He is here. Sandro. The Prince of the Lilies. He is here, although I hadn't heard him coming. He walks still on silent feet.
"Luca." His hand on my shoulder turns me around to face him and I see his face. The five years have hardly changed it. The mahogany locks still frame his aristocratic, pale face where the blue eyes shine feverishly with excitement. His lips twist into a heart-rending smile.
And I am happy.
Luca smiled to himself. His hometown of Firenze was full of beautiful things. A town made from the grey stone, pietra serena - - rejecting, obstinate, inaccessible. Firenze ... its inhabitants as hot-blooded, haughty and seditious as the stone, but it was his town and he loved it.
Luca looked down to the town beneath his feet. A red-grey, stony desert, with the biggest cupola of the world towering above it. Luca had not spent a single day of his nearly completed seventeen years without its sight. As often as he could, he came up here to stroll between the graves and urns, and gaze upon the steles, marble angels and sculptures. His sensitive fingers touched the white, smooth polished Cararra-marble of the doors that closed the drawers where the coffins lay. Dozens of grave-houses stood together in rows. Each of them housing their own dozens of coffins decorated with golden letters, red flowers, picture-plates and candle fixtures.
Surrounding the rows of grave houses was a field covered with common graves. Luca occasionally would visit the grave of il Collodi to study the Pinocchio-figure engraved into the tombstone. He knew them all. The cimitero of the Holy Gates, high over Florence, was full of marble ghosts like the town itself; dead gods and patron saints. Guards stood waiting for the daily invasion of the barbarian mob of the North, those squadrons of tourists coming in short trousers and sandals or boots, with marching rations and cameras, perpetually chased by their guides into the museums to gaze on Alessandro Botticelli's 'Birth of the Venus'.
Pearly laughter escaped from Luca's throat, dying away as quickly as it had appeared. His town was the ultimate embodiment of frosty sex. Naked statues occupied each corner, each museum, but what it really meant to touch the same ground as all the artists from all of the ages had done, no one could really comprehend.
Florence was a manly town. Straight and direct, it stood there without a shimmer of enigmatic secrets, without ingratiation or braids and trimming. Deeper within his view, the green band of the river Arno sparkled and Luca grasped the mustard and leather colours of Florence from the black-white of the Battistero to the dark green and white and gold of San Miniato behind him. He caught the touch of rose at the cathedral and Giotto's campanile, but the town was as stern and earnest as the big sculptors and architects had been who had moulded the view of the town throughout centuries past. They'd been bachelors, monks, holy men and soldiers, prophets and eremites ... always men. Women never played a role. Florence was the perfect town for Luca.
He turned his back and focussed on the graveyard in front of him. Then he placed one foot in front of the other and let them guide him. There, just next to the path it stood -- a life-size god of death, made of stone. Partially moss-covered, it sprawled despairingly over a grave plate, torch still flaming with its face buried into the earth and exposing its naked buttocks for Luca to touch.
He crouched closely. His fingers outlined the strong back, then fell down over the curve of the backside and remained there. His eyes remained unfocussed as they gazed into nowhere. What would it feel like to touch living, warm skin instead of cold, mossy stone? To see it move towards him, turning to expose the front side, waiting just for him? What would it feel like when his mouth engulfed his secret desire, to smell and taste it? Especially when this skin was male?
He felt the rough stone. It was difficult to come to terms that he was an outsider, ostracized from his friends who whistled after the girls in short skirts. To avoid suspicion, Luca imitated his friends, flirting and laughing with them, but his heart remained cold and his eyes turned in different ways.
Florence was a hard test for someone like him, because the town seemed to be blessed with dozens of pretty young men who knew about their beauty. Luca was too young to have the guts needed to visit the places dedicated for men like him. Florence was not a homophobic place, just the opposite. Here, homosexuality seemed to be at home and always had.
From under the stony buttocks, a lizard appeared, then stopped to lay in the sun and warm her belly on the heated stone. Its light green back caught the sunbeams, and emphasizing the pale pattern of jewel-like scales.
A noise sounded from the entrance of the graveyard and the lizard vanished with a few quick movements. The procession had started and Luca rose. He thought he saw a pair of blue eyes behind a pillar watching him, but the next second they had vanished. A group of trumpet players played a solemn melody as they walked in step in front of the group of mourners carrying a coffin covered with a white, silky cloth and a bouquet of flowers.
A shadow slipped into the group to join the train of people, passing Luca who stood with his head bent respectfully. He knew the man who was carried to his last rest. It was Matteo di Ser Federico di Gondi-Lucertola, brother of the mayor and patriarch of the noble family of Gondi. He'd died suddenly of a heart attack.
Luca shivered under the sharp look coming from a pair of blue eyes and was suddenly ashamed of his unsuitable, casual clothes. The eyes belonged to a young, haughty face ... one at once fine and noble in its structure with a sharp, Florentine nose and framed with a shock of mahogany-brown curls. Luca knew it was truly worthy of an Raphael-angel comparison. Yet, there was no smile, just a dangerous glistening in his blue eyes; a warning to stay apart and keep the place where Luca belonged -- the working class, who had no share of nobility and old-fashioned dignity.
Luca stepped back and watched the train pass until it stopped in front of a family tomb. Emblazoned in golden letters was the family name over the heavy bronze door. The coffin and the closest family members vanished inside, the young man with them, while the others remained waiting outside.
