Passegiatta Pt. 07byAdrian Leverkuhn©
©2008 ©Adrian Leverkuhn
Paul Goodwin remained in the Army Air Corp through the end of the war, and like many pilots returning home to the explosive economic prosperity of post-war America, he began looking for work with airlines ramping up services all around the world. After sixteen long years of depression and war, and with an economic outlook almost alien to most people in the United States, times were indeed good, and promised to only get better. Goodwin made the rounds – American, Braniff, Pan Am, but joined Trans World Airlines after talking with pilots who already worked for the company. Within a year he was flying Constellations cross country, from New York to San Francisco, and he fell in love with the City by the Sea and decided to make it his home. It was a decision he never regretted. He bought a nice cottage in Menlo Park on a lark, and times were indeed good. Life was sweet.
From time to time he thought of Maria Theresa, but the whole thing had always looked impossible to him, and now – with time and distance to comfort his decision – his renunciations took on a fixed air. The two of them were far apart in so many ways – in almost every way, when we sat down and really thought about it – that after a couple of false starts at contacting her he simply gave up on the idea of going back to Italy and finding her. He put her out of his mind, and in the end he moved on.
But there was always something there, waiting in gray shadow just beyond the farthest reaches of his mind. It was like an itch he couldn't scratch, he just never could reach it, never could put his finger on exactly what it was about the entire episode that simply would not – or could not? – leave him alone. Once while flying over Connecticut the thought hit him, he perhaps had had one true destiny, and he'd turned his back on it. What did that mean? If indeed, it meant anything at all . . .
A friend, Pat Patterson, who worked for an accounting firm downtown invited him to lunch one Saturday at the San Francisco Yacht Club; they had a ripping good time tossing off fierce rum drinks and flirting with a couple of waihinis and before too long Patterson asked Goodwin if he'd ever been sailing. "Nope, sure haven't," he said and they were off to the races, literally.
Drunk as two skunks, Goodwin and Patterson and the two young women did their level best to kill each other out on a blustery San Francisco Bay, yet still managed to come in a respectable second place. Patterson reportedly went off with one of the girls, Goodwin married the other one three weeks later.
Her name was Doris Matthews; she had graduated from U C Berkeley's Boalt Hall Law School in 1944, and after a stint in the San Francisco DAs office where she prepped for the Bar, she went to work for an old name firm in The City. On a lonely Friday afternoon in September one of the girls in the office came by with an invite to go to a swank yacht club the next day with an old sweetheart, and he had asked her bring a friend along.
Sure, why not. Nothing better to do.
And so the worm turned.
It turned out, as these things sometimes do, that Miss Matthews had had a long standing affair with such old reliables as Jack Daniels, Cutty Sark, and Gilby's, and for a little bit longer than quite a while, and getting married didn't really staunch the flow. And Doris was a mean drunk, too, and could be something of a bully when she went out beyond the edge. Which, as it turned out, was just about every night.
In 1950 the Goodwins had a baby boy. Thomas they called him – Tom as he grew older, and Tom was a serious kid, abnormally bright as it turned out, which was a good thing, considering. Tom figured his mother out - all the games she played, the outright lies she hid her drinking behind, the self-deluding half-truths she foisted off on her husband – by the time he'd left kindergarten. He figured out his father hated his mother a few years later, and by the time he started high school he was on a first name basis with more than one of his father's stewardess/mistresses.
Paul Goodwin left the military with profound respect for words like duty and honor, and had made a solemn oath when he married Doris Matthews. He could not imagine in his wildest dreams violating something so sacred. He was in it 'til death do us part, and his son grew up hating him for this one simple failing simply because of the hideous dishonesty that lay behind his father's preposterous infidelities.
When he was thirteen, she managed to pour herself behind the wheel of her Mercedes one dark and stormy night and, driving home from the country club at one in the morning, ran a red light and slammed into the passenger side of a little Chevy Corvair. A little girl died in the accident, and his mother managed to pull every legal string she could and walked away unscathed, at least in a legal sense. She became something of a pariah in San Francisco and begged Paul to transfer to New York.
Paul's parents were getting on by that time, and were thinking of selling the family's old farm outside of New London. In a nervous fit Paul sold the house in Menlo Park, bought the farm, transferred to New York, and in January 1966 found himself flying 707s from Kennedy to Rome Fiumicino and back seven times a month. Doris began seeing other men while Paul was away on the now much longer trips, and Paul had to admit to himself by that point he really didn't care. He let her go, let her sink as far down into the night as she dared.
Maybe this life was inevitable. Maybe by turning his back on what had seemed his first best destiny, some force aligned with God only knows what had conspired to visit unhappiness and strife upon Paul Goodwin's broad shoulders. At times, he admitted to himself, that's what it felt like.
And while he loved flying to Rome and used his layover time in the city to walk storied ruins, Paul managed to find every reason in the world to stay away from Portofino, and for a year he did.
And yet oddly enough it was his son who forced the issue.
