Passegiatta Pt. 14byAdrian Leverkuhn©
Paul led the way, Maria Theresa walking silently at his side; Margherita walked behind Tom, pushing the chair along the bumpy stone quay. Elsie walked along quietly by the wheelchair, but the Doncasters gave up and retreated to Diogenes. Vico and the two brothers were far behind -- catching up even as distant reconciliations pulsed in the air around them. Vico seemed particularly disinterested and tired.
If anything, Paul thought, the air had grown more still as the night deepened; even now, as they walked along the water's edge, darkness seemed to have drawn in upon itself -- it was as if the night was collapsing inward, drawn past an unseen event horizon and rushing towards ... Wispy tendrils of fog began running across the water, a cold breeze rustled limbs overhead.
Paul turned to look at his son -- his oldest son, his first son -- and his thoughts seemed to come more slowly. The boy was wrapped in a blanket from the boat, his face and hands were now a blinding, stark white stain glowing in the night. These spectral features seemed to waver in the air, as if his son's hold on the present was loosening; soon Paul couldn't even make out Tom's hands crossed on his lap. Tears?
Paul saw Margherita wipe a tear away, only then could he feel the tears clouding his eyes. He moved as if to go back to push the chair . . .
. . . Maria Theresa grabbed his arm. "No, Paul. This is their journey. Let it be."
He nodded as he caught his breath. Maria reached down and took his hand, and Paul was both shocked and relieved to feel her skin on his once again. It felt the same now, here, in this darkness, as it had a half century ago. The same electric recognition of skin on skin, the same flooding warmth of contact renewed, the same enduring feeling of wonder, even awe -- everything was the same, and yet -- nothing was.
What had once been a beginning was, he felt, soon to be an ending. That was, he suddenly understood, why this night felt so implosive. Even the bare trees that lined their way seemed to stand aloof in the darkness -- not as sentinels, but as the last witnesses to a drama that had been playing out in their shadows for centuries.
He could hear the sea ahead, hear water washing through tidal pools in endless rhythm, and suddenly he wanted to turn and run . . . turn and run away from all the mistakes he had made in his life . . . but they were all here now . . . all beside him in the darkness . . . and he realized there was nowhere to run but to the truth of resolution. If there was to be redemption, he would have to face the full fury of the choices he'd made.
Footsteps on dewy sand. Fog, drifting fog, swirling underfoot. Only a handful of trees ahead . . . now all that remains are the rocks ahead. Of what lies beyond? Only a vast, impassive sea, hiding under a veil of silence . . .
"Oh, God! I don't want to lose him!" The father's cry comes as a whisper, but he is not surprised when he hears it as a prayer. He feels Maria's hand tighten around his own; the smooth, eternal peace of her skin on his . . . 'Was that my truth all along? Did I choose annihilation over life? Why? . . . Why?'
The road turned away to the right and he looked down other roads into the darker ways of memory. He could still make out German troops standing near the lighthouse, just in shadow, waiting to find them and take them to the Gestapo. He looked out to sea, and he could smell cordite and gasoline as he fought to keep Hell's Belles from falling out of the sky . . . and then he felt himself floating free again . . . drifting down to a sunless sea . . . waiting for death to come . . .
He stopped by the rocks he knew so well, their ebon presence defined the way ahead -- but he could not leave the road . . . No, not yet. There was too much to say. Too many prayers left unsaid . . . So little time . . .
He heard footsteps drawing near, soft wheels rolling across sand-drifted stone. Breathing . . . His breath . . . Maria's . . . he turned to her, saw her looking up into his eyes.
"Are you ready?" she said.
"No. Perhaps I never was."
"The choice was never ours to make, Paul."
He felt the truth of her words and nodded; in the darkness -- distant trees were to be his only witness.
The wheelchair stopped on the sand; Paul looked at Margherita, then at Tom. All purpose was unspoken now. Vico and the two brothers soon walked up; the pain of betrayal was etched in the lines around Paulo's eyes, Toni's face remained a blank mask. Only Vico seemed to fathom all the implications of this gathering, and yet he seemed to hover back from the group just a little, as if waiting for something . . . or someone.
Water growing still beneath a dying breeze.
Vico turned and spoke to someone in the shadows.
Trudi Blixen came forward, carrying a package. She came to Tom and stood beside him.
