Guido and Giovanna were in love. They lived alone in a tumbledown villa with a view of the birds in the field. On Sundays they lay in bed and nibbled pancetta by the window, and said, “Perhaps we are lonely, but only too happy to know it.” Guido would take Giovanna’s hand, press her finger to his lips, and whistle with such force the world would tremble whitely and spin away.
And Guido was a good lover. He always poured tea for two. Giovanna sang half-remembered arias when she cooked. Their parrots had no names and flew recklessly about the room, mimicking none but the sounds of free birds.
“Is your tea sweet enough, Darling?”
“Si, my love. The tea is perfect.”
When the bombs began falling, Guido built Giovanna a fountain. He filled it with spotted fishes to soothe her mind. But Giovanna began to pout, complaining the war was a nuisance. It was crowding their love and she would have nothing of it. She slapped his face in her passion.
The very next day Guido bought her a new bird. It was white, though it appeared blue to the eye, and ate seeds from her hand when she fed it.
“I want to live somewhere,” she said.
And Guido promised it would be so.
But the bombs kept falling, and their world was reduced. Before long, even the birds grew troubled and began speaking in words. Guido and Giovanna fell to despair.
“Why must they speak?”
“Because they have forgotten how to squawk.”
“But why, my love? Why don’t you whistle any more?”
He kissed the white of her knuckles, and she threw her black hair side to side.
“Because,” he breathed, turning to the window. One finger squeaking the glass. “I too have forgotten.”
When the bomb split their hearth, the impact knocked them both cold. Guido woke deaf to all but the voice of Giovanna. Giovanna woke precisely the opposite. Thus they made breakfast and mended the rent in the wall, each speaking as if to a ghost. It was a hard life. But they loved each other, and were in fact the only people on earth. So when Giovanna sent Guido away he was stricken.
“Go from me,” she said.
“But there is nowhere to go,” he wrote back.
“Then why keep this bird in a cage?”
And he set down his tea, and watched for the moon through their window, because some things are best written in the dark.
Then: “So it must never know the sorrows of freedom.”
And he left.
For a year and a day Guido wandered the bleaknesses of nowhere, finding solace in neither city nor wood. He penned sonnets on tissue. They dissolved with his tears. He drank water from those streams that would give it. But most would not, and he grew feverish with longing, nibbling pancetta by the window of his dreams.
When along came a bird with the cooked-scent of arias upon its wings. The soot of bombs had turned its blue feathers white, and Guido knew it was time to return.
Amid the arcing of rockets and the joyful crackle of grease, Guido heard Giovanna’s song from the courtyard. His breath caught in his throat. His chest heaved like a bellows. Giovanna greeted him with a spatula and a kiss.
“You have cooked more pancetta?”
Her lips quivered with emotion. “No, my love. The plate you left remains warm.” And he saw his tea was still steaming in its cup.