Passegiatta Pt. 03byAdrian Leverkuhn©
©2008 ©Adrian Leverkuhn
He listened to the crunch of his shoes on the old stone roadway, to the ripple of water finding its way back to land once again; he walked beneath gentle breezes drifting through trees overhead, and when he looked up he could smell deep tidal airs running silent fingers through his hair. The moon, now high in the vault of the night, cast silver through the trees, and Tom Goodwin could make out the shadows of his new friends on the road as he walked back into the village of Portofino, and to the boat along the quay he had called home for six months.
But more than anything, Tom Goodwin felt the dewy fragments of Margherita Morretti's body washing across his soul, the intensity of the union coursing through his veins like a simmering fire. She walked by his side now, walked there now as if she always had been by his side, and always would be there. They had walked out of the sea perhaps ten minutes ago, had known each other for -- perhaps -- an hour, yet wild magic had cast its spell on them in the hazy mists of this night. Now everything around him felt different -- was different. The trees felt alive in a way he had never known before, the sea breathed manifest purpose. The moon arcing through the ink-stained night cast its light with silent indifference, shadows gliding over silver stone seemed borne of passing redemption.
Her arm was entwined in his, her side pressed comfortably against his. He could smell her from time to time, smell the intimacy of their union mingling with the primeval flows on the wind and in the sea. She washed over his thoughts like the tide: subtly, predictably, immutably -- like footsteps in the night.
Elsie still walked along quietly on the road beside them, she still looked up at him -- at him -- as if she alone understood the significance of events that had just left them all so breathlessly perplexed. He couldn't understand at first, couldn't fathom what it was she was looking for, but after a few minutes it felt to Goodwin like she was looking at something that had just changed before her eyes, changed into something else -- something new. The dog didn't doubt her own perception, he could see that much in her eyes; no, she doubted his! Did he have it in his soul to understand the consequences and the workings of la forza del destino? Or was it really so simple?
As time passed, as they came closer to the village and further from the depths of their encounter, Goodwin was held by the coolness of the air and the water. His clothes were wet, he felt a sudden chill in the air, felt this same chill overtake Margherita and Paulo and the Doncasters. It was as if the further they walked from the precise location of their joining the colder they became, as if the fire they had started was in danger of weeping away uselessly into the darkness.
He felt her tremble and he held her tightly.
"We're not far now," he told her.
"Tom?" he heard her say.
"Please stay with me tonight," he heard himself say.
"How did you know that? That it was of this that I was thinking?"
"Where else could you stay now?"
"Does it seem so clear to you? Have you felt something beside us as we walk?"
"I don't have the words to describe what I feel, Margherita. I just have . . . have . . . I don't know . . . instinct, maybe? I feel a hand guiding me tonight. Maybe us tonight."
"Yes, so many things alive in the night, so much purpose. It is hard to contradict such a feeling."
"This dog understands. I can see it in her eyes."
"Yes. I saw her looking at you in the water, when that animal first came to you. The dog was with you. I could have sworn the dog was talking to the fish, to that dolphin."
"Really? That's kinda off the wall, isn't it?"
"Oh, nothing, the whole thing seems other-worldly, but almost like it didn't happen."
The dog looked up at him, then bounded on ahead.
"Tom, I don't think she appreciated that comment."
"Obviously." He could see his boat ahead, still moored next to the Doncaster's, and he began to wonder how the rest of the night was going to take shape. He felt exhausted and hungry the closer he came to the village, the feelings lingering from the encounter in the sea were regressing, moving back into the shadows -- as if they could not take exposure to mere modernity for any length of time. Who was this woman by his side? She was a stranger, yet something impossible had just happened. Something either real or surreal, something beyond either imagination or understanding, and it had happened between the two of them. That realization hit him like a physical blow, it winded him with insurmountable implications.
"Obviously," he said again. "I think I need to change clothes. Would you like to come aboard? I could make us some coffee?"
"Oh, doctor, I think I too must change into something new, but . . ."
"But would you meet me for dinner somewhere?"
She seemed to drift in the implications of this offer for a moment, then came to a decision in the road. "Do you see that building there, by the two street lights, there? That is the Ristorante Lo Stella. I will meet you there in one hour."
"And doctor, bring your friends, would you? They seem very nice."
"Yes, I'll ask them."
