‘That Henry James. He knew a view when he saw one,’ said Mrs Gilfeather to herself as she looked out from the campanile of San Giorgio Maggiore.
She was on her own up there because Raymond had flatly refused to accompany her to the top. ‘I’m a feet-on-the-ground sort of bloke,’ he’d said. Mrs Gilfeather had given one of her inaudible sighs, camouflaged for good measure behind a flaccid smile.
It was Henry James who’d told Mrs Gilfeather that the church tower on the tiny island in the lagoon provided the most magical vista in all of Venice. She had spent long winter evenings on the internet and now Henry’s words, along with those of Byron, Browning and Ruskin, were her travelling companions on this ‘trip of a lifetime’, as the brochure described it. She had known nothing of such people before – much too posh for the likes of her – but now she knew quite a lot, though of course she kept that to herself. Raymond, sadly, was no great shakes as a companion, his mind being back in Tufnell Park with his tropical fish.
Mrs Gilfeather went round and round the viewing gallery, almost dancing with the beauty of it. The picture postcard of the Piazzetta, the Basilica of San Marco and the Palace of the Doge. In the other direction, the lush green breakwater of the Lido and the little islands dotted like stepping stones out towards the Adriatic. The summer sun glanced off spires, towers and golden domes. Motor launches, gondolas and vaporetti fanned out from the mouth of the Grand Canal, frothing up the pale blue water.
Over there were the drooping palazzos where, the internet told her, Henry had been inspired to write The Aspern Papers, where bad-boy Byron had lived, where Browning and Wagner had died. How wonderful to pass away in such a place, she thought; the window open onto the canal, the lapping of lazy water against peeling stucco, the cry of a gondolier, one’s last glimpse of the living world a reassuring foretaste of the paradise to come. Or perhaps not. Perhaps the prospect of leaving such an earthly nirvana would be even worse than the reality of it. It had never been Mrs Gilfeather’s habit to ponder such metaphysical questions, but she was past fifty now and, increasingly of late, she did so.
From her perch, she could just see the roof of the gallery in which she’d gazed at Bellini, Giorgione and Titian, and that of the church where Vivaldi had been choirmaster. Yesterday she’d gone there alone to a concert while Raymond stayed in a pavement café, taking surreptitious pictures of pretty girls on his phone. She’d found them last night when he was in the bathroom and she had used his phone to call her mother. She had stumbled across other things too, which she was trying not to think about.
Now, though, Mrs Gilfeather’s heart was singing. She’d often read that sort of soppy expression in the romantic novels she borrowed from the library, but now she knew what it meant. An exhilaration suffused her little body in its Marks & Spencer summer frock. She was freshly aware of every sense, as if some dial had been turned up inside her. She could smell the distant sea and taste it on her tongue. From down below, the breeze carried up the sounds of the lagoon: the klaxons of the vaporetti, the tinny, amplified lectures of the tourist guides, bursts of music, shouting and laughter. Beneath her fingers, the cool stone of the parapet dried the sweat on her palms. How smooth it was, she thought, planed away by the sticky hands of hundreds of years. Henry James must have stood on this very spot. And Byron, Ruskin and Wagner. Their hearts singing too. And now it was the turn of Sadie Gilfeather. Goodness, who’d have thought it?
But then, in one terrible instant, the singing stopped. It suddenly came to her that she would never again feel quite like this, never again be so awake and filled with wonder. She knew it with a certainty that took her breath away like a punch to the stomach. She had seen Venice, something she had dreamed of all her life. She had seen Venice. How could she ever go back to where she came from and to the way things had always been?
