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Laura continued to frequent Maria Pia. I believe she took LSD on a few more occasions, with no bad effects as far as I could see, but from what she said, with diminishing pleasure. The sense of oneness, the extraordinary delight in the thing-ness of things, these became rare fruit. Perhaps a fear of what had happened to Danny had set in, and prevented the experience from flowing.

She taxed Maria Pia with her treatment of Danny. Maria Pia would only say that he was not in her destiny. She had been ‘nice’ to him, but he was like a puppy, exuberant in his affection, and had made her feel a responsibility that was not in her destiny either. She elaborated: she was a free spirit, an artist; she could not belong to anyone exclusively or have anyone depend on her; she had many lovers, as many as she pleased; it was in her destiny to ‘grow’ in this way. Such was Laura’s précis. When she recounted it, I could hear Maria Pia’s disdain in my head. More succinctly, Danny was a pet she had grown tired of and left by the road, to fend, or not.

~ o ~

Perhaps six weeks after the séance, I met Agata. I found her one day in the street, waiting for me after a drawing class. We went to Rocco’s Counter and sat on stools in the window, with our portions of Polpetti. It was a spiteful March day; people were in winter coats. She asked after Danny and I reported the news. She seemed more genuinely concerned for him than her sister, whose demeanour at class these days was decidedly cool towards me.

Agata was planning to move out of the house. She was looking for a place. It seemed to be one of those times when settled arrangements were dissolving. Our group was dispersing too: Daisy would be gone soon, back to England. Danny’s room-mate, Robin, was also about to return. I considered whether his room might serve her needs. I liked Agata. If I could help her out, it would be good.

I began to talk about Danny. She would be better company for him than some random new face. I was saying something pompous, along the lines that his immaturity had been responsible for Danny’s reaction, when he found Maria Pia with someone else.

‘I don’t see that,’ she said. ‘I think he is basically a strong person, but what he saw would really shock anyone. He thought Maria Pia felt something for him but when he found her—’

‘With Casanova? But you might have guessed that those two had history…’

‘Casanova?’ She looked puzzled. ’Is that what you think? No, no, it wasn’t Casanova... No... She paused, then, in a flat voice, said, ‘It was Matteo.’

I stopped chewing mid-mouthful – dumbfounded: nothing to say for long seconds, whilst things began falling into place. Of course, I had sensed the particular closeness – and the complicity – between brother and sister; but this was something I had never dreamt of. I stared through the window, all my recollections and impressions of Maria Pia slowly marinading in this new understanding. I saw now what Agata meant. Discovering them – in the weird circumstances of the séance – certainly qualified as traumatic. I swallowed, not sure how to ask what I wanted to know.

‘That’s a lot to take in,’ I began. ’Have they…has this been happening for a long time? I mean, are we talking just the one occasion – the séance – or is it...is it regular?’

‘It happens,’ she said, visibly uncomfortable at the prospect of being quizzed. ‘Maria Pia is…experimental...and Matteo has certain beliefs, well they both do…’


‘They don’t consider there should be barriers – taboos, that sort of thing – in the way of a person expressing their nature. Or their “destiny”, as Maria would say. They think we are all brought up with hang-ups, social conditioning, all that stuff, and we’ve got to free ourselves. That’s where LSD comes in. Matteo thinks it’s the truth drug…’

‘And, he’s happy to drag anyone he likes into his social experiment?’

‘If you like – yes.’

’And Danny, he’s a guinea pig? Just a test in their lab? One that went wrong –

their Frankenstein – but so what? Nothing can stand in the way of personal growth, can it? Onwards and upwards – doing any damn thing you like.’

‘Matteo is really sorry about Danny, really…but he thinks finding out about yourself, about your real nature is painful quite often. He thinks Danny is kind of stuck. He would like to help him…’

‘Another go with LSD?…and some psycho-quackery? I think he’d be better off without help of that sort.’

‘I don’t blame you for thinking that way. I agree, I think.’

‘What about you? You said you’re moving out?’ Then it struck me: what was true of Maria Pia, could it also be true of Agata?

‘It’s difficult for me. We were all brought up in that house. We only had ourselves, really. We were left with our grandparents…but I don’t agree with them, Maria and Matteo. I don’t agree with what they’re doing. Everything’s so intense… I have to get away and leave them to their crazy stuff…’

I could hear determination in her voice. To be part of the ménage or left out of it: neither were comfortable options.

’So unconstrained freedom – truth uber alles – you’re not convinced of the programme?’ A thought surfaced: a few months ago, I might have signed up to the idea myself, but those convictions had since crumbled.

‘I think it’s good to have some things that hold you back. That’s my freedom, anyway: I choose to hold onto some rules; that’s how I know who I am…is that a stupid compromise?’

‘No. You’ve found that out for yourself. Matteo’s experiment has worked for you, in that way, at least.’

We made a date. There was open-air ballroom dancing coming up on Sunday afternoons. Agata was confident she could teach me.

~ o ~

It was some months after this conversation, in the summer, that Danny announced he was engaged to Annalisa.

He had been going round to her place regularly for some time, her place being the apartment she shared with her parents and her daughter. I had also seen them out and about, the two of them with the little girl, looking like a regular family. Perhaps that was it, those mealtimes with the family gathered around the table: they were the familiar landscape of Danny’s youth; they had restored him, or most of him, at any rate. Perhaps too, having someone who mattered, to whom you mattered, with whom you stood on solid ground – that was what it took to have the necessary sense of yourself. Otherwise what was there? Falling. That was all.

The wedding was to be at the beginning of September, the second anniversary of his arrival in the city. I was to be best man.

~ o ~

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