Tom Goodwin was increasingly viewed as an academic prodigy by his teachers and peers; he graduated from high school at fifteen and had offers to attend all the best eastern school. He chose Stanford in California simply because it was close to where he grew up – it felt like home to him in the Bay Area. Paul understood the feeling; he bitterly missed San Francisco and the wild sea that surrounded The City.
On Tom's high school graduation, Paul offered to take his son to Rome and, taking a few weeks off from work; the two of them would tour the Italian countryside together, get to know one another better. A real father and son trip, and this was something the two had never experienced. Doris thought it a grand idea and promptly booked two tickets to Acapulco.
The 'boys' – as Doris derisively referred to them now – left in late June. They spent a few days in Rome then hopped a train to Florence. A couple more days following in Michelangelo's footsteps, then north to Venice – which Paul had always wanted to see, but Tom took absolutely no interest in – then they were off, on to Genoa.
It was in Genoa that Tom saw photographs of Portofino on travel posters in the train station, and he told his father he'd really love to see the village, he'd read good things about the place. Tom was unconcerned with the subtle shift in his father's voice when he heard the very name Portofino, but Tom thought nothing of it once they were on the little red bus winding southward through chestnut covered hillsides.
Paul looked at the passing hillsides with clinched jaw and knotted muscle; as they drew near he could see goat trails on hillsides he'd run down at night while being chased by German patrols – he could still smell their fear in this very air! Another group of rocks where they'd jumped a squad and Vico had been shot in the gut, the grueling climb back into the hills with the boy draped over his shoulder was still as fresh in his memory as if it had happened last week. Tom looked out the window at rocks and trees and cliffs, and finally, the sea, while his father tried to hide from this wounded landscape by staring stonily ahead. But there was nowhere to hide. When he closed his eyes, when he tried to close this landscape away from his soul, everything came back in nauseating, vivid detail just that much sooner.
There would be no running this time, Paul Goodwin knew.
He had come for a reckoning.
The bus dropped them in the piazza a little before noon on the Seventh of July, 1966; the air was hot and still, few tourists were about, and Paul walked over to a small inn and inquired about rooms while Tom stumbled along the quay looking at fishermen tending their nets and over the shoulders of artists working feverishly away in front of pastel tinted easels. His father came out, joined him, looked around the harbor with him for a while, then they moved off to a ristorante for lunch.
Ludvico saw Paul from the kitchen and very nearly passed out. He stumbled backwards as if he'd been slugged, and indeed he felt as if the breath had been crushed from his body. He fought the impulse to go to his old friend; not sure who the boy was and what they were doing he decided to wait and see if Goodwin sought him out. Was it a coincidence he had come to this ristorante to eat?
But no, they left after lunch and walked away along the highway east of town, apparently marveling at villas seemingly hewn from cliffs perched high over the water below, and at the endless cobalt sea that spread out beyond the little harbor. Vico followed them, listened to them, watched as the young boy pointed at a pod of dolphin that had just entered the harbor, watched as his father, for Paul was the boy's father, staggered backwards at the sight of the dolphins as if he was having a heart attack, and Vico bolted from his hiding place and ran to his friend's side and knelt beside him on the dusty road while the boy sat beside his father.
"Dad! Dad! What's wrong?"
"Eh, it's okay boy. Its just too hot out this time of day. We need to get him back to town."
"Vico? Is that you?"
"Si, Paulo, me. Just me."
Goodwin sat up and took his friend in his arms and held him. He cried for what – to his son, at least – seemed like a very long time. Then his father did the damnedest thing; he stood up and brushed himself off, shook his friends hand and without saying another word walked back to the village and into the hotel.
Tom looked at his father walking away, then at the other man. He wanted to ask the man questions, for questions were hanging in the air apparent, waiting to be asked, waiting to be answered, but he took off after his dad. He waved once to the man, but never saw the tears in the man's eyes. The episode echoed in young Tom's mind for an hour or so, then was as quickly gone.
He went up to a Spartan room and found his father; he had simply come in and slipped off his shoes and gone to sleep; Tom flipped through a copy of Goethe's Torquatto Tasso until he could stand it no longer. He grabbed a pair of swim trunks and headed down to the sea.
He walked out a road until he came to a rock-strewn cape. Blue water filled rocky bowls rimmed with deep black granite walls. It was the most inviting water he'd ever seen, and wordlessly he slipped his shoes off and made his way down to the water's edge. For one moment he thought he saw a dolphin in one of the pools, but as he made his way down to the water's edge he saw only cool blue pools waiting for him, and he dove in.
He had dinner with his father early that evening, and Tom talked about his walk out to the cape, and about swimming in the amazing clear blue water, but for some reason his father remained quiet and contemplative throughout the meal, almost inattentive - if not quite distant. Tom never mentioned the episode on the road, and his father never brought it up again. Only once during the meal, when Tom mentioned having seen a dolphin in close among the rocks did his father react, and then not as he'd expected him to. His father's hands shook, he looked away as if distracted by a million memories hammering away at his soul, and a tremor crossed his face like a brief summer's thunderstorm crossing prairie seas. An odd thought pressed in on the young man, some sense of recognition, perhaps, but the thought left him as quickly as it had come, leaving only a vague impression of its passage.
