” she said, pointing. “I will be here until the Spring, so any day the sea looks promising, please let me know. Room forty three.” The woman’s face sparkled now, her eyes animated by the simple memory of a faraway summer’s day plain to see, as if joy itself had once been etched within her very soul by a distant summer’s breeze.
“Certainly. By the way, my name is Tom Goodwin, and the boat is named Springer.” He was looking at the inn as she spoke, an awakening of memory washing through his mind’s eye.
“I see. Perhaps for your friend here?” The old woman leaned over and rubbed Elsie’s head. “Call me Trudi,” she said as she held out a timelessly delicate hand. “And if I may, I need to put a few finishing touches on this, and some varnish. A few days at most.”
“Well, I can’t thank you enough, Ma’am . . .”
“Trudi now, please, Tom.”
He smiled. “Yes. Just so. Thank you, Trudi. I’ll treasure this forever, I promise.”
“Forever is a long time, you know, for such a promise, Tom Goodwin,” she said. Her silver eyes seemed alive with sudden purpose. “But, perhaps not – for some.” She looked at Margherita as she spoke now, the smile is her eyes warm and sure.
Goodwin looked at her once again. What was she saying, really? Alluding to what, exactly? Forever, promises, and purpose…? She speaks in riddles, like a…
“Yes, perhaps forever is a meaningless term,” he said. “Let me just say, then, that your work has touched me deeply. Will that suffice?”
“Oh yes, Tom Goodwin. You make an old woman’s heart sing!” Her radiant eyes seemed to grow more alive with each passing moment – and Margherita took Goodwin’s hand.
“Well…” he began.
“Yes, you must go now. The night awaits.” Her smile lingered in his mind as Margherita turned to leave.
“Good evening,” as he turned too, but something about her eyes held him in that moment, and he found it difficult to leave…
Yet they walked out of the bakery into deepest evening, Goodwin’s floppy beret making a huge hit with people just coming out now for Passeggiata. Only Elsie seemed to have reservations about the hat; she looked at him now, at the hat on his head and turned away; she sneezed – twice – as she walked away.
“Tom, I must go to my apartment tonight. I have to work tomorrow.”
“I know.” He looked away. “Well, you could stay with me? We could go and get some of your things?”
“Tom, this is a small village, and I would do nothing to shame my family. . .”
“I know, I understand.”
“No, Tom, please do not feel sad about this. This is not America.”
“Right. How about dinner later? At Vico’s?”
“I’ll see you there at eight, alright?” She squeezed his hand.
“Yes.” He felt the skin of her skin on his soul, wanted to know that touch for all time. He could not bring himself to let go – even as he felt her pulling away.
“And bring your girlfriend!” Margherita said, bending down once again to scratch Elsie’s ears. The Springer moaned and rolled her eyes as she drifted towards bliss, and they both laughed.
“See you in a little while, Tom. And thank you,” she said as she lifted the pendant from her breast. “It means something, yes?”
“Yes. Very much, I think…”
“Tom,” she said gently. “Not now. We must talk later. We have much to say.”
She turned and walked around a corner and was gone.
Elsie looked up at the hat and sneezed – yet again.
“I know, girl. I know.”
He walked back to the boat, this new shadow of his trotting along by his feet.
“Hey, Tom, glad you got back so soon; there’s a big storm brewing, coming across from the northeast, down from the alps.” Malcolm watched as Tom and Elsie came aboard Diogenes. “Paulo came by an hour ago, said we’d probably better head over to Rapallo tomorrow morning, before this thing hits.”
“When’s it due?”
“Late afternoon, maybe in the evening, but you never know.”
“It’s only a couple of miles over, right?”
“Just a gnat’s ass less than three.”
“When you gonna head out?”
“I’d say 0800 or thereabouts.” Malcolm reached down and scratched Elsie behind the ears. “She’s been with you all day? Mary Ann’s getting a little green about this, you know?”
“Yeah. Been sticking right to me – all day long – like stink on shit.”
“Never mind. Uh, we’ll have to move too, right? You can’t move until I do, isn’t that about the size of it?”
“Right. We could go across together; it’s a lovely trip, you know. Will you have someone with you?”
Goodwin knew Doncaster was thinking about Margherita, but in fact Goodwin was thinking of Trudi. “Not sure. Maybe, but I’ll have to check first. Wanna come up to Vico’s for dinner?”
“Ah, no. Mary Ann picked up something at the market. She might like to see her dog, though, if you don’t mind.”
“Hey! I didn’t ask her to tag along!” Goodwin thought the comment a little brusque. “Please! Be my guest!”
“Now, now, Tom. I didn’t mean anything by…” but Goodwin had already scooted across to Springer and was down the hatch before Doncaster could finish his sentence.
Goodwin walked over to the electric panel and turned on the shower sump, then checked the battery charge from his solar panels. After he undressed he hopped into the shower and stood under the hot water for a couple of minutes – and ‘Summertime’ drifted across the harbor one more time, then he washed his hair – all the time thinking about how good it had felt to hold her hair in his hands, to feel slippery warm soap running through her hair, the water splashing on their skin…
He dressed and walked over to the little inn and had the reception buzz Trudi’s room; she came down and Goodwin told her about the plan to sail the boats to Rapallo tomorrow morning. “I’m single-handing, so I’d be glad to have the company,” he finished saying.
The old woman looked up at him, her silver eyes almost mesmerizing. “Yes. Sounds wonderful. What time would you like me to come?”
“Probably be best to plan on leaving the harbor about 0730 or so. Is that too early?”
“Oh my, heavens no. I’ll have been up hours by then. Can I bring anything?”
“Probably a hat, definitely a warm jacket, and some kind of tennis shoes.”
“Fine. Nothing else?”
“No,” he said as he looked into her eyes. “Well, I’ll see you then, unless you’d like to join us for dinner?”
“Ah, no, perhaps I’d better get some rest. But thank you.”
Goodwin smiled. “Alright, perhaps another time. See you in the morning.” He headed over to Vico’s and found the old man had already set aside a corner table for them.
“Margherita has called. She had to go over to her mother’s. She’ll be over as soon as she can.” Vico began reciting the day’s freshest items, but Goodwin held up his hand and stopped him.
“Ludvico? Do me a favor. Just bring whatever you think best, alright? Whenever I come in, don’t even ask. I trust you completely.”
The old man smiled. “You are your father’s son, you do know that, Tom?” He walked away, leaving a thousand questions hanging lingering in airs transparent.
He could see the harbor from his seat, Springer and Diogenes lay across the water. Lights on down below, so much warmth deep within Diogenes, forms and shadows drifting across the water, Elsie sitting on the foredeck, looking across the water at him looking at her, a dorsal fin slipping lazily through the water.
‘Vico? How did he know father so well? How could he know I am so much like my father? How does he know so much about us?’ Goodwin had yet to make connections to his own hazy memories. Too much time stood between this present and his past, of that one afternoon along the quay with his father.
Margherita and Paulo came into the dining room; Goodwin looked up as he heard them enter and felt something in the air. Vico waved at them as they came in, then walked their way when he saw their faces.
Goodwin saw it too.
“Tom, Mama feels poorly, she says it’s getting most difficult to breathe.”
“Is there a hospital in the village?” Goodwin said. He saw Margherita’s face fall with her expectations, the illusions she had built up about him crumbled to dust.
“No, just eh-a, what you call it, a medic,” Paulo said haltingly. “Tom, please, just come see if we need to calls for ambulance, eh?”
“I’ll go get my car,” Vico said, and his voice carried the weight of great authority now. “Thomas, you go now, with Paulo. If we need to take her to the hospital we must all go together.”
Goodwin pushed back from the table, thinking how little he wanted to get involved in a medical dilemma here. He simply wasn’t licensed to practice medicine in Italy, and in some countries samaritanism was a criminal act. He wondered as he ambled out of the ristorante into the night if his malpractice insurance would cover anything that might arise…
He followed Paulo up the hill and around a corner; Margherita had apparently gone with Vico, and this surprised him. It might have surprised him further to know that Vico was saying even then how much like the father was this son, even if the old man said this under his breath. The old man fought off memories of distant nights, memories that now swept through the village like a cold wind.
Paulo opened a door that led to a narrow stairway, and Goodwin wanted to cover himself from the wounded stares of a thousand ghosts that huddled beside nearby doorways. He shook his head, walked up the stairs behind Paulo, this stranger he had accidentally pulled into the sea, and as he walked into the apartment he walked into another world.
It was a warm world, color and smell collided with memory in this room and had created something completely foreign to Goodwin. It hit him instantly. Love and family, so foreign to him. The feeling was everywhere, love was in the things he saw, love bathed the air inside the apartment with the softness of gently formed memory, of easy laughter within these walls and the safety of a warm embrace. It was all here in plain view, the warmth of those who loved honestly, and had done so all their lives. It left Goodwin feeling empty, somehow hollow, and he had no idea how misshapen his perception was.
And she was sitting by an open window, sitting in a chair that wore her memories with an easy grace. She was gasping for air, not panicked, not afraid, but simply waiting for death to find her – like a promised friend, long expected and not unwelcome.
He rushed to her side, his fingers seeking her pulse first in her wrist, then her ankles and neck. He pressed her fingernails and shook his head.
“Ma’am? Mrs Morretti? Can you hear me?”
“Paul? Is that you? Have you come back to me?” Her accent was thick but the words unmistakable. Goodwin shook as implications beat the air above his head like the fluttering wings of a dying bird.
“Mama!” Paulo said in Italian. “This is doctoré Goodwin. Remember Tom? He is Paul’s son. Mama, how are you feeling…?”
“I am ready to sleep now, my precious boys.”
“No, Mama. Tom is here, we will take you to the hospital!”
She turned her eyes to the water and smiled. “I am coming, my friends,” she said.
“Paulo, let’s get her downstairs. Do you have any oxygen here? A bottle of oxygen?”
“What about this medic? Is there an ambulance here in town?”
“Oh, si, not far from here . . .”
They stopped at the little medic’s station and borrowed a bottle of oxygen, the offended medic placated only when Vico pulled him aside and explained who Goodwin was. Paulo drove expertly, though blindingly fast, through the hills to Genoa – “There are no heart people in Rapallo worth shit!” Vico spat, apparently from experience – and they made it to the hospital in less than an hour. Paulo ran to fetch a wheelchair.
Tom kept by Maria Theresa’s side while Vico and Paulo talked to nurses and physicians in the emergency room; Tom kept asking for this test and that, getting in the nurses way, angering them, until . . .
“Tom Goodwin! You lazy no-good asshole! What the devil are you doing here!”
Goodwin spun around, saw the tumbling girth of Jon Santoni rumbling down the corridor his way. “Jon! Sonofabitch! What the devil are YOU doing here?”
“Me? I work here. The better question is, what are you doing in MY hospital!” He roared as they laughed, and appeared genuinely happy to see Goodwin.
“Trying to keep your skinny ass out of trouble, as always!”
Santoni looked something like a Pavarotti, perhaps not quite so rotund but infinitely more jolly. He came over and gave Goodwin a hug and kissed his cheeks, then turned serious.
“What’s this about, Tom?” he asked, pointing at Maria Theresa.
“Friend of the family. I was in the neighborhood and thought I’d drop by, and, well, here we are.” They huddled away from Vico and Paulo and Margherita and began talking, and a few minutes later Santoni walked over to the nurses station and got on a telephone. Soon he was yelling, then spoke in quieter tones for a while, then turned and nodded to Goodwin.
“Let’s go Tom. Tell the family to go to the waiting room outside the surgery on the next floor.” Nurses now looked at Goodwin like he was the Pope’s brother; they smiled at him deferentially as they handed him a sheaf of chemistries, as they followed him as he walked over to speak with Margherita and Paulo and Vico.
“Pretty much what I expected,” he said to Vico as he explained what the first chemistries had found. “We’ll take some pictures and confirm, then go in and fix it.”
“Tom? Who is that man, the big one?”
“Jon? Great cutter, uh, surgeon. He did a cardiovascular fellowship in Houston under me about ten years ago. He’s probably the best heart man in Italy. Lucky he’s here.”
“And you trained him?” Vico said, thunderstruck. “It seems fortuitous breezes are dancing all around Portofino these days, don’t you think?”
Goodwin nodded. “I suppose so. Anyway, surgery waiting room, one floor up. Probably several hours before we know much. Take those two out for coffee or something. Ciao.”
Vico held out his hand, took Goodwin’s hand in his and seemed to search for the right words. They looked at one another for a long time, then Goodwin turned and walked away.
Vico looked at Maria Theresa’s children and at the fortunes of her lifetime; how odd, he thought, that in the blink of an eye all this becomes as dust, ready to lift on an errant breeze and settle on new currents for another journey. “Come. Let us find some food and talk for a while. It will be a long night, and we have much to be thankful for. Miracles are alive in this night!”
Margherita walked in stunned silence. The night had become a waterfall of conflicting emotions, all feeling obscured in white mist as hope and expectation dashed on rocks blackened by clouds of anger-borne confusion. Now everything seemed upside down, she was tumbling on vaulted airs, nothing made sense as everything seemed to have grown like gray ivy within a tapestry of lies. One thread had been pulled and now all her feelings were unraveling. She thought about Tom, and the sea – and her mother.
Elsie lay quietly on Springer’s swim platform. She looked into the black eye so still now; she could sense loneliness and fear in the dolphin, and she wanted to comfort him. She eased forward and slipped her paw into the water; the dolphin blinked slowly and came to her, rubbed his nose against billowing fur and the smells of black earth, and he drifted in nether currents of distant suns.
In a distant room an anesthesiologist slipped a needle into Maria Theresa’s arm and she watched as light gathered around her, pulled her close.
She smiled as the light wrapped her in soft embrace, she smiled when she heard his voice, when she saw his face. She was surrounded by vast clouds, and she could see him clearly now.
He was coming for her, and he was smiling too, even as awareness fell away.
Jon Santoni walked into the waiting room just before three in the morning; his green scrubs were blotchy-wet from sweat around his neck and arms. He wore a naturally jovial expression on his round face, but not this morning. He was too tired for such a performance. He came and sat by Ludvico; Margherita and Paulo sat beside Vico, and now Toni had made it to the hospital after he got off work. They sat silently, expectantly, but Toni seemed distracted, almost agitated.
Santoni pursed his lips, tried to think of the best way to tell these people what he had just seen. He knew words would fail him. They always did in times like these.
“We lost her twice, you see,” he began slowly, “and both times Tom pulled her back. We were missing something. Something important.”
Margherita’s eyes filled with hot tears, Paulo’s hands trembled.
“Her pressure kept falling, you see, like there was a perforated artery, but we couldn’t see anything. He replaced the mitral valve…”
“Doctor! Is Maria alive!” Vico was livid, shaking with rage.
“Oh, yes. And I’ve never seen anything like it. He had his hands around her heart, he was feeling it beat in his hands, and then he knew. He just knew. He had me finish up with the heart then went into her leg. She had a small aneurism in her femoral artery. Impossible to detect. Yet he felt it, goddamn it, while he was holding her heart! It is not possible, yet I watched this happen. The anesthesiologist is dumbfounded, quite shaken up, really.”
“Mama is okay?” Toni said, wanting to believe what he was hearing but not exactly sure what the doctor was saying.
“Yes, your mother is fine now. Tom has fixed the valve and cleared out the left carotid artery, which was almost completely blocked. Then the artery in the leg . . .” Santoni’s voice trailed away into the coffee-drenched air.
Paulo was wrapped around his sister’s neck, crying almost hysterically, yet quietly. Vico sat back in his chair and looked up at the ceiling; he crossed himself once and wiped a tear from his cheek.
“She’s going to be alright?” Toni said, and it was more a statement than a question.
“Oh, yes, young man. In fact, she may be better than alright. I suspect her memory will be better, and she will be able to walk more, in fact, when she gets better she should walk a lot more. This will help her strength.”
“You said you lost her?” Margherita asked. “Twice? What happened?”
“We could not find the source of this drop in pressure. We tried to increase pressure with medicine, but this only made the aneurism worse. If Tom had not discerned this when he did, she would not have survived. You must excuse me, because it is this I do not understand. He knew right where to go. It was as if someone told him. I have never seen anything even remotely like this. So, if you all will excuse me, I will go back and help Tom. But he wanted you all to know where things stand.”
“Thank you, doctoré,” Vico said, but Paulo jumped up and gave the physician a hug.
“Eh, no kissing the cheeks young man, or I will have to shower before I return!”
Paulo looked embarrassed, stepped back, and the round man walked back into the surgery.
“Many prayers have been answered tonight,” the old man said. “Yet there will be time now to repair that which has been broken so long.”
Mary Ann Doncaster sat on the swim platform by Elsie; they both looked at the dolphin circling lazily just a few meters away. There were still a few stars overhead, but already the eastern horizon was filling with wispy gold tendrils of the coming storm. A few clouds were red-tinged and angry, running ahead of an imperturbable sun from the clutches of the storm. She loved these early mornings, the way the sun chased away the night.
“I wonder where Goodwin is?” Malcolm said as he came up into the cockpit. “Blast it all, I’ll need a sweater out this morning. Who told us it never gets cold here?”
“Did you put the water on?” Mary Ann asked as he smiled.
“Yes. Warming some scones, as well. Is that fish still out there?”
“Yes, he is, and he’s not a fish!”
“Well, yes, I’m sure of that! Would you like some jam with your scones?”
“It’s almost as though he was waiting for something, you know, Malcolm? Or someone.”
“Excuse me!” A woman’s voice clipped the air.
Malcolm jumped, turned toward the voice on the quay. “Right-O, what are we about this morning?”
