Bella gazed down at the Piazza, holding back the heavy curtains with a trembling hand. The bustling crowds had been replaced by an eerie silence, broken only by the rustling of pigeons and one old man by the fountain, muttering to himself. Her mind wandered back to her parents smiling their goodbyes. No hugging, not even a handshake. Virus. The unspoken word circled above them like a dark bird. They would be fine, they reassured her. They were healthy; they had each other and the close-knit community of village life. She had returned to Milan to fly home, only to find endless cancellations, and the ghost of an airport. Now she waited in her hotel. There was nowhere to go, no one to talk to. Yesterday was gone; tomorrow, uncertain.
The long shadows of afternoon outlined a naked city stripped of its usual finery. Panic started creeping up Bella’s spine, like the long fingers of hemlock. If it reached her mind, she would be gone. “Daniel,” she whispered. She moved stiffly toward the phone. Her fingers and voice, all on auto-pilot, placed the transatlantic call.
“Tell me something lovely, Daniel. Anything.” She just wanted to hear her own voice, and his, answering.
“The apple tree, Bellissima. The apple tree!” His voice was hushed as if he were in a cathedral, rather than looking out the window at their garden. He drew back the lace curtain and pushed open the casement, breathing in the mid-morning fragrance of apple blossoms. Life returns. Spring returns. Bella will return. The age-old cycles will hold.
He’d written her a poem just before dawn, anticipating her call, sensing her fear. Now he read it slowly, filling his voice with strength and confidence:
There’s not a hairbreadth of distance between us, love.
I gaze through your lowered eyelids,
You gaze through mine.
Come, let us shower the empty Piazza with apple blossoms!
Like pale pink love letters,
Like fragrant rivers of light,
Like sturdy boats to carry us through the fear-storms
And bring us all, at last, to safe harbor.