Translated by Stefania Castellaneta
Dedicated to those who are not afraid
to pass through that door…
The fine line between real and unreal.
For many black is just black. The absence of color, darkness. Not for me. There is an infinity of shades of black, endless reflections: ivory black, Mars black, carbon black, then moving onto the dark browns and the grays. That was what struck me about him, his eyes. Thinking back it seemed almost silly, something unreal. I would press the pencil on the sheet, outlining the shape of the face, his dark mane, the straight nose and his lips slightly open in an astonished expression. But as I got to the expression in his eyes the pencil would freeze, the irises wouldn’t take shape. The black of a shiny silk cloth, the iridescence of a cat’s eyes blinded by the lights of a car, the reflection of water in a well, at night. This was the color of them, and being unable to reproduce it consumed my soul.
I stared speechlessly at the point where I had seen him: next to the weeping willow, hidden among the foliage of the tree near the shore. Without doubt the place I loved most. I loved the way the algae moved just below the water, the mix of blue and green, and the small balconies filled with flowers, suspended a few centimeters above the canal. The occasional car crossing the San Francesco bridge did not rupture the peace; the paddles of the mill not far away were the only sound I liked to focus on. A unique combination of sounds and colors.
That figure didn’t fit in but it was fascinating all the same: a dark spot among the bright brush strokes of the landscape. In the few seconds I looked at him, his gaze had met mine and had penetrated inside me. Nothing like this had ever happened to me before, not even with Mattia; I liked him, sure, but the young man I had noticed only two days before was something else. If I hadn’t looked away, if just at that moment a horn hadn’t honked, perhaps I would have seen him better and I would have been able to complete the drawing. Instead he had vanished. There was no trace of him in the side streets or on the main road. He had simply disappeared.
I breathed in deeply and for just a moment more before heading home I stared again at the shore of the Cagnan. At that time of the afternoon, the light refracted on the water creating amber reflections. The branches of the willow barely brushed the surface, like a bride’s veil turned inside out, while the leaves swayed softly, pushed by a gentle breeze.
His shadow had somehow been imprinted into the landscape, almost as if he had left a part of his aura there.
Aura, I thought, I was starting to think with the same words Arjuna always used. If I kept going to the association I would find myself meditating under a waterfall in some remote village! I smiled foolishly and went through the pages of the drawing pad: sketched landscapes and people. They had been drawn in all the main points of the city, some as homework for school, others just for pleasure. Returning from school I often stopped on that bench, and just as often I realized that hours had passed just by the color of the water, by the movement of the ducks along the canal.
From that spot I loved looking at the house opposite, the double window supported by two vertical columns, on the first floor. The bright white stood out on the recently renovated building, in sharp contrast with the bright green of the ivy that hung down from the main balcony, adorning the whole facade. I would let my imagination wander and would find myself thinking about the owners, I would imagine their lives within that picturesque corner of Treviso. It must be nice to wake up every morning with such a view from the house. A luxury that I would probably never be able to afford because, as Arjuna always said, all artists starved to death and seeing how he lived, I couldn’t say he was wrong.
My glance slid under the bridge, under one of the narrow arches where the canal passed through. Two ducks were chasing each other, spraying water and wagging their tail. Watching them put me in a good mood. I snapped the notebook closed and shoved it into the plastic folder but before I left I stared at that trunk one last time. A shiver gave me goose-bumps. It looked like it was going to be a very cold autumn, as cold as the sense of foreboding flashing through my mind.
I knew that look and it didn’t bode well. The local regulations on environmental impact with regard to building had just been changed and despite the fact that I wasn’t particularly well-versed in the matter, one thing was clear: her project was at a standstill and these variations were stressing her out. All this meant being faced with her worst side, meaning that the inveterate ecologist had taken hold of her body like a demon of darkness. For these moments dad and I had a warning code, we would give her the names of the dark Jedi of Star Wars. As the whole week went by she had become so bad she deserved the title of Palpatine. Obviously she was unaware of how we mocked her, wasting world resources with things like Hollywood movies didn’t touch her; she loathed television and the only form of technology she appreciated was the web, in other words a great way of saving paper. In those moments, being a daughter who was passionate about art was not to my advantage.
