I return to my work and, ignored, Donatella strolls to the French doors and stares through the rain-streaked panes of glass.
I move the saturated brush in one fluid stroke, lifting as I taper it and flick my wrist. The tip of the vine forms a delicate curlicue. Enough.
I dip the brush into my jar of water until it’s clean, and squeeze it to a point, and then I climb down to join Donatella. We wait to see Luca and Matteo settle the ancestor into his niche, and then leave together for lunch.
The clouds depart during the meal and the afternoon turns into such a crisp, perfect day that Donatella suggests an outing. She drives us to a mountain across the valley and parks at the bottom. The cutting wind reddens our cheeks and noses long before we reach the top. Evergreen shrubs grow there on the crest … full, bushy shrubs that are taller than I am. The branches are laden with white bell-shaped pods and fruits the size of ping-pong balls. Donatella calls them corbezzole. The fruits are round and dazzlingly red, with a lumpy texture.
Donatella plucks one and takes a bite, revealing juicy, bright yellow insides. She hands one to me. The taste is sweet, yet sharp.
“Vitamin C,” she explains.
We jump up to pull down the long branches, break them off, and gather them into huge armfuls.
Back at Villa Bella, I help arrange the branches in large vases on the floor in the sitting room. I carry some back to the millhouse, fill my bucket with water, and set the corbezzole in it just inside the front door. The hanging red balls and bell-shaped silvery pods remind me that Christmas isn’t far away.
Christmas without John?