Anniversary

By Peter Miller

Chain Border

If there's one thing that can be said for Venice, it's that it wears its age well. That's not to say that it doesn't look old, of course; the passing of time is infused in its every stone. Indeed, it slowly sinks into an ocean of age as surely as it succumbs to the grey waters that flood its canals. That being said, it's hard to imagine Venice in its youth, so perfectly does it assume the dignity of its twilight years.

Jakob Florea walked in quiet contemplation along the colonnade on the eastern side of the piazza. It was nearly midnight, but people were still about. A crowd of students, silver masked, cloaked in deep crimson and laughing madly, floated down the steps of the palace and off into the night. Their voices echoed back along the Calle Specchieri and faded into the somber lap of water against stone.

He resisted the urge to follow them and made his way through the obscure little alleys that led to the Caffè di Ombre.

Jakob wondered if she would come. What was it now - forty years? Forty five? It seemed like yesterday, but these days he was finding it hard to sort the past into any kind of order. Some memories rang in his thoughts like the clear shimmer of a bell, and yet, others slipped and twined like the black eels that lived under the Bridge of Sighs. It occurred to him in fact that his recollections were much like the streets of the city itself, spirals and convolutions - here leading to a dead end, there into a piazza flecked with brilliant red geraniums. And everywhere covered with moss and flaking paint.

A light mist was making haloes around the lamps as he took a chair by the canal. It was probably a little too chilly to sit outdoors, but he seldom felt the cold anyway. He caught the rich scent of aniseed moments before Lucio, unbidden, brought him his usual glass of Pastis.

A young couple were talking loudly at a table inside, confident and fearless. It was a privilege of the young to be afraid of nothing. He felt a breath of wind on his face and realized with a start that she was there beside him in the shadows.

"Did I frighten you, Jakob?" she asked, smiling.

"You inevitably frighten me, Violetta." Her green eyes caught a flicker of light from the candles. "You don't look a day older." he said.

"Oh, very amusing." she replied, but she was obviously pleased to see him. "Don't you ever get tired of this old town?"

"It suits me." he said. He took her hand and kissed it.

"Did you think I'd forget?" she asked him.

"Not so much that you'd forget. I wondered whether it would still be important to you. It's been a while since New York and much longer since we studied here." He laughed. "I know you were never one for nostalgia."

"That's true," said Violetta "but I do make exceptions once in a while. For the things that matter."

"Shall we walk?" he asked.

"I'd love to," she said, rising.

They set off along the San Marco canal and over the Ponte di Paglia. A vaporetto passed with a low growl under the bridge and its wash hissed down the canal.

"So how is New York?" he said.

"Oh, I still enjoy it there. I'm practicing law."

"Ah." he said. "There really is no need, you know. I can easily send more money..."

"Don't be silly. You know I don't do it for the money. It makes for an interesting diversion."

Jakob nodded. "Yes, I remember your fondness for... diversions. I still find it uncomfortable though, that you actually choose to work. Maybe I'm just too old fashioned."

"Positively Medieval," she laughed.

"Still," he said, "you belong to one of the great noble families. It used to be that none of us actually worked for money, especially the women."

"It's not the same now Jakob." she said. "If I chose not to work it would be very conspicuous. I would have to do the whole socialite thing and you know how much I hate that."

He remembered their time in Manhattan and knew she was right of course. If only she would come back to Venice. Those things were so much easier here. The Old Money was respected. No-one asked questions. Family wealth wasn't the social millstone that it seemed in contemporary America. But, unlike most of the Family, Violetta was a truly contemporary woman.

They stopped by the Academia. Here in the slate grey of the moonlight it was easy to imagine that it hadn't changed even slightly from the day it was built. Darkness blurred and smoothed the ancient roughness of pitted stone and rotting wood. "So what does one do on such an auspicious occasion?" Violetta asked. Muted reflections danced across her face. "A suitably vintage champagne would be appropriate, but I know you don't drink wine." She was as disrespectful as ever, he noticed.

There was a sound in the street. Instinctively they both stepped back into the shadows. Footsteps, unsteady, from a corner just beyond the lamplight. And a subtle nuance of madeira, cigarettes and perfume.

A girl, one of the silver-masked students from the palace, made her way across the square. Jakob caught a glint of metal at the corner of his eye and saw that Violetta had drawn a small stiletto. Quietly he put his hand over hers and inclined his head.

"It's not New York," he whispered. And then he was gone.

The masked girl was aware of his shadow for only moments before she sank to the ground without even a sigh. He moved the body out of the radius of light from the lamp.

"That seemed familiar," Violetta said, "although in my day we did try for at least a little conversation." She smiled and touched his face with a cold pale hand.

An image from the past flashed into his mind; her red hair spread across his pillow like flames, the scent of quinces on the sheets, pigeons fluttering across the tiled roof.

"In those days many things were different," he said.

He punctured the skin in the girl's throat. A bright red thread of blood trickled down over his hand.

"A toast," Jakob Florea said. "To us."

"And to the next thousand years," said Violetta de Medici.

And they drank.

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