* The Russian Fur Hat
* Light in the Attic
Russian Fur Hat
Bob is a good, caring husband, though a bit boring. Case in point:
When Betty went out to Manhattan this morning, he made sure he
told her several times,
“Don’t forget to put a scarf around your neck. It’s
bitter cold outside.“
“My pullover will cover my neck just nicely, thank you, “ retorted
“Still, you should take the scarf as well. That collar is not
nearly enough to keep you warm. “
“All right, all right, I’ll take it,“ Betty sighed.
“What about the overcoat? Aren’t you putting it on? “
“No, I’ll take the fur jacket instead.“
“Your knees will freeze. Besides, that fur jacket is no good—not
without a hood, anyway. Better take your overcoat.“
“What do I need a hood for? I’ll simply put on my fur
“Well, you may put your fur hat on, but you should also have
a hood. You never know. “
“Bob, that Russian fur hat is all I need. I bet it would keep
me warm, even out there on the frontline.“
“All right, but take the overcoat, too. Do me a favor, will
you? I don’t want to worry myself sick over this.“
Betty gave in, as usual. She was headed out to the Lenox Hill Hospital
where a cousin of hers—also well past sixty— was recovering
from a hip-replacement operation. She was going to bring her some
pies and poppy seed coffeecake she had picked up at a Russian store
in Queens, the borough where both she and Bob had been living for
more than twenty years.
“And, watch your step. It’s slippery out there,“ he
added, for good measure, as Betty was positioning the fur hat on
her head, wrapping the scarf around her neck and pulling the hood
on—all under Bob’s protective gaze.
“Jewish men make the best husbands,“ her mother had told
her on several occasions. “They are good, decent family men,
down-to-earth and full of common sense. They just know how to take
care of children and will not leave you, even though they might,
on occasion, cheat on you.”
They had had a pretty decent marriage, even though there had been
no children. Bob had taken good care of her, practically spoiling
her, in spite of his occasional annoying possessiveness. He was a
thoughtful, careful man, full of foresight, always trying to avoid
danger in whatever form, lest he should tempt fate. He was fearful
and prudent, avoiding the unknown, a man who felt at ease only in
places and among people he knew very well. He was steady and prosaic,
not given to adventure or overexcitement, preferring instead the
security of the commonplace; the blandness that made him feel he
was in control.
“You’re boring me, Bob,” Betty would say to him
quite often. “Boy, you’re such are nag!” And her
voice, otherwise soft and pleasant, took on a Bovary-like tone of
desperation. “You know what? I’m quite capable of taking
care of myself. Anyway, we can’t go on living like this.”
“You know what I mean: this programmed kind of life, down to
the smallest detail, always trying to avoid the slightest mishap;
dodging everybody and everything.”
These outbursts of rebellion always managed to put Bob in a blue
funk. Thoroughly frightened, he would ask her in a plaintive mode,
“Aren’t we living the good life, Betty dear? Are you
Such moving tenderness was too much for Betty. She could no longer
“But of course we do, my dear. Ours is a very good life and
you are very kind man,” she would continue in her mind, but
very carefully, lest he should hear her thoughts.
“I haven’t had a chance to know anyone else. It’s
rather depressing to reach old age and realize you’ve been
sleeping with the same man all your life. Having shared a desk in
high school, we let our romance blossom in college and ended up getting
married just before we graduated. What a beautiful woman I used to
be! And now look at these bony wizened hands. What a dreadful trick
life plays on us!”
These were the kind of thoughts crossing Betty’s mind as she
was riding the F train into Manhattan. The air was quite stuffy in
the car, so she unwrapped her scarf and let her hood down. As for
the fur hat, she decided she might as well keep it on. Why let people
see the discolored, thinned-out, anemic remnants of her former luscious
blond hair? No doubt she had been a coquettish woman. She gave a
sigh and put her cheek next to the cold glass of the window, studying
the faces around her. Riding the Queens train is quite an experience.
In each car there must be at least ten nationalities. Most of the
passengers were wearing drab, grayish clothes. They had long faces,
marked by fatigue. Some of them napped, with their heads bobbing
up and down, trying to hold onto to a book or a newspaper printed
in some outlandish language. Overhead were all sorts of advertisements—most
of them in Spanish—offering lawyerly assistance for accidents
or medical injuries. In the end Betty fell prey to the same winter
afternoon drowsiness. She dozed off. It was just a few minutes, yet
they felt like an eternity.
When she opened her eyes, she was perspiring slightly. Her face was
flushed and a thin rivulet of saliva had coursed down her chin. True,
she had only slept a few minutes, but voluptuously. The air in the
car was getting hot. Across from her sat a tall, heavy-set man, whose
face looked Russian. He had a vacant scowl. No doubt, he must have
come aboard while she was sleeping. And, then she froze. Quickly
she reached for her head and felt a lump in her throat. The hat was
gone! She looked around, felt for it on the floor, but it was all
in vain. The hat was nowhere to be found. And, then she saw it. The
man sitting on the bench across from her was wearing her own Russian
hat. He must have snatched it while she was napping. A fresh wave
of perspiration inundated her—this time caused by vexation
and fear. She stared fixedly at the passenger. He was a hulk of a
man. Should she ask him for her hat back? Could she afford to cause
a scandal right there in the train? What if the man responded violently?
Naturally, he had not pilfered it from her only to hand it back to
her in the presence of witnesses! Bob would go crazy when she would
tell him the whole thing. Of all things, it had to be the Russian
hat he treasured so much that was stolen! It was so warm, so comfortable!
He had been wearing it for ten years, but another ten years would
not make it look a day older.
The train was pulling into the station. The man was dozing along
with the other passengers, the hat sitting proudly on top of his
head. Betty screwed up her eyes, tensed her body, the way she used
to in her youth when she competed in the long jump. Then she chose
her time very carefully. At the last moment, before the automatic
doors closed, she pounced like a feline. She snatched the hat from
the man’s head and dashed out just as the doors of the car
closed off behind her, leaving the man agape and numb with surprise.
She ran as fast as she could, deciding to abandon her visit to her
cousin in the hospital. Instead, she walked across the platform and
boarded the train in the opposite direction, for home. Seeing her
return so early, Bob suspected something was amiss and, naturally,
panicked. Betty dropped down in an armchair, drained of all energy,
clutching to her bosom the recovered Russian fur hat.
“You won’t believe what just happened to me. I bet you
would have died of fright, if this had happened to you. Just like
in the movies.”