"I wanted you to have this for Christmas," she spoke softly, knowingly, to him. She handed her gift to Margherita, who took the wrapping off carefully. Vico took out a flashlight as the paper fell away; he directed it's light onto the offering. It was the painting she had made of the harbor, only now a man -- Tom Goodwin -- stood aft onboard Springer, apparently, obviously, talking to a dolphin in the water behind the boat.
It was perfection, and everyone gasped at the truth inside the image.
"My goodness," Tom whispered coarsely. His hands shook as he leaned forward to take the framed work in hand. He studied the image for a long while; everything was perfect -- no, more than perfect. Everywhere he looked, emotions embedded within color sprang from canvas to mind. No detail was omitted; no detail failed to stir memory. Joy . . . longing . . . simple understanding . . . the power of love . . . every stroke of the brush washed across his soul.
"My God, what beauty you've created," he said; then Tom turned to his father. "Dad? Hang this on the bulkhead, will you; by Sarah's painting. It will go perfectly there."
"Trudi," he said as he turned to look at the woman, "I don't have the words to thank you for this, but you captured a precious moment. Wondrous. A wondrous story, forever. Thank you."
"It was a gift to me as well, my love. It was a gift to find you again, to see you once again with the sea . . ."
Paul watched the woman's form ripple in the air; again the woman aged before his eyes -- the woman on the bus! -- and then as suddenly she appeared to shimmer in the air and take the form of a very young girl.
"Who are you?" Paul said as he thought of the ancient woman on the bus. "I know you . . ." he said softly, quietly, as memory ran into the darkness. How could she be here, now, before his eyes again. What did it mean -- and why did he already know the answer to that question? He stepped forward, looked into the woman's eyes; those who had been standing near her took a step away as her form shifted once again -- and the air around them shimmered as recognition danced on the breeze.
Tom Goodwin -- whose eyes had been fixed on the painting in his hands, turned to look at the woman: "She is Anticleia, father," Tom said. "She is my grandmother."
"Thomas! Who . . . what the hell are you talking about?" Paul reeled as memory crashed like storm driven waves on rock. He squinted, looked at the woman . . .
. . . The old woman shifted again before his eyes; the air grew warm and softly close, and Paul struggled with feelings of recognition and overwhelming fear. He stepped closer still, reached out to touch the woman. When he touched the woman's arm a torrent of lost understanding filled his mind; Paul recoiled as if physically stunned, he stumbled backwards and fell to the ground. He felt dizzy, breathless . . .
"My . . . my mother?" Paul Goodwin said as he gasped for breath.
Anticleia's form shifted once again. She knelt beside Tom, her love for the boy now a radiant force that lit the night, the wonder of her being filling his face with joy. She stroked his face with her hand, held time in abeyance with her smile. "Ah, my precious Telemachus. It has been so sweet to see you again."
Paulo and Toni came close; they could not understand a word of what had been said. They looked at Margherita; she too looked perplexed.
"What did they say?" Paulo leaned over and asked his sister.
"I do not know . . . I see them speak . . . I hear words . . . but I cannot understand them. Something . . . something is stopping me . . ."
Toni tried to move closer, but Vico stepped across and blocked his way. "Do not interfere," he said.
"But . . ."
"You must not interfere."
Toni looked down at his -- what? -- his father? Now his father's form rippled and shifted and he felt his world collapsing around him. He fell to his knees, crying, reached out with both hands: "Papa! Papa! No! Not now!"
Paulo darted past Vico and ran to his mother's side; she held out her arm and held him protectively. "What is this?! What is . . . NO!" His scream filled the night, and Paulo too fell to the ground as tears burst forth and washed down his face; Maria Theresa knelt beside him and comforted him. "No! What is happening?! No!"
"Mother?" Margherita said, suddenly very cold, and she saw her mother drifting away; then she turned to Vico: "What is this? What is happening?"
"It is now as it has always been. As it must always be."
"Vico? What? What do you mean? What are you saying?"
"It is his time of death . . . and of . . ."
There was a pulse, a charge ripping through the air, then the devastating crack of thunder just overhead.
She jumped and turned at the sound, saw her brother; she watched as his body stiffened -- it was as if he was turned to stone. Had he had fallen -- what -- into a deep sleep?
She cringed, turned away from the sound -- again; thunder rang in her ears again . . . and now Toni was rigid, motionless -- his eyes wide open, lifeless. Elsie -- transfixed -- remained next to Tom in the wheelchair.
"What is this!?" Margherita screamed. She turned to her mother . . .
