(an excerpt from the novel Lucia Means Light)
by Louisa Calio
The first time I met Nova, she was sitting across from Malik Jabbar, the Director of the African American Cultural Center, at Devon University. Malik was a gifted man who brought radicals, clergy, conservative businessmen and artists together. This was to be an evening of African drumming, poetry, dance, and savory foods from the East of Africa to raise funds for people fighting for freedom in Namibia. I walked into Malik’s crowded, over stuffed, paper riddled office littered with empty styrofoam cups, to chat and seek out artists for the new job I hoped to start. There, amid the debris and rubble, sat an incredibly serene woman wearing a flowing, green chiffon robe and matching head wrap. She resembled one of the prints of African women that tenuously hung over Malik’s head. Her appearance was so regal she nearly provoked me to bow.
“Meet sister Nova Freeman. She’s exactly the type of artist you’re looking for.” Malik said warmly.
Encountering some people feels like a recollection, and the second I saw Nova, I felt as though I had known her before. She made me at ease and I bubbled on freely about the type of artist-teacher I was interested in recruiting. I wanted artists who were comfortable with teamwork and wanted to participate in top level financial decisions too.
“I’ll need people who love their work and who see themselves as active citizens willing to organize in the community and be involved in the business of art too.” Nova’s expression remained serene, but unresponsive as though she couldn’t hear me. After one of those seemingly interminable pauses, she cocked her head to one side and said, “It’s not really me, sorry.”
“Oh,” I gulped, with obvious disappointment at this unanticipated response.
Malik left the room without another word. Returning promptly, his arms filled with stretchers of colorful batik and silk screen artworks intricately woven with swirling patterns of color that resembled landscapes, sunsets, forests, and dancing figures, he displayed each piece carefully before exclaiming enthusiastically, “These are Nova’s! Wouldn’t she be perfect?”
“I agree. I’d love to hire her, but it seems she isn’t interested. I can understand now that I’ve seen your work. An artist with your exceptional talent should be able to make a living from selling her art.”
Malik shook his head in dismay examining us contemplatively. “I feel I can speak openly; Lucia’s a good egg, sister, and you need the money. As you reminded me you’re a single parent and presently out of work. Why not give it a shot? The position may not start for months, right Lucia?”
“I’m finished with teaching,” Nova said conclusively lifting the collection of pictures and walking out the door.
Malik shook his head again. “You artists are too much for me. I’ll see you at Namibia night and don’t forget those poems I want you to read. Do you need any back up?”
“Thanks. I could use a good flutist.”
“Consider it done. And don’t give up on Nova. She can be temperamental, but she’s a terrific teacher.”
When I left Malik’s office, I honestly didn’t expect to see her again, but two weeks later at an Arts Fair on Devon’s green, I recognized the pieces and the face that went with them. This time the artist was much more friendly.
“Hello again. Want to buy?” She asked with a big smile.
“Maybe. These are beautiful. We’ll lose without an artist like you working with us in the Arts Project.”
“Well then I guess I’ll have to change that. Come and see me tomorrow around 4 for some tea and we’ll talk some more.” Nova said mysteriously.
Walking up five flights of steps into a shabby building in a poor neighborhood in downtown Devon, was a deceptive introduction to a most pleasant oasis created by this enigmatic black woman. Inside the apartment was a central room that housed a splendid rock garden, a small pool of blue water and the healthiest hanging ferns I’d ever seen surviving in New England. All of Nova’s flora and fauna flourished. Physically, she resembled an Ethiopian woman from the waist up. Small boned but tall with velvety dark skin, she was stunning in long Rasta braids woven with multi-color beads, large silver hoop earrings, and a long, colorful batik dress she had designed and sewed herself. Her lower body was more voluptuous. She had broad hips that swayed gracefully when she moved, reminding me of West African market women. It was as if Nova had taken a bit of both the east and west of the African continent to create her unconventional beauty. She fired my imagination and at times I found myself picturing us somewhere in a flat in Morocco, while we sipped herbal tea and admired the African artifacts and wall hangings she had collected. Perhaps the greatest delight of all was learning Nova was the only other person besides my roommate Alisha who shared my passion for the Dogon of Mali.
“The Dogon are a peculiar people reputed to have come from the stars,” she said casually, as if one heard that everyday.