In the late afternoon sun, Mrs Gilfeather was now quite alone on the campanile of San Giorgio Maggiore. The other tourists had trickled back down in the lift. She walked once more around the viewing gallery, then stopped, facing again towards San Marco. She put down her bag, placed her hands again on the stone of the parapet and stood there stock still for a long while. As she gazed out across the lagoon, the churches and palazzos seemed to wobble a little, then to tilt and teeter. Fissured by the sunlight, the solid outlines of the domes and pinnacles now began to break into little pieces. Then, like a completed jigsaw swept off a board, their images were gone entirely and all she could see was a blinding white canvas. The emptiness of it consumed her.
Her heart was racing. Sweat poured into the armpits of the Marks & Spencer frock. Her hands tightened on the parapet, clinging to a remnant of stability. The stone barrier was quite high, but some cleaner had left a mop-bucket and a small stool just there. If she clung to the parapet with one hand, she could reach for the stool with the other. She need not even open her eyes again. She had seen Venice and that would suffice. It would only take a moment’s courage. Her eyes still tight shut, Mrs Gilfeather took a deep, indulgent breath.
In that very moment, the great bell above her began to strike and somebody’s hands grasped her shoulders. She started violently and spun round to find herself looking up at a young man. Very tall, deeply tanned and in the long, black habit of a monk. It was as if a large raven had landed on the campanile of San Giorgio Maggiore.
‘Be careful!’ he shouted at her above the clamour of the bell. ‘Are you ill, signora?’
‘I’m fine, I’m fine,’ she shouted back. ‘Dizzy for a moment. The heat…’
Even as her body trembled, Mrs Gilfeather saw that he had a beautiful face, long and lean, with soaring cheekbones and wide dark eyes, like those in the Tintorettos she had looked at in the church below. The alarm on the face evaporated now, replaced by weariness and a trace of irritability.
‘Signora, you must come down now. It is the closing bell.’
Her breath came quickly in tight little gasps, her body unwilling to surrender any more. Her eyes searched his, as if she didn’t understand him.
‘Your husband is waiting. He says you must hurry. He doesn’t want to miss the vaporetto and have to pay for a water taxi.’
The last strike of the bell faded away across the lagoon. As the young monk removed his hands from her shoulders, Mrs Gilfeather felt her knees sag and she had to lean back against a pillar.
‘No, of course not, dear,’ she said. ‘I’m ever so sorry if I’ve held anyone up.’
Shakily, she picked up her bag and walked into the tiny lift. The monk pressed a button and the cage began to creak its way down the inside of the tower. One wall was mirrored to create the illusion of space. Mrs Gilfeather, though not a vain woman, stood silently peering at her own reflection, as if surprised to find herself there.
Young Brother Angelo longed to reach the ground. He dreaded the days when it was his turn to operate the ancient lift. It could only hold three people at a time, including himself. He was so tall his head nearly grazed the ceiling, sentencing him to eight long hours in a semi-stooped position that made his neck hurt. He hated being squashed up against these strangers with their phones, their guidebooks, their chatter and their smells. Cheap perfume, suntan oil, bad breath.
Sometimes, in the lift, the way they looked at him made him uncomfortable. He could see the curiosity in their eyes. Why have you thrown your life away? You’re too young, too handsome. As the cage wheezed its way up and own, he would avoid their gaze and stare down at their feet; chipped nail varnish in scuffed sandals, calloused toes in flip-flops, a fungal infection.
It was the young girls who disturbed him most. An American had been in the lift today. Heavy breasts and fat brown thighs bursting out of torn denim shorts. He’d felt his usual stab of irritation at the sight of such clothing. Where did she think she was? A supermarket? A coffee bar? Not a church, for sure. Then he told himself that God probably didn’t mind and worried that, at twenty-three, he was getting old before his time. The stupid girl had shoe-horned herself in with her backpack on and he’d seen his breath rustling the fine blonde hairs on the back of her neck. She’d turned round to give him a vulgar grin. He’d been aroused in an instant, and though he’d been schooled in the seminary to deal with such feelings, he still thought it one of God’s unkinder games.