Maria Theresa was still now; it was as if she had been caught between two heartbeats -- and she had simply -- stopped. Tears filled Margherita's eyes, she ran to Vico, stood in his face: "What is this? What is happening?" She beat his chest as grief came to her, but even as her rage burned out of control, he took her in his arms and held her. "Why . . . what . . . has been done here?"
"You must watch now. It is rare that we let one watch. Be quiet, and do not try to stop this, whatever you see, whatever you feel." He turned her body to face the glowing forms and she opened her burning eyes.
A ghostly man -- was it Tom? --stood up from the wheelchair, the old woman -- Anticleia? -- at his side. What must have been Paul Goodwin was already waist deep in the sea; he continued onward until he was in water up his shoulders, and there he stopped. She saw, she heard him speaking into the night -- was it an invocation? -- then she knew -- knew -- what was coming.
Tom and the ancient woman walked slowly to the water's edge -- Elsie by his side; they slipped quietly, wordlessly into the blackness; as they walked the water glowed around their receding nakedness. Elsie waded in, paused, barked, then stepped back onto the rocks and sat. The pup seemed anxious, alert. Margherita held her breath, bit her lip, she watched . . . The three of them together in the water -- waiting -- waiting . . .
She felt them before she saw them: two, no three dolphins moving into view -- and she could see Two Scar now; he went directly to Paul Goodwin. Another -- one with a golden eye -- stopped beside Anticleia and rolled over. The third circled Tom Goodwin several times, then withdrew out to sea. Paul put a hand on his son's head; he spoke quietly -- then stood aside. Anticleia did the same, though she left a garland draped over Tom's shoulders before she moved off.
Tom stood alone in the water now, his arms stretched out, floating on the water's surface. Margherita watched wordlessly, fear building in her heart; but she was unable to understand anything she saw.
'So dreamlike . . . I'm dreaming . . . I'm asleep . . .'
Elsie standing now. Looking out over clearing fog, on point.
Movement. What? There!
She saw the dorsal fin moving toward Tom, it's speed incredible, terrifying. The third dolphin -- coursing through the water directly at him -- it's speed mesmerizing -- simply impossible . . .
She expected to see the animal veer away at the last moment, but no, that did not happen. She felt the collision in the very marrow of her bones, shielded her eyes from the blinding light that ripped through the fabric of her being as . . . as . . . she felt . . . herself . . . falling . . . falling . . .
She felt the sun on her face before she felt someone shaking her awake. She heard a dog barking. Water . . . surf on rocks. A chilly breeze drifted across her face, her hair washed across her eyes as she opened them. She looked up, brushed hair from her face . . .
It was her Paulo. She could feel the anxiety in his eyes, even his movements to wake her were filled with hesitation and fear.
"Wake up," he said again, softly. "Margherita! Wake up!"
"Let her sleep, Paulo." Toni's voice, still half asleep.
"But you, we, we must go home now."
"Where's Mama?" she heard Toni say.
"Down by the water, with Goodwin."
Margherita's eyes popped wide open. "Paul -- Goodwin?" she said. "Is he here?"
"Where else would he be," Toni asked, his voice full of nervous confusion. "Really! You should go back to sleep!"
"Where's Tom?" she said anxiously as she sat up. She was lost, trying to remember something important, but her memory was a black hole.
"I don't know. He wasn't here when I got up."
"Paulo? Have you seen him?"
"No, but maybe Vico and the Danish woman took him back last night."
She looked at Paulo; he was scratching his head as if trying to remember something. She heard voices out on the rocks and stood up -- too quickly. She felt light-headed, almost dizzy; she held her hands out to steady herself. Through squinted eyes she could make out Paul and Maria sitting on a gently sloping rock, their feet dangling in a clear blue pool.
Paul saw her and waved.
She returned the wave, stumbled down to them. Now she could see her mother was asleep on his shoulder.
"Nice morning," Paul Goodwin said quietly in his bristly aviator's accent.
"Yes, yes it is. Have you seen Tom?"
"Nope. Not since . . ."
"No? Do you know where he is? Paul -- Mister Goodwin?"
Goodwin shrugged, looked out to sea. "I don't know. I thought he must be up there with you."
Margherita shuddered as the incongruity of his reply washed over her. What could all this mean? She looked around. Tom's wheelchair was up in the grass, by the trees. Toni was standing up now, rubbing his eyes. Paulo was standing as well, looking back down the road that led to the harbor. She saw him waving at someone and her heart lurched; she ran up the rocks, knowing she would find Tom.
