The key! Damn it! Where, was the key?
Michelangelo walked to the entrance hall and stood, staring at the car that drove off the main alley of the estate and started in a hurry ascending the stairs.
The frowning man in his late forties set the door slightly ajar in the attic to have a bit of light there. Soon his tall figure bent over a forgotten, dusty chest. Locked out!
Why did he need the key to the past of his own mother? Who should have more right to know her secrets? And who would give a damn for the broken chest in his own home?
An angry slog, two and the rusty padlock, unused for years, fell on the floor. He lifted the lid, it creaked, and the man jerked back to avoid the thick cloud of dust filling the air.
Now everything belonged only to him. The brilliance of the clothes inside had faded away. The newspapers and photographs were yellow with ages. By the pale light of the window, his eager hands took each object in succession. Longest time he stood staring at an article in an old magazine with glossy pictures of the star Sofiana Assenova, the best opera singer, a soloist at the Italian "La Scala", the greatest opera theatre. Under it, on the bottom of the chest was only her personal diary with the tarnished covers.
The man opened it.
1936, the board of liner over Atlantic ocean
"May I invite you to a dance?"
"Yes, thank you."
Uplifted, the graceful woman flied on the dance floor. He looked very stylish and they appeared a cute couple up to the moment she felt his light step on her feet.
"Oh… I am really sorry!" Giovanni said abashed.
"Do not worry."
For her surprise the elegant man was a clumsy dancer and could not keep up with the rhythm. Confused, Sofiana looked down, attempted to restore the balance, and encouraged him.
"Now! Three, two, one, go on!"
Swaying, Giovanni made an uncouth step and trod on the gorgeous tail of her splendid navy blue gown, with a frill of flounces attached to the skirt. It was torn up to her thighs. In her frustration and shame to rush with bare legs through the crowd of dancing long gowns, she ran supporting the torn piece of cloth with her hand. The woman was struggling for breath laboriously in her strife to take refuge faster, the light blue scarf flapped over her bare shoulders. Her face was fervent with the unexpected disgrace.
Totally at a loss in the commotion they stirred, Giovanni, Count De Castellano, was running after her.
"I am sorry! I did not want to… I beg your pardon!"
The woman could not hear him. She stormed into her cabin and let the tears stream down her face. The chambermaid knocked, stood in the doorway, and uttered with irresolution:
"Shall I help Madame? Shall I make ready another dress for you to come back to the party?"
It cost an effort to restrain her sobs. Sofiana felt crushed.
"No, thank you. I will not go back."
1991, Italy, Sicily, in the attic
His mother’s notes… With irritating eyes of the semi-darkness, Michelangelo approached the window of the attic and began to turn the pages of the old diary again. It surprised him that a bit of the content was written in Bulgarian.
Despite it he should find out the answers, of which he used to be afraid.
The same need since his childhood… He reminded very well when for first time he experienced necessity to find the truth of a story he regarded as his heritage.
In the beginning of twenty years of twenty century, Sicily
It was an anticipated day. Under sunny weather the young De Castellano managed to meet his childhood friend Marco in the centre of the sleeping in the afternoon hours town. The journalist recognized him from a distance, waved, and went on his way to shake hands. Neither of them noticed some men that slowed down nearby. Surprised gunshots and cries of pain from a wounded one tore through the air. Marco dashed towards his friend, screaming with fright his short name.
His madly searching eyes could not recognize him in all smoke, panic, and crowd of rushing people.
"I am here! I am alive!"
Shocked, Giovanni waved him being under refuge in one of the shops. With clothes and hands covered in dust, he walked to the injured one to lend his assistance; there were no more passers-by around, the frightened owners of the houses closed their windows and dropped the blinds. Filled with relief, Marco caught up with him making sure his friend was all right. But Count Giovanni was still in distress; he had bent over the injured man, who was regaining consciousness, and was speaking out in whisper:
"I am cold, it is so cold."
