From the Sky - Part III

Contorni - Pomodori


My Aunt Zia used to paint. She was quite good, and a serious student of the art. Or as serious a student as she could be, considering the hours she had to put in at the family bakery. She actually sold some of her pieces, and you can find a few of them hanging on the walls of Walnutwood General Hospital. Near the X-Ray department there's a painting of a sunset over jagged mountains, the sky ablaze with amazing streaks of purples and reds. In the main lobby there's another, a painting of the original hospital, a plain, rectangular two story wooden building that stood until 1910. I've heard that back then people donated sacks of vegetables or maybe a ton of coal in the winter to keep the place going. Imagine that! Try paying for surgery with a bag of potatoes these days, and they'll zip you right up to the psychiatric ward. Or sick the lawyers on you. My Dad told me that Aunt Zia painted that one only after spending hours and hours studying countless drawings and photographs of the old hospital. She would bring them down to the bakery in a leather portfolio and sketch from them every spare second she could find.

In the emergency room waiting area there's one last painting: a portrait of the hospital's founder, a severe and humorless-looking fellow. Yet Zia somehow gave his eyes a touch of warmth that takes the hard edge off his countenance. When I fell out of Uncle Gio's tree, I sat under that portrait until it was time to have my wrist set. It gave me comfort when my father pointed to the picture, to the small 'Zia' in thin, fragile silver letters in the bottom right corner of the painting.

Aunt Zia was in Europe when I fell from the tree. She went there every spring until about five years ago, when she suddenly stopped. "There's nothing left to see," was her only explanation. What a curious statement! All of Europe, and nothing to see? But when Aunt Zia closes a door, it stays closed, locked tight, with the key hidden away.

When I broke my wrist she was in Prague. She never went to Italy, not once. "I'm in Italy every day," she would say when asked. So she went everywhere else: Ireland, Germany, France, England, Czechoslovakia, Russia and even once to Albania. She visited scores of museums and galleries over the years. She sent us postcards of paintings and sculpture by the masters, a note about each piece scribbled on the back with a thin, sweeping 'Z' as her signature. When she got home, she would talk for hours about Da Vinci, Rembrandt, Dali …she is passionate about art, though she stopped painting herself many years ago. Her sisters say that after what happened between Grandfather and Uncle Gio, Aunt Zia never put brush to canvas again. It's guilt, they say. But I suspect she still paints a bit. Sometimes I will see a stray drop of color on her arm or a fingernail, even a shoe once. I don't think she's painting her den burnt sienna or Prussian blue. When something is truly in your blood, I don't think you can just put it under lock and key. It would likely drive you mad. My Aunt Zia is unique, but certainly not mad.

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