Authors: Donna Leon
Death in a Strange Country
Dressed for Death
Death and Judgment
Quietly in Their Sleep
A Noble Radiance
Friends in High Places
A Sea of Troubles
Blood from a Stone
Through a Glass, Darkly
Suffer the Little Children
The Girl of His Dreams
A Question of Belief
The Jewels of Paradise
Atlantic Monthly Press
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First published in Great Britain in 2013 by William Heinemann
Printed in the United States of America
Published simultaneously in Canada
Atlantic Monthly Press
an imprint of Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
New York, NY 10003
Distributed by Publishers Group West
che al mio core, al mio bene
io porga almen gil ultimi baci. Ahi, pene
to give my beloved, my son,
one last kiss. Ah, what suffering!
It was a peacefu
l night at the Brunetti home, and dinner progressed in harmony. Brunetti sat at his usual place, his son Raffi beside him; opposite Brunetti sat his wife, Paola, and beside her their daughter, Chiara. A plate of
to which vegetables, particularly Chiara's current favourite, carrots, had been added with a liberal hand had initiated the peaceful mood; the conversation had maintained it. School, work, a neighbour's new puppy, the first Labradoodle to be seen in Venice: the topics flowed into and from one another, and then on to yet others, all of them tied in some way to the city in which they lived.
Though they were Venetian, the conversation took place in Italian rather than in Veneziano, Brunetti and Paola having decided that the children would learn the dialect anyway from their friends and on the street. This had indeed happened, and so the children spoke Veneziano as easily as did their father, who had been raised speaking it. Paola had picked it up â and it was perhaps to her credit that it embarrassed her to confess this â from the servants who had filled her family's
when she was growing up, rather than from her parents, and so she spoke it less fluently than the others. She felt no
â quite the contrary â in having achieved almost native fluency in English from her childhood nanny and was pleased that she had managed to pass the language on to both her children, though the transmission had been aided by classes with a private tutor and summer study in England.
Families, much in the manner of churches, have rituals and rules which puzzle non-members. They also place high value on things which members of other groups do not prize to the same degree. If the Brunettis had a religion, aside from a formal adherence to some of the outward, decorative manifestations of Christianity, it was language. Puns and jokes, crossword puzzles and teasers were to them what communion and confirmation were to Catholics. Bad grammar was a venial sin; deliberate corruption of meaning was mortal. The children had taken pride in reaching the stages of awareness where they, too, could partake in the progressively more serious sacraments; raised in this faith, they did not think to question its values.
Later, when the plates from which they had eaten the baked finocchio with rosemary were removed from the table, Chiara set her water glass down with a thump and said, âThey all lived happily ever after.'
âClorinda's eyes met Giuseppe's, and together they gazed happily down at the baby,' Paola said immediately in a voice she pumped full of emotion.
Raffi looked across at his sister and mother, tilted his chin and studied a painting on the other side of the room, and then said, âAnd so it was: the radical procedure left even the doctors who performed it astonished: indeed, for the first time in history, a baby had successfully been delivered from a man's body.'
It took Brunetti but a moment to say, âAs he was wheeled into the delivery room, Giuseppe had time to say, “She is nothing to me, my love. You are the only mother of my child.”'
Chiara, who had listened to the contributions of the others with growing interest, added, âOnly the strongest of marriages could survive such an event, but Clorinda and Giuseppe knew a love that passed all understanding and leaped over every obstacle. Yet for a moment, Clorinda wavered. â“But with Kimberly? The friend of my heart?”'
Back to Paola, who said in the cool voice of the narrator, âIn order to preserve the rock of honesty upon which their marriage was founded, it was necessary for Giuseppe to confess the lengths to which his desire for a child had driven him. “It was meaningless, my love. I did it for us.”'
â“You brute,” Clorinda sobbed, “you betray me like this. What of my love? What of my honour?”' This was Raffi's second contribution, to which he added, â“And with my best friend.”'
Leaping at the opening this created, Chiara broke in out of turn and said, âHe lowered his head in shame and said, “Alas, it is Kimberly's child.”'
Paola banged her hand on the table to get their attention and demanded, â“But that's impossible. The doctors told us we would never have children.”'
Incensed at having had his turn stolen â and by his wife â Brunetti broke in to say, doing his best to sound like a pregnant man, â“I am with child, Clorinda.”'
For a moment, no one spoke as they all ran their way backwards through the dialogue and accompanying
to see if they fulfilled the family requirement for a story filled with cheap melodrama, clichÃ© and outrageous characterization. When it was clear that no one had anything to add to the beginning of the story, Paola got to her feet, saying, âThere's ricotta-lemon cake for dessert.'
Later, as they sat in the living room, having coffee, Paola asked Brunetti, âDo you remember the first time Raffi brought Sara here, and she thought we were all mad?'
âClever girl,' Brunetti said. âGood judge of people.'