“Dr Goodwin invited me to sail with him today, to Rapallo. Is he about?”
“Not here…” Mary Ann said from the swim platform. “But please, come aboard.”
Malcolm helped the newcomer up onto Diogenes and led her across the rails to Springer. “Name’s Doncaster, Malcolm Doncaster,” he said while he helped the woman across Goodwin’s boat. “My that’s my wife Mary Ann back there, bothering that silly fish.”
“Come, have a look.” He helped her back to the stern rail.
“Hello there,” Mary Ann said.
“Yes, hello.” The woman saw the dolphin circling below and sat down in bewildered silence. “How long has it been there?”
“All night, as best as I can tell.”
“Oh, my name is Trudi.”
“Well, right then,” Malcolm said. “Tea for three it is.” He slipped quietly back to Diogenes and dishes clattered away below.
“He seems, I don’t know the right word, he seems sad,” Trudi said as she watched the dolphin.
“Disconsolate was the word that came to mind when I first saw him this morning, but yes, sad. Preoccupied, and sad.”
“Is that pup yours?”
Elsie turned to look at the other woman; once satisfied she remembered her from the day before she turned back to the two scar.
“This is Elsie.”
“Ah, yes. We’ve met.”
“Have you indeed? When might that have been?”
“With Dr Goodwin. Yesterday.”
“Ah, yes, they’ve grown close.”
The dolphin raised its head from the water and stood almost straight up, one eye cast on the village across the harbor.
“What does he…?”
A beige colored Mercedes taxi whipped onto the piazza and raced around the harbor to the quay and came to a skidding halt by Diogenes; the back door opened and a completely shell-shocked Tom Goodwin emerged. They watched as Goodwin paid the driver, said something off-color and laughed at the reply.
He walked down to Diogenes muttering something about frustrated Formula One drivers being allowed to operate taxis, then he hopped aboard; Malcolm popped up from below when Diogenes began rocking.
“Oh, so you made it after all. Good show! Help me with these scones, would you?”
Goodwin received the platter of fresh-baked scones and laid them out on the cockpit table; Malcolm followed with tea and cream.
“My God in heaven!” Malcolm exclaimed when he climbed up into the cockpit. “But you’re covered with blood!”
“What?” Mary Ann said. She looked at him in the cockpit and groaned. “Good grief, Tom! What are those, anyway – surgical scrubs?”
Goodwin looked down at his scrubs and shrugged. “Yeah. Sorry. Long night.” He stood up and made to leave.
“Tom, sit down!” Malcolm spoke up now. “What on earth have you been up to?”
“Uh, don’t really want to talk about it just now.”
“Really, Tom!” Mary Ann shot back. “What have you been up to?”
Tom shrugged, then shook his head.
“So,” Malcolm interceded, “you up for this transfer today?”
Goodwin looked at Trudi. “So, how about it? Ready for a little adventure?”
“Sounds delightful!” she said admiringly. “When do we start?”
“Well, might we not eat a bite first!” Malcolm said grumpily. “I’ve just pulled them from the oven, you know.”
“You and your stomach, Malcolm! Really!”
“Mary Ann!” Tom sighed accusingly. “I thought you were the baker! You mean that after all this, he’s the one…?”
“Right,” Malcolm said. “And we won’t you say another word about this, will we?”
Goodwin laughed with Mary Ann and Trudi. They sat in Diogenes’ cockpit and watched flashing white glows struggle within the dark-rimmed clouds, the storm closing in now; after a few minutes Goodwin stopped, his eyes locked on the water behind the boats.
“How long have they been here?”
“They?” Mary Ann said as she turned. “Oh my word. Now what?”
Elsie sat up on the swim platform, her ears now standing almost straight up as she watched seven dolphins gathered in a circle just a few yards away.
“One of them was here all night, Tom,” Malcolm said. “Elsie sat out here with it all night, never moved as far as I can tell.”
Without saying a word Goodwin stood and walked to the edge of the transom; he pushed off and made a gracefully silent dive right into the middle of the formation. He came up and began treading water; his companions gathered wordlessly at the rail, wondering what had gotten into him.
Two Scar came to Goodwin and rolled over on his side and stared into Goodwin’s eyes.
“She’s alright, boy. You understand me, don’t you? She’s fine now.”
The dolphin drifted into Goodwin and put his nose on one of the blood soaked stains. Everyone could hear the dolphin moan, but then another dolphin came in close and did the same thing. Two Scar moved off but kept close to Goodwin; all of them came in and did the exact same thing, then one by one they left the harbor.
All but Two Scar.
He came back to Goodwin, put his snout against Goodwin’s face, and Tom stroked it softly, said gentle words while they held each other in the water.
Goodwin turned as Two Scar slipped into the darkness; only then was he aware of the crowd that had formed. Not only the Doncasters and Trudi; now he saw at least a dozen people on the far side of the harbor looking at him, dozens more on the quay behind Springer.
“Oh good grief!” he said as he paddled over and pulled his tired body up onto the platform. His neck felt hot and stiff, his head full of a dull ache that pressed in like a vice, and he took the towel Malcolm handed him and dried his face.
“What was that all about?” Trudi said in her clipped Swedish accent.
“Don’t ask,” Mary Ann replied. “Do yourself a big favor – just do not ask!”
Malcolm laughed while he cleared dishes. “You’ll have an interesting talk with Goodwin, no doubt. But I don’t think you’ll learn anything. I certainly haven’t.”
“But, were they talking to one another?”
“I don’t know. I really don’t.”
Goodwin climbed back down onto the swim platform and sat next to Elsie. He put his arm around her while she licked saltwater from his arms, and Goodwin looked out to sea. He saw Two Scar had stopped and was looking at him, now several hundred feet away – and Tom waved. When the dolphin disappeared again, Elsie sat up and licked his face.
Doctoré Santoni led Maria’s children into the intensive care unit, cautioning them to not let what they saw alarm them. It always looked, he told them, much worse than it really was.
She lay on her back, a green plastic ventilator covered her mouth and nose, and her eyes were taped shut with thin strips of tape. She was loosely covered with thin white sheets; lines and tubes sprouted from every part of her body. Margherita gasped and turned away when she saw the angry red line of tape and staples holding her mother’s chest together; Paulo walked to his mother’s side and took her hand and stroked it gently.
“Mama, we’re here. All of us, Mama. We love you. We’re going to help you get strong.”
Her hand was lifeless, unresponsive, yet machines overhead pulsed and whispered, each singing their own peculiar music of life, a simple melody of hope and renewal. Paulo looked at the machines as a reflection of his mother’s life force, he held on to the hope fused inside these pulsing electronics, simply because what he saw lying in the bed frightened him beyond all understanding. He could not imagine a world without his mother in it. The mere thought was beyond unendurable.
Vico held Margherita by his side, and together they walked forward until they came to her bedside. Margherita’s lips trembled, her eyes twitched and watered, and the old man held her tight to hide his own fear.
Of them all, only Toni seemed outwardly remote and untouched by the pain before him. He was numb, almost in shock. He was her baby boy, and always would be.
Springer left the still harbor under power; as soon as she cleared the cape Goodwin unfurled the main and fell off the wind. He rolled out the staysail and cut the engine, now all was quiet except for slowly building winds and waters parting at the bow before running along the hull, joining again behind the boat in a softly gurgling wake. He feathered the prop and pulled at the gennie, and Springer leapt into the wind…
Goodwin watched as Diogenes motored along the direct line to Rapallo; either Malcolm had grown tired of sailing or was below baking bread. Mary Ann was at the tiller staring ahead. Whatever the season, it was a glorious morning to sail and Goodwin felt renewed after the long night in surgery. It was a pity the Doncasters had lost sight of this simple pleasure. He twisted his head from side to side, his neck still stiff and hot.
Trudi remained silent, lost in memory as the boat heeled into a gust. Her long gray hair streamed behind in the wind, faint rays of pale yellow sunlight struggled from behind faraway clouds to wash over her, and she held her face in the bronze light, her mouth parted ever so slightly as if trying to drink in every last molecule of time.
She turned to Goodwin. “May I go forward?”
“Sure.” He clipped her harness to the jack-line and tested the shackle. “Just remember to keep hold of something as you walk.”
She nodded, staggered forward holding on to lifelines and handrails until she came to the bow pulpit. She sat with her feet dangling over the side, and for all the world Goodwin thought she looked like a young girl again.
Joy is such a simple thing, he remembered. Why do we grow away from it? Why do we become so reluctant to embrace such a simple thing?
He heard her squeal, saw her point at the water, and there they were.
Seven fins arced alongside Springer, dark gray darts slipping through the water with the barest sound; Two Scar settled aft beside Goodwin, the dolphin’s grinning face alive with the pure joy of spinning through silver-blue seas, living life on the crest of a wave. Goodwin smiled at Two Scar and he replied by jumping high into the air, skipping across the sea like a flat rock thrown by a kid.
Trudi came alive as she watched the show. She leaned into the pulpit and smiled and laughed, then she lay along the gunwale, her hand reaching out to the sea. A fin sliced through the water, came to her seeking hand and in a sudden burst ran up and surfed on the bow wave for a moment, Trudi’s hand resting on the dolphin’s back. The dolphin slipped underwater only to fall back and run forward to the bow wave again and again. It was a game, it was joy, and they all watched and loved the feeling.
After perhaps a half hour, Two Scar came alongside. He seemed agitated and Goodwin looked to the far horizon. Angry black clouds seethed, lightning flashed across the mountains. He turned to Two Scar and nodded understanding.
“Alright! We’ll head in now!”
He called Trudi, asked her to come back to the cockpit. When she was settled he came about and made his course for the breakwater at Rapallo. Springer now pushed into wind-driven seas, and when the bow slammed into a big rolling wave, roiled water arced through the air and fell back on them, then the Springer bulled her way through the next one. Goodwin looked at Trudi; she still seemed like a little girl full of the soaring expectation – her radiant face freed from all the cares time had visited on her in recent years.
She turned and looked at Goodwin.
“Thank you,” she said.
“No, Trudi. Thank you,” he said as he took her hand and squeezed it.
Malcolm took Springer’s lines as the boat pulled into the marina, Mary Ann helped Trudi cross to Diogenes while the men sorted out dock lines and fenders. Elsie seemed happy to see Goodwin; she jumped over to Springer and went to the rail where Trudi had lain with the dolphins; she sniffed around and looked back at Goodwin, her tail fanning the air.
Dark gray clouds raced through the city, slanting walls of white rain arrived, and even behind the marina’s protective mole ragged gusts hit hard, stirring up choppy-rolling waves at the dock. Masts clanged with loose halyards as wind whipped through the aluminum forest, owners scurried about making lines fast while others sat in their cockpits drinking wine and watching all the activity with quiet, knowing smiles on their smug faces.
After things were stowed below Goodwin went to Diogenes and had tea, then called a number on his cell phone. He spoke cryptically in terse medical terms to the voice on the other end, nodded his head a couple of times.
“Alright, Jon, let me take a nap at least. Then I’ll grab a taxi and come up. What? Alright, suit yourself. Down inside the mole, right behind the seawall. Green hull, sailboat, name on the stern is Springer. I’ll leave the hatch open so come on in.”
Everyone was looking at him – again – now full of manifest curiosity.
“I don’t suppose you’re going to tell us what’s going on?” Malcolm pleaded.
“Margherita’s mother. She crashed last night. Had to go in and fix a few things.”
“Crashed?” Malcolm said.
“Go in?” Mary Ann stated. “You mean . . .”
“Yup. Italy accepted my credentials, I’m legal now.”
“So, there are no license issues? How, did you…?”
“Yup. Don’t ask.”
“I see,” she said.
“Good. Now, can we drop it?”
“Right,” Malcolm said. “So, how far off did you two go? We almost lost sight of you.”
“Well, when we tacked back in toward Rapallo we were about four miles out.” Goodwin rolled his neck, tried to get the kink out again.
“Yes,” Trudi added, “it was glorious. The dolphins came and swam with us for what seemed like forever. I even touched several of them!”
“Two Scar?” Malcolm asked.
“Yup,” Tom said.
“Two Scar?” Trudi asked. “What . . .”
“Hey, hate to break this up, but I’m going to go get some shut-eye; y’all tell Trudi whatever you want, just let me get some sleep, okay?” Goodwin slipped below and into the shower and let the water run on his neck; after a quick, hot one he toweled off and put on a dry t-shirt, took some acetaminophen then flopped down on his berth – and dropped off into a deep sleep. He was aware, in those last few glowing moments of consciousness, of a furry ball of warm dog curling up next to him. He felt a cold nose press against his and smiled.
“Tom? Tom, you can wake up now.” It was a woman’s voice, Swedish accent. “You have a guest. Tom. Wake up…”
“Do I have to?” He was acutely aware of his neck – it still felt stiff, and hot…
“Yes. Dr Santoni is here. We’ve been talking for an hour. He asked us to let you sleep, but he must go back to the hospital soon, and he wants you to accompany him.”
Goodwin felt the woman’s hands running through his hair, and his eyes popped wide open.
“Tom,” she said again, this time ever so gently, “Thank you for this morning. These are memories I will always cherish. Tom? You feel hot. Go wash up with cool water.”
He listened as she walked up on deck; he heard swarms of voices buzzing about, almost as if a party was in full swing. He sat up and felt hair all over his face and mouth and began picking Springer hair from his lips as he stumbled into the head. He washed his face, looked at his reflection in the mirror; his eyes were blood red and he felt hot – impossibly hot. He took a thermometer and stuck it under his tongue and padded into the galley. He pulled out a bottle of frigid mineral water, felt a line of sweat forming on his brow, then took the thermometer and held it up to a light.
“102.4 – yikes!” He walked over to the companionway, made eye contact with Santoni and held up the thermometer.
“What is it?”
Goodwin handed Santoni the thermometer. “See if you see what I see, then wash your hands!”
“Shit! You better lie back down.” Santoni got on his cell phone and called his hospital. When he finished he came and sat in the saloon across from his old friend and mentor. “I just added some antibiotics to Mrs Morretti’s cocktail, and I’m having a nurse come down and draw blood. Have you any acetaminophen? And where do I put this thing?”
“Thermometer in the head, tube on counter. Tylenol in the cabinet over the sink, took some earlier. You know, I feel like shit.”
“I’m not surprised. When did you first feel this come on?”
“About five minutes ago. No. My neck’s been stiff all morning.”
Santoni looked at Goodwin with narrowed eyes, rinsed the thermometer off and stuck it back under Goodwin’s tongue. He looked at his wristwatch and felt Goodwin’s pulse. After another minute he looked at the thermometer and shook his head.
“Okay, that’s it. We’re going to the hospital. Let’s go.”
“What is it now?”
“Over 103. Now, let’s go. This isn’t good, and you know it. You say your neck is stiff?”
“Jon? I think you’d better call an ambulance…” Goodwin’s vision grew faraway and misty, then he felt the earth reaching up for him, pulling him down, and while it felt for a moment like he was falling…something about the moment felt odd and black.
He woke in the night; he could see someone sitting in a chair by the window inside a tiny, antiseptically bare room. The world smelled of strong disinfectant and garlic. He smiled, tried to lift his head from the starchy pillow and the pounding began . . .
“Crap! Son of a bitch!”
A small bedside lamp flipped on; Goodwin shielded his eyes: “Youch! Bright! Off!”
“Tom? Oh, thank God!”
He turned, saw Margherita in the brilliant light, saw tears on her face and in her eyes.”
“Hey, kiddo. How’s your mom doing?”
“Tom! Tom! You…she’s fine, she’s doing just fine. Going home tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow? No way. It’s way too soon for that. She needs at least two weeks…”
“Tom. You’ve been here almost two weeks. In a coma until three days ago, then the medicine began to work. We’ve been very worried, Tom. Very worried.”
Her words drifted around the perimeter of his consciousness for a moment, then worked their way in. “Two weeks?”
A nun came in and looked at Goodwin and smiled, then ducked quickly out of the room. She came back a few minutes later with a glass full of water, crushed ice and a straw.
“Drink this,” the old woman said. “Slowly, doctoré, slowly.”
“Gad, my mouth tastes like a barnyard!”
Santoni came into the room. “Eh, so the lazy no good bum decides to wake up, does he? About time!”
“Jon? What the hell…”
“We’ll talk about all that it in a while…” He was looking from Goodwin to Margherita surreptitiously, as if there was a secret he wanted to guard.
“Yeah, sure. How’s Mrs Morretti?”
“Great, Tom. No problems. Now you? Tell me how you feel.”
“Weak. And my head hurts.”
“From the spinals. Sorry.”
“Jeesh! How many did you do?”
“Several, my friend. Meningococcus, you understand?” Again Santoni averted his eyes while he spoke quietly.
Santoni nodded. “We have been feeding you Ceftriaxone through a central line for quite some time now, and some Vancomycin too. To be on the safe side.”
“No wonder I feel like shit.”
“Yes, no wonder. Warmed over shit, too. Now you excuse me, okay Tom. I got to go and get ready for surgery.”
“What time is it?”
“Eh, Margherita? You get him up to speed on things, okay. I see you in a while, Tom.”
“Up to speed? On what?”
“Tom, we didn’t know how ill you were, if you were going to make it. We didn’t know what to do.”
“And? Why do I get the feeling you’ve left out something important here?”
“We, uh, well, we called your father?”
“You didn’t. Please God, tell me you didn’t.”
“Vico did. Yesterday. They talked yesterday.”
“Is he here?”
“No. He’s coming Friday. In a few days.”