“When I say you are naïve; that life is a dangerous thing,
not to be trifled with; you merely laugh at me.” mumbled Bob
in a voice choked with emotion, trembling at the foot of the armchair
from which Betty was ready to roll out all the details of this “made-for-the
“A huge, sinister-looking man—boy, you ought to have
seen him! A mountain of a man, with a glassy glint in his eyes, sat
down right in from of me. And, can you believe it?” said Betty,
letting suspense build up. Bob was almost in tears, at the thought
of what was to follow.
“Now wait. Wait just a minute,” he implored. “Take
your coat off first. And, your boots, too. Breathe deeply. Shall
I fetch you a glass of water? Oh no, I think I am going to pass out.”
As Betty took off her coat, out of the hood came the Russian fur
hat, falling onto the floor. Bob picked it up, showing it to her
“See what a good idea it was to insist you take the hooded
overcoat? There! If it hadn’t been for this hood, you’d
have certainly lost the hat.”
“What’re you talking about?” snapped Betty. “Where
did you get that hat?” she asked him, while continuing to clutch
against her bosom an identical Russian hat, only perhaps a little
“It must have dropped into the hood, while you were asleep,” said
Bob, smiling smugly at the thought of what he had managed to prevent
by insisting she take the hooded overcoat. Betty looked at him in
horror. For several weeks, the local Queens paper carried an ad about
the Russian fur hat that had been stolen off a man’s head in
the F express train. No one ever called to claim it.
Back to top
Light in the Attic
Lya wasn’t a woman to be easily fazed. Still, that sweltering
afternoon it all seemed more than she could handle. It was unacceptable.
Unbearable. Like the melting asphalt into which the heels of her
shoes - these days not as narrow as they once were - that sank into
the asphalt with a muffled squish. Like the stench wafting from the
open doors of the stores. Spoiled delicatessen, rotten fish. Sweaty
bodies streaming along the street and bug-eyed girls on the look-out
for the swallow of the nearest subway entrance. Stalls blanketed
with watches, belts, sunglasses, postcards with aerial views of Manhattan,
overcrowding the already crowded sidewalks teeming with insane passers-by.
She gripped the book tighter under her arm, gritted her teeth, and fingered her
handbag, where she had carefully placed the money. The book was merely a cover.
She hadn’t taken it along to read it but to distract people’s attention
from the handbag crammed with one-hundred dollar bills. No one would dream of
attacking a dear old lady, walking peacefully with a book under her arm. No one
would discern what the respectful and distracted lady was hiding in her scuffed
handbag, deliberately chosen. Only her expensive sunglasses might, perhaps, give
her away. But in a sea of imitations, they might easily pass for an ordinary
five-dollar pair, such as the ones that could be found on every street vendor’s
The entire street reeked of tobacco, a clear indication it was already time for
the work force to go home. Lya shielded herself the best she could, waving a
hand in front of her nose to fan it, grimacing with a barely suppressed disgust.
She was choking. In the clammy humidity and the oppressive heat smoke seemed
to coagulate in the air, floating like murderous tar clouds. Disgusting. Detestable.
As she was scanning the street for a cab, she reached the entrance to the subway.
As a rule she avoided the subway-primarily out of consideration for her former
lifestyle when she had had the use of a chauffeured limousine.
What she was doing on that particular day, in that area of downtown was another
story. Silently she cursed the moment she had decided to take the New York train
into Manhattan, to once more bail out Ricardo and his damn talent. What a loser!
A millstone around her neck! And how long was she going to be able to drag it
In the more than twenty years they’d been married, he hadn’t amounted
to anything. Made not one penny, not one show to display his paintings. What’s
more, he hadn’t even been learned English properly. Well, she had wanted
an artist for a husband, now she’s got one. And now she had to keep him
as if he were a disobedient child, with his head full of non-sense, spouting
stuff like, -the closer you get to the horizon, the farther away it gets from
you or -the rarified yellow light, like a morning of honey or -the underneath
of things, inner states, sensations, representations. Baloney like that. A painting,
either you sell or you don’t. But for a long time now he hasn’t been
painting anything anyone would want to buy. At least when she met him he was
painting flowers, still lives with fish, women - a bit abstract, but women nonetheless.
His work was promising. He had shows, he sold a lot. Now he’s gone off.
Definitely off. He experiments with all sorts of who knows what, tears it if
he doesn’t like it. And he doesn’t like almost all of it. He reads
like a crazy, paints like a madman and can’t wait to be alone. What the
devil he is doing when he is by himself? Collages, stupid modern stuff no one
understands anything thing about! Half of what he produces he destroys, the rest
he stores up in his attic, wherever he can fit it, hardly any room left now to
drop a needle, in this attic big as a church. No doubt he’s lost his marbles.
In the past, she was the one who brought home some customers, now and then, who
would sometimes buy a painting or two. Once a gallery owner bought the entire
set of wild flower paintings. This was right after they had moved from Italy
to West Orange, New Jersey, full of hope, imagining Ricardo becoming famous in
New York, and rich, too! Yet another stupid mistake. Why leave Bologna, where,
at least, Ricardo was somebody? What stupidity, to sell their old home, with
high ceilings, classic columns and frescoes, surrounded by oleanders, fig-trees
and grape vines, to an American, for a mere one hundred thousand dollars and
a plywood shack of a house in New Jersey?
They had met in Florence, at the opening of one of his exhibits of oil paintings.
He had been married twice before. Lya’s first husband - much older than
she - had died, leaving her a tidy sum. She and Ricardo could have been a happy
couple. He the talented one, she the rich. He the artist, she the shrewd one,
with her feet firmly planted on the ground. She had learned quite a few things
from her former husband, an antique collector from an old Italian family, with
a nose for business. “A duo, with her on the drums and me on the violin.
You can imagine the sound,” Ricardo imparts whenever the subject of their
marriage comes up. Why doesn’t he just keep his mouth shut, what would
he be without her? He wouldn’t have survived one day without her in America. “She’s
too tied down to the real world,” he wails. “She sees nothing but
what’s in front of her eyes; never the light beyond the horizon, never
the North Star.”
That damn horizon, with its shining line! And now what? Who in his right mind
would have gone out on such a scorching day, ride the train into the Penn Station;
then from there board the subway, get off and start walking along those slimy,
stinking little streets all the way to Chinatown, to get to that old jeweler’s
store? In the past ten years Lya had been gradually selling off all the diamond
broaches, the ruby earrings, and the pearl or emerald pendants. And today she
parted with her engagement ring, which her first husband had custom-ordered from
Paris. These few thousand dollars would cover their needs for another three or
four months. So many sacrifices for a man! While Ricardo, he couldn’t give
She found him in the neglected, weed-overgrown garden, behind the house. He was
stretched out on the chaise lounge, on the shore of the artificial lake, reading,
his wide-brimmed hat low on his forehead.
“Ricardo! Ricardo!” Lya called out to him, impatient and nervous.
