It was 1936 and Antonio was enrolled at the Accademia Nazionale Di Arte Drammatica. He was twenty-two years old when he first met Rosa. She was the most beautiful girl he ever seen. One evening, after everyone retired, he accidentally walked in on Rosa rehearsing. He fell in love with her instantly. Antonio knew then he would make Rosa his, and after six months of asking, she finally accepted.
He strolled with her through his old neighborhood elbow to elbow under the pale streetlamps. He pointed up past some clotheslines filled with bed clothes and undergarments to a pair of open shudders.
“That’s where I grew up.” He said.
“Do your parents still live there? We should say hello.”
“No,” he said lowering his head. “My dad left before I was born, and my momma passed away three years ago.”
“I’m sorry Antonio, that must have been really hard for you.” She entwined her fingers through his and squeezed lightly to reassure him that she truly understood his loss.
A month later they were married. Over time they had three children and six grandchildren. They sat together in their garden on warm summer nights, admiring the lilies and violets in all their radiance. Antonio’s life seemed complete.
One morning Antonio awoke alone. “Rosa?” He called. There was no answer. He crawled out of bed, grabbed his cane and walked toward the open terrace. The birds were silent, and a light rain fell from the sky. He walked through the house searching each room. He reached the garden and saw Rosa sitting on the marble bench he made for her, she soaked up the falling rain like a sponge. Rosa’s once long brown hair now grey and matted stuck to her nightgown. She sat there un-moving, even when he called to her. Rosa stared blankly, as she hugged something in her lap.
“Rosa, what are you doing out here in the rain?” She said nothing. “Rosa?” Antonio took her by the shoulders and shook her, knocking loose the hidden items. He picked the small pile of papers up from the wet ground. They were letters of some sort.
Antonio tucked Rosa into their bed and sat in the chair next to her while she slept. He fumbled with the red ribbon that held together the letters. The one on top was dated June 1950.
“My Dearest Rosa,
I hate leaving you my dear. I wish we could spend every day together. Why have you not told Antonio about us yet? Do you not love me as I love you?
Antonio paged through the letters and chose one dated October 1956.
I cannot bear living without you. We belong together. Why do you stay with a man that you don’t love? I promise I will take care of you and Stephania. I miss you terribly.
He anxiously paged through the dates, 1962, 1968, 1977, 1980, and the last one was written in 1990. There were fifty years’ worth of letters in his hands. Rosa had an affair for forty years. And Stephania? Was she even his daughter? He had been a fool all this time.
Antonio pulled on his over coat and placed his hat over his bald head. He grabbed his cane and closed the bedroom door behind him. He strolled down the empty cobblestone road with only his thoughts condoning him. His head hung low as he realized his whole life had been a lie. How does one start over at seventy-nine years old?