The phone rang. Annella answered. Elio stopped in the hallway to listen, to see if perhaps it was for him, an admissions person at one of the colleges he had applied to.
“Ah, I see. Well, Mr Stern was only visiting for the summer, last year. Yes. No. No, we most certainly don’t expect him back,” she said.
“Maman!” Elio said.
Annella hissed him quiet.
“Maman!” Elio tried again. “Is that the bank?”
“Excuse me for just a minute,” Annella said, and covered the receiver.
“Is that the bank?” Elio repeated.
“Yes. They’re closing Oliver’s account,” Annella said.
“I want the money,” Elio said.
Annella and Elio looked at each other. Sometimes they seemed to communicate via telepathy. They were very, very alike.
“Yes, I’ll be around at noon,” Annella said, into the phone, and after a few parting pleasantries, she hung up.
“What are you going to do, picino?” Annella asked, just for confirmation.
“I don’t know yet, Maman,” Elio said.
“What about school?” she asked.
“I think I should take a gap year,” Elio said.
His mother didn’t like it. But it wasn’t a surprise. She nodded.
Elio had tried to forget Roy, but he felt so close, just over his shoulder like a guiding genius. He could feel Roy’s presence with him in Milan, a city they had never visited together, where Elio had lived all his life before they met. It was changed now, Elio was changed. Now, when he felt boys like him noticing him, he didn’t shrink into himself. He talked to them, he flirted, he had given his number away a few times but he hadn’t been on any dates, just yet. Still, he could tell that people knew about him, and he knew about them, too. He could feel Roy over his shoulder, smirking with the beautiful, arrogant cowboy face, saying, ‘Go for it!’, ‘Score!’ or something comparably American.
Some of his school friends went out to a club that wasn’t officially a gay club, but no one was fussed if two guys, two girls, or some tangle of many people who for the length of a song seemed wildly in love danced together. He didn’t hang back, smoking, as he had that summer. He danced, thinking of the way Roy had danced to the Psychedelic Furs.
For a while, becoming him was something of a substitute for being with him.
But, not forever.
When his family returned to the villa for Christmas/ Chanukah, their mail was waiting for them. Amongst the letters and cards and requests from his father’s students and colleagues was Roy’s manuscript about Heraclitus.
“Are you going to have it published?” Elio asked.
“Under what name? For what purpose?” his father asked, and he didn’t sound sharp and bitter, but genuinely at a loss. Roy had broken his father’s heart with his brilliance. He had always hoped for such a student, and would probably never find one again. How did a boy from a dusty corner of Texas whose only talents seem to be lying, gambling, and sex know Ancient Greek, Latin and philosophy? It was a mystery to them all.
“And this is your’s I think,” Professor Perlman said. He handed Elio the Monet stamp from his wall. He had noticed it was gone, and didn’t mind the idea that Roy had stolen it. Elio had Billowy, his espadrilles, his sunshades, and his red swimming shorts, after all. Fair enough.
Beneath Maynard’s “Think of me someday,” Oliver had written “1816 Cor Cordium”
1816. It didn’t mean anything to Elio at first. His aunts, uncles, and cousins flooded the house, as usual he felt patronized by his older relatives and annoyed by the noise of his younger cousins and shocked at the resentments of the cousins around his age. His aunts and uncles must have beat them over the head with him all year: Elio is so clever, so well behaved, so talented, why can’t you……. If that was the case, he understood their need to compete with and subtly shame him. He was playing Satie, and as usual thoughts of summer were playing in the back of his head, like a film being projected on a screen. He didn’t fight them. Even before they knew Oliver was Roy his father had advised him to feel it all, and he did. He thought of the fields, forests, and orchard in summer that was now covered in snow and frost, and he remembered talking about Percy Bysshe Shelley with Oliver. Cor cordium….
