The Silver Year: Chapter 19

Chapter​​ 19

The Mask Maker

 

Walking​​ past the polished and posh storefronts​​ along​​ Salizada San Moise,​​ just​​ outside St. Mark’s square,​​ Walter​​ saw​​ her​​ face​​ swimming toward him​​ in the crowded passageway.​​ As​​ it​​ drew closer,​​ however,​​ it​​ subtly shapeshifted, then​​ evaporated​​ like a mirage.​​ There were no cars in Venice.​​ The city’s​​ web​​ of alcoves and narrow​​ footways​​ could never accommodate them.​​ The buildings,​​ many unchanged for hundreds of years,​​ were​​ so close​​ and twisted together​​ the streets were in a constant murk,​​ and​​ shadows can​​ play tricks on the eyes​​ Walter​​ reasoned,​​ because​​ there was no reason​​ to be​​ seeing​​ Amber’s face​​ here.

Before​​ the​​ apparition,​​ his​​ thoughts​​ had been​​ wrapped up​​ again​​ in Amsterdam​​ and whether or not fate was​​ ever​​ going to give him a sign.​​ Although​​ his night​​ there​​ never escaped his mind,​​ it was the first time since St. Goar he’d been​​ truly​​ left​​ alone to reflect on it. Over​​ the​​ past few days​​ he’d​​ been​​ distracted​​ by his deepening friendship with​​ Curt and Kourtney,​​ but also the​​ siblings’​​ widening divide.​​ The further the trip progressed, the less they​​ wanted to do​​ together,​​ and increasingly​​ he​​ found himself​​ stretched between museums and intellectual ventures with Kourtney​​ during the day, and​​ pubs​​ and nocturnal escapades with​​ Curt​​ in​​ the night, leaving sleep the only time​​ he​​ got to​​ himself, but even that was mostly​​ done​​ with others​​ on the bus.

While​​ Walter​​ hadn’t​​ expected to partake so much in the​​ nighttime revelry,​​ Curt had an almost supernatural, easy-going charisma that made him not only the most popular person on the bus, but​​ at​​ every bar, beerhall, club,​​ or pub they went. Evenings with him always ended in unexpected places with unexpected people, and through him, Walter was again​​ finding his own​​ charisma and confidence he thought he’d​​ lost to​​ Quinn Quark.​​ Also,​​ with the exception of the serviceman,​​ he​​ was​​ discovering​​ no one in their tour group really cared who he’d been before the trip, and those who did felt mostly privileged to party​​ with​​ a former rock star.

But​​ as much as​​ Walter​​ enjoyed and​​ was​​ benefiting​​ from​​ his time with​​ Curt,​​ his time​​ with​​ Kourtney​​ held much more significance. Through her​​ he was discovering a whole new intimacy of friendship​​ and​​ learning to​​ be vulnerable with someone again​​ without worry of judgment or duplicity,​​ and​​ he​​ permitted​​ her the same.​​ Their​​ fucked up childhoods​​ and​​ constantly​​ nagging insecurities and anxieties​​ gave them a lot of common ground, and​​ it seemed​​ when one of them went out of whack, the other​​ always​​ knew​​ how​​ to bring the​​ other​​ back in place.​​ For two people who were loners at heart, it was​​ strange​​ to have a friendship that felt so effortless.​​ But loners aren’t​​ loners so much for the sake of being alone, but being alone with their thoughts, and usually that’s impossible with someone else, but not them. They​​ could spend hours together​​ only speaking​​ with​​ their eyes. If they came across a painting in a museum or​​ an​​ interesting​​ historical fact or artifact, it only took one look to know what the other thought.

Being​​ proud​​ loners​​ though,​​ there was​​ also​​ a sense of guilt about enjoying the company of someone​​ else​​ too​​ much, so after​​ their introductory walking tour​​ of Venice, they decided​​ a day​​ apart​​ was​​ needed,​​ a​​ decision Walter was now​​ greatly​​ regretting.​​ Venice was a living museum and he wanted his museum partner.​​ Thus,​​ after only fifteen minutes of separation, he had gone looking for Kourtney, but so far was only finding ghosts.