Her damp clothes had stuck to her body. Her shoes widened by sweat were slipping
off her feet. She was out of breath and panting, her face was congested and her
lips purple from the effort, she looked like someone struggling with life itself.
And with Ricardo too, who was always fond of tricks and ironic pranks, flaunting
a sense of humor that aging, illnesses and failures had not been able to blunt.
“Ricardo! You deaf fossil!”
The straw had did not budge. Maybe he fell asleep with the book on his chest.
Still, he is definitely deaf - had been so from about the age of fourteen. In
those days he was swimming in competitions and was jumping from the trampoline. “I
once jumped so high, my eardrums popped and I lost my hearing completely in the
left ear. When they drafted me into the army, they assigned me to telephone duty.
In communications, can you believe it? We were once conducting war games. I was
sitting in the trenches, with the headphones over my ears. Whenever I heard,
Target number so and so, I was supposed to pull a lever, after which a soldier
was ejected outside, who would then fire the canon, the machine gun or whatever
weapon was called for. The trenches were just a bunch of large holes filled with
mud. I was just waiting there, numb with cold, to hear Target number 3!, at which
I was supposed to pull the lever, and so on. And suddenly I saw in the trench
a thin little green lizard, with delicate features, like a piece of jewelry.
And on that green fell - I don’t know why or where from - a stunningly
beautiful ray of sunshine. I was watched her, entranced. Apparently, in my headphones,
call after call had come and gone, unanswered - Target number four, Target number
five, Target number six! and so on. Well, not only was I deaf, but now also completely
under the spell of this enchanting little creature. So, naturally, I heard nothing,
and gave no response. I merely stood there rooted, watching the delicate being
for a long time, thus compromising their war games, sowing confusion among the
armies and their enemies.”
“Ricardo! You deaf idiot!”
Lya heard herself say as the stood right next to the chaise lounge lying in the
“What are you doing? Sleeping? Aren’t you ever going to wake up?
You are really driving me crazy, you know! I could be assaulted!”
Ricardo opened one eye and looked her up and down, with barely suppressed amusement.
“Assaulted? But who’s the fool to try to rape you?”
“I’m not talking about rape! I could be attacked. Did you forget
I had nine thousand dollars with me?”
“Why in the world are you carrying so much money with you?”
“Because you are not able to make any yourself! I sold the diamond ring,
“That’s a good girl.”
“Is that all you have to say? After all I’ve done for you! Perhaps
I deserve a different lot in life - have you ever stopped to think about this?”
“You’re doing the thinking for the both of us!”
“Stop it! Oh, I’ m wasting my breath on you. I might have died of
fright, for all you care. Or of heat! This city has become unbearable.”
“OK, OK, calm down. Why don’t you go and make some lemonade! And
bring me a glass too.”
“How about if you go and make the lemonade and bring me a glass.”
“I don’t like that lemonade. Brian is not feeling well. He hasn’t
stepped outside all day.”
“I don’t know about that, but for a week now he hasn’t taken
out the garbage, hasn’t done any repair around the house. And look at this
mess of a lawn! As for the fence, it’s in such bad need of repair it won’t
be long before it falls on us. I seem to have a special knack for surrounding
myself with loafers and free loaders. I’m going to take a shower and then
lie down for a while. I’m exhausted, and depressed. I feel used and ridiculously
generous. It seems I can’t expect even as much as a kind word, let alone
a bit of genuine gratitude or tenderness from anyone around here. I am a fool.
If you want to eat tonight, you had better cook yourselves. Brian can do his
usual potatoes with dill, provided he cleans up after himself.”
Ricardo had stopped listening. He pulled his hat back over his forehead and was
now thinking of how much time he had wasted in his life talking on and on for
hours with all kinds of poets, artists and other assorted alcohol or drug addicts,
reeking of talent and decadence. They would write their poetry on napkins, did
their drawings on table-cloths, were vomiting and urinating wherever they could.
Some died of cirrhosis, others overdosed, a few had heart attacks. They left
behind a very thin, but brilliant volume of work. Or perhaps he had not wasted
his time. That’s how things were meant to be. Great things sprang from
those meetings of theirs! Sparkling ideas, O, what a lot of ideas!
He heard Brian bustling about in that garden cabin in which he had been living
for over ten years. It wall started when Lya had a brilliant idea: to give a
party. Not so much to celebrate Ricardo’s fiftieth birthday, as to mark
the purchase of ten paintings by a Soho gallery, a unique event in Ricardo’s
artistic biography. They had invited several New York friends, Italian artists
from New Jersey, art critics and journalists from the local papers. Things had
begun to sour between the two of them. They had no relatives in America, no children.
And this violin-drums duo sounded progressively discordant, jagged. Lya impatient,
Ricardo passive. Lya thorough, pragmatic, possessed of social and earthly goals.
Ricardo airy, absent-minded, dreamy, with his ethereal joys, happy with the light’s
elasticity, with the vapor of his breath rising each morning when he awoke, thinking
only of his easel.
Brian had been brought to that party by a New York photographer - himself an
Italian. He might have been Ricardo’s age, perhaps a bit over fifty. In
the general melee, Brian remained unnoticed, even to the hosts at first. Lya
was trying to look busy, conversing gracefully with anyone whose interest she
could arouse, in an attempt to convince them of the saleable nature of Ricardo’s
work. Ricardo, of course, was patently absent! She hoped to enlarge her circle
of friends and identify potential buyers for his strange-looking, large-size
canvases, which somehow escaped destruction at the hands of their author, who
was always unhappy with the way light came through in them or with the apparent
lack of the ineffable. Conceits, thought Lya; silly whims, betraying an obvious
immaturity. An irresponsible man, grating her his nerves under the guise of the
unsung, odd artist in search of devil knows what.
That evening Ricardo was rather sad. He was bored and irritated with all that
bustle and din the guests were making, with his wife’s affected smiles
and contrived laughs, with the polite conversation and insincere admiration of
the guests, who, once they were in your house, and gobbled up all the food, drank
all your alcohol, certainly were not going to tell you they didn’t like
your artwork! He was sitting in a corner, rather secluded, muttering something
unintelligible, in a polite but careless tone, whenever someone approached to
congratulate him. And all along he was getting more and more intoxicated, just
looking vacuously at Lya, who was milling about busy and agitated, solemnly overwhelmed
by her role as a matron, public relations manager and impresario.
Brian was sitting in another corner, just as lonely and bored, wondering
what he was doing there, why his friend the photographer had insisted
that he come with him. He neither knew, nor wished to know anybody.