“Swell.” Goodwin held his head as contradictory impulses flew through his mind. “Oh, well, c’est la vie. Comme il faut . . . oh, excuse me . . . this is as it should be, I suppose. Too many pieces of the puzzle missing. Anything else I need to know?”
“Elsie will not leave your boat. It is still in Rapallo, and the Doncasters stay there too. The woman Trudi stays there too, with Elsie.”
“What does this word mean? This swell.”
“Huh? Oh, something like ‘oh, great,’ but a close cousin of ‘fuck,’ ‘shit,’ ‘damn,’ and ‘holy Mother of God!’”
She laughed and Goodwin thought once again how good it felt to hear her laughter; it washed over him and made the pain in his head roll away for a moment, but he could see she was still holding something back from him.
“Now, what aren’t you telling me?” He looked at the reluctance in her eyes, reluctance, and a little mischief. “You’re not telling me something. What?”
“No, Tom. You have enough on your mind now. With your father coming.”
“Don’t try to protect me, Margherita. Talk to me.”
“Why shouldn’t I protect you? I love you,” she exploded. “I love you so much it hurts to breathe when I am away from you. I can not go to work, I can not eat, I can not leave this room, and I will not until you are well…” She looked away, embarrassed by her outburst.
“Oh.” Tom seemed quiet now, almost embarrassed as well. “Margherita? What won’t you tell me?”
“I think I am with child.” She looked at him, measured him. “I think I am with your child.”
He looked at her for a long time, held out his hand to her and she leaned into him, put her face on his fingers. He closed his eyes, and was soon asleep.
She heard his breathing grow calm, heard the gathering quiet take the room again, and she pulled back and looked at him.
He was smiling. Softly, gently smiling.
And she understood. Everything was beginning to make sense.
Dino Morretti backhanded Maria Theresa and she flew across the kitchen, landing in a ragged heap in the corner of the room. Her stinging face, already bruised from several blows over the past week, hurt beyond words. The tears she cried came from a place inside she never knew existed. They came from despair unknown to her, and these mute feelings tore her apart.
Dino Morretti wasn’t a simple dullard; even though he had lived in denial of basic truths for several months now, the urge to destroy Maria Theresa grew stronger each time he looked at the little bastard, this little child Paulo. The boy wasn’t his – he knew this beyond all measure of doubt – and as far as he was concerned everyone in the village knew this as well. He knew this because he hadn’t made love to his wife since Margherita was conceived, and unless someone was willing to come forward and make a good case for Immaculate Conception, the boy’s origins were far from clear.
But he knew the truth. Oh yes, he knew.
Vico had done the deed. That was it!
He would always love Maria Theresa. He always had, and always would.
Vico has done this! He must have…
Earlier that day, Morretti vowed before God he would kill Vico, and Maria Theresa had grown so full of despair she had let slip all restraint and simply laughed violently at the little man. She had no other emotions left inside by that time; she simply let go of her fear and laughed – even as she wept, she laughed. She felt hollow, like she was drifting, drifting slowly across that sunless sea – homeward bound to faraway oblivion.
Had she wanted this to happen?
“It’s not Vico, you fool,” she said softly, reprovingly, and he had slugged her breast, hard, his face red, the veins in his neck pulsing with ageless venom. He circled the room like a boxer, out of his mind with black anger, then he saw her there and circled like a shark – sensing fresh blood in the water. He moved to kick her, all the while his anger coiling like a snake, readying for the next strike.
‘Why did I smile at him then?’ she asked herself.
“You lying whore!” he yelled when he kicked her in the rear, but then he begun laughing. “So, the jokes on me, eh? You fucking whore!” He lunged forward, his foot lifting, drawing back again…
Maria – already doubled over in pain – raised her hands to defend herself from the next blow, but it never came. She heard someone banging on the door and Dino, his blood boiling, went to answer; she crawled into the bathroom and locked the door, all the while gasping from a sharp pain in her chest. She heard dark words, a struggle, fists falling and furniture breaking… footsteps running down old wooden stairs, other footsteps coming toward the bathroom, someone knocking on the door softly, gently, a voice so full of love and compassion, a voice full of mystery and the fount of her imagination, a voice from the past…
“Maria, it’s me. Open the door.” She heard Paul Goodwin’s voice, and she fell to the floor, weeping.
There’s had been a conspiracy of silence. The ties that bind had grown very strong over two lifetimes. Love endures anything but neglect, and Vico never relinquished his complete devotion to Maria Theresa. His love was simple and pure, a vow to himself beyond mortal release.
Maria held Vico to her secret after the first ‘reunion’ with Goodwin. Paul must never know, she told him, because she could not, would not use the child to bring him here against his will. He would come, she maintained, when he was ready to listen to the truth they had discovered. He would come when he was ready to listen to the music of the night, to simple chords of destiny, to the music of this unknown calling.
Then the beatings began. Everyone in the village knew the shame over their house, but not the cause. She became an outcast, then ever more reclusive.
Vico thought of his friend in faraway America, thought of their momentary roadside encounter, and of Goodwin’s fair-haired son. Could he keep the nature of her secret from them? Could he find Goodwin and tell him and not betray the conspiracy? Vico knew where Paul Goodwin worked, and he struggled with loyalties and her desperate need; in the end he called Goodwin, and talked to him within these limits. He kept to his part of the conspiracy, he made what case he could. He pleaded, he waited.
And Paul Goodwin came to Portofino again. He came as if on wings afire, full of seething rage and unrequited fury. He came in love, to love once again.
Goodwin took a small apartment near Vico’s ristorante; they moved her and the two children in the dead of night. Goodwin and Vico found a couple of tough guys to tell Dino if he came around or touched Maria Theresa again his body would never be found. The message was delivered with more force than had been asked for, and Dino Morretti faded from the scene for a couple of years. Maria Theresa began to mend, at least in body. Goodwin had saved her; she always knew he would. Her sense of destiny was so sure-footed; hadn’t he always followed her through the rock and shoals?
But Vico saw over the coming weeks and months that something inside her soul had failed to mend, and that something was her undiminished need for Paul. Goodwin, of course, did not remain in Portofino, he remained true to his former self and took to the skies, and as such he was rarely around for more than a few days at a time, and these days followed the dictates of his schedule; he came, he stayed a day, then he flew home to New York, to, Vico assumed, his other family.
And, predictably, when those days of his various returns came less frequently, Maria Theresa simply lived all the more for them; it was as if she stopped breathing between his visits, and came to life again only when he returned to her. Paul brought toys from America for the children, he took her to Rome and Florence more than once, and finally one summer day in July, 1969, they went to Venice. They made love in a little hotel above a canal, as they always dreamed they might, but she knew their’s was a passions borne of other-worldly need, simple, pure, with no guilt possible because the reason behind their union would always be beyond the laws of man. All the mystery came back in newfound lust, yet there was always something vacant and missing…the meaning of it all.
One afternoon he talked of leaving his wife, of bringing Maria to America, and while he talked she saw the naked futility of his plan. She could never leave the Port of the Dolphins, and his first best destiny remained there by the little harbor, with her, as well. If only he could see this simple truth…
He would not hear of it, however. He could never leave America, his life there was his work. While Goodwin considered their past an un-reconciled debt, he never considered what he asked of her unfair because he could not see the vital connection of Maria Theresa to the sea, to the music of those frenzied unions. He simply could not believe that asking her to leave the village was so wrong; she would have her children, and him; they would be together, united to make a better life. Yet Maria never felt this true to the destiny she felt in her soul, and she grew bitter with what she considered his carelessness, his blindness. When they returned to Portofino she told him to leave her, to go live his life – such as it was – in America. She would move on, she told him, and he should do the same.
Utterly defeated and now alone, Goodwin left. He never returned. He saw his son move off to college, then medical school, and he resolved to stay by his broken wife’s side.
Nine months after their trip to Venice, Antonio Thomasi Morretti – little Toni – came into the world, a few months after Dino Morretti returned to the forgiving arms of his wife.
If Paulo and Toni Morretti never knew their real father, Margherita most certainly did know hers. After his return a beaten man, before Toni came into the world, he was true to his word and never once raised a hand to Maria Theresa. He simply turned his insidious, tortured soul’s demented attentions to his daughter.
He never lifted a hand to hurt her; he didn’t need to. He knew which words cut the deepest – and he used them frequently. Margherita learned to bleed in painless agony. When Maria Theresa made a new dress for her, she knew she could count on her father to belittle her appearance. When she brought home good reports from school, she knew he would undermine her confidence in other ways, tell her how stupid she really was, how meaningless education was for a girl. It was predictable, she knew what was coming, always, but she never knew why. She never understood why he hated her, and why, through it all, she continued to love him. It wasn’t fair; one sided love never is, yet the pain is real enough.
And yet she understood there was something deeper amiss; she had faint memories of Paul Goodwin hidden in depths of earliest memory, a man who had helped her mother once, before her father, who stood by her for a time, and then all those days in recent years when he was around, always helping – and his sudden attachment to Paulo.
She asked her father about this one morning. He surprised her, too; he didn’t try to humiliate her, he didn’t belittle her question.
No. The veneer shattered, walls fell. He broke down and cried until only salt fell from his eyes. And in her surprise she went to him, she held onto this man who was her father, and while she didn’t understand why, she felt his pain. She felt vultures’ wings of betrayal beating the air everywhere around her, their concussive ripples flowing through her own heart like dizzying waves of recrimination. But now, with her arms around her father, with his scratchy fisherman’s beard resting on her face, she held him and when she told him that she loved him, the beaten man crumbled into salt-laden dust before her eyes.
In the weeks that followed, the little man was reborn. He finally found love in his own cold heart, yet that was the last place the man had expected to find it. He could not do enough for his daughter, no dress was too good for her, he took her everywhere – fishing, and to the market to sell their catch; those were their favorite days – and in time even little Paulo came to know some small measure of this love, though within the tortured limits of his ‘father’s’ newfound ability. As such, time held the Morretti family in tender hands, for they were all fragile, wounded creatures. In this soft, wounded hold, time passed as a bloody carcass pulled along a rock-strewn road in a tired beast’s mouth.
Toni, as he grew older, never went near the man; boundaries borne of instinct were as solid as any stone wall, and he remained by his mother’s side whenever Dino Morretti came home. He watched his mother and he learned one simple truth: that man was not to be trusted. Before he was five years old he hated Dino Morretti, and his feelings never changed over the years. Not even after he learned of his pulling Margherita from the sea.
Once, when his voice had started to change, he asked his mother a simple question –“Is he my father?” – and Toni never once forgot the look in her eyes. Warm, sympathetic, and yet full of sorrows he knew he would never understand: “Of course he isn’t. How could he be?”
He looked at her in a new, very different way, after that one solitary moment in time. In one shattered instant he understood everything. He understood that she knew the true nature of Dino Morretti and had turned away from all his hate and fear. Turned away, he knew, to something he didn’t know but could only faintly understand.
There were, he found, limits to what she would tell him. Her conspiracy remained intact, her denial absolute.
And yet, her words haunted him.
“How could he be?”
He always heard those words when he saw Dino, and the irony humbled him, filled him with cloudy incomprehensions. He, Toni, was not of that man; she was saying, in effect, that he was not of Dino’s violence and ignorance, not of his blind shame and simpering rectitude. He, Toni, was Different. He was better than Dino Morretti; he always had been and would always be.
But – who was he of? He came to define his life in terms of what was missing from his life, and so he grew up incomplete, searching, wondering who that missing part was.
And yet, he embraced the one vital piece of the puzzle: Dino was not his father. The other piece, that most important piece of all, remained an unknown, a song yet to be played in the night. He drifted between wanting to know, and afraid of knowing. It was a sour split that left bitter wounds and, over time, many sleepless nights.
One night Dino attacked his mother, not with fists but with words, and Toni picked up a kitchen chair and broke it over the man’s back. Paulo came and pulled them apart, and this became the pattern that would define their later childhood. Paulo took Dino’s edicts as accepted wisdom and never questioned them; Dino was – after all – Paulo’s father. Wasn’t he?
Surely that was why his brother always took his ‘father’s’ side.
Yet soon Toni could see the truth behind the lie, it was spread out in front of him like an old wound that refused to heal. The fisherman embraced Margherita as his own, so obviously, in the young boy’s mind, she could be nothing else. But there was a distance between Paulo that was never bridged by words, no matter how many times his older brother stuck up for the old man. It was a pattern. Toni became an unwitting party to the conspiracy, and the split within deepened.
He could see it now, he knew it was so in his soul, but Paulo either could not or would not see anything beyond what he wanted to see. He clung to this ‘father’ despite the man’s familial agnosticism, he rejected his mother’s tenacious love because he sensed only the lie within, not the substance of the conspiracy. Paulo wanted to believe Dino was his father, he had to believe in his construct of ‘father’, because for him there was nothing else beyond this paternal identity. He was Paulo Morretti. There was nothing, no one else.
The very opposite was true for Toni. Truth be told and no matter the pain, his mother was their mother. And in the end, as he knew it would, Toni could not countenance deceit when the children were forced to choose sides. Paulo chose to keep faith with his ‘father’. For Toni, there was no choice, and Paulo grew diminished in his eyes. Paulo was a fool. A blind fool, Toni knew, but a fool nonetheless. There was no truth in the boy’s choice, only desperation. There wasn’t love, only fear.
In time, the only desperation Toni felt was when he looked at Margherita and Dino Morretti when they were together. He wanted what she had. He wanted his becoming to be complete.
Then something happened. Something terrible, yet something miraculous.
One evening Maria Theresa walked to the cape, and Toni followed her.
He saw her dance to the music of the night.
He was thirteen years old and very skinny; neighbors thought he was prone to anger and was, more often than not, just a little depressed. Toni Morretti hated the man people called his father as much as he revered his mother, yet he was angry all the time. He was depressed, and people knew that, too. And the only thing he longed for more than his mother’s love was to find the knowing smile on his true father’s face. He wanted to know the story of his own origins, the real story, the true story – not the fictions repeated at Christmas and on birthdays – and he grew increasingly obsessed with the fiction that had entombed him for so many years. The older he grew the farther away truth seemed to slip, the more uncomfortable became the fictions his past was cloaked within. These clinging fictions were suffocating him, burying him under the weight of false illusions he had had no role in creating. He looked at the relationship his sister Margherita had with Dino Morretti and balanced that against the idle foolishness his brother Paulo held for the same man, and inside dark moonlit nights deep in his bedroom he performed a simple calculus, forever coming to the same answer:
He needed to know his father, and his mother refused to tell him anything of the man.
Why? Why so much silence?
What was so bad about the man? What was so bad to warrant a lifetime of deception?
And over the last year his sister Margherita had fallen in love with a musician from Avignon, France. The boy, Marc Duruflé, had performed with a something less than energetic rock band the previous summer at an arts festival and had taken to the simple beauty of the village; he stayed after he found a job in the fall teaching music at the local school, and there he met Margherita. This was her last year attending the village school, and she planned to go to university in Genoa the next year. She seemed possessed of a boundless intelligence, yet he knew the girl’s mother feared she was troubled by the same restless grip of wanderlust that had plagued her father when he started law school. The mother was afraid she would only try to destroy herself along false paths to easy heights.
Soon claiming to be in love with Duruflé, the eighteen year old girl fast passed restlessness and fell into the easy grip of full blown rebellion. Perhaps fomented as a means of escaping the grip of life in a small village, or perhaps simply to hurl retribution in her mother’s face for the harm she had done Dino Morretti over the years, Margherita flaunted her relationship with the young musician to every face she came upon. Dino smiled, and while not unaware of the ironies his daughter’s sordid affair presented, when he saw the distress Margherita caused his wife he could only encourage the relationship to deepen. As mother and daughter drifted deeper into conflict he sat back and watched everything around his home fall apart, and he smiled ever more deeply as wounds so lightly veiled by the tattered fabric of lies began to come apart in his family’s vernal gales. Perhaps this was the pattern of the man; his self-destructive impulses held sway over continuous unravellings, and when the destruction was complete only a bitter smile remained. Margherita and the musician fled to Florence for a ‘reunion tour’, and as a result she never went to university. All love destroyed now, Dino Morretti’s vicious little circles began to draw to their logical conclusion. When Maria Theresa fell into the bottomless despondence of loss once again, he smiled the smile of the damned.
Toni Morretti watched the man closely during this time; he saw the pettiness and vindictiveness in the man as these events consumed his mother. Worse still, all the man’s vacuous self-absorbed anger for Maria Theresa billowed forth again and released in venal fury, and all for the apparent purpose of destroying the one good thing he had created with his life. He was consumed with destroying his own flesh and blood, for the boy knew the man so obviously hated himself he could see no other end to his ruined life. A broken man can never see the future; he can only live in the moment, and the past isn’t even a memory.
Toni became aware of the concept of destiny during this time, and while he began to feel sorry for the man, this only caused him to think more about what his own might be. He knew, somehow, that his destiny was bound completely to his real father’s. But how? How could he reach for it without knowing.
Watching this tragedy unfold filled-in one vital part of Toni’s equation, the why of things. Why his mother had once turned away from the man. But why had she taken him back, only to betray the man again and again? Had his mother simply hated Dino Morretti – from the beginning, or were there even greater betrayals lurking in the shadows?
Toni began to wonder who the architect of this betrayal was. The why of things slowly faded from his thoughts as he focused on the who of things – finding the betrayer.
A few weeks after Margherita left for Florence with Duruflé, Dino Morretti moved out of the little apartment Paul Goodwin had rented for Maria Theresa. So complete was the little man’s triumph, he even kissed her goodbye.