Brother Angelo had first walked into San Giorgio Maggiore when he was only five years old. On an Easter Sunday, he’d knelt beside his parents and his younger brother; his best clothes on, his wild curly hair slicked down. As the others had bowed their heads in prayer, Angelo had gazed up at the vast panoply of Tintoretto’s Last Supper hanging near the altar. To his surprise, he’d seen his own little face among those at the table, squeezed right in between Peter and Paul. He wondered how on earth he’d got there, though he’d felt no objection to it. On every subsequent Easter, there he’d still be and, as he’d grown, his image in the painting had changed, as naturally it would. Now he was almost as old as the other disciples and one day, he often thought, he would be much older. Whenever he was having a bad day, a day when he doubted, he only had to glance at the painting and there he’d be. In his place. Confined inside the lush gilded frame. A disciple. A man who must give his life to the spreading of the word.
Now, in the lift with this little Englishwoman, he felt cross at having to make an extra trip up and down the campanile. The woman, though, had hardly given him a second look, still gazing at herself in the mirrored wall. Brother Angelo’s annoyance began to mingle with a faint unease. It was at that moment that the lift shuddered, jolted to a halt, and threw Mrs Gilfeather into his arms.
With a silent curse, he pressed the alarm bell, praying that old Brother Piero would hear it. He told the woman not to worry – this had happened many times before. The church needed a new lift, but funds were tight in times like these. The engineer would be called, but he lived up near the Rialto. Once he got here, they’d be released in no time, but the whole thing might take an hour or so. The woman gave a pale smile.
‘It’s an act of God,’ she said. ‘His way of making Raymond shell out for a water taxi.’
Brother Angelo reached up and opened a small trapdoor in the roof. They’d be fine for air, he told her.
‘Good,’ she said, taking a pack of cigarettes from her bag. ‘You don’t mind, do you, dear?’
Brother Angelo, thinking it might calm her, did not object. The last time this had happened, an ill-behaved child had had hysterics. He’d had to slap it, which had given him a tinge of pleasure, something he’d felt obliged to confess to later. But this little Englishwoman seemed placid enough, though he noticed that her hand trembled as she lit the cigarette. He indicated the tiny folding seat on which she might sit, then squatted down on the floor, his long legs folded up against his chest. He took out the prayer book he always carried with him. St Francis got him through most things. When that didn’t work, he’d try Inspector Montalbano.
Carefully, Mrs Gilfeather blew her smoke up through the trapdoor. She could glimpse, way above, the shadowy shapes of the great bells and a postage stamp of blue-white sky.
She sensed that the boy on the floor didn’t want to talk, but she did. Since she had walked out onto the gallery of the campanile, Mrs Gilfeather’s whole life had focused inside her head with a devastating clarity. For the first time, she could see it with the chilly detachment with which you can so easily view someone else’s. She was mesmerised by the bleakness of what was laid out before her, and she needed to speak of it, to make it solid in case it was ever obscured from her again.
‘I’m from Tufnell Park,’ she said to the tousled crown of black curls now level with her sunburnt knees. ‘That’s in London. Have you ever been to England, dear?’
‘For one year I studied in a seminary there. Near Guildford.’
‘That explains your command of English, then,’ she replied. ‘I got an O level in French once, but I never knew what I was supposed to do with it.’
Mrs Gilfeather went on to tell Brother Angelo about life in Tufnell Park. About the pet shop which Raymond had run for twenty-five years, sandwiched between the Elite Laundrette and Patel’s Mini-Mart on the retail parade. About how Raymond had decided to specialise in tropical fish and how the shop now had a country-wide reputation. He had even bred his own species, which he’d named in memory of Princess Diana. Buyers had come from as far as John o’ Groats. They still lived in the maisonette above the shop, though they could easily have afforded a bungalow with a manageable garden. Somewhere a bit greener like Finchley or Golders Green even, though they weren’t Jewish. She’d have liked that, but Raymond needed to be close to his fish.
