Passegiatta Pt. 02byAdrian Leverkuhn©
©2008 by ©Adrian Leverkuhn
They walked from the piazzetta along the Molo Umberto, listened to the water and the wind in the trees, to footsteps on old stones, to each other. An occasional from passersby, a tug on a shawl as cool air washed away the remaining warmth of the day, a pause to turn and look at the lights of the village dancing on the starlight-dappled water. So much life dancing in the night.
Mary Ann led the group, or perhaps it was Elsie, along the quay toward the winding road that stretched out to the cape, out to fresh horizons and calls of wild grass. Elsie scented her way with nose to the ground and as one they followed, following old roads to new understanding, perhaps, because there was wildness alive in the air. Elsie stopped from time to time, caught the scent of something wild and interesting on a wayward breeze, then as suddenly, as if heeding distant calls, she led them on into the tree-canopied night.
There was, Elsie knew, something very unusual already about in the night. Wild dancing spirits wove furies on unseen breezes, as if Walpurgisnacht filled the darkness around the group with Dionysian promise.
But to what purpose? This was beyond Elsie. She could not guess, but it was close. Yes, it was purpose that drifted by an seaborne breezes.
Margherita walked beside her mother, their estrangement passing into the deepest reaches of memory with each step they took away from their home; Tom Goodwin walked beside Margherita, looked at her from time to time when she asked a question, hoping she would look at him, speak to him with her own voice, but he listened to her mother's questions and answered them as best he could . . .
"Were you happy in New York . . ."
"Did you enjoy medicine . . ."
"Why did you choose to leave . . ."
All these questions he had avoided asking himself for quite some time, yet now he answered them without hesitation; the where of her questions, the who and the how all came so easily . . . yet none of the old woman's questions seemed to get to the point, the point Mary Ann had shown him earlier that afternoon.
"Perhaps it was just foolish to think you needed to run." Isn't that what she had said?
Indeed. Why had he run? Did reasons matter anymore, now that that other world was so far away? And if that world was now in abeyance, then what exactly did hold relevance in the rapidly evolving kaleidoscope of this new life?
Perhaps it was just the woman's sense of propriety, but there was a boundary in this night, a sense of the finite defining the contours of passage, of just how far she was prepared to go to get at his truth -- and, it seemed, no further.
And without truth, there is nothing. He heard that in her voice, too.
They came to a large tree, it's overhanging branches reaching out over the sea, and the road looked to make a hard turn to the left. But the way was dark down that road.
The old woman peered into the darkness and pulled her shawl close; this was a boundary she was unprepared to cross in this night.
"Toni, take me home now. I grow tired." She saw shadows crossing in the air . . .
"Mama, sit down, here, on the bench."
"No, Toni. I want to go home now." Shadows gathering, waiting . . .
"Paulo, you keep your sister company. Now go on, or you will never catch up to that dog!" She turned and her youngest son took her arm and walked with her back toward the village.
Paulo shrugged. "She used to be able to go further."
"She has aged so much, Paulo," Margherita said. "I felt frightened when I saw her. Frightened that time passes too quickly for her now."
Goodwin listened politely to this exchange -- in Italian, of course -- as if he could understand every word, and indeed he could guess at the contours by the way their words ebbed and flowed. Remorse, regret, the passing of time, the coming of night . . . these are the great universals of life, and they sound, don't they, the same in every language.
"Has she been seen be a cardiologist?" Goodwin interrupted.
"What?" Paulo Morretti said.
"Has she seen a cardiologist, a heart specialist?"
"Not that I know of," Paulo said.
"What do you see, Doctor, that makes you ask this question?" Margherita asked. She was looking at him directly now, and he turned to look at her in kind.
"Her lips were turning blue, and her fingernails. And her ankles are swollen."
"But this is what it means to grow old," Paulo interjected.
"Shut up, Paulo. You were saying, Doctor Goodwin?"
"Well, it's probably congestive heart failure, right side, but it could be mitral stenosis. That could be fixed, easily. How's her memory?"
"Poor," Paulo said, listening attentively now.
"Has she been tested for Alzheimers?"
"No, at least I don't think so."
"Had an ultrasound of her neck?"
"What is this, this ultrasound?" Paulo asked.
"Check her carotid arteries, in her neck. If there is blockage in these vessels, that could hurt her mental ability, and this, too, could be repaired."
"But she is eighty five years old!" Paulo said.