After Margherita’s stormy departure Toni stayed close to his mother. She was at a complete loss now, her eyes full of anger and helpless to control events spiraling beyond her ability to control. She began to sit by the window in her apartment and look out to the sea beyond the cape for hours on end, and Toni began to understand that she was not simply looking into emptiness; she was, rather, waiting for somebody, waiting for – it seemed – a sign. He saw latent purpose in her eyes as she watched the sea, and in time he saw unrequited longing drifting away in the hours of her mind.
She began to take her Passeggiata in the evening once again, but now always alone, and her walks began with a slow walk across the piazzeta – lost in thought. As she walked along, as the sun set around her, she invariably made her solitary way slowly along the quay and up the hill to the cape at the end of the road. She resumed these walks by herself, she wanted no company, she wanted to be alone with her thoughts, and for a while Toni relented and did not follow; he contented himself with watching her walk from the window above the harbor, his heart full of worried concern – and looming curiosity.
Toni began to think these walks were a form of penance, her solitude the only company she could bear. But there was something more to it that eluded him. Everything about her life had come undone, and in this growing, unforeseen turbulence, nothing was as it seemed.
Paulo would begin to cook their dinner when his mother left the apartment, the time when Maria Theresa left on her stroll, and as such Paulo naturally assumed a role Dino never could have. Paulo tried to establish a sense of order in the house because, he told himself, Toni and his mother needed it. Toni, of course, knew better. Toni knew that Paulo needed a sense of continuity, because he missed having Dino to guide him. While there was comfort in order, Toni knew now, there was no truth to be found in the shadow of a foolish man.
In time, Maria Theresa’s walks grew longer and Toni began to worry about her safety. He did not know the woman, he had no idea of all the tortured trails his mother walked in the night through the hills around the village. He did not know the toughness of the woman inside, of the Germans she had summarily dealt with, of the memories that even now stalked her in the night. He saw only wounded despair on her face, the emptiness of Margherita’s flight and the lingering echoes of Dino’s expulsion; as such, he only saw the empty nature of her longing as it remained – as an untold myth – a tale that remained as unswept dust on the floor. He had no idea of the things that had been taken from his mother during the war, and the things she had turned her back on in the turbulent years since. Her conspiracy had protected him most thoroughly, yet like dust, her silence was always underfoot.
One summer night when the July moon was full, she had not come back for dinner and Toni grew worried; as the evening passed into night a sense of foreboding filled the little apartment. Soon he was unable to tolerate his mounting anxiety and he left Paulo cooking in the kitchen and ran out onto the crowded piazzeta. He looked around helplessly at the streaming crowds, then ran across the old stone plaza and along the quay, then up into the deepening shadows that defined the tree-lined way out to the cape.
The air felt strange once he was in shadow, vast, almost electric, like the night was eager to return to this landscape and claim a prize long held from it’s grasp. Toni walked slowly as he drew near the cape, he slowed not because his concern had withered; rather he felt dark force gathering in the air beside him as he walked. He felt like he was being watched, and the hair on the back of his neck danced in the suddenly close air, and then it stood on end. He could just see moonlight dancing on the waves through the trees ahead, hear water weaving through rocks and a retreating wind snaking through the lush summer leaves overhead, and soon, above all else he felt looming energy coiling in the air all around this place. He left the trees and came into the moonlight – and stumbled to a stop.
He saw his mother’s clothes piled on a rock and his mind filled with dread pictures of tormented ends. He looked, as best he could, looked at the rocks and beyond, down to the sea, but even then he could not see her – so blind was his need. His heart was consumed with certain knowledge; she had come here to kill herself in the sea, and he could feel in the air that this was not the first time she had come to this place to do so. Death had been stalking his mother and he did not understand why.
He hurried a few steps towards the sea then stopped again.
There she was. His mother, in the sea.
He stood in open-mouthed shock as he watched his mother’s luminously naked skin glowing in the water. Her arms were outstretched, floating on the surface, her silver hair coiled on the surface and drifting in lazy arcs. All was just in silence; only the barest eddies came in from the sea to kiss the shore, and these did so hesitantly – as if they did not want to disturb what was about to unfold.
He saw the fin slicing through the water and he wanted to shout a warning but something gripped his throat and held him in silence. The form slid through the water and came to his mother with ferocious intent – or so it seemed to the boy – and it drew round her as if readying for the feast. Then the form resolved into shapes benign and soothing and he relaxed; he saw the black eye from where he stood on the rocks, he saw the dolphin rest on its side by his mother. They looked at one another, the woman and the creature, and they held a trust the boy had never seen before. He saw the dolphin rest its nose on her shoulder, saw her arms take hold of the creature and he heard her cry into the night. It was a sound he had never heard before, and it shattered his soul.
He listened to the sound of her pain and they withered the flesh of this night with green fire. Her wails came as putrid agony to the chaste, waiting night, they came as rotted dreams oozing from the wounds of her private Hell.
The boy beheld all this, and began to cry.
She held the animal and became as crystal; she shimmered and wavered in the moonlight as all the agony of broken dreams came back to her in the water, came to collect a debt long due, and the animal took her pain and held it out to the moon.
Then Toni could hear the meaning of this union as his mother’s cries filled the night.
‘Destiny is not your enemy,’ he heard the wind and the water say, or was the voice he heard Vico’s? ‘You can not fight her. And you must not turn away from her. You must find her, and never let her go again. You must find you destiny even if it kills you. But there are limits to what we are allowed…’
Toni looked at his mother in the sea and he began to see how her life had unraveled. He could now feel his father in the air and in the water, and somehow it was all bound up in the creature by her side. He could see now that she had not come here seeking death. Rather, and of this he was quite sure, she had come seeking an affirmation of life, the will to continue. The creature by her side in the water was a link to the very essence of life, a silent gray sentinel who had come to guard her dreams and guide her destiny. And as inverted as the scene was, to young Toni everything now made perfect sense.
He slipped from the rocks and made his way back into the night. He walked home shattered by everything he’d seen.
He never told his mother about that night, about what he had seen from the shadows. And what he had come to know about her truth.
And Toni never saw the other eyes watching him. Eyes both in the sea, and on the wind. He never saw the old man’s eyes watching from behind dark trees, and the smile on the man’s face as he watched the young boy walk back to his life.
And when the old man smiled at the water, and the water smiled at him.
Ospedali Civili Di Genova
Tom Goodwin sat up in the hospital bed, his back propped up on a stack of stiffly over-starched pillows, looking at Margherita as she slept in a recliner by the window. His head felt better now, now that he’d managed to eat solid food, yet he still felt light-headed whenever he sat up in the bed, and his forehead pounded when he tried to stand. He’d lost twenty pounds in two weeks and was still as white as the sheets on his bed. He reached across for the cup of crushed ice on the bedside table and knocked it over; water spilled and the cup fell to the floor, waking Margherita from her light sleep.
“Sorry,” Goodwin said quietly while trying to get up from the bed.
Margherita opened her eyes and looked around the room; it felt to her like bad memories were alight in the room, beating wings filling the air over her head with hollow echoes, filling the room with dreadful purpose. She saw Tom struggling to sit up in the bed, water running off the bedside table to the floor, and she pushed herself awake. She tossed a washcloth on the table and some napkins on the floor, then stood beside Goodwin and helped him sit up.
“Tom, take deep breaths.” She caught his wooziness while she looked at the clock on the wall. “It’s time for medication. I am getting the nurse now.” She rubbed her eyes while she left the room; Goodwin held on to the bed – the world resolutely refused to stop spinning despite his best efforts to stop it – and he looked down at his bare feet swinging just above the cold tile floor, trying to hold a fixed frame of reference.
The night nurse came in and Goodwin groaned. The woman looked like a professional wrestler and was usually about as pleasant, but what really made her attractive, Goodwin thought, was the dark mustache. It matched the circles under the woman’s eyes, and her dour, dark mood. She spoke a little English, relied on Margherita to translate when necessary.
“Good evening, Nurse Ratchet,” he said with his nastiest sarcastic smile plastered on his face. The woman looked at him helplessly and shrugged while she slipped a thermometer under his tongue; an orderly came in and mopped the floor while the nurse continued taking his vitals. She took the probe out of his mouth and read the numbers, wrote them down on his chart, then flipped over to read through the orders once again. She scowled, walked out of the room, and Goodwin sighed.
“She’s so talkative, and so lovely,” he said as Margherita came back into the room. “I think we’re going to be good friends. Maybe even lovers.”
“Shush!” Margherita smiled as she put her finger to her lips. “She doesn’t want you to know, but she thinks you have a cute ass.”
“I do have a cute ass.” Goodwin smiled as she came back in and resumed her place by the window. “I think I remember you telling me just yesterday how cute my ass is.”
“You are insufferable, you do know that, don’t you?”
“Absolutely. Wouldn’t have it any other way. And I’m so glad Nurse Ratchet loves my ass. My life is complete now.”
She said something in rapid-fire Italian and laughed, and he tried to smile, then rubbed his temples with his thumbs; soon he lay back on the bed and a chill ran through his body. Another nurse – probably an aide, he thought – came in with a fresh cup of ice water and a half dozen pills; Goodwin tossed them in his mouth and forced the water down.
“I’d kill for a Coke,” he said, and the nurse nodded and left.
“Are you feeling any better?” Margherita asked.
“Actually, I don’t think so.” He reached up and felt a bead of perspiration forming on his forehead. “Feeling kind of clammy again.”
“Clammy? What is this?”
“Sticky and wet. Fever. I think it’s coming back.” Nurse Ratchet came back into the room; with a saline-filled syringe in hand she came over and flushed out the central line protruding from under his left collar bone, then swabbed off the fittings on a new I.V. bag and hooked it up. She checked the drip rate and made a note on her omnipotent and omnipresent chart. The aide brought in a cup of Coke and more ice.
“Coke good. You drink lots tonight, yes?” She looked down at Goodwin, her coal dark eyes full of unexpected compassion.
He didn’t know why, but her eyes choked him up. They caught him off guard, and he felt himself starting to tear up. The nurse ran her fingers through his hair and smiled at him. He raced to put up the wall, raced to hide his feelings. “So, what is it tonight? Vancomycin again?”
“Si, doctoré. You temp – ah – your temperature is high again. I get you ready for another lumbar puncture later.”
“Oh! Goddamn, fuck no, not another one…”
Goodwin started crying openly now, and Margherita came to him and took his hand.
The nurse looked at Margherita, her smile traced with grim lines that radiated strength. “He be okay,” she said in English, if only to reassure him. “You going be fine again.”
‘Why am I here?’
Margherita Morretti kneeled over the washbasin as yet another wave of nausea washed over her sweating face. She shuddered, closed her eyes as bile crept up her throat one more time; as this wave broke, she looked at her reflection in the mirror with barely concealed contempt filling her mind. She knew she was pregnant, but this sickness was coming in nonstop waves now, and the smudged mascara lining her eyes felt preposterously out of place. She thought she looked hideous, like a circus freak, and she found the idea darkly amusing, almost ironic.
‘Why am I here?’ she asked herself for the hundredth time, here in this preposterously tiny, hideously filthy bathroom. Trapped here, trapped as she struggled to hold down another rising tide confusion.
Marc was rehearsing for the big gig in the sky tonight; his group was going to perform on a hotel rooftop down by the Ponte Vecchio. Record producers were going to be there, and everyone was excited that this was the big break they’d been working, and hoping for.
Marc’s skills as a keyboardist had grown over the past year, and his group was becoming famous around Florence, and much of northern Italy, so much so that they had been billed to open for Emerson, Lake and Powell on their upcoming European tour. They were even making money occasionally, living the high life from time to time.
But they were, Margherita knew only too well, now living way too high most of the time.
The hotel room they’d checked into two days ago now smelled of whiskey and pot, the sheets – soaked with semen and a loose brine of urine-glazed orgasm – lay on the floor in a ragged heap. She smelled the mess and stifled another heave, then ran her hands under the tap, wiped her face clear of sweat – and even tried to clear the black smudgy circles from around her eyes. She stumbled into the room and slipped on fishnet stockings and red thigh-high boots, a short skirt of violet suede topped by a black leather vest. Nothing else covered the rest of her body, and her breasts jutted out proudly. She put on fresh lipstick and touched up her eyes, then hurried back to the rooftop.
Marc and the guys were running through their progressive rock version of Camille Saint-Saëns’ Aquarium sequence from The Carnival of the Animals; the piece had justly put them on the prog-rock map and their hopes of landing a recording contract tonight rested solely on how they performed the piece. Now she watched as Marc ran his fingers over the keyboard – amazed, as she always was, at his daring virtuosity. She watched his long, slender fingers, thinking as she watched how he played her body with the same precision, and she trembled at the thought of their making love.
She watched – and listened – as an upright bass, then piccolo and mandolin – layered over acoustic guitar and drums gave birth to something new and magical, and she knew the boys were sitting on the cusp of greatness; she marveled at the sudden turns her life had taken as she rode their wave. Just a little more than a year ago, she had been festering in that little village, her duplicitous mother infecting everything with her treacherous lies and vacillating half-truths. How had her father put up with the mad woman all these years!
But she had left that all behind, and she felt like she was making her own run for the stars. She’d never once looked back, and never would, she told herself. She didn’t care if she ever saw any of her family, ever again, and she’d told them exactly that as they watched her leave.
The boys finished rehearsing and everyone made for their room – to take it easy before the big gig – to take another quick trip together, so to speak.
And while it wasn’t a quick trip, it most certainly was a weird one. And almost a bad trip
Whether it was the acid they’d scored from some kids at the university or the heroin a drummer from L.A. gave them, Marc got seriously fucked up while Luc, the group’s vocalist, went out on a catatonic tour of the Milky Way for a few thousand years. When they were called to the rooftop as night fell over the city, they stumbled onto the stage and into the light and never once looked back.
Of the critics who attended the performance that night, all were unanimous in their utter astonishment at the groups explosive virtuosity, the serious, indeed profound musicianship on display, and their almost painfully beautiful rendition of Saint-Saëns’ Aquarium. Agents swarmed over them after the performance – but these parasites parted as representatives from Atlantic Records surrounded the boys. It was a new day now.
And two days later the boys were in London, in the studio.
Margherita remained in Florence for a few days, then decided to head to Genoa.
She called Marc a week later, and he told her how well things had been going.
She asked what all these changes would mean. What all these changes meant to their relationship?
He told her he’d been thinking a lot about her, and it wouldn’t be fair to make her go through all this crap, that life was getting too complicated, and that it would be best to end things now.
Margherita fell violently ill the next morning. She was spotting and her belly was hot and tender. She took a taxi to the nearest hospital; later that afternoon she miscarried. She took a bus back to Portofino a week later and moved into a little flat Vico found her. She took a job cleaning hotel rooms and disappeared into the anonymity of the life that had claimed her.
And she remained good to her word and never told anyone in her family she had returned.
There was no need, really, and she knew it. It was a small town.
She was going round and round now; like she was on a carousel, and yet the ride never stopped. There was no way to get off, so she held on, held on as the years reeled away – and she too stopped believing in the future.
She listened to Goodwin as he slept; she could hear the little trembles that shook his lips when he took a breath and she tried to smile. She looked at the half finished Coke on the bedside table and watched as little silver drips cued up at the bottom of the I.V. and fell into the tubing that ran silently into his chest…and as she looked at these impossibly complex things she felt utterly devoid of even the simplest hope. It was as if she was watching him die right before her eyes, yet she understood that wasn’t really the case.
No, I couldn’t be…
Maybe it was because this place smelled just as it had so many years ago. This building made her skin crawl every time she saw it – even from a safe distance. Yet once she had felt like she was pregnant again, and then that other life rushed in from every direction. She’d felt the need to run again, and now, every time she walked the corridors of her own personal Hell, there was nowhere to run but back to Tom Goodwin, and to the hope she prayed would find her.
So the carousel just kept spinning round and round; there never seemed to be enough time to get off. She looked at Tom and the poison dripping into his chest and deep inside felt the spiraling gyre of her own life; all was bound in circles and cycles beyond her understanding, and the feeling left her breathless, and always alone.
She watched sweat soak through his gown, and started to cry.
Paul Goodwin lifted his suitcase up onto the scales; the check-in agent tisk-tisked and shook his head. “Three pounds over, sir. That’ll be seventy five dollars extra, sir.”
Goodwin smiled at the agent and put down the cash; he just managed to keep his mouth shut. He was enjoying this way too much.
“I see you requested a window seat, sir. We can accommodate that request, but that will be an additional fifty dollars. Premium seating, as I’m sure you know.”
“Really? Is the flight full?”
“No, sir. Shall I find you a cheaper seat?”
“Oh, no. Heaven forbid. I’m sure all your customers must love being ripped off like this.”
“Sir, please watch your attitude. We’re required to report all abusive remarks to the TSA.”
“Yes, I imagine you are.” Goodwin slipped a few more bills on the counter. “That enough? Anything else you can get me for?”
The agent smiled as he printed up the boarding pass, his sense of victory apparently complete, then he reached down to put the baggage tracking bar-code on Goodwin’s bag.
“I thought I was going to Rome?” Goodwin said, now enjoying this game even more.
“You are indeed, sir.”
“Oh. Well, I wonder if you might put the correct airport designator on my luggage. You’ve got mine headed for Roanoke. Last I heard, Rome was in Italy, not Virginia.”
“Oh! I am sorry sir. Let me fix that for you!” The man smiled as before, but Goodwin could see he’d deliberately made the switch, and the agent knew he’d been caught.
“Thanks. Oh, by the way, could I have your name please, and employee I.D. number?”
