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Two different worlds, two lonely souls that are going to meet.Sofia is the last descendant of the Spanish family of Alvarez. For years she has lived segregated in a villa in Florence. Rarely does she leave the house, she spies the world from the window of her room. She dreams it, wishes it, and yet she hates it. But mostly she hates The Left Sofia. So does she call that part of her face which was disfigured because of a fire in the garden of the villa when she was just a child. A silly game with her brother Alejandro, a small fire burning near a dry scrub. Terrible consequences that forever changed her future. Because in that garden Sofia has not only lost the perfection of her beauty, but also her brother Alejandro.Lorenzo lives on the outskirts of Florence with his father. At the age of eight he contracted a terrible degenerative disease that, day after day, made him blind. Since then, the world of Lorenzo became a chiaroscuro of light and shadow that vibrate to the music. Music, in fact, is his only reason for living. The cello is his only voice.One day, Lorenzo and Sofia meet in the Boboli Gardens, just in front of the statues of Adam and Eve. They get to know each other, they befriend. Day after day, their relationship turns into something deeper and more complicated. A perfect and inviolable feeling. A blind and sincere love.But the world around them, the desire to see beyond the shadows and enjoy the beauty is too great temptation that can disrupt even that Eden of love ...
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Adam & Eve - The Garden of Sins
Translated by Georgiana Bulancea
“Adam & Eve - The Garden of Sins”
Written By Francesco Falconi
Copyright © 2016 Francesco Falconi
All rights reserved
Translated by Georgiana Bulancea
Adam & Eve - The Garden of Sins
The garden of sins | Francesco Falconi
Prologue - Adam and Eve
Part One – Ash
Second part – Purple sin
Intermezzo - Adam and Eve
Third part - Lost paradise
27. Sofia & Lorenzo
28. Sofia & Lorenzo
29. Sofia & Lorenzo
34. Lorenzo & Sofia
Part Four - I will be the garden, you will be the serpent
43. Sofia & Lorenzo
44. Sofia & Lorenzo
46. Sofia & Lorenzo
Epilogue - In a land of gods and monsters I was an angel who was living in the garden of evil
47. Sofia & Lorenzo
48. Ana & Rita
Adam & Eve - The Garden of Sins. The heart of Florence.
Two different worlds, two lonely souls that are going to meet.
Sofia is the last descendant of the Spanish family of Alvarez. For years she has lived segregated in a villa in Florence. Rarely does she leave the house, she spies the world from the window of her room. She dreams it, wishes it, and yet she hates it. But mostly she hates The Left Sofia. So does she call that part of her face which was disfigured because of a fire in the garden of the villa when she was just a child. A silly game with her brother Alejandro, a small fire burning near a dry scrub. Terrible consequences that forever changed her future. Because in that garden Sofia has not only lost the perfection of her beauty, but also her brother Alejandro.
Lorenzo lives on the outskirts of Florence with his father. At the age of eight he contracted a terrible degenerative disease that, day after day, made him blind. Since then, the world of Lorenzo became a chiaroscuro of light and shadow that vibrate to the music. Music, in fact, is his only reason for living. The cello is his only voice.
One day, Lorenzo and Sofia meet in the Boboli Gardens, just in front of the statues of Adam and Eve. They get to know each other, they befriend. Day after day, their relationship turns into something deeper and more complicated. A perfect and inviolable feeling. A blind and sincere love.
But the world around them, the desire to see beyond the shadows and enjoy the beauty is too great temptation that can disrupt even that Eden of love ...
Francesco Falconi, who was born in Grosseto in 1976, now he lives in Rome. Always a lover of reading, he has published sixteen books for both children and adults since 2006.
With Mondadori he published Muses (2012), Muses - the Tenth Muse (2013), of which the film rights were acquired (2014) and Gray.
Adam & Eve - The garden of sins is his first book of fiction.
To my readers, who for years have followed me in every literary Eden.
" it wasn't sin that was born on the day when Eve picked an apple, what was born that day was a splendid virtue called disobedience.. "
Florence, August 10, 1944
Columns of smoke into the sky.
Weeping in silence.
"Don’t stop, don’t stop now!"
A young boy under twenty years was trudging in an alley from Florence. He was wearing a pair of worn-out pants and a white T-shirt torn on his chest. The hair, grimy and greasy, covered half the face. He was holding a girl more or less his age, limping and panting.
"I can’t take it anymore," she moaned.
The boy slowed down and leaned against a wall. He crouched and checked her ankle. The bandage was soaked with blood, the bleeding hadn’t stopped. All because of that damn splinter after the explosion in the shed. He cursed under his breath. They should have fled when they had been warned by her mother. Before the arrival of the tanks. Before the screams. Hatred. Air consumed by fire.
The boy touched her cheek. She winced in pain.
"I'll carry you. I’ll heal you. "
'I'll be disfigured for good. "
"You'll get well. You will always be beautiful. "
She bowed her head. Her hair covered her face like a curtain.
"We live in a land of gods and monsters."
The boy touched her chin with his forefinger.
"I was an angel who lived in the garden of evil."
Her lips were cold. The left corner of a plague devoured by fire.
"Shining like a beacon in flames."
He searched for her gaze. He immersed himself in her eyes. In those black pupils that were trembling with hope and suffering.
"We can’t stop now, my love."
There was no time for uncertainty or fear. She was his only reason for living. The only light in an ocean of smoke and flames.
"Don’t give up! We're almost there! There are only a few meters. "
The other let out a long sigh. "I have no more strength. Let’s rest a bit, please. "
"Rest? Now? We can’t."
"Just a minute, not a second longer."
An echo lifted up in the distance. The song of death.
The boy turned pale. "Germans. The Germans are here. "
"It is not possible. We have moved away. We fled away. The Germans have left the line of Lungarni. "
"But we didn’t know where they were going!"
"The Martinella Palazzo Vecchio. You've heard it too? "
"My mother said that the Tuscan Committee of National Liberation rose up. We can do it. We will be safe. They will stop them. "
The chapped lips curled into a faint smile. "So ... so now we are safe?"
