tagRomancePassegiatta Pt. 14

Passegiatta Pt. 14

byAdrian Leverkuhn©

©2008 ©Adrian Leverkuhn

Part XIV

(excerpt from Malcolm Doncaster's journal)

Aboard Diogenes, Portofino Harbor

Christmas Eve


I have often felt that without some meaningful context, the symbols that define the most important passages of our lives -- indeed, the most vital passages -- are rendered incomprehensible without the addition of meaningful context. So it has been with all I have studied the past four decades, and as such, this contextual rendering of life is what I have come to know. This worldview has been fixed in my mind, and I find it inconceivable to consider any reduction, and not just (perhaps) because I find it uncomfortable to do so. No, rather I think it has always been fixed in my mind because the facts of our existence have always seemed to point to this conclusion. Symbols take on significance, therefore, only in terms of time and place. The power a symbol manifests may accrue and pass down through the ages, true enough, but without its original rendering in our midst, symbols too often devolve into merest art. The crucifix without an understanding of Rome and the teachings of a Jewish carpenter would become little more than a passing curiosity; the swastika, without an understanding of Hitler's impact on Germany and Europe, would remain a footnote in studies of comparative Eurasian religions.

I point this out to whoever might take the time to muddle through these ramblings simply to make one point before venturing onward: what has happened in and around Portofino the past seven weeks is, to me at least, without intellectual precedent. Much of what has occurred did so in terms I would hazard to say did so on a purely symbolic level, and as such I can offer no reasonable context to frame these events. So, given what I have said above, it would seem fair to conclude that -- on a symbolic level -- much if not all of what has transpired can only be rendered in unambiguous shades of the incomprehensible.

Sorry, but there you have it.

As I relayed in my entry re: 14 December, we (this being Paul Goodwin and myself) rented a beastly Fiat and brought Paul's son Tom back to Portofino and to the yacht 'Springer'. After several weeks hospitalization, and with scant improvement or progress noted by medical staff in Genoa, Tom decided to return to his vessel. No one has said as much, but all of us have considered, at least privately, that he has done so in order to pass in comfortable surroundings. Tom is indeed now a very ill man, and his father has been much preoccupied with this unfolding tragedy.

Our poor Elsie remains unashamedly attached to Tom, and unnaturally so, I might add. She will scarcely leave his side now, and remains below with him constantly. Like Tom, she barely eats and comes ashore but once or twice a day. Needless to say Mary Ann has been completely knocked for a loop by this development.

Both the Goodwins, however, manage to get out for Passeggiata most afternoons, and yet, as far as I know, there has yet to be a meeting between Paul and Maria Theresa Morretti. There seems to be some force holding them apart. They are like two magnets. The closer they come to one another the more some invisible force causes them to repel one another. Only Vico seems to hold the faintest lines of communication open between them, and of course this remains an unknown to me.

Anyway, about these strolls. We managed to get a wheelchair for Tom a few days ago, as he's struggled the past two evenings to finish a walk around even the piazzeta, and as he seems unwilling to concede this simple ritual we will help him as best we can. He's a fighter; at least I know that much is true. There seems to be little else I can be sure of these days. All of our lives seem to have become bound-up in this developing mystery. I can fathom no purpose. Yet.

And poor Margherita! Though she has yet to show, she is desperately pregnant and violently ill most mornings. I do not know her history, but still waters run deep. There is a story to be told, I am sure, so no doubt Mary Ann will attach herself to the poor girl. Poor Tom seems beside himself with grief for this child it seems he'll never know.

Ah, wretched love! We hurry through life, buffeted constantly by misfortune and exhilaration, the known and the unknowable, but it seems we are always caught off guard by love. In our confusion our hearts are blown wide open, and yet it is within this tormented wreckage we find love. Love commands us, love guides us, and in the end, I suspect, it is love that consumes us.

So. Tonight our dear Ludvico has invited us all the ristorante. For, one supposes, Christmas Eve and all that humbug, yet Tom has insisted on going. My God! I think back just a few weeks and I see a man so much larger than life. Today he is withered and weak, his skin mottled yellow from damage to his liver done by the deadly barrage of antibiotics he has endured. And I have watched Paul and Margherita wither by his side as the inevitable comes stealing through this wilting twilight. Death seems to be lurking in the shadows even now, and this beautiful harbor seems aware of the coming darkness.

