Cute Chinese girl, a street merchant, comes to my table. In her tray are gleaming Rolex and Cartier watches, leather wallets, carved wood figurines from Senegal, a collapsible fishing pole, reel. “No, grazie,” I say. She smiles, nods, moves to the next table.
It’s been only four weeks since I last talked with Vittoria, but it seems much longer. She may come out of the disscociative state today. Or not. One outcome isn’t more likely than the other. I’m wrong to believe it will happen today, wrong to believe it won’t.
This is what love has brought me. Would I be happy if it had not?
Crazy artist Anna from Barcelona appears, looming above me, the sun behind her head. A colossus. At 60 she still is a virgin, a fact she shared with me the other day. I pretended not to be astonished. There is more to her, but I’m not in the mood to tell it now.
Anna asks me if there have been any developments in the Vittoria crisis. Yes, she knows about it because I told her the other evening, and I don’t know why. I guess I needed to tell someone, even her.
“I don’t want to think about it,” I said.
She stood there. I did not invite her to join me. She looked at her watch. “I’m in a hurry,” she said. “I’m going to Lacco, to Horseradish’s Gallery. I must sell some more of my oil paintings.”
“Selling is what an artist must do,” I said. “Always.”
Anna nodded. “Yes.”
Then she patted me on the shoulder, meant to be a reassuring and comforting gesture, but I found it intrusive. On the third finger of her left hand was a large ring. In the middle was a dark blue multifaceted stone, surrounded by small diamonds. I sensed she wanted me to notice this gaudy piece of jewelry, as well as the silver bracelets that jangled around her wrist, and the gold-coin necklace that dangled over her massive breasts. As if to say, “See? I have so many beautiful things.” Or, “I am one who deserves to be given these gifts.”
The waiter brings my espresso doppio con latte caldo. Two packets of sugar. A tiny spoon. The frothy hot milk in a miniature white pitcher.
An old man sits down nearby. He’s balding and sunburnt, consuming a cigarette with one rapid deep puff after another. He does not stop. Puff, puff, puff, puff. Each exhalation produces a blue-white cloud that is quickly dispersed in the breeze. He smokes the thing right down to its filter. Then he flicks it away, gets up, ambles off.
I can say with assurance that such manic behavior is a symptom of mental illness. How do I know this? I saw a movie the other day on TV. Sean Penn’s “The Pledge,” starring Jack Nicholson. In the presence of a psychiatrist Nicholson’s character, Detective Jerry Black, chain smokes. She notices. “Do you hear voices?” she finally asks him. The question echos through his head. He has no answers to those repeated questions. Throughout the movie a cigarette is always on his lips. I presume nicotine relieves the torment of craziness. Superfically, heavy smoking is a normal thing, a lot of people do it. But in the closing scene, Jerry Black is totally insane, muttering to himself on the porch of a run-down gas station.