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Lucia


ISSUE:  Spring 1991

A couple of days after Robert and I arrived in our high Umbrian village, where we often spend at least a summer month, we went next door to say hello to the Passeris. It was around noon, and Ornella was rolling out the tagliatella as Giovanni washed up from moving the sheep from the hilly pasture to the shade of their pen. Soon the Passeri sons returned on their motorcycles from their jobs in the valley, and Giovanni’s wizened mother led the chorus in urging us to sit down to eat with them. When we were gathered around the table, I suddenly realized a little girl I didn’t recognize had joined us. Lucia!—as everyone was crying out, opening their mouths and spreading their cheeks in warm humor—would not eat Ornella’s tagliatella with us; but her heart-shaped chin grazed the worn tablecloth as she stood watching each of us, one by one, her large brown eyes glossy, piercing with curiosity, yet also impish, as if she were enjoying a secret joke. She was an extremely pretty, if frail, little girl, a gamine with wavy brown hair, clipped back from a pale high forehead, and just covering her ears. I remember the aura of startling yet fragile dusky brown she gave, for even her cotton dress was of a soft brown plaid that exposed her eager expression and too thin arms. The child, as I was told, of the Passeris’ neighbors on the far side, Lucia was so small and slight she might have been anywhere from three to five. Perhaps, I decided, she’d simply been a baby kept near the house two summers earlier when we were last there.

When we finally returned to the rented floor that has become a kind of home, we were heavy with the heat of the day and the ample lunch and so noticed only belatedly that Lucia was trailing. I remember how, as I left the big back door momentarily open to let her follow us in, that rambunctious glee was in her eyes. She fairly sashayed, pressing her hands against the skirt of her brown dress, as she came through the long hall into the living area. It was as if she had accomplished a miracle, as if she’d entered a forbidden heaven.

Too quickly, it seemed, for me to become aware of it, Lucia perfected her ritual for coming into our house. I would be on the balcony that framed the front where we were a floor above ground, or just inside in the living area where I sat writing on the large table with its flowered oilcloth cover. Something would make me look down toward the driveway below, and there she would be, her small body disappearing beneath her intense face as she gazed upward. At first, I think she merely stood there silently until she caught my eye, but soon she was actually calling out, her voice a scratchy bellow with yodeling overtones. She would smile anxiously at being discovered at last, and, with a hopeful nod, would point to our house. When I gave my return nod, she darted up along the driveway that wound to the higher ground-floor back door. As she was let in she would be bent forward, her hands clasped behind her back like an old woman’s, yet as if containing her excitement; and entering, she would straighten, her enormous pleasure radiating in her face and gait as, victory now on her side, she jauntily pushed her way toward our simple living room.

Because Robert had immediately taken up his habit of spending the morning roaming the many ancient paths that extend downward from the clusters of brick and stone houses along the mountain’s spine, I had the house to myself—or now, as it was turning out, to share with this strangely silent little girl. She would stand with her chin on the oilcloth, following my pen as it crossed the notebook pages in which I was writing a new draft of a novel. My year in New York had been an exhausting alternation of earning a living, writing, and trying to promote a just published book; now, the quiet of paper and pen seemed the only way to give myself a much needed rest, at the same time as press on. After a couple of visits, I gave Lucia a sheet and pen of her own, or let her join me as I took a break to do my chores. She learned everything about our house before I realized how much she had become part of it. Robert had a drawer in the living area in which he kept his colored pencils and pens, sketch pads, scissors, tape, razor blade, chapstick, all sorts of little things he might use in the course of a day. Lucia loved to open this drawer—it was the first place she went. She would uncap a few pens to study their tips, or pull out the chapstick, pointing wide-eyed to the little plastic tube. When I nodded, she twisted off the cap and spread the pink wax across her mouth. Then she returned the chapstick to the drawer and continued her examination. Or if I had made clear that something—Robert’s camera, for instance—was not to be handled, she would give it a light, acknowledging touch, and then, brows raised obediently, wag her forefinger to let me know she too was committed to its safety.

She was like a cat, touring gracefully on her toes as soon as she entered to see what was new or changed, and she loved mastering all geography. These rooms were ours, and those became our landlord’s part of the house. This door led to the bathroom. The inside stairs were not ours to use. She would give her rapid nod, so like an adult’s in its implied precision of comprehension. I think she wanted to understand everything under the sun, and was still hoping that could be accomplished without recourse to words.