“Of course, you’re a hieroglyph my dear,” she continued, smiling almost condescendingly after I had shared some of my recent revelations. “Your name, birth date and place are all echoes of the blueprint of your soul; the reasons for your incarnation in this lifetime.”
I thought her language sounded odd, but the message was right. Silently I wondered why and felt compelled to ask, “Do you really believe we’re born with a purpose? Could this be why I’ve felt so driven since childhood to feel personally responsible for solving many problems of our time?”
“We all have a purpose, even if we are unaware of it. I chose my name, Nova Freeman, because it reflects my purpose, my initiation in Africa and our connection to the stars.”
“Initiation, stars?” I echoed, as yet more unfamiliar terms that sounded so right hit my awareness.
Nova sighed shaking her head as if she were being tested by my lack of knowledge. “Yes, I have been to Africa to have my head made,” she said realizing that idea was the more bizarre by my twisted facial expression. Yet some part of me resonated to this too.
“I too went to Africa in 1974 and found myself there. The Gods are alive on that continent. Life itself is filled with spirit and meaning. There is meaning in everything from the clothing people wear to their ritual dances and songs, and an attitude I could only describe as sacred toward all life, great or small, and many celebrations of life’s passages. I loved Ghana especially. Perhaps I too was initiated. In a small town outside of Accra, I truly became conscious and proud to be a woman. We celebrated it in a ceremony made by two unforgettable women I had the privilege to stay with.”
“I don’t often do this,” Nova said spontaneously, “but I’d like to invite you into my meditation room.”
Leading me down a hallway, we reached a small room with a sky light. I felt a noticeable calm come over me as I entered the sanctuary. Filled with a rainbow of soft pastel hues, the walls were pale pink. Colorfully tie-dyed pillows lay strewn about a mosaic tiled floor Nova had hand-laid. A small altar was against the far wall and on it rested several violet, blue, and white candles beside stones that reminded me of the quartz crystals we grew in high school science lab. These were much larger and pointed at both ends with small clusters growing from the outside. Decidedly phallic. A light shone on three portraits of exotic, dark women above the altar. Dancing across and between each picture like glistening snakes, were strings of colorfully patterned glass beads I recognized as West Africa money beads.
“Please sit. This is my meditation room. I chose it for its light. We can’t get enough light here, especially those of us transplanted from the mother country up north.”
“I agree. Many of my ancestors are Sicilian and I’ve craved light and warmth most of my life. It’s peaceful in here. Did you get those pictures from Africa?”
“No, I painted them myself, inspired by The Great Mother.”
I wanted to ask if that was mother Africa, but didn’t.
“Get comfortable. We’ll sit in silence and relax for a few moments before we begin.”
I obliged the woman gladly, feeling honored to have been invited into this wholesome space. Serene and at peace, I waited attentively, unsure of what to expect. I was about to ask a question when I was startled by a contorted expression that came over Nova’s face, as though she were suddenly stricken with palsy. Speaking slowly in an odd staccato voice she began, “I have se ve r al mes sages to give you.”
I thought how weird to hear from my friends through a stranger. How could she have met them? But before I could pursue any further logical thinking, I realized this was not the situation. Instead, I listened wide-eyed as Nova the channel began to speak.
“You are, ... I am receiving this as I speak...and they’re asking that you listen carefully,” she continued totally impervious to my reactions.” THEY are pleased you’re taking time to come to better know yourself. This is your real work and you are to learn meditation and affirmations to help you along.”
“Who are They?” I asked half mockingly while looking over my shoulder partially out of fear and disbelief. I was worried about what I had gotten into.
“They tell me, you are to pr a c ti ce these aff ir ma tions: I am light, radiant light, purifying light, divine light. You’re to repeat this daily, aloud and in front of a mirror. It’s most important that you use a mirror. They will give you new affirmations from time to time. THEY are your Guides, of course, and have been with you through many lives.”
Nova was generous with her time offering weekly meditations and more affirmations to practice. Although Lucia was ill at ease with concepts like past lives or guides that spoke through other people, she decided to suspend all judgment, because she liked the visits and messages from “Swami Nova” as she now nick-named her. These new ideas were coming at a time when her old ways were no longer working. The messages still sounded strangely immodest and in great contrast to her Catholic up-bringing that had taught her to focus on her sins. This left Lucia with a self harassing idea of development that had whipped her health and happiness. She was now ready to listen to someone or several someone’s who told her she was light and love!