As I walked in at home and emptied the contents of my drawing satchel, she stared at me with the threatening and outraged expression of someone looking at the murderer of innocent babies.
«Don’t say it mother», I interrupted her before she could open her mouth.
«Oh Erica! I can’t understand why you don’t use recycled ones, seriously, I’ll have to talk about it with your teachers.» She rolled her eyes in that typical expression of hers that meant that if we kept going like this all the trees in the world will disappear and then returned to focus on her e-book reader.
«Because they don’t make them in recycled paper», I objected exasperated, «you can’t do a technical drawing on rough dark paper!»
I had done it. Without realizing it I had replied to her provocation. Perhaps it was because of the homework we had suddenly been given for our drafting class, one of the subjects that I hated the most or, maybe, I was simply nervous because of that drawing that I wasn’t able to finish, of those eyes which had disappeared from my memory.
Mother lowered her glasses onto the tip of her nose, her war signal, and placed the tablet on the side of the armchair, ready to indoctrinate me with all the new ecological discoveries world-wide; the door rescued me.
«Darth Vader!», I shouted imploringly to my father, even before he walked through the door.
«What on earth does that mean?», she burst out, crossing her arms on her chest. Her next move would be walking back and forth along the atrium, talking nonsense until we both collapsed.
The environmental impact was important for me as well and at times I really appreciated her, but she took it too far.
«Anna, darling, how was your day?» Dad stepped in just in time and, as if he had foreseen that a similar situation would take place, he offered mother a small basil plant adorned with a red bow. Cut flowers were excluded from their relationship. Once, when they were engaged, he had brought her some roses and she almost hit him with her bag.
I watched mother melt a little, put on her glasses correctly and smell the perfume of the aromatic plant.
«Organically grown», he added with a bright smile. He hung his raincoat on the hall-stand and winked at me. I mouthed the word thank you, then I collected all the loose sheets and made them disappear before the demon that lived inside her got upset again.
The desk in my room was too small for sheets of that size, or better, I couldn’t be bothered moving the stacks of notebooks that cluttered it. I had put it off for days and now I had run out of time.
«Are you going out?», enquired mother. «You’ve just got in.»
«I know but I’ll never be able to finish on my own, I’ll go and implore Arjuna. I got hold of a pencil and wrapped my hair around it to tie it up. «He’s working tonight, but I’m sure he won’t let me down.»
«Don’t you think you’re a bit too demanding on the poor boy?» When she wanted to irritate me, my mother succeeded perfectly; however, if I wanted to survive that evening, I would have to remain silent.
«I’ll figure out how to return the favor», I said tight lipped.
«As long as you don’t return the favor in that way.»
«Mother! We’re just friends, as you well know!»
«Oh, young lady, don’t play dumb, I know how it is being friends when you’re young, I was young myself, even if you don’t think so.»
Sure, two centuries ago. I held back my acid comment and pretended I hadn’t heard.
«I’m sure Arjuna will be happy to help you, why don’t you take him a slice of the cake mom has made? There should still be some in the kitchen.» My father ruffled my hair as usual and with a totally natural gesture he grabbed my mother under the arm and dragged her away.
I collapsed on the sofa, an old ethnic artifact that came from India or thereabouts. I’d never have believed that being seventeen years old could be so difficult. Only a year before everything seemed idyllic: the school that I wanted, the passions that finally had found an outlet, the radiant future… and then Mattia, actually, Mathias, as he liked to be called.
I sighed weakly recalling the first time I saw him. Arjuna had taken me to visit the apartment he lived in as a university student: a hole of fifty square meters in which, thanks to St. Ikea, they had managed to fit two bedrooms, bathroom, kitchenette and living-room. But amongst the modern bad-quality furniture and old stuff that had belonged to some great-aunt of the owner, there he was. Tall, dark, with an unkempt beard and the greenest eyes I had ever seen. A creature of the night, a musician. I wasn’t able to utter a single word to him, and Arjuna had roughly dragged me away. From that moment I found any excuse to visit him.
But now something had changed. The older I got, the more I wanted to stop, lose myself in the shades of the unchanging landscapes I looked at every day.