Later in the evening everyone walked out into the garden. Most
of them were already quite inebriated. Lya had planned a barbecue
near the artificial lake, on the far side of the garden-a place
of spectacular beauty, that greatly enhanced the market value of
the house. She was hauling all by herself wine and beer bottles
from the garden house, platefuls of hamburgers and assorted meats.
“Get off your butt and do something”, she hissed through her teeth
to Ricardo, while keeping her pasted-on smile for the benefit of the party-goers.
“I’m sore from hauling all this stuff, I’m practically falling
off my legs. After all, this party is for you!”
“For me? All this circus? Have you even asked me whether I wanted it? I
can’t wait for them all to leave!”
“Why don’t you at least try to make some conversation with them.”
“What should I tell them? I can’t speak English. Besides, I’m
“You’re drunk and, as usual, a pig! In fact you deserve nothing.”
“OK, then I’m not going to lift a finger. Did I ask you for anything?
All I want is to be left alone, so I can mix me some paints. Have you seen the
trees reflected in the lake?”
“The hell I’ve seen!”
“May I be of some help, madam?” Brian was heard speaking. Lya started
pleasantly and quickly changed the tone of her voice. Turning her back on Ricardo,
she spoke tenderly to Brian, flattered by his gesture.
“O, you are so very kind, sir! If you wish, you can take these bottles
out of here. And could you look after the grill? A man is badly needed in this
house!” she added, ostentatiously, looking furtively, out of the corner
of her eyes, to Ricardo, who couldn’t hear her anyway.
Brian took over the husband’s role in the household. For one evening it
was fun. He had no inclination for mundane things, so he took care of everything,
from the drinks to the grill, serving the guests and satisfying their every wish.
He had just finished collecting the empty bottles, and had dumped the used paper
plates in the large plastic bag. Moreover, he had taken the garbage out and placed
it at the curb, to be picked up the next day. Then he sat down in a chaise lounge,
looking out over the lake. He stood transfixed, watching the trees, listening
to the buzz of the insects in the darkness imbued with the odor of burned leaves
that had descended over the property of this dysfunctional but otherwise decent
Ricardo came over and sat down next to him. He had brought a bottle of wine,
which he held tightly to his chest, and two glasses. Neither spoke a word, their
silence standing out against the distant background of croaking frogs and women
laughing elatedly in the early stages of inebriation.
“Looks like a storm is brewing.”
“What’s that?” Ricardo said, turning his head in Brian’s
“We’re going to have a storm. The birds are flying in circles, with
frequent divings, as if someone was shaking them loose out of a desk drawer.”
“Very well. I hope all those people will leave soon, so we can be by ourselves
and drink a glass of wine in peace.”
Brian looked at him silently, for a moment.
“I like what you are doing.”
“What are you saying?”
“I saw some of your paintings. They are good.”
Ricardo was pouring wine into the two glasses. He put the bottle down, on the
grass and handed a glass to Brian.
“Are you a photographer too?”
“No. I’m not an artist. Actually I quit my job. There comes a time
when you just have to stop.”
“I see, nodded Ricardo in acknowledgement. I know what you mean, although
I’ve never had a job in my entire life. I am not disciplined. But I do
paint, and sometimes even as much as ten hours a day. Then I tear up everything,
laughed Ricardo. There’s very little I like of what I create. I’m
just playing. Now I’m toying with some pastel pictures. Rafters and haystacks.
Do you know what a haystack is?”
“I do”, smiled Brian for the first time after many weeks.
“What kind of job did you have?”
“I worked in a biology lab.”
“And what does a biologist do?”
“He researches structures. Tissues. Systems. What is called the inner nature
“I think all crafts and all arts deal with the same issue. The inner structure
of things, whatever the devil that might be. I imagine we are made up of an infinity
of micro-organisms, which fit together into a perfectly functioning whole. A
living puzzle. Diversity and coherence. And should one of them take off on a
tangent, error occurs. Some call it a virus, others just a disease. All have
been in us from the beginning. Health is just a matter of balance. To keep your
inner self in harmony, lest you stir one of those organisms. But how can we possibly
know what we are doing? Do we have in us the necessary control over our inner
structure? Are we aware of what’s going on in there?”
Ricardo refilled their glasses with wine.
“Let’s see, now. What methods do we have to get beyond what is seen?
Science? Good. She is always doing her job. Studying, searching, decoding, and,
especially conquering. Yes, conquering! As a matter of fact, science is warfare.
She wants to dominate, to control everything. On the other hand, we have faith.
Goood! Something more intricate. Illusory states of spiritual uplifting. We seem
to understand, only to sink into the unfathomable. Naturally the Creator was
not so careless to leave the mystery unprotected. The Creator did his job. He
gave us enough. The Word and the light: Now, my dear ones, go ahead and do what
you will with them. And should one life prove too short, I am going to give you
a few more - but you still won’t get anywhere. Just like these people,
with their science, they do what they do, and still end up in my courtyard.”
Ricardo lifted his glass and drank up. Brian was seemingly no longer listening
to him. Yet, when Ricardo stopped speaking, in order to pour into his glass the
last drops in the bottle, Brian looked at him expectantly.
“Well, there’s still art. And I think the Creator has a weakness
for it. He is sensitive to interpretations.”
“Ricardo, Ricardo! Aren’t you coming? Look, the guests are leaving.”
“Let them leave!” he whispered to Brian, hiding behind his deafness.
“Ricardo!” shouted Lya from the deck.
“Go and tell her I’m soused and would ruin her image, if I showed
up like this in front of her precious company. Tell her, too, I suddenly realized
I’m fifty and this piece of reality really hit me kind of hard. There’s
no way any serious man can remain indifferent to such a blow. Fifty years old!
And I’ve got so much to do still!” chuckled Ricardo.
Brian stood up to take the message to Lya. He was tall and gaunt, with delicate
movements, like those of a ballet dancer. Melancholy and mysterious.
“And on your way back, can you get us another bottle of wine, please?”
“I think I should also leave.”
“To go where?”
“That I really don’t know.”
“Then stay here.”
Lya gave up on the decorum of Ricardo’s seeing the guests off. Anyway,
he would have been morose and unpleasant. Better he should stay where he was.
Leave him to his own devices, while she’d keep up appearances. Brian had
returned with another bottle of wine from the refrigerator, strategically placed
in the summer cottage. His friend the photographer was waiting at the top of
“It’s late and Gino is waiting for me.”
“Ah, Gino! I thought you said you didn’t know where you would go.”
“I don’t. I’ve crashed at Gino’s place for the past two
months. Now his girl friend is back from Italy, so I have to leave. He said he
was going to try to talk to some neighbors of his, who might have a room in the
“Don’t leave just yet. Stay a bit longer, so we can drink another
glass before you leave. In fact, why don’t you stay here, since you’ve
got no place to go to?”
