In 1947 Marilyn Monroe, then a little known Hollywood starlet, won a curious contest: she was crowned the first “Artichoke Queen of Castroville, California,” a town that called itself the artichoke capital of the world.
Which is what Harold told me yesterday, after admiring my most recent photographic study, this one of various flowers and vegetables. I suspect the professor’s reference to this arcane tidbit was part of his strategy to distract me from my ongoing obsession with Vittoria and the Maria Marrella connection.
Sylvia, too, keeps hinting that perhaps it’s time for me to move on to a different subject. She has one in mind, but I’m resisting it. Or I should say her.
* * *
My insouciance is an affectation. I’m an actor playing a role. The script demands that I project the appearance of strength, self-possession. A character who is not given to puerile whining. So I slip off my sandals, cross my ankles on the seat before me. The ship’s bow plows violently into a large wave. Cold spray strikes my face. My sunglasses are covered with a profusion of tiny salty beads, temporarily blurring my view of the world.
I am on a day trip to…what difference does it make? Procida, Capri, Ponza, Ventotene. Islands off the coast of southern Italy that to me represent various aspects of Vittoria’s personality.
During the night I was awakened by passing thunderstorms and rain showers. Before dawn the courtyard was lighted by a bright full moon. Then came a beautifully clear sky, unlimited visibility.
Vittoria’s silence, after all this time, is a gnawing constant. Whenever I think I see portents that she’ll reappear—like last night’s full moon, or the mystical significance of the passing of 40 days—I soon know that it’s just wishful thinking that’s stirring up my brain.
I thought: Maybe I need to rethink this whole thing. I’m totally fed up. I think I’ve had enough. One should not love such a woman. That’s the long and short of it.
* * *
She must have read my mind. As soon as I got back from Procida the phone rang. I said hello, but I heard only silence. I knew it was her.
“Vittoria, speak to me,” I said.
“Just say something. A single word.”
Then she hung up.
Five minutes later, the phone rang again.
“Speak,” I said.
But finally I got a few things out of her. One, she is still in a safe place. Two, she has been seeing a counselor. Three, he said she must soon go home and talk to her father about the adoption. Four, she is extremely angry at her father because he lied to her. Her whole life has been a lie. And so on.
“When are you going to go home?” I asked.
“I don’t know.”
“I hope sooner rather than later. The family is waiting for you. Especially your father.”
“But I’m so angry at him.”
“How could he have known the secret would come out?”
“He should have told me the truth, from the beginning.”
“If you were in his place, and you thought there wasn’t any chance of the secret coming out, what would you do?”
“I’d tell the kid.”
We talked for about half an hour. In the middle of her last sentence the connection broke, bringing a dial tone. I knew she hadn’t hung up on me. Likely she was using an international calling card, and it had run out.
Forty days. A full moon.
What a coincidence.