"They say that the Germans are retreating towards the avenues of the ring road, the Mugnone and the railroad to Rome," he said, but his voice betrayed that desperate wish that all would be over.
The girl nodded. She collapsed to the ground, bursting into tears. "I can’t take it anymore, Adam. My ankle hurts too much. The cheek burns me. And I'm tired. I'm cold. If we are safe, let me rest. Just a bit. "
Adam looked around.
They had arrived near the Ponte Vecchio. One of the few that the Führer had spared.
The Romito, however, had already exploded.
An open gate. The wing separated from the jamb. The wall pierced by a mine.
"Look there, Eve!" He exclaimed, taking her purse.
He stood up, dragged Eve over the road. To that corner forgotten by the God of War, the shelter from monsters spared by hatred and destruction. An hour or so should have been enough. Eve would recover. Then they could have fled away. Forever together.
They went into the opening of the unhinged gate.
Fire and smoke.
A blown garden, a garden of ashes. At the center, the skeleton of a tree. The trunk was reduced to black charcoal, its branches like dark claws that were impaling the anthracite heaven.
Adam rested Eve at the base of the tree. He removed her bandage and threw it away. The cut was deeper than he thought. He watched the burn on her cheek coming down like a snake along the neck.
Eve needed medicines as soon as possible. The wounds were infected. Then he opened his backpack, took a new gauze. He bandaged the leg, barely managed to hold back the tears.
"You will get well soon, you'll see. I just have to find a pharmacy. "
The girl's hand gripped the collar of his shirt.
"Run, Adam, run away immediately."
Adam leaned her against his chest. He shook his head, killed the sobs that tore his breath.
"No, Eve. Never without you."
"They won’t do anything to me, my family is Spanish. To you however ... you know what the Nazis do to people like you. Like your parents ... your brother ... They take them over there, in that silence. "
"I know. But it won’t be like that. For us the future is different. Do you remember what we have always said? We will change the world, Eve. "
"But it's the world that can’t be changed by us. That horror, that silence is everywhere. In a land of gods and monsters only hatred and madness reign. "
"No one will look for us in this godforsaken place."
"Even in this garden of ashes?"
Adam clenched his fists. "In case of anything, we will flee. Once again, together. Forever. "
"But look at me, Adam. I can’t even stand on my feet. "Eve looked up, panting. "There's so much fire. Yet I feel so cold. "
"I'll warm you myself."
"Close your eyes, Adam. In the darkness, beyond this smoke mask. Let’s search for our sun. "
Adam held her in silence. Eve smiled.
"Can you see it, our sun? You see, our star? "
"Yes, I see them."
"Then sing, Adam. Let me still hear the music of your voice. That voice that sounds like a violin. The only one that is able to travel beyond this realm of shadows. "
Then a rumble.
And the voice filled with hatred replied. The screech of the iron, the gate to the ground. A thud, in a gray cloud. And gloomy steps, in the heat of the earth. In that dust that could only kill, strangle, fade each color.
"Come on, let’s leave!" Shouted Adam.
Eve started to get up, but a sharp pain in the leg took her breath away.
"Leave, Adam. Save yourself. "
"No! Not without you. We made a promise to each other. Forever together, remember? "
A tear trickled down his face, between the ashes that covered his cheek.
What could they do now? They had to flee again. If the Ponte Vecchio was blocked, they would find another way. At Piazza Beccaria, where the front of the partisans was.
"Save yourself, Adam. If you really love me, go away" finally cried Evita, flushed.
The other shook his head. "I'm not going anywhere."
"There he is. That's where he’s hiding. "
Adam jumped up and stared, horrified. A German engineer was a few meters from them, helmet and rifle on his shoulder. He pierced them a look of ice.
Adam snapped to the side, slipped a hand into his backpack.
A fatal error.
A shadow that eclipsed Eve’s sun.
Adam fell on the ground.
"No!" Cried Eve. She stumbled to the ground and reached him. A dark stain spreading across his chest.
"Run, Eve. Run away. "
Eve started shaking, sobbing.
"Why ... Why did you ..."
Eve leaned on the ground. Her hair were smoothed over his chest, bathing in blood. Pain exploded in a cry of despair.
"Where do you look, my God? Where is our sin, my God? I was your angel, your beacon in flames. "
"We will meet again soon, Eve."
"No, don’t leave me, please!"
"I leave this world with the image of your face. Love Eve. Because loving, you will change the world. "
"Love doesn’t stop the time. Love doesn’t bring me your glory. "
In his eyes, she wept with joy.
"We'll see each other again. Tomorrow, in a month. Or in another life. No one will ever be able to drift us apart. No God, no monster can ever burn our earthly paradise. "
Then, a last sigh. His eyelids still open, gray veiled pupils.
But he could no longer see her. His eyes were sunken into the realm of shadows, as if a thief had stolen the light of all the colors of the world.
"Aufstehen! Bist du eine dreckige Jüdin? "
The German engineer approached slowly. He watched with disdain, spat at her.
Eve was unmoved. She touched her scarred cheek, her beauty exterminated for good, the abyss of pain that annihilated every hope, every fear, every future.
And Eve lied.
"Yes, I am a Jew."
She felt the hot barrel of the rifle leaning on her cheek, disfiguring her burnt skin. Devouring her flesh, dragging it over horrible scars.
Up to reaching the temple.
Towards the end.
But Eve didn’t utter a groan.
"In this land of gods and monsters, we will change the world."
[...] then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. Now the LORD God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed.
[...] so the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.
Genesis 2,7-8; 2,21 to 22
In her eyes.
The greed spies a new sunset, it is the day that agonizes in the darkness.
Sofia observes the last rays of sun that bathes the dome of Cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore. She stares at the shadow of Giotto's Campanile tower that blendes with that of the Baptistery of San Giovanni, gradually obscuring the Piazza del Duomo.
She bites her deformed monster at the center of the lips. Her fingers touch the curtains. The nails devour the fabric, the hand tightens into a fist. The same fist with which she would like to crush the heart of Florence.