Making another entry in the new blue and gold bound blank book she purchased, filled her with a sense of accomplishment. It was another sign of a growing commitment to Self. No more scribbles on scraps of paper or spiral note pads. This was her work. “I’ve got to get it all down,” She wrote with the usual fervor, fearful of losing the thin thread of self-discovery.
“It’s still so fresh and fragile. Meeting Nova and then that job interview three months ago with the Devon Arts Council that broke all my rules. I dare not tell anyone. It was outrageous to have arrived late because I was making love with Berhane. Oddly, I think that was why I was successful. I was relaxed, joyful, and filled with love when I looked into the eyes of those thirteen inquiring beings. I was open and unafraid. People can’t resist love. I must state this for my witness, the inner one who knows and watches me all my life: that love is all there is, and I feel it inside and it is tied to the light.”
Her life started that way. For the first time, Lucia could remember her birth and early childhood. After hours of meditation, she recalled detailed scenes, full tableaus, heard fragments of conversations and had dreams about childhood. She sensed the importance of recovering these lost pieces of her life to put them together in the light.
“Warm darkness keeps me safe and there is no time here. I am floating and free. What peace. Oh, I’m trapped in a rushing river. The bow breaks, the cradle falls and down comes baby, cradle and all. A harsh white light meets me, noise and many voices greet me. I can hear them talking.
“Congratulations Mr. Libra, Lucia is born!” The doctor says.
“Is it a boy or a girl?” A familiar voice asks, my father’s, and a hospital waiting room filled with Uncles and Aunts bursts into laughter. Big, warm, and safe arms hold me often, sometimes too tightly. Smaller, soft, and not so sure arms hold me too.
“Look at all that dark hair, those black eyes, and red skin. She’s a little Eskimo,” says Aunt Cora. “She favors your father, Juliana, and has none of our fair looks.”
“She’s our China doll,” mother and father say.
I am the first granddaughter and stimulated often. Aunts and Uncles hold me and I have three Grandparents who play with me. At my baptism I’m draped in hand made satin and lace, created by Grandma Katerina. I am the center of so much attention and so many arguments. Too much revolves around me.
Humpty Dumpty sat on the wall. Humpty Dumpty had a great fall; not all the King’s horses and all the King’s men could put Humpty back together again. I am 13 months old and a boy on a bicycle crashes into my mother who is carrying me. We fall; my head is broken. Mother says it was nothing. Father says I almost died. The truth may lie somewhere in between. From that day forward my head is a magnet to future injuries, a veritable vortex of attraction to furniture with sharp edges, doors, swings, and other children’s fists, leaving me with a permanent dent, the visible mark of a psychic hole that lets good energy leak out and bad stuff come in; “negative influences” my Aunt Connie explains, whenever I get another bump on the head.
Look at me, I am dancing. Smile please. You frown too much. You have your Grandfather’s disposition. I get kisses and hugs when I am smart and jolly, and punished for my fresh mouth when I speak out in order to be heard among my many relations at 2222 West 11 St. Brooklyn, New York, that wild and wonderful place where I grew up. It was a village, not just a home that included relatives living upstairs, downstairs, and next door. Grandpa Marco and Grandma Lucia’s household was my family’s first residence. The big duplex located on a street lined with tall oak trees, had a magical backyard containing a grape arbor, a modest sized garden in which Grandpa planted tomatoes, zucchini, and aromatic Italian herbs and spices that I loved to eat, and a fig tree laden with the most delicious, fat and juicy figs that I’d steal and share with friends. I loved the warmth, many visitors, and both its convivial and intense atmospheres.
Our garage was a multi-purpose room that sometimes housed a car, two bicycles, toys, tables and chairs for a family fete, and a boxing bag placed so high I needed a tall ladder to reach for an occasional swing, unless my father was home to hold me while I punched. We had a wine press and a work room in a finished basement that Grandpa had made himself. The work room was filled with curious tools, chisels and vices that I believed came from a medieval torture chamber, an idea my Grandfather did little to discourage.
