Chapter 10

LAURA’S AUTOBIOGRAPHY

The Politician’s Nephew

Funny how things happen when you’re not expecting it.

I had got myself deeply into a very strange and private place.  Having spent much of my time wandering around the world, both physically and mentally, and largely feeling very much alone and rather depressed by the enormity and responsibility and loneliness of it all, it hadn’t even crossed my mind to look for a relationship.  I occasionally sought out some measure of personal gratification, but I was too preoccupied with the strange way in which my life was developing to even have made a single true friend.

So on the day that a rather dashing young man came and sat next to me on a bench in the sunshine, I was too bemused to even realise I was being chatted up, and could never have guessed how significant this stranger was to become to me.

“Permesso?” he enquired politely, and when I replied, “Of course,” in English, he switched to that language with ease.

“Ah, you are from England?  I went to University there, to Oxford – maybe you know it?”

I looked at him – tall, dark haired, tanned, athletic, well dressed, smelling pleasantly of an expensive cologne.  Well, there wasn’t much not to like, so just on appearance alone he began to drag me back towards the real world.

I had moved to Switzerland, to a southern part where many of the people spoke Italian, and was living relatively simply in a pretty rented chalet.  I had had enough of city living recently, and felt like I needed to be somewhere beautiful and inspiring, as well as relatively remote and tranquil.  I was seeing and doing so much, visiting so many places, involving myself in so many complicated stories and tragedies – I felt like I needed a bit of space for myself, a bit of calm and quiet when I woke up in my own body in the morning.

The town I had chosen was on the edge of the Alps, and had a wonderful little lake with a nice broad path all around it.  I often walked there, watching the rowing boats, gazing at the distant snowy peaks, and sitting sometimes on one of several benches, a bit like a lonely old lady – old before her time.

And then a stranger tried to befriend me, and suddenly I was young again – and hungry for his company.

“Yes, I’m British,” I told him, “but I’ve been staying here for a while, just a long holiday really before I decide what job to do next.”

It was a shame to begin with a lie, but of course I couldn’t explain the truth and I didn’t want to admit to being independently wealthy.  I was vague about my background and motivations, but he didn’t seem to mind, telling me instead about himself.

“My name is Luca,” he said.  “Luca Moretti.  You may have seen that name on some of the posters around here – it’s my uncle, he’s a local politician and has been struggling to get himself re-elected.  It’s not a world I care for, and I’m keen to get away – back to Rome, where I’ve been working.  But he wanted me to support him, so I’m doing what I can.”  He stretched himself out a little on the bench.  “It’s not for me, sitting in an office all day, getting involved in arguments and social problems.  I want to be outdoors, under the sky.”  He gestured at the mountains around us.  “Or at least doing something more interesting than dealing with paperwork and bribing the local press – I’m joking!”

I found myself noticing little things about him.  That strange sort of little crease in the back of his head, where his hair was cut short.  The lovely deep brown colour of his eyes, and his full, dark eyebrows, which made him look exotic and distinguished at the same time.

“So what do you do in Rome that keeps you outdoors?” I asked, suddenly aware of what I was wearing, and wishing I’d chosen a nice summer dress rather than a pair of scruffy jeans.

“I am a photographer!  And a film producer – or at least I plan to be.  I have been working on some short films, one was nominated at Cannes last year.  But I don’t suppose you will have heard of it.  I can show it to you sometime if you like, I have it on my computer.”

“That would be interesting,” I said, suddenly wondering about all the things I might have been missing out on in life, and remembering that, for all my ‘travelling’, there were worlds of experience I still knew nothing about.

Two hikers walked past us, nodding a hello, and I couldn’t help thinking what a lovely, natural smile my companion had.  Five minutes in his company, and the beauty of the scenery around us had receded – he had filled my awareness with a new sense of interest and promise.

“Shall we walk a little also?” he proposed.  And so I took his arm, so naturally, and we strolled, while he told me about his childhood in this town, and pointed out the areas where there were deer in the woods above the lake, and which buildings his friends had lived in.  “Oh, don’t get me wrong.  I will always love it here, and it will always be home.  But after Oxford, and then Hamburg, where I also spent some time, and now Rome – well now I have things to do, and dreams to achieve.  One day maybe I will be Mayor also, but not for a long time, not until I have made my name and carved out a career!”

We walked right around the lake, and I was entranced, and I began – even then, right from the beginning – to hope that this would be more than a fleeting encounter, and that this man would want more from me, because I felt already that I wanted more from him.

