Yesterday I saw a small green-speckled lizard sunning on a tuffa rock, which means spring is coming. But this stone villa is still chilly, damp. Condensation covers the windows when I boil water for coffee. The tile floors are slippery. I wear several sweatshirts, a wool Navy watch cap, three pairs of socks, and a dark blue Joseph Abboud scarf that Vittoria bought me for one of my birthdays.
When I finish working around noon, I go into the bedroom and crawl under five quilts and blankets. I pray for Vittoria’s return to her status as my lover, my friend, my muse. I pray that I might finally understand that everything is perfect as it is. Epictetus says life is a banquet; we are obliged to accept with good grace the plate that is put before us. Pay no attention to things you can not control.
My powerlessness, however, makes me anxious because I want to do something about Vittoria’s amnesia, dissociative state, craziness, PMS, or whatever it’s called. I believe in this case I have an obligation to do rather than just be. I want to rescue my sweet girl and help her break free of all her suffocating entanglements. Which I’ve been trying to do since I met her.
How did I get into this intractable mess? I thought I escaped it four years ago, when I put two seas and a thousand miles between me and my old life. But I’m still enmeshed in an impossible relationship, and I daresay that I’ll remain that way as long as I live. Intractable: a problem with no efficient solution. Resistant to treatment or symptomatic relief.
Every morning and evening and throughout the day I close my eyes and summon a vivid image of Vittoria and concentrate on sending her a loving, affirming message. Maybe we’ll make a psychic connection. We’ve done it many times before.
But more and more I’m feeling her reality is ebbing away…that something evil is gradually destroying everything that makes her who she is. I might as well say she’s dying, because that’s precisely the effect her extended silence is creating.
Vittoria no longer is interested in anything I have to say. Francesca tells me she listens to the messages I put on her cell phone, but she does not react. My tactic of trying to bring back her past—describing things we did when we were together as lovers—upsets her. It’s not where she wants to go. Nor is she much interested in the present.
“Silence is good,” she says.
Solitude is strange. You can get comfortable, but never completely. Being alone is ever so slightly dissonant, not exactly right. If you tell someone you’re happy you know it’s true, but not exactly the whole truth.
* * *
Last Wednesday I went down to Sylvia’s. Her courtyard looked like Berlin in 1945. Huge piles of rubble, big holes in the ground. A long trench extended from the bottom of the stone staircase to the other end of the property. “All these corroded pipes need to be replaced,” she explained. “Plus I’ve got to put in a new water tank. Be careful where you walk, don’t fall down.”
As Sylvia spooned coffee into the little aluminum percolator she asked me if anything had changed in the Vittoria situation. I replied that my girl remains silent, and now her sister has gone silent as well.
“I can imagine that family sitting around the dinner table, saying absolutely nothing to each other,” I said.
“By the way, something you mentioned the other day has got me thinking.”
“Didn’t you say that Vittoria’s parents had two sons before they adopted her?”
“Yes. They thought they couldn’t have any more children, and they wanted a girl. And shortly after the adoption, they got pregnant and had Francesca. I understand that happens a lot.”
“True. But I’m wondering. Why would anyone in that village ever want to get a girl?”
“What do you mean?”
“In those days everybody on the island was dirt poor. And girls were useless. Boys, on the other hand, could work.”
“I understand her family had money.”
Sylvia shook her head. “Nobody had money back then, except the landlords who lived in Naples and Rome.”
“When Vittoria was nine, her father moved the whole family to America. So he must have had some resources.”
“Those people would sell their useless land for virtually nothing, just enough for boat tickets. Or they’d save for years.”
Sylvia poured out a small cup of espresso, handed it to me.
“Anyway, I hate to say it,” she continued, “but I’ve heard some very disturbing things about what those peasants did with adopted girls.”
I sipped the strong coffee. It needed sugar, but I didn’t ask Sylvia for any. I tried to ignore the burning sensation in my ears.
“Oh, I almost forgot to tell you,” Sylvia said. “Filomena told me she saw you at Roxy two or three weeks ago. She asked who you were. I said you were an American, a writer and hermit, who lives alone up on the mountain.”
“Yes. And then a week later she asked if I’d talked to you recently. And at the market yesterday she brought you up again.”
“Who is she and what does she want?”
Sylvia laughed. “She’s a good looking rich woman, a widow, who lives in an elegant villa over near Scogli Innamorati. She wants romance. She wants sex. A good time.”
I looked at my watch.
“I’ve got to run.”
“Where are you going?”
“Uh…I’ve got to pick up some stuff before the grocery closes. Ciao!”