Marco Antonini, my Grandfather, was a highly creative, temperamental artisan and sculptor, who made expensive furniture for the wealthy during the depression years, enabling him to keep his home while many friends and neighbors were losing theirs, that is until President Roosevelt stepped in with a more humane policy for home owners. Grandpa was a fair wine maker as well, who had defied the prohibitionists to end an Italian tradition. Though small in stature, he was big in heart and walked tall among his peers.
Arriving on Ellis Island in the late 1890s at the age of 14, without a credit card or foreign exchange, and only the hope of being met by his elder brother Frank at the port, he was immediately held in quarantine for three weeks. Terrified in this strange, cold, and foreign place where customs agents did not speak his language or provide anyone to explain why he was being held prisoner or whether he’d ever be released, he vowed to provide a refuge for his family if he was ever to be set free. This, along with the many other traumas and indignities common to immigrant life, kept Grandpa to his promise. Forced to leave his mother and father to join his older brothers and sister in New York, when their family farm in a mountain village of central Italy was failing, he would never again see his parents or return to his native land, a reality he mourned the rest his life.
At 23, he married Sylvia D’Amato and they had four children losing one son to polio and Sylvia to influenza. He married a second time to my Grandmother, Lucia Concertina, and united their two families and progeny in a house that served three generations of Antonini’s, their in-laws, and friends. His employment during hard times, enabled family members to move in and out of 2222 depending on their economic circumstances. Occasional boarders also provided added income and exciting conversation as well. My Grandparents could offer their daughter, Juliana and her husband John, a returning World War II veteran, a place to start. I would be born a year later into this lively household as would my sister Katerina and our baby brother Marco, in succession, each three years apart.
Grandpa and Grandma were a complementary pair. Grandpa’s slim small frame, intense dark eyes, high cheek bones, thin lips, and Saturnian demeanor, reminded me of pictures of American Indians I had seen. While Grandma, though short in height only 4’10” due to rickets as a child, was more rounded and jovial.
Lucia Concertina was born in New York City to Guiseppi and Beatricia Concertina. She was raised in the Protestant faith after her father known as Joseph, converted from Catholicism because of the prejudices he encountered at the hands of Irish clergy when he arrived in New York in the 1870s. Exposed to the larger world from childhood, Grandma developed independent attitudes and joined the suffragettes to march in parades for women’s rights, something few women of Italian backgrounds in her neighborhood dared do. She was earthy in a modern way. When her first husband died tragically at 26 during an epidemic of Spanish influenza that attacked young people after World War I, she returned to her mother for help with a new baby and went to work at a factory making fine feathered hats and boas.
Grandpa also without a spouse and with three children in boarding schools, hoped to remarry soon. When he first saw my Grandmother, although he was 15 years her senior, he was sure she was the woman he would marry. An established man who wore a three piece suit to work everyday in New York City, he was considered a desirable catch when he confidently sought Grandma’s hand. Her mother, however, was most discouraging, confiding that my Grandmother wasn’t one who enjoyed housework or staying at home. “She fancies working to cooking and probably can’t boil a pot of pasta!”
“Don’t worry,” Grandpa said, “I’ll teach her everything she needs to know. I cook, sew, and make wine.”
“But, Marco, you have three children and my daughter is only 21. That’s too much for her. Perhaps if you promise her all the modern conveniences, especially a washer and a good stove, she may consider taking on this heavy load.”
And that’s how Grandma was one of the first in her neighborhood to have a washing machine and the most modern conveniences. I knew her only with silver hair, but she must have been all the more beautiful with long chestnut hair, pale skin, and blue gray eyes that sparkled. She had a way of filling a room with light and laughter, especially after a glass or two of Grandpa’s wine; her face would turn pink as a cherub’s and she’d dance the tarantella like an angel. When conversations turned into debates and debates turned into arguments, she’d magically transform the atmosphere without anyone noticing, except perhaps the children. We loved her and I considered her my major ally. Sometimes 2222 could feel like a war zone, especially when Grandpa turned our warm kitchen into a furnace during a discussion.
“Anyone making over $500,000 a year is a criminal stealing from the people who work for him!” He said with conviction in his Ital-English to our guest and neighbor Eugene Rubino. I noticed Mr. Rubino’s discomfort and hesitation to challenge my Grandfather. I was pleased that the attention had shifted away from me. If I was lucky, the adults might not discover that I hadn’t eaten supper.
