A single summer
He had something lingering in his chest, he had begun to look at the whitened tips of the cypress trees, at the terracotta tiles on the sides of the gate, at the lemons numbed by the cold, slowly filling with snow, at the trees twisted and depressed as his own mood was. He had walked up and down leaning on crutches, pondering her absence, seeking solace in her objects scattered around the house, in the orderly row of books in her library . He had passed his finger on the cover of the leather agenda in which she, sitting under an olive tree, wrote her poems, until last October. He wondered why she had not taken her medication with her, all the pills that she took every day, at set hours, with meticulous patience.
At midday, there came the phone call.
How many times she had told him, taking his hand in her, gnarled and covered with blue veins , "when it will be, Roberto, we will not live it together ." But he always interrupted her, with one arm he encircled her hunched shoulders, feeling the warmth of the body under the wool sweater. "Shuss, do not talk about these things . We are together now. "
Everything had happened quickly, in early summer. They sat in the avenue of cypress trees, on the stone bench, it was a cool June and she protected herself from the wind with a light scarf. “ Why not, Roberto?" she had asked him , putting back on his nose, with maternal gesture , the lenses that had slipped down. He had shaken his head: "My daughter will not accept it, she threatens not to let me see Matteo anymore. "
She had squeezed her eyelids to defend herself from the light of the long afternoon, then smiled. A network of crow's feet had formed near her eyes. "Patrizia will understand. Give her time, Roberto. And your nephew loves you so much . "
He had hardly listened, watching the soft oval face, the pianist's hands stained with freckles and age spots, the gray hair still soft. He had thought her so beautiful and had blushed . "At our age ," he had protested weakly, "and in my condition. I am an invalid. " He had grabbed the hanger and had agitated it in the direction of Martha, as to defend himself from the feeling that overwhelmed him .
But she had turned away his crutch and had squeezed his shoulders with both hands. "And my terms then? You know how much I have left to live, but I want to do this with you. " Suddenly it was her mischievous eyes , like those of girl who is planning a prank , "Let's do it , Roberto ! " she had exclaimed , "come to live here with me, before it's too late . "
He had caressed his nephew Matteo : "Grandpa will come to see you every day ," he had promised.
"Forget it! " Patrizia had intruded, sour , dragging away the sullen child . "What a shame! My mother is turning in her grave . You're a pathetic old man, if you leave this house , you won’t come back. "
He had moved to Martha two days later, leaving Patrizia and her husband to fight alone.
It had been a good summer, a summer of walks in the park, hanging on the arm of Marta, talking about poetry, planning visits to the Uffizi and reading concert programs that enlivened the evenings in Florence.
They talked of the past because the future was not there.
He did not speak willingly of his wife, but he remembered the shrill voice that, in recent times, even railed against his hindered legs. "My wife did not like concerts," he used to say, then changed the subject . Martha just made sure that her body was resting on his shoulder. She began to tell him about her mother, dropped from those same hills to come to service in the city, about her brother emigrated to America, about a childhood sweetheart who gave her a yellow rose every day . "Old age has caught me by surprise ," she said , "I do not know how I spent all these years. Inside I feel the same, still the girl with the yellow rose, but I am not. " And her laugh was young , her hair a bit ruffled by the evening breeze.
She never spoke of the disease, even when the pain wore out her bones. Some nights, though, Roberto realized she was awake, staring at the ceiling. Then, gently, he took her hand and clasped it without speaking.
Autumn arrived, a windswept November that had taken away all the leaves and filled the house of chilly drafts . The pains of Martha had intensified , she had had to double the dose of the drugs and spend more time in front of the fireplace with a book in her lap.
Then there was the sudden departure , without an explanation , without a word. They had embraced, the taxi was waiting outside the gate of the villa. "Take care of yourself, Roberto ," she said , " I gotta go , but my heart remains with you in this house . "
Now Roberto realized that she did not want to share that moment with anyone, not even with him.
He looked for the number and called her brother in the United States. The man told him that he would come to the funeral and would stop only the time required to sell the villa . They made their condolences, Robert thanked him and hung up. He called the florist and ordered a bouquet of yellow roses .
Then he dialed the number of the Retirement Home . "I'm Roberto Farnesi , do you have a room for me?"