Continuing on in his search, he let his gut guide his feet​​ through​​ the​​ twisted streets.​​ Remaining relatively the same for hundreds of years, history bled​​ easily​​ through the​​ skin of the​​ city,​​ and it took no monumental leap of imagination to travel​​ into​​ its​​ past, especially​​ the farther he furthered himself​​ from the crowds,​​ which was​​ surprisingly easy to do in a maze like Venice.

​​ After​​ crossing the​​ Rio di San Moise​​ canal​​ footbridge,​​ he​​ went​​ past the cursed​​ La Fenice,​​ an​​ opera house famous for burning down three​​ times, weaved​​ through progressively tighter​​ streets until finally​​ reaching​​ a​​ deserted​​ dead​​ end.​​ On​​ the​​ wall​​ of a building​​ in front of him, someone had spray-painted​​ I JUST DESIRE TO TOUCH THE SKY. The words​​ captured​​ him, and he stood trapped, trying to translate​​ a​​ meaning, when out of the corner of his eye he saw a phantom flicker.​​ He then​​ turned​​ around, and there she was,​​ Kourtney,​​ contained in​​ a​​ tiny​​ shop​​ window​​ he hadn’t noticed being there before.

Going inside, however, he discovered like​​ Amber’s face,​​ Kourtney’s​​ too evaporated,​​ and in​​ her​​ place was​​ a woman​​ about the same age​​ with​​ bangs,​​ long,​​ dark brown hair,​​ and​​ large,​​ golden​​ eyes, made more striking by her​​ black​​ eyeliner.​​ She wore a bright red headwrap,​​ not unsimilar to a pirate or gypsy,​​ which was​​ the same color​​ as​​ the lipstick on​​ her full​​ and​​ pouty​​ lips. The body beneath was​​ gracefully drawn-out​​ like a dancer’s,​​ draped​​ in​​ a tight-fitting​​ black​​ tank​​ top​​ and​​ a​​ light​​ and flowing, tan​​ bohemian dress.

Buon pomeriggio signore,” she said smiling. “You look like a​​ man in search of himself. What identity would you like to try on today?”

“Huh?” Walter said.

“What kind of mask were you interested in?”

“Oh,” he said​​ noticing​​ the shop he walked into was​​ a​​ mask shop. All​​ around, on the walls, cluttering the shelves, and hanging​​ from the​​ ceiling,​​ were ornate carnival masks, some​​ with long noses,​​ others​​ adorned with​​ stunning arrays of​​ feathers, beads,​​ and​​ gems.​​ 

“Actually, I am in need of a mask,” he replied.​​ Contiki had a themed party almost every night​​ and for Venice it was a masquerade ball.​​ “However,” he said examining​​ a​​ price tag of a mask​​ near him, “these masks might be out of my price range.”

“That’s okay.​​ I​​ don’t charge to try​​ them​​ on, and I do have some more reasonable options in the back.​​ But​​ there is​​ a mask​​ I think would look​​ very handsome on you.​​ I made it with a face like yours in mind.”

“You made all these masks?”

“I am the mask maker.​​ Beatrice Mezzosesso. And you​​ are?”

“Walter Huxley.​​ Pleasure to meet you.”

“No, no. The pleasure is mine, that is if you don’t mind trying on the mask?

“Why not?”

Perfetto.​​ Come​​ signore, have a seat here,” she said pulling a chair in front​​ of​​ an antique-looking full body mirror.​​ As he sat, her long fingers felt over the contours of his​​ head,​​ face,​​ and​​ neck​​ like​​ a tailor​​ sizing someone for a​​ fitting. “Oh yes,” she said staring him straight in the eyes, “I’ve been waiting a long time for you.

