Chapter 01

A woman writer

Wherever I go, this is the way it is by now.

“Miss Rust, when are you planning to release your new novel Priscilla?”

Paris, London, New York, Berlin, Florence like now. Scenery varies, languages vary. Everything varies – but the questions are always the same.

“Your readers throughout the world yearn to read a new adventure. Won’t you disappoint them?”

God forbid that I disappoint my fans! Elizabeth Rust is at your service, readers around the world. Please, do your thing, here is a new adventure to be read. Don’t bother to worry about me, after all, I don’t have problems – it’s enough that I churn out one novel after another and you’ll be all happy… Who knows whether you’ve ever wondered what I want?

“According to some rumors, you would like to close the series by making Priscilla die in the next book. But the publisher doesn’t accept this choice, causing the delay of the book release. Can you confirm or deny this rumor?”

To kill Priscilla? This one would really be a good idea… I should seriously think it over. It would require something tragic – a plane crash or some poison. Killed by a betrayed lover. This would be a great end for Priscilla. A harsh blow and it’s over. I would immediately get rid of this nightmare that has been haunting me for too many years now. Finally, I would be free to write what I really want…

Chapter 02

Paparazzi

Great excitement today broke the tranquility that usually wraps up the park of Grand Hotel Villa Cora in Florence. A small but fierce crowd of fans and paparazzi – including myself – have awaited the arrival of the British writer Elizabeth “Lizzie” Rust.

If, by chance, until now you have lived in a cave, then you should know that Lizzie Rust is the pen that gave birth to Priscilla, the heroine whose romantic adventures have turned the hearts of readers around the world on.

The readers are apprehensive today. For almost two years, the writer has been delaying the release of a new novel, and the wait for the next book has become agonizing.

It is no coincidence that, once gotten off the roaring cabriolet in which Elizabeth Rust entered Florence, the writer was literally bombarded with questions regarding her new book. Questions to which the writer responded with nothing but her contemptuous smile.

Hidden behind a pair of elegant dark lenses, the writer, in fact, has not issued any statement. By merely fading away in the shady courtyard of the building, she left behind only a persistent trail of her perfume.

Chapter 03

A painter

How many of you could say for how long the painter has been choosing that nook? Few, I think, because the artist is unnoticeable for the distracted eyes – but he is there. With canvas and brushes in hand, he constantly faces the Via di Calzaiuoli, right in front of the wall with the Onestà alley, and here, makes his paintings. He makes them daily, from morning to night, whether it rains or it’s sunny.

The most attentive, instead, will catch sight of him. Those who don’t get dazzled by the shop windows and who don’t surrender to the temptations exposed in the street, immediately get inspired to sympathize with this figure.

Anxious, attentive, concentrated – the painter lavishes his art on the canvas, with abnegation that jars with excitement of the usual frequenters of the street. Probably, it is the spirits of the masters of the past to animate and possess him.

A little farther on, in fact, on the stretch that leads from the Giglio alley to the magnificent Orsammichele, painters’ workshops were sited. Donatello and Michelozzo, among others, have painted in this street, side by side with the city shopkeepers financing their art.

Perhaps, the painter knows this, and probably, it is for this reason that he chooses this street. Or maybe, he just loves being a spectator of the small great human comedy that he daily sees, while seated in front of his canvas.

Chapter 04

On the run

No, – thinks Lizzie, sorrowful, while hastening her pace on the cobblestones of the street, – it cannot be true. Even here, even today, again. But what do these people have in mind? Why don’t they leave me alone? What do they want from me?

What stupid questions I ask! I know what they want. They want Priscilla. They want another damn book of Priscilla. Old story, – snorts Lizzie while the sweat slides down the forehead side, along her cheek.

Why be rich and famous, if in return, the fame takes the tranquility, the possibility of visiting a city losing myself among the alleys, in search of its antique beauty. Why if it takes away the joy of solitude and discovery. To hell with Priscilla. To hell with the books. To hell with writing, partying, traveling, and with the money. To hell with everything!

I’m tired of living in this eternal present identical to itself, that dulls my senses. And if I’m tired, the fault is hers, only hers. I hate you Priscilla, for everything you’ve been taking away from me. I hate you and I’ll always hate you.

Oh, if only I could feel those things again – delight, sentimentality, fear, anger, love. How much I miss their touch, intense like ice-cold water on my face while waking up.

And by dint of hastening her pace, Lizzie started running. Now, she seems to fly light above the street stones while the crowd of people behind her, scream and argue.

It’s me that they want, or they only want a piece of me. A piece that is not even authentic – it’s just a projection of my fantasy.

This is what comes to Lizzie’s mind while she dodges the pedestrians and sneaks among unknown streets and testimonies of the past of this city – Florence. Florence that is now identical to all other cities having been visited by her in the latest months. Because now, her life is this – an endless getaway from a phantom that she has created and that is now oppressing her.

And this is now that everything changed.

Chapter 05

Deliverance

Initially, the painter hears it – a crowd that clamors up the street like an overflowing torrent. At the beginning he tries to ignore it – after all, he has learnt to filter the maddening noises and act as if they didn’t exist. They don’t distract him anymore.

