How's it going? I've got used to it. Imagine, one and a half months of my sentence is already over. It's crap that you can't come for my birthday. But I understand. I'll tell nobody and have a celebration on my own (Yeah. I think after those damn three years my hand will be suffering from tendonitis).
The room is OK. It's rather as I always assumed a youth's room to be, you know, with a narrow bed and a pine wood wardrobe and even ugly wallpaper. I've pinned the drawing of you on it. It has made the rounds that I'm gay quicker than a firestorm. It has earned me the odd stare and nasty comments. But it has also given me acceptance.
Tell me about Firenze. I miss the exhaust fumes. I miss the tourists. I miss the snow.
I miss you.
One day he had opened a book and stared at a dried white lily. With a jolt he remembered that this was his gift to Alessandro at the very start of their relationship. He almost cried. Who would have thought that Alessandro would dry the flower. Cautiously he took it from the book and glued it upon white cardboard. Days after he visited a copy shop and got it protected with a laminate. Perhaps this would be the start of a collection thinking about next Spring when he could walk up to Fiesole, gathering flowers and herbs. He needed something to do. Leoni would give birth to her child then. And Alessandro would still be in jail.
Luca was very aware that Alessandro didn't tell him everything in his letters. They were probably censored anyway. On Alessandro's birthday, the 5th of December, they had made arrangements to think of each other at ten o'clock. Which was ridiculous because Luca thought of his boyfriend every minute.
Luca was bent over his palm-sized Lapis Lazuli-lizard that he had wanted to give Alessandro for his birthday, but he hadn't made it. With the help of Coppo it had a nice twisted shape and Luca was busy polishing it with sandpaper and a marble-stick. He had learnt that the polishing needed twice as long as the carving and he wanted to create a perfect lizard. Even the green eyes were still missing. The cutters had got used to Luca Montori sharing their workshop occasionally because Professore Coppo had allowed him to do so.
The small yellow bird shot from the cuckoo
clock and called ten times. Startled Luca looked up and stopped the
machine with which he had given his lizard the final cutting. Instantly
he conjured Alessandro's face before his inner eye and in his thoughts he
dug his fingers into his locks falling over his ears down almost to his
shoulders. What if he had to cut them? He surely wouldn't tell him.
Anyway... he sensed a warm feeling and knew Sandro was thinking of
I'm so happy you're able to come. You need to take the train and then the bus. Otherwise it's always the same. The workshop has started and I decided to learn how to sew a button. Funny, isn't it. Perhaps I'll become tailor and will design my own collection. Just kidding. Well, it's actually interesting and useful. Mario said in a jail in Germany the prisoners have created a collection of clothes and sell them well in the shops. Mario is the leader of my group. He takes care of everything. I guess he's gay. I caught some stares from him, but otherwise he's pretty all right. Oh, and Franco has sent me my stuff from Pisa and is willing to ask if I can continue my studies from here. Just my laptop I had to give away.
I wait impatiently for you,
Luca opened his travel guide. Outside his train the landscape passed by without Luca noticing it. Poggibonsi had always meant a town that was completely destroyed by the German Wehrmacht in the second World war to him. As he read on, this was obviously a shameless exaggeration:
"Whoever arrives in Vald'Elsa, rarely stops at Poggibonsi to admire the artistic treasures that are still here. Other guides speak little of this centre known more for its industry than for its history. In reality, "there are two Poggibonsi..."; there is a modern, industrial and commercial Poggibonsi and there is an antique, historic and artistic Poggibonsi. The first is a slightly boring and industrialized town; the second is more charming, tranquil and conducive to recollection and meditation. The two Poggibonsi for all their differences do not intrude one another; being relatively well separated from one another permits them to live "together" peacefully. In fact, the more antique practically needs to be conquered, being situated on higher ground, while the more modern is reachable simply by stepping off the train..."
So... he would probably only get to know the modern town, but he wasn't sure. It was too bad Sandro wasn't allowed to pick him up. Luca's heart pounded. He regretted that he still hadn't finished the lizard but his bag was full with gifts anyway. It was a one hour journey by train from Firenze to Poggibonsi and he yearned for the time when he could drive the red Ferrari. But he wasn't old enough to get his driver's licence. He had started to take lessons, just for the bike, although using it in winter was too dangerous.
It was a gloomy day where the clouds didn't seem to lift but instead hovered a metre over the pavement and landscape. The lovely valley of the river Elsa looked miserable and wet when Luca's train arrived at the railway station. He quickly orientated himself and stepped onto the right bus leading to the youth's detention centre. But then Luca's face lit up, he wasn't driving directly into the dirty, grey and boring industrial town that had been built up after the war, but into the outskirts where the splendid castle Poggio Imperiale greeted him from afar. He passed an ancient looking monastery with monks working outside, and saw a church even further away.
