While wandering about in the museum of the monastery of Sant Frutuosso I saw an unmarked door, partly open. I stepped into a fragrant shaded courtyard, overgrown with grass, wildflowers, and ivy. At its far end was a shrine. On a shelf rested a small statue of Mary, mother of mercy. Its translucent alabaster surface seemed to radiate a calming and healing energy. I stood for a long while in silence.
Then I heard a voice. “Signore?” Thinking it was addressed to someone else, I ignored it and kept my eyes on the madonna.
And then, more urgently, “Signore!”
I turned. A young woman approached. “I am sorry, but this is a private area,” she said. “You must return to the gallery.”
“May I have a moment to take a picture?”
“You are not allowed be here. Please hurry.”
I raised my camera. Took two or three shots. Then I followed her to the door.
When I got back home I framed one of the pictures and hung it near my bookcase.
* * *
This morning I spent some time standing up close and contemplating that exquisite icon. I wanted to recall the calming sensations I experienced in the courtyard, because Vittoria’s latest disappearing act was starting to annoy the hell out of me.
It was difficult not to take it personally. She knew how much I disliked her going off like that, cutting off all communication with me. But she did it anyway. It was rude. Thoughtless. If it were turned around and I did the disappearing, she wouldn’t tolerate it, she’d throw a fit, that’s for sure.
But, no, it wasn’t personal after all, it was just her way of dealing with troubles. I knew I needed to learn to accept the things I could not control. A tough thing for an impatient guy like me.
And then the computer’s speakers made a squeaking open door sound that announces the login of an IM buddy. I hurried to the screen. It had gone on standby. I hit the space key and jiggled the mouse. Slowly, slowly the image returned. Vittoria’s screen name was in the IM box.
I rapidly typed, “Good morning.”
A long pause.
“Who is this?” came the reply.
“You know who this is, stop playing games.”
“Oh, this must be James. The famous writer.”
“You know, Vittoria, I’m not in the mood for any more of your impersonations.”
“I’m Francesca, Vittoria’s sister. I want to speak to her. Right now. So put her on.”
“Are you in Florida?”
“No. I’m at Vittoria’s house, and so are my parents. They flew in from California yesterday.”
“Well, then, why don’t I just give you a call and we can have a nice chat.”
I didn’t expect her to agree. And I didn’t expect to hear a woman’s voice that was much different from Vittoria’s. If this were another of her tricks, it was among her most skillfully done.
“My parents are so upset, and don’t know what to do,” Francesca said. “My dad thinks she’s with you, and so do I.”
“No, she is not with me. And I have no idea where she is.”
“Yes, you do. But you won’t tell me.”
“Silence and keeping people in the dark is your family’s habit, not mine.”
“Just following your lead.”
“Why did she leave? Can you tell me that?”
“Because your parents refused to give blood for her upcoming surgery. She likely has put two and two together and has concluded she was adopted.”
“Do you have any other explanation for their refusing?”
“I can’t believe this.”
“Why don’t you put the question to your father?”
“He’s too upset to talk.”
“Your mother, then.”
“She says, ‘Talk to your father.’”
“And your two older brothers? Why not ask them? They likely know.”
“But they say the same thing. ‘Talk to your father.’”
“Let me ask you a question.”
“Have you ever wondered why Vittoria doesn’t resemble any of you?”
“No. I haven’t. She’s always been my sister.”
“This is too much,” Francesca said. “My head is starting to ache.”
“Her surgery is scheduled for next Monday, right?”
“I don’t know. Yes, probably.”
“Well then she’ll very likely show up either Saturday or Sunday.”
“Do you think so?”
“And you don’t know where she is now?”
“If you find out, will you tell me?”
“Only if you agree to do the same.”