We reached a lovely restaurant back in the town, with outdoor tables and a long balcony draped with red and pink geraniums.  I had seen it before but it had looked a little too formal to go into alone, and so I had never eaten there.

He asked me, so confidently but with such decorum, to meet me at the restaurant in the evening for a meal, and I accepted with a huge smile.  He took my hand for a moment, and kissed it, in that old fashioned European way, and I was smitten.

For a blissful few hours, I let myself forget who I was and what I could do.  I was just an excited young woman again, washing her hair and getting herself ready for her first date in years.

That evening, standing in the village square listening to the sound of a little fountain tinkling away, and looking up at a beautiful starlit sky, I kissed my darling Luca for the first time, and knew that he would be my second love.

Oh, I was so happy!  It was like something out of an old film – we walked all around the beautiful, unique city that is Rome, hand in hand, smiling and besotted with each other.  He showed me the Spanish Steps, and the Pantheon, and the Vatican.  Of course I had seen them all before, but this time my body was present as well as my mind, and it was so much nicer to have a man’s arm around your shoulders, and to feel your feet ache pleasantly from having walked round so many museums together, and to sit for ages in pretty cafés, staring into someone’s eyes across a cappuccino or a delicious ice cream.

It was like a new life.  I moved in with him, I began to get involved in his work, and he introduced me to his friends and business colleagues.  Of course I was a mystery to everyone, so I had to invent a slightly different past for myself, but although I generally kept quiet and didn’t forget my overall sense of worry and risk, I have to say I did really enjoy having social contact again.  We went to dinner parties, and to photography exhibitions and film launches, and we entertained models and actors and all sorts of interesting people Luca wanted to work with, in various delightful restaurants around the city.  I became used to people ringing me up and asking if I wanted to meet them in a café or bar for a quick coffee, or to come with them to some concert or recital.  I even went clothes shopping a couple of times with some new female acquaintances – a few more times and they might even have become friends.

Luca was happy, and I think genuinely in love with me, and definitely enjoying our relaxed but creative sex life.  The only initial problem between us was that I wouldn’t let him photograph me, blaming it on shyness but really too concerned about my image getting out into the world, where it might attract the wrong attention.  He was rapidly gaining a reputation – a good one – and his photos began appearing on magazine covers and posters around the city.  He badgered me and took offence when I continued to refuse, but stepped back a little when he saw how upset I was once, when some press reporters snapped us coming out of a restaurant together.

Awake in the middle of the night, I would consider the issue and wonder whether I had simply got delusions of grandeur and that no-one in the world knew or cared whether I existed or not.  But then I would think to myself again – what if someone knows about you and you are unique, and they would want to capture and control you?  And of course I was right to be cautious, because – much later – I was to be proved correct in this.  I was indeed in danger, and more so than I knew.

But this was perhaps the happiest time of my life.  Luca seemed so perfect, so attentive, so appreciative.  We got on so well, and he told me all the time that I was everything he wanted – someone to support him, someone to share his passions.  Someone (and he once used this word to me) – uncomplicated.

For over a year I revelled in his company and his love, and only occasionally slipped out of my body – to make sure I hadn’t lost the talent, and sort of to touch base with some of the other parts of the world I had become familiar with in my earlier wanderings.  And then something dreadful and wonderful happened.  Luca proposed to me.

He chose a restaurant near the Coliseum, with red roses on the tables and musicians playing romantic ballads on accordions and violins.

“I have something special to show you tonight, my love,” he said, taking my hand as we waited for our pasta to be served.

I assumed he meant some new pictures he had taken, for he often showed me his work before he showed anyone else, and valued my comments.  He had recently been taking the most delightful pictures of young people in out of the way parts of the city, and I thought he had a knack for capturing atmosphere and somehow telling stories about the youngsters concerned.

And so imagine my surprise when what came out of his briefcase was a little square box.

“My dear, mysterious, beautiful, shy Laura.”  He was down on one knee, with the violins playing and the waiters looking on curiously.  “I love you so much – please will you be my wife?”

The waiters whooped, the musicians congregated, the customers cheered and clapped.  I looked into his eyes and knew that I loved him and that I could only say yes.

But even at that moment, I knew that I had reached a crucial point in my life.  Could I really continue to keep my big secret from the person who was to become my long term partner?  Could I enter into a marriage, carrying along with me for ever such a huge big lie?  I knew I could not.  This was the moment – I would have to reveal myself and trust him.  He knew me and he loved me, he would surely understand and accept me, and then we could live happily ever after indeed.

