Passegiatta Pt. 11byAdrian Leverkuhn©
He was thirteen years old and very skinny; neighbors thought he was prone to anger and was, more often than not, just a little depressed. Toni Morretti hated the man people called his father as much as he revered his mother, and he was angry. He was depressed. And the only thing he longed for more than his mother's love was to find the knowing smile on his true father's face. He wanted to know the story of his origins, the real story, the true story -- not the fictions repeated at Christmas and on birthdays -- and he grew increasingly obsessed with the fiction that had entombed him for so many years. The older he grew the farther away truth seemed to slip, the more uncomfortable became the fiction his past was cloaked within. These clinging fictions were suffocating him, burying him under the weight of false illusions he had had no role in creating. He looked at the relationship his sister Margherita had with Dino Morretti and balanced that against the idle foolishness his brother Paulo held for the same man, and inside dark moonlit nights deep in his bedroom he performed a simple ritual calculus, forever coming to the same answer:
He needed to know his father, and his mother refused to tell him anything of the man.
What was so bad about the man? What was so bad as to warrant this deception?
Over the last year his sister Margherita had fallen in love with a musician from Avignon, Frnce. The boy, Marc Durufle, had performed with a something less than energetic rock band the previous summer at an arts festival and had taken to the simple beauty of the village; he stayed after he found a job in the fall teaching music at the local school, and there he met Margherita. This was her last year attending the village school, and she planned to go to university in Genoa the next year. She seemed possessed of a boundless intelligence, yet her mother feared the girl was troubled by the same restless grip of wanderlust that had plagued her father when he started law school. She was afraid she would only try to destroy herself along false paths to easy heights.
Soon claiming to be in love with Durufle, the eighteen year old girl fast passed restlessness and fell into the easy grip of full blown rebellion. Perhaps fomented as a means of escaping the grip of life in a small village, or perhaps simply to hurl retribution in her mother's face for the harm she had done Dino Morretti over the years, Margherita flaunted her relationship with the young musician in every face she came upon. Dino smiled, and while not unaware of the ironies his daughter's sordid affair presented, when he saw the distress Margherita caused his wife he could only encourage the relationship to deepen. As mother and daughter drifted deeper into conflict he sat back and watched everything around his home fall apart, and he smiled ever more deeply as wounds so lightly veiled by the tattered fabric of lies began to come apart in their family's vernal gales. Perhaps as the man always had, his self-destructive impulses held sway over this great unraveling, and when it was finished only his bitter smile remained. Margherita and the musician fled to Florence for a 'reunion tour', and as a result she never went to university. Dino Morretti's vicious little circles began to draw to their logical conclusion when Maria Theresa fell into the bottomless despondence of this loss.
Toni Morretti watched the man closely during this time; he saw the pettiness and vindictiveness in the man as these events consumed his mother. Worse still, all the man's vacuous self-absorbed anger for Maria Theresa billowed forth and released in venal fury, and all in the apparent purpose of destroying the one good thing he had created with his life. He was consumed with destroying his own flesh and blood. The man so obviously hated himself he could see no other end to his ruined life.
Toni became aware of the concept of destiny during this time, and while he began to feel sorry for the man, this only caused him to think more about what his own might be. He knew, somehow, that his destiny was bound completely to his real father's. But how?
Watching this tragedy unfold filled-in one vital part of Toni's equation, the why of things. Why his mother had once turned away from the man. But why had she taken him back, only to betray the man again and again? Had his mother simply always hated Dino Morretti, or were there even greater betrayals lurking in the shadows?
Toni began to wonder: just who had betrayed who? The why of things slowly faded from his thoughts.
A few weeks after Margherita left with Durufle, Dino Morretti moved out of the little apartment Paul Goodwin had rented for Maria Theresa. So complete was the little man's triumph, he even kissed her goodbye.
After Margherita's stormy departure Toni stayed close to his mother. She was at a complete loss now, her eyes full of anger and helpless to control events spiraling out of control. She began to sit by the window in her apartment and look out at the sea beyond the cape for hours on end, and Toni began to understand that she was not simply looking into emptiness; she was, rather, waiting for somebody, waiting for -- it seemed -- a sign. He saw latent purpose in her eyes as she watched the sea, and in time he saw unrequited longing drifting away in the hours of her mind.
She began to take her Passeggiata in the evening once again, but now always alone, and always by walking slowly across the piazzeta as if lost in thought. As she walked, as the sun set all around her, she invariably made her solitary way slowly along the quay and on to the cape beyond. She resumed these walks by herself, she said, she wanted no company, she said, to be alone with her thoughts, and for a while Toni relented and did not follow; he contented himself with watching her walk from the window above the harbor, his heart full of worried concern and looming curiosity.
Toni began to think these walks were a form of penance, her solitude the only company she could bear. But there was something more to it that eluded him. Everything about there life had come undone, and in this unforeseen turbulence nothing was as it seemed.
