Passegiatta Pt. 10byAdrian Leverkuhn©
Dino Morretti backhanded Maria Theresa and she flew across the kitchen, landing in a ragged heap in a far corner. Her stinging face, already bruised from several blows over the past week, hurt beyond words. The tears she cried came from a place inside herself she never knew existed. They came from despair unknown to her, and these mute feelings tore her apart.
Dino Morretti wasn't a simple dullard; even though he had lived in denial of basic truths for several months now, the urge to destroy Maria Theresa grew stronger each time he looked at the little bastard, this little child Paulo. The boy wasn't his -- he knew this beyond all measure of doubt -- and as far as he was concerned everyone in the village knew this as well. He knew this because he hadn't made love to his wife since Margherita was conceived, and unless someone was willing to come forward and make a good case for Immaculate Conception, the boy's origins were far from clear.
But he knew the truth. Oh yes, he knew . . .
Vico had done the deed. That was it!
He would always love Maria Theresa. He always had, and always would.
Vico had done it! He must have . . .
Earlier that day, Morretti vowed before God he would kill Vico, and Maria Theresa had grown so full of despair she had let slip all restraint and simply laughed violently at the little man. She had no other emotions left inside by that time; she simply let go of her fear and laughed -- even as she wept, she laughed. She felt hollow, like she was drifting, slowly drifting toward the looming precipice of far oblivion.
Had she wanted this to happen?
"It's not Vico, you fool," she said softly, reprovingly, and he had slugged her in the belly, hard, his face red, the veins in his neck pulsing with tireless venom. He circled the room out of his mind, circled like a shark sensing fresh blood in the water, all the while his anger coiling like a snake, readying for the next strike.
'Why did I smile at him then?'
"You lying whore!" he yelled when he kicked her in the gut. He began laughing. "So, the jokes on me, eh? You fucking whore!" He lunged forward, his foot lifting, drawing back . . .
Maria -- doubled over in pain -- raised her hands to defend herself from the next blow, but it never came. She heard someone banging on the door and Dino, his blood boiling, went to answer it; she crawled into the bathroom and locked the door, all the while gasping from a sharp pain in her chest. She heard sharp words, a struggle, fists and furniture breaking . . . footsteps running down old wooden stairs, other footsteps coming toward the bathroom, someone knocking on the door softly, gently . . . a voice so full of love and compassion . . . a voice full of mystery and imagination . . . a voice from the past . . .
"Maria, it's me. Open the door." She heard Paul Goodwin's voice, and she fell to the floor, weeping.
There's had been a conspiracy of silence. The ties that bind had grown very strong over two lifetimes. Love endures anything but neglect, and Vico never relinquished his complete devotion to Maria Theresa. His love was simple and pure, a vow to himself beyond release
Maria held Vico to her secret after the first 'reunion' with Goodwin. Paul must never know, she told him, because she could not, would not use the child to bring him here against his will. He would come, she maintained, when he was ready to listen to the truth they had discovered. He would come when he was ready to listen to the music of the night, to simple chords of destiny, to the music of this unknown calling.
Then the beatings began. Everyone in the village knew the shame over their house, but not the cause. She became an outcast, then ever more reclusive.
Vico thought of his friend in faraway America, thought of their momentary roadside encounter, and of Goodwin's fair-haired son. Could he keep the nature of her secret from them? Could he find Goodwin and tell him and not betray the conspiracy? Vico knew where Paul Goodwin worked now, and he struggled with loyalties and desperate need; in the end he called Goodwin, and talked to him within these limits. He kept to his part of the conspiracy, he made what case he could. He pleaded, he waited.
And Paul Goodwin came to Portofino again. He came as if on wings afire, full of seething rage and unrequited fury. He came in love, to love once again.
Goodwin rented a small apartment above Vico's family's ristorante; they moved her and the two children there in the dead of night. Goodwin and Vico found a couple of tough guys to tell Dino if he came around or touched Maria Theresa again his body would never be found. The message was delivered with quite a bit more force than asked for, and Dino Morretti faded from the scene for a couple of years. Maria Theresa began to mend, at least in body. Goodwin had saved her; she always knew he would. Her sense of destiny was so sure-footed; hadn't he always followed her through the rocks?
But Vico saw over the coming weeks and months that something inside her soul would never mend, and that something was her unrequited love for Paul. Goodwin did not remain in Portofino, he remained true to his former self. He was never around for more than a day at a time, he followed the dictates of his schedule; he always flew home to New York, to his family. And when those days of his various returns came more infrequently, Maria Theresa simply lived all the more for them; it was as if she stopped breathing between his visits, and came to life again when he returned to her. Paul brought toys from America for the children, he took her to Rome and Florence more than once, and finally one summer day in July of 1969 they went to Venice. They made love in a little hotel above a canal as they always hoped they might.
There's was a passions borne of other-worldly need, simple, pure, with no guilt possible because the reason of their union would always be beyond the laws of man. All the mystery came back in the newfound lust, but there was something missing . . .
One afternoon he talked of leaving his wife, of bringing Maria to America, and while he talked she saw the naked futility of his plans. She could never leave the Port of the Dolphins, and his first best destiny remained there with her as well. If only he could see this simple truth...
He would not hear of it, however. He could never leave America, his life was his work. While Goodwin considered their past an un-reconciled debt, he never considered what he asked of her unfair because he could not see the vital connection of Maria Theresa to the sea, to the music. He simply could not believe that asking her to leave the village was relevant; she would have her children, and him, together united to make a better life. She did not feel this true to the destiny she felt in her soul, and grew bitter with what she considered his indolent selfishness. When they returned to Portofino she told him to leave her, to go live his life -- such as it was -- in America. She would move on, she told him, and he should do the same.