"So?" His sister cut him off. "Would it be hard to find this information? Are there tests?"
"Yes, easy and inexpensive. One visit to a specialist ought to provide the answers."
"Could you go with us?" she asked.
He looked at her, at the concern in her eyes, and he felt their relationship being redefined by his past, redefined in ways he did not like or want. Yet he was aware that his past was growing increasingly irrelevant with each step he took with this woman by his side
'But I am who and what I am,' he said to himself, remembering the look in Mary Ann Doncaster's eyes earlier that afternoon.
'And there are things you can never understand,' he heard an unseen voice saying, 'because you have not the will to do so!' He looked around, unsettled.
"Let's continue walking, shall we?" Paulo said. "That dog will have dragged the Doncasters all the way to Rapallo if we don't move along!"
Margherita still held Goodwin in her eyes, but she turned to walk, turned toward the dancing spirits in the darkness.
Goodwin turned too, but he held her eyes in his. "If you need me, of course I'll come with you."
To Paulo these words meant nothing, but to Margherita -- they shattered her world. She felt weakness overcoming her ability to speak or walk. She was Gretchen to this Faust, lost to the magic of this night as it unfolded around her.
"Thank you, Doctor." She looked ahead but the memory of the look in his eyes dominated her, made her unsteady as she walked. Paulo moved ahead as if without a care in the world, leaving his sister adrift in wandering eddies of hope and confusion.
"Do you live in town?" he asked her after they had walked awhile.
"Yes, not far from the Piazzetta."
"This is an amazing place. It's as though time has somehow stopped here."
"Ah, yes, it is now. Two months ago? You would not say so. Portofino is full of the beautiful people, the very rich, all summer long. It has become pretentious, overwhelming. Too many people trying to impress one another, too many people trying to be anything but what they are."
"Oh? What is that?"
"Pardon? Oh, just an expression. I don't know. Too many pretenders. Too much money. Too little understanding."
"I guess it's just a sign of the times."
"I think this is not a very good time, no?"
Goodwin laughed. "I think that about sums it up. So, do you work in town as well?"
"Yes," then she bit her lip and laughed. "And I saw you go swimming this morning, too!"
"That figures. I'd be surprised if you hadn't."
"Actually, I saw you come in this morning. While I walked to work. Your boat is very nice, almost, I don't know, pretty. Can you call a boat pretty?"
"Yes, I suppose so."
"Anyway, I watched, then as you fell asleep. You looked very tired."
"I still am!"
"Oh, excuse me. Do you want to return?"
"No. No, the air feels wonderful, almost like it is full of something, I don't know, something special." He felt stupid, unable to understand what was happening as they walked.
"So many stars out tonight. Ah, look! The Hunter."
"Oh, Orion? Yes, this is Orion's time in the sky."
"Are you a hunter, Doctor Goodwin?"
He slowed, looked away for a moment. No, he wanted to say, I'm the prey . . . have been all my life.
"Miss Morretti, I suspect, well, I've hunted Death all my life, tried to push Him away from people for as long as possible . . ."
"But Death hunts you, doesn't He, Doctor?
"He hunts of all, Miss . . ."
"You must call me Margherita. Please."
"Alright. I like that name, by the way. It's . . . pretty."
"Ah, yes, I guess I deserve that! So, you hunt Death. Then there is something I don't understand. Why have you stopped? Why did you quit medicine?"
"Oh, I think it's the other way around. Medicine quit me."
"Excuse me? What does that mean? How could something so vital become so corrupt?"
He laughed again. "I don't know, but that's a very good question."
"And . . . is there a very good answer?" Her voice held him . . . soothed him . . .
"When I figure that one out, I'll let you know."
It was her turn to laugh. "Yes. I will look forward to hearing this."
"Are you two going to catch up?" It was Paulo, already lost in the darkness ahead. They could hear Elsie barking in the distance, Mary Ann calling the dog's name. "That dog is almost out to the cape!"
"Go on ahead, Paulo," Margherita called out. "We'll be along."
Goodwin stopped, looked east across the water toward Santa Margherita Ligure and Rapallo; the loom of their lights had settled over the distant hills now as an amber mist. "My God, what a sight." The waters seemed to breathe with magic now.
"Do you know, the worst part of living here is taking all this for granted. When the newness leaves, so too will it's hold on your heart."
"But don't you find some measure of that feeling once again, when you experience newness through the eyes of another?"
"Perhaps I have lived here too long. I traveled from here but one time, a long time ago, and it was not a happy experience."
He watched the darkness fall over her, saw her recede from the present back into the pain she alluded to -- and denied. He started walking again, and she fell in beside him, though she walked a little further away from him now. He bent down and picked up a flat sock and tried to skip it across the water. He laughed when it plopped noisily into the still water, and watched as ripples marched off into the distance.
"I had a boyfriend, you see," she began, out of the blue. "My father liked him, but my mother said he was no good. We ran away. To Fiorenza, eh, Florence. That was the beginning of all my bad times."
"Oh, it is not important now. Papa died, mother refused to see me for years. I came home, found work, and so has it been."
"What happened to the boy?"
She looked away, walked along silently. Then: "Have you been to Florence, Dr Goodwin?"
"Yes, long ago, while I was in college. I went with friends, just one time, however."
"Is it not a most beautiful city?"
"Yes, I would say so. I would love to go back someday."
"What about you? Would you ever return?"
"No, not ever."
This boundary was clear; he felt no need to ask more.
"Mrs Doncaster thinks I should get a dog. To keep me company."
"I find it strange. Yes, strange, that someone would sail alone so far, and for so long. Do you enjoy keeping an animal?"
"I, well yes. I had a Springer Spaniel, like Elsie. She died a year ago."
"Ah. That explains it."
"Explains . . . what?"
"You do not want to dishonor her memory, do you? Take another so soon?"
"I suppose. I don't know how a dog would do on a boat, on such a long crossing. I know of people who have taken cats on such trips. But dogs are another matter. I think it might be cruel."
"Perhaps, then, you should find a woman?"
"Ah, well, perhaps, but I think a dog would be less trouble!"
They laughed. Her cares, he saw, seemed to fall away when she laughed.
"You are right, and most wise! Yes, we are too much trouble to love."
"Oh, I don't know. It's a matter of finding the right person, don't you think?"
"Yes," she said. "No easy matter, to find that person." She looked away again, her head fell.
"And I guess you have to be open to love when it comes." He found he could not look away from her.
"Open, yes. And to follow. Follow with your heart." And she turned to look at him.
There it is, Goodwin told himself, the meaning of this night. Would she listen, could he see, would they follow?
He heard panting and light paws running their way, and soon he could just make out Elsie running towards them through the darkness. She came up to them and circled them, then she sniffed his legs. He bent to rub her and felt she was soaking wet.
"My-my, Elsie, you've been swimming!"
"Oh, Lord!" Margherita exclaimed. "I hope the Doncaster's are not, how do you call it, skinny-dipping again!"
"You've got to be kidding me! Aren't they a little old for that kind of nonsense?"
"Old? Why do say that, Doctor Goodwin? Why would it be any less fun tonight than fifty years ago?" She was smiling, but she was serious too. The resumed walking, the trees gave way to rocks, the sea beyond was still. Soon they could hear people ahead, splashing and laughing in the water.
"Well, for one thing," Goodwin continued, "the water's too damn cold!"
"And if anyone should know, that would be you!" Another laugh, another smile.
"Oh, thanks so very much for reminding me once again!" he said while looking at her dark hair flowing in the night. He could feel himself getting lost in that hair . . .
Elsie ran back when they caught up to Paulo; the Doncasters had rolled up their pants and were wading in a little rockbound tidal pool. Elsie jumped back into the water and Mary Ann yelped when the wall of spray drenched her.
"So how is it?" Goodwin called out. "Still cold?"
"Come on in!" Malcolm replied "Again!"
"No thanks, I'm trying to quit."
"Bah! Paulo? What about you?"
Elsie jumped up on a rock and shook herself off, further drenching the Doncaster's.
"Good girl, Elsie," Goodwin said, "you go get 'em!"
"Eh, no thank you, Dr Doncaster. Once today was enough. Perhaps tomorrow I will feel the need to make a fool of myself."
"You are not a fool, Paulo." Margherita took off her shoes and rolled up her pants and walked from the road down to the little pool and walked in. "It is not so cold! Come, Paulo!"
Goodwin walked down to the water's edge and reached down to feel the temperature. "Bullshit!" he cried, just as Elsie sprung from the rock back into the water. A wall of seawater rose and coated both Goodwin and Margherita; now everyone laughed and cheered, even Paulo, who had escaped most of this drenching.
Goodwin started to unbutton his shirt and Margherita stepped back, watched him cast it aside. He undid his belt and pulled his trousers off and threw those up on the rocks as well, then walked through the pond and up a low wall of rocks. The sea in front of him was deep here, and he dove into the water and came up floating on his back; he paddled around for a moment than looked up at everyone.
Mary Ann Doncaster was buck-naked now, and she came up on the rocks and dove in as well, then swam out to Goodwin.
"See what you've started!" she said. "My, it is a bit brisk out, isn't it?"
"I think I'm going to have wished I'd brought a towel," Goodwin said, then he turned at the sound of a large splash.
"Bravo, Paulo," Margherita shouted, and sure enough Paulo Morretti burst from beneath the waves and paddled over to Goodwin and Mary Ann. He said something quite unintelligible into the night, but Mary Ann laughed, replied to him in Italian and they both laughed.
Malcolm was next. Goodwin watched is the old man's pasty white body emerged from the pool, and laughed expectantly when Malcolm held his nose and hopped into the water like a small boy.
"Bravo!" "Good show!"
"My God in Heaven!" Malcolm shouted when he burst to the surface. "I think my balls just ran somewhere up around my navel! It's bloody cold in here, Mary Ann!" He too paddled out into deeper waters.
Everyone turned to Margherita.
"Well?" Paulo called out.
"Well, what?" she called back.
"You must come in!" her brother replied.
"And you are crazier than even I ever thought!"
Elsie came to the edge and looked at the four of them treading water, then back at Margherita; she barked once then hopped off the rock into the water and swam out to Goodwin. His feet were firmly planted on a slippery rock, his head well above the water's surface, so he was able to hold Elsie when she came alongside. She looked at him and licked his face.
"My God," he heard Malcolm say, "I do believe . . ."
Goodwin turned and watched as Margherita, her nude form a moon-silvered-glow, dove into the water.
Everyone hooted and hollered and splashed about as she too paddled out into the deep water, and Elsie added to the commotion by howling as if at the moon.
Goodwin looked at Margherita as she came close; her hair was sleek and shiny now, the water had pushed it back into a black jet that fell straight down the middle of her back, and little drops of water on her forehead caught the moonlight. Goodwin thought they looked like diamonds scattered through her hair.
He heard a thrashing in the water behind him, and someone gasped.
"Quiet!" Malcolm said. "Everyone be quite still."
Goodwin turned, saw the fin slicing through the water, then another, and another.
Elsie barked. The fin turned toward them.
The fin arced lazily forward, then a dolphins grinning face broke the surface and rose into the moonlight. The pod came forward and slipped among the humans, members breaking the surface from time to time just long enough to look at the amazed people before slipping back under the water. The first one, however, remained near Goodwin, indeed, this one seemed to be staring right into Goodwin's eyes. Elsie let slip a low growl, and the dolphin drifted closer.
"It's alright, Elsie," Mary Ann said softly, apparently now quite nervous. "Easy. No barking."
Unconvinced, Elsie looked at the gray face looking at Goodwin; she clung to him fiercely now, dug her paws into his shoulders and began to tremble. The face came ever closer, now little more than five feet away.
Goodwin could hear the dolphin's breathing clearly now, even the faint sound of it's blowhole opening and closing, and without thinking he held out his hand toward the dolphin. The dolphin turned slightly, looked at Goodwin's hand. The decision made, the dolphin closed the last few inches to Goodwin and held it's pectoral fin out, touching Goodwin's hand; it looked at him for several seconds more, then slipped quietly beneath the surface of the still water and was as quickly gone.
Goodwin noticed that Elsie had stopped trembling, and he was suddenly aware that he had been holding his breath.
"Good God!" Malcolm said. "I don't believe it! I saw it, and I don't believe it!"
Elsie pushed off now and swam to Mary Ann's side; she'd obviously had enough excitement and the two of them made their way back to the rocks; Malcolm followed, then Paulo as well.
Goodwin remained frozen, looked out over the water as if waiting for something.
He felt Margherita draw close to his side, felt her breasts rub against his back, then her hand on his shoulder. Still he did not move, he hardly breathed.
He saw the fin again, but this time there were two -- side by side -- moving through the water.
He held both his hands out now, watching and waiting, expecting what: he had no idea; he felt Margherita reach around with both hands, reach around and hold onto his chest, her body pressed to his.