Paulo would begin to cook their dinner when his mother left the apartment, this time when Maria Theresa left on her stroll, and as such he naturally assumed a role Dino never could have. Paulo tried to establish a sense of order in the house because, he said to himself, Toni and his mother needed it. Toni, of course, knew better. Toni knew that Paulo needed this sense of continuity, if only because he missed having Dino still about. There was comfort in order, Toni saw, but no truth to be found in those harsh shadows.
In time, Maria Theresa's walks grew longer and Toni began to worry about her wanderings, for he simply had no idea of all the tortured trails his mother had walked in the night through the hills around the village. He did not know the toughness of the woman inside, of the Germans she had summarily dealt with, of the memories that even now stalked her in the night. He saw only wounded despair on her face, the emptiness of Margherita's flight and the lingering echoes of Dino's expulsion; as such, he only saw the empty nature of her longing as it remained now -- as an untold myth -- a tale that remained as unswept dust on the floor. He had no idea of the things that had been taken from his mother during the war, and the things she had turned her back on in the turbulent years since. Her conspiracy had protected him most thoroughly, and like dust, was always underfoot, silent and unannounced.
One summer night when the July moon was full, she had not come back by dinner and Toni grew worried; as the evening passed into night a sense of foreboding filled the little apartment. Soon he was unable to tolerate his mounting anxiety and he left Paulo cooking in the kitchen and ran out onto the crowded piazzeta. He looked around helplessly at the noisily milling crowds, then ran across the old stone plaza and along the quay and on into the deepening shadows that defined the way out to the cape.
The air felt strange once he was in shadow, strange, almost electric, like the night was eager to return to this landscape and claim a prize long held from its grasp. Toni walked slowly as he drew near the cape, he slowed not because his concern had withered; rather he felt dark force gathering in the air beside him as he walked. He felt like he was being watched, and the hair on the back of his neck danced in the suddenly close air and stood on end. He could just see moonlight dancing on the waves through the trees ahead, hear water weaving through rocks and a retreating wind snaking through the lush summer leaves overhead, and soon, above all else he felt the looming energy coiling in the air all around this place. He left the trees and came out into the moonlight and stumbled to a stop.
He saw his mother's clothes piled on a rock and his mind filled with dread pictures of tormented ends. He looked as best he could, looked on the rocks and down to the sea, but even then he could not see her, so blind was his need. His heart was consumed with certain knowledge; she had come here to kill herself in the sea tonight, and he could feel in the air that this was not the first time she had come to this place to do so. Death had been stalking his mother and he did not understand why.
He hurried a way toward the sea then stopped again.
There she was. There, in the sea.
He stood in open-mouthed shock as he watched his mother's luminously naked skin glowing in the sea. Her arms were outstretched, floating on the surface, her silver hair coiled on the surface and drifting in lazy arcs. All was just in silence; only the barest eddies came in from the sea to kiss the shore, and these did so hesitantly -- as if they did not want to disturb what was about to unfold.
He saw the fin slicing through the water and he wanted to shout a warning but something gripped his throat and held him in silence. The form slid through the water and came to his mother with ferocious intent -- or so it seemed to the boy -- and it drew round her as if readying for the feast. Then the form resolved into shapes benign and soothing and he relaxed; he saw the black eye from where he stood on the rocks, he saw the dolphin rest on its side by his mother. They looked at one another, the woman and the creature, and they held a trust the boy had never seen before. He saw the dolphin rest its nose on her shoulder, saw her arms take hold of the creature and he heard her cry into the night. It was a sound he had never heard before, and it shattered his soul.
He listened to the sounds of her pain and they withered the flesh of this night with green fire. Her wails came as putrid agony to the chaste, waiting night, they came as rotted dreams oozing from the wounds of her private Hell. The boy beheld all this, and began to cry.
She held the animal and became as crystal; she shimmered and wavered in the moonlight as all the agony of broken dreams came for her in the water, came to collect a debt long due, and the animal took her pain and held it to the moon.
And Toni could hear the meaning of this union as his mother's cries filled the night.
'Destiny is not your enemy,' he heard the wind and the water say. 'You can not fight her. And you must not turn away from her. You must find her, and never let go again. You must find her even if it kills you. There are limits to what we may do . . . '
Toni looked down at his mother in the sea and he began to see how her life had unraveled. He could now as well feel his father in the air and in the water, and somehow it was all bound up in the creature by her side. He could see now that she had not come here seeking death. Rather, and of this he was quite sure, she had come seeking a renewed affirmation of life. The creature by her side in the water was her link to the very essence of life, a silent gray sentinel who had come to guard her dreams and guide her destiny. And as queer as the scene was, to young Toni everything made perfect sense.
He slipped from the rocks and made his way back into the village.
He never told his mother what he had seen, what he had watched. And what he had come to know about her truth.
And Toni never saw the other eyes watching him. Eyes both in the sea, and on the wind. He never saw the old mans eyes watching from behind dark trees, and the smile on the man's face as he watched the young boy walk back into his life.
The old man smiled at the water, and the water smiled back at him.
End Part XI of XIV.