“What do you mean, stay here?”
“You just stay here. You can live in this little cabin. While it’s
not much so speak of, you’ve got everything you need in the way of basic
needs. Electricity, heat, a bathroom, and a television set. Plus a refrigerator,
filled with drinks,” smiled Ricardo.
“No... I can’t... I haven’t told you everything.”
“You’ve told me enough. Shortly after you turn fifty you get the
jitters. You left your job, quit everything and gave yourself over to ideas.
Becoming a tramp, some kind of vagabond, as Lya, would say. Irresponsible. But
I do understand. Life is so short and we do nothing with it. Got any children?”
“Look, I really can’t stay.”
“Nonsense! Come to the attic, and I’ll show you what I do.”
Ricardo led the way, holding the freshly opened wine bottle tightly by the neck.
Brian followed in silence. When they passed Lya, Ricardo whispered into her ear
“Gino can leave, if he wants. Brian will stay.”
“Where are you two going?”
“Upstairs, so I can show him my latest work.”
“O”, said Lya, glad that finally he was showing someone his work.
This was a rare occurrence. Usually he wouldn’t allow anyone into the attic.
And he never even invited her to come up there.
“And stop drinking!”
“Oh, what a nag she is! grumbled Ricardo, climbing with an effort the narrow
wooden stairway. She is stalking my every gesture; even counts my breaths. See,
I am gagging now. That’s what she’s doing to me. I am endowed with
an infinite patience. Infinite indeed!” lamented Ricardo, panting in rhythm
with the creaking of the steps.
The attic was truly spacious, indeed like a church. Right near the entrance,
a gray tomcat and a tabby were rolling playfully in mutual enchantment.
“Samson and Delilah”, said Ricardo, introducing them. “For
them this is a genuine paradise. The attic is full of mice.”
Large as it was, the attic was jammed with things. It seemed as if the contents
of several households had been removed and deposited there, helter-shelter-cardboard
boxes, trunks, garden utensils, scraped window and door frames, clothing, pots
and pans, sports equipment, lumber, plywood, mannequins, and all sorts of odds
“When we moved in, ten years ago, I couldn’t settle in any room.
They were clean, but small, with such low ceilings that I always felt my head
would pop through. With the floors smelling of chlorine. Lya was dreaming of
arranging for me a studio upstairs, in the large room, where everything would
be tidy and civilized and where people could come and admire me while I was working,
buy some paintings and generally study the artist in his own medium. The understanding
was that I too would be clean, organized and tidy, wearing an apron with just
a touch of paint discreetly spread on it, enough to convince the visitors I was
painting, but with my palms perennially white and clean, ready to shake any customer’s
hand. Alas, I chose the attic!”
“It’s a marvelous place!”
“You bet! Besides, here I can be all by myself! Lya comes up only when
she needs to throw something away. Most of the mess you see in here is her handiwork!
She does it all out of spite, to colonize my private space! She shuffles up here
into the attic even as many as two or three times a day, under the pretext of
having to stow away some old things, but in fact simply out of the desire to
check up on me. Am I painting or am I idling? Do I keep the painting or tear
it up in the end? Am I drinking? Or perhaps smoking marijuana? Do I feel at peace
with myself? That’s what she hates the most - that I can be happy without
her. It is the worst kind of offence to her. I know she’ll never forgive
me for that. But you know, I had to fight for this solitude. It hasn’t
“I bet it isn’t that easy to get”, agreed Brian, rather absent-mindedly.
Ricardo poured wine into two dirty glasses and handed one to Brian. At that moment
the door creaked open, banging against the wooden pillar, which was preventing
it from falling. Discreetly, Lya put her head round, then stepped in triumphantly.
“What are you guys doing here?”
“Having fun and gossiping about you.”
“Well, why am I not surprised! I just came to deposit these empty beer
cartons and bottles.”
“Wouldn’t it has been easier to just put them in the trash?”
“You never know when we might need them.... Watch your drinking, Ricardo!
All the guests left.”
“Your conduct was abysmal. Still, it was a good party, wasn’t it?” she
said, this time to Brian. “By the way, thank you for all your help. Has
he shown you his paintings?” but did not wait for his answer, shuffling
with her slippers down the wooden stairs instead.
“See how diabolical women can be? They are bent on keeping us under their
thumbs, pestering us no end, pounding us into fine powder like termites, until
there’s hardly anything left of us!”
“I’m hardly qualified to offer any opinions on this....”
“This obsession about hoarding everything is almost like a disease. She
simply can’t part with anything, collecting instead whatever comes her
way, restoring and neatly depositing everything. Her possessiveness goes far
beyond the range of useful things. In fact, I bet she includes me in that special
category she reserves for useless things.”
“Ricardo, don’t forget to switch the light off when you leave”,
shouted Lya from the bedroom door.
Ricardo shook his head, hopeless.
“When I first stepped into this attic, I knew there and then it was going
to be my very own private place. From that day on, I’ve never regretted
leaving behind our house in Italy. No more nostalgia. The attic seemed at first
so vast and empty that I hardly knew where to place my easel. But it was full
of mice, bees and pigeons. There were droppings everywhere. In the spring I would
build nests for swallows, while in autumn I would lay out baskets with walnuts
and peanuts, for the squirrels to help themselves to, as they gathered their
He poured himself some more wine, studied Brian cautiously and then pulled off
the sheet that was covering a stack of recently-finished canvases.
“I’ve had quite a bit of success these past few days.”
Brian took each of them in his hands, then held them out at a distance, so he
could examine them as an expert would, tilting or lowering his head, to see them
from different angles, under different spots of light.
“I don’t know much about painting”, he said at long last.
“But I do like what you do. These things convey something. They are alive.
They have a certain mystery about them. They stir up something in me. Certain
states, recollections, feelings. I can see beyond them. I am experiencing a kind
of joy, I don’t quite know how to put it....”
“You see, this is precisely Lya’s problem. She has no interest whatsoever
to find out what’s beyond things. She cannot see further that what the
physical eye can see. She lives exclusively on the outside. And that’s
what’s keeping her from being happy!”
“Who is happy?” inquired Brian, turning towards him.
“Well, I am!” exclaimed Ricardo, opening his arms as if he would
embrace the entire attic. “Here and now. Every morning when I wake up and
I have another day in which I can paint. I stand in this attic alone before my
easel and I am happy. And the light comes through each day in a different color,
with a different brightness, according to the season, to the atmosphere and to
the degree of humidity. It is soft and mild, with orange tones on autumn mornings,
reddish, blazing hues just before a storm. There are times though when it is
so sharp I could cut myself on it. Or so cold and icy my fingers would freeze
on the paintbrush. At dusk it is material and heavy, while in early spring it
is rarefied and translucent. And at times it is dark, very dark, almost black,
preventing me from seeing anything. I have a good relationship with light. I
could paint it forever. In the scales of a fish or on a woman’s thigh,
in the eyes of the monks, on a knife’s blade, or in this glass of wine.
