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18

Elena led me from the gallery through a few smaller rooms to the other side of the palazzo. She opened a door using a set of keys.

Wow, I said, following her through the doorway.

She glanced around as if seeing what I was seeing-a series of rooms that led one to another. These rooms were also trimmed in gold and laden with paintings, many of them landscapes of Rome, but there was furniture, too. Yes, I was going to surprise you with this, she said. These are the private apartments of Princess Isabelle, one of the Colonna daughters. I was thrilled when I came to work here, because they made me think of you. She looked around a little more, and said distractedly, Part of Roman Holiday was filmed here. With Audrey Hepburn. But this is not important now. Let me show you something.

She drew me across the room. At the far end, the wall was painted with tiny strokes. When I looked closer, I saw it was a miniature frescoed ballroom scene.

What do you see? Elena said, pointing at the wall.

I looked from her to the wall and back again. What do you mean?

Do you see anything in particular? Anything special?

Its beautiful.

She nodded. It is that. But no, I want to show you something else. Something that is very special to me. She pointed toward a depiction of a woman in a pink flounced skirt, then reached out and touched the skirt. And suddenly the painting seemed to move. The skirt popped out in her hands.

Oh, I said, surprised.

Elena turned and smiled at my reaction, which made her appear younger, more carefree. Holding on to the skirt in the painting-the edge was still connected to the wall-she twisted it, pulled it, and suddenly the entire wall moved, slid aside under her grasp.

A hidden door, I said. Beyond the door was a room, small with two high windows, the sun streaming inside.

My office. Elena gestured me in with a hand.

I took a few steps inside. So this is where you do all your work for the galleria?

She shook her head. No. No one knows about this. It was a closet of Isabelles, used for undergarments and such. Have you heard that every woman should have her own space, a room of her own?

I nodded.

Well, this is mine. I have an office, officially, downstairs with all the other galleria employees She shrugged. There are not so many of us, really. Just my assistant, my two events planners.

So why do you need this room?

When I first worked here, the palazzo was not open to the public. It was something I worked hard at. I wanted this beautiful place to be seen by everyone. But sometimes it is sad for me to see strange people in the place where I worked for such a long while by myself.

Its not just yours anymore.

Yes, exactly. So this is where I come to escape, to think.

I wondered what she had to escape from, but didnt ask. I looked around the office. Two upholstered chairs in a soft blue had been placed below the tiny windows. An eclectic assortment of sketches-historical fashion drawings apparently-decorated the walls. A little marble table with tapered, spiraled legs sat near the wall, obviously used as a desk.

Elena took a seat behind the desk and opened a round, lacquered box using a set of keys. She reached into the box and removed another smaller box, this one made of brown velvet. I want to give you something, Isabel.

I had grown to love how she said my name-Ee-sabel.

She put the box on the desk and pushed it across, nodding at me.

What is it? I asked.

She nodded at the box again.

I pulled it toward me. It was heavy, as if weighted. I opened it. Inside was a delicate yellow gold chain with oval links. Dangling from the chain was a stone, about the size of a small egg. The stone was amber and intricately beveled so that the sun from outside hit it and sent spikes of orange light around the room.

I gasped a little as I lifted the necklace from the box. I looked at my aunt.

Elena smiled. It was my mothers.

Grandma Os?

She nodded. She got up from her desk, walked around it, and took the necklace from my hands. She undid the clasp and stood behind me, fastening it behind my head.

The necklace fell between my breasts, and the stone hit my ribs with a light thud, the sun glittering through it again. I was mesmerized by it. Its beautiful. Are you sure youre okay to give it to me?

Absolutely. Its almost your birthday, and I do not wear it anymore. She took her place behind her desk again and looked at the necklace, cocking her head a bit. It makes me too sad to wear it.

Why?

It is difficult when your family is gone, when you are the only one left.

We both were silent, I met her eyes. I wanted to say, Are you the only one left? but I had already asked that question. So I returned to the one left unanswered. Are we Camorra?

She gazed at her hands, squeezing them into fists, then unclenching them. Isabel, please be careful when you say- she cleared her throat -Camorra.

Why?

The Camorra is not something to play around with.

Im not playing. Im just asking you, are we Camorra?

Now she looked annoyed; her mouth pursed. What do you know of this, the Camorra?

It was my turn to give the Italian shrug. I know its an organized-crime syndicate. Kind of like the Cosa Nostra group from The Godfather.

She laughed but without mirth. The Camorra is not like Cosa Nostra. Not at all.

What are they like?

Dangerous. She said the word plainly. You must be very careful.

Of what? Im not even sure what were talking about here.

She sighed. I wanted to give you that necklace because it is true that it makes me too sad, and I do not wear it anymore. But also I wanted you to remember your grandmother and her family. That stone has been handed down for generations. And yes, my mothers family was traditionally a Camorra family. When they lived in Naples, they were one of the leading families of the Camorra. But ultimately, many members of the family did not want to be defined by the Camorra. Orianas mother and father were such members and they moved to the United States. They wanted their daughter to be raised differently. Which is why they allowed her to marry Kelvin, who wasnt Camorra or even Italian.

But Kelvin was killed by two Camorra members.

She glanced around, as if someone was listening. Who told you that?

My friend.

Yes, well, your friend is correct. The men who killed my father were Camorra.

Why did they kill him?

I do not like to talk about the Camorra, Isabel. She cleared her throat. But in answer to your question, Are you Camorra?-the answer is no. You are not born into the Camorra. You choose to be involved or you dont. And you do not.

I still dont understand what it means, the Camorra.

Nor do you need to know, Isabel. Please just leave it be. Its what we all should have done.

We? I said. Who do you mean by we?

She shook her head, looked at me sadly, then glanced at her watch, a small, exquisite piece of jewelry with a black face studded with little diamonds. We must go. The princesss apartments are only shown to certain groups who book a tour in advance. And I have such a group coming in right now.

She stood. Reluctantly, I did the same. Could we get together later? I asked. For coffee or dinner?

I am not sure, Isabel. I will let you know.

Or tomorrow?

She led me from the room, locking the door behind her. Yes, possibly tomorrow.

Our heels clacked on the marble floor as we passed through the gallery. It seemed less majestic, less fascinating somehow now that Elena didnt have the spring in her step, the joy in her eyes.

A minute later, I was outside on the street. Goodbye, Isabel, Elena said. And then she closed the door.


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