The sun shines, the breeze is cool and fresh from the sea, but nevertheless I’m feeling lousy. Wandering around the vineyard usually puts me in a pleasant mood, but not today. I walk in the soft earth between the trellises made of silver-gray tree limb posts and bamboo stalks, and glance with indifference at the dark ripe grapes, and the once-green leaves now blazing scarlet.
Depressing, all of it. I push open the weathered creaking wood door of the cantina. A musty, sour smell. Dust covers everything. Over there, in the corner. The little girl hiding deep in the empty barrel’s darkness is Vittoria. She’s decided to stay in there for a long time. Any other kid intent on punishing her parents by running away would know that a single day would be sufficient. More than enough time to get mom and dad and the rest of the family into a painful anxious state. But not willful, headstrong little Vittoria. No, she must stay hidden three whole days. Which brings all of them visions of truly horrid things that a little girl ought never experience.
All because her father denied her a bicycle. He had his reasons, even good ones. And yet to her it was a criminal act. A betrayal. And then last year, to preserve the good name of the alleged “family,” he put her into a monastery near Portofino and left her there, alone, with no word when she would be allowed out. Add that to the list of the man’s unforgivable crimes.
And then the final, the ultimate outrage:
Surprise! I am not your father.
Restituta is not your mother.
Vincenzo and Mario are not your brothers.
Francesca is not your sister.
Shall I go on?
* * *
I admit Vittoria has good reasons to disappear. But nevertheless as the weeks go by I’m starting to feel more and more disconnected from her. I hope that when she finally shows up I’ll again experience the delight the sound of her voice always elicited. But right now all my tender feelings have vanished.
I worry about what I might hear myself saying to her.
Like, this time you have gone too far you spoiled little brat.
Or, come on lovergirl, whisper those words to me again. Better yet, write them on a little scrap of paper and put it into the book I am reading so that when I resume reading I’ll see it.
“Io ti amo, James. Per sempre!”
A truly bizarre statement in light of your repeatedly disappearing, without even saying, “Listen, my dear love, I really need time alone to think this latest thing through.”
And slamming the door in my face on IM, when you know how bad it makes me feel. Per sempre: Right. For you that means, “Only until I get mad and decide to again torment James for a month or two.”
Maybe I’ll finally be able to tell her, “All right, that’s it. I’ve had enough. Ciao!”
If I do, she won’t weep. Oh, no, that’s just not her style. Just a hard stare. “Fine,” she’ll say. “Do what you wish.”
* * *
I sit upright in my bed. The room is dark. I’m sweating, and my heart is pounding. What was that? The phone—is it ringing? Or did I just imagine it?