Utterly defeated and alone, Goodwin left. He never returned. He saw his son move off to college, then medical school, and he resolved to stay by his wife's side.
Nine months after their trip to Venice, Antonio Thomasi Morretti came into the world, a few months after Dino Morretti returned to the forgiving arms of his wife.
If Paulo and Toni Morretti never knew their real father, Margherita most certainly did know hers. After his return a beaten man, before Toni came into the world, he was true to his word and never once raised a hand to Maria Theresa. He simply turned his insidious, tortured soul's demented attentions on his daughter.
He never lifted a hand to hurt her; he didn't need to. He knew which words cut the deepest and he used them frequently. Margherita learned to bleed in painless agony. When Maria Theresa made a new dress for her, she knew she could count on her father to belittle her appearance. When she brought home good reports from school, she knew he would undermine her confidence in other ways, tell her how stupid she really was, how meaningless education was for a girl. It was predictable, she knew what was coming, always, but she never knew why. She never understood why he hated her, and why, through it all, she continued to love him. It wasn't fair.
And yet there was something deeper amiss; she had faint memories of another man in the depths of memory, a man who had helped her mother, who stood by her for a time, and she asked her father about this one morning. He surprised her, too. He didn't try to humiliate her, he didn't belittle her question.
No. The veneer shattered, walls fell. He broke down and cried until only salt fell from his eyes. And in her surprise she went to him, she held onto this man who was her father, and while she didn't understand why, she felt his pain. She felt vultures' wings of betrayal beating the air everywhere around her, the concussive ripples flowing through her own heart like dizzying waves of recrimination. But now, with her arms around her father, with his scratchy fisherman's beard resting on her head, she held him and told him that she loved him, and the beaten man crumbled into salt-laden dust before her eyes.
In the weeks that followed, the little man was reborn. He finally found love in his heart, and that was the last place the man had expected to find it. He could not do enough for his daughter, no dress was too good for her, he took her everywhere -- fishing, and to the market to sell their catch; those were their favorite days -- and in time little Paulo came to know some small measure of this love, though within the tortured limits of his 'father's' newfound abilities. As such, time held the Morretti family in tender hands, for they were all fragile, wounded creatures. In this tender, wounded hold, time passed as a bloody carcass dragged along a rock-strewn road in a tired beast's mouth. What foul beast indeed . . .
Toni, as he grew older, never went near the man; boundaries borne of instinct were as solid as any stone wall in this youngest boy, and he remained by his mother's side whenever Dino Morretti came home. He watched his mother and he learned one simple truth: that man was not to be trusted. Before he was five years old he hated Dino Morretti, and his feelings never changed over the years. Not even after he pulled his drowning sister from the sea.
Once, when his voice had started to change, he asked his mother a simple question --"Is he my father?" -- and Toni never once forgot the look in her eyes. Warm, sympathetic, and yet full of sorrows he knew he would never understand: "Of course he isn't. How could he be?"
He looked at her in a new, very different way after that one solitary moment in time. In one shattered instant he understood everything. He understood that she had learned the nature of Morretti and turned away from all his hate and fear. Turned away, he knew, to something he didn't know but could faintly understand.
There were, he found, limits to what she would tell him. Her conspiracy remained intact.
But . . . her words haunted him.
"How could he be?" He always heard those words when he saw Dino and the irony humbled him, filled him with cloudy incomprehensions. He, Toni, was not of that man, she was saying, he was not of Dino's violence and ignorance, not of his blind shame and simpering rectitude. He, Toni, was Different. Better than Dino Morretti.
But -- who was he of? He came to define his life in terms of what was missing from his life, and so he grew up incomplete, searching.
And yet, he understood the one vital piece of the puzzle. Dino was not his father. The other piece, that most important piece still, remained an unknown, a song un-played in the night. He drifted between wanting to know, and of being afraid of knowing. It was a sour split that left bitter wounds and, in time, many sleepless nights.
One night Dino attacked his mother, not with fists but with words, and Toni picked up a kitchen chair and broke it over the man's back. Paulo came and pulled them apart, and this became the pattern that would define their childhood. Paulo took Dino's edicts as accepted wisdom and never questioned them; Dino was -- after all -- Paulo's father. Wasn't he?
Surely that was why his brother always took his 'father's' side.
Yet soon Toni could see the truth behind this lie, it was spread out in front of him like an old wound that refused to heal. The old fisherman embraced Margherita as his own, so obviously, in the young boy's mind, she could be nothing else. But there was a distance between Paulo that was never bridged, no matter how many times his older brother stuck up for the old man. It was a pattern. Toni became an unwitting party to the conspiracy, and the split within deepened.
He could see it now, he knew it was so in his soul, but Paulo either could not or would not see anything beyond what he wanted to see. He clung to this 'father' despite the man's familial agnosticism, he rejected his mother's tenacious love because he sensed only the lie, not the substance of the conspiracy. Paulo wanted to believe Dino was his father, he had to believe in his construct of 'father', because for him there was nothing else beyond his paternal identity. He was Paulo Morretti.
The very opposite was true for Toni. Truth was truth, no matter the pain, and his mother was truth. And in the end as he knew it would, Toni could not countenance deceit when they were forced to choose sides. Paulo chose to keep faith with his 'father'. For Toni, there was no choice.
Paulo was a fool. A blind fool, Toni knew, but a fool nonetheless. There was no truth in the boy's choice, only desperation. There wasn't love, only fear.
In time, the only desperation Toni felt was when he looked at Margherita and Dino Morretti when they were together. He wanted what she had. He wanted his belonging to be complete.
Then something happened. Something terrible, yet something miraculous.
One evening Maria Theresa walked to the cape, and Toni followed her.
He saw her dance to the music of the night.
End Part X