The Nude Pianist: A Novel: Chapter 56

by Daniel Harris

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JFK Airport, June 1987

Oriana Morosini with sons Marcello and Raphael Martinelli stood next to a dozen pieces of luggage. She was waiting for her husband Francesco Martinelli, who was to meet them and take them back to their Park Slope, Brooklyn home. Typical of airports, there were cars, limousines, vans, buses and jitneys, all jockeying for curbside places.

—Boys, said Oriana to her sons, do you see Francesco's van?

—Oriana, it's crazy here, said Marcello. I thought it was only like this in Italy, not America.

—Airports are always a casino, said Oriana. She was impatient to see their newly restored home. She had been in Venice with her two sons for the school year while Francesco renovated the brownstone they bought on Berkeley Place in Park Slope, Brooklyn. They sold their co-op apartment at 47 Plaza Street, a happy setting for their young family, and bought the nearby brownstone.

—There he is! shouted Marcello.

—I see him, too! yelled his brother.

Francesco maneuvered the van next to the curb, leapt out of the van and embraced his two boys who ran into his arms.

—Did you boys take good care of Oriana? asked Francesco.

—Of course, Francesco, but she's a big girl. She can take care of herself.

—You boys start putting the luggage in the van. I'll take the big pieces.

Francesco walked up to Oriana, looked at her face closely and took her in his arms.

—I've missed you terribly, said Francesco.

—Myself as well, my handsome husband. How are you? You look like you've lost weight.

—Francesco, said Raphael with urgency, this polizia says you have to move the van presto.

—Yes, yes, officer, said Francesco, tossing the last piece of luggage in the rear of the van. Andiamo tutti! Andiamo!

—How was your flight? asked Francesco, when they had escaped the airport traffic and were on Atlantic Avenue headed toward Brooklyn.

—Venice to Rome was bumpy, but the flight from Rome was uneventful. The boys slept most of the way. How is our new-old house? I'm excited to see it cleaned up and restored.

—You'll see. I hope you'll like what I've done. The boys will have to share a bedroom until I finish the other bedroom, but the kitchen, baths, and the living areas are all finished. We will need more furniture, but I waited for you to make those decisions.

—Are you still planning to send the boys to your family's farm in Wisconsin for the summer? asked Oriana.

—You know my mom, she wants to drive out here and pick up the boys, but I nixed that. We'll fly to Chicago and drive up to Door County. After we drop off the boys and stay a day or so, we'll take a second honeymoon.

—I hope your father is friendlier than the last time I was at the farm.

—Dad's a farmer, a natural grumpy pessimist. Secretly, I think he's jealous of me for having such a beautiful, accomplished wife. When you set up their computer with the spreadsheet program so he could easily track his expenses and income, he had a whole new respect for you. You were not just a pretty face.

—I worry about your mother, though. Whenever I've visited, she won't let me do anything and runs herself ragged. I think she believes I'm still carrying the twins.

—Well, she's a hearty Norwegian, she thinks you are too small to have been carrying twins.

—Well, I did it and with no problem. Italian women know how to have babies.

—We're twins, but like brothers, said Marcello, from the back seat. I'm a day older than Raphael. I was born on October 1, 1977, and he was born on October 2, 1977.

—Yes, silly boy, said Oriana, but you are only twelve minutes older than Raphael, just born on different days. You're what are called fraternal twins.

—I think I held my breath for the whole twelve minutes, said Francesco. I was more nervous than your mother. She wanted to go home and make breakfast after that ordeal.

—Oriana's tough, said Raphael. Some creepy guy tried to steal Marcello at the train station in Venice, and she knocked him down with her purse. His head was bleeding all over his shirt. The police took him away.

—What? Did someone try to kidnap Marcello? Is that true, Oriana? asked Francesco.

—Almost. I beat him with my umbrella and my purse. The clasp on the pocket book gave him a nasty cut.

—Yes, and the umbrella never worked again, said Marcello, giving a Bronx cheer.