“The rich I’ve worked for were selfish and prejudiced. They’d use you and make you sweat to collect. I carved the beds they slept in, but they’d send me around to the back door to enter. They believe every Italian is a Fascist or in the Mafia and that’s their excuse for not paying up.” Grandpa expounded.
“Marco, don’t you think you’re too hard on the rich? You can’t blame all our problems on rich people? Besides, what makes you think wealth gives people imagination? They don’t understand what our lives are like.”
“Why are you defending them, Eugene?”
“I’m not. I’m just pointing out that there are good and bad people among the rich and the poor.”
“The rich are worse, because they have the means to help people. They saw the bread lines, the poor selling apples for a dime and walked away in their fine minks and diamonds, blind to the suffering. You’re a working man and a tax payer. You saw what went on in the depression. The people I work for in their mansions on the hill have tried to beat me out of every penny I earn and never ask how many I have to feed. Greed is ugly and more insatiable than hunger. Greed destroyed Italy and if the Miragans (Americans) aren’t careful it’ll destroy them too.”
“I have to challenge you here too. You can’t assume all wealthy people are greedy. I know many a poor man who is more greedy and criminal too.”
“Tell me how many rich people you know? They remain far removed from our class.”
Eugene didn’t really want to disagree, but found himself defending a class he wasn’t particularly fond of and saying things he didn’t fully believe. Perhaps it was Marco’s delivery that drove him to match point for point until the discussion turned into a heated argument.
“If you’re not careful, Antonini, people will call you a Communist.” That remark made Grandpa’s blood boil.
“I’m not afraid of name calling, or McCarthy and his terrorists. If the black hand couldn’t intimidate me, why should I fear a group of ignorant and ambitious politicians? People love to dismiss the truth with a label. Besides there are no Communists. Stalin was a Fascist.”
That’s when Grandma stepped in. “Another glass of wine Eugene, please. You know Marco and the boys made it themselves,” she said climbing up on a small wooden stool her husband had made to help her compensate in the kitchen. Stretching for a dish high overhead she exclaimed with gusto, “Oh, to be tall like one of those Swede’s. What lucky people! Why did God have to make me so short? In my next life I’ll be at least six feet.”
By now everyone was laughing. They knew Grandma had wanted two things in this life, a college education and height.
“You must eat more of your dinner, Lucia. There are people starving in China!” Grandpa thundered in Ital-English with so much conviction, I tried to make some sense out of his comment. The importance of eating dinner was clear to him, having lived during a time of famine and plague that drove immigrants from their European homes to America. But I came from another more prosperous world at the end of World War II. I tried visualizing rows and rows of hungry looking Orientals, empty rice bowls in hand, and vast oceans and continents away, me seated at our long dining table wondering how I could gladly get any morsel of food to them. Eating would do neither any good, I concluded.
“She’s had enough. Don’t force the child,” Grandma chimed in. Her droll face and bright blue-gray eyes cheered me while I stood up to one of my worst culinary enemies, split-pea soup. I’m sure I was allergic to it, certainly too young to digest it. Why wouldn’t the adults listen? Rolling my eyes back into their sockets I tried to down yet another spoonful of the gritty textured soup, but gagged. I could see Grandpa was weakening.
“That’s enough melodrama, young lady. You haven’t been eating all week. You can’t live on meatballs and macaroni. Finish the soup or there’ll be no TV,” my mother, Juliana said mercilessly.
I tried controlling my reactions while swallowing another spoonful, but even the color revolted me. Medicine would have been easier. I didn’t want to miss tonight, however. Bedtime could feel like a prison, loss and grief when I was missing an activity the grown ups were engaged in. Tonight we were planning to watch the opera Pagliacci and I’d get to see Grandpa cry. If only the hour were later. Then father might come home and save me.
The doorbell sounded a possible reprieve. Could this be her father, John, tonight her savior? The front door opened to the tall dark haired man with soft blue eyes like a film star of the 1940s. Lucia thought both of her parents resembled film stars. Her mother was a combination of Rita Hayworth and Maureen O’Hara. She too had fiery red hair, freckles and a vibrant and energetic personality. She decided her father was Gregory Peck with John Wayne’s eyes.