It was Vico. He had a basket in one hand, some blankets in the other.
She ran to him, her mind searching, her eyes seeking Tom.
"Have you seen Tom?" she said breathlessly when she reached Vico.
He smiled: "I brought some croissants, and preserves. Strawberrys, too. And Champagne. Merry Christmas!"
Margherita stood before the old man, she blacked his way as confusion rumbled from some place deep beneath her feet: "What?! Christmas?! Yes, but have you seen Tom?" Her voice shook as fading memory lifted into the air, her world tinged with looming hysteria.
He looked down at her, his moist, ancient eyes full of sympathy. "His suffering is at an end, child" Vico said quietly, his voice barely a whisper. "All is as it should be. Come, sit with me." He was reaching for her . . .
"M-mm . . . uhn - no . . . no . . ." she tried to say more but her throat felt like it was being squeezed; she felt herself standing on her toes, her body twisting as if to cut off the scream she felt building in her gut.
She felt his hand on her shoulder; she was being guided to the rocks. Paulo and Toni looked at her and rushed to her side, helped her sit down on the rocks.
"What's wrong with her?" Paulo cried. "Margherita? Vico, what's wrong?"
"It has been a long night. She is tired . . ."
"Tom . . ." she said. "Tom is dead."
"What!" Toni shouted. "What are you talking about? When?"
"Oh, come now," Vico said. "You must all relax. Life goes on. Have a strawberry."
"What!" Margherita said, her incredulous voice strained by the man's obtuse deceptions. "A strawberry!"
Vico looked hurt. "Yes. Why not? They are ripe, fresh, and it is Christmas, is it not?"
"Are you mad?" Toni shouted. "Christmas!? Are you out of your fucking mind!? Where's Tom?!"
Vico's form rippled and shifted in the air, his skin grew transparent. An older, more powerful form shimmered under the old man's skin -- and was as quickly gone. "No. I am not mad," he said as he looked out to sea. "You must understand; I too am tired."
"Who . . . what are you?" Paulo said, his voice quivering with barely contained fear. Toni stood beside him, staring at Vico's face. He felt lost, alone, afraid . . .
But the old man looked at them, care in his eyes: "What do you mean, Paulo? I am Ludvico; I am your mother's friend." The old man seemed to stiffen, dark resolve simmered beneath a furrowed brow. The man's visage rippled and reformed again: "I have held you on my lap since you were a child! You would ask who I am?"
Margherita stood and faced him. "I think it is a fair question. Who are you?"
The old man grew rigid, fury pulsed through the veins of his neck and face and, as if dark storms had suddenly gathered in the sky, the air around them grew charged with electric dread . . . and yet, as suddenly, the man -- Vico -- appeared to relax, a smile parted his face and he began to laugh. He laughed so hard he began to cry; soon Paulo began laughing, then Toni. Confusion shook the earth under their feet.
Vico held out his hand and gently stroked Margherita's face while he caught his breath. "I have held you too, on my lap -- when you were younger still. Look into my eyes, Margherita . . . do you say that you do not know me? You do not know who I am?"
Margherita felt more people by her side; she turned, saw Paul Goodwin and her mother. They stood silently, questions on their faces. Even Elsie, sitting by Paul's feet, was looking up at him -- an oddly confused smile on her face.
"Margherita," her mother said. "It has been a long night. Let us go home. I will . . ."
"But I have food here!" Vico said, looking out at the sea again. "Sit down, all of you, and rest for a while longer."
"Why?" Margherita asked, her voice now full of dread. "Why do you want us to stay here? What are you . . ."
"Because, my dear, these are fresh strawberries! Do you know how hard they are to find? At this time of year?"
"But Tom? Where is Tom?"
Paul stepped closer. "What do you mean, 'where is Tom?' Isn't he up here? With you? The wheelchair . . ."
Vico stepped aside, laughing, and walked over to a patch of grass and lay his blankets down in the sun. He sat, opened his basket, began pulling out fine china plates and delicate crystal flutes. Fresh baked croissant, orange marmalade, chocolate spread . . . and strawberries . . . huge, red-ripe strawberries -- bigger than any she had ever seen. When he had set these things out he turned to them, opened his arms: "Come! Eat! All is as it should be! You should relax now!"
Paul came, sat on a blanket. Maria took her daughter's hand and joined him.
"Paulo, Toni, do not make me ask again. Come!"
They came, they sat. Vico passed around flutes, then opened champagne and charged their glasses.