When Robert returned, hot and reddened at high noon, he greeted Lucia and me with bemusement. “Ah, she’s here,” he would say distractedly. He seemed to enjoy the way she sprang to watch him empty his pockets, put away his pencils and pad, and unroll the long sleeves of his shirt for the cool room. Though I kept expecting him to ask how I intended to finish my new draft accompanied by this unexpected and constant guest, he never objected to our visitor or questioned my odd new work habit; and, in truth, something about Lucia’s presence was a balm expediting my writing.

Disability dawns slowly, especially when one isn’t certain how old a child is. Within a few visits, Lucia had shocked me with urgent and persist pantomines of wanting to eat and sleep with us. It seemed that Robert and I, and our temporarily filled second floor, had become an instant solution— but to what? Knowing nothing about her, I worried that she was an abused child. Why else would she suddenly take to us in this extraordinary fashion? When Ornella Passeri told me what should have been obvious—that Lucia was virtually deaf and only in the past few months, as the result of special lessons, was trying to speak—I imagined that a cruel father had boxed her ears in. (One day, feeling like a transgressor, I carefully brushed back her fine wavy hair to discover a huge boxy hearing aid tucked behind each ear.) It seemed, in fact, that Lucia was nearly always with Ornella, who sat by her open window all day making lavoro nero sweaters at a knitting machine—at least when she was not with us. For now Lucia was coming to the spot below our balcony from which she could see me work as often as three or four times a day. And when she was allowed in, she accompanied me in whatever I was doing until someone in her family—an older sister, her mother, or her father—came embarrassedly from their house beyond the Passeri’s to take her forcibly away.

“Lucia, why do you bother the signora? Please, I’m so sorry. She’s not a big trouble?”

“No, not at all,” I would calmly reply, though I am not given to entertaining children. In fact, it should have struck me as highly odd that I, who make such weak gestures toward the children of my closest friends, and who within moments put a stop to their many inventive modes of wresting my attention, seemed to have no need to set boundaries with Lucia. Instead, I would tell the person who had come to fetch her. “Really, she’s a great pleasure. For my part, you can let her stay.”

Her father, who arrived one evening, was a young working man, lean and tidy in his pressed navy jumpsuit. He must have had a job in one of the factories that had come to dot the plain far below the village. With Lucia, he seemed awkward, protective—disarming in his pleasure at my praise of her. Once I showed him a picture she had drawn while I wrote. He had lifted Lucia, and held her squawking in protest at his waist, as he confessed that her new teacher in Perugia also said she was gifted. Then, as if I were yet another special professional in whom he had to stand in awe, he anxiously asked if he might take the drawing home to show his wife.

Who was a small wiry woman with orange dyed hair. It was obviously she who had given Lucia her fragile frame. Though she was gentle, even amazingly patient, with Lucia, she was clearly nervous and overwrought. Her movements were quick, again like Lucia’s, but deep anxiety, even moroseness, had given them its special edge, and her nails were bitten to the quick. I once saw her standing in the garden, rapidly knitting, not wasting a minute, while she waited for Giovanni Passeri to fill her olive oil keg.

“Lucia! Come, you must come home now!” Her furrowed brow would raise as she called up to the balcony. And when Lucia refused to budge, she would beam, “We’re going for ice cream! Gelatol” her teeth flashing as she formed the words, and sometimes she also licked the air for added effect; but none of it held any interest for her daughter, who dashed into my house to hide when her mother turned to walk up towards the back door.

Since it was invariably gelato with which the family tried to bribe Lucia into coming home, I quickly suspected that the promise was empty. Romantically, I imagined that Lucia was refusing to speak out of dignity, or even disgust, having understood that language was all lies.

As for the sister, she was the one I immediately disliked; the one on whom, despite being an oldest sister myself, I vented all my competitive irritation. A ten-year-old, Chiara had the annoyingly precocious mannerisms of a child who has been given adult responsibilities too early. In addition to keeping hourly track of Lucia, there was a little brother of two or three she was usually dragging around. She would croon about Lucia bothering me in a parody of her mother. She shook her finger crossly at Lucia (to me, an irritating mockery of Lucia’s charming all-purpose “no”). Though not much bigger than Lucia, she pulled at her and grabbed her and lifted her up as if to carry her home. But I always had my excuses ready: “Lucia is busy now. Can she come home in half an hour?” I would try to be polite. Or, “Lucia is eating with us. I’ll bring her back when she’s through.” It was unbearable for me to stand by while Chiara took Lucia away.