The Count took off his jacket and placed it over the suffering man. At that moment, he realized that the fingers and the entire body of him did not shiver anymore. Dead! The unknown man was dead. They caught the horns of the police officers. Marco tugged at Gianni. He slowly closed the man’s eyes, still unable to react, while the journalist lifted his bloodstained jacket and urged him:
“Let's go! We can avoid the interrogation."
They ran on, turned into the first street and stopped to look back. Marco took a deep breath.
"I was afraid the gunshots were for you."
That seemed ridiculous to Giovanni.
"I doubt if that is so. I am not even injured. Who would afraid of me? I am still insignificant despite the new job I have assumed recently." He nodded back at the dead man. "I recognized him. He was the deputy district attorney. I knew him in person. He was a resolute and honest man."
"However, I do not like to stay here these days."
"My father thinks the same. In his opinion, I should leave to work abroad. I am not sure I must stay apart from the turmoil in the country if we can change something while my relatives do not understand why I have hesitations. Even my brothers, Pippo and Enzo are strangers to my notions."
Hid behind the corner, the old friends examined the place from a distance. They beheld some police officers inspecting the body of the dead man, of the traces left by the bullets in the walls. There were no witnesses around. The shops were quickly closed. They left at a quick pace. Marco put his hand on his shoulder and told him resolutely with a stern gaze.
"I guess they will be pretended it has been done by the underground world. I am not sure. It seems political. Obviously the new politicians have fast learned quickly a lot from the former ones. Go abroad to a better place, Gianni. At least you have an opportunity.”
"What do you mean?"
Marco's eyes were wavering in irresolution like the flickering flame of a candle, moved by the light rush of the wind.
"That is the practice here already." Shoulder to shoulder, the two men exchanged some words whisperingly. "A colleague of mine was murdered a week ago in a similar way, since he dared to voice in public his discontent with the new political regime. It seemed to me a political assassination but Santonio was the one arrested and charged with the murder. I am talking about Santo, the boy came to study in our class at school for a while and whose father was thought being involved with the dark side."
"What?” Count Giovanni, a young diplomat, was greatly astonished. "I thought my father exaggerated his fears about their family."
"His father is right! You have missed a lot while you have studied in Rome.”
“Well, let me catch up. What about Santo?”
“Each of the journalist’s guild is frightened to focus the public suspicion on the authorities despite everyone in the offices of the newspapers knows that it was not he. He could be involved in dark marketing, an illegal but trifling job. Now he will be brought to trial and face the charges of murder. Unfortunately, Santonio remains in the memory of people the scion of that family. It always works against him."
Giovanni could not recover from the stress. Through the narrow streets, lost in thought, he was still clenching his fists:
"Damn! So who is behind these deeds is afraid to come out of the darkness.”
‘Right, the newers took the whole power in their hands and yet, they still stay under the shadows.”
“How much I want to speak up the truth.”
“There is no use of doing it because you are isolated as me. Nothing would be changed.”
“Yes, in the Foreign Office they manage to hold me aloof.”
A whirl of wind and clouds of dust soared above after the ambulance, which was carrying the dead body of the deputy district attorney, as it overtook them along a distant street. Giovanni's eyes followed it in silence. While he was waiting for the dust to disperse, an idea flashed as a thread across the chaos in his mind. All of a sudden, as if he had classified all information, he insisted on.
"What about you? Please, do not get involved in anything here. Do not play a hero! Give me your word! The passion for any cause here is dangerous now."
Marco flew into rage.
"Is it you, who are telling me to do so? You?"
Giovanni erupted, grabbed him by the collar of his unbuttoned overcoat and furiously insisted:
"I am telling you once again, absolute seriously, it is too dangerous. Watch out!"
"You are the one, who still do not understand what you are watching."
“I have learned enough in a few hours. Stay safe!”
On the next day, Tino, the butler, entered his study in the palace De Castellano, carrying the morning newspapers. He was shocked seeing Gianni. With a pallid face, dark circles round his eyes and drained countenance the Count looked like a man, who had just descended from the icon, hanging on the wall.