She then​​ danced​​ more​​ than walked​​ across the small store in elegant,​​ metered​​ movements​​ to some waltz she was​​ lightly​​ humming. She went​​ to​​ a​​ shelf​​ holding​​ several​​ wood and glass display​​ boxes​​ and took one down made​​ of expensive-looking​​ mahogany with​​ a​​ red satin bedding. She opened it​​ and removed a​​ bone-colored​​ mask with a strong brow​​ and​​ aquiline nose​​ in a​​ stern facial expression.​​ The mouth had no opening but the chin protruded forward​​ far enough to fit a hand in for eating and drinking.​​ She then went​​ to​​ what looked to be her workbench, selected a spool of thick black ribbon and measured a strand from memory. With two quick snips, she then cut what she measured into two equal strips which she threaded through holes on the side of the mask.​​ She then​​ returned​​ to Walter​​ and​​ placed the mask on​​ him​​ from behind, tying the ribbon​​ snuggly. The mask​​ clung to his face as if it had been​​ custom​​ made. ​​ 

Yes,”​​ Beatrice​​ said​​ staring into the​​ mask’s​​ eye sockets. “I knew it. Just perfect . . . You came in here​​ searching​​ for something,​​ didn’t you​​ Signore​​ Huxley?”

“Someone actually,”​​ Walter​​ replied. “I thought​​ you were them, but I was mistaken.”

“Yes, looks can be deceiving, but often what you need is not what you were thinking.”

He looked at her funny. She gave him a puckish smile.

“You fell in love with someone you weren’t supposed to,” she said, “or more so they​​ weren’t supposed to​​ have​​ fallen​​ in love with you, and​​ now it’s cost them their life.”

“Do​​ you​​ know​​ me?” Walter asked.

She smiled again.​​ “That depends on your definition of​​ knowing,” she replied. “A face can tell me​​ a lot about​​ what I need to know about​​ someone, and yours​​ has death​​ and love​​ written all over it.​​ Thats why I​​ chose​​ the​​ death mask​​ of the world’s greatest lover​​ for you. Don’t​​ you know who you are?” she said pointing​​ to the mirror.​​ She then leaned into his ear​​ and said in a whispered scream, “Casanova!

Walter laughed​​ awkwardly. “You’re funny,” he said. “And​​ a good salesperson.​​ But seriously, you read the Rolling Stone article​​ about me​​ or something,​​ right? Yep, you​​ got​​ me.​​ Quinn Quark, the new Casanova I​​ guess.”

“No,​​ I don’t have you​​ yet…”​​ Beatrice​​ said picking up the spool of thick black ribbon​​ again​​ and cutting​​ another long piece. She then stood behind​​ him​​ and​​ gently​​ wrapped​​ it​​ around​​ his neck, then pulled it​​ down​​ his​​ chest, making his​​ hair and​​ nipples​​ stand on end.​​ He​​ gasped​​ and​​ his​​ breath deepened​​ while his eyes closed in arousal.​​ Then​​ in a flash of an instant​​ she​​ had​​ his wrists​​ cuffed​​ behind the chair with the ribbon.​​ “…but now I do,” she said.

Walter​​ bucked​​ up​​ in surprise, but​​ Beatrice​​ pushed him back into the chair​​ with the weight of her body. Straddling over him, her​​ hand​​ then​​ reached​​ under the​​ mask’s​​ protruding​​ chin and​​ softly​​ slapped​​ him.

No more games Giacomo,​​ Le Chevalier de Seingalt,” she said. “I​​ saw​​ you in there​​ peering at me through this man’s eyes. But who’s in there with you? So many voices. You must be a very troubled man​​ Signore​​ Huxley.”

“Huh?”​​ Walter said,​​ slightly afraid​​ and​​ still slightly​​ aroused.​​ “I know the article made me out to be a womanizer,​​ and maybe there was some truth to that, but​​ seriously,​​ I’m no Casanova.​​ Not even close.”

Beatrice chuckled. “You still don’t understand,” she said.​​ “Casanova! He is inside you. All he needed was a body and yours is an​​ open​​ gate​​ for​​ the spirit world​​ to communicate. You are living amongst the dead, and the dead​​ can whisper through you.​​ You must know this.​​ Haven’t​​ you ever felt​​ like the voices in your head aren’t your own?”