We kissed and danced the evening away, and I let myself be happy.  He made love to me that night with such passion, and frequency, that we hardly slept, and I felt I had never been so wanted and so desired and so content.

It was a night made all the more poignant by it being our last together.

In the morning we made breakfast and he began to talk of wedding plans.  A dreadful feeling rose within me as I began to see that now was the moment – I couldn’t allow this to carry on much longer, not without telling him the truth.

I still hesitated, not wanting anything to risk our happiness, but when he reached for his phone, in order to start to call his family and friends with our news – I put out my hand to stop him, and the awful feeling blossomed in my chest and made me start to shake with nerves.

“Luca,” I said to him, trying to put all my feelings of love into my voice.  “I’m so sorry, but before we go any further, I have something to tell you.”

He put down his phone and stared at me, the smile fading on his face.

“You have to understand, nothing that has passed between us isn’t true.  Nothing has been a lie – I love you with all my heart, and I want to marry you.  Truly I do, I would never have said yes if I didn’t.”

The look on his face began to frighten me.  The beginnings of feeling crushed, together with the beginnings of anger.

“What is it then?” he asked me.

“It’s just that, well there’s something about me you don’t know.  You must forgive me for not telling you before.  I just – the moment was never right, and I didn’t know how you might react.”

“Tell me quickly,” he snapped.  “You are married already?”

“No, no, of course not.  I’ve never been married.”

“You don’t love me?”

“I do, I swear, I love you very much.”

“There is someone else?  I have competition?”

“No that isn’t it…”

“You have a child?  A secret child?  Well that’s alright, I can adjust to that…”

“Luca, no, there is no child!”

“Then – ” he stood up suddenly “ – don’t tell me you were once a man, surely that cannot be – ”

I couldn’t help laughing at this last suggestion, and he relaxed a little as I shook my head.

“What is it, my darling?” he asked in a gentler voice.  “Are you ill perhaps?”

I took a deep breath, realising I needed to put him out of his misery.

“No Luca, I’m not ill.  Listen to me, it’s just that there is something unusual about me, something I realised about myself many years ago, as a teenager, and which I have to keep secret.”

He sat down again.  “What do you mean?”

It was so difficult to continue, but I forced myself.  The truth had to come out – now was definitely the time.

“Luca, we’ve never talked about this type of thing, I’ve steered clear of the topic.  But I have – well, I have what you might call a supernatural ability.”

“What?!”  The tone of his voice was so strange, so unfamiliar, that a horrible shudder went through me.

“It’s just that I’m able to – ” I ploughed on, facing the big moment of revelation.  “I’m able to, well, project my mind outside of my body…”

He stood up again, so rapidly that the small table between us tipped over.  He paced away from me, then spun around.

“What is this stupidity?  Are you a mad woman?”

“Luca, I’m not mad.  I know it’s difficult to believe but – ”

“How can you play a joke like this on me, when I’ve just proposed to you?  Are you deluded?”

My own voice grew softer as his grew more animated.

“It is simply a true thing, I can’t help it.”

“You know that I was brought up religiously?  What you speak of is either madness or evil.  Do you know I had a sister who was possessed and had to be exorcised?  Yes, that is my secret – I didn’t think you needed to know, but now you should understand how such things are regarded in this country.  She died.  A little child, ranting and raving, and foaming at the mouth.  My mother weeping and wailing, forcing me to pray, day after day, for deliverance from the same fate.  It made me reject all religion, it made me want a straightforward, uncomplicated life, with no strange unpleasantness in it.  It made me turn towards my father’s way of thinking – that people need to help each other, to make life easier, to cover things up when it is necessary to cover things up.  How do you think my uncle got to be in politics?  You understand nothing of how this country works!  Why do you raise such a ridiculous topic?  Ah – I don’t believe I nearly married a mad woman!”

I was so taken aback by these revelations of his, that I hardly knew what to say next.

“Luca,” I said eventually.  “We can talk of all these things.  You can explain, and we can discuss everything.  I am sure I will still love you whatever you say.  But I am not mad or deluded – I have a strange talent, and I can prove it.  I can show it to you, right this instant!”

“I can’t believe this, what are you saying?  You’ve lost your head, I should have realised your strange, quiet ways hid some secret.  But I thought you were sensible – I thought you were normal!  But instead you indulge in this sort of silliness!”

I looked around me quickly, looking for a way of proving my ability to the man I loved.  I saw a magazine on the coffee table and picked it up, thrusting it towards him.