Luca left the bus in front of a yellow washed building which looked more like a Tudor-castle than a prison. Probably Sandro was right when he thought it to be more of a boarding school. He wasn't the only one who had left the bus, but a group of about eleven people gathered now at the entrance, each one laden with bags and flowers. Together they passed through a yard with a guard sitting in a cabin, then they had to show their identity cards and were put through the scanner. Their bags were examined as well and Luca was relieved when he was given his OK to enter the visitor's rooms.
He saw him instantly and he couldn't speak with pure excitement. The room had reduced to Alessandro, his dark locks and his blue eyes, light up like a sea of stars; his lips, red and luscious and to his body that meant the world to him, but there was the table between them Alessandro had to walk around it before he could touch and embrace him.
Alessandro pulled him along behind, out into a piece of a garden that was protected by a wall with barbed wire. This was the only thing that reminded Luca of a jail, except for two guards who walked up and down, and those distinct smells of floor polish, disinfectant and loneliness. "We have a greenhouse" Alessandro told him. "It's quite great. Next Spring I'll be with the gardener to seat the plants and sort them out when they are older." He pulled Luca further and chattered, "And we've already made a trip to the Paleontology museum, imagine", Alessandro said. "It's like being in boarding school." Then he swallowed and looked into Luca's eyes. "I'm babbling. But I can't stand the sight of you without being allowed to lay down with you here and now."
Luca burst into his pearly laughter and some tears were mingled within. With ease Alessandro pulled Luca to his chest and started to kiss him so that he didn't know head nor tail when they parted. They earned a whistling for they weren't the only couple or people in the garden. "Do you see them?" Alessandro pointed at a group of three, standing aside without visitors. "Sentenced because of theft, burglary and bodily injury. I guess I can't get rid off the Riefoli-type of guys."
Alessandro laughed. "No. They wouldn't dare. Luckily we all have a single room. They don't want too much fraternization here in case you learn something from the heavy guys."
Luca watched him warily. Sandro was lying. He knew him well enough to sense it. Or at least Sandro wasn't telling him everything for fear of scaring his boyfriend. Well, Luca was old enough to take the truth. But then, he didn't want to spoil their meeting. "Was it wise to out yourself?" he asked. "And do they know what you've done?"
Alessandro tugged at Luca's scarf. "You can't hide anything. here If they hadn't known at first - they know now. And of course they know why I was sentenced here. Actually I seem to have gained some acknowledgment", he added. "The worse you are the more they admire you."
Luca was shocked. "Then this is the wrong place for them."
Luca swallowed. His mother had packed him three pairs of woolen socks for Alessandro. "Of course." He felt Sandro shivering in his thin anorak when he leaned against him. He put Sandro's face between his palms and rubbed his cheeks. Then he unwrapped his scarf and wrapped it around Alessandro's neck. "Let's go in."
Alessandro pulled two hot teas from the automat in the visitor's room. They both sat in a corner near the heating. "Who's this Mario actually?" Luca asked.
"He's there." Alessandro pointed across the room. Luca saw a youngish man sitting in the other corner with his legs crossed, watching the prisoners and their visitors. His hair was straight and black like raven wings, his face pale. He gave the impression of a student having sat too long in a library though his amber eyes were vigilant.
Alessandro rolled his eyes to the ceiling. "Oh come on, you aren't keen on sugar daddies, are you."
Luca nudged him. "Vito's hardly twenty six and Tris eighteen. What do you expect?"
Luca snorted with laughter. "That's not funny", he said then. "What if you're raped too?"
Christmas had come and gone as had the new year. Luca had been invited to Villa Kazar to celebrate New Year's Eve. It had hurt like hell to watch Tris and Vito happy together, despite that he had been so happy for Tris. It had hurt to see Giano and Celestino and all the couples wishing each other a happy new year. He counted how many lonely starts of a new year he would have to endure. But Rosso, sensing his sorrow, had filled him up with champagne, saying that Alessandro wasn't dead. He just was not there.
He dragged him out to the steaming river that was covered with ice floes, floating upon the dark, glistening water. Since his childhood he hadn't seen this spectacle and like everyone else he watched it with astonished eyes. Behind San Miniato the fireworks started shooting up into the cold-crispy air. "Happy New Year, Sandro", he whispered, wrapping his arms around himself. He was cold. Then he felt himself being turned around and kissed by Rosso on each cheek, then he lent over to all of his friends and acquaintances.
Sergio was there, still the centre of attention. Despite the tragic
events he didn't seem to have lost his cheerfulness and carefree
attitude. Though one thing was significant: his relationship
with Alfredo had become stronger.
