The next day started with a few clouds, obscuring the ray of sunlight I used as my wake up alarm for the summer. So I got up late, as I usually did on cloudy days. I took a shower, grabbed a t-shirt and some shorts to put on, and went out into the patio for some breakfast. Francesca d’Alessi was sitting at the table, buttering a slice of toasted bread.
As she looked up, I was struck by the color of her eyes. They were blue, luminous, like pools of aquamarine contrasting with her dark skin. She did not seem as beautiful as she looked in the movies, but there was something about her demeanor, which somehow pulled you in, even against your will. She extended her hand to me.
“You must be Cindy…happy to meet you, I’m Francesca.”
I shook her hand, ignored the Italianization of my name, and sat down at the table. I proceeded to eat some toast with jam and drink some coffee, but Francesca started in. She spoke to me in English, and her English was definitely superior to my Italian.
“So you don’t mind being here all alone for the summer?”
“No, actually I like it a lot!” I tried not to sound as if I was giving her a hint…
“Do you have friends on the island?”
What do you think!?
“Yes I do.”
“Are they nice?”
The grilling was really getting to me. I replied yes, and then she changed the subject.
“So, to get to the harbor, I just turn left on the road and walk? How far is it?”
“Not far, and besides you cannot get lost on the island. It’s too small. You need to take the ferry? “I was asking a hopeful question.
“I am meeting a friend at 10:30.”
“Then you better leave now…it takes about 20 minutes.”
A friend? Hell…was she going to bring Hollywood to the island? While Francesca was gathering her things to go, I went to the kitchen and interviewed Simone.
“Mrs. d’Alessi is meeting her friend Tomaso at the ferry. He will be here for two nights” she said.
I could not believe her nerve…I was being kicked out of what used to be my parents’ house, but had recently become mine, thanks to Sam’s nurturing help. So the whole thing had been arranged for Francesca to meet some boyfriend behind her husband’s back? I rolled my eyes, and grabbed the bike after kissing Sam on the cheek out of compassion, and telling her I would probably spend the day and evening with Ondine and the guys.
When I arrived at Ondine’s, she was doing summer homework with her tutor, and they let me join in. I aced the spelling dictation as usual, but sweated a little more for the math. I had missed the first few days of class in algebra, and still had not completely incorporated into my consciousness the idea that letters could be added or subtracted, even less obtained as a result.
We had sandwiches and cherries for lunch, and we were tying cherry stems into knots using only our tongues, when Bambi and Jean-Remy walked in.
“Hey you guys! What are you up to?”
“Nothing…what are you doing today?”
“We want to go fishing at Notre-Dame. Do you want to come?”
And off we went, on our bikes. Bambi had brought a fishing gun, and snorkel gear. I had borrowed mine from Veronica. I did not remember where mine was, and did not want to go back to the house and look for it.
Fishing did not mean sitting quietly and waiting for the fish to bite. Fishing meant hunting down the fish, and spearing them with harpoon guns or hand held tridents. Sometimes, we caught octopus and would pry the animal from the spear while it was grabbing at us with all tentacles. I had learned from a local kid how to turn the head inside out and beat out the ink before handing the octopus to the chef for lunch. I hated catching octopus and always hoped they were all busy somewhere else whenever we went fishing.
Jean-Remy caught some poor unsuspecting sand dab that day, and very soon we grew tired of looking at the sand bottom, and sat on the beach. Bambi started the conversation.
“Do you guys know that Francesca d’Alessi is spending the summer here? My dad saw her at the wharf this morning.”
“Oh, I know, I said sighing. She is actually staying at our house. I don’t think she is staying all summer however…”
All three of them looked at me stunned.
“And you were going to tell us when?”said Ondine.”What kind of a traitor are you?”
I rolled my eyes.
“She is supposed to be incognito. Besides, I want nothing to do with her…she’s like using our house to meet her boyfriend behind her husband’s back.”
“Her boyfriend? “ Said Bambi,” but Francesca d’Alessi is a dyke!”
Ondine was poking Bambi with her trident.
“What? Come on! How could you, little old you, of all people, know that?”
“I read an article in Cinemonde…she and Selena Hirschberg are doing it. I swear! There was a pretty hot picture of them together.”
Selena Hirschberg was the dark, intense, mysterious, Argentinian star who had created a sensation at the last Cannes Festival after her film won the Palme d’Or, by refusing all the interviews. This had driven the paparazzi crazy, and ultra grainy photos of Selena doing various menial tasks suddenly multiplied on the front pages of every single tabloid in Europe.
“You better beware, said Bambi pointing at me…she might attack you!”
I shrugged my shoulders…
“She’s not a dyke. Her boyfriend came today, his name is Tomaso.”
“Have you seen him? Maybe he’s a she...”
The joking continued as we all went back to Ondine’s parents, who had brought a whole batch of sea urchins.
When I arrived back at the house, it was still early. No one was home, and Sam had already retired to her cottage in the back of the garden. I sneaked into the guest room which had become Francesca’s. Things were quite messy in there, and I could see evidence of Tomaso’s presence, cuff links, and men sized sneakers. Various items of feminine and masculine clothing were strewn on the large bed.
I went back to my room, and picked up my mystery book, finally interested in the next clue. At some point I heard Francesca and Tomaso coming in, but I was already dozing off, so I turned off the light and fell asleep almost instantly.
I was flying in the middle of a flock of large birds, with long necks, like blue herons. The birds were flapping their wings and calling each other with the shrill cries of seagulls. We were all soaring above white clouds, and below us was the blue, infinite ocean. I was hanging on to one of them, feeling lighter than a feather, happy and comfortable. Suddenly, the bird plunged into a cloud with a vertiginous dip. The move broke my balance, and I started falling.
I woke up suddenly from my dream. I could still hear the bird sound. It was a soft, repeated moaning, which broke into a long, prolonged soft cry. The sounds were gentle but seemed uncontrollable, intense with sweetness, evoking pain or almost unbearable pleasure. This was no bird. I realized I was hearing Francesca and Tomaso making love, and the wings flapping was the sound of the headboard on the guest room bed hitting the wall, following their movements. Nothing but silence for a while. Then, the sound of laughter, and the moaning started again, punctuated by more laughter and a soft masculine voice, whispering in Italian.
No way could I sleep, with this racket going on. I got up, and went outside, realizing they had left the door open, and I did not have the nerve to go and close it for them. Outside, the moon was bright and the breeze was a little chilly. I sat on the steps on the other side of the patio, where I could not hear anything. I could see stars and some clouds, and the leaves of the wisteria were fluttering in the dark.
Without warning, an immense sadness came over me, to the point where tears came to my eyes. The loneliness was palpable, as I crossed my arms over my knees and waited until the swells within me subsided. It took a while. I could not get a handle on it nor pinpoint the cause of it. I started sniffling, and realized it was going to get cold. A small light went on behind the drapes in the room across the patio. Someone got up; I heard water running, more voices, and the sound of the door to the guest bedroom closing. The light went off.
Shivering, I crossed the patio and went back to my room. Safe in the warmth of my bed, I stayed awake for a while, listening. But all was quiet and I eventually went back to sleep.
p/s:to be continued..