They came alongside the boats; Malcolm and Mary Ann were already down below, but Paulo was waiting for his sister, standing in the pale flickering light of an old gaslight on the quay.
"Paulo?" Goodwin said, "would you join us for dinner tonight? Your sister has recommended a place we meet in an hour."
"Si, doctore, that would be nice. We have, I think, much to discuss about this night."
Margherita seemed to turn ever so slightly away from them when she heard that, then she disengaged from Goodwin's arm and stepped away, stepped out of the light and into the shadows. "I will see you both in an hour. Ciao!"
"Yes. I will see you in an hour," Paulo said as he turned to walk back to the village.
Goodwin stepped onto the Donacster's boat to cross over to his; Malcolm was sitting in the cockpit surrounded by complete darkness. He had coffee on the table and was wrapped in a blanket.
"Ah, there you are, Sport! Got it together yet?"
"I'm not sure."
"Yes. I don't suppose I would, myself. Odd, wasn't it? That animal?"
"Odd? I'm not sure 'odd' quite covers it, Malcolm. Matter of fact, I'm not sure about much of anything right now."
"Quite right. No reason to be. A complex situation, perhaps more so than you might imagine."
"What are you . . . Oh well, you're both invited to dinner. In an hour."
"Sorry, Sport, but Mary Ann ducked into the head and said she's straight for bed."
"Would you join us, then?"
"I'll ask the Admiral when she gets out. Right, you'd better get cleaned up and to it."
"Yeah." Goodwin stepped across to Springer and opened the companionway; he reached in and flicked on a light and disappeared below.
Doncaster looked at the village for a while, then turned to look back toward the rocky cape where they had been not an hour before. He dropped below to talk to Mary Ann, now as confused as she had been. Maybe more so, given what he already knew.
Goodwin and the Doncasters -- both of them, as it turned out -- walked to the ristorante and stepped inside. Paulo had a table and waved at them as they walked in the door.
Goodwin took in the scene: this place was like any one of a million nice, upscale Mediterranean dives that seemed to sprout up all over the lower east side with nauseating regularity, but this was, he told himself, the real deal. The mood of the room was delicate, subdued, elegant -- very Old World. The room's lighting, an amber-hued crystalline mist, cast oblique shadows that only seemed to hint at deeper mysteries waiting outside in the darkness.
Goodwin made his way between tables as he followed the Doncasters to Paulo, and was surprised to see the young man dressed imperiously in black suit and tie. He felt a little out of place in his habitual khakis and polo shirt, and he really regretted leaving his Docksiders on.
He took Paulo's hand. "Nice place. Smells like the have decent food."
"It is a nice place, doctore. The octopus is the best in town."
"Oh I say, Goodwin!" Malcolm said. "Remember, when in Rome . . ."
"Oh Mal, do shut up and leave the man alone!"
"So, Paulo," Mary Ann ignored her husband now, "where is that delightful sister of yours."
"Here," Margherita said, now standing behind the Doncasters. Goodwin stood and held a chair out for her, and she came and sat next to him. "Sorry I am running a little late."
"You look beautiful," Goodwin said, and everyone smiled knowingly when he blushed. They looked at one another and an awkward silence fell over the table.
"So, doctore, you have not had octopus before?"
"No, Paulo, 'fraid not, unless you count calamari."
"No, no, no! Calamari is bait! You are in for a rare treat tonight, doctore. You will see."
"Paulo," Margherita said, "just because it is your favorite, you must not force it upon the doctore; you must let our guest choose."
"But . . ."
"Oh, really Tom," Malcolm interjected, "anything they serve here will be beyond good. Very nice place. Yes. Top notch!"
Mary Ann looked around the table. "I don't want to talk about food. I want to talk about what happened out there tonight."
An ancient waiter came and dropped off a wine list, asked if anyone cared for an aperitif. Paulo asked the weathered old man to bring a bottle of red wine the house recommended, then settled-in to look at Mary Ann and the elusive threads she had so indelicately thrown into the pit. "What is there to talk about," he stated. "We saw what we saw. There must be an explanation in nature, and that is all." He seemed embarrassed, perhaps because he had stood by silently, helplessly, while events unfolded in the water, but he looked down at his own imploring hands now as if asking, no pleading with his companions to drop the matter.