The man I had glimpsed beneath the willow came back to mind and the thought made me shiver. I would have liked to meet him, talk to him. No. It wasn’t true. To just lightly touch him would have been enough, to once again see that elusive gaze.
Treviso – Lungosile Mattei
The woman came to the balustrade and put her hands on the knob in reconstructed stone. She couldn’t remember how it was at that time. She remembered hardly anything, she had removed it from her memory. She took off one of the light leather gloves and closed her fingers on the horizontal iron strut; the metallic smell penetrated her nostrils and with it the taste of blood came back into her throat. She shook her head and lifted the lapel of her coat. The sun hadn’t set completely, its reflections colored the surface of the water which, little by little, was turning from orange to black.
«She saw me, but I guess you know that already.»
She sensed his presence, she could feel he was there even before he appeared at her side, and yet every time she would feel a timid jolt, a slight tremor that shook her inside, that made her think about the past again.
«My sweet, little…»
«Don’t say it», the woman stopped him short, then slowly looked around her. The road was deserted, but she wasn’t surprised. He had the ability to create a void around himself.
«You don’t want me to speak your name?»
«You don’t want to be seen?», she retorted. She quickly put her glove back on and pushed a lock of hair behind her ear, then she pushed the cap down on her head. She very calmly extracted mirror and lip-gloss from her handbag; she stared at herself grimly and fixed her makeup. She didn’t even look thirty but, even if she had liked that at first, it was beginning to weigh on her now.
«What is troubling you exactly? The people you have killed or what you did to me?»
A frosty shiver brushed the nape of her neck, as if a finger had touched her lightly, except that nobody was by her side. She closed and reopened her eyes, dark irises devoid of light; she breathed slowly and forced herself to smile.
«Now you can even read my mind? It seems that the last one has not been useless.»
«I have to admit that you have improved recently, my dear. First there was Laura, now this one. I feel that this time is going to be the right one.»
«Not like this, I’ve no intention of covering your tracks any longer!» His smile became an angry sneer he was barely able to control.
«They might overhear you. You wouldn’t want to end up in that place again, would you? Ah, of course, asylums don’t exist anymore, what have they got now? You must begin to bring me up to date, don’t you think?»
The woman regained her calm and, as if nothing had happened, started walking again. «Did you really have to kill the last one?»
«She would have died in any case… and anyway, she survived. The boy called for help just in time, a real disappointment. I wasn’t able to remain inside him long enough to watch her slip away.
«And as usual I had to cover up the damage; do you have the faintest idea of how I feel?»
«How you feel?» The imperceptible voice that sounded in her ears became a terrifying scream; a gust of wind raised her skirt and her cap flew off her head, releasing her black curls. He was becoming tangible. After centuries his power had begun to show itself physically again. She felt her blood go cold. «You owe me obedience, woman. Don’t ever forget it.»
«How can I forget it? There hasn’t been a day over the past eight centuries in which you haven’t reminded me of it.» Her calm, as well as her good sense, had slipped away. That someone might overhear her speaking to herself didn’t worry her anymore, after all everyone at that time was crazy, people communicated thanks to tiny appliances, and music came out of magical wires. They wouldn’t lock her up for so little.
«Aren’t you savoring the moment when you can touch me again?»
An invisible hand pressed on her neck, a squeeze too light to hurt her, but strong enough to shake her from her torpor; those fingers slid slowly down her throat and then to her chest, gently touching the shape of her body above the layers of clothing.
«Do not think that there’s not much time left», she hissed with a choked sigh.
The touch disappeared and the voice became thin again. «This one is different, she’s the last one, I can feel it.»
«I don’t like this girl, she saw you.»
«Exactly, she was able to see me, we are connected. Do you know what it means?»
«You’re insane», she replied contemptuously, grimacing with disgust.
«You’re the one that sent me insane, it’s your fault, keep it in mind.»
«Tell me, then», continued the woman stopping on the spot, «what are you hoping to obtain if she really is the right one? You can’t go back in time.»
«Dear Sofia, you know very well what I want.» The tone became warm, like a breath being whispered into your ear: «Revenge.»
© 2015 Lori J. Lawrence
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