_ The Lizard 10




At the kitchen table he found the newspaper whose last page told him that the so-called Prince of the lilies, Alessandro di Gondi-Lucertola, had been beaten up last night in an alley near Santi Apostoli. He himself wasn't mentioned. Luca pulled a chair under his bottom and sat down. There was a relatively long article about the family. Luca wondered how the journalists had found out about the incident of last night. Had the police talked to the press?

His mother stood at the oven and pulled out home-make cakes. She was silent and Luca sensed a threatening thundercloud over his head. "Have you been out with the Prince?" she snapped out of the blue.

"Huh?" Luca looked up. Clarissa pointed to the newspaper. "The beating. Were you with him?" She placed the cakes upon a plate and then propped her arms upon the table. "You've been with him all the time lately. You could have been murdered!"

Luca laughed a bit too shrill. "Well, Mamma, I'm still alive. They did nothing to me." Except kicking me in the ribs with their boots and almost strangling me, he thought. Clarissa flashed at him with her blue eyes. "The newspaper doesn't say what it was about. Were you robbed?"

"No, I..."

The door flung open and his brothers entered the kitchen, coming in from work. "Ah, there's our little prince consort", Dante sneered. "Or the prince's flunkey, I should say."

Giano pushed him hard. "Stop that foolish babbling", he hissed. Dante looked at him completely astonished. He was bigger than Giano and bigger than Luca. Bigger and bulkier and stronger. Marcello took Dante's arm as if he knew what would follow.

"Basta!" Clarissa shouted. "What's the matter with you lot? I don't recognize you anymore." She rolled her eyes like an angry horse. "Dante! Giano! What is this quarrel about?"

"Well, that little queen of a Gondi-boy was beaten up last night, right?" Dante started. "Served him right. He and his boyfriend were making out on the streets." He snapped off his hand and parroted a queen, tiptoeing through the kitchen and swung an imaginary handbag. Marcello screamed but Clarissa slapped Dante furiously in his face. "Stop that." She wiped her hands at her apron. "You should go into the variety show if that's how you imagine a homosexual man is like."

Giano and Luca looked at each other, then at their mother.

"Hey, Mamma," Marcello chimed in, "why does it bother you?"

"And why does it bother you, eh?" she shouted back. "Madonna mia! What have I done to deserve such a flock of sheep! Couldn't I have a nice little girl, that would help me through all this, talking nice and sweet to me. but no! I have you on my plate. And this in four times over night! And a husband who doesn't care a flying fart about anything."

The brothers looked dumbfound, then all four of them burst into a peals of laughter. It didn't take long until Clarissa joined them, but her eyes were still furious. "Beware, ragazzi! I meant every single word of it."

Dante's disgusted look touched Luca. Despite his grinning face Luca knew that Dante had also meant every single word as he had said it. Luca shuddered when a sense of fear rose within him.

"Was it the Gondi-lad you've been with the whole time?" Giano asked when he followed Luca to his room. Luca nodded and opened the door.

"So, it's true what the newspaper said, yes? Were you hurt too?"

Luca turned to him. "Well, just a bruise. Sandro got it all."

"You were at Villa Kazar last night."

"How do you know, were you there too?"

"Should I sit here and wait until you come home?" Giano quipped.

"You're not my body guard." Luca was pissed. It was bad enough when Dante spied after him, but Giano too was way too much. "And what were you doing there, eh? Were you watching me?" A traitorous redness covered his face now. What had he seen? He searched his brother's, calm and handsome face. "Your secret's save with me", Giano said quietly, hiding his eyes.

"What secret?" Luca shouted, more out of surprise than in anger.

Giano shook his head. "You don't have to shout. Mother might innocently defend the diversity and freedom of mankind, but you don't have to lie to me, piccolino. How is he? Who's caring for him right now?"

"The housekeeper", Luca said softly and sat upon his bed. "I'd called her and she called the police."

"Police?" Giano sat beside him.

"Well, yes. The doc said I should report it to the police because of his injuries." He lifted his head. "Do you think I can return to him?"

Giano looked attentively into his face. "You've got it bad, haven't you." A small smile appeared around his mouth. "Alright, go when it's getting dark, I don't think anybody will notice."

Luca hesitated. Should he tell him everything? About Dante and his threats? About the drawing he had found?

