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Authors: Louise Marley

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BOOK: The Glass Butterfly
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Iris took the form and glanced at it. “Georgia?” she said. “You don't have a Southern accent.”
“I was raised in the Midwest,” Tory said smoothly. This much, at least, she had rehearsed. She had also invented a college degree from a tiny school she had seen on her trip, and imagined a family background. She hoped that for now she wouldn't need her made-up history. She was beginning to feel she couldn't stand on her own two feet any longer.
Iris seemed to sense this. She put out her hand, said an abrupt good-bye, and was gone a moment later, spinning down the dirt lane in a fairly new white Acura sedan. Tory looked down at her copy of the rental form, and saw that Iris also lived in Cannon Beach. She could stop by the cottage at any time. Tory would have to be ready.
She folded the rental agreement and tucked it into a kitchen drawer next to a pair of rusty scissors and a pizza delivery menu. She pulled the faded cotton curtains across the picture window, shot the dead bolt on the front door, and turned toward the bathroom.
 
She slept without dreaming, without even turning over. Rain woke her in the morning, a steady, rhythmic beating on the flat roof of the cottage. Lacking a bathrobe, she pulled the chenille bedspread around her and padded to the window to open the curtains. She couldn't see the collapsed bench from this vantage point. Rain obscured the beach and the surf, and made muddy rivulets in the dirt lane. The little yard soaked up the water as if it had been yearning for moisture. Tory thought she might even be able to get a little grass to grow there, if she tried. Odd, that she was thinking of a lawn. Did ice women plant gardens?
She drew the curtains again, and went to put on her clothes. She couldn't remember exactly when she had last eaten, and her jeans were so loose she was afraid they might not stay up. First, she thought, food. Then, with some calories to fuel her brain, she would think how to acquire the things that would make her seem respectable. Make her character come alive.
She found a tiny restaurant on the main road of the town, and ordered eggs and coffee and toast. It tasted so good in her mouth it surprised her. It tasted like—life. Like she was still alive. She ate everything. When she had drunk a second cup of coffee, she paid her bill—breaking another fifty—and went back to the Beetle. She turned north, back on the coast highway, where she had spotted a sign for a Costco store the day before.
Three hours later she possessed a new Costco card, four place settings of china and flatware, a set of thick glass tumblers, a skillet and saucepan, towels, a radio, and a prepaid cell phone issued to Paulette Chambers. She found a pair of jeans a size smaller than the ones she had on, and two thick sweaters to go with them. She chose two novels from the laden tables of books. She bought frozen pizza, some frozen fish and vegetables, and three bottles of red wine. She paid for it all with hundred-dollar bills. No one seemed to care if Paulette's birth date and Social Security number were fictional. No one blinked at the cash. Her identity was established.
She was on her way back to the highway when she spotted an antiques store just off the road to her right. On an impulse, she turned the Beetle into its muddy parking lot. There were only two other cars there, and it occurred to her that she didn't know what day of the week it was. She had lost all track of time.
The sign on the door said the store was open, so she parked and climbed out, taking care to lock the car with all her new things stuffed into the backseat. If anything was stolen, she could hardly call the police. It gave her an odd sense of vulnerability, of being without a form of protection she had always taken for granted.
The interior of the antiques store was the exact opposite of Costco's. Where Costco was full of the smell of new plastic and cardboard and the rubbery reek of tires, the antiques store smelled of age and dust and history. A middle-aged woman in an acid-green pantsuit nodded hello from behind a glass cabinet that served as her counter. It was littered with small pieces of paper, a telephone, and an oversized calculator. Tory nodded back, then turned to stroll down the first aisle she came to.
She immediately regretted buying her dishes and silverware at Costco. This place was stuffed with things she could have used, and some of them had no fault except their age. Partial sets of dishes, of silverware, of Depression glass, filled the cabinets. Tory gazed at them, struck by the thought that once they had been as new as the things now packed into the back of the Beetle. People had bought them, used them, incorporated them into their lives. What had happened to the woman who stirred bread dough in that pottery bowl, or the child who drank milk from that pink glass?
She touched the glass, thinking of Jack when he was small, laughing at her across the breakfast table. They hadn't laughed together in such a long time.
Oh, Jack. Sweetheart. I'm so very, very sorry.