Sweeping me up for a kiss and a hug, our usual greeting, father kissed mother and Grandma before sitting opposite Grandpa at the other head of the table. What powerful and comforting arms father has. Surely he’ll spare me.
“You’re home early for a change,” mother said, pleased he was back from the factory before seven.
“We had a good day; all the garments were on time.”
“How was your day young lady? Did you enjoy school? Were you well behaved?”
Dinner was also the hour of reckoning. I wanted to be sure I could claim a near perfect day before being excused from eating dinner.
“Don’t even think of buttering your father up so you can skip pea soup. There are enough vegetables in there to make a complete meal.
“Oh no! How had she seen through me?” my six-year old mind wondered naively.
“Now he may not do what I want. He won’t risk quarreling,” I calculated, nearly defeated.
“Green pea soup again,” John said; he wasn’t very pleased either. Maybe I still have a chance. “But let’s eat up anyway, Lulu. You heard what your mother said about all those healthy vegetables.”
The voices that directed were many and they all seemed so sure of what was best, sometimes I was overwhelmed. Other times I dared to challenge a directive even if it meant an early bedtime. Tonight wouldn’t be worth that. Bed meant aloneness and missing our time together, the best part of the day next to playing with my friends and best of all, time with father. Slowly, I downed the thick, sickening soup. Swiftly and quietly Grandma lifted my plate clearing out the remainder before anyone noticed.
Maybe I can make mother feel guilty, I thought, consciously sending my pain to her. She seemed to know.
“If you won’t stop the antics, you will be sent to bed with the baby.”
Tonight she was in charge. Some nights it was father. I decided to back off, my mind drifting to China again and the man I’d see in my mind’s eye before the circle of light appeared. He was Oriental and stood in the East opposite me in the circle of people from all over the world that I was greeting one by one. When I reached him, he bowed, I bowed and the circle turned to pure white light. Wonder if I’ll ever get to China? Maybe we can dig our way there.
Darkness was a time for sharing in a room called the living room, the hub of evening activities after dinner. There was a feeling of closeness, warmth, and security. The living room housed the TV and was filled with exotic art. There was a large Persian rug with intriguing patterns I enjoyed studying, antique furnishings Grandfather collected or created himself, copies of Chippendale chairs, a roll top desk, a decoratively carved sofa, and sculptures. I sat beside an unusual lamp my Grandfather carved called a sphinx, because it was part woman and part lion. Across from the lamp was a bronze statue of a shepherd boy, four elephants with ivory tusks, several oils of Italian landscapes, and two very special paintings over four feet high that dominated the room. One depicted a dark, lush, green, alluring forest with a cave that opened to a shimmering waterfall as inviting as the womb. The other painting was of a tall, fair, blonde woman holding a vessel that could carry water or wine. She had a classic face, long neck and large, full, nurturing breasts. She wore a thin drape of Greek or Roman style trimmed with golden symbols. The two themes of my life spelled out graphically in oils.
I grew up with the sound of opera. Grandpa loved opera and we listened to operas on the radio, victrola, and TV. I listened carefully, because, he promised to take me to the Met when I was old enough. Although I didn’t fully understand the stories that were often tragic, filled with jealousy, passion, and death, I was most honored to have been asked. The voices of the divas and tenors moved me and despite a language barrier, the language of feelings in opera reached ranges that were infinitely exciting. The narrator explained enough of the plot in between each act to keep me interested. Tonight’s opera was about an actor who kills his wife and her boyfriend in a jealous rage and then commits suicide. He sang about his pain so poignantly, I cried in spite of having little sympathy for Pagliacci who seemed too self centered to me. Even at six, I aligned with the position of the women in my family.
Grandma loved the music, the costumes, and the pageantry but thought the character’s behavior silly. “Why doesn’t that clown just start over again and forget his wife?” she questioned. “I lost my husband. Nobody wants to lose someone we love, but sometimes we do. There is no reason to murder another human being,” she said naturally.
Grandpa disagreed. “Rispetto, Mama, rispetto,” he said with a self assurance that implied we’d simply be daft not to see it his way. How could a man have any self respect if his wife cuckolds him?” he asked, making the sign of the horns with his right hand. Grandma shrugged her shoulders.