Sofia wonders when was the last time that she walked through those streets, drowning in that sea of people overflowing from the banks of the Arno. She wonders how much she would get pissed off between the dirt of the stalls, she stepped on the Old Bridge, inhaled the smell of that cursed city. When she dared to go into Via de Tornabuoni, she bought a new pair of shoes, or a skirt or a sweater. A wonderful dress, the most expensive, the most desired, the most useless. The dress that she would never show to anyone.
In her eyes.
Anger scratches the retina, it is the light that blinds all feelings.
Sofia wonders the last day when she went into a bar or a pub. When she felt embarrassed, she felt her stomach in her throat and her head bent to avoid the stares of people. That shyness that turned into light, the light that attracted the curious eyes of a thousand moths.
Exactly her. The rich girl, the noble girl, the girl with the covered face. The deformed secret that for years was hidden in the depths of the villa Alvarez.
And Sofia finally wonders when she turned into the spectator of her own life. In those imprisoned eyes behind the louver. Eyes that from the window steal the pictures of the outskirts of Florence and create worlds. They imagine scenes, places, joy and sorrow. Invisible ghosts that drift in the streets, in beds, in promiscuity. Eyes that listen to muted words, perceive unknown perfumes and pulses of a thousand hearts.
Hourly. Every minutes. Beat after beat.
It is a synchrony of daily actions, gestures, words, greetings. Like the shoe store that opens the gate at nine o'clock, but it always sees few customers cross the threshold. Or the newsstand in front of the traffic light, and the bald guy who occasionally peeks through the door. The bar right in front of the gate of the villa, which day after day conquers small squares of sidewalk, moving quietly the flower boxes with bougainvillea. Sofia knows perfectly her schedule. Tables filled with flowers until eleven o'clock, few people during the lunch hour. It is August, it’s too hot.
There should be still so much to see. To say and to ask. With the passage of time Sofia has learned to rejoice on the small changes in the micro-world of the Grande Strada. The new sign of the grocery store across from the bar, which appeared on a Monday evening and obscured the next day by a veil of black plastic.
But the reality is so disappointing. So repetitive, so incomplete.
Sofia expects a new life glare. It is only a matter of moments, she knows it well. She needs just a bit more patience. Finally, a breath of relief, and here they come. A boy with ash blonde hair. A slim girl with a wooly cap. He’s wearing a black jacket, she has a purple coat on. They meet few meters from the newsstand. They greet each other with a kiss on the lips.
In her eyes.
The universe moves like a puppet, it is the envy that wriths like a snake.
Suddenly those faces from far away start to take on different features. The lips move, pronouncing words that Sofia knows how to read and interpret. It is the voice of hatred that feeds on revenge, the pleasure to inflict suffering to her mannequins. In the Grande Strada, Sofia is the only god and monster.
Because that guy named Marco, is twenty years old, works in a factory in Prato. There, he has met a girl, her name is Elisa. Just a few glances and the worm of temptation showed up. The excitement, the courtship, the attraction. The sweat between the sheets. But Marco is not the Prince Charming. He plays the role of the cheater, the coward, the unfaithful serpent. And here comes Sara’s puppet from the backstage, Marco’s true girlfriend. And Sara discovers them, sees them, screams.
Sofia laughs. She moves her fingers, pulls the strings that hold the puppets.
Sara has discovered them. Now she is the protagonist, the goddess. She approaches Marco, the monster, and she reproaches him everything, insults him, slaps him in the face.
Then something unpredictable happens. Sara suddenly disappears in the proscenium, as if she had never existed. Marco smiles and embraces Elisa, touching their foreheads. She speaks softly, pronuncing damned words of love.
Sofia grinds her teeth. Only she can make decisions in the world she has created. But what is Marco doing? Is he kissing Elisa? Why is he so happy?
What a horrible passion. What a despicable promise. What a damned hope.
Sofia holds back a scream. She bites the monster between her lips, trembling with rage. The goddess has failed once again. She is no longer capable of creating stories. Something about her is broken, the gears got jammed. What happens, what is changing, what is getting destroyed? Maybe it is the boredom that is devouring the hatred, the hatred that is burning the wires of her puppets.
Or she just needs to wait. A few more minutes. Disappeared, Marco and Elisa. Go away! In front of other puppets. Two other boys. Two other faces to be deformed, voices to cripple.
But it is already late.
Because the sun is leaving this day, and soon it will leave room to its friend, the Moon. A sad friend, who would had to settle the solitude of a pinkish bed that covers every star in Florence.
The one that Sofia knows less, the whore Florence which Sofia would like to explore and spy. So she closes the shutter, pulls the curtains which leave a small opening to let the air go through.
The silence closes up around her. Dissatisfaction is a demon that overhears in the shadows and sniffs every move. Sofia could turn on the light and read a good book. Go downstairs, go to the living room and torture the remote control of the TV. Or help Ana to prepare the dinner.
And yet she felt more comfortable in silence. She approached the silver dressing table. A piece of furniture that she disgusts, the inviolable inheritance of her grandmother Freira. Baroque, made of dark wood, with shaped legs and oval mirror framed with curls and floral patterns, suffocated between the dresser and the closet. The incarnation of masochism that makes her every night sit on that stool.
Isabella had asked her maid Ana to move it in her own room. Or one of the guests’. Or downstairs. Anywhere as long as it was far away from her daughter. But Sofia had refused categorically. Isabella could shatter every mirror in the house, hide every reflective surface, severing all ties with the past. Sofia, however, would always be the only goddess of her room. At least there, in her own world.
Sofia breaths in. The twilight has already eaten half of the room. Boredom and time are peeking in the dark, ready to accompany her umpteenth night.
She runs a hand on the shelf and touches the first frame, made of the smooth silver. She barely glimpses the photograph, but she knows perfectly well who it depicts. Isabella and Leon, her parents, who hold each other in an embrace that seals the eternal happiness of Alvarez. A flawless installation. The shot that must be replicated, zoomed up, shown off. The steel symbol of eternal love.
