‘I had an appointment with the doctor that day. My mother wanted to come, but I said to her, “No, I’ll be fine.” God, I wish I had never said those words. If only I’d kept my mouth shut and let her come with me, she might be alive today.’
I shake my head with regret. ‘I can still see her face. “Are you sure?” she asked. Even then I could have said, “All right, come. You can keep me company.” But I didn’t. Instead, I said, “Absolutely. Stay at home and have a rest. Hospitals are full of germs.”
‘When I came back, I opened the front door and called to her. She did not answer so I went into the kitchen, and I knew immediately that something was very wrong when I saw the kitchen table. It should have been ready for lunch, but it was full of leftovers from our breakfast. Sliced tomatoes, pita bread, olives, oil. And…flies.’ I cover my mouth. ‘Flies were buzzing around the congealed fried eggs.’
The startlingly clear image makes me feel nauseated again and I push the plate of food away from me and take a deep, steadying breath. I do not tell him that that day too my milk dried up. Not a drop was left for Sorab. A kindly woman, two doors away became his wet nurse until the day I left Iran.
I look up into his eyes and they are soft and pained. In his world of unlimited funds almost everything can be made better with a little application and cunning. This one cannot. Even he is helpless in the face of death.
‘She was such an incredibly clean person. I knew something terrible had happened. My mother had gone out to the shop opposite to buy some sugar for her coffee and had been run over while crossing the road outside our house. For many weeks I would wake up having dreamt of flies in my food. Perhaps it was the shock of how quickly they had taken over my mother’s kitchen, after her relentless efforts of keeping them away.’
My chest seizes up. A small sob escapes. Oh no, surely I’m not going to bawl again. I swallow while the tears run down my cheeks. I feel the waiter’s eyes on me. Blake reaches for my hand.
‘I’m sorry,’ I apologize, squeezing his hand. ‘I know, this too will pass, and all that, but I just can’t seem to get over my loss.’
After lunch we return to the palazzo that belongs to Blake’s family. Iced with a filigree of white stone and built on three floors it reminds me of a wedding cake. Inside, it is as beautiful as any palace with glittering mosaic, marble statues of human beings, golden statues of beasts, detailed frescos, decorated ceilings, priceless antiques, bell pulls made of rich gold and red braids, and liveried servants
Gerry is sitting on the balcony under an umbrella. Sorab squeals with delight at my appearance. The afternoon is spent on the balcony with Sorab. Pleasant. Rare. I won’t ever forget it.
That evening I go to the top floor. A strange place. Smooth marble steps right in the middle of the huge space lead to an antique clawed bath with gold taps. I take my dressing gown off and step into the scented water. Here the servants are light-footed and like ghosts. Secretive and almost unseen. I rest my head against the warm marble.
High above my head looming out of the dark of the vaulted roof space is an iron chain from which a glass chandelier of unsurpassed beauty is suspended. Its many glass arms twist and turn into delicate cristallo cups that hold real candles. Blake told me that it was once made for the Church of Santa Maria della Pieta, but one of his more flamboyant ancestors acquired it for himself. He wanted to look up at the work of art as he bathed. At the hundreds of diamond fruits and crystal teardrops.
I gaze at them with awe. Each droplet, because of its position on the chandelier and its distance from each candle, has been blown a slightly different shape in order to transmit the same luminescence from every angle as they capture the flickering flames inside their prisms.
Blake appears at the door. He stands in the enormous shadows cast by the candles. Silent, full of some wild emotion that makes my cheeks burn.
‘I’ve dreamed of seeing you in this bath under this chandelier,’ he says huskily, and, coming forward into the light, takes the washcloth out of my hands and proceeds to wash my back.
I feel his mouth on the back of my neck; the evening stubble of his unshaved face rasps my skin. Goose pimples rise on my exposed skin. Instantly my head arches back exposing my entire throat to him. He kisses my neck softly, delicately. His large hands catch my br**sts. Immediately, the desire for him grows in my being. I want him inside me, but he shakes his head lightly.
‘No, no, I have other plans for you.’ He stands up and brings the towel. I stand, soapsuds running down my body. Hoping he will change his mind. His eyes darken, but he wraps the towel around me carefully and turns me around in his arms.
‘I love you,’ I say.
He stills. Something indescribably beautiful comes into his eyes. ‘I know,’ he says gently. ‘It is what keeps me going.’ But he does not say I love you back. Instead he helps me into my dressing gown. ‘Fabiola is waiting outside to do your hair.’
Someone outside to do my hair. I look at him in wonder, at the precision of his plans. Is there anything he has not thought of? Fabiola enters with a rosewood box. In its compartmentalized interior she keeps all her accoutrements. She is young, keeps her dark eyes lowered for most of her time with me, and does not speak English, but she is nothing short of a hair genius. She twines blood-red rosebuds into my hair. It is the kind of hairdo that you see on Oscar night. I will be sorry to see it come down.
When she is gone I dress in the black gown. There is only one yellowing bruise that shows through the net on my lower back. I twist up the scarlet lipstick and apply it to my lips. I get into my tall shoes and in the mirror a woman looks back, highly colored, wild-eyed, and more than a little wanton, but at the same time, rather beautiful. I am still looking at my reflection when Blake comes into the room. My breath catches. He is dressed in a black tux. I have never seen him look so vital and handsome. His hair gleams. With that aristocratic nose…he looks like he has just stepped out from a painting.
He is carrying two packages in his hands. He comes and stands behind me. Inside the looking glass we make a stunning couple. I don’t make any sudden movements; I don’t want to spoil it for the woman in the parallel universe. Perhaps she will get her man. All day long, people have been staring at us. Now I know why. He opens the first package and takes out a necklace. It is stunningly simple. A band made of rubies with an oval black centerpiece.
‘It’s a black diamond,’ he says.