After about a week, increasingly self-conscious (though surely also pleased) that Lucia had so taken to us, I gave up my child abuse theory as too influenced by the suspicions of New York, though substituted it with an equally unwarranted theory about our disability in Italian being Lucia’s attraction to our house. Lucia loved to come visit, as I happily told Ornella Passeri, because we too were awkward of speech. Now, whatever the errors I make in Italian, I can certainly speak it, and my fluency in English, which I used with Robert, was not diminished by being in the Italian hills. Still, the little explanation served to get a grip on a relationship that was developing as fast—and would seem in retrospect nearly as fleeting—as Lucia’s nimble-footed grace.

Perhaps more accurate would have been that Lucia basked in our silence. For me, while writing, it was certainly ideal not to be called upon to talk; and Lucia seemed to draw peace, even pleasure, from my concentration; so that, if I looked up to check that she was all right, her quick smile almost encouraged me to return to my work. And Robert and I were often quiet as we sat out on the balcony at lunch. I because I had used up too many words during my morning’s labors, he because his morning in the hills could not be contained by words. Silently, we let our mornings seep out, or filled our brains with the visual pleasure of the Umbrian countryside: the steep hills, now planted in vast patches of yellowing wheat, descending from their octopus-like spines onto the distant plain. I would glance over at Lucia, who, resisting a pickup from her family, had joined us, and her face was all delight. Was there anything more joyful, it seemed to ask, than sharing fresh bread, sliced tomatoes, and cheese with us?

One afternoon when Robert sat sketching at the little table on the balcony, he patted the seat across from him. Accepting his invitation with a shy beam, she was immediately bent over her paper, kicking her small legs with the fierce pleasure of concentration. For what seemed an amazingly long time for a little girl, she stayed glued to her chair. She would look up and make her awkward noise to let Robert know he was to notice her picture. A brief “Braval” was always enough to send her back to her page. Or sometimes she signaled that he was to flip his paper for her to see, and then she gave a quick nod of affirmation before returning to her own.

But she was also obstinate and strong-willed. Once I tried to get her to write LUCIA. As soon as I had written the letters, she understood what I wanted. ULIAC, she wrote under my letters. Was she also dyslexic? I worried. I wrote out her name again, wanting her to correct her mistake. But no. She wagged her finger and pointed to her letters. She had done it once; she would not do it again. Finally, in acquiescence to her stronger will, I wrote CAROL and pointed to myself.

She also had opinions, strong ones, about how everything ought to be done in our house. She wanted as much wine or mineral water poured in my glass as in Robert’s. And when she helped me change the bedding, she insisted that I put a pillowcase on two large pillows; she was so vexed by the apparent inequality of a large and a small one (the latter being Robert’s preference) that I finally made the bed with three pillows, setting the small one in the exact middle. One afternoon, too, when I asked her to help me cut beans out on the balcony, she flapped her arms insistently and squawked something that sounded almost like, “Aqual” I didn’t want to soak the beans, which I assumed was what her mother would do. But Lucia could nag. “Aqual Aqual” She didn’t let me be. Finally she raced into the kitchen, from which a few moments later she carefully brought a large pan of water. When I smiled in defeat, she poured the beans into the water and happily stirred them about.

It took me awhile to see that Lucia wasn’t a physically affectionate child, and that she avoided the cuddling by which so much tenderness is conveyed between adult and child. Over and over, I watched her struggle out of Ornella’s and her mother’s hugs. She wanted to be active, to be watching and understanding, unencumbered. I remember calculating like a sly lover that I could take her hand if I had something to show her: a picture, a plant. But once I took her hand to have her accompany me down to the large garbage vats out by the main road, and on the way her mother caught sight of her and snatched her away. How I then felt like a cad as she was carried off, kicking and wailing, while her mother tried to calm her with the promise of gelato.

Not interested in testaments of adoration, Lucia seemed equally uninterested in being adorable. One morning she discovered clear nail polish on my bedroom bureau and wanted me to paint her nails. She watched captivated as I spread on the polish and then laughed, her eyes gleaming, as she demonstrated the correct next step to me: blowing on them to hurry the drying. But once the beautification was accomplished, she never looked at her nails. One sunny afternoon, too, from behind my window I saw her discover our landlady and her daughter sunbathing out by the entrance to the pasture. Before I could understand what had happened, Lucia was dashing home, and a few minutes later she returned proudly wearing a bathing suit and carrying a bottle of suntan lotion. She knew exactly what was required for a proper sunbath! As for either our landlady’s effusive compliments or getting the tan, both were uninteresting, for she was soon hanging around the spot on the driveway where she could see if I was home.