Sofia touches the second photo. In there, her grandmother Freira, the worshiper of the dressing table, rests. A much too delicate body, an excessively fragile heart that the hatred of Florence has silenced years ago. Freira sat on the big purple velvet chair with her hands folded on the chest, a tight smile that made room in a tangle of wrinkles.
Then, there is the third photo.
Sofia touches the alabaster frame with her forefinger. The thumb drew a half circle on the glass. There is not even a speck of dust.
She shakes her head.
Enough. The time, her friend in the shadows, whispered to her that she needs to think about something else. The fourth picture, where Sofia herself is portrayed. The girl framed in the window, hanging on the facade of the villa Alvarez from about twelve years ago.
Since that fateful day. The day of the Garden of ashes.
Sofia turns around a bit. Her gaze rests on the bookshelf across the room. It is shrouded in darkness, but a ray of light illuminates the third shelf. There are no books, it is occupied by the collection of turtles. Of every kind. Glass, stone, plastic and even rag.
Anguish freezes her breath. She opens the box of matches, and rubs one on the rough surface. A crackling sound, the smell of sulfur. Then she lights up the candle, lets the flame timidly welcome her into her cone of light.
She turned to the side, looks to her right with the corner of the eye. The mirror gives back the image of a girl wearing a white robe, reclining on a slender but proportioned body. A mane of brown hair with a light coppery tinge, long below her shoulders. The nose well defined that might seem the work of sculptor chisel. Cheekbone a bit too protruding. It is the Right Sofia, the one that everyone loves to watch.
Then she tilts her head and lets the curls fall on her face. She looks down on the candle flame and turns slowly. One degree. Ten degrees. Eighty degrees. The tongue follow the line of the lips and jams on the bulge at its center.
And here The Left Sofia peeps in. The sunken cheek, puckered by the red lava-alike scars. The grooves on the face, cracks of a desert. The ear is a wax statue melted by the fire. The eyebrow disappeared, the eye got strangled by the eyelid. The nose hangs sideways like the tower of Pisa. The hair is thinned out, as if disgusted to approach the horror. Because The Left Sofia is an embarrassment, pain and horror. She is the eternal condemnation, punishment without ransom. She is a bleeding heart whispering a few words.
"In a land of gods and monsters, I was an angel who lived in the garden of evil shining like a beacon on fire."
Sofia's gaze rests on the figure in the third alabaster frame.
It is a happy and joyful kid. An infectious smile. Two eyes that shine with life.
The pain is no longer a distant echo. The beast wakes up at sunset, it reminds her of the despair of her existence. It dries out her throat, pushes away the tears from her eyes. Tears that are falling down quietly and fast on The Right Sofia, that strand disoriented on The Left Sofia.
But the night has arrived. And with her the darkness and silence.
Sofia stands up, bends slightly and turns off the candle.
Sofia dresses for the evening.
Cotton jacket and pants of dark colours, a purple shirt and a pair of black shoes with some heels, one of Isabella's many gifts for her twenty years birthday. She didn’t like them because they were too shiny and elegant, but it has been over a month since her birthday and she hasn’t put them on yet. Her mother has already launched her some slings and arrows, it’s good to make her happy. Half smiles, polite answers, infinite condescension. The essential ingredients for a day without hassle and pretentious monologues that always turn into life lessons.
Sofia collects her hair in a ponytail, pulling a sigh of relief. She doesn’t need makeup, that evening she could avoid the heavy blush. She shouldn’t waste time to rummage in the drawer to choose a scarf, a hat, a scarf. No friends of the mother were waiting for dinner. She could be herself, without reciting any role, without using the usual stratagems to hide half of her face. Isabella is a volcano of ideas and she always finds new ways to kill The Left Sofia. Her rival, the eternal enemy that she tries to bury for twelve years. A struggle that The Right Sofia observes as a helpless spectator. At first she was terrified, then she got used to it. Now she’s just bored, because the battle between her mother and her disfigured twin is a routine which repeats itself at least once a week.
Sofia chases away the thought. She checks the time, it’s eight o'clock. In less than half an hour Ana would call for dinner, punctual like a clockwork.
Sofia leaves the room, closes the door quietly. She goes through the hall wrapped in the shadows, down the stairs to the ground floor sidelong glancing at the portraits hanging on the wall. Two perfect diagonal lines that summarizes the cemetery of descendants of Alvarez. All deaths of her family, stories that she knows by heart. Not a day passes by that her mother doesn’t remind her, because the noble descent should be honored.
Honoring the Spanish origins. And why should she be grateful for her family legacy? That is, due to a cold, silent and huge villa, an ice dome that suffocates her in a maze of corridors, dead ends, behind closed doors? The wealth that has vanished for years now?
Perhaps some of those damn ghosts could clear the Garden of ashes?
On the wall there is a picture that somehow Sofia can’t ignore. She stops on the steps, tightens her hand around the handrail and observes for a while the face of Eleonora Alvarez of Toledo, in the copy of the famous portrait by Bronzino. Eleonora, the second Duchess of Florence and first wife of a doctor named Cosimo, known for her haughty character but also for her beauty. Dark haired, brown eyes, perfect and sweet features in an oval face were characterized by an aristocratic appeal and order. Sofia has always been fascinated by Eleonora. So seductive, strong and an art lover. The architect of the Palace Pitti and the Boboli Garden, nipped by malaria at the age of forty. Envied and adored all her life. She would be the perfect sister whom Sofia has never had.
Sofia reaches the entrance hall and opens the kitchen door. Ana is located in front of the table, she is cutting an eggplant with mechanical gestures, quick and accurate.
She raises her head, and winks. Sofia returns the gesture with a smile. Ana is fifty years old, but looks so good, at least a dozen less. She always keeps her hair groomed, black as pitch, tied behind the neck. Her eyes are of an intense green that sometimes seem to glow like emeralds. But Sofia doesn’t love her beauty, she has always been enchanted by that character, so decided and determined.
