My Stranger Beloved

My Stranger Beloved
by vicky eleen

When she left home for Venice, her grandmother said, “….don’t ever think that you could love strangers, Catriana. When you leave home they are everywhere.” She never understood why her grandmother would say a thing like that, but knowing that her granny was well advanced in years and had known the world better, she kept that reminder with her as she went.

One day after she had studied a year in Venice, she graced the Masquerade Carnival in the city, the only one she would be able to see, for she was leaving soon. She looked radiant in a beautiful debutante costume and a mardi-gras mask. It was the last day of the carnival, and the hour had just signaled midnight. The fireworks had just began their display, amidst the rustling voices of the crowd. She wandered through the carnival alone, her eyes illuminated by the sparkling sky. She didn’t know how far she walked, gazing at the heavens and traipsing through the carnival, looking for a quiet space to enjoy the remains of the night. Suddenly, she found herself across a lovely garden in a deserted square. Barely noticing that it had been quiet now, she heard music that seemed to come from afar. A waltz. Smiling softly to herself, she closed her eyes and began to dance in the moonlight. Just as she had done so, she noticed a man looking at her, right in the middle of the square. He was also fully disguised, wearing a beautiful mask of silver and pale blue and donning elegant evening clothes. He didn’t say a word but he approached her, and with a bow, invited her for a dance.

She bowed gracefully back and they began to waltz, in the middle of this little square, alone, nearly in darkness. It was a long beautiful waltz. They held each other’s gaze and their touch was a caress. The music seemed to follow them along in perfect rhythm. She closed her eyes and thought that if a moment could last forever, she would choose this. Yet, as suddenly as the dance began, the cathedral chimes rang signaling the end of the carnival. They stopped dancing, and Catriana bowed, turned back and started on her way, leaving without a word.

She had only gone a few steps when she turned and looked back behind her, to look at him a last time. She found herself gazing back at those eyes… burning her, calling her back. Without warning, she ran towards him, and as she reached him he took off his mask, and she saw the most beautiful dazzling eyes she had ever seen in her life. And then, they kissed. He led her slowly to the cathedral as snow began to fall. Inside, amidst the clanging bells he whispered, “marry me.” She answered “yes”. And then she laughed loudly…. “no, this is crazy, Venice and its magic…I don’t even know your name”.

He moved forward, looked straight into her eyes and kissed her passionately. “I am Alessandro. I don’t need to know your name, or to realize that after tonight I could lose you. But this I know, earlier when we danced, you stole my heart, and forever my love will be with you.”

That was the last time she saw Alessandro. She left him standing on the cathedral’s steps that wistful magical night, confused, dazzled, and … in-love. She hoped that he would follow her but when she turned to look, there was no one, no one except the pale white covered streets where the snow had fallen quickly, while she gambled with her heart and lost.

Many nights had passed and she wondered if it had been a dream. “Alessandro… why wouldn’t you come get me?” She had never even given him her name. Why hadn’t he followed her? Why had she even ran away? She remembered vividly how she braced the freezing snow and returned to the cathedral that night, but he was gone. She had gone back to the square where they danced, but he wasn’t there. In daylight she searched for his face in the crowd at the square where the carnival was held that lovely night. She walked along those streets almost a thousand times, but he was nowhere. No clue. The river itself would be shamed at the tears she shed for this beloved stranger.

She was sick with love, it was almost tragic. Still, she consoled herself, finally understanding the glory of loving and loss. She came to Venice as a dreamer, but she would leave it a believer of dreams. She had come empty, needing to be filled, but here too, a part of herself would be left behind. Would he ever bring it back to her? In a few days she would leave Venice and all its pain and sweetness, and go back to America. On her last night, and her last attempt at finding her man, she set out to do the only thing that she thought would get him back. “Alessandro, if you don’t find me tonight, then you would know where to find me tomorrow”.

At nightfall, a beautiful woman in a carnival gown and a mask was sitting and waiting at the square. She held in her hands, a red rose tied with a black bow and on it a small ribbon held her university ring, and her picture signed only as “Catriana”.

The woman stood and walked around the square, hopeful everytime somebody walked by. Once or twice passersby would ask each other who she was, and once or twice, they would wonder why she seemed to be in tears.

At exactly midnight, the woman rose and went over to a corner, towards a small box she had brought. Waltz music began to fill the blackness of the night, and the woman began to dance…. alone. With her eyes closed, she danced and reminisced the softness of her stranger’s touch, the sparkle of his eyes, the grace of his limbs…the night they danced.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, a shadow appeared behind her. As she gasped and turned around, she saw a man wearing a mask, and underneath, the most loving beautiful eyes she had ever seen. Realization could not break the silence between these two creatures… if only eyes could utter the love that was expressed in its gaze, no lovesong would equal the intensity of its expression. She saw him, at last, her beloved stranger.

And then they kissed, a sweet, hungry kiss of both passion and forgiveness. “I thought…” she began. “No, forgive me, my sweet love. I thought you didn’t want me, since you left and ran away…” he explained. “I thought you would follow, I came back, you were gone…why didn’t you try to find me?” she cried. And he answered, “I was engaged to marry someone else I didn’t love. It was my family’s wishes. Tomorrow would have been our wedding. Until I heard that a crazy woman in a gown and mask was dancing in the square tonight! I rushed over here immediately. And I found you.” she bent over to try and kiss her once more, but she interrupted… “And so what about…. her?” she asked. “Her? … she… she was the one who told me that a crazy woman was dancing in the square tonight.” He smiled then, and she kissed him back this time, not only with all the love her heart could hold, but also with the perfection of belief, that given the same blessing she was bestowed, one could indeed, love a perfect stranger.

written by Vicky, 2001

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