“Many times​​ actually. But I’ve got a rather eccentric imagination I don’t​​ always​​ trust.” ​​ 

“Well, what if I told you your body​​ is​​ nothing but a​​ fleshly capsule Casanova​​ is trying to​​ make love with?”

“To you?”

She chuckled again.​​ “Oh how little you’ve learned in almost three hundred years​​ Casanova,” she said.​​ “Don’t you ever want to find​​ divine​​ love? Don’t you ever want to free your name of​​ womanizer and instead​​ be recognized​​ for the great writer​​ and mind​​ you were? Or​​ will your soul always be caught in​​ the​​ powerful​​ tempest of your lust?”​​ 

“I’m​​ so​​ lost,” Walter said​​ shaking his head.

“Just let go and play along,” she whispered​​ into​​ his ear.

Certain she was crazy,​​ he​​ decided to play along,​​ partly​​ out of fear,​​ partly​​ because he was​​ still​​ turned on,​​ partly because​​ he​​ was​​ also​​ crazy. And the more he thought about it,​​ maybe​​ Casanova’s ghost​​ was​​ inside him.

“Okay,” he said. “Um…​​ what do you mean someone fell in love with me that wasn’t supposed to​​ and​​ now​​ it’s​​ cost them their life?”

“The answer is right in front of you,”​​ she said pointing​​ at herself in​​ the mirror.

“You?” he asked.

She smirked. “Not exactly, but you’re getting closer.”

“Then why do I feel more lost?”

“Just think about it.”

“Amber?”

Beatrice shrugged and smiled, but said nothing.

“Well​​ either way,”​​ Walter​​ said to the mirror,​​ “if Amber​​ is​​ listening,​​ she should know she did nothing wrong by falling in love with me.​​ It was​​ all​​ my fault.​​ I gave up on someone who really could’ve been my ‘one’. I just thought I was looking for perfect, but I was too blind, too selfish​​ to see I didn’t need perfect. I needed love. And​​ no doubt, with the exception of my grandmother, nobody loved and believed in me more​​ than​​ you, yet how little​​ belief and​​ true​​ love​​ I​​ gave​​ you.”

Tears began dropping from beneath the mask onto his lap. “Maybe this was why​​ you​​ gave me this trip,” he went on,​​ “to understand​​ your suffering; to find love, then​​ have it violently ripped away.​​ I used​​ your​​ love​​ and​​ offered hardly any​​ in return​​ because I was too​​ busy loving myself. I’m so sorry Amber. I’m so sorry.​​ I​​ don’t​​ deserve​​ to find love.​​ I had it and threw it away because​​ I didn’t know what I was​​ looking for.​​ I​​ was​​ too in love with myself.”​​ 

Beatrice put a hand​​ on​​ Walter’s​​ shoulder. She then​​ removed the mask​​ and unbound his wrists.​​ His​​ face was​​ a glazed doughnut of tears and sweat.​​ 

“No,” she said somberly, “you deserve to find love. Everyone​​ does. But​​ first,​​ you need to forgive yourself, but before you can, there’s​​ someone else​​ who needs forgiveness, someone​​ very much a part of​​ you​​ whether you want them to be or not​​ . . .​​ your father.”

“My father?”

“Yes.”

“But why?”

“Because​​ if he dies​​ unforgiven​​ you​​ will​​ never forgive yourself. Your guilt​​ will outlast your​​ hate.​​ Didn’t Squids​​ teach you that?​​ My father was an alcoholic too and the last thing I told him before he died was I hate you​​ and I want you to die. But I was just​​ an​​ angry​​ teenager, and his alcoholism​​ had​​ hurt me​​ a lot.​​ But now that time​​ has​​ dulled​​ some of that anger, I can see​​ he did love​​ me​​ in​​ many​​ moments​​ outside his drinking.​​ He​​ may not have been​​ the greatest father, but​​ at​​ least he was more of a father than the father he never​​ knew. At least he tried​​ to be a father, and so did your father.​​ He​​ fucked up​​ in​​ a​​ fuckup​​ nobody would know​​ exactly​​ how to fix,​​ a​​ fuckup​​ of his own doing, but nevertheless,​​ he​​ was younger than you​​ are now​​ when​​ it happened, and look how much you still fuck up.”