Ana has always been the only one to stand up to her mother. She has been hired as a nanny when Sofia was just three, and then became a maid, a chef, and a general maid. In time, her role has turned into one of the official counselor of Alvarez. When Leon was coming back to Florence, she was the first one who was being inquired to give a detailed report of what happened during his absence. Problems, troubles, setbacks, hassles and, of course, confidences about the health and mood of his daughter. Then, Isabella went on a rampage: why did he have to consult with a maid when he had a wife? In fact, why wait for those sporadic weekends when he could make a call? Was the work so intense and stressful as not even to spend a minute in the evening for his family?
A few years later, Leon asked Ana to leave the apartment she rent on the outskirts and to move into the annex of the villa, it was useless she would waste more than an hour on public transport every day, particularly as the dependence was being used as a useless storage. Isabella had immediately opposed, but then she had to lower her head when the husband had added an important postscript to provide room and board for Ana, he would cut down her salary. Money was always less and less, while Ana’s help was indispensable. Over the years, the relationship between Ana and Isabella had cooled down, they were seeing face to face only when they spoke of the importance of the family traditions. Every single day, though, they were fighting over all the rest. Isabella was giving orders, Ana was criticizing her decisions. Isabella was threatening to lay her off, Ana was replying that she was willing to leave the very same day only if Leon agreed too. Leon, far from Florence, was ignoring those annoying bickering echos between the walls of the villa Alvarez.
These and many others were little secrets that Sofia would never have known, but the villa Alvarez microcosm had a thousand eyes and a thousand ears, many of which belonged precisely to Sofia.
Ana grabs a pan and throws in the eggplant slices.
"Are you ok, Sofia Evita?" she asks while turning on the cooker.
Sofia sighs. She has never been able to call Sofia only with the first baptismal name. According to Ana, Evita was the mark of her descendants, Sofia sounds rather like something of an understatement, anonymous, negligible.
However Sofia doesn’t want to argue today. It is a battle over the name, one which she has lost many years ago.
"More or less," she replies noncommittally. "Do you need help?"
Ana shruggs. "I'm almost done, in less than twenty minutes dinner will be ready. Are you hungry, Sofia Evita? "
The other shakes her head. "Not much, to be honest. But I'd love to give you a hand occasionally. That is, if you ask me. And then, why not, I would like to learn how to cook. "
"Why, what's wrong?"
"Nothing. I didn’t know of this new passion. "
"Yes, I think I might like it."
"I thought you'd prefer to stay in the room. Reading, writing ... you have nothing more to attend to, Sofia Evita?”
"I deal with what I am interested in."
"Correct observation, but Isabella ... "
Sofia holds up a hand. She smiles. "I see. Isabella didn’t approve. Isn't it? "
"You know how much she wants you to study."
"I study. Damn, I do nothing for twenty years. Study, study. Read the damn books. I can decide for myself how to keep myself busy. "
Ana nods. She pretends not to disagree, but Sofia notices the glitter of her pupils. That rebel glow that would support any decision.
"And also this observation is correct. But, as you know, your mother is not of the same opinion. We have already talked about this. Too many times, I assure you. "
"Yeah, I know. What she said the last time ... Ah, here. Cooking is an understatement. You think so, too? "
A smile draws on Ana’s lips. It is a moment, then back to serious. "I don’t think that cooking is an understatement."
"So you will find the time to teach me how to cook."
"Besides, Sofia Evita, for now, it's not you who gives me my salary. Precise duties have been given to me by Leon. Can you hand me that cloth, please? "
Sofia takes the cloth, hands it to Anna, puffing. "Oh, please. Don't bring my father now. Imagine him caring if I lose an hour a day to cook ... "
Sofia freezes. Now she notes a detail which had escaped her: Ana is preparing only two dishes.
"Don't do that. You know that your father loves you, but the situation at work is becoming increasingly difficult. In China, everything is more complicated. "
"You don’t dine with us tonight?" Interrupts Sofia.
"I'll keep you company, don’t worry."
"I see. Two dishes. You and I. And mum?"
"An unexpected meeting, I think that you got it," replies Ana.
Too bad that Ana was truly not a good liar, and Sofia knows it. Then she wonders why Isabella has left out this little detail. Leon had not come back from China, and she doesn’t remember dinners where she has to take the place of her husband, perhaps with some merchant of Prato and around the city. For weeks, business was drowned in a grueling monotony.
Sofia already knows the answer. It is more than just a suspicion or paranoia.
"Well, now. See you in half an hour. But tomorrow you will teach me how to cook. "
Sofia didn’t give her time to reply. She turns, closes the kitchen door behind her, she reaches the entrance of the School.
The School, in microworld of the villa Alvarez, is the library where she has studied for years. A classroom with gigantic shelves full of books and dust, a class formed by one person: Sofia. She and many of anonymous teachers of whom she didn’t even remember the name.
Sofia had complained of that enforced isolation, but it was explained to her that it was a necessary precaution to avoid the dangers of infection. She would have had a relapse, suffering the torments of hell. And Sofia perfectly remembered hell on her face. The excruciating pain, the sleepless nights, the eternal silence. The endless moments in which she prayed that everything would end, that the darkness would swallow, erasing any pain.
This was the story that she believed when she was a child of eight years. Later, however, Sofia realized that there was no risk of infection and that her health wouldn’t be compromised in attending classes with other pupils. Telling lies to children was an unexpected side effect: it must be ingigantirle with age. But often she forgets this detail.
Sofia lingers to turn the handle of the School.
She inhales, exhales.
Time has come to face Isabella Alvarez.
Distant voices are emerging from a round of applause. In just a few moments, silence surrounds him.
Another voice, closer. It comes from the front rows. Lorenzo recognizes it right away, that is Marco’s. Lorenzo is happy that he has come to the recital, just as he had assured him a few days earlier. In fact he didn’t expect it so much, Marco is a great guy as well as unreliable. His presence, however, results to be very supportive to him and gives him courage.
Lorenzo’s hands are sweaty, the spotlight is on him setting his hair on fire.