“Sir? No, you see…”
“Well, you see, I used to fly these things for a living, and for some reason they’ve asked me to perform random courtesy inspections of staff whenever I fly. You know, fill out reports on folks who’ve been, well, unusually helpful, like you. You know what I mean?” He pulled out his corporate I.D. and flipped it open so the man could read it. “Actually, it’s about the only thing I like about being retired.” His eagle’s eyes were leveled now, boring right into the agent’s cowed eyes. Goodwin wrote down the man’s information slowly, carefully, drawing out the agony as long as he could.
“Sir? Could I move you up to business class? No charge, of course!” the agent laughed knowingly at this little humor.
“No, that’s alright, Bruce. Actually, I’m sitting up front tonight. Jumpseat, of course.”
“I think they might be hiring at Wal-Mart next week. Good luck with that.”
Goodwin turned and walked off toward security. He whistled an old Disney tune as he got in line.
Trudi Blixen sat in Springer’s cockpit, Elsie draped across her legs. She scratched behind the pups ears almost absent-mindedly while she looked at the water behind the boat – even now expectantly. Several times the big male dolphin – the one with scars below the left the eye – had shown up and looked around for a minute before vanishing. There were no patterns to these appearances, but she had seen him three or four times already. Mary Ann Doncaster seemed to imply there was nothing unusual about this, and the assertion flummoxed her, yet she smiled. She had been, quite simply, dumbfounded by a few of the comments the members of this little circle of friends made. These associations with dolphins were astonishing, however, and she grew painfully curious when the one Malcolm called Two Scar began showing up behind Tom’s boat again and again.
Then there was the matter of the Doncaster’s dog, Elsie. Despite the fact that Tom Goodwin was laid up in the hospital, the dog would not leave Goodwin’s boat except to do her business. Then she pulled and strained to get back to Springer and seemed almost physically pained until she got back to Goodwin’s bunk. After settling-in there for a while, she’d return to the cockpit, resume her watch for Two Scar.
The first time the dolphin appeared she’d heard the dog jump down to the swim-platform, and she’d run up from the galley to investigate. The dolphin and Elsie were only inches apart – nose-to-nose, staring intently into each other’s eyes. She looked at them for a while, and was left with the impression the two had – somehow – been communicating. Each subsequent time the dolphin appeared the two went through the same routine. One was definitely a teacher, of that much she was sure, and again, she smiled at the thought.
‘So, there’s a link between these two animals and Goodwin?’ she told herself one afternoon, after one particularly long encounter. ‘He’s coming to see if he’s back from the hospital?’
It was like peeling an onion! Remove one layer and another, more supple layer appeared.
“How very strange you are,” she said to Elsie that evening. The dog looked up and returned the woman’s curious smile, then turned back to look into the black water.
A red-eyed Paul Goodwin arrived in Rome early that Friday morning. He made his way to the main train station and just made the next express to Genoa and bought his ticket on board. After the train cleared the city he made his way to the café car and took a seat. A waiter approached and asked him what he wanted.
“Coffee. And keep it coming until we pull into the station.”
The waiter had no idea what the disheveled American had asked for, but from the look in the old man’s eyes he could guess.
Goodwin looked out the window as the landscape slipped by; once out of the urban nightmare the land still looked pretty much as he remembered. One thing was unchanged, and that was the sky. There was a hazy tan sheen in the sky over the city, and though it had bothered him for years the acrid haze seemed acutely bad today.
Coffee came and he took a sip and scrunched up his nose as his eyes popped open: “Dear God! Man, I do love Italy!”
The waiter stomped off – hating anything and everything about Americans.
Goodwin looked as the coast came into view, and at the incredible blue water that still seemed so full of mystery.
He knew they were out there, waiting.
He just wasn’t sure yet what he was going to say to them.
Elsie lay in the Springer’s cockpit; she was curled tightly in a ball behind the wheel, warding off bitter winds that had come down from the mountains just above the harbor during the night. Cold air had settled uneasily on the water, and a light snow had just started falling when her ears perked up; she heard movement below and her little tail began thumping to the beat of waking life.
She jumped as something down below fell.
“Goddamn it all to hell! Shit! Who in their right mind would live on a goddamn boat!”
Elsie’s head tilted to one side as she listened to the old man grumbling below. She jumped again when the companionway hatch slid open, but she smiled when she saw Paul Goodwin climbing up into the cockpit. He had a cup of coffee in one hand and a pipe in the other.
“Goddamn it! Snow! Fucking snow – in Italy! Ain’t life just grand!”
Elsie looked at the old man, at the ragged trails of foggy steam that wafted from his nose, then she looked away quietly, looked back into the water behind the boat.
“So. You’re still here, eh?” Goodwin sat down beside Elsie and scratched her neck. The dog looked up and her smile reached through all the layers of this man. “Well, you don’t mind if I have a smoke, do you girl?” Goodwin opened his tobacco pouch and got to it, pausing once to drink some coffee.
Goodwin turned to the voice, saw the English couple in the boat next to his son’s. “You say so. Seems kinda cold to me. I keep seeing posters for ‘Sunny Italy’ in my mind, and somehow, this don’t quite jibe with all that.”
Malcolm Doncaster laughed. “Quite. Happens a couple of times a year. Mind you, the snow will be gone by noon, so don’t let it bother you much.”
“Oh, I’m used to snow alright. Was just hoping for a reprieve.” Goodwin lit his pipe and puffed at it until satisfied he had it right. “So. You know my son? When did y’all meet up?”
“We met in Portofino. About a month ago. Our girl here seems to have adopted him.”
Elsie looked at Doncaster, then at Goodwin.
“Who was that woman on the boat when I got here? Did I run her off?”
“Ah, Trudi Blixen; well, she’s down below with Mary Ann right now. Yes, well, she’s been staying on board since Tom – uh, well, took ill.”
“Crap! I didn’t mean to. . .”
“Not a bother. She has a place in Portofino, was just staying here until Tom gets back on his feet. Seems, however, that our dog won’t leave his boat, and she was just staying aboard to keep her company.”
“Yes, well, it’s complicated.”
“Uh-huh. It’s been my experience that things around here can get a little bit more than complicated. And in a hurry, too.”
“Indeed so,” chuckled Doncaster. “Yes, quite. And perhaps more than we know. So, how about some breakfast? Scones and jam?”
Goodwin took the pipe from his mouth and tapped it against the side of the hull; burnt tobacco settled on the water like old snow, then drifted down into the inky blackness and out of sight. “Don’t mean to be rude, but I’m going to run up to the hospital straight away.”
“How’s Tom doing? I haven’t seen him since he was down here.”
“Well, you’re welcome to tag along. I could use some company.”
“Really? Splendid. I’ll just go check with the Admiral.”
The hair on the back of the dog’s neck stood on end, and she began to let slip a low growl. Goodwin turned and looked at her, saw she was looking at the water and followed her gaze. A tremulous ripple – dark gray and barely visible under the pewter stained water – gave way to winter winds and disappeared into shapelessness. Goodwin had the impression he’d been watched for some time, and though he wanted to dismiss the idea as ludicrous he knew he couldn’t.
They wouldn’t dare just leave me be, he told himself as he looked for echoes in the ripples.
The dog turned and looked at Goodwin, and he felt her eyes on him now. He thought she seemed skittish, almost worried, before she hopped down the companionway and disappeared into Tom’s cabin.
“What the Hades is going on here?” Goodwin muttered as he followed the pup below, suddenly remembering he hadn’t brought any clothes for this unexpectedly cold weather.
“Maybe one of Tom’s jackets will fit.”
Tom Goodwin sat up in bed and rubbed his eyes with the tops of his knuckles; the lids felt crusty and his eyes burned, but even so he felt a little better this morning. Margherita was asleep in her chair by the window and Jon Santoni was hunched over a pile of lab reports chewing on a plastic ball point pen. The hospital room was beginning to feel like home, and Goodwin knew this was not an encouraging sign.
And then there was his father.
Seeing his dad for the first time yesterday since their blowout a year ago had filled him with a tenderness he simply hadn’t expected. In the past year the old man had gone from spry to weather-worn and beaten; he seemed like a pale copy of the man he remembered and the sense of impending mortality was palpable about him. It left Tom feeling a little breathless and unsure of himself.
“I wonder how I must look to him these days?”
“You say something?” Santoni said.
“Hm-m? Oh, crap, I was just wondering how bad I look. Thinking about Dad, I guess.”
“Oh? I’d say right now you two look to be brothers. In fact, I’d say he looks like your younger brother.”
“Thanks a lot, Dickhead.”
“Well, if I have to eat any more hospital lasagna you can wheel my ass right down to the morgue. Crap, I thought American hospital food was for shit, but y’all got bad food down to a science in this place!”
“Tom! Look out the window! You want good food, try that place right over there. They make a carbonara that will make you weep it’s so good.”
“Yeah? Fine. Eat spaghetti and cry. Great. What’s your point?”
“The point, Tom,” Margherita interjected, “is to get well enough to rejoin the world.” She yawned and stretched and sat up in her chair.
“Exactly!” Santoni chimed in. “Look out that window, Tom. The world’s still out there, waiting!”
“Geesh, guys! Does it look like I’ve given up or something?”
“I wasn’t so sure a few days ago, Tom.”
Goodwin looked at Santoni and frowned. “How did my dad look to you?”
“Like he could whip your ass. With one arm tied behind his back.”
“Really? I thought he looked kinda rough around the edges.”
“When I’m his age I hope I’m that rough.”
“He’s a pistol, alright.”
“No, Tom, he’s a fucking cannon. A force of nature. You know, that makes me wonder? Are you sure he’s your father?”
“Fuck off,” Goodwin laughed, then he turned to Margherita. “Did he say he would come back this morning?”
“Oh, si, yes, he said first thing. I think when he saw you he was most afraid, Tom. You slept for a long time, while he was here.”
“I don’t really remember talking that much. Just his eyes. How tired he looks. Old.”
“Just point of view, Tom,” Santoni said. “From over here you look as old as the Coliseum.”
“You know, when I get out of this bed I’m gonna have to beat you senseless.”
“That’ll be the day.”
Goodwin swung his feet from the bed and pushed himself up. He turned pale and started to sweat; Santoni came over and held Goodwin stand.
“Easy now. Deep breaths. Slow, deep breaths.”
“Well,” Goodwin said between gasps, “you’re safe. At least this morning.”
“Sure, sure,” Santoni said as he slapped his friend on the back. “There is one thing we really need to do this morning, Tom. And I mean this.”
“We need to get you into the shower. Fast. And maybe Margherita could find some cologne.”
“Swell. Just swell. And here I thought it was you stinking up the place.”
“Let me cover that line, first.”
“You say so.” He saw himself in the mirror, the man in there unrecognizable to him.
Maria Theresa, held an old woolen coat closely to her chest, walked along the quay with Vico, trying to ignore that pain of all her various incisions. She looked on wordlessly as the last of the night’s light snow drifted down to waiting stone. She watched flakes hit and melt, thought of all her life’s hopes and dreams. Were they so dissimilar? So proud in flight, so resilient in that moment of contact, and then? What was left – nothing? Was there really only nothingness waiting after dissolution? Could our dreams survive to fall again on other snows?
She felt Vico’s arm around her shoulder, felt his love, as strong now as it had ever been. Steadfast, almost eternal. Patient, like a good father’s.
“I fear there is a reckoning coming, my old friend,” she said to him at last.
“Yes. Unavoidable, too.”
“Did you see Paul?”
“Yes. He seems as young as…well, yes, he is well.”
“Ah. Do you still feel so young?” She looked at dark striated clouds scudding silently, quickly through the treetops on the hillside beyond the rooftops. Everything felt close inside this gray dawn; it was as if the village had drawn inward – protectively – around itself – as if to avoid being caught in the rush just overhead. Even the stones they walked upon seemed to have withdrawn from the streaming current, and Maria Theresa looked at the sky and the snow and she felt the world had turned in on itself; now all that remained of life raced by inside ambivalent shades of gray.
“What do you want to do?” Vico asked.
“About?” She walked slowly now, quietly. She wanted to grab a cloud and hold on tight, fly away from all this history. She wanted to live again, to feel loved again – to love again.
“About?” he asked, trying not to laugh. “Perhaps I should not have asked.”
“Yes, perhaps.” She stopped and looked out past the harbor to the cape, to the darkness of the sea, to that darkness that was always waiting these days. Were there answers to be found in such darkness? Or could she only find them here, among the men who had defined her life?
Or would the answers find her.
“Would you like me to take the boys into Genoa today?”
“No.” Perhaps it would be best, she said to herself, to simply stop looking for answers. What if by trying all my life to look for life, I simply avoided the answers in front of my face; what if life had come looking, and I ignored her? And could it be that some experience was so ephemeral, touched so lightly, that even after flying among the clouds Paul had been left to wonder was that real? Or had he felt their union in the sea had simply been an illusion?
“Maria? May I take you to him?”
She turned and looked at her one true friend, into his blue-gray eyes and at the last strands of auburn in his wild silver hair. She put her hand on his face and felt his skin; the lines she had watched march across his face seemed as familiar to her as the trails on the hills outside the village. “You always loved me.”
“Then let him come to me. Or not, if that is his choice.”
“And the boys? If he chooses not to come, what of them, and their need?”
She shrugged as if dismissing the impossible, then turned toward the black water and walked to its edge. She leaned over and looked down as silver echoes washed against the stone. There in dancing fragments she saw scattered bits of her reflection suspended above infinity, little shimmering echoes of time cast aside to drift for a while, before fading away into the morning.
She smiled at the image in her mind, of looking into the water at exactly the same spot along the quay – perhaps sixty years ago, maybe more. She could see traces of that face now, down there hiding in snow dappled waters, then she watched as the memory drifted away silently, with the snow.
Paul Goodwin stood in the head looking at his reflection in the mirror while he knotted his old red bow tie, then he looked down at his hands. Age spots and yellow fingernails, white scars from a couple of skin cancers removed from the backs of his hands – everything about these hands said they belonged to someone else – that they couldn’t belong to him. He felt his hands resting still on a succession of black Boeing yokes, still felt his steady grip on those 707s and 747s his hands guided for decades. So, whose hands are these?
“Getting old is the silliest thing in the world, girl, and don’t let anyone tell you different.” He heard the pup move, knew she was looking at him. He focused on finishing the knot before turning to meet her gaze. “You know, you remind me of Sarah. That’s her on the wall over there.” He pointed at the painting and looked at it again; he always looked at it now – and it always tore him up.
He hadn’t owned a dog since growing up on his parent’s farm outside New London, but not so many years ago, in a fit of misty-eyed nostalgia, he’d came home with a little Springer pup, a male so patently clumsy, so patiently good natured, the only name he could think to call him was Ody, a true comic strip name if there ever was – yet to him the name was short for Odysseus. Doris had immediately fallen in love with the beast and insisted on getting Ody a female companion and, dogs being dogs and somewhat less inclined to follow the more inane social conventions of other folks along the Connecticut shore, the two decided to pop out litter after litter of little brown and white puff-balls every other year.
Ody and Lady grew into a force of nature, they held the Goodwin’s marriage together, gave both Doris and himself no small measure of joy and, in the end, more than a little purpose. With Tom on his own and retirement proving to be an unendurable bore, Goodwin threw himself into whelping boxes and one day finally built a real ‘honest to pete’ kennel. He started to train Lady and took her to a show once, but looked at all the stilted, pompous, preening, self-centered dogs and laughed. In the end, he took to the fields with them both and simply let them do as nature intended. Though the farm had fewer than two hundred acres, they roamed the woods ceaselessly – together, and in time they became hunters and companions – the best of friends.
Sarah had been the first pup from their first litter, and Tom had been home visiting when she popped out into the world. Lady had chewed the umbilical too close and the newborn had started to bleed out; Doris called and Tom came, looked things over for an instant, then disappeared as quickly as he’d come. He was back a moment later with hemostats and suture and stitched the wound shut, and from that moment on Sarah had been his. He had been the first to hold her, first to pick her up and feel her soft tongue on his nose, and it had been love at first bite. Two months later she was at her new home in Houston, if, Goodwin thought, that glittering glass and steel box could rightfully be called home, but Tom slipped into his physician’s groove and time passed quickly. Sarah waited patiently for him, for their walks, for the time they call their own.
Ody found a rattlesnake one afternoon and Paul held him while the vet put him down. Goodwin held his friend so tightly as he passed, he cried so long and hard into the nights that followed that even Lady couldn’t console him. Goodwin grew distant for a while; when winter came he started taking Lady for long walks again, but everything was different now. He rejoined the living but after that seemed to keep everyone at a distance. When Lady passed a few years later, Goodwin had insulated himself from his emotions so completely he didn’t say a word when she didn’t come for him at four in the morning to go outside.
Doris wanted to get another pair but he wouldn’t have it. She consequently reacquainted herself with Jack Daniels and he found a rocking chair on the front porch to call his own. Each in their respective corner, they waited uneasily for the match to resume.
Then Tom moved to Boston, and Tom brought Sarah to the farm one day.
Now Goodwin looked down at Elsie and saw Sarah – and Lady, too – staring back at him. All that love and devotion. . . where did it go? It was, Goodwin saw, as if it had been passed intact from one being to the next, like genetic memory drifting on intercontinental breezes connecting yesterday and tomorrow. Are we the same, he wondered?
The hair on Elsie’s neck stood on end and she bounded up the companionway steps and right down onto the snow covered swim platform; Goodwin followed her through the cockpit and leaned over the rail.