“Yes, but​​ fucking​​ up being a father​​ is much different,” Walter retorted. “A father doesn’t prioritize the needs of a monster over his own son. A father doesn’t allow his son to be treated like an unwanted pest for the first ten years of​​ his​​ life.​​ Yes, ultimately he did leave that monster for me, but he told me in the end how much I was really worth to him, about three rum bottles.​​ He deserves to die unforgiven.​​ Fuck him.”

“Forgive him,” Beatrice commanded. “Forgive​​ him and​​ your stepmother​​ if you ever want to be forgiven yourself; if you ever want to know​​ divine​​ love.”

“No.​​ Never.”

“Who​​ introduced you to​​ Metallica​​ then​​ took you​​ to your first concert​​ ever, a Metallica concert?”

It was his father but Walter stayed silent.

“Who taught​​ you​​ how to tie your shoes,” she continued, “and is the reason why you still bunny ear instead of loop and swoop?​​ Who taught you the habit of​​ ironing​​ your clothes,​​ how to​​ whistle, how to​​ blow a bubblegum bubble?”

He​​ suddenly​​ remembered it was his stepmother.​​ There had been​​ some​​ moments​​ when​​ she was more mother than monster in the beginning.​​ Agape,​​ Walter​​ turned​​ to Beatrice.

Who are you,​​ really?​​ he asked.

“Forgive them.”

“Okay, fine.​​ I suppose there were some moments​​ when​​ they​​ attempted to care,​​ especially in the beginning​​ before​​ the​​ drinking fully took​​ hold . . .​​ And​​ I suppose​​ you’re right.​​ There’s no way to​​ forgive myself without forgiving​​ them because​​ a part of me is them​​ . . .​​ I forgive you Dad. I forgive you L-L-Lilith.”

Walter shuttered.​​ He hadn’t uttered his stepmother’s name​​ in over​​ fifteen​​ years.​​ Once she stopped calling him by name, it gave him a reason to do the same, and his​​ names for her were just as bad if not worse​​ as hers for him:​​ bitch,​​ cunt,​​ the pretty witch,​​ mother monster. At times, he really did​​ everything​​ he​​ could to antagonize​​ not only her hatred for him, but​​ her alcoholism.​​ Now fault didn’t seem as easy to place. But blame is hardly ever​​ shared​​ alone and​​ sometimes just as much​​ in our control​​ as fate.​​ What we do have control over, however,​​ is forgiveness.

“I forgive you,” Walter continued. “I forgive you!”

“You are forgiven,” Beatrice said, and immediately​​ after a weight seemed to lift from his chest, a burden he’d grown so used to carrying he thought it was a part of him. Looking into her eyes with awe, he saw someone he knew he knew but he couldn’t explain why.

Now​​ will​​ you​​ tell me who you are,”​​ he​​ asked,​​ who you​​ really​​ are?”​​ 

“I am no one​​ because I am not one,”​​ she replied​​ still transfixed on the mirror. “However,​​ you can call me Fate​​ if you​​ would​​ like. But​​ truthfully, I’m just​​ someone who wants to help you find divine love.​​ However clever it’s been disguised,​​ it is waiting for you.”

“Where?”

“A​​ place​​ only you can reach​​ within your heart,​​ but​​ I’m here to​​ take​​ you​​ to​​ the​​ next part. But we must​​ go soon. Sunset is approaching.”​​ She​​ then​​ reattached​​ the mask to Walter’s face. “Casanova​​ must also come​​ along​​ though. And masks​​ must​​ stay on​​ until I tell​​ you​​ to take them off.​​ If​​ we’re not careful,​​ it​​ could​​ cost us​​ our lives​​ also.”