What Lucia loved was the beauty of perfect imitation—of precision, tidiness, clarity, order. On our balcony, she would arrange the chairs so that each was folded, or open and facing the long view down to the valley, or again turned neatly into the table in anticipation of the next meal. She reminded me of a time in my own life when I believed that with just a shift here and a bit of straightening there I might create a perfect world—one that, in any case, suited my needs. Or of the way I can still find the pleasures of perfection in a word that seems precise or a phrase that rings with music. Perhaps, it now occurs to me, contained in the little certainties Lucia tried one after the other to create were all the “why”s and “how come”s she could not ask. Her excellent mind, turning with the rapidity of the brightest five-year-old’s, could only whiz by, without the words to catch it, those endless questions of speculation that plague and dazzle other children her age.

Or maybe I’m wrong that Lucia did things only for the intellectual pleasure of doing of them right, not for the love her excellence might evoke. Perhaps all her efforts at perfection were to set things into a magical order in which she could be loved as she desired it. Certainly her arabesques of performance brought her enthusiastic compliments from Ornella and other neighbors. Even I could not help a smile of delight as she applied the chapstick to her lips and then recapped the tube so professionally. Yet all our pleasure in her also seemed beside the point for her, so that her thousands of charming imitations and beautifully exact movements gave the impression of being her own mysterious method of healing herself. Perhaps she even imagined that if she did everything wonderfully, as she saw it done by others, she too might become a hearing person like us. Or maybe in the depths of her silent childish soul was the wish to soothe her anxious mother.

Lucia was almost five years old. Putting this and that together—for I now talked about her to everyone, or my landlady and other neighbors, knowing how she’d taken to our house, brought her up—it seemed that no one had noticed anything wrong until around the age of two when, sometime after an extended cold and severe ear ache, it was clear she couldn’t hear. Perhaps had never heard. In any case, it was not Lucia’s family but a teacher in the village preschool who had surfaced the grim truth. For a long time the mother refused to believe that anything was wrong with her daughter, and when tests eventually put an end to wishful thinking, had what my landlady called a nervous breakdown. Ornella implied that it was then that she herself had become a second mother to Lucia, who, even before our entrance onto the scene, had spent little time at home.

Since nervous breakdowns have always been mysterious to me, I try to imagine the mother’s. Did she lie in the bedroom that must exemplify the orderliness Lucia wanted for mine, the shutters drawn, crying and refusing to eat? Was she filled with unbearable guilt or shame for having a disabled daughter? Were her worries in a conventional vein, that Lucia might never marry? Or did she imagine more starkly, what a life of silence (or undifferentiatable sound) would be like for her daughter?

One weekend Robert and I went away on a 36-hour trip. How I worried about Lucia’s frustration and grief when she called from below the balcony to no response. I don’t remember if I told her we were going. What I recall is arguing with myself that I shouldn’t reinforce our ties, which would abruptly be broken in a couple of weeks, by appearing to have a constancy I couldn’t maintain. Or, conversely, that I must let her know that, whatever was true of others, my few words held weight. Why was I making such a fuss anyway (this was the insecure foreigner thinking), since she might not even miss me? The trouble was, of course, that I’d never tried to explain anything to Lucia that couldn’t simultaneously be shown. The difficulty of deciding whether and how to say I’d be gone overnight pointed out for the first time how small was the cage of our peaceful, dreamy play.

In fact, all my fretting about Lucia’s feelings was a mere deferring of the aching, the physical aching, I felt while I was on my sightseeing trip. My whole body longed for her. “I’ve fallen in love,” I told myself, ashamed. Perhaps intense desire, except when aimed most conventionally, is often accompanied by shame. But I thought of how I might appear to the people in the village, who still asked me each summer with only kind concern whether a bambino had come. There were a number of answers I’d given over the years, depending on my mood and my belief in the person’s capacity for imagining. Sometimes I’d offered only a demure smile as I shook my head. My most honest response, which bordered on aggression, since it defied what every Italian believes to be true, had been to say: “I don’t want a child.” In any case, here I was, the childless Americana, longing for someone else’s little girl.