I long for the lingering warmth of October, before all this madness came for us on winter-borne wings.

___________________________________

It was dark when Paul Goodwin began pushing his son across the piazzeta; the cold stones were black and wet from a light rain, a dazzle of holiday lights sprinkled the luminous stone with jeweled light. And yet, the air was faintly still; the harbor an inky reflection of the brooding sky. A star could just be seen peeking between retreating clouds beyond the hills to the east, and Goodwin knew the night would soon grow cold.

"Not exactly how I pictured Christmas on the Riviera," the father said to his son.

"Would you stop here please, Dad? I want to look at the water for a moment." Paul turned the chair toward the harbor, to the gulf beyond the cape, and Tom closed his eyes and took a deep breath, imagined he was free once again, sailing, slipping through sun-drenched waves on his way to wherever his heart felt like taking him. He wanted to find a cloud and chase its shadow across the sea, turn and listen to hopeful gulls trailing in his wake, feel the sun on his neck and the cares of this life peeling away like brittle paint. But above all else, he wanted to hold the life growing in Margherita's womb, he wanted to hold this life in his hands and know, really know, that he would leave something of himself to this world.

He opened his moist eyes and looked out over the water at distant lights and receding dreams.

"So much to do," he said. "So much time wasted."

"Yes," his father said.

Tom looked at the cape, at the rocks, and he wondered where They were. Were They out there even now -- waiting? He looked at the water, into the blackness, and beyond -- into the hall of mirrors that was his life -- and he found himself alone on a sunless sea, drifting, waiting. The solitary star shone down on him, fleeting photons tickled his mind's eye, and he found himself thinking of another shining star, on another "Christmas Eve". He shivered once as the thought rolled past like distant thunder even as he felt the chair turn again and rumble on across the piazzeta, and he pulled himself back from the edge.

He opened his eyes and looked up. Margherita was waiting by the door, and he could see Paulo and Toni walking along slowly, a stooped woman by their side.

"Oh God, no," he heard his father say. "No, not tonight."

"Dad?"

"Yeah, Tom?"

"I love you, Dad." He heard his father take in a deep breath, heard him clearing his throat, then:

"And I've always loved you, Son. Always."

"Lean on me tonight, Dad. Whatever it is, we'll get through it."

"Yeah? Think so? I'm not so sure . . . what this night has in store for us."

"It doesn't matter, Dad. Come on, they're waiting for us."

They came in from the cold and the darkness, came into the glowing warmth of this other world. Within this honeyed labyrinth of friends and family, deep inside this most special night of birth, this night was to be a coming together.

But it was not lost on Tom Goodwin that they had all come to celebrate a death, as well.

_______________________________

'Is it time?'

'The moon is not ready. We must wait.'

'I can wait no longer.'

'You will wait.'

'Yes. I will wait. But I am ready.'

'They are not ready. He is not ready. Patience.'

'I will wait.'

'Yes. Watch the rocks grow. Listen to the stars. You have waited this long.'

______________________________

The ristorante was not quite empty; a few tourists sat by windows looking out over the harbor, but they were well away from the table Vico had prepared for the group. He had even put up a few holiday decorations, nothing ostentatious and in keeping with the rather upscale atmosphere of his place, and Handel played at a discrete level up among the exposed beams overhead. Smoke from a wood fire lightly perfumed the air, garlands of pine and chestnut left trace enough to stir even the most hardened memory.

Paul sat between Tom and Maria Theresa at the round table; he sat in resolute silence, looked down at his hands constantly, oddly enough, thinking about an ancient woman on a bus three weeks ago. Margherita sat next to Tom, while Paulo and Toni lounged across the table; the two 'boys' were speaking with Trudi Blixen in hushed, conspiratorial whispers. Paul looked at Trudi and gasped; she was a younger version of the woman on the bus! He fought to contain the implications of her presence here.

Malcolm and Mary Ann drifted in, as was their custom, about ten minutes late; Mary Ann had Elsie in tow on a soft leather leash and she led the pup over to Tom's chair and looped tether to frame. Malcolm sat next to Tom and Mary Ann took the chair next to Trudi; Vico sat next to Maria Theresa. Wine came, then a Christmas soup.