 

After masking herself​​ in​​ a​​ gold, long-beaked​​ “plague doctor” mask, Beatrice put on a black,​​ full-body,​​ hooded robe and had Walter​​ do​​ the same. She then took his hand and told him, “Don’t let go,” and​​ led him out of the shop to a nearby​​ private​​ dock on the Grand Canal. There, a gondolier​​ in a black toga she addressed as​​ Marcus was​​ waiting, standing​​ atop an all-black, dragon-looking gondola with an enclosed cabin, or​​ what Beatrice called a​​ “felze”.​​ Apparently almost​​ all gondolas used to have felzes before their primary purpose was toting around tourists.​​ Inside the​​ red​​ velvet-lined​​ felze, a bottle of​​ wine and a bucket of oysters were​​ waiting for them.

“Is​​ this​​ gondola always stocked with oysters and wine?” Walter asked​​ after they sat and​​ Beatrice poured him a glass.

“Oh​​ yes,” she said. “A gondola ride wouldn’t be complete without them.”

 “Well,​​ santé,” Walter said taking the glass, then began removing his mask.

“No, no,” Beatrice said stopping him. “The mask must stay on, even while you eat and drink. That is what the mask is designed for.”​​ 

“But you can’t​​ eat or​​ drink with your mask.”

“Because this​​ wine​​ and food​​ isn’t​​ for​​ me,​​ it’s for you, Casanova.”​​ 

“But what if you’re trying to poison me?”

“Well​​ I doubt it will make​​ a​​ difference.​​ You’ve been dead for​​ over two hundred years.”

 

After departing from the dock, Beatrice pulled open one​​ of​​ the curtained windows.​​ “Let​​ us​​ begin,”​​ she said.​​ “Do you recognize that palazzo out there?”​​ She pointed​​ to a three-story, cream-colored palace on the canal.​​ 

“Should I?” Walter​​ asked, still confused as to who he was supposed to be.

“That is the​​ Palazzo Malipiero, former home of Senator Alvise Malipiero, and site of your first seduction. The senator took you in as a fifteen-year-old protégé and taught you all the customs of high society until you were caught ‘exploring the differences between bodies’ with his seventeen-year-old love interest​​ and he expelled you out of the house…”

As they pushed down​​ the Grand Canal,​​ Beatrice​​ continued​​ filling​​ Walter​​ in on landmarks​​ and transgressions​​ of his possessor’s life​​ until​​ reaching​​ the Rialto Bridge​​ where they​​ turned around.

“More wine​​ signore?”​​ Beatrice​​ said, pouring without permission.

“I guess so,”​​ Walter​​ replied amused and red-lipped​​ beneath his mask. She’d already emptied half a bottle into him and mouth-fed him a dozen​​ or so​​ oysters. He’d never felt more lavished on in his life.

Coming out of the Grand Canal​​ and skirting along the Venetian coast, lined with​​ more​​ cream-colored palazzos​​ that were turning pink​​ in the twilight light, Beatrice​​ shouted out the window,​​ Marcus, prendere​​ noi sotto il Ponte dei Sospiri !

Si mama.​​ Summum virtutum.

“Sunset​​ is coming,” she said to Walter, aka Casanova. “Our date with fate is almost here.”

Turning​​ into the​​ Rio del Palazzo​​ canal, they sailed​​ under​​ the​​ people-packed​​ Ponte della Paglia​​ footbridge, then approached another much higher, ivory-white and ornately-decorated​​ footbridge​​ connecting two buildings.

