Francesca opened her eyes and peered through the false lashes at the setting sun. The horizon was purple and pink (colors of a baby girl’s nursery, she thought) and the light filtered through the treetops like bright needles. Beneath her the grass felt cool and crisp, freshly cut but long enough to provide a soft bed to die upon. It had been damp in the morning, with the sunrise—dewy. Floating in and out throughout the day (at times occurring to her she felt like she was in the water, bobbing up and down at the surface), she had noted the changing position of the sun, the shift of the clouds lazing across the late summer sky above her. They looked to her very much like candy floss being gradually shredded apart, perhaps by some overeager child’s sticky hands at a carnival. She strained to recall whether or not she had ever had candy floss in such circumstances, but her mind was far too hazy to bring anything like that to the fore.
In the middle-distance, sirens bayed. Francesca considered how she could never tell the difference between different types of sirens by sound alone—police, fire service, ambulance. Any would do. But she knew they were not coming for her. No one knew she was there. She wasn’t particularly sure where there was, anyway. Or even if she was still in Milan.
The last thing she clearly remembered was Aldo barreling through the door, bad drunk and mean on it, spoiling to break something and starting in on the kitchen chairs. He kicked one to splinters before hefting up another and smashing it against the wall, knocking down first Francesca’s picture of Jesus and then her father’s old Army photo where he looked so handsome and young. The glass from each of the frames mingled together in a tinkling snowstorm on the tiled floor. Francesca scrambled to save her bare feet from the shards and ran right into Aldo’s taut, round belly. She bounced back from it, but he caught her by the back of the neck and pushed her down to the floor.
Cagna stupido, Aldo growled, hauling his right leg back as he narrowed his eyes to zero in on where he wanted to kick her. Francesca contracted into a ball, her knees touching her chin, and whimpered. But Aldo’s booted foot never made good on its threat; the drunkard wobbled on the one leg, grunted and toppled over beside her.
In spite of herself, Francesca laughed.
She laughed low and hoarsely, but not for long. Almost as soon as she started, the report startled her into silence and Aldo’s pitted cheek burst open, spitting red. And Francesca’s world went upside-down, then dark.
In the blur, it was Dario. Hadn’t he been there? Hiding in the bedroom closet when Aldo exploded into the flat? Wasn’t it Dario who appeared in the doorway, stark naked and brandishing a pistol, frightening the angry drunk into collapse and firing a round into his face the moment he hit the ground? Big man, Dario. Hides until he’s sure he’s got the upper hand. But then what did she expect from a poliziotto?
Francesca hissed in the gathering dusk and pricked up her ears, listening hard to the diminishing din of the sirens. She longed for a cigarette. She longed for some whisky or wine. She longed for the burning agony in her abdomen to go away, though focusing on it only seemed to make it worse. Some mornings, sprawled out naked and dripping sweat and sex, she’d listened as Dario detailed gruesome and violent episodes from his career, and though gun work came into that Francesca never imagined what it would feel like to be shot. Now she knew. And as always, it was Dario who relieved her of any curiosity on the matter. The big man’s last lesson, she thought, turning her head just slightly to look upon him beside her, right eye wide open and left obliterated altogether, reduced to a red-black pulp. Che catastrofe.
The sirens were gone now and so was the sun, but Francesca could still make out her husband’s face only inches from her own, on the other side of her. Was he dying, or merely in shock? He blinked slowly, pushing tears from his glassy brown eyes, and worked his mouth as though trying to speak. How stupid of Dario to place the pistol in Aldo’s hand, thinking him dead already. How ridiculous the tableau would look when Dario’s amici would finally arrive and try to sort it all out. Perhaps, the dying woman supposed, Aldo might live long enough to explain the picture his wife’s lover attempted to compose—jealous husband and unfaithful wife, killed by one another in a wild frenzy of violence and betrayal, nothing at all to do with Dario. More likely, they would all three be dead by the same pistol and the investigators would never suss it out completely.
But not for long.