She clenched her teeth with a jolt of alarm at the rush of emotion that swept over her. She couldn't allow it. She could
not
feel. She didn't dare. She pulled her hand away from the pink glass, and breathed sharply to release the tightness in her throat.
When she felt she was in control again, she turned to another display. She picked up a soup bowl, and her fey sent a faint vibration through her fingers, as if the users of it had left an imprint, an invisible mark of history in the simple implement. She kept the bowl, and picked up a matching one to nest inside it. She found a ladle, and a rolling pin that resonated with memories of Thanksgiving pies and Christmas cookies. She picked up a saltcellar with a tarnished silver lid and a tiny matching spoon. The woman from the counter, seeing, came and took the things from her, carrying them back to the cash register to wait for her to finish shopping.
Tory bought six vintage cloth napkins and an embroidered apron with only a tiny stain at the hem. She chose two wineglasses with twisted stems that had no doubt once been part of a full set. She hesitated over a box of old LPs. She saw a precious recording among them of Risë Stevens's
Carmen,
but she made herself resist. She had no way to play it, and she had resolved to avoid that link to the past. Surely there would be a classical music station out of Portland. She would content herself with that.
She wandered around the store one more time, trailing her fingertips over tasteless vases and lamps without shades, eyeing cabinets full of bric-a-brac. She was turning back toward the counter when a collection of framed photographs caught her eye. She picked one up, a picture of a woman in a dress from the forties, framed in Bakelite. Behind it was a photo of the same woman in a wedding gown, surrounded by a family in dress clothes. Tory gazed at the pictures for several moments. She could imagine, looking at the face of the woman, someone who was kind and maternal and sensitive. Someone she dared talk to.
Though she knew it didn't really make sense, Tory piled the pictures on top of the napkins and the apron.
It all seemed too easy. She could create an entire history with such things, invent a background made up of the bits and pieces of other people's lives. Could she create a future, too?
“You have some great things here,” the woman said when she went back to the counter. She used the big calculator to add up the total. “Do you buy a lot of antiques? Would you like to be on our mailing list?”
“Oh. Oh, I don't . . . I'm not from here, actually.”
“Tourist?”
“Yes—sort of.” Tory thought she could have handled that better, but the woman didn't seem to notice. Probably saw dozens of tourists every day.
“I'll wrap everything so nothing gets broken.”
“Thanks. I appreciate it.” Tory counted out the money from her drugstore handbag.
“I love your hair,” the woman said, as she began wrapping things in butcher paper. “I wish I could wear that color red. And wear my hair that short.”
Tory touched her hair. She kept forgetting what she had done to it. She said, “I'm not all that sure I pull it off, either.”
“No, you do! Really. Your skin and those eyelashes—I wish I had the courage not to wear makeup.”
Tory's cheeks flushed. She could hardly connect herself with the person the woman was describing.
Her cheeks were still burning as she loaded her new-old possessions into the Beetle, and backed out of the parking lot. Her character must be working. Her new persona was as different from the old one as she could make it.
 
The rain had stopped by the time she got back to the cottage. She made half a dozen trips from the car to the house, then spent the afternoon stowing things. As Iris had suggested, she pushed the vacation-house utensils to the back of the kitchen cupboards, and put her own plates and glasses near the front. She found an empty drawer for the silverware, and a closet for the towels and sheets. She set the radio on one corner of the kitchen counter, where she could plug it in. She stowed her frozen food in the tiny freezer compartment. She stuffed the boxes for everything into the recycle bin behind the cottage, hoping no one was going to look in and realize almost everything she had was new.
Finally, she began unwrapping her antiques store purchases. Napkins went in a drawer, and the little saltcellar beside the stove. She hung the apron on a hook beside the refrigerator. She unwrapped the photographs, and carried them into the living room. She arranged them on the flimsy coffee table and stood looking down at them. They gazed back at her from their happy days, smiling, looking proud and—
Normal,
was the word that came to her mind. It made her feel wistful, and then foolish. She, of all people, knew there was no normal. It wasn't just her own life that was fragmented and strange. She had counseled hundreds of people, and not a single one thought their lives were normal. These people, too, must have had their problems, their sorrows, their losses.
She turned resolutely away from the smiling faces of strangers. They were simply part of the set she was creating. The backdrop for the illusion she had invented, against which she would act out her new role. It would be good to remember that.