Recoiling from the probability of a hopeless passion, I let my fantasies as I lay in the strange hotel bed that night explode in waves of ever-growing rapture. I’d take Lucia to New York. Finding specialists who might increase her hearing would be expensive, but I’d give up my writing willingly, at last, to take a full-time job—now that I had a good reason. In my mind, I rearranged Robert’s and my loft so that my study was transformed into Lucia’s room. I imagined taking laundry for the three of us down the five flights of stairs to the laundromat four blocks away, and decided quickly on purchasing the washing machine on which we had stalled again and again over the years. School would be a problem. I’d want her to learn to sign, just in case. (Of course, I’d learn, too.) Life would be filled with shuttling Lucia from school to doctor to extra lessons. During a momentary crack in the rapture, I was shocked to realize that her very silence had been her unusual lever into my preoccupations, and that, whatever relief I wanted for Lucia, some of her magic would wane if she could speak. Yet even speech itself seemed surmountable, a small sacrifice, if only Lucia remained with me!

Day after day of writing digs deep canals of privacy. Only now does it strike me that I gave not a moment’s thought to sharing these household fantasies with Robert. As if I had become an adulterer, or were merely immersed in a new story, I was swimming in a secret stream whose waters seemed all the more turbulently bewitching for not being shared.

Yet women, even of different countries, appear to know things about each other that men leave to our secrets. As if intuiting my elaborate fantasy, the fact that my return was quickly discovered by Lucia (who once again stood, hands pressed behind her brown plaid dress, screeching from below the balcony) prompted both Ornella and my landlady to grab her playfully and ask, “Lucia, will you go with the signora to New York? Though tenderly offered, their observation of our tie served as a caution. It was one thing while 50 kilometers away to fantasize taking Lucia to New York; another to have these treacherous thoughts standing by the artichoke plants in front of our house, with Lucia’s mother worrying through her chores two houses away. Lucia was not my child. Her own family was perfectly decent, even if not above empty bribes; as I had learned, Italian doctors and teachers were now attentive to Lucia. Something in all that ought to govern my behavior toward her. Or, if not my behavior, whose only fault was its complete receptivity— letting her come whenever she wished to join my life—then my feelings. In fact, not being an Italian mother, nor even an American one, I don’t naturally take a child on my knee. I wouldn’t have thought of straightening Lucia’s hair barrette or kissing her cheek as she brushed by. Was there a complimentarity, then, in our deficits that had drawn us to each other? Was it my very omissions that kept her coming to our house?

From joining us at lunch, Lucia had imperceptibly moved into sitting with us at dinner. True, she would reluctantly submit to going home around seven, when her sister stomped her foot to insist that their father had arrived and was waiting to see her. But she must have gulped down a perfunctory supper and gone running off, for half an hour later she was back below the balcony, calling to be let in, and shortly thereafter kicking her heels with pleasure as she sat to eat with us.

One afternoon there was a knock on our back door. It was Lucia’s mother, with Lucia in one hand and two freshly killed pigeons dangling from the other. “Please excuse me if I didn’t clean them altogether perfectly,” she apologized in her rapid nervous Italian. Hiding my urban squeamishness, I took the limp pigeons, with many thanks, while she, with the obvious relief of having paid a debt, released Lucia into our house.

So that it was from Robert, not anyone else, that opposition to having Lucia as part of our family finally came. Early on, he had grumbled about her going through his drawers, and, though I had gone against him in not denying them to her, she and I had become particularly careful that everything remain the same after her inspections. One morning shortly after the gift of the pigeons, when he and I were alone, with no forewarning Robert lashed out that he was sick and tired of having “that little brat” at every meal. Extending his forefinger and opening his eyes wide, he began to squawk horribly. It was frightening to watch a grown man imitate the gestures of a handicapped girl—gestures made all the more grotesque by being filled with such rage. It reminded me of the way on mental hospital wards that nurses and aids, suddenly at their wits end from the suffering they’ve witnessed, break into vicious imitations of the patients. I knew how something could unexpectedly switch, as if behind his back, from pleasant to unendurable, yet I had rarely seen Robert so angry. Was it her muteness, or her very presence, that had suddenly become insufferable to him? “Aren’t I entitled to lunch alone with you every once in awhile?” he continued in his own disgusted male voice. “This is supposed to be our vacation, after all.” Then he slammed the door and went out into the glaring sun.

