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Authors: Donna Leon

Falling in Love

BOOK: Falling in Love
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Falling in Love
Also by Donna Leon
Death at La Fenice
Death in a Strange Country
Dressed for Death
Death and Judgment
Acqua Alta
Quietly in Their Sleep
A Noble Radiance
Fatal Remedies
Friends in High Places
A Sea of Troubles
Willful Behaviour
Uniform Justice
Doctored Evidence
Blood from a Stone
Through a Glass, Darkly
Suffer the Little Children
The Girl of His Dreams
About Face
A Question of Belief
Drawing Conclusions
Handel’s Bestiary
Beastly Things
Venetian Curiosities
The Jewels of Paradise
The Golden Egg
My Venice and Other Essays
By its Cover
Donna Leon
Falling in Love
Atlantic Monthly Press
New York

Copyright © 2015 by Donna Leon

Jacket photograph © Mark Delavan and Adrianne Pieczonka; Canadian Opera Company’s 2012 production of Tosca

Photo: Michael Cooper

Author photograph © Regine Mosimann/Diogenes Verlag AG Zürich

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages in a review. Scanning, uploading, and electronic distribution of this book or the facilitation of such without the permission of the publisher is prohibited. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated. Any member of educational institutions wishing to photocopy part or all of the work for classroom use, or anthology, should send inquiries to Grove Atlantic, 154 West 14th Street, New York, NY 10011 or
[email protected]

Published simultaneously in Canada

Printed in the United States of America

ISBN 978-0-8021-2353-4

eISBN 978-0-8021-9183-0

Atlantic Monthly Press

an imprint of Grove Atlantic

154 West 14th Street

New York, NY 10011

Distributed by Publishers Group West

For Ada Pesch

Le voci di virtù

Non cura amante cor, o pur non sente.

A loving heart pays no attention to the voice of virtue,

or cannot hear it.




The woman knelt over her lover, her face, her entire body, stiff with terror, staring at the blood on her hand. He lay on his back, one arm flung out, palm upturned as if begging her to place something into it; his life, perhaps. She had touched his chest, urging him to get up so they could get out of there, but he hadn’t moved, so she had shaken him, the same old sleepy-head who never wanted to get out of bed.

Her hand had come away red and, without thinking, she pressed it to her mouth to stifle her scream, knowing she must make no noise, not let them know she was there. Then horror overcame her caution, and she screamed his name again and again, telling herself he was dead, and it was all over; like this, in blood.

She looked at where her hand had been and saw the red blotches: how had so much blood come from them, so small, so small? She rubbed her clean hand across her mouth, and it came away coloured with the blood on her face. Panicked, seeing the blood, she spoke his name. All over, all over. She said his name again, this time louder, but he could no longer hear or answer her, or anyone. Unthinking, she leaned forward to kiss him, grabbed at his shoulders in a vain attempt to shake some life into him, but there was to be no more life, for either one of them.

A loud cry from the leader of the gang that had killed him came from her left, and she pressed her hand to her breast. Fear drove out speech, and she could only grunt ‘Ah, ah’, like an animal in pain. She turned her head and saw them, heard their shouting but had no idea what they were saying: all she knew was terror and, suddenly, fear for herself, now that he was dead, and for what they wanted to do to her.

She pushed herself to her feet and moved away from him: no looking back. He was dead, and it was all gone: all hope, all promise spent and dry.

The men, four of them on the left, then five more from the right, came out on to the littered rooftop where the murder had taken place. The leader of the pack shouted something, but she was beyond hearing him or hearing anyone or anything. She knew only the need to escape, but they had her blocked in from both sides. She turned and saw behind her the edge of the roof, no other building in sight: no place to go, no place to hide.

There was choice, but there was really no choice: death was better than any of this, either what had just happened or what was sure to happen once they got their hands on her. She stumbled once, twice, as she ran towards the ledge, stepped up on to it with unexpected grace and turned back to look at the men who were running towards her.
‘O Scarpia, avanti a Dio,’
she cried, turned, and leaped.

The music crashed out and then continued to boom around a bit, as it always did at the end of this shabby little shocker, and then there was a long moment of stunned silence as the audience realized what they had just heard and seen. Not since Callas – and that had been half a century ago – had anything like this
been seen or heard. Tosca had really killed Scarpia, the chief of police, hadn’t she? And her lover really had been shot by those creeps in uniform? And she’d really jumped into the Tiber. By God, the woman could act and, even better, she could sing. It’s completely real: the murder, the fake execution that turned out to be real, and her final leap when there was nothing left and nothing to lose. It’s romantic balderdash, the whole thing is beyond parody, but then why was the audience sitting there clapping the skin off their hands and shouting like banshees?

