part I: chapter 1

Gaia Bragadin watched the lagoon dotted with posts that marked what in any other city would be considered streets through the vaporetto’s window while desperately trying to stay awake. Monday had chosen to use wailing of sirens to wake her up at an ungodly hour – half past four in the morning. The dreadful sound meant only one thing – the sea was coming to inspect its city. That wasn’t a surprise. Gaia had seen the water level rise the night before when she was returning home from something that might count as a date in certain people’s minds. The level announcement had followed – two tones this time. So boot day it is. And with that thought she had gone back to sleep only to have panic yank her from sleep a few hours later. She had almost slept in.

Soundtrack: Olafur Arnalds “Only the winds” (click here to listen)

When she had gotten out of bed this morning and opened the window and the dark green blinds Gaia had been slammed in the face by a cold wind doing its best impersonation of a hurricane and equally cold rain. After a few seconds she had been standing in a small puddle with her naked feet.

Now raindrops falling against the glass made her shiver. Enzo had made some remark about how wise it would be to take an umbrella – just in case, he had emphasized – but she had refused, declaring umbrellas silly, and now paid the price by getting soaked in the Venetian winter’s drizzle that slowly turned her woolen hat into a sponge-like thing.

Gaia disembarked the vaporetto at San Toma’ and headed in the direction of the Frari basilica observing the early morning hustle. She loved Venice when it was like this – busy with its day-to-day errands but lacking the obnoxiousness of crowds of noisy and nosy tourists. There was something reassuring about winter’s Venice that made her feel the city was real now, while in summer Gaia always got a feeling that the city had fled, leaving in its place a cardboard double that passed for the real thing to the clueless crowds of daytrippers.

Gaia closed her eyes, walking in the winter’s drizzle and suddenly remembered another rain – heavy and warm summer rain falling from angry dark sky, filling her as though she was a vessel, cleansing her from the sticky and stiflingly overheated jasmine sweetness of the day. She recalled the first weeks, even months after moving to live in the city had been petrifying. She would mostly sit in her room and listen to the sounds of the streets invading her room through the open window – voices of people passing by, dogs barking, bells ringing – and she felt petrified. The idea of going out there where there was so much life caused her paralyzing fear. After all she had spent most of her adult life in a society where people ignored one another at point blank range, where nobody asked politely for anything. They just pushed and shoved. Here everything was different. People were open. They talked to each other and to her. That was unbearable. However, the air here was soothing. It somehow dissolved her fear. There were people who claimed it stank. Fools. The air was fragrant and sweet and delicious here. It was intoxicating, with a hint of saltiness, a gift from the sea, kissed by the sun.

Gaia tucked her hands into the pockets of her coat and her fingers brushed against a piece of paper in one of them. She took it out, read the words scribbled inside the note folded in half and chuckled under her breath. It was a reminder of her last night’s encounter. An encounter that she could tell brought along hopes of something more as far as the other party was concerned. Hopes she did her best not to encourage. Not that she didn’t like the other party involved – a Venetian by the name of Sebastiano with dark hair tamed into a wild do and accompanied by oh-so-charming smile that would have made her knees weak once.

Last night she had teased him about the annual nonsense that was the calendar of gondoliers, regretting it a second later. “Are you part of it?” she had asked, unable to believe the unexpectedly daring tone her voice had taken on. Flirting with him or anyone at all was the last thing on her list of interests and things to do.

“Would you want me to be?” The look in his green eyes had matched the tone of her voice to perfection. Gaia shivered at the thought. No, no, no, a thousand times no! She didn’t need this. Didn’t want this. She was not a girl for this type of a guy, and he was not right for her. He wanted to stand out of the crowd, she was all about staying low key and being invisible.

The metal blinds of the mask studio were already up, which meant Lucrezia had arrived before her. Merda.

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