When the cool of the room was again silent, a primal crisis whose identity I only glimpsed seemed to have settled inside my house. “So it’s come to this!” Standing there, my once equally active decision not to have children evaporated before the sharpness of the sacrifice I seemed to have made, was now being asked to make. Mealtime without Lucia. Saying no to Lucia when she called to be let into the house. Worse, hearing her and not going to the balcony rail.

True, I’d had my own moments of being bothered by her demands. There were times her needs fell upon each other too rapidly for me to continue writing. Times, too, when she called from below that I changed what I was doing to something she and I could more easily share. But all these shifts in my daily routine, these slight alterations of plans, I had accomplished with quickened interest. Always I had felt as if a benign god were belatedly giving me a few weeks of limited motherhood. In fact, I had proceeded as if Robert were receiving the same rich reparation as I. Selfishly, I’d come to assume that the gift would last a month, and now, out of grudging respect for Robert’s needs, I would cut my time short.

It must have been around this point that I began to see how Lucia’s resourceful struggle to discover and communicate meaning was a metaphor for my own drive to move from the initially dark and formless beds of my desire to words that reach others. As with her, this task demanded enormous ingenuity and effort (far more than I had once supposed). And yet, as happens to most writers, I often felt impotent to move others with what I had cared enough about to shape and labor over. Watching this strangely gifted little girl raised all my useless questions about justice and the isolation into which we may all be doomed. But it also made me glimpse the odd magic of a persistent idiosyncracy. If only I could keep her with me and make her hear, I would finally make my peace.

When Lucia came by, feeling I could no longer let her in, yet unable to bear her screech, I went down to meet her in the garden. “Let’s take a walk,” I suggested; but she didn’t want a walk, she wanted to come into the house. “Dopo, later,” I finally told her, in despair. “After lunch.” This was done by gesturing that she should eat at home. “No,” she shook her head, and used the same eating gesture as she pointed to my house. And so we argued with our arms and our inarticulate mouths as we walked around the garden and neared the back door, both of us at times laughing, at times deadly earnest, until the argument was suddenly stopped by my refusal to let her through the heavy door.

The night following, awaking to stars filling the sky outside our window, I thought of Lucia and began to sob. Our time was drawing to its close. I pictured Lucia coming to her spot below our balcony each day, unable to understand the explanations Ornella or our landlady offered, until simple disappointment had piled one on another to win its change in her heart. How would I bear life without Lucia? How, really, return to all my pressures in New York? Each new image of her helplessness before what she could neither understand nor make right sent me into new waves of sobbing. When Robert awakened and turned to comfort me, my only explanation was, “Lucia.”

“Even if she eats with us every meal, you’ll still have to part,” he reminded me gently.

In fact, my meals without Lucia now seemed both exemplary of, and dwarfed by, the immensity of the abyss that would soon grow between us. As if weaning myself over the next days, I followed a pattern of irrational denials and meaningless restraint that could only have confused her. Only sometimes did I respond to her call. Digging deep into my secret martyrdom, I ate my austere meals alone with Robert, though I let Lucia in once we were done; and then, crazed and remorseful, I would find a special treat—a yogurt, some cookies—she and I could share. Once, even though it was midmorning and Robert was out of the house, I continued working at my table, just beyond where she could see in from her patient post below.

Then, a few days later, I greeted Lucia to discover her wild with excitement. Slowly, from apparent gibberish, I discerned two words: “Bagaglio. Mare! She was going to the beach, and with a suitcase. “Bagaglio. Mare!” she said over and over until, as the morning wore on, I was quite sick of her verbal achievement. An overnight at the beach will be good for us all, I decided.

In the afternoon, her mother came to collect her. With Lucia kicking away in her arms, she asked how much longer we were staying. “Less than a week,” I said. “So then we won’t see you again this year. We’re going to the sea for two weeks.” And she freed her right hand to shake mine. Perhaps it was the force of social amenities, perhaps only my own wish for an act, however misplaced, of completion. Leaning over the squawking, flailing bundle, I gave Lucia the good-bye kiss I knew she would only receive as one more restraint.

Then, suddenly, our house had a deeper silence. For me, life lay in suspension. As when someone beloved has died, I couldn’t bear to think directly about her. Yet, a nearly completed handwritten draft representing hours of work lay on my table, and I felt oddly refreshed. A few days later, we, too, began packing our bagagli. Wanting Lucia to know that I was still with her even though far away, I took all the colored pens Robert no longer needed to Ornella’s, to keep for her. They were wrapped in the sheet of paper on which I had written my name and she had written her insistent ULIAC under my LUCIA.

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