We were walking back, past the witch’s house, and I crossed my fingers just in case, like the kids once did back then … this is a fairy tale after all …
But she was long gone and I did not need to hide my crossed fingers, as they did back then in case she saw and yelled that she would tell their mothers …
Life is a spell and I had been listening to his story, so I tell it now, as I think I understood it, as I hope I may have finally understood it …
He took years to tell me but just now we surprisingly and unexpectedly came to its end …
He had come here years ago, a mere youth.
The sun always shines brighter then, the moon is bigger and fuller, and the scent of the trees is the perfume of the heavens, as they reach up black limbed and hopeful at night towards their stars …
The grass is also greener, fresher, if you fall on it you are embraced by it, wrapped up in it, a mattress of the Earth, and as the clouds fly by while you look up they smile at the All that will be your Life …
You can shut your eyes, and listen to the flow of the streams, all around, from all the springs, the resurgive as they call them here, they have a journey to follow, as they bubbled up out from down below, through all the boulders and stones that are down there, that once were higher up and far away, on the mountain slopes, awaiting their turn to tumble down and roar with the waters that would rush out of the clouds and down the slopes, down, down, down towards where rivers go, there where they all go …
When the hot sun drips as you emerge out of the warm waters of the sea, you can feel Life is caressing you as its new born, smiling, and as you wonder about the beauty of it all, there on the horizon a sail or two, a splash of something around you or further along, the people on the beach bronzing their bodies in lazy strolls or in lie downs beneath sun glasses umbrellas and creams …
She was there as he emerged, smiling, the water running down her body as she laughed at the sky and the sun and her eyes twinkled in the joyful dance of her mind – and he chased her as she ran away, the Mediterranean still flowing off the beauty of her skin …
Then the breath of the summer breeze on their way home, what will you do when you grow up, we will do this and we will do that, and I like the shape of your nose he said, and she laughed and said he should stop teasing her, and just a bump of shoulders between friends, this summer is forever, no decisions or choices need to be made, not now, not there and not then …
When she was not looking, he was looking at her and thinking: there is time in this forever, sometime, even if not now, sometime … there will always be the moment of the right time in this forever.
And she would look at him as he was looking away, as the trees passed by, the moon rising in the sky, from out of the Levante, tracing its moonshine as an arc as the night journeys to its sunrise: there is time in this forever, sometime, even if not now, sometime … the right time.
And afterwards on the cool tiles of the veranda they laughed at the humidity and the mosquitoes, betting on whose blood was sweeter, slap-slapping those buzzes away.
See you tomorrow, after the sunrise, day in day out, night after night into each ensuing sunrise …
They were secretive with each other, the best of friends, making sure when the one looked at the other, that the other was looking away, just in case the spell would break, Life after all is a Spell.
I must go but I will be back, he said one day, and she was sure of that and smiled, there is always tomorrow even if in between there are many tomorrows, summer will always be here even with all the winters in between.
And they laughed and joked and teased each other all the way, never betraying the trust even as they waved good bye and she looked up in the sky as a bird flew him away …
Some years passed, and once in the winters in between she thought he was back, Nonno, his grandfather, told me she had come to see if he was back.
The smile Nonno had on his face then was still there, but once where it reached across the sky now it was a little shorter than the normal smile he would have if the Sun is warm and sparrows fly overhead; whereas he could be sure of the Sun and the sparrows, the gap is the difference between certainty and hope.
It was then I made my first mistake, her name had been mentioned but I was confused, it seemed to have been a cousin or other, and I was confused …
I misunderstood the name as Sylvia, it is close sort of you see to the actual name but actually it as far apart as a universe is wide … and he had not told me fully about the breath of the summer breeze on the way home after the Mediterranean had dripped off her body, he had not told me all of that yet.
And yes, if I had known and not misunderstood, I swear I would have done something about it, just as the Sun rises and there will be a Moon in the sky, if not tonight then one night soon.
This plain is wide, it extends, the river that made it zigged its zag back and forth through the millennia but the alluvial result was the same as it meandered here there and everywhere.
The mountain torrents would rush down and gouge the flat, and leave in the holes it left behind the boulders and stones it brought down.
Then the next winters followed from the summers and more mud layered itself, then another season of boulders and stones, Nature does this with majesty, each instance of the next creation perfectly shaped for its position in its Mosaic.
