The old man drowsed in the shade cast by the grape arbor, his soft snores harmonizing with the buzzing of bees overhead. His stork’s legs extended in front of him, crossed at the ankles over sandals. His knobby knees showed below his khaki shorts, white chest hair above his open collar. What hair he had left on his head was the same white, but barely visible beneath the cap she made him wear. His mottled hands draped over the chair arms, and sometimes his fingers twitched until Giulia wondered what they were doing in his dreams. She had her suspicions.
This was how he spent most of his days now, and Giulia regarded him with concern. Several times lately, he had called her Vittoria, though Vittoria had been gone eight years. He was slipping, and she felt something ought to be done about it. She ought to do something about it.
That slick rascal of a second cousin would never have wormed his way into the old man’s confidence in the old days. Giulia felt responsible for the cousin because she had let down her guard—that was how she saw it. He had come while she was out doing her marketing, or he would never have made it past the front garden. By the time she had arrived home, he and the cousin had been chatting away like old friends—a fait accompli, as the French say. And truthfully, she ought to feel grateful that someone from the old man’s family had finally taken an interest. Certainly, the old man enjoyed his company. And certainly, the cousin was all easy amiability—thoughtful, generous, polite, charming. But before his mind had begun to slip away, the old man had been notoriously close-mouthed. He had never talked about the past, except to rare visitors. To most of his neighbors, he had materialized in San Miniato as if newly formed, casting no shadow. Of course, there was talk. All the townsfolk believed that he was some kind of criminal, though the specific kind had never been agreed upon. Giulia believed they were right. Yet he had always treated her with the utmost kindness and courtesy, and so earned her loyalty and affection and aroused her protective instincts. That was why the cousin, with his affable questions about the past, made her uneasy.
“Leave it alone, Giulia,” her husband told her. “He’s an old crook, and his friends are bound to be old crooks as well. Don’t get involved. You’ll stir up trouble for yourself.”
Still, Giulia could not shake the feeling that something should be done about the old man. And that she was the one to do it, because who else was there?
She decided to write a letter. There was one person, an American lady, who had visited several times since Giulia had come to the Villa Offuscata. He had talked to her in English about the old days, and they had laughed together until Giulia had decided that perhaps they had once been lovers. It was hard to believe, when one looked at him now, that he had once been handsome, but everyone said that it was so. And Giulia knew of a certain photograph, tucked away in a drawer, that bore witness to the youthful good looks of the two of them—Signor Giorgio and the American lady.
Giulia would look in the little black address book in the top desk drawer and sit down and write a letter. She would tell the American lady about his condition, and about the cousin, and she would urge the lady to get in touch with his family.
Of course, the cousin, when he reappeared, might be angry with her, but she wasn’t worried about that. She thought that if anybody could do something for Signor Giorgio, it would be the nice American lady, with whom he appeared to have shared so much of his past.
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