Nonna Angela's paperweight had been waiting on the kitchen table. Tory picked it up, cradling its cool, familiar weight in her hand. She carried it into the bedroom, and set it on the narrow bedside stand, beneath the lamp, where she could see it when she was reading in bed. It felt good to have it with her, though its elegance was out of place in this rustic house. She touched it with her forefinger, and said, “I guess we're home.”
There was nothing left to do. She went back into the kitchen, found a corkscrew in a drawer, nestled incongruously next to a hammer and a rusty screwdriver. She opened one of the bottles of wine and poured a generous glassful, then walked aimlessly into the living room to stand beside the picture window and look out at the ocean.
She watched the gray waves swirl on the sand, and wondered if this was the moment it would all catch up with her, come roiling to the surface like those waves, to eat away at the ice that encased her. She sipped wine, and stared at the water. She didn't feel anything, not even relief that she had a home, that she had a few things to comfort her, that no one could find her. She was used to missing Jack, of course. That shard of her broken life rested in its customary place, tucked just out of reach in the tidy closet of her mind.
No, she felt nothing. Just a touch of surprise that she had pulled it off. Ice Woman.
She ate baked fish and steamed vegetables for dinner, drank another glass of wine, and went to bed with one of the novels she had bought. The last thing she did before turning out the lamp was to touch the Murano paperweight, and wonder at the impulse that had made her put it in her pocket when she fled.
4
Forse come la rondine, migreró verso il mare,
verso un chiaro paese di sogno, verso il sole!
 
Perhaps like the swallow I will migrate toward the sea,
toward a bright country of dreams, toward the sun!
 
—Magda,
La Rondine,
Act One
T
he heat that rolled in from the swampy shore of the lake was the sort to wilt starched collars and turn linen tablecloths as limp as dishrags. It was thick and damp, a weight of late-summer heat that oppressed everyone's spirits. It made the villa seem cramped and crowded. The
signora
quarreled with the
signore
and snapped at the cook. Doria, the maid, dripped perspiration as she stood over her ironing board. Signor Puccini, with an irritated oath, stamped into his gun room, chose a shotgun from the rack, and strode away through the garden. His gun dogs rose from their kennel to follow him, but even they moved languidly, tails drooping in the heat. Doria, seeing, snatched up Puccini's hat from the hook near the back door and ran after him into the garden.
“Maestro!” she called, but softly. Elvira Puccini's second-floor bedroom, with its small balcony and painted shutters, faced the garden, and the window was open to receive the breeze from the lake. “Maestro, the sun—you really must wear your hat!”
Puccini had already gone out through the scrolled iron gate. He turned back, scowling, but his expression softened when he saw it was Doria trotting after him. He took a few steps back, raising one hand to show he had heard her. His field glasses hung around his neck on a leather cord, and he had put on his tall boots for tramping through the muck of the swamp. He reached across the gate and took the hat in his fine, strong fingers. “Doria,” he said. He shifted his ever-present cigarette to the other side of his mouth. Lines of anger still marked his cheeks, and his full lips pressed tight beneath his brush of mustache. He shook his head, as if with the movement he could shake off his fit of temper. “My little nurse! You're the only one who stays calm in this weather.”
“You must take care, maestro,” Doria said. She shook one small finger at him. “My mamma would scold you for not covering your head in this heat.”
He grinned suddenly, showing strong teeth yellowed by smoke, and she smiled back at him. “I tell you, Doria,” he said, “I am deathly weary of being scolded by women. But since it's you—” He made a small, ironic bow as he accepted the hat from her hands. “And out of deference to Signora Manfredi, I will certainly wear the hat.”
Doria nodded, satisfied. He looked much more youthful when he smiled, and that pleased her. She bobbed a hasty curtsy before she picked up her skirt and dashed back into the house, hurrying lest her mistress glance out the window. She paused when she was safely inside, and stood in the music studio to watch through the zinc screen as Puccini shouldered his gun and turned toward the lake, the two shaggy dogs at his heels. The last thing he did before he disappeared from her sight was to tilt his hat at a jaunty angle. Doria chuckled, but her smile faded as she turned to resume her chores. The
signore
was always kind to her, and appreciated her efforts. The
signora
was another matter, but the
signore
didn't seem to understand.