Luca didn't know why he stayed waiting, alone, but something held him. Suppressed sobs could be heard while tiny, lace-covered handkerchiefs were pressed to noses and black veiled faces. Luca waited until the young man reappeared, pale and silent. He waited until the last flower was laid and the music had fallen silent. He pressed his back upon the sun-warmed wall of another tomb, absorbing the youth's features with his eyes. The black Cut, the gloves and shiny shoes ... much too warm for this day of May ... the straight, upright line of his back. Luca watched the young man's hand run through his curls and he felt a twinge of excitement burn in his stomach.
People passed him without taking notice. At last, his fascination came forward slowly, hesitating when he was at the same level with Luca. He turned his head and met Luca with an open look. The young man made a sign with his head and abruptly vanished between two grave houses. Luca rose, then followed.
The youth stood nonchalantly with one leg leaning back against the wall while removing his gloves and opening his Cut. As Luca breathed in deeply and opened his mouth to speak, the lad made a quick movement towards him then pressed his lips upon Luca's. Heat and a flood of hormones rushed through his novice body as he felt the tongue, the foreign body, pressing briefly against his own - and then it was over. Harsh whispered words of "Tomorrow, same time" were uttered, then he was gone.
Luca stumbled to the nearest wall and touched his lips. Dazed, he stared at the corner where the young man had vanished. Then he started to run, trying desperately for a last look, and saw the black figure in the distance. It didn't turn back.
He had sprayed himself, his hand still clasping his penis. Embarrassed, though no one had witnessed, he jumped from the bed and fished a tissue from the package. The floorboards creaked under his soles. He listened, but everything was quiet.
It was Sunday and the memory returned. Yesterday he had met the boy with the haughty face who had inflamed his body and stirred his interest. He was the son of a noble family, the nephew of the mayor and well known in this town. At nineteen, he was already notorious for his adventures; a real womanizer. Pah. Luca now knew better.
He slipped through the door, crossed the small corridor and entered the bathroom. His grandfather had rebuilt the old house completely, but without modern tiles and fittings. There was still the old bath-oven which had to be heated with wood and paper, but at last, finally, warm water gushed from the pipe when Luca stepped into the bath tub. He washed off the shed of white drops with the hose, along with the sweat of sexual dreams he had so often of late whenever his dreams of men haunted him.
When the water started to get cold again, he finished his toilet, dressed and descended to the kitchen and his mother, who was already preparing breakfast. His father was there too, bent over his thick books filled with photographs and drawings of patterns and stones.
The windows were narrow and large and grated with iron bars. It had been built that way four hundred years ago. The house hadn't always been in the possession of the Montori family, but was given to them as a present for their faithfulness by the last remnants of the Medici-ancestors. The windowsill was full of herb pots whose scent wafted throughout the entire ground floor. Whenever Luca thought about his home, he connected it with that scent.
The interior had seen better days, but Lucas' mother reigned over the household with a loving, yet strong hand. She reigned unopposed since her husband wasn't of mind enough to stand his place. He was always too caught up in his work.
His brothers still slept, Luca assumed. Giano, the brother nearest to him in age, could sleep in each day because he waited for the start of the first semester at the University of Pisa. As if on cue, the door opened and a tousled Giano entered the kitchen, eyes thick from sleep and his shirt buttoned the wrong way. "Buon giorno", he said sleepily, then took his seat at the table and poured himself coffee.
Luca's thoughts drifted. He thought it funny that Alessandro's brown hair and blue eyes were reversed from their own. Nature at play. The thought of the young noble man made his cheeks flush as well, along with the memory of the dirty dreams he'd had last night. Furtively, he examined his brother, who was a year older than Luca himself and the pet of the family.
Luca hid a grin. That was his father's favourite objection to his son's wish to become a surgeon. For his religious father, it was a crime to open dead bodies.
Giano lifted his head and retorted heatedly. "And what if I did?"
Father and son stared at each other. Clarissa shifted restlessly upon her chair. "Basta cosi," she said. "Giano has chosen this profession and I'm glad to hear about something different than stones, dust and squeezed fingers. Look at your eyes." She referred to the fact that Niccolò's eyes were perpetually inflamed due to the dust the cutting of the stones caused. Niccolò squelched a curse between his teeth. He couldn't compete with Clarissa's arguments. It was best to say nothing.
Luca couldn't help but blush. "Yes," he said in a subdued voice.
"Niccolò!" gasped Clarissa and made the sign of the cross. "Don't talk like this."
Again Luca blushed, but Giano laughed disdainfully. "And where did you hear this? Do they tell it at work? Or in the pubs?"
Luca didn't know how Dante meant his words. Either he was revolted or he enjoyed watching the offensive and obviously heinous actions.
Giano harshly placed his coffee cup on the table. "And that gives you the right to put your nose high into the air and feel so much cleaner than the so-called dirty faggot? Eh? What are you searching for under the skirts of the chicks? Fish?"
Luca sat dazed. Alessandro, the bad guy of the town, had never been an issue
in this house, nor the obviously homophobic opinions of his brothers. Dante
and Marcello smirked silently and the rest of the meal continued in silence.
His thoughts spun on uncontrollably. 'And how many queers do you know, Luca Montori? Perhaps this is your way into the world of gays? And if you don't like it, you can always return to the odorous and fishy-smelling underwear of the chicks,' he said half laughing. 'Ugh.'