The mountains arc from before the Ponente, from the Libeccio, through to past the Levante, almost to the Scirocco.
The Mediterranean washes from the rest, from the Libeccio through the Ostro to the Scirocco.
It is a beautiful land, of sun and cold …
The mountains are rock, and some are the grass of green, in Summer.
Then in Winter, snow-capped.
Wild hordes came over the mountains and tore down the joys of life, again and again, leaving broken empires and bells that fell out of towers, and rolled and clanged, in between limbs and blood and gore and glassy eyed stares at the stars that came out at night when there was nothing left for them to see.
From the citadel, upon a lonely hill, one of only a few in the plain, they built this castle.
Now it seems puny, how could it have kept the wild and the bad and the destroyers out?
Still it is a beautiful place, it arcs up and around, in concentric spirals, until it reaches the top.
And there from the walls you can look down and see the whole world as it was then known.
It was a sunny day when we went there, cement in the sun warms up quickly and by now some of this story had been told, enough for me to gather its fragments and its hurts and realise the difference between a Sylvia and a sound-alike name is greater than the distance across a Universe, it is the difference between the All and the Never Was, between the light that shines forever, and the Blackness of Zero.
So, he sat on this wall whilst I kept standing and we talked about the dreams that could still be and kept silent about the ones that were now gone.
Life is full of spells, some big and many small. You have to watch out for the spells of Life, they have a way of capturing you and holding you until there is no return to what was before or to what may have been.
Incantevole (magical) is this view before us, we agreed, as we swept our eyes across the plains down to the sea and back to the mountains.
Not far from us a girl sat down, and maybe she could hear us or maybe she could not, our tongues are different but then different tongues can know other tongues so who knows if she heard what we were saying and if she understood.
When I say not far from us, it was not in the sense of far, but rather more as in closer physically, close actually, yet far, because distance is not just metric, nor a pace or a thousand or two, distance can be an ocean even in the bump of a shoulder, or the closeness of eyes that look only when others look away, even when the distance is say only that of a width of a face …
After a while you need a rest when you ponder and we became pensive, so he lay down with his feet pointing to where I stood.
And a strange thing happened, the girl on the wall lay down too, along the warm wall with her feet pointing the other way, and whilst her head and his were not close, as I have clumsily explained, they also were close and it seemed like he felt what I could see … which was still to this day a mystery to me as I had no idea why she did what she did, well I did not then, although I think I do now, or perhaps I do, so I am saying this as there is a lesson in all of this for those of you for whom it is not too late and your eyes and ears and minds are open to the possibilities of Things.
Life is full of spells as I have said and I felt that this was one, let it be, say nothing, breathe only, let the Mystery be whatever it is meant to be …
What is Time? How long were we there?
It seemed a very long time, this motionless moment, where no one moved, only breathed.
Then after a very long time, if that was indeed so or only seemingly so, it was done whatever it was that was supposed to have been done, and she sat up, looked at the far away sea, and without a word or a look or even a regret nor a wink nor the bat of an eyelid she walked away …
It was past midday now and it was time to go back home.
So we spoke about this as we drove, what was that about, this girl on the wall … ?
And again, many times thereafter, when we thought about it, we would ask each other, what was that about, that girl on that wall … ?
The beauty of dreams is that Hope delivers yet more dreams when dreams crash and burn and roll off the mountain tops and bury themselves in the abysses down below, where they may never be reborn.
But Hope is the Magic, the Riser of the Phoenix from its Ashes …
So, you can Hope and dream and keep dreaming even when most or none come true or through, as long as you have Hope you can dream yourself to the next dream, the next and the next.
Years had passed, there were so many winters in between the next summer that never was.
And here we were in this winter, sub-zero in our long johns, and the puny summer shirts that we had arrived in from the other side of the world, that we had discarded for this cold reality, and now gone layers deep in vests, shirts, jerseys and coats.
Our noses would peep out, our eyes would slit against the cold.
Damn, this cold gets some getting used to.
And this is the strange thing, that you do get used to it, worse still that you can get used to most things, and maybe getting used to most things is more than worse still …
As the days passed the ritual of put on and take off and put back on became rhythmic.
Red wine and salami and brodo (broth) and pane, formaggio and mortadella can warm up as much as a stove.
