The other day I watched two stonemasons on the quay at Porto Forio. The great storm of last winter had torn up all the little bricks and the pair had come from Naples to put them all back together again. They worked quickly, deftly, tapping their hammers in an allegro staccato.
I thought about what the professor had said about memory. That it’s not continuous, but fragmentary. A large assembly of small things.
Which made me laugh aloud. How earnest and industrious Giancarlo and I were back in America, trying to reconstruct Vittoria’s jumbled memory. We both were convinced we’d put it back together for her, but of course better than it had been before.
I took her everywhere.
At the Metropolitan Museum of Art we stood before the big painting by Cott entitled “The Storm,” which had been among her favorites. “Does it look familiar?” I asked.
She shook her head. “No. But it’s beautiful. I like it very much.”
Then a ride on Staten Island Ferry and back, which we’d done several times before. The Statue of Liberty. Macy’s. Tiffany’s.
“Do you remember any of this?”
Then on to the Bethesda Fountain. A long stroll through the walkways of Central Park. Finally dinner at Tavern on the Green.
"Tell me about the hospital in Rome. What was it like?”
She looked down at the tablecloth, ran her finger lightly over the handle of the silver fork.
“Am I making you uncomfortable?” I said. “We don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to.”
“No, that’s all right. When I woke up I didn't know where I was. They tried talking to me, but I couldn’t understand them. Finally they brought a doctor who could speak English. He asked me a lot of questions, he tried to get me to remember.”
“What kind of questions?"
"He showed me pictures. He said they were Italian movie stars, politicians, and famous people. But I didn’t know who any of them were. He went away for a couple of days. Then he came back. He had more pictures to show me. Now, those I recognized. Abraham Lincoln. George Washington. Brad Pitt. Tom Cruise.”
“Who could forget Tom Cruise.”
“Stop it. Be nice.”
"When Giancarlo showed up, what did he say?"
"He said ‘I'm your husband, and I'm taking you home.’ But I thought he was crazy. I didn't know that man."
"How did he persuade you to go with him?"
"He said, ‘So where are you going to go when you leave here? You don’t know anyone. You have a family back in America. Wouldn't you want to see what they're like? Just come, give it a chance."
"So you agreed."
“I wish I had been there. Maybe you would have gone with me.”
She smiled. “Maybe.”
We continued talking through our lobster, steak, new potatoes, green salad, a dry white wine. Coffee.
“Now here’s a question that I hope doesn’t offend you.”
“Do you remember what making love is?”
“I know the words. Sex. Intercourse. But it’s strange. I don’t have any idea what any of it is like.”
I paused. Her eyes told me it was all right. So I said, “Would you like to learn?”
“We can start right now. With a kiss.”
“What’s that?” she said.
“Here. Let me show you.”