1816. The year without a summer, during which Mary Shelley had written the first draft of Frankenstein. Though he had later died in Italy, the Shelleys had spent the summer of 1816 in Switzerland. Roy was trying to tell him he was in Switzerland.
Elio stopped playing. “Goose,” he said, shaking his head. Roy knew quite well they lived in Milan for most of the year. He must have their address in the city! Why send the manuscript to the villa? Unless, he wasn’t in Switzerland when he sent the manuscript, knew that Elio would see it during Chanukah, and was letting him know he would be in Switzerland around that time. Where? Why else reference Shelley if it was not Lake Geneva?
He had eight days to get away. And now, he had the money to do it, without alerting his father to what he was doing. Life was strange.
“What will you say to him?” His mother asked, as they left the bank.
“I don’t know if I’m right,” Elio said.
“It’s a reasonable assumption. You think like him. He thinks like you,” she said.
“Should I be insulted?” Elio said.
“Not at all, tresor,” she said. “We are all meant to love someone. We don’t choose for ourselves.”
“No? Did you choose Papa?” Elio said.
“He chose me,” Annella said. “And I accepted him. It’s different for us.”
“Because you’re not in love?” Elio said.
“Your father is a very loving man. And he was every bit as fond of our summer guest as you were,” Annella said.
“I see,” Elio said, soaking this all in.
His father had all but admitted that he was attracted to men, but had never had an affair like the one Elio had enjoyed with Roy/Oliver. Now, he understood all the better what his father had meant when he said he envied him. Elio almost wished it had happened for him, as Professor Perlman must have wished it-he the doting older lover, Roy the enthralled and enchanted young acolyte bringing new passion to an old man ,student and teacher, lover and lover. But, Elio knew how much loving Roy had changed him. His father had chosen his life, what would such a disruptive love make of his choices. Did he truly have the will to start over? Elio knew his youth was an advantage. He’d go to Lake Geneva, and he had the heart and the will to chase Roy Wilkes Booth all over the globe for the rest of his life, if need be. Like Frankenstein’s monster had pursued him, just wanting to be seen and loved by the man who created him.
“I didn’t know you were such a fanboy,” Cristina said. They had some “time off” again. Pierrot was sniffing around a buyer for the Poison Book, and seemed to feel this one would be a long courtship. Mores the better for Roy was still scouring his sources-mostly Victorian historians’ accounts of the Renaissance and is sinister decadence, but also Huysman and Wilde. He had read “Salome” backwards and forwards, for its long monologues about the various jewels Salome promised the prophet if he would only abandon God and love her. He needed to catch the rhythm of seduction, its slithering music.
In the meantime, winter had fallen. His skin was paler, his hair was darker, and yet he still expected to wake up every morning and head down to the Perlmans’ pool. He felt like Oliver in a Roy skin. He could feel Elio remembering him, it felt like they were calling out to each other across the moors like Cathy and Heathcliff. He whispered “Elio, Elio, Elio,” under his breath in idle moments.
Soon, he reminded himself. Elio was a smart boy-he’d figure it out. He just had to wait for him in the right place, and that place was the Villa Diodati.
Cristina thought he was obsessed with Lord Byron.
“Byron was a hack. Even he admitted Keats was better,” he said.
“Keats thought he was a fool,” Cristina said.
“And he didn’t trust Shelley,” Roy said. He could get along with Keats-a dilettante boxer, working class boy who put himself through college, a morbid romantic, suspicious of the rich. Hell, Elio would like him, too. If John Keats stayed at the Perlmans’ villa for the summer, Elio would have fallen in love with him.
“Why this place, Roy?” Cristina said. She said it exactly like the Spanish word for king. That’s why their song was “Your Love is King” by Sade. They had a song-he really did love her, and hadn’t told her a damn thing about Elio.
“I always wanted to see it. That’s what money’s for, Crissy-to make your dreams come true! Oh, and to send to your mom. What the Hell else is it for?” he said.
Cristina smiled. The Villa Diodati, it was.