She told Brother Angelo about her two children, Darryl and Jo-Ann, who were at universities she’d never heard of, studying things she’d never heard of either. She said how much she missed them when they were away, but not that she didn’t much like them when they came back, which fortunately they didn’t often do.
‘A happy family is a blessing from God,’ said Brother Angelo automatically, picturing himself feeding on the generous breasts of the American girl with the backpack.
‘They say that, don’t they?’ agreed Mrs Gilfeather, stubbing out her cigarette on the linoleum floor and lighting another at once. ‘Husband, kids, it’s everything really. I never wanted to go off and be Joan Collins. Didn’t have the equipment anyway, if you’ll excuse me, dear.’
Brother Angelo blushed. He blushed easily and hated himself for it. True enough, the woman was not beautiful – though now he looked at her, he could see a ghost of prettiness under the hard helmet of dyed honey-blonde hair, too much eyeliner and pink-glossed lips.
‘But what about you? Did you never want kids yourself?’
Brother Angelo sighed to himself. He trotted out the answer he’d prepared long ago after a girl who’d been sweet on him had asked the same question on the day he’d told her about his going to the monastery.
‘I have no need,’ he said. ‘I am surrounded by them, because we are all God’s children, aren’t we? You, me, everyone.’
‘But you’ll never change my nappies or wave me off to school, will you?’ she said. ‘It can’t be the same.’
Brother Angelo did not reply. Mrs Gilfeather felt she had offended and was sorry.
‘Mind you, I’ve had my moments,’ she went on. ‘An art student who lived up our street. Long hair, beard, dirty nails, the lot. My mum nearly fainted. And I’d just met Raymond at the time. I was seeing them on alternate nights. Isn’t that awful?’
She laughed then, expecting a similar response; a cheery absolution. But it never came. The young monk on the floor just looked up at her with his big dark eyes.
‘The art student wanted me to run off with him. Starve in an attic in Notting Hill. Live in sin. But I knew it wasn’t the right thing really.’
‘God was guiding your footsteps,’ replied Brother Angelo.
He didn’t like this at all; the little lift turning itself into a confessional with no screen to preserve a distance between them.
‘He’s quite well known now, actually,’ the woman chattered on. ‘On the telly sometimes, pontificating about Picasso. Lives in California now, his old mum says.’
Despite her tone, the young monk saw the tears prick Mrs Gilfeather’s eyes. She blew another perfect smoke ring out through the trapdoor and watched it drift up through the darkness of the tower towards the postage stamp of light.
‘Still, he taught me how to draw a bit,’ she said. ‘He thought I might be good one day, if I stuck at it.’
‘And did you?’
‘Well, sort of.’
‘There you are, then,’ replied Brother Angelo. ‘You have much to be thankful for. Wife, mother and artist.’
‘Hardly,’ she said. ‘I sketch the puppies and kittens in the shop. I sometimes sell my drawings too. To the punters. Raymond laughed at first, but then he noticed it increased what he calls “customer footfall”, so he stopped laughing. Now and again, people bring in their pets and I sketch them together. Anyway, it’s an outlet. Nothing special.’
Brother Angelo’s long legs were starting to cramp and his bum had gone to sleep. He uncurled himself and stood up, towering over the little Englishwoman. He was not unaware of his own beauty, though, as with so much else, he struggled to suppress that awareness.
‘But you now, dear,’ she said. ‘You’re the one doing something a bit special. Did you always want to be a monk?’
‘In my family, the eldest son always enters the Church,’ he replied without looking at her. ‘My uncle is a priest over in San Marco. It was the path laid out for us.’
‘You never said, hang on, I’d rather be a gondolier?’
‘Why? It is a good path. There is none better. It will lead me to Heaven. Who could ask for more?’
Mrs Gilfeather stared up at him. She reached out and took the big hand in hers.
‘I’d forgotten it was possible to be so young, so sure,’ she said. ‘Christ Almighty, how can you be so sure?’