It was Two Scar, and he was motionless in the water as he looked up at Goodwin. Elsie pawed at the water and the dolphin eased closer to the transom; Goodwin climbed over the rail and down onto the platform, then knelt there looking into those black eyes, and soon he felt he was drifting through time. He could smell Hell’s Belles on fire again, screams rippled through acrid smoke as bullets tore into the nose of the Liberator, and he could feel the storm roiled air as his parachute opened – so briefly – and he was falling again, falling down to the sea. Then adrift, drifting down through cool blue shadows, drifting down into that other world. And there he was, this savior of his, his old friend.
He reached down and rubbed the top of his snout, and the dolphin’s body leaned slightly into the sea before spinning slowly, spinning in remembrance, as if in homage to other meetings in other nights. Then the dolphin stopped and looked into Goodwin’s eyes again. There was sadness in his eye, and Goodwin was immediately filled with an awareness of time passing, of life moving away rapidly now – from his grasp.
The small female, the little pup with the wounded eye, appeared beside Scar and looked at Goodwin before pushing the male aside. Goodwin leaned in as she lifted to meet him; he reached for her as she placed her nose on his shoulder and he whispered to her as she hovered. Two Scar circled slowly for a moment, then slid beneath the water and was gone; the little girl drifted back and looked at Goodwin almost longingly, as if there was more that needed to be said, but she too slipped beneath silvered ripples and was gone.
“It’s alright, Lady,” Goodwin said, still drifting on nether currents. “Everything’s alright now.” He scratched Elsie’s head for a moment as waves of memory washed over long forgotten feelings, as union and reunions coalesced in dancing water. He reached down again, watched the reflection of his hand on the soft contours of the water and reached down to touch it.
And he saw his hand on Maria Theresa’s face as he got closer to the water. He saw her soft smile waiting there – just at the edge of memory. His hand dipped into the water and she disappeared.
Tom stood under the shower and let hot water beat down on his neck; he felt more than weak, and the dizziness he experienced was odd – coldly insistent, not to be ignored , and all the while the bed seemed to call out to him. He leaned into the wall, his face on his forearm, and took a deep breath.
“Are you alright in there?” Santoni called from the room.
“No, I feel like shit,” Goodwin said weakly.
“Well, at least you won’t smell like it,” Jon said as he came into the bathroom. “Wrist.”
Goodwin stuck his arm out from behind the vinyl enclosure and felt his friend take his pulse. “Jon, I don’t feel right.”
“Yeah, you have fresh sheets now, so let’s get you back in bed.”
“How was the LFP?”
“Uh, gee, think you could be a little more specific?”
“I think you ought to take a couple of pictures of my heart.”
“What are you thinking.”
“Uh-huh. What vector?”
“Man, you’re sure a talkative son of a bitch today.”
“Hand me a towel, would you?”
“You feeling light headed?”
“Yes, Jon, and I’m feeling cold. I need a towel, and I need someone to turn up the heat in this mausoleum. Geesh, how old is this building, anyway?”
“Have you felt your carotids?”
“No. Have you?”
“Yeah, and we did a transthoracic echocardiogram last night. Had to put you out for a while.”
“You’re right, as always. Endocarditis, probably nosocomial, at least using the Duke Criteria, and there’s some growth on the right side valve.”
“That’s great. Just great. Add Penicillin yet?”
“In your last bag.”
“No wonder I feel like crap. What about the…?”
“It’s not responding well, either.”
“Did you talk to Margherita?”
“Yes. But I think she already knows.”
“So that’s it. Wow…help me back to the bed, will you?”
Tom looked at Margherita as he shuffled back into the room; he could see she’d had a tough night. Her eyes were puffy and red and the smile she faced him with seemed forced. He sat down on the edge of the bed and took a deep breath.
“I’m glad you’re here. Both of you,” he managed to say as he lay back on the bed. The back of his head seemed to be on-fire, and as he leaned back and felt the cool sheets touch his neck his back arched; he looked up at the ceiling for a while, then out the window. “Is it snowing?”
“Yes,” Margherita said. “It has been since the middle of the night.”
“Jon, we’ve got some work to do. Do you want me to go in and do the valve?”
“Let’s give the meds a chance to work. That’s my first choice. And start another round of Vancomycin. Let’s give it a week and see.”
“Alright. Margherita? What about you?”
“Do you want to sit here while I do this?”
She looked away, suddenly unsure of herself, afraid she was about to be sent away again. “I don’t want to leave, Tom. Not ever.”
“Jon, would you ask again, see if we can’t get a rollaway in here. She can’t sleep in a chair forever.”
“And I’m going to need to do something about the boat. She can’t stay in that marina all winter. Margherita, talk to Malcolm and Dad about moving her back to the village. Maybe – what was her name – Trudi? – maybe she can help sail her back. See if Vico can arrange to have her hauled if the weather looks colder.”
“Sure, Tom, but you want me to help sail her?”
“You’d better get used to it. You might end up living there for a while, you know? And did I hear correctly? – did someone say Dad was going to sleep out there last night?”
“Geesh! What about Trudi? Wasn’t she still staying there? With the pup?”
“I don’t know, Tom, but I think so.”
“Now wouldn’t that make a fine kettle of fish!”
“What?” Margherita didn’t understand, couldn’t see the implications he was laying out.
“Tom,” Santoni said, “I’m thinking maybe we ought to limit the number of people coming in here. You know, something just short of full quarantine. Give these meds a chance to do their thing.”
“Your call, Jon, but I’ll need to talk to Dad sometime today.”
“Gloves and masks ought to do for now,” he replied. “And Margherita, you better mask up when you two rub noses for the next couple of weeks.”
“Sounds fun.” She turned and looked out the window, south, to the hills beyond the city – and beyond, to the sea.
Paul Goodwin climbed back into the cockpit and jumped when he saw Trudi standing by the companionway. She had a little Leica in her hands, and had apparently been taking photographs while he met with the dolphins. Now he scowled when he saw her standing there; it was as if the woman was trying to feign nonchalance, and it pissed him off.
“Are you a part of this, too?” she asked.
“What are you talking about?”
“These dolphins. This thing between Tom and Margherita?”
These words slammed into Goodwin and knocked him off his feet. He reached back as he staggered onto the cockpit seat beside him: “What did you say?”
“I’m sorry, but I thought you…?”
“What did you mean by that? What…is there something going on with Tom and this dolphin?”
“Oh! Really, I’m sorry, but perhaps I spoke out of turn. Perhaps you should speak to your…”
“I can fill you in, Mr. Goodwin,” Malcolm Doncaster said as he came up into his boat’s cockpit, “while we ride into town.”
“No, Goddamn it! Tell me now! What’s going on?”
“Perhaps,” Doncaster said easily, too easily, “it would simplify things if you knew that Ludvico has talked to us about events in 1943. And there’s a lot that’s happened in the past month you don’t know yet, and may find disturbing.”
Paul Goodwin held onto the lifelines – it was as if the boat was caught out at sea in a raging storm, not tied off in a marina – and his every instinct screamed that nothing was as it appeared any longer. Now, everywhere he looked, things felt out of place, disjointed, almost as if fractured away from that thing he once called reality. The boat felt oddly tilted – as if the stupid thing had reoriented to itself another plane – and even these people appeared ragged and unsettled, like they were of another world – and trying unsuccessfully to fit in this new one.
This new reality was a bleeding compound fracture: old bones set at odd angles screaming discontinuity alert!…discontinuity alert!…discontinuity alert! Now, if he could get this screaming wreck under control, just one more time…
He came back to that other world while sitting in the red bus as it wallowed and lumbered through those rough hills back to Genoa; Malcolm Doncaster sat across the aisle from him, reading a well worn paperback, rubbing his eyes from time to time and looking out frosted windows as winter’s trees rolled by in a silent, gray procession. An old woman by the window sat next to him, regarding him easily.
“You say you spoke to Vico?” were his first words in over an hour.
“Yes. About a month ago, after the first encounter.”
“What happened. I mean, with Tom.”
And Doncaster took a deep breath, decided the old pilot might indeed listen this time. He talked of Tom Goodwin’s journey from America, of meeting the dolphins off the coast somewhere, in the Gulfstream, and then of Tom’s arrival in Portofino, his first union with Margherita, and lastly, he talked of Vico’s conversation with the group over dinner, telling them of Goodwin’s arrival in 1943 – on flaming wings and a dolphin’s back. Doncaster told Goodwin everything he knew, everything Vico had told them, and yet Doncaster could see that the pilot didn’t know a thing. He’d left in ‘43 and been flying in the blind ever since.
Paul Goodwin wasn’t relieved by all he heard; rather, he felt an odd, dissociated sadness. It looked as if truth was going to slip quietly from deepest reaches of memory, and into a nothingness that waited beyond words. And then, only then and after all his recent concern for Tom, suddenly – after hearing about Vico’s involvement in the telling of his tale – he thought of Maria Theresa.
“How is she?” he said a million years later.
“What’s that? Who?”
“Maria. How is she?”
“We can drop in on her, if you like. She’s back in the apartment. Her boys are taking care of her.”
“Yes. Two boys; Paulo and Toni.”
Goodwin’s hands started shaking, his eyes filled and he turned away.
The old woman by his side turned and looked into his eyes. She had been dozing a little; her head had once settled on Goodwin’s shoulder when the bus bit a bump in the road, and she had woken for a moment and excused herself, then promptly fallen asleep again. Now she was awake and looking a Goodwin in his grief, and she handed him some tissue for his eyes.
“Thanks . . . grazie.”
She nodded, then put her hand on his. “What you are seeking is not real, you know?” the old woman said. “And yet, neither is it unreal. What you seek resides somewhere else. You seek the mystery of instinct, and that alone must guide you.”
“You must turn away from certainty now, as my sweet Odysseus was once compelled to, and you must turn and face the end of one journey, even as you begin the next. And remember this one simple thing about mystery, as you begin this journey. Your first destination is doubt. Always doubt. Doubt is written in our hearts, but never in the stars.”
Goodwin sat in appalled silence as the bus began slowing inside a little mountaintop village. The woman began to stand as the bus rolled to a stop beside a tiny chapel. Goodwin stood as well and cleared the way for her, helped her with a heavy parcel down the narrow aisle. He went down the steps and helped her down with one hand, and he looked at her breath in the cold snowy air; he saw there was something pale and tremulous in her breath, something insubstantial, and yet he felt small when he looked at her. She was looking into his eyes when she began speaking again.
“There is no time to waste, Traveler, so do not waste any more of yours in doubt and regret. You must go now, and hurry, for the burden grows heavier by the moment.” She held out her hand, and Goodwin took it.
“Who are you?”
“You must listen well now. There is a debt. You must not turn away. And you must listen with your heart.” She squeezed his hand, and there were tears in her eyes now as well. “Now go, Traveler, while time smiles on you yet.”
Goodwin backed up into the bus while he continued looking into the woman’s eyes. They were fierce – yet gentle, like the woman had known man and accepted his sorrow and joy in equal grace. As the bus lurched into gear and moved away, Goodwin stooped and watched her turn and walk into the little chapel – and then, she was gone.
He returned to his seat and held on as the little bus rounded a sharp bend in the road. ‘This is impossible,’ he said to himself. ‘This can’t be real…?’
“What was that all about?” Doncaster said.
“I haven’t the slightest fucking idea.”
“My God man, are you crying? What on earth happened just now?”
“I’m not sure, but I think I just spoke with God.”
“Bah! That’s what all women would have us think! Here, have a scone.”
(excerpt from Malcolm Doncaster’s journal)
Aboard Diogenes, Portofino Harbor
I have often felt that without some meaningful context, the symbols that define the most important passages of our lives – indeed, the most vital passages – are rendered incomprehensible without the addition of meaningful context. So it has been with all I have studied the past four decades of my life, and as such, this contextual rendering of life is what I have come to know. A certain worldview has been fixed in my mind, and I find it inconceivable to consider any reduction to another, and not just (perhaps) because I find it uncomfortable to do so. No, rather I think it has always been fixed in my mind because the facts of our existence have always seemed to point to this conclusion. Symbols take on significance, therefore, only in terms of time and place. The power a symbol manifests may accrue and pass down through the ages, true enough, but without its original rendering in our midst, symbols too often devolve into gibberish. The crucifix, without an understanding of Rome and the teachings of a Jewish carpenter, would become little more than a passing curiosity; the swastika, without an understanding of Hitler’s impact on Germany and Europe, would remain a footnote in studies of comparative Eurasian religions.
I point this out to whoever might take the time to muddle through these ramblings, simply to make one point before venturing onward: what has happened in and around Portofino the past seven weeks is, to me at least, without intellectual precedent. Much of what occurred did so in terms I would hazard to guess were on a purely symbolic levels, and as such I can offer no reasonable context to frame these events. So, given what I have said above, it would seem fair to conclude that – on a symbolic level – much if not all of what has transpired can only be rendered in unambiguous shades of the incomprehensible.
Sorry, but there you have it.
As I relayed in my entry re: 14 December, we (this being Paul Goodwin and myself) rented a beastly Fiat and brought Paul’s son Tom back to Portofino and to his yacht ‘Springer’. After several weeks hospitalization, and with scant improvement or progress noted by medical staff in Genoa, Tom decided to return to his vessel. No one has said as much, but all of us have considered, at least privately, that he has done so in order to pass in comfortable surroundings. Tom is indeed now a very ill man, and his father has been much preoccupied with this unfolding tragedy.
Our poor Elsie remains unashamedly attached to Tom, yet unnaturally so, I might add. She will scarcely leave his side now, and remains below with him constantly. Like Tom, she barely eats, and comes ashore but once or twice a day. Needless to say, Mary Ann has been completely knocked for a loop by this development.
Both Goodwins, however, manage to get out for Passeggiata most afternoons, and yet, as far as I know, there has not yet been a meeting between Paul and Maria Theresa Morretti. There seems to be some force holding them apart. They are like two magnets. The closer they come to one another the more some invisible force causes them to repel one another. Only Vico seems to hold the faintest lines of communication open between them, and so of course what passes between them remains unknown to me.
Anyway, about these strolls. We managed to get a wheelchair for Tom yesterday, as he’s struggled the past two evenings to finish a walk around even the piazzeta, and as he seems unwilling to concede this simple ritual all of are ready to help him as best we can. He’s a fighter; at least I know that much is true, and there seems to be little else I can be sure of these days. All of our lives seem to have become bound-up in this developing mystery, but I can fathom no purpose.
And poor Margherita! Though she has yet to show, she is desperately pregnant and violently ill most mornings. I do not know her history, but still waters run deep. There is a story to be told, I am sure, so no doubt Mary Ann will attach herself to the poor girl. Poor Tom seems beside himself with grief for this child it seems he’ll never know.
Ah, wretched love! We hurry through life, buffeted constantly between misfortune and exhilaration, the known and the unknowable, yet even so it seems we are always caught off guard by love. In this confusion, our hearts are torn apart, left wide open, and yet it is within this tormented wreckage we find love. Love commands us, love guides us, and in the end, I suspect, it is love that consumes us, yet her fires light the way, don’t they?
So. Tonight our dear Ludvico has invited us all the ristorante. For, one supposes, Christmas Eve and all that humbug, yet Tom has insisted on going. My God! I think back to just a few weeks ago and I see a man so much larger than life. Today he is withered and weak, his skin mottled yellow from damage to his liver done by the deadly barrage of antibiotics he has endured. And I have watched Paul and Margherita wither by his side as the inevitable comes stealing through our wilting twilight. Death is to be lurking in the shadows even now, and this beautiful harbor of ours seems aware of the coming darkness.
I long for the lingering warmth of October, before all this madness came for us on winter-borne wings.
It was dark when Paul Goodwin began pushing his son across the piazzeta; the cold stones were black and wet from a light rain, yet a dazzle of holiday lights sprinkled the luminous stone with reflections of jeweled light. And yet the air was faintly still; the harbor an inky reflection of the brooding sky. A star could just be seen peeking between retreating clouds beyond the hills to the east, and Paul knew the night would soon grow cold.
“Not exactly how I pictured Christmas on the Riviera,” a father said to his son.
“Would you stop here please, Dad? I want to look at the water for a moment.” Paul turned the chair to face the water, and to the gulf beyond the cape. Tom closed his eyes and took a deep breath, imagined he was free once again, sailing, slipping through sun-drenched waves on his way to wherever his heart felt like taking him. He wanted to find a cloud and chase it’s shadow across the sea, turn and listen to hopeful gulls trailing in his wake, feel the sun on his neck and the cares of this life peeling away like dolphins surfing a wave. But above all else, he wanted to hold the life growing in Margherita’s womb, he wanted to hold this life in his hands and know, really know, that he would leave something of himself to this world.
He opened his moist eyes and looked out over the water at fading lights and faraway dreams.
“So much to do,” he said. “So much time wasted.”
“Yes,” his father said.
Tom looked at the cape, at the rocks, and he wondered where they were. Were they out there even now – waiting? He looked at the water, into the blackness, and beyond – into the hall of mirrors that had been his life – and he found himself alone on a sunless sea, drifting, waiting for the inevitable. A solitary star shone down on him, fleeting photons tickled his mind’s eye, and he found himself thinking of another shining star, on another “Christmas Eve”. He shivered once as the thought rolled past like coming thunder – even as he felt the chair turn and rumble across the piazzeta, and he pulled himself back from the edge as warm light approached.
He opened his eyes and looked up. Margherita was waiting by the door, and he could see Paulo and Toni walking along slowly, a stooped woman by their side.
“Oh God, no,” he heard his father say. “No, not tonight.”
“I love you, Dad.” He heard his father take in a deep breath, heard him clearing his throat, then:
“And I’ve always loved you, Son. Always.”
“Lean on me tonight, Dad. Whatever it is, we’ll get through it together.”
“Yeah? Think so? I’m not sure yet what this night has in store for us.”