"I don't know, Paulo. Something unusual happened," Mary Ann was placating him, easing him into the topic. She needed an ally, and though the young man seemed reluctant to talk about the encounter, she sensed he was as deeply intrigued by the event as she was. She could not see the fear behind his eyes.
The old waiter returned with a bottle and opened it. He poured a little and arched an eyebrow; sniffed the cork tentatively, held the glass up to the light and frowned, then walked back toward the kitchen.
"This is not something that happens everyday, Paulo, is it?" Mary Ann wasn't going to let the matter drop. "Paulo! Have you heard of something like this happening before?"
Paulo looked away.
Mary Ann grew stern, unrelenting. "Paulo? Can you answer me?"
The waiter returned with another bottle and began opening it.
"Oh come off it, Mary Ann," Malcolm said. "Leave the man alone. Two fish came up and played with Tom and Margherita. That's all it was."
The old waiter's hands began to tremble, his eyes darted about the people around the table.
"Excuse me?" the old man said. "What did you say?"
"Tonight, off the cape, two dolphins came up to Dr Goodwin here," Mary Ann recounted, "and Margherita joined Dr Goodwin and the fish circled them for a while, then swam off."
The old man handed the bottle of wine to Paulo. "You pass this around Paulo." He took a chair from another table and sat down next to Goodwin. He looked at Goodwin for a moment, then at Margherita.
"Was there a union between the two of you? A joining? Perhaps unexpected, out of the blue, light a bolt of lightning?"
Margherita looked away, acutely embarrassed.
"That about sums it up," Goodwin said; he then looked at Mary Ann and Paulo.
"You know," the old man said, his voice now subdued yet full of ancient purpose, "many people think the name Portofino means something like 'fine port', and though of course it is a fine port, those people are wrong. Quite wrong. Yes."
He looked around the table at each of them.
"Pliny the Elder tells us from that most distant past an altogether different tale, and History has, you know, a way of repeating itself." He looked at Paulo again and frowned: "Eh, Paulo, I told you to pour the wine! Now get to it!" He turned to a boy coming out of the kitchen: "Giuseppe, bring Marco here! Now!" He clapped his hands twice and the boy darted back into the kitchen. He drummed his fingers on the white linen tablecloth impatiently until a man in chef's attire came to the table.
"Bring us dinner. Nothing too heavy! That is all. Now go!"
"Si, patron!" The chef left the table.
"He is a good cook, but, eh, what is this word . . . conceited? Yes? Too proud of his creations?"
He looked around the table: everyone looked at him expectantly.
"Anyway. Pliny the Elder. Yes. Pliny tells us that this village was, from Roman times, known as Portus Delphini, which you, Mister Goodwin, would call the Port of the Dolphin."
"He is, Ludvico, this is doctore Goodwin," Paulo corrected the old man. "He is a physician. A heart surgeon."
"Oh, really. Isn't he the man you went swimming with this morning, Paulo?"
Goodwin smiled when Paulo looked down at the table; he saw the poor fellow smiling and shaking his head.
"This will never end, never," Paulo said, looking up with a warm smile on his face. "I am ruined."
"Anyway," the old man continued, "there have always been dolphins in this sea, eh, what is your word, doctore? This gulf we call the Tigullian. We have always been fishermen here, in this village, and long after the Arabs and the tourists leave this is what we shall be again. We are linked, yes, this is the word? To the sea. Over many thousands of years. And as we have come to depend on the sea for our lives, so too the sea has had her gifts to bestow upon us."
The old man took his glass and passed it to Paulo. "Do I have to ask again? Some wine, please, Paulo, or I will die of thirst!"
"I asked Paulo if the things we saw tonight have happened before," Mary Ann interjected. "That seemed to upset him, you - Paulo, and I wondered why?"
"It is only legend," Paulo replied. "An old story told to school childrens. Nothing more."
"And, what is this legend?" Malcolm asked, the twinkle in his eye waiting expectantly for the keys to the kingdom.
"Let us come to that later, professore," the old man said. "First, we shall have some oysters and Pinot Grigio." He clapped his hands and the chef wheeled out a cart heaped with fresh shellfish on a mountain of ice. Another boy brought fresh glasses and ice cold bottles of wine. The old man looked at Paulo and decided he'd better pour this round.