"Tom, you will be delighted to know, there is not one octopus hidden anywhere in this soup." Vico smiled as he looked across time and space at the emaciated physician, he smiled to hide the sorrow he felt when he beheld this man now so reduced. "But alas, I give you fair warning, the salad may be less tame."

"Octopus?" Paul said, making a face. "Really?"

"Not you, too?" Malcolm chimed in. "I hope I'm not the only one around here who likes octopi." He looked at Paul and Tom; they both shook there heads and frowned. Their resemblance to one another was complete. "Oh well, like father, like son."

Maria Theresa looked at her two boys; Paulo seemed blissfully unaware of the implications beating the air, Toni was on the razor's edge -- waiting to bleed. She wondered how long he would last, and what he would do with the truth.

"So old friend," Maria said, "what soup have you made for us tonight?"

Vico looked at Maria, took her hand and kissed it. "Do you remember the bisque you once taught me? The lobster, with saffron and basil -- just a trace of sherry? I have not made it in years, and yet I thought tonight it time."

Maria squeezed his hand and smiled. Everyone leaned in and sampled the bisque.

"Wow! That's damn fine soup, Vico," Paul said. "Damn fine."

Tom smiled and looked at his father -- so intent was the old man ignoring Maria it was becoming almost comical -- then he looked to Maria. It was so hard sometimes to have held a persons beating heart in his hands -- and then to see them again in another context. "Ma'am, as your cardiologist, I can't recommend this stuff, so why not just hand it over to me. I'll be happy to finish it for you!"

"Perhaps tonight you will indulge me, Thomas."

Tom smiled, and he felt happy to have helped in her time of need, but Toni froze when he heard Tom's full name, and the razor slipped through the air -- again. Vico watched Tomasino carefully, ready to move, but the boy remained tentative, drawn-up on the balancing act that held them all this night.

They ate in silence -- each lost in thought. Vico was comfortable as the Ringmaster in this, Paul Goodwin's circus -- or was it Tom's? -- and above all else he wanted this last evening to go smoothly.

But Elsie could take it no longer; she sat up and looked wistfully at Tom until he felt her eyes seeking his. He looked at her and smiled back, took his spoon and found a piece of lobster and gave it to her; Vico looked discreetly pained. Elsie sighed in frustration, yet resumed her place curled up on Tom's feet. All was as it should be, the pup thought. Almost. She looked out the window, and to the water beyond.

Were they coming?

Would they come?

"Mama?"

Vico looked at Toni and bit his lip.

"Yes, Toni?" She looked across the table at her youngest son and smiled inside. "What is troubling you?"

"Is Paul Goodwin my father? Is Tom my brother?"

Silence enveloped the table, even the candles in their glasses seemed to hesitate in breathlessness.

"Yes. Of course."

"What!?" Paul and Paulo cried in one gasped breath. Paulo pushed back from the table, seemed to hover over plains of indecision like a vast and gathering storm, then he reached out and steadied himself on the table.

"Are you telling me," Paul Goodwin said while he looked at Toni, "that that boy is my son?"

"Oh yes, Paul," Maria Theresa replied. "They are both your sons."

The words slammed into Paulo and he reeled under the blow; his breathing became thin and raspy-quick, he looked up at those around the table and saw they were floating incorporeally at the end of a long, dark tunnel. The man in the wheelchair -- what was his name? -- was looking at him closely, studying him. Why?

Paulo turned and looked at his brother; the boy's head had fallen and his body shook as gales of grief-borne tears ravaged his soul. Doubt swirled through the air as if this gathering had become a séance, and Paulo was struck with the feeling that this was only right -- as all the dreams and memories of his childhood had just been murdered. He stood and walked from the table and out into the night.

Vico followed him.

Toni turned and saw his brother leaving, then looked at Paul and Tom. "I knew it was you. I knew it."

Tom Goodwin pushed his wheelchair back from the table and patted his leg; Elsie jumped up on his legs and curled up protectively; she looked around the table as if assessing the threat to her charge.

"Toni?" Margherita said quietly, "Why do you say that? What made you think that?"

He looked at his mother, at the pure love in her eyes, then at his sister. "Because he knew, Margherita. Dino knew, and he hated us. He hated us, me and Paulo, and he hated Mama. And every time I looked at him I knew he was of no relation to me. I could feel it in my bones, in my heart. All my life I have wanted to know. Tonight I know, and now I am sad."