Giano saw the emotions in his brother's face. He could understand what was going on in his head. The confusing muddle. And he worried as he thought about the time when he and the Gondi-lad would start their studying at Pisa. Would he be able to avoid him?

Anastasia had retired to her room when Luca arrived at the Palazzo Gondi. Alessandro lay comfortably in his bed, cushions stuffed behind his back , watching TV, an empty plate and glass beside him. He beamed when Luca entered his room. "I wasn't sure I could made it", he excused his late appearance.

"You're here", Alessandro said and patted the empty space on his bed. "Mother was pissed that I had got into trouble because of you", Luca said a bit breathless. "And Giano found out about us", he added.

"Found out what?" Alessandro pressed a button on the remote control and switched off the TV.

"Well, you and me."

Alessandro's eyes glistened. "And what does he think?"

"Seems to be alright." Luca detected a book on the bed. Masolino's diary. "You've been reading? Are you not too tired? How are you anyway?"

"Better. Though this," he stretched out his arm that now had a hard plaster cast covering his hand and wrist, "is annoying. The doc was here again. He was pleased though that the swelling has gone. But what about you? Let me see."

He rose to a sitting position, grimacing with the pain and lifted Luca's shirt. The bruises were blue-brown and covered the left side of Luca's chest. "Gosh, you should do something about that. There's an ointment laying on the nightstand that the doc left."

Luca fished for it, but Alessandro took it from his hand. "Lay back."

Luca hesitated, then he pulled off his shoes and crawled onto the bed, beside Alessandro who removed his shirt and started to apply the cool ointment. Luca moaned a bit. "It helps, believe me. What have you told the police?"

"I couldn't tell them much. Did you recognise one of them?"

"I'm not sure. Now, are you going to bed like this?" He pointed to Luca's jeans. "Off with them. Go on", he said, when Luca stopped at his pants. Sheepishly Luca pulled down his underwear and slid under the blankets. "Much better", Alessandro said satisfied, but Luca felt the covered abdomen by his side.

"Your balls still pulp?"

"Not really. I can feel them again." Alessandro grinned. He came closer and started to kiss Luca, though the movements caused both pain and his plastered hand was always in the way.

Unsatisfied Alessandro groaned with frustration. "When do you think this will be over? I mean, I was really looking forward to a hot night."

Luca sounded his pearly laugh again. "You can cuddle with me, isn't that enough?"

"No." Alessandro fell back and closed his eyes. "Would you read out loud to me?" He pulled out the book from under his buttocks. "Perhaps it will be easier then to sleep. I slept for the whole day and now I'm not tired."

Luca stroked his pale cheek and examined Alessandro's black eye. Despite all his injuries Sandro kept his good looks, at least for him. Sighing he finally carefully opened the book and turned the brittle pages.

"Budapest, Febbraio 1428

Tommaso and I had gone to Rome for the Jubilee. It was Holy Evening, and the start of the Anno Santo of 1423 was being celebrated. There was an indulgence to be gained. A confession with a Holy Communion afterwards for those who had visited the basilicas of San Pietro and San Paolo fifteen times. The only entrance to San Pietro was via the Angel's Bridge, and the pilgrims jostled that much that many of them fell into the Tiber's muddy waters, where they paddled helplessly and drowned along with their donkeys and carriages. The ways were treacherous and slippery from the horses and donkey's refuse, covered with cabbage, litter and rags. I covered my nose and mouth; Rome was a cloaca. The people oozed an unbearable stench of poverty and sickness while amongst them colourful and clean dressed gentlemen and ladies tried to force a way through the inferno.

Despite that pope Martin had ordered the enlarging of the gate through the Leonid wall we struggled, were pushed and hit, before we were carried to in front of the basilica, a plain, irregular place on whose farthest end the church stood, a facade with mosaics on golden ground. A nasty wind blew rain drops upon our heated faces, but Tommaso was laughing. He made the sign of the cross and I prayed silently that we would gain release and blessing in front of the eyes of the Lord. Was he not praying the love on earth? The love between humans?

Cries echoed up to the cloudy sky, vanishing in the mists of drizzle that came down on the pilgrims. Many of them fell onto their knees and covered the way to the entrance of the church, crawling on the dirty sand and mud covered earth. Tommaso, strong as he was, made room for me and himself until we saw the tomb of San Pietro with high gates and twisted marble pillars. One altar had been built above the other so that nobody had access to the grave below.