Ad infinitum. I never get bored, can never have enough of it. I only dread the
day I won’t be able to paint anymore.”
“Ricardo! Enough of this! Let’s go to bed! Put out the light”,
Lya’s imperious voice could be heard from downstairs.
“Pay no attention to her”, said Ricardo unperturbed. “As we
have no children, I’m the only one she can bark orders to, the sole object
of her torture. Otherwise, she’s quite a decent girl. I guess each of us
is aging according to his or her soul - I in silence, she shouting her lungs
By now they had drunk the second and third bottle of wine. Brian continued to
study the canvases, as if he was going to buy one but couldn’t make up
his mind which.
“I like these two haystacks. One green, the other blue; one in the light,
the other in the dark. This picture is so sad, so tenderly sad.”
“Well, it’s a composition.... a sensual one. The complementary pair.”
Brian started, jerking his head sideways.
“My partner died.”
“What’s that?” asked Ricardo, remembering he was deaf.
“Two months ago my partner died. I quit my job and moved out of my rented
apartment. I just couldn’t face living there alone. You have no idea what
it’s like to lose your matching pair. Each morning is a punishment. I wake
up defeated. Purposeless. I’m just waiting for the end. I can’t see
why I survived him. Where’s the blame in this, if there is one? I will
crawl all the way to the very end. I am too weak to put an end to everything,
the way I ought to.”
“Lya must not know this”, warned Ricardo. “She sees things
in black and white. Let this be our own little secret.”
As of that evening, Brian moved into the summer cottage. The next day Ricardo
woke earlier than usual, made some coffee and went over to Lya’s bedroom.
“What’s the matter with you?” asked Lya, frightened. “Did
“I just wanted to indulge you for a little while.”
“Have you done something stupid?”
“I’m sure you must have made some booboo and now you are here to
smooth things over before I find out....”
“I told Brian he can live for a while in the cabin.”
“Calm down. Just think, he can help us with the house, the garden...”
“You mean help me! Because you won’t lift one finger. You have no
idea of the kind of world we live in.”
“Precisely. It will make it easy for you. He’s willing to do anything.”
“So that’s it! He’s going to stay with us.”
“What about rent?”
“No rent, but we won’t pay him for services rendered either. It’s
not going to cost us a dime, think about it.”
“Well, come to think of it, said Lya, a bit more placated, we do need a
man around this house!”
“See? chuckled Ricardo. It’s going to work out great!”
Ten years elapsed since the party. Brian became a member of the family, and a
daily witness to the cold war fiercely waged between Ricardo and Lya. He was
constantly called upon to come to the defense of one or the other - a convenient
safety valve for either of them. He did everything, took care of the house and
the garden, too. But most of all, he listened. Both needed to be heard, pitied,
encouraged, contradicted and, above all, allowed to speak, to get it off their
chests. In a sense, he had become a kind of private shrink, armed with patience,
and so quiet and forlorn, that he seemed understanding and wise. They were living
in a kind of peculiar triangle. Lya and Ricardo could no longer imagine life
without Brian. Lya kept selling jewels from the family’s heirloom, in order
to cover the household’s needs. Ricardo went on, painting passionately
in the attic pictures no one wanted. The monotony was occasionally broken by
“Let’s take up bee-keeping.”
Brian found for himself a protective suit, bought the beekeeper’s manual
and installed three beehives in the backyard. For a while everything went well.
“Bees! That’s all we needed! protested Lya. It’s like he’s
competing with himself to invent ways to drive me crazy! I can’t even step
into the garden these days, with all that humming. Besides, no one eats the damn
honey. What a headache!”
In the end the beehives were gone.
“Let’s plant garlic! Lots of garlic! Every fall in the next town
they have the Garlic Festival. We’ll win the big prize! The soil is great.
Brian, why don’t you till the entire garden?”
Brian dutifully complied.
“Have you gone raving mad? What in the world are we going to do with so
“Well, we win the competition and then we sell it.”
“And where exactly do you plan to sell it?”
“Brian knows! He’ll take care of it. I guess at Sunday’s farmer
markets. Didn’t you say we should be practical? There, we are finally getting
there! We’re making some money.”
“Selling garlic? You’ve got to be kidding!”
“Yes, selling garlic! What’s wrong with it?”
“You men have gone insane. Except that I’m not going along with it.”
The following year they harvested an impressive crop of garlic. It didn’t
bring them a prize, nor did they sell any of it. Instead they put it in the attic,
from where it provided them with an ample supply of the pungent vegetable for
years to come. Evenings Brian would cook potatoes with dill and garlic - a recipe
the family proudly adopted as the specialty of the house.
In time they tried all sorts of things, like opening a boat-repair shop, although
only a handful of neighbors had boats on the artificial lake. Then they turned
to planting tea, a small vineyard, a pheasant farm and a silkworm nursery. Each
of these enterprises lasted about a season, until Ricardo came up with another
idea, only to see it fail, like the previous ones. Brian fulfilled his whims,
worked hard and then abandoned each new project with the same speed with which
he had taken them up. Lya had grown accustomed to the insanity emanating from
the minds of the two men and eventually stopped protesting.
Ricardo spent his time in the attic, painting. Always grumbling about the outcome,
but nevertheless happy. Only Brian was admitted into the attic. Ricardo would
call him up on the pretense that Brian needed to sweep the place clean, or that
he wanted to show him his paintings. Inevitably, each visit would lead to long
spells of conversation that would end up stirring Lya’s jealousy. He never
tore up any painting Brian liked. In the evening they would leisurely drink wine,
out in the garden, into the late hours of the night.
Most of the time Brian was quiet and resigned. He would catch cold often and
didn’t get well easily.
“Have you thought of getting some treatment?”
“What’s the use? My partner followed a treatment. A useless agony.
Brought him no relief. The end is always the same. Besides, I have no desire
to go on.”
“What?!” Ricardo burst out. “Life is a miracle! I would get
myself several if I could. What about this brilliant autumn light or the scent
of these crushed grapes, what about the chirp of the crickets, the rustle of
the wind, the skies before the storm? Don’t you like it here, with us?
Why don’t you try some medical help? You know, wonders never cease! There
Brian was silent. When he did speak, his voice shook gently.
“I like living with you two.”