“It doesn’t matter, Dad. Come on, they’re waiting for us.”
They came in from the cold and the darkness, came into the glowing warmth of this other world. Within this honeyed labyrinth of friends and family, deep inside this most special night of birth. This night was to be a coming together, and – perhaps – a casting aside.
But it was not lost on Tom Goodwin that they had all come to celebrate a death, as well.
‘Is it time?’
‘The moon is not ready. We must wait.’
‘I can wait no longer.’
‘You will wait.’
‘Yes. I will wait. But I am ready.’
‘They are not ready. He is not ready. Patience.’
‘I will wait.’
‘Yes. Watch the rocks grow. Listen to the stars. You have waited this long.’
The ristorante was not quite empty; a few lonely tourists sat by windows looking out over the harbor, but they were well away from the table Vico had prepared for his special friends. He had even put up a few holiday decorations, nothing ostentatious yet in keeping with the rather upscale atmosphere of his place, and Handel played quietly up among the exposed beams overhead. Smoke from a wood fire lightly perfumed the air, while garlands of pine and chestnut left trace enough to stir even the most hardened soul’s ease.
Paul sat between Tom and Maria Theresa at the round table; he sat in resolute silence, looked down at his hands constantly. Oddly enough, he was thinking about an ancient woman on a bus to Genoa three weeks ago, reliving the moment again and again.
Margherita sat next to Tom, while Paulo and Toni lounged across the table; the two ‘boys’ were speaking with Trudi Blixen in hushed, conspiratorial whispers. Paul looked at Trudi and gasped: was she a younger version of the woman on the bus? He fought to contain the implications of her presence here, yet he was sure the woman wasn’t all that she seemed to be.
Malcolm and Mary Ann drifted in – as was their custom – almost ten minutes late; Mary Ann had Elsie in tow on a soft leather leash and she led the pup over to Tom’s chair and looped tether to frame. Malcolm sat next to Margherita and Mary Ann took the last chair, next to Trudi; Vico sat next to Maria Theresa, where he was most comfortable. Wine came, then a Christmas soup of lobster and scented creams.
“Tom, you will be delighted to know, there is not one octopus hidden anywhere in this soup,” Vico smiled as he looked across time and space at the emaciated physician, though he smiled to hide the sorrow he felt when he beheld this friend now so reduced. “But alas, I give you fair warning, the salad may be less tame.”
“Octopus?” Paul said, making a face. “Really?”
“Not you, too?” Malcolm chimed in. “I hope I’m not the only sod around here who likes things with tentacles.” He looked at Paul and Tom; they both shook their heads and frowned – and he sighed when he looked at them. Their resemblance to one another was complete now; what age had taken from one, illness had from the other. “Oh well, like father, like son.”
Maria Theresa looked at her two boys; Paulo seemed blissfully unaware of the implications beating the air, yet Toni drifted along his razor’s edge – waiting to bleed, needing to bleed, perhaps even wanting to. She wondered how long he would last, and what he would do with the truth.
“So old friend,” Maria said, “what else have you made for us tonight?”
Vico looked at Maria, took her hand and kissed it. “Do you remember the bisque you once taught me? The lobster, with saffron and basil – just a trace of sherry? I have not made it in years, and yet I thought tonight it time. Then, salad, and a lamb, because I remember this is your favorite.”
Maria squeezed his hand and smiled. Everyone leaned in and sampled the bisque.
“Wow! That’s fine soup, Vico,” Paul said. “Damn fine.”
Tom smiled and looked at his father – so intent was the old man on ignoring Maria, he was becoming almost comical – and then he looked to Maria. It was so difficult to have held a persons beating heart in his hands – and then to see them again in another context. “Ma’am, as your cardiologist, I can’t recommend this stuff, so why not just hand it over to me. I’ll be happy to finish it for you!”
“Perhaps tonight you will indulge me, Thomas.”
Tom smiled, and he felt happy to have helped in her time of need, but Toni froze when he heard Tom’s full name, and the razor slipped through the air – again. Vico watched Tomasino carefully, ready to move, but the boy remained tentative, drawn-up on the balancing act that held them all to this night.
They ate in silence – each lost in thought. Vico was comfortable as the Ringmaster in this, Paul Goodwin’s circus – or was it Tom’s? – yet above all else he wanted this last evening to go smoothly, gently.
But Elsie could take it no longer; she sat up and looked wistfully at Tom – until he felt her eyes seeking his. He looked at her and smiled back, took his spoon and found a piece of lobster and gave it to her; Vico looked discreetly pained. Elsie sighed in frustration, yet resumed her place curled up on Tom’s feet. All was as it should be, the pup thought. Almost. She looked to the window, and to the water beyond.
Were they coming?
Would they come?
Vico looked at Toni and bit his lip.
“Yes, Toni?” She looked across the table at her youngest son and smiled inside. “What is troubling you?”
“Is Paul Goodwin my father? Is Tom my brother?”
Silence enveloped the table, even the candles in their glasses seemed to hesitate in breathlessness.
“Yes. Of course.”
“What!?” Paul and Paulo cried in one gasped breath. Paulo pushed back from the table, seemed to hover over plains of indecision like a vast, gathering storm, then he reached out and steadied himself againt the table.
“Are you telling me,” Paul Goodwin said while he looked at Toni, “that boy is my son?”
“Oh yes, Paul,” Maria Theresa replied casually. “They are both your sons.”
The words slammed into Paulo and he reeled under the blow; his breathing became thin and raspy-quick, he looked up at those around the table and saw they were floating incorporeally at the end of a long, dark tunnel. The man in the wheelchair – what was his name? – was looking at him closely, studying him. Why?
Paulo turned and looked at his brother; the boy’s head had fallen and his body shook as gales of grief-borne tears ravaged his soul. Doubt swirled through the air as if this gathering had become a séance, and Paulo was struck with the feeling that this was only right – as all the dreams and memories of his childhood had just been murdered. He stood and walked from the table and out into the night – to commune with his dead.
Vico followed him.
Toni turned and saw his brother leaving, then looked at Paul and Tom. “I knew it was you. I knew it.”
Tom Goodwin pushed his wheelchair back from the table and patted his leg; Elsie jumped up on his legs and curled up protectively; she looked around the table as if assessing the threat to her charge.
“Toni?” Margherita said quietly, “Why do you say that? What made you think that?”
He looked at his mother, at the pure love in her eyes, then at his sister. “Because he knew, Margherita. Dino knew, and he hated us. He hated us, me and Paulo, and he hated Mama. And every time I looked at him I knew he was of no relation to me. I could feel it in my bones, in my heart. All my life I have wanted to know. Tonight I know, and now I am sad.”
“Sad?” Tom Goodwin said.
“Yes, Tom. I am sad. I am sad because I do not know you better now, tonight, and because I never had the chance to. Because I did not know my father, I did not know his love. I am sad because all that time has passed us by, it was wasted, and we can never get it back.”
While the boys words swirled around the room Maria Theresa reached under the table and took Paul’s hand in her own; in that moment she felt him crossing through time for her, she felt the strength of his soul gathering in the night. She saw his back straighten, his brow furrow, his lips grow firm with resolve. He squeezed her hand once more, then stood.
“Come on, Toni; let’s go find Paulo.” He walked around the table and stood beside his youngest son and waited; the boy stood and looked into the eyes of this man who might have been his father, who was his father, and he looked with uncertainty into the man’s eyes, then the two of them walked from the ristorante.
Margherita turned to look at her mother. Tom looked at her with concern.
“How did this happen, Mama? What have you done?”
“I suspect these things happened for the simplest of reasons,” Trudi Blixen said. “I suspect your mother was in love.”
“But she was married!” Margherita cried.
Trudi shrugged. “Marriage often has little to do with love, child. Love comes and the heart follows. True love never fades, and is not bound by time. Surely you know this much of life.” She looked at the girl with ancient wisdom smoldering in her eyes.
“I only know my father died a broken man!” Margherita spoke quietly now. She saw something in the woman’s eyes that gave her pause, and she backed away from the abyss.
Maria Theresa looked at her daughter, nothing left but simple honestly on her face. “Your father was a broken man long before we met, Margherita, long before he became your father. After Paul left, I chose to isolate myself from the world; then, when I found this had taken me too far from life, I wanted to fix the world. Of course I could not, but then I met your father, soon after he quit and ran from law school, and then I wanted to fix that one, broken man, but I could not do even that. When someone is broken – as that man was broken – when choice has removed happiness from life, people must find it within themselves to make right what is wrong. This your father could never do because. I suspect he chose never to live his life on his own terms, and I think his life was always defined by others – and he could not see his way clear of the scorn that followed his weakness. He turned inward, turned in on himself and his choices ate away at his soul until only the choice remained. You of all people should know this, Margherita. In the end, he could not love – he could not love even you.”
Mother and daughter looked at one another through a dead man’s lingering, gloaming silence; each was afraid to walk in the shadow of that darkness – yet they had almost all their lives, and both remained wary of the stain his passing had left on their soul. They could choose now to continue on his path, they could set out to destroy one another, or they could resolve to choose a different path. That much was in the air around them, and…
Elsie ignored this exchange. She was focused on Tom. She felt his breathing grow shallow, his skin pale and cool, and she watched his eyes carefully now. They seemed unfocused, diffuse, full of drifting mists.
She knew his passage was coming – she had seen it so many times before – but there was so much to do now. She sat up and licked Tom’s face.
“Tom?” Margherita said when she saw the pup. “Tom?”
He lifted his eyes and looked at Elsie, then turned toward the voice. “Hm-m…”
“Tom, are you alright?”
“Yep. I don’t think I should have any more wine, though. I feel – tired.”
“Have some water, Tom.” Margherita looked at him closely; his eyes were red and perspiration ran down his face.
“Where’s Dad? Has he come back yet?”
Margherita put her hand on his forehead – he was burning with fever again – just as Paul and Vico came in the front door.
Paul saw what was happening and came over to the wheelchair, knelt beside his son.
“Dad. Need to go to the rocks now. Got to get to the water.” Trudi looked at him closely, her eyes full of hope…and sadness.
“Have to get in the water. Now.”
Margherita stood and got behind the chair; she began to move it but Paul stopped her.
“What are you doing?” he said.
“He…we must take him!”
“Paul, do not interfere,” Blixen said softly, and Goodwin turned to her.
“Are you out of your cotton-picking mind? It’s thirty degrees out there. There’s gonna be ice on the rocks before long, and the water out there can’t be much warmer.”
“Dad. Let’s go.”
The father looked at the son, then at the Danish woman. There was purpose between them – unknown – unknowable – purpose gathering in the air – waiting for release.
Margherita began pushing the wheelchair and Paul turned to get the door.
Paul led the way into the night, Maria Theresa walking silently at his side on this last Passegiatta; Margherita walked behind Tom, pushing the chair along the bumpy stone quay. Elsie still sat quietly on his lap, yet the Doncasters gave up and retreated to Diogenes. Vico and the two brothers followed, but remained far behind – catching up even as distant reconciliations pulsed in the night. Vico suddenly seemed particularly disinterested and tired.
If anything, Paul thought, the air had grown more still as the night deepened; even now, as they walked along the water’s edge, darkness seemed to have drawn in upon itself – it was as if the night was collapsing inward, drawn past an unseen event horizon and rushing towards unknowable conclusions. Wispy tendrils of fog slipped across the water, a cold breeze crept through the last dead leaves overhead.
Paul turned to look at his son – his oldest son, his first son – and his thoughts seemed to come as slowly as the breeze. His boy was wrapped in a blanket from the boat, his face and hands were now a blinding, stark white stain glowing in the night. These spectral features seemed to waver in the air, as if his son’s hold on the present was loosening; soon Paul couldn’t even make out Tom’s hands crossed on his lap.
Tears? Had tears so blinded him? And why had they taken so long to come?
Paul saw Margherita wipe a tear away, only then could he really feel the tears clouding his own. He moved as if to go back to push the chair…
And Maria Theresa grabbed his arm. “No, Paul. This is to be their journey. It must be…”
He nodded, caught his breath. Maria reached and took his hand, and Paul was both shocked and relieved to feel her skin on his once again. It felt the same now, here, in this darkness, as it had so many years ago. The same electric recognition of skin on skin, the same flooding warmth of contact renewed, the same enduring feeling of wonder, even awe – that everything was the same, and yet – nothing was.
What had once been a beginning was, he felt, soon to be an ending. That was, he suddenly understood, why this night felt so implosive. Even the bare trees that lined their way seemed to stand aloof in the darkness – not as sentinels, but as the last witnesses to a drama that had been playing out in their shadows – for centuries.
Paul could hear the sea ahead, hear water washing through tidal pools in endless rhythm, and suddenly he wanted to turn and run, turn and run away from all the mistakes he had made in his life, from the pride and selfishness that had kept him from knowing all his sons, yet all his mistakes were here now, beside him in the darkness, and he realized there was nowhere to run but to the truth of whatever resolution the night held. If there was to be redemption, he would have to face the full fury of the choices he’d made, and the destiny he alone had refuted.
Footsteps on dewy stone. Fog, drifting fog, swirling underfoot. Only a handful of trees ahead, then only a falling off, to the sea; now all that remains are the rocks ahead. And what remains after that? Beyond? What does that word even mean? Only a vast, impassive sea, hiding under veils of momentary silence…
“Oh, God! I don’t want to lose you!” The father’s cry comes to the night as a whisper, but he is not surprised when he feels it as a prayer. He feels Maria’s hand tighten around his own; the smooth, eternal peace of her skin on his. ‘Was that my truth all along? Did I choose annihilation over life? Why? Why?’
The road turned away to the right and he looked down that other road into the darker ways of memory. He could still make out German troops standing near the lighthouse, just in shadow, waiting to find them and take them to the Gestapo. He looked out to sea, and could smell cordite and gasoline as he fought to keep Hell’s Belles from falling out of the sky . . . and then he felt himself floating free again, drifting down to that storm-tossed sea, waiting for death to reach up and take him.
He stopped by the rocks he remembered so well, their ebon presence defined the way ahead – as they always had – but he could not leave the road, not yet. There was too much to say. Too many prayers left unsaid, and so little time…
He heard footsteps drawing near, soft wheels rolling across sand-drifted stone. Breathing, his breath, and Maria’s. Paul turned to Maria, saw her looking up into his eyes.
“Are you ready?” she said.
“No. But perhaps I never was.”
“The choice was never ours to make, Paul.”
He felt the truth of her words and nodded to the darkness – those same distant trees still his only witness.
The wheelchair stopped on the sand; Paul looked at Margherita, then at Tom. All purpose was unspoken now as Vico and the two brothers walked up. The pain of betrayal was etched in the lines around Paulo’s eyes, Toni’s face remained a blank mask. Only Vico seemed to fathom all the implications of this gathering, and yet he seemed to hover back from the group just a little too far, as if waiting for something, or someone, to join him.
Water growing still beneath a dying breeze. A snowflake, then another fell through the trees…
Vico turned and spoke to someone in the shadows.
Trudi Blixen came forward, carrying a package. She came to Tom and stood beside him.
“I wanted you to have this for Christmas,” she spoke softly, knowingly, to him. She handed her gift to Margherita, who took the wrapping off carefully. Vico took out a flashlight as the paper fell away; he directed it’s light onto the offering. It was the painting she had made of the harbor, only now a man – Tom Goodwin – stood aft onboard Springer, apparently, obviously, talking to a dolphin in the water behind the boat.
It was perfection, and everyone gasped in wonder at the truth inside the image.
“My goodness,” Tom whispered coarsely. His hands shook as he leaned forward to take the framed work in hand. He studied the image for a long while; everything was perfect – no, more than perfect. Everywhere he looked, emotions embedded within color sprang from canvas to mind. No detail was omitted; no detail failed to stir memory. Joy, longing, simple understanding, the power of love and the purity of truth in every stroke of the brush, and all broke across his soul in a wave.
“My God, what beauty you’ve created,” he said; then Tom turned to his father. “Dad? Hang this on the bulkhead, will you; by Sarah’s painting. It will go perfectly there.”
“Trudi,” he said as he turned to look at the woman, “I don’t have the words to thank you for this, but you captured something precious. Wondrous. A wondrous story, forever. Thank you.”
“It was a gift to me as well, my love. It was a gift to find you again, to see you once again with the sea . . .”
Paul watched the woman’s form ripple in the air; again the woman aged before his eyes – the woman on the bus! – and then as suddenly she appeared to shimmer in the air and take the form of a very young girl.
“Who are you?” Paul said as he thought of that moment on the bus. “I know you?” he said softly, quietly, as memory ran back to darkness. How could she be here, now, before his eyes again? What did it mean – yet why did he already know the answer to that question? He stepped forward, looked into the woman’s eyes; Paulo and Toni, who had been standing near her, stepped away as her form shifted once again – and the air around the group shimmered as deeper recognition danced on the fading breeze.
Tom Goodwin – whose eyes had been fixed on the painting in his hands, turned to look at the woman: “She is Anticleia, father,” Tom said. “She is my grandmother.”
“Thomas! Who, what the hell are you talking about?” Paul sighed as memory crashed like storm driven waves against these rocks.
Paul squinted, looked at the woman again.
The old woman shifted again before his eyes, and the air suddenly grew warm and softly close; Paul struggled with feelings of recognition and overwhelming fear. He stepped closer still, reached out to touch the woman. When he touched her arm a torrent of lost understanding filled his mind; Paul recoiled as if physically stunned, he stumbled backwards and fell to the ground as waves of dizzy, breathless understanding hit.
“My…my mother?” Paul Goodwin said as he grasped the truth.
