* 71 *
Aldo had the chilled look of someone who had spent some time outside. Michelle helped him out of his heavy coat and handed him a glass of the homemade grappa.
“I am sorry to have missed the food. It was Comune business,” Aldo explained his absence of earlier as he took his seat and settled as if he meant to occupy it for some time. “I also understand that the entertainment was also of ... quite an explosive nature? I met Rachel and Mary,” he said and turned to Michelle, “Rachel told me to tell you that she was going to spend the night at Mary’s. She will meet you there - early - tomorrow. Okay?”
Ordinarily Rachel staying away from the restaurant and her children, especially to spend the night with Mary, would have surprised Eddie but he only gave it a passing thought. Things had been unusual, for too long, for anything to faze him. She had even organised a baby-sitter for her children, Joe and Julia, to look after.
The restaurant lights were dimmed. Attilio said good night to his staff and brought over a second tray of coffees. He pulled off his apron and discarded it on a spare chair as he took his seat at the table. Attilio measured himself a modest grappa and raised his glass.
“Happy birthday Michelle!” he toasted. “And no more talk of ... problems,” he added for Eddie.
“Too late now,” Michelle indicated the clock. It told them that it was twenty past twelve. “It is no longer my birthday. The future!”
“The good parts of the past - and the future!” Eddie added.
The four of them drank.
“It is almost like the old days,” Michelle said as he began to relax.
“With Harry,” Eddie remembered.
“I remember,” Attilio said. “They were good evenings,” he glanced nervously at Aldo. “I did not mean to exclude you, Aldo,” Attilio apologised, always the perfect host.
“No need to be concerned,” Aldo smiled. “I attended a few parties, myself. I remember Harry well. He was a good man.”
Eddie remembered the less good bits but decided that it was time to put them aside. He hoped that they had now been buried, as Mary had wished.
The four men embarked on a session of reminiscences. Glorious, exaggerated and elaborately embroidered. It was a strange world that they remembered, almost childlike. A world in which every day was enjoyed under bright blue skies, lit by brilliant sunshine and every evening was spent around roaring fires - with and abundance of friends, food and drink.
That was the way that the conversation started but quickly, as in the traditional fairy stories, the dark things began to emerge from the forest. The things that people still refused to speak about. The War was Aldo’s favourite subject; he announced the book that he had been writing, forever, was, at that moment, being proof read by an academic in Florence. When it was published, it was sure to open wounds that had been putrefying for a generation - and more.
Eddie remembered the conversation returning to the wars between the city states of Lucca, Florence and Pisa; Pisa being the regular loser - but it did not lose as badly as the families that had been living in the valley, who were slaughtered at every opportunity - or excuse. Attilio spoke about the story that, after the Black Death the villages were so depleted of their necessary workers that the prisons of the major cities were opened, to repopulate the valley.
Eddie was interested. It was a story that he had never heard before - but, by that point, the drink had got to him and he was beginning to loose the will to listen.
And they went on talking and they went on drinking.
Eddie remembered the sky beginning to lighten - but little else.