He spent mornings with Lya, helping her clean house, do the shopping, wash the
dishes, take out the garbage; then he’d resume his garden work, which never
ended. In the afternoons Lya brought her chaise lounge into the garden and Brian
sat on a low stool next to her, massaging the soles of her feet. Lya would then
launch into reminiscences about how happy she had been living with her former
husband. How rotten spoiled she had been! Now she was paying for it, she would
add. Both literally and figuratively.
“What would I do without you?” Lya would tell Brian. “All by
myself, day in, day out! He doesn’t even care to show me what he does.
Never invites me up there, to inquire whether I like his work or to let him know
what I think of it - you know, just to chat with me. He thinks I don’t
understand. He deliberately forgets I was married to an art dealer, that I traveled
round the world at his side. All I’m good for is to always come up with
the money. What kind of a life is this?”
“But, you know, he does care! He appreciates your opinions. It’s
just that he won’t admit it, hates to show he pays attention to you.”
“You think so?”
“Definitely. He loves you very much!”
“But why won’t he organize a show?” said Lya, to change the
“I don’t think he has any interest in that.”
“We live a quarter of an hour’s drive from Manhattan, at the beginning
of the twenty-first century, and yet, one might say we live outside time, cut
off from society, avoiding the world.”
“And what’s wrong with that?”
“I don’t know. It’s strange. Do you think Ricardo is a failure?”
“Oh, no! He’s wonderful.”
“You know something? He never dedicated any painting to me. You know what
I mean? He never painted one especially for me. All artists paint their wives.
Instead, he just doodles on his canvass, his rafters and his haystacks, and his
monks with those ridiculously distorted faces, and rotten fish. And now he’s
got another mania: collages! Have you seen some of the stupid stuff he’s
been painting lately?”
“I like it. There’s so much force emanating from his works! So much
joy! The way he applies color, the intricate forms he comes up with! With him,
everything is imagination.”
“I see”, Lya nodded, unconvinced.” Everything happens in that
mind of his. No connection with the real world.”
“And what’s wrong with that?” insisted Brian, in defense of
Ricardo. “Reality brings only unhappiness.”
“I don’t know where you come up with such ideas. You don’t
mean to tell me you’re unhappy. But why am I asking? As though I were any
“No, with you two I’m OK”, Brian would whisper as he continued
to massage Lya’s feet until she dozed off in her chaise lounge, with her
chin resting on her chest, her mouth barely open.
One afternoon, Ricardo came down from the attic earlier than usual. Brian was
fixing something on the lakeshore. Lya had gone to the bank.
“Brian, get your old self over here, we got us some work to do.”
Ricardo’s eyes glimmered with barely suppressed anticipation. Brian walked
over, slowly, coughing hoarsely, nursing a three-week-old cold.
“I’ve got an idea. We’re going to fly!”
“Fly?” questioned Brian, as if only the time was inappropriate just
“I’ve just found out how to fly. I wonder why I haven’t thought
of it earlier! It’s so easy! You’ll see.”
“How did you find out?”
“It just came to me. It popped into my head”, chuckled Ricardo. “Everything’s
up there! All we can ever invent is in our heads.”
“So how do you do it?”
“Piece of cake. You bend down, stretch out your hands and rest on your
knees, as if you were a bird.”
Brian did as he was told, kneeling down, with his arms wide open and his head
bent down. His feet sank into the tall grass. Little swallows were circling noisily
above their heads.
“Yes, yes, like that. Keep it up like that. Now, I’m going to sit
here, next to you.... Tense your legs and lower yourself a bit more. And concentrate.
That’s all it takes: concentration.”
Ricardo stretched out over Brian’s back, his arms resting on his. Then
he closed his eyes and held his breath in. There they were, like a group statue,
caught in a graceful movement.
“There we go! We’re flying! Can’t you feel we are floating
in the air?”
Brian nodded in acknowledgement and followed Ricardo’s example, closing
his eyes. He barely felt the artist’s weight pressing down on him.
“Flying does wonders for one’s bones. In fact, it’s good for
every part in the body. So therapeutic! Every flying creature is healthy. Brian,
can you feel we are flying?”
“Yes I can.”
“Then you are going to get well. What can you see?”
Brian closed his eyelids tighter.
“Tell me more.”
“A light from above is coming down on my eyes. I can see it. Bright and
pure. I can even feel it. “
“Is that so?”
“Vast green spaces....”
“Good, good! What else?”
“The tree tops. And the golden grass.”
“Can you see the ocean, too?”
“Yes, I can see the ocean.”
“Then you’ll be healed, Brian. Miracles do happen. Look, right now
we are taking part in a miracle, we are causing it to happen. Think hard and
tell yourself under your breath that you are going to get well.”
They had been flying peacefully for a few good minutes, when Lya paused in the
middle of the garden, looking at them perplexed.
“What the hell are you doing there?”
Her strident voice startled them and they fell in a pile. Ricardo slid off Brian’s
“If I told you, you wouldn’t believe it.”
“Nor would you believe if I told you that I put myself through all sorts
of hoops to pay all our bills for this month”, retorted Lya.
“What did you say?” asked Ricardo, cupping his hand behind his ear.
“That I’m tired of all your stupid behavior. At least you should
have the decency not to involve Brian.”
“Sorry, I can’t hear you.”
“And I wish I couldn’t see you!”
“We are flying! Would you like us to teach you how to fly too?”
“Stupid old fool!” snorted Lya, and then stormed out of the garden.
They would fly several times a week, with Ricardo invariably lying on Brian’s
back. And while they were in flight, they told each other what they saw. Lya
would make the sign of the cross, disgusted. How ridiculous men can get!
“It’s all because you have no job, not a care in the world! However,
if you were forced to earn your own living, you would hardly find time for all
your oddball ideas.”
“You don’t know what you’re missing in life, just because you
refuse to use your imagination”, replied Ricardo sadly. “So many
things you’ll never feel, never see and never touch!”
“Sometimes I wonder if you are just a clown, or a real crackpot!”
Ricardo was now dividing his time between the attic and the flying sessions with
Brian. In the evening they would drink wine by the lakeshore, braving Lya’s
nagging. They would get drunk, and then go to bed peacefully.
Except that Brian was getting more and more fragile as the days wore on. He would
get tired easily, coughed constantly, lost weight and his eyes had retreated
deep within their sockets. He slept late, collapsed whenever he exerted himself.
The garden was now overgrown with weeds. Lya grumbled, discontented, while Ricardo
defended Brian, attempting to conceal his own concern.
On that hot August day, Ricardo had had a premonition. Lya had gone to Manhattan,
in an attempt to sell another of her famous rings, which would assure their survival.
