Her eyes brightened as I entered the room.
Good evening, darling. What a lovely surprise.
She always greets me in English, just as we always part in Italian.
I usually swing by on days when I’m at my most melancholy, perhaps because it is easier to be amongst the dying while sitting on my own dark perch within. Giulia’s pleasure at my appearance, whether pretended or genuine – I’m still not sure at this stage – always jolts me out of my fog and forces stories of sunlight and texture from my lips.
This afternoon, I had come armed with bits of culture to share. I offered a detailed description of Joey, the life-sized leather horse puppet in War Horse, trying to recreate a hint of the magic that had unfolded on the stage. When that failed to elicit a reaction beyond a polite, Oh, I see, I delivered a room-by-room account of the McQueen exhibit, which I had the good fortune to see just after the crowds had dissipated for the day. The Kate Moss hologram had mesmerized me, and I had left feeling overcome with a sense of rapture and a deep desire for a closet of couture.
Giulia sighed. Ah, that sounds lovely. I would love to see it. Her voice was heavy with regret.
I gave myself a mental kick for reminding her of the confines of her world, and hurriedly asked if she had noticed Bye, Bye Birdie on at the Film Forum. She hadn’t, but cheered visibly. Pressing my luck, I asked about her plans following her release.
I will go back to Italy. The answer was immediate, resolute.
I was startled. Giulia could barely make it to the theater across the street, and she had her heart set on an international journey. This couldn’t end well.
She outlined her vision for the future, and as she spoke, it began to materialize in front of me. I saw her propped up in a chair around a wooden table, wrapped in blankets and the love of the family she had left behind so many years ago. There would be harsh teasing and gentle chiding and stories traded day and night, with the soft Mediterranean sun spilling in through the windows. She would spend her final days savoring the sensation of the most beautiful language in the world rolling off her tongue.
She would be able to go in peace.
For the first time since we met back in January, I was filled with relief. When will you go, I asked. Though I know myself to be inconsequential in her life, she has become a presence in mine, a model of a life well-lived. A woman to be emulated. Her absence would be felt, and I would find it hard to return to the nursing home without her.
I don’t know. I haven’t asked.
I’m afraid to ask.
She speaks slowly, her hoarse nonna croak giving voice to easy endearments and her own vulnerabilities. As we have grown closer, these revelations have become more frequent.
My heart sinks for her once again, and after a few lighter exchanges, I excuse myself with a promise to return soon.
My feet felt heavier than usual on the walk home.