“Ah, Mr. Rossi, you are here. Please, sit on that chair… yes, that one right next to the stove,” the photographer addressed young Massimiliano Rossi, who had undertaken special grooming procedures early this morning in the little room he was renting, above a sultry dry-cleaning store, owned by an immigrant, just like himself. Recognizing in each other the destitute position of an alien in a no man’s land, they silently offered each other the hand of friendship through little adumbrations of good will: lower rent, free dry-cleaning, sharing of food.
That morning, Massimiliano’s tawny, chestnut eyes were looking at his identical self in the mirror with exceptional diligence. He was trimming his charcoal moustache, his fingers fluttering around the atramentous nest like a butterfly around a flower. The dance of his nimble fingers lasted for almost an hour, Massimiliano took his time. But then again, Massimiliano had always been very meticulous about his looks and highly disliked people who lacked hygiene manners. And who smelled of smoke. Him being a smoker himself, he found it utterly puzzling as to why people would let themselves be saturated in smoke. He knew smoking was a bad habit, yet he could not manage to get rid of it. “One of these days,” he always thought to himself.
His grandfather, old Colonel Biagio Rossi, a man of the most awe-inspiring valor, told him when he was just a small boy, that a man without a moustache is a man without a soul. Massimiliano took this to heart and showed great attentiveness to detail in his moustache trimming techniques. His grandfather was an intelligent man, who even in his younger years resembled his own old self, whose love of books transferred onto the young Massimiliano from an early age, and with the help of his teacher, Mrs De Luca, his young mind was enriched with the bewitching world of literature. Noticing the intense will and desire for learning of young Massimiliano, Mrs De Luca continued to teach the eager boy subjects that were not taught in the Italian schools of the 1870s, leading to him being well versed in the field of literature, history, geography and biology, with the addition of fluency in a foreign language.
Massimiliano’s grandmother, now a dexterous little woman of eighty six, and his grandfather took the orphaned Massimiliano in, after the tragic death of his mother, and the subsequent, guilt-ridden and alcohol fueled death of his father several years later. Massimiliano was told that his mother, Galatea Rossi, was not a woman of exceptional beauty, but whose appearance shone with a light of a thousand suns and upon looking at her illuminated face, one could not help but feel loved. They told him that he loved being carried by his mother, even in his late infancy, when most toddlers would rather run around, exploring the world on their own, bravely treading with their new-found walking abilities. Not Massimiliano. His stubby little fingers stretched out for mama every time she was not in his field of vision, while every other face was a blurry mixture of unrecognizable features.
Then, the tragic accident happened, leaving young Massimiliano motherless. One cold December afternoon the family decided to go ice-skating at a near-by frozen lake. Nothing suggested the heart-breaking tragedy that would ensue. Having gone further towards the middle of the frozen lake, Galatea fell through the thread-bare ice. By the time they managed to pull her out to safety, it was too late. Massimiliano’s father always blamed himself for organizing this tragic family outing, and was more than eager to drown his sorrows in the stupefying haze of alcohol, utterly neglecting his son, until one night they found him on the banks of the lake where his beloved young wife lost her life, with his face buried in the water, and his left hand floating on the surface, as if caressing the lake.
Finally having finished his manly ritual, Massimiliano opened his old, ebony wardrobe and took out his military uniform. The fresh smell of dry-cleaning still lingered on it. He turned towards the little nightstand and opened the third drawer. He took out a small package, carefully wrapped up in see-through paper, fastened with a silk, red ribbon. The flower inside, dried but still bloody red was gleaming at him. He promised Dorotea he would carry it always in his pocket, until it was time for them to be reunited.
Dorotea was Mrs De Luca’s youngest daughter, and certainly the most beautiful one out of the female De Luca quintette. The five daughters and one son, who died in early infancy, were the apple of Mr De Luca’s eye, especially Dorotea. Her simple, loving nature and delicately radiant physique made her the most desirable young woman in their little village of Riomaggiore. As time passed by, Massimiliano found himself more and more in love with this heavenly creature. At first, it was a love unaware of its own existence, where a touch of the hand makes the heart beat faster, yet the mind is not aware of the magic that still had to transcend the realm of the subconscious. So, the mind found erroneous excuses for the sudden flush of the cheeks, the butterflies in the stomach and the sudden sweating of the hands. Until, finally one day, the mind woke up from its decade-long slumber and finally confessed to itself the real state of affairs. Not able to provide for the beautiful Dorotea, he left her in Italy and went in pursuit of means to obtain their happiness. On his departure, Dorotea did not cry. Her emerald eyes were glistening like waterfalls, and her little mouth cringed in wordlessness of the times to come. But still, she did not cry. She gave him her silver ring and asked him to wear it as long as he loved her. If at any point he would stop, he should send it back to her. Anything else would be redundant. Ever since that night, the ring had not left the elongated world of his little finger, the site of which always brought a smile on his face, knowing Dorotea was there, Dorotea was waiting.
Dressed in his uniform and with self-satisfaction that would make an emperor feel ashamed, Massimiliano sat where the photographer told him to and looked firmly at the camera. “Can you please take the newspapers and hold it in your hand… yes, like that,” the photographer said. “Would you mind if I smoke?” Massimiliano asked. “No, no, by all means,” he heard the reply.
He pierced the camera with his gaze, as if the lens would show him the image of his beloved Dorotea. “I will send her this photograph, along with the ticket,” he was thinking happily to himself. “It may not be the ideal job, after all, I am a military officer, but it’s a start.” He fixed his gaze on the camera, and thought: Dorotea.
Avallone, Nicholas A. An Italian Heritage. Bloomington, IN: Xlibris Publishing, 2010. Print.