The Bridge of Sighs...” Beatrice said​​ pointing to it as the boat coasted beneath it, joining a hoard of other gondolas,​​ ...our final destination and​​ one​​ of the most famous sights in all of Venice. It connects the interrogation rooms in the Doge's Palace to the​​ palace​​ prison. And according to legend, as prisoners would cross, they would look out onto beautiful Venice one last time and ‘sigh’ before being taken to their cells.​​ In 1755, arrested for blasphemy, freemasonry, magic, and of course fornication,​​ you yourself walked across this bridge​​ Casanova.​​ But​​ instead of being put in the​​ regular prison cells, you were​​ instead​​ held​​ in a collection of cells called ‘The Leads’ directly beneath the palace roof. Because the roof was lined with lead slabs, these cells were very hot in the summer and ice-cold in the winter, and​​ also thought to be inescapable. But on the night of the 31st​​ of October 1756,​​ you proved that to be untrue​​ by prying off one of the​​ slabs​​ and escaping through the roof​​ in a tale that would later become one of​​ your​​ bestsellers.  ​​​​ 

You​​ then fled to Paris where​​ you​​ would later make a fortune by inventing the first state lottery, a fortune which would be wasted away like all​​ your​​ fortunes, to gambling. But being a prolific polymath,​​ you​​ always managed to climb​​ your​​ way back into status and wealth through a variety of occupations and​​ sometimes questionable​​ ventures. In​​ your​​ seventy-three years alive,​​ you were​​ an abbot, lawyer, officer in the Venetian army, theater violinist, diplomat, mathematician, spy, alchemist, Freemason, cardsharp, magician, faith healer, actor, a​​ famous​​ playwright, duelist, physician, and​​ librarian.​​ You were​​ fluent in Italian, French, Latin, and Greek, and​​ proficient​​ in​​ German, English, and Russian.​​ You​​ discussed religion and philosophy with Voltaire, powered flight with Ben Franklin, taxation with Fredrick the Great, and bringing the Russian calendar in sync with the rest of Europe with Catherine the Great.​​ You were​​ also good friends with Lorenzo Da Ponte, Mozart’s favorite librettist, and may have served as the inspiration for​​ Don Giovanni, possibly even writing some of it​​ yourself. You wrote​​ forty-two books which included a history of Poland and the Venetian government, a modern Italian translation of Homer’s Iliad, a five-volume science-fiction novel,​​ Isocameron, which predicted the motorcar,​​ airplane,​​ and television, and of course​​ your​​ twelve-volume, thirty-five-hundred-page autobiography,​​ Histoire de ma vie, which​​ you are​​ most​​ famous and infamous for.

“Casanova, you​​ could have been an​​ Enlightenment​​ icon had​​ you not let lust get the best of you.​​ But​​ you always​​ blamed​​ your​​ insatiable sex drive​​ on​​ your​​ insatiable curiosity for human nature, reasoning​​ the bedroom offered no better view into it. Old, young, fat, skinny, royals, nobles, nuns, slaves, whores, virgins, even a few men and transvestites,​​ you​​ bed them all. But they weren’t all merely conquests.​​ You​​ actually fell in love​​ quite​​ easily and often.​​ You liked​​ to satisfy and be satisfied intellectually as well as sexually by​​ your​​ partners, and in a time when women were second-class citizens,​​ you​​ saw​​ them as equals.​​ You were​​ attentive and appreciative​​ in your lovemaking, and at times, supported​​ your​​ lovers financially and became a lifetime confidant.​​ 

However​​ Casanova,​​ your name​​ didn’t become synonymous with womanizer by accident.​​ Some of​​ your​​ most​​ notorious​​ exploits include: losing​​ your​​ virginity to two sisters at the same time; bedding and having a child with a castrato singer whom was thought to be a boy, but was in fact a girl using a fake penis; having a ménage​​ à trois with two nuns; sleeping with five sisters in exchange for saving their mother from financial ruin; and probably​​ your​​ most repulsive achievement, almost marrying​​ your​​ own daughter whom​​ you​​ unknowingly conceived with a former lover, only to later bed her and her mother at the same time, although​​ you​​ did say​​ you​​ left​​ your​​ virgin daughter ‘intact’ for whatever that’s worth.

