Raffaele says those home for the summer never order water at Il Fosso. Instead they ask for empty bottles and take them out to the spring where the water comes cold and sweet. He says it reminds them of their former lives.

He says in the evening serpents glide across the road, that there’s snow in winter, that here it’s not people you meet but characters.

Raffaele says that the village over there humbly glittering in the night, the one up at the end of the valley, is the town whose name no one will pronounce for fear of evil.

He says he doesn’t even know the name himself but I don’t believe him. It’s “that place” he says.

We stand quietly looking out across the dark at the glow of “that place” where once there lived a sorcerer.

Giuseppina tells me you should use either garlic or onion but never both at once and as the sauce cooks she says, “And so . . . “ trailing off.

And then again softer, “And so . . .”

You need three things, she tells me, “Calm. Patience. And love.”

“And so . . .”

And so we wait.

When I take her photograph she says it shows her years. I’ve never seen her otherwise but when she laughs it’s with her face turned upwards, mouth open and she may as well be ten years old.

The two of us sit in silence on the worn marble step in front of the house and talk to Gilda who, when she passes me in the evenings always says, “al fresco?” And I say, “si, si.”

It’s the best we can do.

Tonight she stops and sits and throws me a look and says to Giuseppina, “che bello” thinking I don’t understand.

I listen to them talking talking talking and that step is a small boat and I’m floating there with the breeze and the crows circling and cawing above us and the sky, the color of Gilda’s painted eyelids, fading fading fading, the light going softer and softer and I stay as still as I can breathing and listening, breathing and listening.

Susanna tells me every year the church is struck by lightning, that despite the three rods it comes and kills the clock.

Susanna says the Woman of Spades is a man who roams the village wandering into houses. I watch him, La Donna di Spada, who takes his name from a card game, walking slowly, moving his feet in the short, low steps of the old, testing the locks of our neighbors’ front doors.

Susanna won’t tell me her own age.

Why this secret in a village where there are so many others to keep I don’t know. Instead, she tells me the one thing that terrifies her. And I tell her it is my terror as well.

Coming up out of the trees from Il Fosso the moon’s a new crescent, and there’s Noepoli perched above us in the night.

Walking across La Torretta through that voluptuous wind I think, Why of all the fears to have, should we be afraid of something so inevitable?

But you have a fear the way you have a heart.

We cross La Toretta passing the small church where the clock’s been telling the same time for weeks – ten minutes to five, ten minutes to five, ten minutes to five.

There are women on a bench talking about the cool wind blowing across the square. Now we need sweaters they tell us. When you’re young your blood is always boiling, one of them says. And then one day it’s as if someone turned off the stove. They laugh and laugh.

And then they pull their sweaters tight.

We walk along via Rinaldi to find Rafaelle and Giuseppina on the step.

When we arrive, they talk and talk and talk. And the wind, so soft, blows through, with the sky pulsing blue black blue black blue black like a song for the deaf and I stand there on the old worn stones listening, trying not to move, trying to stand perfectly still while the wind pushes gently at my back.

With thanks to the Palazzo Rinaldi Artists’ Residence, the Caprara family and the people of Noepoli.

Sharing a cigar with Raffaele Carpara on the terrace of Palazzo Rinaldi – July 2008.

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ALEXANDER MAKSIK is the author of YOU DESERVE NOTHING (Europa Editions/John Murray Publishers). He is the recipient of a Truman Capote Fellowship and a Teaching/Writing Fellowship from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. He’s presently the Provost’s Postgraduate Writing Fellow at the University of Iowa. He lives in Paris and Iowa City.  

For more: www.alexandermaksik.com.

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