It was past noon and Brian had still not shown up in the attic. Several times
Ricardo came down, under various pretexts, searching for Brian in the house and
out in the garden. He was nowhere to be found. He pulled the chaise lounge by
the lakeshore, covered his head with his large straw hat and started reading
a book, while also watching to see Brian when he would show up. It was already
quite late. Lya returned, agitated, following the incident where she was robbed
in plain daylight by some black men in Chinatown. She was edgy and exhausted,
with frayed nerves, showing all the wear and tear her martyr-like existence with
Ricardo had caused her. She went straight upstairs, to take a shower and lie
down for a while. In the meantime, Ricardo’ grew more alarmed. At one point
he stood up, walked to the summer cottage and laid his ear against the door.
He couldn’t hear a sound. He walked in. Brian was lying on his back, with
his gentle eyes fixing the ceiling.
“I thought you were asleep, said Ricardo cheerfully, but then you are only
meditating. What do you want to do? Shall we fly for a bit?”
“Nothing. I just can’t do it anymore.”
“Come, we’re going to switch places. Now you will fly lying on my
back. It’s going to do you good, you’ll see.”
“It won’t matter anymore. I don’t think I’ll be able
to fly again.”
“OK, OK, just rest here for a while”, said Ricardo, his voice shaking. “Not
to worry. We’ll fly tomorrow. Why don’t come up to the attic with
me, so I can show you my latest paintings?”
“I can’t move”, whispered Brian.
“All right. You lie still. I’ll be back in a bit.”
He crossed the garden in long strides, then climbed the steps to the attic two
at a time, like in his youth. He returned quickly to the cabin, carrying a canvas
he had painted that very morning.
“What do you say, old chap?”
He set the canvas in front of Brian’s eyes, so the latter could see it
without having to turn his head.
“It’s Lya. She’s so beautiful!”
“I thought of you, while I painted it.”
“And you did a very good job handling the light over her face. She is exactly
as she would have liked you to see her.”
“But please don’t tell her. She shouldn’t know about it. Let’s
just keep this between us.”
“Sure, it’ll be our secret....”
-“I’m scared, Brian.”
-“I know. I’m too.”
-“That’s why I’ve painted Lya. I’m scared to be alone.
Loneliness is different than solitude. You choose your solitude. To be creative,
to put order in your thoughts. It’s an energetic state of mind. But loneliness
it’s only a snake squeezing its head in your cap of tea, caching your breath.
These days I was thinking of our trio. Our wonderful sad trio. My painting is
not enough. I need both of you. Don’t go, Brian.”
Brian cast him a grateful look. Ricardo’s hands were shaking. He put down
the canvas and rested it against a chair beside Brian’s bed.
“Should you change your mind, we can still go for a short flying session.
You’ll find me by the lake.”
He left Brian’s cottage exhausted. The sky was overcast. The swallows flew
in low circles. They would dive, almost touching the treetops - sign of the storm’s
approach, as Brian had once told him. He sat down in his armchair and, for the
first time in his life, felt helpless. The laurel bushes were writhing, in the
strong gusts stirred by the storm. Two years ago he had had this idea of planting
laurel and oleander shrubs, just like the ones they left behind in their Italian
house. Brian had gone along with the idea. The oleanders froze when winter came,
but the laurels adapted themselves quite well to the climate, growing their metallic-green
tall bushes. Brian got to like them too. Sometimes he would add laurel leaves
to his barbecue sauce. The first raindrops stung his skin.
“What are you doing there?” Lya’s voice boomed from the window. “Can’t
you see it’s raining?”
“What did you say?”
Lya came down into the garden, to pick up the wicker chairs and the chaise lounge,
before the rain came down hard.
“OK, I understand you can’t hear, but can’t you feel either?
No wonder you can’t feel, after smoking another joint of marijuana....
Your glassy eyes give you away....”
“The storm is coming.”
“Then get into the house!”
“Brian is not feeling well.”
“You told me already. I can see for myself how weak he’s been lately.
What’s ailing him?”
Ricardo touched her arm and looked at her dejectedly.
“He’s going to die.”
“Brian is going to die.”
“Cut it out, will you!”
“Look, I’ve had enough of your dumb jokes.”
“I’ve always been afraid of this day. It’s been our own little
secret, his and mine. Ever since that night when he first stepped foot in our
house. He didn’t want you to know.”
Lya surveyed him with a mixture of doubt and terror.
“What do you mean he’ll die? What of? I’m going to go see him.”
She entered without knocking. Brian was sitting on the edge of his bed. He had
turned the picture Ricardo had painted that morning with its face towards the
wall, having expected Lya would visit him in his cottage.
“You’re going to get well. I promise you.”
She was speaking in a slow, measured voice, quite unlike her typically loud and
“We’ll go to the best doctor. I know you don’t have any insurance
or money, but don’t worry. I’ll pay for everything. I’ve still
got two rings left, that Ricardo knows nothing about. They’ll fetch the
highest price, by far. Then we’ll find the best hospital, the best doctor.
No matter the cost, I’ll pay for everything.”
Brian was smiling, as if to reassure her.
“Why didn’t you tell me? You’ve got to get well! How could
we ever live without you?”
Brian was no longer saying anything. Not a word. He made to stand up and Lya
helped him. Both of them went out into the garden, Brian leaning on Lya’s
arm. Ricardo was waiting for them. Outside it was drizzling with small, hot raindrops.
All three looked at one another, as if they had a hard time finding each other
in the midst of a infernally crowded place.
Ricardo bent his knees, lowered himself and spread out his arms. Lya helped Brian
lie on Ricardo’s back. Both were holding their eyes closed, while Ricardo’s
palms held tightly to Brian’s palms, as if afraid they would really lift
off the ground. They were flying in silence, with Lya next to them. The raindrops
were streaming down their cheeks.
“Can you see the treetops?”
Brian nodded as his face was lit by his customary gentle smile.
“Then everything is all right. And the ocean? Can you see the ocean? Beyond
it, over there, there’s another ocean. And so on, old chap, ad infinitum.
Land, water, light, water, land....”
By now the rain had turned into a mighty downpour. Lya watched tenderly as they
flew. She was almost flying with them. She too could see the wide blue water
expanses, the treetops, the grass in flames, the gloomy light shoot down to earth.
After that day Ricardo didn’t come down from the attic again. After a week
Lya went into the cottage to clean it up. She found the painting, resting against
the chair, facing the wall. Ricardo had painted it the very day Brian died. She
stared at it, recognized herself and her heart flooded with tenderness. Except
that in the in the corner of her mouth Ricardo had painted Brian’s smile.
She carried the picture to her bedroom, and hung it on the wall facing the bed.
She stepped out onto the landing towards the attic, and called:
No one answered.
“Ricardo! Ri-car-do! You deaf lout!”
“Come on up!”
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