He bows in front of the downstage and sits down on the stool. He lays the tip of the cello on the ground, the fingerboard on the shoulder. The left hand touches the “f” drawn into the housing, shakes the strings till the pegs. The right hand is already holding the bow. He tightens the instrument between his legs and tries to relax.
Every hesitation vanishes.
He lowers his head. The orchestra behind him takes in the signal. The music spreads through the room, the noted reach him stroking his skin and they creep into his ears, echoing in his mind. Lorenzo goes with the flow until the music takes away the senses.
He doesn’t hear another thing. No noise, no smell.
They are alone again. The soul and the music. Merged into a single entity.
He no longer feels fear or anxiety. The bow slips sideways on four strings, as his fingers press on the fingerboard to decrease or increase the frequency. There we are, it is Cello Suite No. 6 in D major, of Johann Sebastian Bach. A melody that Lorenzo doesn’t particularly like, but which has been imposed by the maestro. It was actually a good compromise: the lineup of songs he had proposed had been rejected across the board, but with the opening of Bach the last two songs were saved.
The music takes over.
Lorenzo sinks into unconscious, his hands moving without noticing. He doesn’t do one single mistake, is in perfect sync with the orchestra. And it’s no wonder. He has been practicing those pieces, every single note and vibration for four months.
He exhales, widens his eyes.
In the dark he sees music. It is a storm of light swaying before his eyes, a triumph of colors fading into orange and turquoise. The Cello Suites has finished, a round of bass sounds overhangs the last notes of the cello.
Then he plucks the strings and arches his back. He doesn’t receive not even get a round of applause from the room. Didn’t they like his performance? Did something go wrong? Lorenzo swallows, imposing to remain calm. He can’t leave room for doubt or uncertainty, he must go on.
" O Fortuna, velut moon statu variabilis, semper crescis aut decrescis ."
Those words in the background accompany the Carmina Burana by Carl Orff. The maestro was adamant: no more than a minute. A melody too overused, in his view, but according to Lorenzo it can be reinterpreted with the cello in a completely original version. Really it is just an excuse to attract the public’s attention. Lorenzo thought that Carl Orff’ s piece which is rarely used in the recital for year-end, would have aroused interest. Thus, he lets himself move in perfect synchrony with the notes, until he changes for a new register, this time without breaks. The music is enhanced by strings and finally drums make their appearance.
Here we are, the closing piece. A tribute to a Finnish group, Apocalyptica, a mixture of heavy metal and instrumental symphony. He fought with all his heart not to exclude the piece from his recital. Bold and provocative, so did the teacher call it. But the musician of Apocalyptica, Perttu Kivikaakso, is proof that the cello is not only a suitable tool to classical music. That there is nothing wrong with pop and that the two worlds can merge. One day Lorenzo would be just like him, and make known the cello to the boys of his age. Because, he is certain that at twenty years there is a universe to discover, there are not only YouTube and the iTunes charts.
Lorenzo is at the last sequence of the song " Quutamo ". It is a difficult track because it requires the use of the thumb nut. An awkward position, but it allows him to reach higher notes. He can’t fail, must prove to the teacher that he was wrong. He must also prove it to himself.
He lowers any defense and surrenders himself to music.
The bow slides on the strings. At the beginning it is like a lament in a desert of emotions. In the background, the drums are the hollow sound of thunder on the horizon. The storm of sound is approaching, ready to reawaken that pain to which he had tied and surrendered for years. And then the whisper of music becomes a groan, then a scream. He drops his head forward, sways it gently, while the curls cover his forehead, eyes, cheeks. He reaches the ecstasy of the senses, the suffering emerges with arrogance deleting the acceptance of a life that has endured without compromise.
Then, suddenly, the silence returns.
The orchestra behind him is silent. The cello, caught between his legs, stopped paying. And the bow still vibrating, stopped in midair like an unsheathing sword.
Lorenzo has finished. He has no more to say. He bows in silence.
His hand holds tight the fingerboard, trembling. Maybe the teacher was right, he defied the fate, exiting from the classical repertoire. Perhaps he exaggerated. Maybe.
But he was wrong. A second later an ovation of applause stuns him. Those in the room shout his name, stand up.
A minute. Two minutes. The applause doesn’t tend to decrease.
Lorenzo then opens his eyes.
And again he sees the storm.
But this time it's just a storm of shadows.
Lorenzo puts the cello and the bow in the housing, closes the hooks. He does it slowly, caressing the instrument as if it were a sacred object. He pats the seat of a chair with the hand.
"Were you searching for this?"
He stiffens. "Maestro?"
He extends his arm, grabs his walking stick, and bestrides immediately the sunglasses.
Lorenzo hears him sigh. Perhaps he was not satisfied with the performance.
"The boarding has already decided?" Asks Lorenzo with a small voice.
Silence. These are the moments in which Lorenzo would want his eyes to help him, revealing the expressions of the faces around him. Instead, once again, he has to settle for a figure that stands out in the dark. Still, as always, with sudden gestures, almost jerky. Vanni Boschi, the teacher who for ten long years has believed in his abilities and has always encouraged him to follow his passion for music. Passion which then resulted in a real reason for living.
Lorenzo owes him everything. It was he who made Lorenzo discover his love for cello, filling with notes an increasingly dark life. Years of strict teachings, almost obsessive, which, however, were able to distract him from the pain of blindness, giving him hope that there was still something to fight for. And now Lorenzo has arrived to the showdown. Because it is not only one of the many recitals by year-end. There is talk of a scholarship, thanks to which he could finally fulfill his dream, to get away from the conservatory, and go abroad. France, Spain, England.
Lorenzo doesn’t want that Vanni notice his anxiety. He doesn’t want to rehash old arguments, in which he was accused of wanting to just get away from Florence.
He waits without saying a single word. But those seconds are heartbreaking. Pins that stick in faded pupils. He hears not a single motion, nor his breath. The dark figure has become a statue. Then, a slight movement of his head.
"Your performance was extraordinary. You know, I don’t like to admit my mistakes. I was wrong, the choice of the playlist was correct. "
"We decided together the lineup. You would have never mixed up Bach with Orff or Apocalyptica. "
"However, it has passed," he continues after a pause. "I'm sure the board members were impressed ..."
