JUNE 12, 2014
COPPER FLASHES LIKE SHARDS of aventurine glass on top of the old brick wall behind our house. I envision ancient pastel stucco workshops with red tile roofs along the Rio dei Vetrai canal, and fiery furnaces and blowpipes as maestros shape molten glass on marvers. Careful not to spill, I carry two espressos sweetened with agave nectar.
I hold the delicate curved handles of the mouth-blown cristallo cups, simple and rock crystal clear, the memory of finding them on the Venetian island of Murano a happy one. The aromas of garlic and charred peppers follow me outside as the screen door shuts with a soft thud. I detect the aromatic bright scent of fresh basil leaves I tore with my bare hands. It’s the best of mornings. It couldn’t be better.
My special salad has been mixed, the juices, herbs and spices mingling and saturating chunks of mantovana I baked on a stone days earlier. The olive oil bread is best slightly stale when used in panzanella, which like pizza was once the food of the poor whose ingenuity and resourcefulness transformed scraps of focaccia and vegetables into un’abbondanza. Imaginative savory dishes invite and reward improvisation, and this morning I added the thinly sliced core of fennel, kosher salt and coarsely ground pepper. I used sweet onions instead of red ones and added a hint of mint from the sunporch where I grow herbs in large terra-cotta olive jars I found years ago in France.
Pausing on the patio, I check the grill. Rising heat wavers, the lighter fluid and bag of briquettes a cautious distance away. My FBI husband Benton isn’t much of a cook but he knows how to light a good fire and is meticulous about safety. The neat pile of smoldering orange coals is coated in white ash. The swordfish filets can go on soon. Then my hedonistic preoccupations are abruptly interrupted as my attention snaps back to the wall.
I realize what I’m seeing is pennies. I try to recall if they were there earlier when it was barely dawn and I took out our greyhound, Sock. He was stubborn and clingy and I was unusually distracted. My mind was racing in multiple directions, powered by a euphoric anticipation of a Tuscan brunch before boarding a plane in Boston, and a sensual fog was burning off after an indulgent mindless rousing from bed where all that mattered was pleasure. I hardly remember taking out our dog. I hardly remember any details about being with him in the dimly lit dewy backyard.
So it’s entirely possible I wouldn’t have noticed the bright copper coins or anything else that might indicate an uninvited visitor has been on our property. I feel a chill at the edge of my thoughts, a dark shadow that’s unsettling. I’m reminded of what I don’t want to think about.
You’ve already left for vacation while you’re still here. And you know better.
My thoughts return to the kitchen, to the blue steel Rohrbaugh 9 mm in its pocket holster on the counter by the stove. Lightweight with laser grips, the pistol goes where I do even when Benton is home. But I’ve not had a single thought about guns or security this morning. I’ve freed my mind from micromanaging the deliveries to my headquarters throughout the night, discreetly pouched in black and transported in my windowless white trucks, five dead patients silently awaiting their appointments with the last physicians who will ever touch them on this earth.
I’ve avoided the usual dangerous, tragic, morbid realities and I know better.
Then I argue it away. Someone is playing a game with pennies. That’s all.
OUR NINETEENTH-CENTURY CAMBRIDGE house is on the northern border of the Harvard campus, around the corner from the Divinity School and across from the Academy of Arts and Sciences. We have our share of people who take shortcuts through our property. It’s not fenced in and the wall is more an ornamental ruin than a barrier. Children love to climb over it and hide behind it.
Probably one of them with too much time on his hands now that school is out.
“Did you notice what’s on our wall?” I make my way across sun-dappled grass, reaching the stone bench encircling the magnolia tree where Benton has been reading the paper while I prepare brunch.
“Notice what?” he asks.
Sock is stretched out near his feet, watching me accusingly. He knows exactly what’s in store for him. The instant I pulled out luggage late last night and began an inventory of tennis equipment and scuba gear he settled into a funk, an emotional hole he digs for himself, only this time it’s deeper. No matter what I do, I can’t seem to cheer him up.
“Pennies.” I hand Benton an espresso ground from whole beans, a robust sweetened stimulant that makes both of us very hungry for all things of the flesh.