“Open it at any page, and look at it.  Sit over there and open it – go on, do it!”

Reluctantly he took the magazine and sat down in a seat further away from me.  Glowering at me with such a horrible, confused, disappointed look, he slowly opened it at random.

Momentarily jumping out from body to a point behind his head, I got a good enough look at the page.

“You are on page 24, and there is a picture of a windmill, and an advert for a wine club, and a headline that says – ”

But he didn’t let me finish.  He threw the magazine onto the floor, and I thought I saw fear in his eyes.

“A trick!”  He spun round behind him.  “Where is the secret mirror?  Why do you play with me so – it’s not funny!”

“It’s not a trick.”

“You’ve just memorised what’s in the magazine then.  You have a photographic memory!”

“No,” I said.  “Try it again.”

“This is just unbelievable, what on earth – ”

“Try it again.  Take a book from the shelf over there.  Could I have memorised every page of every book?”

He didn’t want to.  He was shaking, whether with fear or anger I wasn’t sure.

“Once more, Luca.  See what happens, then you can think about what I’m saying, and whether you believe it, and what it means.”

Slowly he reached along a bookshelf of English novels and pulled one out.

I put my hands in front of my eyes, so he could see that I couldn’t even see the cover.

“‘Mrs Bembridge looked across at the pastor and asked herself what such a man might possibly be expecting from their encounter – ’”

“Witch!” Luca shouted, as the book dropped to the floor.

To hear him call me this was so shocking and hurtful, I sat considering my own thoughts and my own reaction.

He returned to the shelf and snatched up another book, then turned his back on me and crouched down in a corner, shielding the whole book with his body.

I slipped round him in an instant, seeing how his finger shook as he held it against a page of text.

“You’re holding it upside down,” I said, returning to my body, “but it says, ‘And then the doctor called and we all sat waiting and wondering what would happen next – ’”

Luca rose slowly and came and stood opposite me.

“You utter, utter, weird bitch!” was what he said eventually.  “You’ve led me on and let me make love to you, and even want to marry you.  When all the time you’ve been keeping this horrible secret about your mad, evil brain.  Is that why you don’t like being photographed?  Are you like a vampire or something, that you get hurt by the flash lights?  And have you been spying on me, then, from the beginning?  How do I know what you’ve seen, what you know?  How could I ever possibly trust you?”

“Luca,” I said, shocked and starting to cry now.  “Please, I am the same person I always was, and you are the first person I have ever told this secret to, because I love you!  It’s nothing evil, it’s just something different in my brain.  Take some time to think about it, and you’ll see it needn’t change anything.  Please, Luca – please!”

His look was so cold, even now I can’t bear the memory of it.  I had tried at long last to share the truth with someone, but been rejected in the worst possible way.  I had never felt so awful in my whole life.

“Get out.  Go away.  I don’t want to ever see you again.”

“Luca,” I sobbed.  “Sleep on it, we can talk again in the morning.”

“I don’t want to see you in the morning,” he said.  “You are a disappointment, a huge disappointment.  There’s no way I’m marrying a freak, so you may as well clear off now.  Oh, and you can give me that ring back – thank you!”

Somehow, I left.  Somehow I dragged myself down the stairs and to a hotel.  For three days I waited, repeatedly trying to call him, trying to see him, writing him notes which I pushed under the door of what I had thought was my home.

On the fourth day, my things were delivered in crates to the hotel, and along with them a solicitor’s letter, essentially warning me off from trying to contact him further or from ever prying on him ‘by any means’.  It occurred to me he might spend the rest of his life – or at least a long time – worrying about whether I was snooping on him.  I had plunged him into a life of paranoia and fear. (Though in fact I would never snoop on him – he remained too raw a wound for too long.)

The letter also carried a very clever and very subtle threat, referring to his father’s standing in the community and, I could only assume, insinuating that nasty things might happen to me as a result of that organised crime connection he had hinted at.

Deeply upset that someone I had loved and entrusted with my secret had so suddenly and completely turned into my enemy, I gave up hope of him relenting.

I took only a small case and headed for the airport.

The next two years I spent on the opposite side of the world from Luca and Rome – hiding in a mountain retreat in Japan.

One thing always confuses me when I look back to my time with Luca.  Was he always that person?  The angry, spiteful person who snarled at me that night and called me evil so readily?  Was that his true nature, or was it that my revelation changed him, and made him like that?

Did I chose the wrong man?  Or did I somehow pollute and ruin the right one?

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