It is not the sort of place one typically finds me. But, it is where the people go. I had decided to wander amongst them. I had been told by the wife of the man who tends our gardens that of the markets of Florence, Piazza S. Lorenzo boasts the most delicate swatches of intricately hand-woven cloth of all Italia. For his birthday, Roberto’s mother had sewn, day and night, a table cloth of many colors and fabrics. Mama G—saw poorly during the day and even worse during the night. Two nights after her death, I gave the table cloth to her maid for her years of service and sent her on her way to make her fortune elsewhere. Finally, after two years of marriage, I am the woman of the house.
So, I needed a new table cloth for the main dining room and knew of no better place to find one suited to the task. When I arrived, it was barely dawn, yet every beggar, hag and orphan had a bauble to trade or a story to tell. Upon every rickety table, within each dank crevice, and across each wobbly threshold, crosses, beads, scarves, bags, fruits, vegetables, trinkets, spices; every ill-conceived convenience and cheap inconvenience, could be had for a lire or more.
I had wandered nearly an hour looking for a cloth of a certain pattern and distinction. The sun was high when I found it, finally. It was of the lightest cream and burnt beige. It was intricately woven with worn stones for an elegant, earthen appeal to the senses. And, it was in the hands of another.
“I have been here for hours and yours is the most pleasant face I have seen thus far,” I said. I had merely whispered her name when Maria twirled to face me. We gathered in a long embrace, as if we were friends when in fact, we are not.
“S. I have not seen you since dear S. G’s funeral. You have been missed at church.”
Maria spends day and night in church. In youth, we competed in all categories befitting ladies of our class. Beauty, grace, education, opportunity; I won them all. Religion was the only category I cared not win.
“How is Brother Roberto? He has always been terribly close to his mother.” There was a time Maria had eyed Roberto for herself, but the opportunity for her to let it be known to him, did not itself present. Rather, I also had my eye on Roberto and as I had older brothers with whom he was acquainted, the opportunity presented itself often for me to let him know of my interest.
Roberto was not an attractive boy and is not an attractive man. He is, however, very wealthy. My daughters and sons will have every convenience, as I now enjoy. Roberto is generous with his mistress as well, as I am generous with my lover, thanks to Roberto.
“And, how is the Father?” I have heard rumors of convents and wondered if they were true.
“Oh, praise his holy name, why just today—“
“What a beautiful cloth,” I interrupted. I had little interest in the church and spent only as much time as my title demanded in them.
“Reading the bible by candlelight has caused Sister L. to go blind, the delicate strands of this cloth, the mixture of strength and innocence, she will surely love this cloth.”
A cloth such as this is wasted if no one can see it, I thought.
“I have given the table cloth Dear Roberto’s mother made with her brittle fingers to her girl for her years of dedication.” It was mostly true. By now all of Florence knew the girl’s services were not needed a moment after the S.’s funeral. I suggested she vacate her rooms before the family returned from the cemetery, she did.
“If it will make Roberto’s burden easier to bear, you should have this cloth.”
The old woman of the table frowned. She had openly listened to our conversation and seemed to favor Maria’s nun.
“This cloth is for comfort, not for table,” she said. She crossed her arms as if she had determined who would be the buyer.
“How much is it?” I asked. She named a price Maria could not afford. It was worth it, to be sure, but even I did not want to pay such a price for a shabby piece of cloth. But, I did. Maria watched the old woman’s gnarled, thick fingers delicately fold the cloth into careful, equal sections. The woman wrapped the cloth within tissue and presented it to me as if I had won some great contest.
I accepted, paid and gave the cloth to Maria.
I never endeavored to be holy.