Each night we searched for the next level of sub-zero low, and wondered how we had survived the night before.
In and out of the paese we drove, and along the way I came to know of the house of the witch and how she would scream when the kids crossed their fingers as they tried to hide what they did.
I will tell your mothers she would shout, I know what you are doing.
It is a harmless looking house now, sort of Hansel and Gretel, neat and trimmed.
Some of the bricks are exposed as a decorative art form, and the garden wall is of stone, and maybe I think on the one side is a mural sun dial like so many that reflect the sun on so many other walls.
A paese of meridiane, a town of sun dials, how strange?
Time is a one way flow, we know that, do we need all these reminders? Of its precious moments that you clutch and forever let go?
The old church still commands in physicality, over-looking the piazza, and around it the baker and the tabacchino and the spaccio orto and the delicatessen shop.
There, on the other side, an empty shop, its windows closed up; but when the town has its feasts, my cousins open up the shop and the spirit of their father shines again – once where his beloved salumi would perfume the air now instead all the old and quaint things, the relics of the past, these homes stand astride a heritage of old, all these spaces have seen the ages flow through in their hopes and their dreams.
Sylvia had come with her sister sometime during these days, her sister is a missionary in hot lands, where the tongues that speak are half an earth away.
I realised his grandfather must have spoken of someone else then, when he first smiled as wide as a universe, Sylvia is much older than he is and it is like when you add an apple to an orange and the result of a banana means that you have not understood and missed whatever it was that you were supposed to have understood by some years and many winters in between a summer that might now never ever come.
So many years have passed I accept who these strangers are by their names and by some familiarity of a cheek bone, smile dimple or eye.
We were on our way back, past the farmacia, back from an expresso and a chat at one of our favourite bars.
I want to take a shot of that vine, I said, the one that is left and grows out of the road at the side of the building, a vine like a Cross with the agony of its Christ shredded in the winter burn of the dry.
No, stop it, he said, you are always taking photos – but I insisted, there is also that cute house, with a tree in the middle of the road that cars have to drive around when once there were carts and there is also the moss on the old stone walls, and I did see the Moon rise once through that tree, it is Magic, and we should see it, experience it, the Magic, life is after all Magic …
His impatience won – you see Hope is Hope and that is what it should always be, but when Hope slips, it does so a dream at a time in the rush of its dreams, so you never quite see it slipping, until one day its bigness is no longer what it seemed …
A woman was approaching the pharmacy and we stopped to let her past.
It was then their eyes met.
Sylvana, he called!
Si? Oh … sei tu? Sei tu? (Is that you … ?)
So, I became an observer and an observer can see all that those in the Act of Life cannot see …
It seems a strange thing, observing, you feel you have the power of God, you know what you see, you anticipate the next word, the smile …
So, it was a Sylvana not a Sylvia, not a cousin, and the difference is not a letter or two but an entire life, a world, the difference is between The Is and The Never Was, the smile of fulfilment, and the grim lips of loss.
Time freezes and Space fills into Infinity and an entire universe is born and lives and dies and you are still observing, knowing what you see, you are God, there and then, realising all that is happening, that which was, is and always will be.
You hear everything but absorb also snatches, snippets, fragments that coalesce and shape their fractals into the whole that is greater than the sum of its parts, that reaches instantly across and to everything from everywhere else it has been.
But the worse was still to come because it looks like he knew, had known, for some time even though he had let go and tried to move on …
I heard you are married and you have a baby now too, and the nods and the yesses and the do you remembers when and what we did and it was the intensity of her face that stood out, the eagerness of her eyes, the strong lines of her jaw and the all beauty of her, and, strange, even more so, it was that shape of her nose …
How long were we there? But when there is a spell you just let it be.
Even if you are God you do not interfere, you do not intervene, and let Time flow and let Space be its Infinity, let the sunset set its sun, its red ball glowing through the bells that hang in their silhouette in the silence of their high spaces, and the words and their laughter flow like the streams from their springs that bubble through the boulders and the stones and the mud and the flow to their seas, tinkling the perennial of their dreams …
The sun had set when they said goodbye …
And as we walked back past the witch’s house, as I said before, I crossed my fingers, ever so tightly, indeed I think knowing now what I know now, perhaps even desperately so …
(The times of day, the time frames, inspired by those beautiful films by Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy … )