It was out of sight—she wished it were out of mind.
Angelina Regina Roselli Fabrizzi awoke before the alarm. She glanced around the bedroom of the cottage—what her family had always called the large house—and took comfort in its familiarity. So many things were changing—she appreciated the simple stability of her surroundings. The home was one of the few detached houses in Brunate, and it had been in her family for six generations. Her mother, Isabella, had gifted it to Angelina as a wedding present, just as Isabella had received it from her mother. With few exceptions, Angelina had vacationed here every summer for the past thirty years. She loved the Lago di Como area, especially Brunate—the balcony of the Alps—as much as her hometown of Rimini.
Her earliest memory was of a summer here when she was three. She loved the water; she loved the trees blanketing the mountains. She loved watching the celebrities from afar—and she loved that everyone wore sunglasses.
At first, the memories brought a smile to her face, but then her mood darkened. She was thirty-three but felt older. The significant tragedy, drama, and financial pressures she had endured the past year—while they’d not yet taken a toll on her physical appearance—were draining the energy from her spirit.
Yesterday was another painful and stress-inducing day. She was in Como to close on the sale of two terrace houses. She’d only learned of her dead husband’s complicated financial dealings, debts, and shady arrangements after he died. The first few meetings with an accountant last year were equal parts humiliation and pain. As he unraveled Giovanni’s tangled and tortuous finances, the accountant had told her she must sell the two houses. The proceeds would pay off most of his debts and help her get above water. She didn’t know how she would replace their income. Financial insecurity was a new and unwelcome state.
She possessed a laurea degree in business. Her mother and godmother had insisted on it, against the wishes of her husband and father. She had the degree, but no experience to market, nor any experience “living at the green,” as her less-well-off schoolmates had called being broke.
Yesterday at dinner following the closings, her attorney had advised her of a plan that would involve renting her summer home. Not wanting to discuss details at dinner, he’d asked to meet with her again today before she returned home to Rimini.
She showered and dressed. She wore her all-black “widow’s uniform,” as Valentina had labeled the ensemble. Valentina was her godmother, her housekeeper, and her friend—my only friend, she thought as she sighed, acknowledging it was as much her choice as a conspiracy of the universe. She glanced around the house one last time before leaving for her appointment.
Her attorney was also her godfather, Angelo Spallini. He’d been the attorney for the Marvelli family, her mother’s parents, for most of his professional career. He had started with the largest firm in Como, and when he’d left to launch his own practice, her grandparents had followed him to become his first clients. The Marvellis were distant relations of the Blessed Alberto Marvelli—still revered in Rimini—and were active in several Catholic lay organizations, both in Rimini and here in Como.
She tucked her long deep-auburn hair under her hat and exited the house. She locked the door, remembering a time when it was unnecessary. As she grasped the handle on her bag and turned, her real estate caretaker and manager approached with his ever-present smile.
“Buongiorno, Signora Fabrizzi!” he greeted her, practically singing. “Mi fa piacere vederti. Come stai?” “Così così, Carmelo.” Angelina smiled, before adding, “And I am happy to see you.” Carmelo was always cheerful and interested in her well-being. He was one of life’s blessings.
“I am so sorry you must sell your terrace houses. But I feel better knowing you are keeping this house and will still visit us. I will always have it ready for you, I promise.”
“I know you will. I just wish I could pay you what I did.” Angelina paid Carmelo to take care of the three properties, and he earned commissions on the rentals. “My godfather said I will need to rent this one, so perhaps that will help.”
“Signora, please do not tell my wife, but I would take care of your house for free. Your grandfather helped my family when I was a boy, and he gave me my first job. I will never forget.”
“And I am forever grateful, Carmelo.” Perhaps I have two friends, she thought. As she strode toward the funicular, the brief respite created by Carmelo’s greeting evaporated, his last comment triggering conflicting thoughts.
How could my grandparents be beloved by people like Carmelo, yet treat my mother as they did? How could they shower me with affection over the years yet allow my father and my husband to treat me as they had? Her anxiety for this morning’s meeting returned.
Her boots clicked on the cobblestones of the narrow street, and the wheels of her small rolling carry-on generated a deeper, more irregular tapping, almost musical. The street was empty of traffic, not even a bicyclist or dogwalker. With the high terraced wall on the uphill side, the trees and shrubbery on the other, and the street still asleep in the morning shade— her boots, her bag, and the birds the only sounds—Angelina took comfort in the solitude. Not that she enjoyed being alone, it was just… easier. And safer. People were so difficult… and mean. She would like to be loved, but she’d never again abide being hurt.
She boarded the bright red-and-yellow funicular carriage. As the tram began its descent, she couldn’t shake the symbolism.
I truly am going from the stars to the stable.
The first third of the trip down the mountain was impressive, but the view exploded into a stunning panorama of the lake and town as the carriage passed the first request stop. Angelina gazed at the lake, trying to imprint the vision into her memory, trying to quell the nagging fear that she might not see it again. As the train entered the tunnel leading to the Como terminus, the vision vanished—but not her anxiety.
With the early June sun and the funicular behind her, she set off on the fifteen-block walk to the office for her nine-thirty appointment. She was in no hurry. It was not even eight forty-five, and it was only a twenty-minute walk. And besides, no one in Como was ever on time for anything. When visitors pointed out that all the clocks displayed different times, natives replied, “Why does it matter? We are all going to be late anyway.”
She smiled as she approached the piazza Giacomo Matteotti. It always reminded her of Matteo. It also reminded her of Grandfather Giacomo. The voice of her ever-present conscience intruded. But that was a long time ago, Angelina, in a life far removed from this one.
Her smile dissipated when she glimpsed the imposing Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta, Duomo di Como behind the Como Lago train station, its green dome glowing in the bright morning sun. Historians acknowledged it as the last gothic cathedral built in Italy. Construction had taken almost four hundred years, and like many Catholic churches in Italy, it displayed an impressive collection of art: sculptures, stained glass, paintings, tapestries, and frescos.
The cathedral, with its imposing beauty and wealth, reminded Angelina of her family, of the summers spent here with her grandparents and her parents, Tàmmaro and Isabella. As a child, the story of La Porto della Rana had fascinated her. She’d often touch the vandalized carving of the frog at the Door of the Frog for good luck; by the time she was fourteen, she had concluded that the frog ignored her. Perhaps it required its missing head to dispense good fortune. Or maybe without its head, it only dispensed bad luck.
That would explain a lot, she thought mirthlessly.
Voltaire was correct: “God is a comedian playing to an audience too afraid to laugh.”
On each visit since her husband’s death, she imagined her mother’s parents, Giacomo and Francesca, staring down at her with disapproval from the west wall of the church alongside the statues of Pliny the Elder and Pliny the Younger. She continued further along the lake to avoid the church. It was out of sight—she wished it were out of mind.
After turning off the lakefront, she stopped for a few minutes at the Bliss Café for a pasticceria vegana and caffè doppio. You could not walk through this part of town without tripping over a café. She preferred Bliss for its vegan pastry. Today she wanted extra sugar and caffeine, but what she needed was extra strength and courage. After finishing her breakfast, resolute and refortified, she walked the remaining six blocks to her godfather’s office near the government buildings on Via Alessandro Volta