She let his hand drop as if the weight of it had been too much for her. She leaned her head against the wall and closed her eyes. Silence fell again in the lift.
Brother Angelo crouched down again and took out St Francis, but he couldn’t concentrate. He let his thoughts drift back to the American girl and wondered if her pubic hair was the same blonde as her head. From what he’d seen in the pictures in the Accademia, that wasn’t always the case. But he couldn’t focus on that question either. It was the question of this little English tourist that burrowed into his head. He wanted to tell her that he wasn’t sure at all. Not of why he was in this lift, nor why he was in this church. Not of anything. He wanted to confess to her that sometimes now, when he looked up at the great Tintoretto, he no longer saw himself there.
He liked to tell himself that God had called him, but that was not the case. He had run helter-skelter in God’s direction, pleading to be let in. Behind him, he had left a grim apartment in the backstreets of the island of Murano. He had fled from a mother who drank too much and had once cut her wrists in his presence. A father who worked in the sweat of a glass factory and beat him with a belt. A younger brother, disowned now, who had gone to Trieste to be a hairdresser and lived there with another man. Brother Angelo rarely went to Murano now.
Suddenly a shout came up from below. He levered himself up and stuck his head through the trapdoor. He could hear the clinking of spanners and the hacking cough of Silvio the engineer, who smoked even more than Mrs Gilfeather. Brother Angelo called down and, between coughs, Silvio shouted back that it shouldn’t be too long now.
‘We’ll soon be back down,’ he told the woman. He’d assumed this would cheer her up, disperse the cool mist of melancholy that seemed to have descended upon her. But when she lifted her head, he thought he saw panic in her eyes. She looked past him and up through the trapdoor.
‘Up there, at the top, I’d never seen anything so beautiful,’ she said. ‘La Serenissima. All those great architects and painters and sculptors. A city built on nothing more than mud and clay and silt. They dreamed it and they did it. Young and sure like you. Oh, so much beauty. I’d been scared it mightn’t live up to the pictures and the films. But it has. A thousand times.’
Mrs Gilfeather paused and looked straight into the big dark eyes.
‘And I wish to Christ I’d never seen it.’
‘But why? Now it will be with you for always.’
‘Exactly. And tomorrow I must go back to Tufnell Park. To the shop on the parade and the maisonette upstairs.’
The woman laughed, a harsh, corrosive laugh, and looked for another cigarette, but the packet was empty.
‘When you’re young, you always imagine you’re going forward, on the right lines. Somebody’s told you who you are, what you can expect. Parents, teachers, somebody in a magazine. And you listen, because you don’t know any better. If you hear some little whisper in your head saying “bollocks”, you tell it to shut up. You’ve been taught the rules and regulations and so you follow them. Some sort of job, a decent enough bloke, kids, a home. And all the time you’re so bloody sure. Just like you are, young man.’
Once more, in the makeshift confessional, Brother Angelo felt an urge to admit the truth to this stranger. But his throat tightened and kept the words safely entombed within him.
‘You feel so certain that it’s all leading to something,’ Mrs Gilfeather said. ‘Something bigger than the sum of its parts. So on you go, chin up. You might even think you’re happy. You might even be happy.’
‘So where, then, is the problem?’ asked Brother Angelo.
‘Well, you’re always in danger of glimpsing what else might have been, who else you might have become. And that can be a terrible thing.’
‘Is that what happened today?’
Mrs Gilfeather closed her eyes to see again the view from the campanile.
‘We’d had a nice lunch in a little square near the hotel. It was hot, so Raymond was a bit grumpy, though no worse than usual. He had to be dragged over here, of course, but at least it’d be cool in the church. And then I came up in this lift and looked out over Venice. And that was it. Silly really. But I realised that my life had hardly ever been touched by beauty. That it never will be.’