But this one is different. With this one, his methods don’t work. On the contrary, the noise gets more intense and bothersome. And only at this point, he raises his head and looks up. Probably now, it has to be understood from where the hustle comes.

And at that moment he sees her for the first time. She walks quickly among the unaware pedestrians, maneuvering among them. Behind her, the crown thickens meter after meter.

She is gorgeous.

On seeing her, the painter gets struck. He’s never seen such an outstanding beauty. He would remain petrified, if it weren’t for the poorly disguised hint of annoyance crossing the face of the unknown to whom he’s just taken a fancy. It doesn’t take long to figure out what to do.

The instant in which she passes by, the painter grabs her arm. With a determined but gentle gesture, he pushes her into the alley, while the crowd, disoriented, enters the fray. Between two walls of the narrow alley, he urges her to run, but there’s no need – Lizzie’s running already, and even though she doesn’t know if she can trust him, she perceives that this man having popped out from nowhere, isn’t hostile. In any case, a mysterious stranger is always better than a persistent crowd.

They get out of the alley. A motor scooter settled on a street side is awaiting them. The man gets on, and powers up the two wheels with a precise gesture. With a hint, he asks her to climb on – the crowd voices are approaching – Lizzie doesn’t think twice, she gets on the scooter and, in the blink of an eye, they go away, roaring.

Chapter 06

Idyll

The scooter rumbles joyously while climbing up the tree-lined turns leading to the open space of Piazzale Michelangelo. Florence underneath them peacefully enjoys the sunset. The din of voices that just a few hours earlier brought them into each other’s arms is now faded away.

The painter pulls over, Lizzie lightly gets off the seat and walks towards the balustrade. The painter joins her, running. She sits down, with her legs suspended over the city. He takes a place beside, and with a half-loop of his face he embraces the landscape below and, at the same time, shows it to the woman.

They didn’t need to say too many words. It was enough to read them in their eyes.

But now, when the fatal shadows are growing long, something’s got to linger over the carefree delight of those last hours. Lizzie takes the painter’s hand, he quivers. She looks into his eyes and whispers: “Tomorrow, I’ll have to leave”.

Chapter 07

Farewell

The background of the studio is lit up only by the candles that throng into each possible shelf. The painter has always loved their light, warm and trembling, and the moving shadows which they form all around. Bathed in the soft luminous glow, Lizzie, shy, poses for him.

The painter moves brushes quickly on the canvas. He knows that he can’t procrastinate, because their time is numbered. But he also knows that he must define that feeling that pervades both of them – he can’t afford to lose it.

The sunrise has greeted the painter’s work. And it’s only now, when the painting is finished, he falls asleep. He wakes up a few hours later, his head heavy, limbs aching. The woman has left one single trace of herself – a lipstick kiss popped on a slip of paper that she kindly has propped against the tripod.

By this time, Lizzie has already returned to the hotel. Florence will soon be just another memory, too fleeting to be held back. Yet, while packing the suitcases once again, she feels that something inside her has changed. She couldn’t figure out what exactly, but something has been shaken up, as if a brick had been removed from the wall that she felt to encircle her soul and now to fall apart giving her the pleasure she hasn’t felt for too long.

She walks down the stairs and in the courtyard of the palace, also tonight, she watches the Florentine sunset that brightens the city. Questions, requests, claims now slip away lightly to the sides of her body. They no longer stick to the shoulders, arms, legs – weighing her down like just a few hours before.

She closes the car door behind. She sighs and, while the vehicle starts moving, she hears it again. And she recognizes it – the gabble of that motor scooter – now, she would recognize it among a thousand of others. She asks the driver to slow down. The painter, riding his steed, emerges opportune from one of the alleys that seems to be known only by him. He gets closer to the side of the car, now proceeding indolent along the street, and gently lays down a bundle on the woman’s legs. He winks at her, accelerates, and disappears for the last time.

Chapter 08

A new novel

The trip was long and exhausting. Yet, Lizzie doesn’t feel tired. Outside the hotel window, the breeze of a spring evening caresses la ville lumière. Something indefinite flows on the edge of her skin, making the hair grow numb. But it isn’t cold that she feels. It is the energy that she believed to be slumbering or, probably, even extinct forever and that tonight has awakened unexpectedly.

Lizzie knows what to do, she has learnt to humor that impulse. She pulls the typewriter out of the case. She always does it in a same manner. The mechanical repetition of those gestures is a propitiatory ritual. She unwinds a new reel of tape, fixes it to the supports, and triggers the mechanism to test the endurance. She takes a ream of paper and carefully chooses the first sheet. She weighs it in her hand, as if it were different from the other sheets, and perhaps it actually is because she leans it on the slot. She rotates the handle, and the roller sucks the cellulose layer in, the last reemerges an instant later. She sends the metal support down, and it is ready.

She stretches her back, flexes her fingers. She exhales all the air out of her lungs, but when she’s ready to bend down to the keyboard, she hesitates for an instant. She turns her head to look at it again. Among the silks of the bed, the bag wearing her portrait ogles her, as a witness of love that there have been, could have been, and yet there is.

While a tear lines her face, her fingers start crackling on the keyboard: “Clamoring, the crowd goes up the street, like an overflowing torrent. And it is now that he sees her for the first time. Priscilla walks quickly among the unaware pedestrians, maneuvering among them”.

 

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