The curtains slowly parted at the centre, and Flavia Petrelli slipped through the narrow space. She wore red, redder than red, and a tiara that had apparently survived her plummet into the river. She looked out at the audience, and stunned delight slowly lit up her face. For me? All that noise for
? Her smile grew, and one of her hands – somehow magically free of blood or whatever had been used to resemble it – rose to the exposed flesh above her breasts and pressed at her heart, as if to force it to remain in place in the midst of all this excitement.

She took her hand away and opened one arm as if to embrace them all, then the other, exposing her entire body to the assault of the applause. Then both hands again found their way to her breast, and she sank in a graceful motion, half bow, half genuflection. The applause increased, and voices, both male and female, shouted out ‘
’, or, for those who were either blind or not Italian, ‘
’. She didn’t seem to mind, so long as they shouted. Another bow, and then she raised her face as if to bathe it in the cascade of applause.

The first rose, long-stemmed and yellow as the sun, fell just in front of her. Her foot pulled back from it involuntarily, as if she were afraid of doing it an injury, or it her, and then she bent, so slowly as to make her motion seem studied, almost practised, to pick it up. She pressed it to her bosom and crossed her hands upon it. Her smile had faltered when she saw it – ‘This is for me? For
?’ – but the face she raised to the upper balconies gleamed with joy.

As if summoned by her reaction, the roses continued to fall: first two, then three more, tossed individually from the right side, and then more and more, until dozens of them lay at her feet, turning her into a Joan of Arc, brushwood rising to her ankles, and above.

Flavia smiled into the thunder of the applause, bowed again, stepped back from the roses, and slipped through the curtains. A few moments later, she emerged, holding her no-longer-dead lover by the hand. Like the shouts of Scarpia’s henchmen, the applause mounted at the sight of him, heading towards that delirium that so often rose at the sight of a handsome young tenor who had all the high notes and used them generously. Both of them looked nervously below them, trying to avoid stepping on the carpet of roses, then they abandoned the attempt and crushed them underfoot.

Responding instinctively to some note in the applause that told her it was for him, Flavia took a step backwards and joined in, raising her hands high as she clapped with the audience. Just at the moment when the applause started to diminish, she stepped up beside him, took his arm and leaned into his side, then kissed him briefly on the cheek, the companionable peck one gives a brother or a good colleague. He, in his turn, grabbed her hand and thrust their joined hands above their heads, as if announcing the winner of a contest.

The tenor took one step back to make room for her, crushing more roses, and she slipped in front of him and through the curtains; he followed her. After a moment, the resurrected Scarpia, the front of his brocade jacket still incarnadined, stepped through the curtains and moved to the right, avoiding most of the roses. He bowed, bowed again, and crossed his hands on his bloody chest to show his thanks, then, returning to the opening in the curtain, he reached in and withdrew Flavia, whose other hand was attached to the hand of the young tenor. Scarpia led the conga line of three no-longer-dead people to the right, crushing the blossoms, the hem of Flavia’s gown sweeping them aside. They raised their linked hands, bowing together, their faces equally radiant and transformed by pleasure and gratitude at the audience’s appreciation.

Flavia unhooked herself from the two men and slipped behind the curtain again, this time to emerge hand in hand with the conductor. He was the youngest person on the stage, but his self-possession matched that of his older colleagues. He walked forward, not even noticing the roses, and scanned the audience. He smiled and bowed, then waved the orchestra to its feet for their share of the applause. The conductor bowed again, then stepped back and placed himself between Flavia and the tenor. The four of them moved forward and bowed, then again, always pleased and grateful. The level of applause diminished minimally; sensitive to this, Flavia waved happily to the audience, as if she were about to board a train or a ship, and led her male colleagues behind the curtain. The applause tapered, and when the singers did not appear again, trickled to a halt, until one male voice rose up from the first balcony, shouting,
‘Evviva Flavia,’
a cry which evoked some wild clapping, and then silence and only the sound of murmurs and low talk as the audience wormed its way towards the exits.


Behind the curtain, the acting stopped. Flavia walked away from the three men without a word and made towards her dressing room. The tenor looked after her with the same sort of look that had animated Cavaradossi’s face when he thought of her ‘
dolci baci, o languide carezze
’, the loss of which would be worse than death. Scarpia pulled out his
to call his wife and tell her he’d be at the restaurant in twenty minutes. The conductor, who had no interest in Flavia save that she obey his
and sing well, left his colleagues with a silent nod and headed for his own dressing room.

BOOK: Falling in Love
5.44Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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