Anticleia’s form shifted once again. She knelt beside Tom, her love for the boy now a radiant force that lit the night, the wonder of her being filling his face with joy. She stroked his face with her hand, held time in abeyance with her smile. “Ah, my precious Telemachus. It has been so sweet to see you again.”
Paulo and Toni came close; they could not understand a word she said, and when they looked at Margherita, they saw she too looked lost.
“What did they say?” Paulo leaned over and asked his sister.
“I do not know, I see them speak and I hear words, but I cannot understand them. Something, someone is stopping me…”
Toni tried to move closer, but Vico stepped across and blocked his way with an arm. “Do not interfere,” he said.
“You must not interfere.”
Toni looked at his – what? – his father? Now his father’s form rippled and shifted and he felt the world collapsing around him. He fell to his knees, crying, reached out with both hands: “Papa! Papa! No! Not now!”
Paulo darted past Vico and ran to his mother’s side; she held out her arms and held him protectively.
“What is happening?! What is…NO!”
Paulo’s scream filled the night, and he too fell to the rocks as tears burst forth and washed down his face; Maria Theresa stood beside him and comforted him as these forms twisted in the air. “No! What is happening?”
“Mother?” Margherita said, suddenly very cold, and she saw her mother drifting away; then she turned to Vico: “What is this? What is happening?”
“It is now as it has always been. As it must always be.”
“Vico? What are you saying? What do you mean?”
“It is his time of death, and perhaps, of a beginning.”
There was a pulse, a charge ripping through the air, then the devastating crack of thunder just overhead.
She jumped and turned at the sound, saw her brother; she watched as his body stiffened – it was as if he had turned to stone. And he had fallen – what – into a deep sleep?
“Paulo!” she cried.
She cringed, turned away from the sound – again; thunder rang in her ears – and now Toni was rigid, motionless – his eyes wide open, lifeless.
Elsie – transfixed – remained next to Tom in the wheelchair.
“What is this!?” Margherita screamed. She turned to her mother . . .
Maria Theresa was still now; it was as if she had been caught between two heartbeats – and she had simply – stopped. Tears filled Margherita’s eyes, she ran to Vico, stood in his face: “What is this? What is happening?” She beat his chest as grief came to her, but even as her rage burned out of control, he took her in his arms and held her as she spoke again: “Why,” she moaned, “what – has been done here?”
“You must watch now, and see, if you can. It is rare that we let one watch. Be quiet, and do not try to stop this, whatever you see, whatever you feel.” He turned her body to face the glowing forms and she opened her burning eyes.
A ghostly man – was it Tom? –stood up from the wheelchair, the old woman – Anticleia? – now at his side. What must have been Paul Goodwin was already waist deep in the sea; he continued onward until he was in water up to his shoulders, and then he stopped. She saw, she heard him speaking into the night – was it an invocation? – then she knew – knew – what was coming.
Tom and the ancient woman walked slowly through the rocks to the water’s edge – Elsie by his side; they slipped quietly, wordlessly into the blackness; as they walked the water glowed around their receding nakedness. Elsie waded in, paused, barked, then stepped back onto the rocks and sat. The pup seemed anxious, yet alert. Margherita held her breath, bit her lip, as she watched. The three of them together, in the water – waiting – waiting –
She felt them before she saw them: two, no three dolphins moving into view – and she could see Two Scar now; he went directly to Paul Goodwin. Another – one with a golden eye – stopped beside Anticleia and rolled over. The third circled Tom Goodwin several times, then withdrew out to sea. Paul put a hand on his son’s head; he spoke quietly – then stood aside. Anticleia did the same, though she left a garland draped over Tom’s shoulders before she moved off.
Tom stood alone in the water now, his arms stretched out, floating on the water’s surface. Margherita watched wordlessly, fear building in her heart, for she was unable to understand the things she saw.
‘So dreamlike, I’m dreaming, I’m asleep…’
Elsie suddenly standing, looking out through clearing fog, her senses on point.
Movement. What? There again!
She saw the dorsal fin moving toward Tom, it’s speed incredible, terrifying. The third dolphin – coursing through the water directly at him – it’s speed mesmerizing – simply impossible…
She expected to see the animal veer away at the last moment, but no, that did not happen. She felt the collision in the very marrow of her bones, shielded her eyes from the blinding light that ripped through the fabric of her being as – as – she felt – herself – falling – falling again and again.
She felt the sun on her face – before she felt someone shaking her awake.
She heard a dog barking.
Water . . . surf on rocks. A chilly breeze drifted across her face, her hair washed across her eyes as she opened them. She looked up, brushed hair from her face . . .
It was her Paulo. She could feel the anxiety in his eyes, even his movements to wake her were hesitant, filled with fear.
“Wake up,” he said again, softly. “Margherita! You must wake up!”
“Let her sleep, Paulo.” Toni’s voice, still half asleep.
“But you, we, we must go home now.”
“Where’s Mama?” she heard Toni say.
“Down by the water, with Paul Goodwin.”
Margherita’s eyes were wide open now. “Paul – Goodwin?” she said. “Is he here?”
“Where else would he be,” Toni asked, his voice full of nervous confusion. “Really! You should go back to sleep!”
“Where’s Tom?” she said anxiously as she sat up. She was lost, trying to remember something important, but her memory was a black hole.
“I don’t know. He wasn’t here when I woke up.”
Wide awake now, she looked around… “Paulo? Have you seen him?”
“No, but maybe Vico and the Danish woman took him back to the boat last night.”
She looked at Paulo; he was scratching his head as if trying to remember something. She heard voices out on the rocks and stood up – too quickly. She felt light-headed, almost dizzy; she held her hands out to steady herself. Through squinted eyes she could make out Paul and Maria sitting on a gently sloping rock, their feet dangling in a clear blue pool.
Paul saw her and waved.
She returned the wave, stumbled down to them. Now she could see her mother was asleep on Paul’s shoulder.
“Nice morning,” Paul Goodwin said quietly in his bristly aviator’s accent.
“Yes, yes it is. Have you seen Tom?”
“No? Do you know where he is? Paul – Mister Goodwin?”
Goodwin shrugged, looked out to sea. “I don’t know. I thought he must be up there with you.”
Margherita shuddered as the incongruity of his reply washed over her. What could this mean? She looked around. Tom’s wheelchair was up in the grass, back in the trees. Toni was standing up now, rubbing his eyes. Paulo was standing as well, looking back down the hill that led to the harbor, and the village. She saw him waving at someone and her heart lurched; she ran up the rocks, knowing she would find Tom.
But it was Vico. He had a basket in one hand, some blankets in the other.
She ran to him, her mind searching, her eyes seeking Tom.
“Have you seen Tom?” she asked breathlessly when she reached the old man.
He smiled: “I brought some croissants, and preserves. Strawberries, too. And Champagne. Merry Christmas!”
Margherita stood before the old man, she blocked his way as confusion rumbled from some place deep beneath her feet: “What?! Christmas?! Yes, but have you seen Tom?” Her voice shook as fading memory lifted into the air, her world tinged with looming hysteria.
He looked down at her, his moist, ancient eyes full of sympathy. “His suffering is at an end, child” Vico said quietly, his voice barely a whisper. “All is as it should be. Come, sit with me.” He was reaching for her . . .
“M-mm–uhn–no…no…” she tried to say more but her throat felt like it was being squeezed by an unseen assailant; she felt herself standing on her toes, her body twisting as if to cut off the scream she felt bursting from her soul.
She felt his hand on her shoulder; felt she was being guided to the rocks. Paulo and Toni looked at her and rushed to her side, helped her sit down as Vico handed them blankets.
“What’s wrong with her?” Paulo cried. “Margherita? Vico, what’s wrong?”
“It has been a long night. She is tired…”
“Tom…” she said. “Tom is dead.”
“What!” Toni cried. “What are you talking about?”
“Oh, come now,” Vico said. “You must all relax. Life goes on. Have a strawberry.”
“What!” Margherita said, her incredulous voice strained by the man’s obtuse deceptions. “A strawberry!”
Vico looked hurt. “Yes, of course. They are ripe, fresh, and it is Christmas, is it not?”
“Are you mad?” Toni shouted. “Christmas!? Are you out of your fucking mind!? Where’s Tom?!”
Vico’s form rippled and shifted in the air, his skin grew transparent. An older, more powerful form shimmered under the old man’s skin – but it was as quickly gone. “No. I am not mad,” he said as he looked out to sea. “You must understand; I too am tired.”
“Who…what are you?” Paulo said, his voice quivering with barely contained fear. Toni stood beside him, staring at Vico’s face. He felt lost, alone, afraid…
But the old man looked at them, care in his eyes: “What do you mean, Paulo? I am Ludvico; I am your mother’s friend.” The old man seemed to stiffen, dark resolve simmered beneath a furrowed brow. The man’s visage rippled and reformed again: “I have held you on my lap since you were a child! And you would ask who I am?”
Margherita stood and faced him. “I think it is a fair question. Who are you?”
The old man grew rigid, fury pulsed through the veins of his neck and face and, as if dark storms had suddenly gathered in the sky, the air around them grew charged with electric dread – and yet, as suddenly, the man – Vico – appeared to relax, a smile parted his face and he began to laugh. He laughed so hard he began to cry; soon Paulo began laughing, then Toni. Confusion shook the earth under their feet.
Vico held out his hand and gently stroked Margherita’s face while he caught his breath. “I have held you too, on my lap – when you were younger still. Look into my eyes, Margherita. Will you say that you do not know me? You do not know me, who I am?”
Margherita felt more people by her side; she turned, saw Paul Goodwin and her mother. They stood silently, questions on their faces. Even Elsie, sitting by Paul’s feet, was looking up at Vico – an oddly confused smile on her face.
“Margherita,” her mother said. “It has been a long night. Let us go home. I will…”
“But I have brought food!” Vico said, looking out to sea again. “Sit down, all of you, and rest for a while.”
“Why?” Margherita asked, her voice now full of unanswered questions. “Why do you want us to stay here? What are you…?”
“Because, my dear, these are fresh strawberries! Do you have any idea how hard they are to come by this time of year?”
“But Tom? Where is Tom?”
Paul stepped closer. “What do you mean, ‘where is Tom?’ Isn’t he up here? With you? The wheelchair is…”
Vico stepped aside, laughing, and walked over to a patch of grass and lay blankets down in the sun. He sat, opened his basket, began pulling out fine china plates and delicate crystal flutes. Fresh baked croissant, orange marmalade, chocolate spread, and strawberries – huge, red-ripe strawberries – bigger than any anyone had ever seen. When he had set these things out he turned to them, opened his arms: “Come! Eat! All is as it should be! You should relax now!”
Paul came, sat on a blanket. Maria took her daughter’s hand and joined him.
“Paulo, Toni, do not make me ask again. Come!”
They came, they sat. Vico passed around flutes, then opened champagne and filled their glasses.
“Merry Christmas!” the old man said as he held up his flute.
Nobody moved. Nobody.
Except . . . Paul Goodwin.
The others were still, their open eyes lifeless and remote.
“Ah, thank you,” the old one said to Paul. “I must be losing my touch.”
Paul looked at the somnambulant group and shook his head. “No, old friend, it is I who should thank you. It was a beautiful night, was it not?”
“Ah. Yes. Could you hear the stars?”
“Yes. Sublime.” Goodwin looked up at the sky. “They sang well, my friend.”
The old man looked proud. “We must leave, soon.”
“Yes. Where is your grand-daughter? I haven’t seen her.”
“Anticleia?” The old man shrugged. “Who knows. Probably painting again.”
“It is a nice rendition.”
“Yes. She grows better with time.”
“Maybe you should try.”
The old man chuckled: “Me? Haven’t I better things to do? Or have I grown so irrelevant?”
Goodwin laughed too, then looked out over the sea. “Is it time?”
Goodwin began to stand, but the old man reached out, stopped him. “Wait. Hand me the strawberries.”
“What? Oh no, what are you going to do?”
“Let’s put one in each of their glasses. When they wake up, they’ll pee all over themselves!”
“You’re incorrigible, you know that, don’t you.”
Hermes laughed as he reached for a strawberry. It was a nice, big, fat one, and he laughed for the longest time…
(excerpt from Malcolm Doncaster’s journal)
Aboard Diogenes, Portofino Harbor
I hate growing old. The mystery, the very magic of life seems to fade with age. Time seems to unravel all those precious gifts that youth bestowed, and she leaves us with only memories to keep us company as winter comes. Cliché, I know, but Christmas is a time of clichés.
Well, dinner last night was a bust. Before we could get the soup down the balloon went up! Talk about your holiday cheer going up in flames!
Who would have thought old Paul Goodwin had it in himself to father not one! but three boys! And nobody knew a goddamn thing except Mama. Mama-mia!
Anyway, Mary Ann and I sat up and brought the day in with a nice brandy; everything was quiet on Springer. We turned in about 0100; assumed everyone returned to the ristorante, particularly as Elsie never came back and we never felt or heard anyone all night.
Mary Ann got up at 0700 and we opened our presents (can’t quite give up that tradition, now can we!) in the cockpit. Chilly morning; must have been a fog out last night – the deck was wet, almost like we’d had rain.
At any rate – along about 0800 here comes the group – Vico walking ahead, and pushing an empty wheelchair! Everyone there, but no Tom. That got our curiosity going!
Mary Ann went to meet Margherita, who seemed to be in quite a state! Lots of animated chatter!
At any rate, everyone save Vito and Maria Theresa came aboard, they were all blathering away about Tom being gone – dead, Margherita said (if you can imagine that!) – and, well, everyone was in quite an agitated state, let’s just say that and be done with it. Paul had a truly magnificent painting of Springer with him, which he took below and set beside that other painting of Sarah, and the odd thing was that he didn’t seem the least bit perturbed by all the commotion. I suppose it’s all those years flying, learning to deal with emergencies and all nonsense. Calm as a cucumber.
So anyway, Paulo is up on deck and just frantic, frantic! Going on about needing to call the police and the coast guard, how he would lose his job! Oh, the poor boy. Mary Ann and Margherita sat in the cockpit; we gave the girl some coffee and she was just blathering away like a machine gun, and Toni! – he was beside himself – going on about how he’d never had the chance to know this new brother and on and on – and then Tom up and pops out of the water and there he was on Springer’s swim platform – and as naked as the day he was born!
Of course Margherita faints dead away! Toni falls to his knees and starts praying for all he’s worth, but – and this is the best part – poor old Paulo races across and for all I know was going to hug poor Tom, when bam! – he trips just as Tom is climbing into the cockpit. There they went, another rear summersault, and in perfect form, mind you – five point zero – and then there they were, sputtering about and laughing and carrying on like two children. Toni got in to the spirit of things and jumped in – which would’ve been all fine and dandy except the poor sod can’t swim worth a damn!
And Paul! Just standing up there in the cockpit, looking down on his three sons. What a story his grandchildren will hear. As for me? I think it time to move on soon; this endless quest to immerse myself in all things Greek has been fun, but perhaps it’s time I grew up, did something useful with my time. Hard to believe an old codger like me could still be gallivanting around the Mediterranean wasting his time chasing after moldy Gods no one’s cared about for two thousand years.
It makes me curiously sad, however. I wonder what happens to Gods when people stop believing in him. Perhaps they would dare to just fade away, drift off into obscurity. I don’t know. Perhaps, if he was really clever, he’d find a way to a place like this. I can’t imagine a better place to spend eternity than right here.
So yes, all in all, quite the Christmas!
Onboard Diogenes, 1930 hours
Just wanted to add a note to what has been an astonishingly dull day. I was out on the quay taking Elsie for a walk before dinner when out of the blue a couple dozen strawberries rained down on my head! Not a soul around, either, but I did hear someone laughing. I hope I can catch ‘em at it; I’ll tell the cheeky buggers to sod off!
Seven Years Later, an afternoon in early April
Paul Goodwin walked down the quay under the trees, holding his granddaughter’s hand – as was his fondest desire. The promise of spring seemed alight in the air – the first real warmth of the season kissed the sea breeze in its passage through trees just budding overhead, and the old wanderer felt it a miracle to be alive on a day like this. He loved this land, this harbor, these people, and he loved calling the village home – as he had now for almost seven years. He couldn’t fault Tom’s logic, either; his family was here now, he could best be true to his life only in this village, surrounded by the people who loved him – and by the people he loved.
His granddaughter Penelope was now, of course, the light of his life. Though he had finally married Maria Theresa, she had passed quietly almost five years ago, and in the emptiness that followed he had found first solace, then redemption in a little girl’s smile. She played his heartstrings mercilessly, however, yet he loved every minute of it.
Though Paul was now ninety six years old, he still walked out to the cape almost every afternoon with her. Most sunny days he waited outside the village school for her, and they walked together slowly, quietly, usually out to the cape, but sometimes just home, where he spent countless hours helping her read. Though Margherita would never understand this passion, Paul always seemed to return to the classics, to the myths of Gods now long gone from this world. Not surprisingly, Paul encouraged the little girl to take on an active fantasy life. Some days she demanded he call her Athena.
And he always smiled when she did.
They made it to the rocks at the cape that afternoon and walked carefully down to the waters edge. Most days they spent this time in silence, just looking out at shadows of clouds running across their sun-dappled sea, but from time to time they would slip quietly into the water, and a special friend would join them. Penelope thought those days were the best.
Today, Penelope’s father was sitting out on the rocks, watching, and waiting…
Paul and his granddaughter picked their way slowly through the rocks and sat down beside Tom Goodwin.
“Hey, Dad,” he said, when he saw them sitting there: “How-ya doing, Muppet?” He put his arm around her and gave her a gentl