"It seldom happens that a student decides to close with a heavy metal piece."
"Actually it's not really heavy metal."
"It was perhaps Beethoven and haven’t I noticed it?"
"A symphonic rhythm?" Jokes Lorenzo.
The maestro laughs. The other one is surprised, the teacher usually reserves for him synthetic and glacial answers.
"Anyway, yes, I was very pleased. And I'll tell you, performing on stage has had a different effect than the rehearsals. ... It was addictive. Different from the previous ones. "
"And subsequent, I suppose. I'm happy "he exclaims taking a step closer.
"Now the bad news."
Lorenzo freezes. "The bad news?"
"You know, it always come in pairs."
"I have surprised them but the votes are still low?"
"No, I am sure that they won’t be at all" he reassures him, but the tone of his voice has darkened.
"The scholarship will be awarded only after the recital of the Fiesole school."
"What? ... It is absurd! " replies Lorenzo. "Only one scholarship for students of two conservatories?"
"And the award was reduced by thirty percent."
Lorenzo holds back the anger. He would like to grab the chair and throw it against the wall. It was already a miserable bag with the initial call, now it will do just to enroll in a school of second category.
"Maybe next year there will be more funds, enough to go abroad" Vanni adds up.
Next year. Twelve months. Three hundred and sixty days. More than enough time to find another excuse. Lorenzo turns, takes the cello. He no longer wants to discuss or investigate on what possible vote the board will reward him. A point in his favor or against won’t make any difference.
"Anyway, don’t always see it negatively. Being judged, you that are one of the most promising students of the conservatory, is a great result. You know, during these recitals important people always attend. "
"I guess," replies Lorenzo softly. Too bad it's the same comment from the last year, but no one came knocking at my door. He glimpses at symbols imprinted on the face of the watch. "It’s late, I must go home."
When he raises his head, he realizes that the teacher has moved to the right. Behind him he glimpses another shadow. A shadow that is familiar to him.
Jacopo approaches with fast steps and squeezes Lorenzo to the chest. Lorenzo remains immobile and incredulous, with stiff arms at his side.
No thought can be translated into words. He doesn’t know what to say, how to behave. His father can’t have come to the recital, it has never happened in the past five years. Lorenzo turns, look for the shadow of the maestro, but it's already gone.
Jacopo lets go of the embrace, clears his throat. "I'd forgotten how good you have become at playing the cello."
Another stab in the chest that catches him completely off guard.
"I didn’t expect it" says Lorenzo after a while, embarrassed.
"Neither do I, as you hadn’t let me know of the date. The maestro Vanni was the one that announced me. "
"I figured it must have been the maestro."
"I should be angry with you."
"And why should you tell me that? You have no longer come to my concerts since ... "
Lorenzo freezes. There is no need to get angry or respond with vitriolic jokes. He wants to enjoy these moments of happiness, he achieved his goal. He gave voice to the music. Only this matters.
"Since Irene passed away" his father concludes, instead.
Lorenzo contracts his muscles. Jacopo never touches on the topic of his mother Irene, but today he does it naturally, without his voice cracking or betraying any emotion.
"I'm sorry, Lorenzo. I made some terrible mistakes in the past. It is not too late to recover? “asks Jacopo.
Lorenzo closes in the silence. He spies the world of shadows, identifies his father's traits. He would like to tear away the gray from his face, color it with emotion, of affection, of true repentance. He would like so much to see if there is still a light of hope.
"You were busy with the recital, I didn’t want to bother you" says Jacopo.
"To talk of the decisions I made. Right and wrong. On our past and future. "
Lorenzo doesn’t replicate, he knows what Jacopo refers to, in the recent years his father has turned into a wax statue, motionless in front of the TV, chained by cans of beer. However, Lorenzo is surprised that now he admits it naturally, without shielding behind excuses and lies. Just the thought can make him go back. It's the fear that something is not right. It's just another illusion.
"And how would be our future?"
Jacopo takes him by the arm. "Someone comes always to a point where he understands that he can’t go back. It is my last chance, Lorenzo. And I have decided to go back. To you. To my only family. "
Lorenzo is stunned, listens to him without reacting. His father hasn’t ever said anything like that. Just when he thought he had lost him, had given up all hope and had thrown in the towel, something unexpected happened.
Maybe it's true what the teacher says, you should never stop fighting.
Or maybe, who knows, there is magic.
Like that of music.
Jacopo opens the car door. Lorenzo sits, leans his stick on the knees and fastens the seat belt. His father, meanwhile, puts the cello in the back seat and starts driving.
"Are we going home?" Asks Lorenzo.
"Not yet. I think we can have half an hour to celebrate, right? "
Lorenzo shrugs. He takes a break to find the right words.
"There really is not much to celebrate. The teacher told me that the performance went well, but we don’t have the results of the board. Who knows, they might change their minds at the last minute, I would not be surprised. In the boarding there is always someone who doesn’t look kindly on those who make different choices from classical music. I made my decision, I don’t regret it, but the teacher had warned me that it was risky. And then, the most important thing ... the scholarship will be awarded in late summer, reduced by thirty percent. In short, whatever happens it will be a pittance. "
Lorenzo confesses breathlessly. He doesn’t want his father to make illusions. Jacopo remains silent, then bursts out laughing.
"But I already know everything. I talked to Vanni before we met backstage. He explained to me every detail. "
"So, as you understand, I have not won any scholarship. No money."
"That makes no difference. We knew from the beginning that being a musician would not be easy. "
"Ever since you were little and you certainly weren’t wondering about it. I and mom had talked about it. We knew it would be an uphill climb. "
"But we realized it was not just a pastime or a child's game. It was your passion, your light, your breath. And in life, satisfaction is the most important thing. "
"The money given won’t be enough to live abroad. Nor for the other thing. "
Other . It is the word that summarizes everything that Jacopo already knows. The difficult economic situation, the money for disability that is not even enough to pay the rent, the poor unemployment allowance.
