America Doesn’t Exist
Maria didn’t read the papers; otherwise, the next day, she would have read about the accident that had made her and her brother, Nicola, orphans. Who could say how she might have reacted to the dramatic, utterly fantastic description of the car rolling over. And who knows what she would have thought of the final comment of the reporter, who, after his account of her parents’ death, mentioned her name and Nicola’s, in order to explain to his readers, all choked up, that two adolescents had been “left alone in the world.”
She hadn’t imagined the accident at all. It was her brother who asked the police for details, though he hadn’t found out much. Judging from the marks on the asphalt, the car had swerved, then it must have rolled over at least twice before catching fire. The bodies were burned. The woman was clutching her husband’s arm.
Nicola hoped that his parents had died before the car burst into flames, and he had wept profusely; the night of the funeral he decided that from nothing they had returned to nothing. If the fire that consumed them hadn’t come to his mind he would have said that they were ashes and to ashes they had returned, as he had learned from the priests at school.
Maria—no, she hadn’t wept. Not even when she saw the coffins sealed and then, later, in church, the incense wafting over the biers. And yet she loved her parents: they had died young, and she would never see them again. They had given her life. Maybe that was why she didn’t cry, and in fact felt she ought to be thankful for having had them with her for seventeen years.
No one paid much attention to the fact that she was silent. The friends of the family were used to it. She didn’t even notice this and went on thinking about whom she ought to thank.
The sea was blue, blue as she had never seen it before. But gray, too, when the sky turned dark. The sea scared her when it got angry and its waves assaulted the ship that was carrying them. The wind swirled spray up to the bridge, slapped anyone who would challenge its power, who insisted on forgetting we are a mere straw that, by some unknowable miracle, also has feelings.
But the captain was a confident man, who would never be frightened even by those white-foaming waves. He made the crossing often, and after a day of raging waves he showed her the marvel of the suddenly calm sea, and the sunset, which was red with shame at what nature tried to do to travelers. Or maybe not, maybe it wasn’t shame but amazement at its own spectacle.
He told her that there was nothing more beautiful in the world than the time of day when the sea takes on the color of wine, and explained how a poet had written that it is the hour when sailors’ hearts grow tender. She, too, felt that, and had for the whole journey.
Maria smiled at that robust, bearded man who for some reason had grown fond of her. She thought that there must exist something greater than nature, which kills with its waves and delights with its sunset. And then that she had lost her father a few days earlier but had already found another person who cheered her. Yes, when the ship docked she would lose track of the captain, but who could say how many other people she would meet. Certainly women, too, full of fun like her mother, who made her laugh even when they said their prayers before going to bed. Maybe life means losing something big and recovering it in many small pieces that make you feel you really haven’t lost anything.
The captain pointed to a spray that, rising out of the water, fractured the infinite calm of the sea. Maria watched the creature spellbound: it was as big as the house she would never see again. It was blue, like the sky of her town in April, like the cups her mother had bought so they could all have breakfast together.
She saw the tail rise and then sink into the wine-colored sea. Its disappearance left her dismayed for a moment. Down there, she thought, far below the surface, the light would vanish. Who knows if the creature was afraid, in those depths? No, it must be used to it. And then it had seen the sun. That’s why it sent up its spray.