I'm allowed to continue with my studies. It will be a sort of correspondence course to become a certified guide. It contains a heavy test in the history of Arts and languages. Will you do me a favour and go to Arrigo? He will give you money for buying me things. I need a refresher course on CD in English and French for my final examination.
The winter's hard this year. Are there still ice floes upon the Arno? Too bad I can't be with you and watch them. They say it snowed.
Well, I don't know what to write actually. Life is hard. I'm supposed to get up at seven each morning and then the day is filled with work and therapy groups and sport. They probably want to make better men of us. Tell me about Tristano and Vittorio. I've had a letter from Giano and from Anastasia. Leoni refuses to write me, well, understandable I guess. When will you come to visit me?
Take care, XXXXXXXXX
Sighing he put Alessandro's letter between the pages of a book that he stowed away into his rucksack, then he left his room and entered the kitchen. Since his brothers had been released from jail he was only seldom at home. Niccolò was understanding, though he saw that his mother felt unhappy about the situation.
The window panes were steamed up from heat and the scent of wafers tickled his nose when he sat at the table, next to his father. Dante was there already. His face looked haggard and he had lost the most of his beefy stature over the past months. Luca knew that he was working on the ward of an AIDS-hospital. By and by Dante had ceased his comments about Luca's sexuality. Luca thought he knew why although he couldn't be sure what was going on in the mind of his big brother.
Luca glared at him over the table and found him worth no answer. Niccolò looked alternating from one to the other. "It seems as if you think of yourself as being a martyr, Dante", he said then. "You've got yourself into this trouble. I thought a Montori was man enough to take that."
Luca inwardly rolled his eyes. Again those odd conception of what it meant to be a man.
Dante flung his body over the table, ready to slap Luca, but Niccolò held his arm. "Basta."
Dante howled with false laughter. "That was the first time you've seen a cunt close up. Did you like the taste of it?"
Clarissa stepped quickly to the table and boxed Dante's ears. Her palm burned like the cheek of her son. "Another word and you can pack your stuff, Dante, I swear. It's bad enough you did this to your brother. Watch your language, son."
Dante, surprised at Clarissa's serious tone, shut his mouth. Luca glared at him. "You knew about what happened to Tristano and you covered up for Raniero and the other two culprits. You are guilty as well. They just couldn't prove it."
Niccolò patted his arm. "Enough, Luca. What happened, happened."
Luca looked down at his wafer and started to eat. It was useless to start a fight; Dante would never understand.
Niccolò rose. "Come, Luca. Time to go to work."
Luca took his wafer and his bag and followed his father. It was good to feel his presence but he felt the urge to move into Alessandro's palazzo, to be alone. He couldn't live with his brothers under the same roof.
The next day he visited Arrigo to pick up the cheque. It was more
money than Luca had expected, so he had a shopping spree,
buying not only the language course, CD's that Alessandro had wanted
but also books he thought useful, warm pullovers, trousers and
Alessandro seemed to have lost weight. Instead he appeared to be firmer and stronger. His blue eyes were a bit shaded which stressed the crook in his nose.
Luca grinned involuntarily. "Design a suit? Emilio Pucci won't like the idea of you being his rival."
Alessandro grinned as well. "What else shall I do here? It's boring enough. When Spring starts I can be busy in the garden, but otherwise..."
And this all because of me, Luca thought. His bad conscience was sometimes unbearable. The wounds of late October hadn't healed. He felt Alessandro being cut off from all the things moving Luca and the world outside. He didn't belong to them anymore. Luca felt helpless.
Silence spread between them while Alessandro was stroking the lizard and Luca was watching him.
Alessandro nodded. "And I'd rather fight through the archives at the library. Does he still want to become a surgeon?"
Silence grew again. "I have to go now", Luca said finally. Alessandro didn't know what to say. He wanted to tell Luca so much, but there were no words forming upon his tongue. There was no words for what he felt being locked up in this place. It was so much harder than he had imagined. And the hate for the people responsible grew with each day.
He rose when Luca stood up. Together they went out. "Thank you
for everything", Alessandro said. Still holding the lizard in
his fist he embraced Luca for a long time.
The Scoppio del Carro [*] was the most exciting event on Easter Sunday. Like at the Gioco in June festively dressed groups paraded through the streets, horse-riders at the front with trumpets and drums, flag-wavers and groups in colourful, traditional-costumes following them. In the middle of the train was a carriage dragged by four white, flower-decorated oxen. Upon the carriage was set up a painted, wooden tower of green and brown with ribbons and a frame that hid the pyrotechnics.