The chef shucked oysters and put them on plates next to shrimp and tiny lobster tails and, Goodwin saw, slender bits of what had to be octopus. He tossed off the rest of the red and shook his head.
When everyone had been served the old man looked at them all and smiled. He picked up his glass. "To your health," the old man began, and the others raised their glasses. Next, he looked first at Goodwin, then at Margherita. "And to the miracle of love!"
"To health and love!" the rest said.
"Indeed," Doncaster said.
The old man put down his glass and looked at his hands for a moment; he shook his head as if what he saw there was very disagreeable to him. "It is nauseating to get old," he said. "My eyes see the same world as they saw when I was twenty. But then I see these hands, or my face in a mirror . . ."
"So what of this legend, sir?" Mary Ann asked again in her reporters questing voice, for she was now clearly exasperated and wanted to get to the bottom of this story.
"Ah, yes. You are all educated people, at least I assume so. You all know that throughout human history, dolphins have turned up in various mythologies. True?"
"Of course," Malcolm Doncaster said pedantically. "But do we see merely shadows on the wall, Ludvico. That is the more important question. Will men ever emerge from the shadows? Can our eyes stand the sight of truth?"
"Eh, professore, this is not an evening for Plato. No, my old friend, this night belongs to Bacchus, to Dionysus."
"My point exactly, Ludvico. How can we see what we do not know. There is no context. Believing and knowing are much the same thing, you understand. And without knowledge, belief is a very shallow vessel indeed."
Paulo looked around the table nervously, first at his sister, then at Goodwin. This day, which had begun in such innocence and pleasure, was even now turning toward something beyond his understanding, toward something he suspected was beyond all their understanding.
"So, professore," the old man continued, "you would not believe you saw Him tonight, in the sea, would you?"
"Dionysus! That's bloody ridiculous!"
"Ah, so we are left with the cave. Indeed, perhaps this will be harder than I thought." The old man took his glass and emptied it in one long pull and poured himself another. "Anyway, Mary Ann, dolphins are inextricably linked to this village. As I said, our people have always looked to the sea for our living. No, for our very survival. It is said that when times have been hardest, when plague or famine or war have taken our men from the boats and the women have had to take to the sea, the dolphins have come to our aid. They come and drive fish into the net, they tend to women who fall into the sea, and so our families have survived. For thousands of years it has been against the laws of our land to kill a dolphin, it in years past, indeed until quite recently, this was a crime punishable by death. They were as the Gods, and we knew this on a very elemental level! Not so today. No, not at all today. Today we despair to worship anything that money can't afford."
"Just so, Ludvico, but we digress. In fact, isn't there that remarkable tale of Dionysus and his Etruscan captors? If I'm not mistaken, wasn't that supposed to have happened nearby?"
"Si, professore. Yes, as you say, just so, for that tale leads to the heart of the matter. Dionysus was captured by pirates who mistook him for a nobleman, a prince, perhaps. He waited until they were far out to sea, then he struck. He caused the boat to turn to vines, the oars the sailors used turned to serpents in their hands as they rowed. In their panic the pirates jumped into the sea and began to drown. But Dionysus took pity on his captors, on these stupid mortals, and he turned them into dolphins. He commanded them to come to the aid of humans for the rest of their days on this earth. Surely I do not have to recite all of the stories of seamen being rescued by dolphins to table full of sailors?"
He finished this glass of wine while he looked around the table, then he poured himself another and took a deep breath. "And so, professore, since that day at least dolphins have been an intimate part of life in Portofino. They have helped our fishermen, they have helped sailors who have fallen off their boats make it back safely to their homes. All true." He looked at his hands again and sighed. "But there has been so much more to this story, Malcolm, that even you don't know."
"That's why we've kept coming back, Ludvico. Year after year. This has been my quest, you know. For many, many years."
"I know, my old friend. But there was never reason to tell you the tale until now, until tonight. You would not have understood. You could not, you understand, because you could not see."
"Is it just me," Margherita said, "or is there something unusual about this night?"
"Yes," Malcolm said, "yes, Margherita, I feel we are about to enjoin our mythologies tonight."
"Oh God, no," Mary Ann said. "Welcome to Mythology 101, starring Dr Malcolm Doncaster!"
"Oh bah, Mary Ann! Really, must you be so boorish!"