The Light in the Ruins

And so Cristina submerged her ears beneath the water and the world grew a little quieter; her hair fanned out atop the plane and she ran her fingers through it and was reminded of a goddess in a Renaissance painting. Her mind wandered far from the villa and the ruins and her unshakable sense that her world was about to change.

At night, when no one's there, the dancers and the musicians on the walls come to life and there's a glamorous ball. Sometimes their lights are so bright I can see the glow from my bedroom.

But she insists the family hadn’t a choice. Not true. We always have choices. Isn’t that what Dante teaches us?
I really have become quite the Dante scholar: “There is no greater sorrow than to recall our time of joy in wretchedness.

During the war, I promised the dead I would never forget them. I stared at them, barely able to move myself. Pretended I was one of them. To this day I can recall the light in the ruins.

Even a magnificent city such as Florence becomes more intriguing if there is a demon at work in the alleys.

If they veered left, it would feel to them as if they were sinking into the earth: the path would narrow as the ground around them rose up to their hips, then shoulders, then heads. The walls would turn from sod to stone, and it would seem as if they were walking inside a crag in a cliff. The sky would be reduced to a thin swath of blue, broken in parts by the branches of the trees that grew above them along the sides of this ancient channel.

In America, Walt Disney opened an amusement park.
And in Florence, someone was savaging the remnants of a Tuscan nobleman’s family.

In her experience, dead children, unlike dead adults, always looked as if they were sleeping - though she understood that there was an element of wishful thinking whenever she had come across corpses that young.

Serafina may think I’m a crazy person, but I’m not. She has her scars, too—and not only the ones I saw when she turned her head and her hair fell aside. We are both living out our lives in a Purgatorio. The difference? I arrived from the Paradiso, once young and married and so in love. But Serafina, she who was born alone in a fever dream of fire? She whose very skin is a tapestry of loss? Serafina, of course, arrived from the Inferno.

Seriously,” the banker went on, “what do you investigate? I have a feeling you do more than find stray kittens and bring home lost babies.”

She closed her eyes and tried desperately to swim through the mist that enveloped her memories. She was near here and then she wasn’t. She was whole and then she was wounded. Forever scarred. And in between? Unknowable, it seemed. Absolutely unknowable.

She feared that she’d missed something, because there were so many parallels with her own story, and she could not help but see in her head the small memories her mind would offer as tantalizing, but—in the end unsatisfying, glimpses of what may have occurred.

So you’re positive the killer is a man.”
“Yes, I think my gender can take responsibility for this one. Women don’t cut out other women’s hearts.”
“We can.

The Beatrice that obsessed Dante was a Florentine named Bice di Folco Portinari. Envision this moment (and, in all fairness, I am envisioning it the way Henry Holiday did in his exquisite nineteenth-century painting): Bice is walking beside the Arno River, dressed in white, the fabric clinging to her legs and outlining her slender thighs, and there is Dante. He meets her at the corner of one of the bridges that span
the river. His left hand, at first glimpse, is moving casually toward his hip; it is only on a more careful study that one realizes his hand is actually going up to his heart. Meanwhile, his right hand is resting on the bridge’s waist-high stone balustrade, as if Bico’s beauty is such that he needs to steady himself when he beholds her.

The dead were too ...present.

They studied the way the world
changed at morning and dusk and imagined how the sun might fall on the skin of a goddess.

We always have choices. Isn’t that what Dante teaches us?

You know the type—will give herself to the first nobleman in a uniform who comes calling with a couple of eggs and a piece of rat meat.”
“You’re selling yourself short.”
“I’ve just sold myself for rat meat,” she said, and she turned from him and lit the stove.