Brother Angelo looked up at the woman on the folding seat. The wisp of prettiness he had seen in her middle-aged face seemed more apparent now. He imagined the skin tightened, the jaw firmed, the brassy blonde faded to a gentler hue. Suddenly he could see the face when it was young.
‘But you have a husband and children who love you,’ he said. ’Surely there is great beauty in that?’
Mrs Gilfeather laughed.
‘For fifteen years, my husband was in love with Princess Diana and tankfuls of fish. Now she’s gone, it’s just the fish. I don’t know the kids anymore. They look at screens all day and wear sunglasses after dark.’
‘It’s never too late to find another road forward,’ replied Brother Angelo. ‘Remember St Paul.’
Mrs Gilfeather laughed again.
‘But was he fifty-three, female, with a bum turning into a blancmange? I can’t go forward, dear, and, God help me, I can’t bear the thought of going back.’
Brother Angelo said nothing. He took a packet of cigarettes from deep inside his habit and lit one for each of them. He was trying to give up and prayed for strength every day.
‘Christ Almighty, have you had these all this time?’ asked Mrs Gilfeather.
They smoked in silence till, from way down below, machinery groaned and spluttered into life. A shout echoed up the lift shaft. Brother Angelo poked his head through the trapdoor and called back down. He and the lady visitor were both quite well.
‘All fixed,’ he said to Mrs Gilfeather. He reached out to push the button, but found his arm gripped in a vice.
‘Please don’t take me down. I can’t go back down.’
‘But signora, the lift is mended.’
‘Please, dear. Take me up to the top again.’
‘The top? But your husband is waiting.’
‘Please, I want to go back up. One last look.’
‘Signora, you are agitated. It is very hot in here. You will feel fine down in the cool of the church.’
Mrs Gilfeather seized both his arms now and trapped him in her gaze.
‘One last look,’ she said softly and in a voice quite unlike her own, ‘and by myself.’
As she stared up at him, the young monk’s stomach lurched and sweat broke out under his habit.
‘Up there… when I found you…’
The dawning of the truth choked any further words in his throat. His eyes grew wide. His dark skin paled, drawn tight across his skull. He wanted to put his arms around this little woman, but he did not know how to do that because the giving of affection was not something he had been taught. Brother Angelo did not move, his big hands hanging limply by his sides. Mrs Gilfeather stretched out a finger towards the lift button, but now a hand flew out and prevented her.
‘But God meant all this to happen. Don’t you see, signora? He meant me to be there. Up on the gallery. At that moment. And He meant this lift to stick, for us to talk.’
‘He’s not with me, your God. I can’t see Him. He’s just not there.’
‘That’s not true,’ said Brother Angelo. ‘He’s there for us all.’
His big dark eyes lost a little of their fear. Now they even shone a little. She saw that and envied it.
‘You’ve got it all off pat, haven’t you, dear? He showed me Venice and now I must go home. Why let our souls soar for a while then allow them to crash back to the ground? How cruel is that?’
‘But if this place has changed you, even a little, could you not try to carry that feeling within you and take it back into your own world? Might something of it not help you to see what is fine in that world too and make it a better place for you?’
An impatient shout came up the lift shaft. They’d be down in a minute, Brother Angelo yelled. He looked hard at Mrs Gilfeather. A sound escaped his lips; something between a sigh, a groan and a cry of utter helplessness.
‘Okay. You wish to go back up, I’ll take you up. Even though God would never forgive me and I would never forgive myself or be able to look into His face again. Is that what you want for me?’
She shook her head. She felt guilty now and took pity on him. On tiptoe, she reached up and kissed his cheek.
‘So why would you do that for me?’ she asked.
‘I don’t know,’ he replied, and his tears began to fall. ‘God help me, I don’t know. In fact, I don’t know anything.’
Halfway up the campanile on an island in the lagoon, a young monk and a middle-aged tourist, who had no idea of each other’s names, let alone each other’s dreams, clung together for a moment and wept.
