I met Vittoria at Grand Central. She wore tan shorts, a white T-shirt, pristine white sneakers. She was just as lovely as the last time I saw her, before the Italian monastery fiasco and the Rome taxi wreck.
“Hello, I’m James. Do you remember me?”
She shook her head. “No. But hello anyway.”
I offered her my hand. I didn’t think embracing her would be appropriate.
A cab took us to Barnes & Noble on Lexington Avenue.
“Does any of this look familiar?”
On a small table in the Fiction Section were a dozen copies of “Tom Quinn,” along with a framed picture of the author. She looked at the picture, then at me. She picked up one of the books. “You wrote this?”
“Yep. That’s how we met. You came to hear me read over there. Later I autographed a copy for you. Would you like another one?”
At the coffee shop we took a table under a mural of a group of writers. Nabakov. Hemingway. Fitzgerald. Others I didn’t recognize. I moved my chair near hers.
Her house, she said, was a total insane asylum. Two old folks who claimed to be her mother and father had flown in from California. Her alleged sister from Florida. Two men who insisted they were her brothers drove from Long Island. Also a number of cousins and aunts and various in-laws. The place was packed, noisy. Everybody jabbering at once. They brought thick albums with snapshots of Vittoria at their children’s birthday parties, at her sibling’s weddings. Indisputable proof that she was a part of this extended family. But nothing whatever was familiar to her. After a while they really annoyed the hell out of her. All she wanted was to be left alone, in her room.
They persuaded her to see a doctor, who ordered a battery of tests, including an MRI. In time, he said, she’d likely recover most, if not all, of her memory. This is a common condition with accidents involving a severe blow to the head. We’ll just have to wait and see, he said.
“Tell me about the hospital in Rome. You were there a month before your friends found you?”
“Yes. I had no idea where I was. All of them spoke a language I couldn’t understand.”
“You forgot Italian?”
“I’m an American. I speak English.”
“But you were born and raised in Ischia.”
“That’s what you say.”
I took her hand. Its back looked discolored. “I had ugly burns,” she said quietly. “I wish I could find a way to bleach it.”
“Put makeup on it.”
“I did. But it rubbs off.”
I enfolded her hand in mine. She didn’t seem to mind.
“So what happened when Giacamo and Anna found you?”
“He said he was a photographer, and I was one of his models. He showed me pictures in Vogue. They didn’t look like me at all. There were also pictures of Anna. They didn’t look like her either. I thought they were both lying to me for some reason.”
“And when your husband arrived?”
“At first I couldn’t believe that I’d have anything to do with a man like that. But…”
“He’s been very nice to me.”
“Every day he brings me flowers.”
“Yes. And candy too. Snickers bars.”
I laughed. “How utterly romantic.”
“They’re my favorite. I love them.”
“I would have brought you Godiva.”
She looked puzzled. “What’s Godiva?”