âOh, come on, Guido; you know she was shocked.'
âShe's had years to get used to us,' Brunetti said.
âYes, she has,' Paola said, leaning back in the sofa.
Brunetti took her empty cup and set it on the table in front of them. âIs this grandmotherhood calling?' he inquired.
Without thinking, she reached aside and poked him in the arm. âDon't even joke about it.'
âYou don't want to be a grandmother?' he asked with feigned innocence.
âI want to be the grandmother of a baby whose parents have university degrees and jobs,' she answered, suddenly serious.
âAre those so important?' he asked, just as serious
âWe both have them, don't we?' she asked by way of answer.
âIt is the usual custom to answer questions with answers, not with more questions,' he observed, then got up and went into the kitchen, remembering to take the two cups with him.
He came back a few minutes later, carrying two glasses and a bottle of Calvados. He sat beside her, and poured them each a glass. He handed her one and took a sip of his own.
âIf they have degrees and jobs, it means they'll be older when they have children. Perhaps wiser,' Paola said.
âWere we?' Brunetti asked.
Ignoring his question, she went on. âAnd, if they get a decent education, they'll know more, and that might help.'
âAnd the jobs?'
âThey're not so important, I think. Raffi's bright, so he shouldn't have trouble finding one.'
âBright and well-connected,' Brunetti clarified, not thinking it polite to refer directly to the wealth and power of Paola's family.
âOf course,' she said, able to admit to these things with him. âBut bright's more important.'
Brunetti, who agreed, confined himself to a nod and another sip of the Calvados. âThe last thing he told me was that he wanted to study microbiology.'
Paola considered this, then said, âI don't even know what it is they do.' She turned to him and smiled. âDo you ever think about that, Guido, about all those disciplines we name every day: microbiology, physics, astrophysics, mechanical engineering. We mention them, we even know people who work at them, but I wouldn't be able to tell you what it is they actually do. Would you?'
He shook his head. âIt's so different from the old
ones â literature, philosophy, history, astronomy, mathematics â where it's clear what they do or at least what the material is they're working in. Historians try to figure out what happened in the past, and then they try to figure
out why it happened.' He put his glass between his palms and rubbed it like a lazy Indian making fire. âAll I can figure out about microbiology is that they look at little growing things. Cells.'
âAnd after that?'
âGod knows,' Brunetti said.
âWhat would you study if you had it to do all over? Law again?'
âFor fun or to get a job?' he asked.
âDid you study law because you wanted to get a job?'
This time, Brunetti ignored the fact that she had answered a question with a question and said, âNo. I studied it because it interested me, and then I realized
I wanted to be a policeman.'
âAnd if you could study just for fun?'
âClassics,' he answered without a moment's hesitation.
âAnd if Raffi chose that?' she asked.
Brunetti reflected on this for some time. âI'd be happy if that's what he wanted to study. Most of our friends' kids are unemployed, no matter what degrees they have, so he might as well do it for love as for any job it might get him.'
âWhere would he study?' she asked, more a mother's concern than a father's.
âHere Venice or here Italy?'
âHere Italy,' he said, not liking to have to say it, just as she didn't like to hear it.
They turned and looked at one another, forced to confront this inevitability: kids grow up and kids leave home. If the phone rang after midnight, it would no longer be possible to take it down the hall and look into their rooms to have that immediate, corporeal assurance that they were there. Asleep, awake, reading under the covers with a flashlight; unconscious, sulking, happy or angry: none of this mattered in the face of the certainty that they were safe, at home, there.
What babies parents are. All it took was that ringing sound in the night to freeze their hearts, turn their knees to jelly. It didn't matter if it turned out to be a drunken friend complaining about his wife or the Questura asking Brunetti to come in because a crime had been committed in the city and he was the man in charge. Even a call that ended with a sincere apology for having dialled a wrong number at that hour had the same battering effect on these hostages to fortune.
What the cost, then, of having one of their children in a foreign city in a foreign country? They were brave people, Guido Brunetti and Paola Falier, and they had often
made fun of the streak of melodrama that ran through the centre of the Italian character, yet here they were, both of them, just one step short of pouring ashes on their heads
at the thought that their son had begun his university career and might someday go off to some other city to study.
Paola suddenly leaned sideways against the arm of her husband. She placed her hand on his thigh. âWe'll never stop worrying about them, will we?' she asked.
âIt wouldn't be natural if we did,' Brunetti said, smiling.
âIs that meant to comfort me?'
âProbably not,' Brunetti admitted. Time passed and then he added, âIt's the best thing about us, the worrying.'
âUs two or us humans?'
âUs humans,' Brunetti said. âUs two, as well.' Then, because solemnity was not a dress either of them could wear for long, he added, âIf he decided to become a plumber, he could study here and continue to live at home, you know.'
She leaned forward and picked up the bottle. âI think I'll seek solace here,' she said, pouring herself another glass.