“That’s right. Maybe not to kill, but his honor must be defended. Infidelity is a disgrace. Marriage is for life,” my father said in a funereal tone.
“That’s old fashioned and ridiculous!” my mother exclaimed. “The woman had no life. He was off being a star on stage and she was left to be lonely. It’s no wonder she left him for another man,” she said, concluding the repartee.
Although no one had asked, I found myself in agreement with my mother. With all the authority I could muster, I said, “I think the old clown is full of pride and didn’t kill his wife because he loved her. He killed her because he wouldn’t bear to see her happy without him.” And the grown ups listened.
Kissing the adults before retiring, Lucia went to her blue and yellow bedroom thinking of the mysterious attractive blonde lady in the painting, her feminine beauty and pale gown. She had a similar night gown, a long, yellow nightie with drop shoulders, and loved wearing it, because in it she felt like a princess, just like the princess in the story her father told her. Maybe she could hear that story again tonight. Dressing in her favorite nightie, she waited for the evening finale. In walked John, happy to be with his first child. His eyes smiled their brilliant shimmering blue light. It was no chore to leave TV to read her a story. He relished their time together.
“What would you like to hear tonight?” he asked. “Arabian Nights, Ivanhoe?”
“No daddy. Tell me the story of the beautiful princess and the white knight and the black knight.”
Propping her pillows playfully, he sat beside her showering her with his presence, a presence that never allowed her to feel quite as complete when he was gone. Even the dark closet was safe now that he was there to radiate so much light and energy. The room looked brighter, the movements in the curtain and the strange and eerie shapes in the shadows were no longer threatening. He began with a calm elegance like the fair lady though his hair was dark and his eyes as blue as the sea and skies.
“Once upon a time, long ago and far away in a place few people remember, there lived a most wonderful princess with long dark hair and sparkling brown eyes, a lot like yours!” he said as if truly surprised. “And this beautiful princess lived in a lovely castle on a magnificent estate built for her by her parents, the king and queen who loved her dearly. They loved and protected her so that one day she would grow up to marry the prince of her dreams.”
Looking up at him with unreserved adoration I allowed his voice to transport me to the castle, a princess, a princess but lonely.
“Her father and mother wanted only the very best for their princess,” he said looking deep into my eyes. “And they kept her in the castle to be sure no harm came to her and she would only be taken away by the white knight who would love her and be her real prince.”
“Then what happened, daddy?” I asked, although I heard the story many times before.
“One day while the princess was in her watch tower sewing, a knight appeared at her window calling her by name to come away. From where she sat she couldn’t see that he was the black knight who wore a black cape and rode a black, black steed, the blackest of steeds in all history,” father said, dropping his voice so deep that it sounded both scary and inviting.
“He promised the princess wonderful trips, treasures, and gifts, if she would only come along with him. But the princess remembered her parent’s warning and asked, “Will you come into the light so I can see you clearly, dear knight?”
To which he replied, “Not tonight sweet princess, but tomorrow. I’ll come back tomorrow.”
Night after night he returned attempting to persuade the princess to flee, using all his charms and bringing gifts of flowers, gems, and promises of greater wealth, but never showing himself.”
“Did she go Daddy?” I asked, feigning innocence.
“Oh no, no,” he said dramatically. “On one exceptionally dreary night, the princess almost left from loneliness, but just when she was about to give in, along came the strong and handsome white knight in shining armor on a white stallion to make her his bride. Do you see why you must listen, Lucia?”
Despite my father’s words, in my mind’s eye, the oddest thing would happen each and every time he told me the story. There I was leaping and flying at top speed on the back of the black stallion with the dark figure cloaked in the long, dark robe. I never told my father this vision, instinctively sensing it would disappoint him as my life eventually did. In the distance I could see the white knight coming up behind, a stiff and slow figure clumping along on his horse up to the empty castle tower.
Drifting to sleep, Lucia didn’t notice her father leave. As if in a dream, Juliana came to tuck her in. Barely aware of her mother presence, she saw only the glow from her long red hair and spent the whole night dreaming of lions. Morning arrived with the welcome orange color of sunlight on her eyelids. Another day of adventure! She loved the outdoors and awoke at 5:30 a.m. impatient to begin playing. Once again she’d wait for her friends to arrive. At last it was 9.