Luca and Rosso had waited since the early morning at the place in front of the cathedral to watch the spectacle. Both had done so since they were kids in school and today was no exception, except that today Franco was with them. He had come over from Pisa for the holidays and was staying together with Luca at Palazzo Gondi. Rosso had his camera ready and Seppe upon his shoulders. Luca clutched the shoulders of Dani standing in front of him. All of this was Greek to Franco. Well, he could understand that the light of the new day, celebrating Jesus' resurrection had to be carried out of the churches to enlighten the world. But what had the tower to do with it? "When does it start?", he asked.
Luca shivered briefly. He remembered the attack last Spring near the church, when he and Alessandro had been beaten up by a group of attackers. Dante and Marcello still hadn't admitted that they had been involved.
Franco looked astonished. "And then he lights the cart?"
Two men, dressed as mercenaries with wide trousers and blue feather plumes upon their helmets fixed a wire rope at the pyre and went with it into the cathedral where Emilio Gondi-Lucertola, the mayor, waited side by side with the archbishop of Florence who donated incense and sprinkled the cart with holy water.
People pushed from behind for a better view. Tourists and locals had mingled and everyone was armed with video and still cameras to watch the actually pagan ceremony with which the people of the middle ages had bound the fate of their town.
It had become quiet over the place. Singing sounded from inside of the cathedral. Then, after a long time the commander of the troops shouted a command and the drums started. Luca saw a flickering light buzzing through the cathedral. The Colombina - a rocket hidden in a white paper-dove - had been lit at the altar and was now rushing through the dark nave towards the exit. Like a flashing light it shot out of the open doors and hit the pyre that exploded with a crack of fireworks, releasing clouds of smoke and setting off Catherine wheels and crackers.
A loud cheering swept over the place, mingled with the crackers on the cart and the tinny sound of the trumpets. The archbishop lifted his hand in blessing and Emilio Gondi applauded.
Seppe upon Rosso's shoulders started to bawl. The air was sticky with thick smoke and stank as if they had burnt old socks. Rosso put his brother on to his feet and crouched down. "No need to cry, briciola." He wiped Seppe's tears. "Look at the oxen, aren't they pretty?" He pointed to the animals, standing safe enough aside.
Seppe sniffed and beamed then. "Their ears are closed with wax so they aren't startled like little boys like you", Rosso said, stroking Seppe's red corkscrew locks.
The crowd parted to give way for the procession. "And what are we doing now?" Rosso asked. The sun on this last day of March was warm and burnt down upon Luca's head. He looked up into the blue washed sky.
Perhaps Alessandro would be out in his garden to care for the plants in the green house.
The air was still filled with smoke that gathered slowly around the cathedral's cupola and vanished as grey haze in the azure-blue sky.
One hour and two coppa of ice cream later Luca's mobile started to ring. First he couldn't recognize the quiet voice. It was Anastasia calling from hospital to say that Leoni had given birth to a son last night. She sounded somewhat unaffected and controlled. No wonder, Luca thought immediately. Who knew how much Leoni had picked on the old woman. At the same time he felt bad that he had never visited her after all that had happened with Alessandro.
There must have been a large gap of silence from his side because Anastasia asked if he had understood what she had said. Instantly reality hit him with a hammer. Leoni had given birth to a son! He almost knocked his half-empty ice cup over Seppe, to add to the strawberry-red blotches already upon his shirt. "A son, you say?" he almost yelled into the tiny loudspeaker. "Have you told Sandro yet?"
Rosso watched him curiously. He was informed about the faked marriage and the reason behind it. Now surprise was painted upon his face and a tiny bit of satisfaction. At least all this had paid out. Luca cut the connection and slid nervously upon his stool. "Sandro doesn't know about it yet. She doesn't have the number of the institute. Damn. I need to visit her, how could I have forgotten?" He pushed his coppa over to Seppe and Dani. "Eat, I have to make a call."
While Luca tried to get Alessandro on the phone Rosso mumbled "So he's a rich man now, yes? What did you say? Twenty million?"
Luca nodded absentmindedly, then his face was washed over with disappointment. Sandro couldn't come to the phone right now. He was with his person in charge, Mario. A twinge of jealousy stung Luca's heart. Well, he had to try again this evening.
Rosso's green eyes rested upon him. "And you?"
Rosso's eyes widened. "I hadn't the slightest idea that he had a brother."
Luca shrugged his shoulders. At the same moment someone tapped upon his shoulder. Luca looked up into Tristano's beaming face. "I knew you'd be sitting here in the sun, eating your third coppa of ice cream", he said grinning.
Dani pouted. "How do you know?"
Luca shrugged. "Don't know. Enough, I guess."