"Leave them there. I know what the journalists say." He pointed at some sheets of paper on his desk. "Please, call off all my meetings for the rest of the day. I have some business to do at the prosecutor attorney's office."
"Yes, Don Giovanni."
The young diplomat buttoned up his suit and went away without even attempting to hide that he did not get enough sleep and was upset.
1991, in the attic
His father’s memories… In front of the old chest, Michele remembered how many times he had listened about them by old cardinal Ritelli, who outlived his father. Now he had his mother’s ones at his disposal, too. What slept up to now in her secret diary was never mentioned to him.
Turning the pages over with sweaty hands he had to use his intuition, imagination, and life experience to get the pieces of the family puzzle together at finally.
Very vividly some pictures of it passed in his mind out.
The 1950s, Sicily, the palace of De Castellano family
Two kids, the little Michelangelo with his cousin, Donatela, were enjoying their game of sliding down the railing of the central staircase. Having escaped from the rooms on the upper floor and from the attention of the adults, the two dedicated every stolen minute to their favourite enjoyment. At last, they jumped across the lowest step with a spring and stood in the central foyer among the family portraits. Sofiana's sweet son halted his steps there. Deep in concentration, he paid no attention to his cousin tugging at his hand. The warm, lively eyes of the little Count began to sink beyond the portrait of his father as if he could overcome the distance in the time and went out in the world of his parent when Giovanni De Castellano, Gianni for all his closest ones, was a child, sliding enthusiastically down the railing in the same way. His laugh was echoing through the hallways whilst he was rushing into the open. Dark-haired and thin, the little Count grabbed his school bag from a servant and walked on in a hurry down the alley.
Passing by some streets, he uncontrollably cried out: "Marco, Marco, wait for me. See what I have." He showed his classmate and friend a new toy. It was a small soldier.
The two boys felt exhilaration: "We are soldiers, we are soldiers!" In the yard of the Catholic school, the two entertained themselves by imitating shooting with guns.
"That must be the new one!" Marco exclaimed.
Between groups only one of the boys was standing on his own with his bag in his hand.
"He is so sad, standing aside…" Gianni was systematically taught the virtues of sympathy and goodness by Monsignor Ritelli, his confessor. True to them and to his sensitive nature, the tidy boy suggested to his best friend. "Let invite him with us."
"The others never do such things.” Marco objected.
"That is why I will do. He will remain alone otherwise."
The kids shook hands with Santonio, and the three boys headed for the classroom.
Some days later, the home of De Castellano family
In low spirits the little heir descended the stairs on his road to school. His glooming face changed in a cheered smile upon his coming out on the main alley. Two figures waited for him there. Greatly surprised, the boy exclaimed to his father confessor.
"Good afternoon, Monsignor Ritelli!" Giovanni kissed his hand respectfully and crossed himself.
Thin, tall, almost thirty-five year old Ritelli caressed his cheek with a shadow of tenderness in the eyes.
"I am glad to see you, my little friend.”
The affectionate voice of his mother, Countess Marzia cleared the situation.
"Today you are not going to school, Gianni. You need to calm down after the last events at your school. Moreover, you have a guest. Monsignor Ritelli, has come to see you with great for him news."
“I have wanted to see you, Gianni, before my departure for the Vatican. I am invited to stay there.”
The little face darkened.
“No, father. You serve here”.
"Gianni, I will get back several times per year here. By all means, I will come and see you."
"Let you take leave of each other." Countess Marzia succeeded to retire with tact. "I hope you will stay for dinner, Monsignor Ritelli. Don Alessandro will be back especially for you."
"Thank you, Signora Marzia.”
The boy did not try to wipe the wet drops that had stuck to his eyelashes. His confessor was only and one, with whom the little one hurried to share the issues, whirling sometimes his young soul.