"Sad?" Tom Goodwin said.

"Yes, Tom. I am sad. I am sad because I do not know you now, tonight, and because I never had the chance to. Because I did not know my father, I did not know his love. I am sad because all that time has passed us by, it was wasted, and we can never get it back."

While the boys words swirled around the room Maria Theresa reached under the table and took Paul's hand in her own; in that moment she felt him crossing through time for her, she felt the strength of his soul gathering in the night. She saw his back straighten, his brow furrow, his lips grow firm with resolve. He squeezed her hand once more, then stood.

"Come on, Toni; let's go find Paulo." He walked around the table and stood beside his youngest son and waited; the boy stood and looked into the eyes of this man who might have been his father, he looked with uncertainty in his eyes, then the two of them walked from the ristorante.

Margherita turned to look at her mother. Tom looked at her with concern.

"How did this happen, Mama? What have you done?"

"I suspect these things happened for the simplest of reasons," Trudi Blixen said. "I suspect your mother was in love."

"But she was married!" Paulo cried.

Trudi shrugged. "Marriage so often has little to do with love, child. Love comes and the heart follows, and true love never fades. Love is not bound by time or circumstance. Surely you know this much of life." She looked at Paulo with ancient wisdom smoldering in her eyes.

"I only know my father died a broken man!" Paulo spoke quietly now. He saw something in the woman's eyes that gave him pause, and he backed away from the abyss.

Maria Theresa turned from Paulo back to her daughter, nothing left but simple honestly on her face. "Your father was a broken man long before we met, Margherita, long before he became your father. After Paul left, I chose to isolate myself from this world; then, when I found this had taken me away from life, I wanted to fix the world. Of course I could not, but then I met your father, soon after he quit and ran from law school, and then I wanted to fix that one, poor broken man, but I could not do even that. When someone is broken -- as that man was broken -- when choice has sundered happiness from life, people must find it within themselves to make right what is wrong. This your father could not do because, I suspect, he chose never to live his life on his own terms. His life was always defined by others, and he could not see his way clear of the scorn that followed. He turned inward, turned in on himself and his choices ate away at his soul until only darkness remained. You of all people should know this, Margherita. In the end, he could not love -- he could not love even you."

Mother and daughter looked at one another through a dead man's lingering, gloaming silence; each was afraid to walk in the shadow of that darkness -- yet they had almost all their lives. They both remained scared of the stain his passing had left on their soul. They could choose now to continue on his path, they could set out to destroy one another, or they could resolve to choose a different path. That much was in the air around them, and . . .

Elsie ignored this exchange. She was focused on Tom. She felt his breathing grow shallow, his skin pale and cool, and she watched his eyes carefully now. They seemed unfocused, diffuse, full of drifting mists.

She knew his passage was coming -- she had seen it so many times before -- but there was so much to do now. She sat up and licked Tom's face.

"Tom?" Margherita said when she saw the pup. "Tom?"

He lifted his eyes and looked at Elsie, then turned toward the voice. "Hm-m . . ."

"Tom, are you alright?"

"Yep. I don't think I should have any more wine, though. I feel -- tired."

"Have some water, Tom." She looked at him closely; his face was red and perspiration ran down his face.

"Where's Dad? Did he come back yet?"

Margherita put her hand on his forehead -- he was burning with fever again -- just as Paul and Vico came in the front door. Paul came over to the wheelchair and knelt beside his son.

"Tommy?"

"Dad. Need to go to the rocks now. Got to get to the water." Trudi looked at him closely, her eyes full of hope . . . and sadness.

"What? Why?"

"Have to get in the water. Now."

Margherita stood and got behind the chair; she began to move it but Paul stopped her.

"What are you doing?" he said.

"He . . . we must take him!"

"Do not interfere!" Blixen said softly, and Goodwin turned to her.

"Are you out of your cotton-picking mind? It's thirty degrees out there. There's gonna be ice on the rocks before too long, and the water out there can't be much warmer."

"Dad. Let's go."

The father looked at the son, then at the Danish woman. There was purpose between them -- unknown -- unknowable -- purpose gathering in the air -- waiting for release.

Margherita began pushing the wheelchair and Paul turned to get the door.

__________________________________

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