Jacopo moves his hand from his knee. "But in fact, today it is a lucky day. I don’t want to steal the scene, but I want to celebrate my new job. "
Lorenzo turns speechless. "Dad, you've really got a job?"
"Well, none of that, mind you. But it was about time to make a move. I waited too long, doing nothing. "
"It's not an easy time, though."
Jacopo laughs again. "Now what are you doing, you try to justify myself? You can always find something, what did you tell me when you took the job from Rita? It’s enough to start thinking about what you can do. I will help a friend of mine to make ends meet. Cosimo Masini, do you remember him? "
Cosimo is an old family friend who owns a restaurant near Piazza del Duomo.
"He opened a new bar in a side street of Piazzale Michelangelo. Cosimo has flair for business, he bought that local at a judicial auction. The location is great, there are always plenty of tourists there. And I can help him. You know? Once I was a good accountant, and I still remember most of the things. "
His voice is safe and warm, but not enough to dispel Lorenzo’s doubts. At that moment Lorenzo realizes that in recent months he has thought only of the recital. Without his knowledge, hidden in the shadow world, something was changing.
"We need money, Lorenzo. The treatments are expensive. "
Those few words, however, break all magic. Not everything has changed, unfortunately.
"You know what I think about it."
"But I do it willingly."
"I will when I will be able to earn enough."
Jacopo avoids replying. Lorenzo tilts his head to the side, looking over the window. But it is just a wall of shadows that squirts quickly to the right. Lorenzo had the illusion that that day would be perfect, that his father has finally changed taking the reins of his life. And perhaps this will happen, maybe Jacopo will return to work and be happy.
Some things, though, will never change. He will win the battle against alcohol, who knows, to continue that against Lorenzo’s blindness. It's not about to lose hope, not even Lorenzo has ever done it. It is the awareness of the fate that was reserved to him, the strength to smile, to be self-sufficient, to start all over again. And he has committed to it, day after day, too. He cried, smiled, fell into darkness. But finally he got up, convinced he can give color to that gray existence. He discovered that there was a chance. A different and more difficult choice. He understood that sight was only a small part of his soul. In the darkness he has opened new doors, a whole universe of smells, tastes, sounds. And music.
Jacopo, however, wants to change that life. He wants to wipe that damn Thief of Light who knocked on their door when Lorenzo was just six years. The unclean beast who, day after day, stole his son a piece of heaven, and threw it into the abyss of darkness. But it was only a swing of promises and hopes, failures and disappointments.
Lorenzo doesn’t want to relive those moments. He has decided to forget about the world of light and color in his memories slowly faded, becoming the echo of a distant dream. Lost forever.
Then when Irene left them alone, the fight against the Thief of Light has become an obsession. He was no longer willing to help his son, it had become a personal war, one that had lost too many times. The ransom to the life that had stolen his wife.
Up to squander any savings, to make debts, to lose his jobs, to borrow money from friends. A defeat that Lorenzo had paid bitterly. It had taken away his father, replacing him with a shadow lying on the couch.
But Jacopo came to the recital. He said he had found a new job. Lorenzo, however, is afraid that a new battle started, one that is even more painful than the previous one. And if the Thief of Light returns to win, this time he won’t stay afloat. The abyss will suck them forever.
"We're here," Jacopo says stopping the car. He goes out and opens the door, helping Lorenzo out.
Lorenzo is disoriented. He advances a few steps, with the stick in front of the legs. It is not the way to his house. The road is wider. The scent is different.
He walks further, it is not the sidewalk. Perhaps it is in a large square. He doesn’t hear the noise of cars, nor the chatter from the bar. There is only the wind rustling through the trees.
A wind that brings a smell.
A smell that Lorenzo will never forget.
Sofia stops in front of the School door.
It is made of solid wood, almost three meters high, with incisions that run on the edges close to the doorposts and a bas-relief at the center depicting the coat of arms of Pedro Alvarez, Eleanora’s father. It seems an oval and convex board or, more simply, the shell of a turtle.
Sofia tightens her hands around the brass handle, ready to face her mother. Then she enters in the library, slowly closing the door behind her.
It's a room with a vaulted ceiling, in the center a magnificent ten-armed chandelier hangs with a myriad of crystal pendants attached. Each square centimeter of the walls is covered with shaves full of books, an iron frame allows a ladder to slide along the entire perimeter of the room. However, no way to stand on it to examine these books. You must ask Ana, who years ago would climb on that rusty contraption in her eternal struggle against dust. Then, when she fell to the ground and broke her arm, she gave up the guerrillas and has raised the white flag.
Sofia walks slowly towards the center of the room, the dark wooden parquet creaks under her feet. The School is shrouded in the gloom: the chandelier is turned off and the little glimmer of light filters through the window on the right. The dark velvet curtains are drawn to the sides, revealing a square porch. The memory of hours spent sitting in front of the desks assaults her, squeezing the stomach into a fist. She spent her childhood here, including books, notebooks, exercises and professors who have taught her every school subject.
Sofia slips around the sofas, up to reach the table positioned in the opposite side of the entrance. Isabella Alvarez is sitting in her grandmother’s chair, her legs crossed and elbow resting on the right armrest. A red glass lamp casts a pool of light on a book that Isabella is reading carefully. She is wearing a red suit, a white scarf that suits with shoes. In the afternoon she went to the hairdresser, she shows off a new haircut that looks very good on her. Dark and smooth hair, Bob hairstyle, that frames a square face where almond eyes stand out, of a light green color. Just as Sofia’s eyes. On the wall behind her, there are no shelves, only a painting that portrays Pedro Alvarez.
Another step. A slight cough. Isabella looks up and glimpses at her watch. She gasps.
"I didn’t hear you coming in."
"Oh, I see."
Isabella unleashes a blinding smile. "Did you have a good afternoon, dear?"
Sofia tries the way to indulgence.
"As always, more or less. Studying, readings, internet. What are you reading? Something nice? "
"The Qohèlet . Have you ever flipped it through? "
The other shakes her head.
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