“Gianni, let me help you. Your mother mentioned you have something to share with me. ”
“I did not stop myself when I heard a conversation between her and daddy about my new classmate Santonio. They caught me and said eavesdropping is something very wrong. But I want to know what will happen to him. Why does my mother treat him differently?” He was such a bright child but now, immersed in thoughts, he seemed too serious for a boy of his age. “Father, you often tell me we are all God’s children. Then he is a child of God, too, just like me and Enzo, and Marco. Father, would you speak with Mom and Daddy? They will listen to you.”
Unexpectedly Ritelli found himself in a difficult position. His internal voice suggested him he might lose the boy's friendship with the wrong words. The man proceeded very carefully. "I wish I could. Gianni, adults have their rules. I am sad to say that you have to accept them even you do not understand them."
Ritelli did not wish to leave the little boy bewildered. He took him by the hand and they continued strolling along the pathway.
"Keep your confidence in my precepts, Gianni, in spite of your confusion now.”
“I will. I would like to be as you.”
“My little, for me, the fourth cousin of Don Alessandro, it was a matter-of-course decision. At least one of each generation from our family makes a choice to dedicate his life to religion.. For you, the first-born son and heir, this proves to be an impossible choice.”
Ritelli had lagged unnoticeably behind, and picked a twig up. Using its leaflets, he tickled his little friend on the back of his neck to hear with visible pleasure cheerful laughter and noise of little rushing feet between bushes and branches. For his loving godson childhood should not be over here, with the first serious issue that he encountered.
Many years later, after the end of World War I, Sicily
In the great alley among the gardens, Count Alessandro and his son Giovanni, aged almost thirty, were in a hurry. Serious and anxious, the old Count did not take into account the two younger brothers, Lorenzo and Filippo, who were playing on the lawn with the carefree nature of children. He was talking to his successor.
"Gianni, always remember that I am proud of your choice, of your excellent graduation marks and your desire to become a diplomat. I have never attempted to hold you to the vineyards and farm. I am feeling right for it after you were appointed for a consul in Paris for your abilities. Not even with any influence of our family, you on your own have achieved that. Trust yourself! You are very qualified and intelligent, Giovanni."
"I want to demonstrate my own abilities instead of enjoying privileges of the family on the field of winegrowing. Therefore I embarked on a different career. Do not help to my professional ambitions, father!"
"Do not worry. I am sure you will prove yourself.”
Giovanni's countenance assumed a sour expression to his father’s words. There seemed to be distrust in him as he gave a bitter smile. Getting closer to Lorenzo and Filippo, who were still playing in the yard, his smile became sincere.
"Enzo and Pippo are already men! They cannot spare a minute to write me."
"They are attracted neither in writing, nor in books or science." Count Alessandro hoped to excuse the young brothers. "Ground and fields attracted them. Do not be angry, Gianni! They are like many members of our family."
Giovanni shared with him the thought he had been hiding for a long time now:
"This is good. I feel at ease because you have them to rely on for our property. In my stead they are going to take your place in the best possible way. I believe in them!"
Count Alessandro patted his shoulder, while he was trying to find the best way of telling him:
"Now think about yourself and write to us often, you know, no one can take your place in your mother's heart. Write short letters and carefully, there will be always somebody, who has an eye on your post."
"I should not miss your messages as it was during my study in Rome." The young man was silent for a moment, while his eyes were straying in the distance. He at last suppressed his pain, "And now I am also going to miss Italy!"
In front of their gazes, Lorenzo rushed down the main alley towards the entrance of the garden and ran back. Still panting, he proudly told Giovanni he had done him a favour.
"Marco is here to see you."
As if there was some burden in Giovanni's heart,
"Today is really not my day. I can't stand goodbyes and I started hating sensations as result of it."
Marco was heading for him and caught some of the words.
"Good afternoon! Come on, Gianni, to spend the evening as in our good old times! We will simulate that you are not leaving tomorrow because leave-taking is not the best experience in world for me, too."
I would love to receive some feedback about this story. It will be published in 2012.
Borislava Borissova, the author