Guiseppe Greco and Marcella Risciglione married in Paterno, Sicily, in 1969. The 21-year-old groom was an auto mechanic, the bride a sixth-grade student. She was 12. Somehow convinced that their parents would never agree to their marriage, the couple slipped away from home and spent two nights together, knowing that an unwritten Sicilian Code of Honor would leave their parents with no choice but to let them marry. Which they did.
Marcella’s father had the last word however. He grounded the newlyweds, not allowing them to go on a honeymoon. “She will go back to school and he to work on Monday,” said the father. And they will lose all Facebook privileges when it is invented.
A couple of centuries earlier, a poor young lad about Guiseppe’s age was walking down a London street, gazing into shops and lamenting his own poverty. His fancy was taken by a portrait in one of the shop windows and he wondered to himself if he too might paint such portraits and perhaps earn a farthing or two. (This was long before the days of ‘draw me three inches tall’ on matchbook covers.) He hurried home, scraped together brushes, paints and a bit of a broken looking glass and set about painting a small portrait of himself.. He was quite pleased with the result, and others evidently were as well, since he began to get gigs painting miniatures. Success followed and he eventually was called on to paint various VIPs including King George III.
One day when the poor King was too far gone in his mental malady to sit for portrait painters, our now thriving artist drew a quick portrait of the King on his own thumb nail. He later meticulously transferred the portrait to ivory. The portrait delighted the King who paid the artist a hundred guineas for it.
The artist was Robert Bowyer, a name that rings precious few bells in the art world today. When he is thought of at all, it is in relation to the profession of his later years as a printer and in particular as the printer of an edition of the Bible that came to bear his name — an elaborate and costly work of 45 volumes with over 600 engravings.
All Day, All Night, Marianne, Part III:
What Light Through Yonder Window Breaks?
Later that morning, Toussaint delivered Herbert Trent-Phillips to a social gathering at the tip of the island, earning in the process the twenty dollars that was to pay for their research at the Crab Hole that afternoon. The Crab Hole was aptly named, except that no self-respecting crab would make a home in this particular hole. Its four rickety tables were generally filled by the water-taxi drivers during the afternoon lull when the French tourists drank wine and insulted each other, the British took tea in the shade, and pasty Americans tried to erase generations of hereditary white skin in an orgiastic bout with the Caribbean sun. The rum was cheap, and the vintage tunes on the Crab Hole’s jukebox even cheaper. Toussaint’s twenty dollars was split sixty-forty between rum and golden oldies, and the two young men spent the afternoon soaking up both. Roberto mostly sat and sipped his courage, for Toussaint was not about to let another day go by before his literacy brought these two starfish-crossed lovers together whether they liked it or not; Roberto would give his performance that very night at Marianne’s back porch. Toussaint himself scribbled on a paper placemat as the seductive words of Johnny Cash, Fats Domino, and the Purple People Eater filled the Crab Hole air. Roberto’s declaration of love was completed by 5 o’clock, and from then until dusk, Toussaint put him through a rigorous dress rehearsal.
The sun took its evening dip in the placid Caribbean. With a sense of adventure amplified by alcohol and the growing belief that they had entered a new literary realm in which Toussaint, Roberto, and Herbert Trent-Phillips were the only living souls, pledges in the fraternity of immortality, and not unhappy to remain pledges if the price of full membership were death, they pointed Toussaint’s aquatic hack toward Palmas Bay, where Marianne and her mother lived, if you can call a life without Toussaint and Roberto in it living.
Roberto would find Marianne’s dwelling romance-friendly, for it had not just a back porch but an actual balcony in the Shakespearean sense, one that might have been designed for the delivering of soliloquies. And actually it had been designed that way, or at least as a romantic place to stare at the moon and breathe bosomy sighs, for Marianne’s mother had been a dramatis persona of sorts in her younger days. But that was three husbands, forty years, and 200 pounds ago.
Roberto and his speechwriter crept through the fragrant frangipani up to the back of the house. Toussaint remained at a short distance so he could see everything, but pushed Roberto ahead to where nature in her cooperative way had placed a pretty hibiscus, just the right size and shape for concealing a swain and his cue cards.
“Marianne,” whispered Roberto in a voice not unlike the wicked witch of the west’s. No answer.
“Marianne,” he said louder, his voice cracking but at least without menace in it. The fact that the earth had not opened up and swallowed him gave Roberto a little lift, and he said more assertively and louder still: “Oh, dear one.” When he heard movement on the balcony above, he pointed the little flashlight at Toussaint’s script and cleared his throat.
This story originally appeared in American Way, the inflight magazine of American Airlines. It is included in Calypso, Stories of the Caribbean.