She found the kitchen peaceful. Old Zita, unwrapping a ball of mozzarella on the wooden counter, whispered that the
signora
was lying down with a cold compress. That was a relief to them both.
Elvira Puccini was famous for her temper, not only here in Torre del Lago, but in all the cities the Puccinis visited. The heat made her worse, of course. Indeed, the sweltering temperatures made everyone cross. The best way to manage Signora Puccini, in such a situation, was to stay out of her way. At least today she had vented her ire on her husband and not on her servants. It was something to be grateful for.
Doria put away the ironing board, then fetched her bucket and rags from the cupboard, taking great care not to bang or drop anything. She dropped an extra dusting cloth into the front pocket of her pinafore apron before she went to clean the studio.
The maestro's studio was her favorite room in the house. She liked it even better than the bathroom, though she loved that, too, with its big white bathtub and a thick rug to step on when you climbed out. The bathroom of Villa Puccini had its own plumbing that delivered hot and cold water. It was nothing like being at her mother's simple house, where a tin tub had to be carted into the kitchen once a week and filled with kettlefuls of water heated on the stove. Here in Villa Puccini, you simply turned the brass taps and waited in delicious idleness for the water to flow in.
The studio, though, was the place where magic happened. In this room the maestro sat composing into the late hours, sometimes even right through the night. It was lovely, with windows facing the lake and walls covered with paintings of flowers in Florentine urns and lined with shelves full of books in Italian and French. The piano and the desk fitted together, so the composer could sit in his swivel chair, turning back and forth between the keyboard and the desk while he labored over his manuscripts and flicked ash from his cigarettes into a cut-glass ashtray.
There had been friends with him last night, Father Michelucci, Alfredo Caselli, and the poet Pascoli, drinking and playing cards while the maestro worked. Glasses and empty bottles littered the card table. Doria carried those into the kitchen, and emptied the maestro's ashtray. She dampened her dust rag, and began wiping up ashes and crumbs of bread and cheese. She cleaned the grate, polished the mosaics of the fireplace, and stretched on tiptoe to dust the inlaid mantelpiece.
When she turned to the black walnut piano she pulled the special dust cloth from her pocket. With reverence, she wiped down each separate key, thinking of the mystical notes that trickled through the darkness to her little room behind the kitchen. Though she took care not to sound them, it seemed the music vibrated through her fingertips anyway, a sensation both marvelous and faintly disturbing. She lifted the lid of the piano to polish the underside, then closed it, so no new dust would fall on the keyboard. She cleaned the candle sconces set into the carved front, and replaced the old stubs with new, unburned candles. Despite warnings from his doctors about his eyesight, Puccini still preferred to compose by candlelight, complaining that the electric lights—though he had gone to such pains to have his house supplied with them—were too harsh and glaring.
Doria had clear instructions about the sheets of music paper on the piano and on the desk. She carefully lifted the pile to dust beneath, and set them back in the precise order—indeed, the precise formation—he had left them. When she touched the pages, more music seemed to sing through her fingertips, chords now, and fragments of melody. She paused with her palm hovering over the manuscript.
La Fanciulla del West,
it said at the top. It was still a thin packet of pages, the opera only half begun, but she heard the music in her mind, the opening chords, the first fragments of the melodies. She couldn't read the music—a village girl like herself was lucky to be able to read at all—but every note the maestro played imprinted itself on her memory, and if she only had time, she felt sure she could connect the marks on the page with the sounds the maestro played.
It was a dream come true to work in the same house as the composer of
Edgar
and
Tosca, La Bohème
and especially
Madama Butterfly,
her favorite above all other operas. Sometimes singers came here to Torre to work with Puccini. They rehearsed through the long evenings, trying out the arias, listening to the composer's comments, arguing, laughing with their big, beautiful voices. Doria loved those nights, and when the opera was
Madama Butterfly
she knelt beside the window in her little room behind the kitchen, listening as intently as if she had a ticket to sit in one of the great, gilded boxes of La Scala.
She knew the story of
Butterfly
by heart, though she had never been to the opera. Even the poorest of inhabitants of the village knew all of Maestro Puccini's operas. People hummed the tunes in the streets, and paused to listen outside Villa Puccini when the composer was playing through a score. The butcher sang arias from behind his counter. The priest and the doctor huddled over cups of
espresso
or glasses of
vin santo,
disputing the merits of
Bohème
and
Manon
and
Butterfly
.