Their dinner passed pleasantly enough, though in time it too would pass quietly into the recesses of memory. Tom, now quite exhausted after his long afternoon on the rocks, said goodnight to his father and walked across the piazza to the little inn and up to the tiny bedroom. There was little about the day to hold his attention now aside from his father's roadside collapse, but years later – when he was applying to medical schools – he would mention this episode as instrumental in his decision to pursue medicine. He had felt helpless there by the sea, powerless to meet his father's immediate need, and that one impression remained of the day.
The father told the son as they parted at dinner that he was going to take a stroll – a Passeggiata, he called it – before coming to bed. He finished the bottle of ice cold Pinot Grigio and fired off a cigar while he sat back thinking about the day, about his reluctance to seek out his compatriots, and all he could think was that his renunciation those so many years ago had been total and complete. To seek out these people would be an abnegation of all his earlier reasoning, an admission of profound error on his part.
As he sat watching cigar smoke curling up toward the ceiling the realization that his reasoning had in fact been faulty washed over his soul, his renunciations had in fact been renunciations of the very best part of his life. The most meaningful events of his life he had, in effect, cast aside. His refusal to talk about these events with anyone else was simply a reflection of his inability to deal with the inherent contradictions within his choice. While he had taken the easiest way out, out was in fact slow poison.
And he had found the perfect mate with which to finally kill his soul. Wasn't that too funny?
He walked out of the ristorante down to the quay, and he looked into the familiar black water halfway expecting to see one of the dolphins waiting for him there, but he saw only his own vapid reflection rippling across the water. He kicked a pebble into the water and watched ripples form and spread a little way across the harbor, and he saw the first amber edge of the moon rising far off to the east. The air was calm, almost still, as he looked at the moon through lines of distant trees; soon it was rising, casting its bilious glow across the old stone quay as if it was painting a scene for him, and he watched the harbor take on velvety amber-hued glows as she rose on her way across the heavens.
He walked off toward the cape. There was no reason behind his choice, nothing, not even instinct could absolve him of the trespasses he walked toward.
And little had changed, he saw. The road along the quay was as it had been twenty something years ago, even the smells were the same. The chestnut and linden, the wayward pine, the iodine rich smell of tides come and gone, garlic and peppers frying in olive oil . . . they were all there, all unchanged, never becoming . . . just always . . . being.
And always within range of memory's just silent whisper. Why? Why? Why?
Trees arced overhead, stars could just barely be seen floating between wayward branches that hung out over the water, and by the light of this flickering starlight he walked quietly onward. It still seemed as though he knew every rise and bend on the way out to the cape, every tree a companion he longed to reach out and touch. He wanted to cast aside all his repudiations, open his arms to time and hold those memories once again.
But would they let him?
He turned at last to the clear stretch of road that drifted lazily by the cape on its way to the lighthouse, and even all of the old black rocks were as he remembered them. They stood like sentinels guarding the way to the water's edge, as if it was their purpose to deny the sea to all who came seeking impure absolution. The sea smelled the same, waves still washed ashore in hypnotic rhythms all their own, and she sat there as he had expected her. Quiet diffidence, purpose and resolve lashing the air like a cat's tail, an indifference to indifference bathing her features with holy purity.
He walked to her.
Sat on ancient stones next to her.
He took her hand, carried her skin through deep sea breezes to his mouth and he smelled her, remembering the remembering as a singer sings his song of life.
He started to speak but she silenced him.
They were waiting. All seven of them. She pointed at the sea and he followed her hand as he always had, as he always would.
She stood, dropped her sweater to the ground as she walked to the water's edge. When her nakedness was complete she slipped into the water and walked out among the rocks and waited.
The moon stood in silent witness to this union. The seven moved in with explosive purpose, swirled and danced in time to their ancient music, delirious purpose long denied gathered impossible forces in the air and released spent fury into the night, and all was as it should have been long ago, and as it would be again and again.
Paul and Tom Goodwin left the village early the next morning, bound for Rome and after an ungodly number of hours aloft, home.
Tom Goodwin would always remember the time with his father as the best time they ever had, perhaps even the best time of his life. Over time, he remembered little of their time in Portofino, the dinner at the quaint ristorante stood out for a few years, his father's collapse lingered for perhaps a few years longer still, but in time all these left him with little beyond the gauzy blur of their leaving. Key moments hidden in the fabric of time, perhaps, but they faded nonetheless.
As the bus pulled away from the village, Paul Goodwin looked out the back window as dust swirled in harmony with his feelings. Maria and Vico stood there, as always just in shadow, and he waved at them as they each faded from his life once again. He saw Vico put his arms around her, he was there holding her as she cried, then the bus rounded a curve and the village was gone.
Nine months later Paul's son would be born, and Maria Theresa named him Paulo.
End Part VII