“Casanova, you stand guilty of gluttonous lust, a lust whose winds have reigned over you for nearly three​​ centuries. But now​​ you​​ have​​ an opportunity​​ to​​ finally escape the slavery of your lust,​​ to find divine love, what you always sought but never found in life. If you accept this invitation, kiss me at sunset and your true love will be revealed . . . The time is now,” she said touching Walter.

“Time for what?”​​ he​​ said confused.

“To take off your mask and kiss me, that is if you’re​​ ready.​​ Love isn’t always​​ who​​ you think it​​ should be. Once in a while it’s in the​​ strangest of places.”

Walter’s head turned sideways pondering who was really speaking behind that golden bird beak.

“I’m not kissing you until you tell me who you​​ really​​ are and what’s really going on,” he said.​​ Plus,​​ I heard​​ being granted eternal love by​​ kissing​​ someone​​ at sunset under the Bridge of Sighs was just some bullshit legend told to​​ tourists.

“I told you​​ already, you can call me Fate.​​ As far as who I really am, you can only discover that by taking off my mask.​​ But yours has​​ to come off first.”

“Fine,” he said and​​ reached behind his head and removed the mask. Beatrice gasped behind her​​ beak.

“What?” he asked.

“It’s not for your knowing, just as what you see when you take off my mask is not for my knowing.”

Slightly trembling, his hands removed her mask only​​ to​​ discover​​ Beatrice​​ grinning. Although a part of him wished for Shiva, he was also relieved reality was behaving as it should.​​ Besides, Beatrice​​ really was​​ beautiful, a beauty he could stand for an eternity​​ if that’s what​​ it​​ meant. But truthfully,​​ he had no clue what​​ anything​​ meant​​ anymore.

He​​ then​​ noticed​​ a​​ large gap between​​ her​​ front teeth​​ he didn’t remember seeing before, but​​ she hadn’t​​ spent a lot of time​​ full-teeth grinning​​ before then​​ either.​​ Regardless,​​ he leaned forward and lips met, then​​ tongues​​ began dancing​​ until​​ something bristly​​ began tickling his​​ upper​​ lip.​​ He opened his eyes to find​​ Beatrice had​​ grown a​​ mustache. Then as his eyes adjusted,​​ he realized it wasn’t Beatrice​​ behind that mustache. It was​​ Dug.

“Ah!” Walter screamed and pushed Dug back into the seat​​ across from him, but by then he had already morphed back into Beatrice. “Ah! Ah! Ah!” Walter kept screaming.

“You didn’t like what you saw I see,” Beatrice said straightening​​ herself out after being thrown.

“I’m sorry.​​ No, not​​ at all what I was expecting.”

“Often​​ divine​​ love isn’t what you expect.”

“But you don’t understand. I saw—”​​ She​​ covered his mouth.

“I told you,” she said, “what you saw is not for my knowing,​​ or anyone else’s knowing. You must keep it to yourself and only to yourself, otherwise​​ neither of us will find divine love. And believe​​ me,​​ I’ve been waiting a long time. Centuries you could say.”

“Wait,​​ are you—”

She​​ covered​​ his​​ mouth again and smiled. She then brought her index finger to her lips and winked.

“Just keep our little adventure​​ today to yourself,” she said.​​ “It’s in your​​ best interest and mine.​​ Not like anyone​​ will believe you​​ anyway.”​​ 

 

Back​​ at​​ the​​ boat​​ dock,​​ Walter and Beatrice shared​​ one​​ last kiss, this time with no mustache,​​ before she stepped back onto the boat. She​​ said​​ there was somewhere she needed to​​ be​​ soon, and so did he. His​​ ferry back to​​ the Italian mainland​​ where he and his fellow Contikians were​​ camped​​ in a village of mobile home trailers was​​ departing​​ shortly.​​ 

As the​​ gondola​​ withdrew​​ into the Venetian Lagoon,​​ from the bow of the black dragon,​​ Casanova’s death mask in one hand, the other waving goodbye and blowing him kisses,​​ Beatrice​​ shrank​​ into the​​ darkening​​ horizon​​ until​​ at last she touched​​ the​​ sky​​ and disappeared into it.​​ 

 

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