Of course,
Madama Butterfly
was the greatest of all the maestro's works. Doria would never understand why there was any argument about that, nor why it had not been instantly hailed as a masterwork. Not only was the music glorious—she could sing all the way through Un bel dì herself, though she only did it in private, when no one could hear—but the story was irresistible. Beautiful Cio-Cio-San, little Butterfly, thought the naval officer from America really loved her, had truly married her, saved her from her life as a geisha. Poor Butterfly, who named her little son Sorrow for the heartache that was to come. Even thinking about Butterfly kneeling above the bay, watching for her beloved's ship to return, brought tears to Doria's eyes. Then, when he did come, he brought his American wife, and wanted to take Sorrow home to raise in America! It was too cruel.
Sometimes, when Elvira Puccini had one of her bad days, Doria thought of Cio-Cio-San. Butterfly's story reminded her how dreadful things could really be for a powerless girl. She was no more than a few heartbeats away from being as helpless as Cio-Cio-San, destined for a life of drudgery and too many children. She blinked, and shook off the thought. It didn't have to be the same with her as it was with her mother! And she had the Puccinis to thank for that, even the
signora
with her uncertain disposition!
Doria finished with the piano and moved around to the desk. She dusted the surface, under the blotter, around the bronze base of the lamp. She wiped ashes from everything, including some that had spilled onto the wooden floor. She placed a fresh packet of cigarettes near the clean ashtray. She dropped the cloth into her bucket, and stood back to admire her handiwork.
Only one thing looked out of place. The maestro treasured it, because his beloved mother had given it to him after the premiere of
Madama Butterfly
. Doria loved it, too, because the older Signora Puccini had always been kind to her. When Doria was nursing the maestro after his car accident, his mother sometimes brought her little things—a book, an embroidered handkerchief, a box of chocolates at Christmas. Doria had seen Puccini caress the little paperweight with his fingers. She expected it made him feel connected to his mother. He had grieved so terribly when she died.
The paperweight was from the island of Murano. It was a delicate green, with a cunning little gold butterfly somehow set deep inside the crystal. It usually rested on the stack of music pages, to keep them from blowing about when the window was open, but it had somehow been moved to the edge of the desk, where it rested in a precarious position. Perhaps he had been holding it, toying with it. She leaned forward, and set it into its proper place. It was enchantingly cool and smooth, and she imagined she could sense the sweetness of Albina Puccini through her lingering fingertips.
“Doria!” The screech came from the kitchen. Guiltily, the girl pulled her hand away from the paperweight, bent to seize her bucket, and hurried out of the studio.
Elvira was opening drawers, cupboards, even the icebox, slamming each shut when she didn't find what she wanted. Doria said hastily, “I'm here, signora. Do you need something?”
“I can't find my locket, the one Giacomo gave me!” Elvira straightened, spinning in a whirl of full skirts. The white gauze of her summer-weight frock was so sheer Doria could see the shape of her plump legs in their white stockings. Her own dress was plain brown cotton, made from remnants her mother bought in the market at Viareggio.
“Did you take it from my dressing table?” Elvira demanded.
Doria, with a start, lifted her gaze to the
signora
's face. Her natural temper flared, making her cheeks burn. “No, signora!” she said. “No, of course I didn't!”
Veramente
—did she expect to find her locket in the icebox? She was mad.
Pazza
.
“I told you to dust the bedroom, not to rearrange my things!” Elvira's dark eyes, her only good feature except for her abundant black hair, narrowed.
“I didn't! I mean, I did dust, but I didn't touch—”

Cretina!
How could you dust if you didn't touch?”
Doria judged that silence was the best answer to this. She stood still, her jaw set, her bucket hanging from her hand, and waited for the storm to pass.
Elvira strode across the kitchen, her leather heels clicking on the flagstones, until she stood so close to Doria that the scent of her perfume and the odor of her perspiration made the girl's nose twitch. “I know what you're up to,” Elvira hissed.
Doria said, mystified,
“Cosa?”
“Oh, yes. Don't think I don't notice how you look at my husband! It won't do you any good, I can promise you, my girl. If you keep it up, I'll have you out on the street,
subito!

BOOK: The Glass Butterfly
10.88Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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