Then Mrs Gilfeather picked up her bag and, in the mirrored wall, touched up her lipstick and pulled a cheap nylon brush through her hair. She turned round and smiled.
‘Right then, dear. Shall we go down?’
At the bottom of the shaft, the engineer and some of the other monks waited. Beyond them, a short, fat man sat on a chair reading an English newspaper. Mrs Gilfeather walked a few steps into the church, then turned again.
‘I don’t know your name, dear.’
‘Pleased to meet you, Angelo,’ she replied. ‘I’m Sadie.’
He watched as she went towards the fat man with the newspaper. The man stood up, pointed at his wristwatch and waddled off up the nave, the little woman in his wake. The other monks already had the great doors almost closed, but a sliver of evening sun still cut between them. At a distance, Brother Angelo followed Mrs Gilfeather out onto the quay.
A light breeze now ambled in from the Adriatic and cooled the dazzling white face of San Giorgio Maggiore. A water taxi waited, bobbing on the swell. As she went to climb aboard, Mrs Gilfeather turned and looked back to where he stood. She kissed her palm and blew it in his direction. In reply, he bowed his head to her and did not raise it as the boat revved its engines and pulled out into the lagoon. Then Brother Angelo turned back into the church, shutting the great doors behind him.
Mrs Gilfeather did not glance back at the tiny island of San Giorgio Maggiore. But as the boat pushed its way into the evening traffic at the mouth of the Grand Canal, she thought about what Angelo had said. She would try to do as he had suggested. To take the beauty she had seen away with her, to seed it deep inside herself, to nurture and nourish it. In time, she would try to please Raymond more than she knew she did; she might even let him touch her again. She would try also to understand her children and the alien world in which they lived, and attempt to like them as once she had. She might even phone the customer who’d come into the shop and had wanted to exhibit her animal drawings in his posh gallery up in Highgate. She’d pooh-poohed him then, saying they were only silly doodles. They must have his number somewhere. All these things were possibilities, she told herself, possibilities of beauty, and surely they were something.
In the cavern of the darkened church, Brother Angelo knelt before the altar with the other monks. Though it was cool now, almost chilly even, he could still feel the sweat on his body. He tried to follow the prayers as usual, but his mind was still in the lift. He was as sure as he had been of anything in his young life that his God had sent him to the top of the campanile as the closing bell had tolled on a sleepy summer afternoon. It had been the sign for which he had been yearning. The sign that he was not, after all, displaced in this life. And now his God vouchsafed him a second sign. When he looked up at the Tintoretto, he saw himself there again quite clearly. Still between Peter and Paul. In sharp, indubitable focus.
And so he would go on travelling in the little lift. When a new one was eventually installed, he would travel in that also. He would not abandon his calling and spend the rest of his days as a lost soul, neither quite one thing nor the other. But more than that, he would try to practise what he had preached to Sadie Gilfeather. He would find the courage to venture out from the perfection of the tiny island on which he had once chosen to take sanctuary. Like her, he had been in flight from the messiness and heartache of human existence, all the things he had seen as ugliness but which he now saw as the very stuff of life, the rough clay from which fine souls might still be moulded. Now he would begin to visit again the grim apartment in the backstreets of Murano. Now he would go to see his sinful brother in Trieste and embrace him, as they had done so effortlessly as children. Now he would become a better disciple of Jesus and perhaps the love that he craved might come to him at last.
In time, young Brother Angelo would become old Brother Angelo. In the Spartan darkness of his cell, he would sometimes dream of Mrs Gilfeather and, when he woke, would wonder once more what had become of her. And in the early morning, though his knees now creaked like the old lift had done, he would kneel before the altar of San Giorgio Maggiore. As the dawn mist rolled away from the lagoon to uncover again the glory of the most serene city, he would pray that wherever she might be, alive or dead, God would bring His blessings to shine down upon her.
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