They spoke on the phone as often as they could, their parents always nearby, always listening. Their conversations were benign but their parents suspected there might be more to them. One evening, several years ago, when Giovanni’s father’s disability prevented him from making the Christmas Eve drive, Isabella and her family had come to them. They brought all sorts of goodies-panettone, biscotti, café, zucchero, all things families brought each other on special occasions, and also for funerals, except for the panettone-that was a Christmas cake.
And so, after the day was done and Isabella had sat there the whole time worrying about Giovanni, they departed for home. Isabella rang immediately to the phone. There was no answer. Although they traveled in different circles, there was a custom in Naples that had not yet died: the posting of someone’s death on large pieces of paper glued to anything that even remotely resembled a pole. The next day, when Isabella’s mother went to buy some fruit and vegetables, she stopped dead in her tracks. There was just such a posting announcing the death of Giovanni’s father. She was grief stricken. She didn’t know what to do. She would have to tell her daughter, but how.
When her mother returned home, the deed had been done. Isabella’s father had just come in from town and had seen the announcement himself. Isabella was sobbing in his arms, making him promise to take them to Giovanni’s house as soon as her mother returned.
It was a somber encounter. Giovanni’s eyes were reddened from hours of crying and his mother fared no better. As soon as he saw her, Giovanni fell into Isabella’s lap and cried yet again. The death had not been unexpected, but true death is always unexpected. He had not been well for a while and had almost completely lost the use of his dying leg. But he had died in peace and, for this, his family was eternally indebted to the Madonna. He had died in his sleep.
The young couple went outside, Isabella trying desperately to comfort her friend. The bond they had been hiding from their parents now openly apparent. There were too many people in the house for anyone to watch them and in the back by the garden, they exchanged their first real kiss.
And a yellow butterfly alighted on her hand.
Published July 2012 IDEA GEMS Magazines