—Your mother, said Francesco, is like the Wolfhound: "Gentle when stroked, fierce when provoked."

They drove on in silence. In horror, the boys regarded the endless distressed storefronts: used tire shops, auto body shops, greasy diners, pawn shops, liquor stores, bars, sleazy motels, used car dealerships and discount furniture outlets.    .

—Francesco, are you going to paint our picture tonight? asked Raphael. You always paint us when we come home from a trip.

—Maybe tomorrow. I don't have any painting supplies in the new house.

—Can you paint a picture of Marcello and me rowing our mascareta? Oriana took many photographs.

—I enrolled the boys in the rowing club. They have a program for boys. The boys won the spring regatta in their age group. Their boat was a red mascareta that belonged to the club.

—They must have inherited rowing skills from you, said Francesco, winking at Oriana, I'm a complete klutz in a boat.

Francesco turned left off of Atlantic Avenue onto Vanderbilt toward Grand Army Plaza.

—Do you boys know where you are? asked Oriana.

—There's the arch at Grand Army Plaza! said Raphael. Hooray, we're almost home.

—Except we don't live on Plaza Street anymore, said Francesco reminding the boys of their new address. We live on Berkeley Place. You have a new home.

—Not that smelly old house we stayed in before we left for Venice.

—Francesco has made it like new, said Oriana, hoping that what she said was true.

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—So, how were the boys? asked Francesco. They look like they've grown more than an inch. Francesco was spooned against Oriana's back on the king size bed.

—Good. They never fought and were perfect gentlemen. They did well in school. Their Italian is excellent, though they speak it with a Venetian accent. Raphael inherited your brother's math genius. The teachers at the school say he can do college mathematics. He's especially exceptional with knot theory.

—A ten-year-old doing complex space geometry? Does he go to a special class?

—A tutor came to the school three times a week. The other days he assists the math teacher. He was very popular with his classmates.

—Maybe we should find a summer math program for Raphael.

—Francesco, I want him to have a normal childhood. A summer on your family farm in Wisconsin doing manual work and learning about nature will be good for both boys.

—I'm sure Dad will work them to death.

—It didn't hurt you.

—What about Marcello?

—You should see his drawings. He's shy about showing them. He told me he didn't think they were up to your standards

—Love that little guy, said Francesco, laughing. Not up to my standards, indeed. He's a funny kid.

—Well, I think he's very talented. He took a drawing class at the Accademia di Belle Arti Venezia this year. The instructor thought he was exceptional. He made beautifully faithful copies of grand master drawings. I was impressed, but then I'm his mother.

—I won't force the issue. When he wants to show me his work, he will. And you my dear?

—I'm tired, but otherwise good. I missed you so much, but I knew it was the only way we could afford to buy the house and renovate it. You did an outstanding job. I love what you've done. 

—I sacrificed a year of painting, but I think it's worth it. I should be able to finish the house by the end of summer before the boys return from Wisconsin.

—I hate to ask, but how is the money holding up.

—Don't worry.

—I worry a little. The house in Venice needs some structural work. I may have to borrow from the trust.

—Are you a little hungry? he asked.

—No, are you?

—I'd love a dish of ice cream. There's some mint ice cream in the freezer.

—I'll clean up and get you a dish. You stay here and miss me.

When Oriana went downstairs to the kitchen, Francesco tiptoed behind her.

Oriana opened the freezer compartment door. She stepped back shocked at what she found.

—Francesco, how did you get this? she said, putting a dozen Tupperware containers full of hundred dollar bills on the kitchen counter.

—Dan Sarras was released from prison in Monaco after you and the boys left for Venice. He flew to New York the next day and paid me the money he owed me for the five paintings he sold back in 1976. There's more than $200,000 left. I used a big chunk of the money to pay for the restoration.

—Are we rich?

—Well, maybe, but we might have a tax problem. You will have to own this money as an Italiana.


To be continued.