All the Way to Heaven AnthologyBy: ecky Doughty
I am the dawn, born to dispel all the enchantment of moonlight.
Never trust love.
(The voice in the distance)
Tish’s lips kept moving, but I couldn’t hear what she was saying over the bass drum pounding inside my head. In contrast, the pitch of conversation around us, coupled with the tinkling of silverware against china, reverberated like some discordant orchestral climax. I longed to cover my ears and close my eyes to shut out the scene unfolding before me.
A man. A woman. Three children who each bore a striking resemblance to their parents. A beautiful little family out for a fancy Sunday evening meal. Their waiter, in crisp black and white, stood by, bottle held out for inspection as the man swirled and sampled the perfunctory dash of wine. The woman, her sleek, short hair framing delicate features, reached over to tuck a napkin into the neckline of their daughter’s pink organza dress. Two older boys talked animatedly to each other, but as I watched, even their frenzied gestures seemed to expand and elongate, slowing for dramatic effect.
The man turned to nod his approval over the vintage in his glass. His self-important gaze slid past the waiter’s elbow, making a lazy circuit of the room, before crashing into mine. I couldn’t look away, no matter how desperately I wanted to. Time came to a complete standstill as I watched him watch me.
It took a moment for the situation to register—I’d had the benefit of seeing him first—but the change in his expression from benevolent patriarch to caught-red-handed cheater hit me like a slap in the face. His eyes narrowed in warning, and then he smiled confidently. He dismissed me, turning back to his family and resuming the ritual of ordering the bottle of fine wine he planned to share with his wife.
His family. His wife.
“My Jacob,” I rallied.
No, their Jacob. Her Jacob.
Tish’s hand on my arm startled me, drawing me back to our own table, and all around me, time picked up again. “What is it?” Tish asked, shifting in her seat to peer over her shoulder.
“No!” I tried to stop her. I couldn’t bear to hear an ‘I told you’ in this moment. But her fingers tightening around my wrist told me she’d seen him, too.
He wouldn’t look over here again, of that, I was certain. I could see the determination in his contrived casualness, the way he relaxed in his seat, one arm looped around the back of his wife’s chair, the other hand toying with the stem of his goblet. He would pretend he hadn’t seen me, that I simply didn’t exist.
And I wasn’t the kind of girl to contradict him in public, to make a scene. My stomach clenched.
Him. Not me. I didn’t know. I didn’t know.
“Ani. Anica!” Tish’s voice dropped to an appalled whisper. “What is going on?”
I shook my head, afraid to open my mouth, afraid of what sound might come out.
“Is that his family? Jacob has a family?”
I shrugged, not meeting her eyes. Of course it was his family.
“We need to go. We’re leaving. Now.” Tish straightened in her seat and scouted the room for our waitress. Service at Brigatines was typically efficient, but of course, at the moment, the young woman who’d taken our order was nowhere to be seen.
I lowered my gaze to the unused place setting in front of me, its shining emptiness mocking me.
Happy birthday to me.
I came awake slowly, regret pressing down on my eyelids. A haunting aria had found wings and escaped my dreams to accompany me back to reality. The words were unintelligible, but each phrase tore new holes in the fragile fabric of my heart. I groaned and curled in on myself, not yet ready to face a new day.
Alone. It was not how I’d planned to spend my first trip to Italy.
Morning, however, wasn’t something I could hold back by refusing to open my eyes. The melody of the rich mezzo soprano didn’t fade away either, but grew louder and more heartfelt as the real-life songstress below my window warmed up in the morning sunlight. As the notes soared higher and higher, I realized that I recognized the aria, “Doretta’s Beautiful Dream,” from La rondine, one of my parents’ favorite Puccini operas.
Giacomo Puccini. He was the reason I was here. The reason I’d chosen Lucca, the birthplace and stomping grounds of the illustrious composer, in which to find my footing again. I was not an opera buff myself, but I’d grown up with strains of Nessun dorma and Quando men vo emanating from the kitchen practically every evening. My parents always made dinner together, mainly because my mother did not enjoy cooking, at least not alone, a trait I seemed to have inherited. The music helped turn a mundane chore into an event for them, one to which I was always invited.