A multi voiced singing started. A chant wafting through the cold room, breaking itself at the apses with Constantine's mosaics. I fixed my eyes on the lamb holding the cross. Fixing my eyes on the four rivers streaming to its hoofs. Saw the phoenix and the eagle, the bull and the angel.

People sobbed, their heads laying down in the dust, muttering words; others had thrown away their crutches and walking sticks, I saw missing limbs, wrapped in dirty, suppurating bandages, pockmarked faces, empty eye sockets, scabby noses and mouths. Figures carried on stretchers, moaning, not able to find peace. They all gathered in a long row, ready to give confession and receive revelation, health and the prospect of a new and better life. Well-dressed ones stood aside, waiting for the air, pregnant with illness, to been blown away, holding perfumed clothes in soft hands and I wondered from what heart complaint they had been plagued to come here to this heinous and blessed town of the representative of God.

Tommaso had bent his head too and I heard him silently mumbling, his strong hands folded and I did so as well. I prayed for absolution for this unholy alliance that connected myself with him. But was I ready to give it up? I glanced at Tommaso's red-brown shock of hair that hung over his ears, his dirty face and the moving, soft, enticing lips. I could not. Christ would understand and forgive.

We had gone as friends and became a couple by night. Everything was possible with him. He had shown me heaven. I craved for more and awaited each night with a feverish head that he knew to cool with a stroke of his hand. I could not give it up. I needed him like I needed air to live. If God was the omnipotent love then he had to understand. Was our love not worth living? Was it minor? Love is good. To love was everything we ought to do. And I loved.

We dismissed the pilgrimage hospices and went to stay instead of at a hay barn in the hills behind San Pietro. Tommaso could not bear to be parted on a stinky, shabby wooden bed in a room we had to share with dozens of stinky, shabby men.

Several times we were on the brink of discovery when the farmer came to look for his hay and even the Romans, depraved from their carnival, would have lashed us openly - or worse. But we both had been in a state of fever where the single thought did not count. Just the two of us.

We spent the days walking alternating from San Pietro to San Paolo that meant a path across the town from west to east, behind the town walls, following the way all popes had to go from the grave of Pietro the fisherman to the Pope's own church, the Lateran, crossing Via Merulana and the ancient church of San Clemente.

We wandered through streets, corners, alleys, staircases. Backyards with urns, ivy and altars for the Lari, the good Gods of the houses. We were driven away by a procession of pushing, rubbing, screaming and laughing, row of beggars in rags, rising their weak hands, a bowl with coins beside them until everything started anew.

I made sketches for my tempera painting of San Giovanni and San Martin and Tommaso knew how to improve them. San Giovanni now looked like his Apostle Paolo he was about to finish for the Pisan church. My depicting of figures remained the same though, but Tommaso found a way to teach me how my objects could gain volume and a sense of perspective to the spectators, but what did I know about perspective? Now he was my model and I saw the heaviness of a well built young man and transferred it into my painting.

I tremble. The candle has burnt down to a tiny stump. The memory...I could not bear to be without him. But I had to. Tommaso's patron would send him to Pisa to finish his polyptych for the altar of the Chiesa del Carmine. Ser Giuliano di Colino degli Scalzi was a wealthy man and we needed the money. After our happy return from Rome to our neat and tidy hometown we had to part. Tommaso's brother Giovanni had moved to Via dei Servi and came into possession of a part of a workshop at the Badia, but he insisted of going to Pisa with his brother. I had a very bad feeling when I watched them go."

Alessandro breathed silently. His head had sunk aside and rested on his shoulder. Luca closed the book, put it aside and switched off the light. He seemed to have a bitter taste in his mouth from Masolino's descriptions of a medieval Rome. He had been to the capital before, when he and Giano had accompanied his father to the Holy Year of 2000, but what a difference it had made to Masolino's descriptions. Surely the town had been stuffed with pilgrims but they came now by car, bus, train and airplane. And the prices were double what they were at Florence and they didn't have to visit the churches fifteen times on fifteen different days. But all in all he had been happy to return home; Rome was much too big and too different for his taste.

He snuggled closer to the sleeping body and ignored the pain in his ribs. When Alessandro's sharp tongue was slumbering, Luca felt protected, while by daylight he didn't know exactly what to think about him. On one side he was glad to have him at his side, while at other times Luca thought that he just used him for a private revenge against his family. He was like his name: Lizard. A lizard will lose its tail to be free as soon someone grabs it.

Part 11