Today's Reading

Charles had never quite understood his elder daughter, Margot, though he had always adored and admired her. Everyone felt the consuming grief that had smothered her life when her husband of one week had been killed in the last month of the war.

Now, alone in the square below, Margot had stopped dancing and was beginning to walk slowly up the steps toward Elena and the young man, every now and again lost to sight by a bend in the walls or an overexuberant bower of colored bracts.

"Don't tell me she's an economist?" The young man spoke again, amusement still in his voice, but quieter, as if he were aware of her momentary emotional absence. Fifteen years after the war, everyone still had their griefs: loss of someone, something, a hope or an innocence, if not more. And fear of the future. It was in the air, in the music, the humor, even the exquisite, now fading light.

"Certainly not." Elena kept the lift in her voice with an effort. "And please don't ask me if I am."

"I wouldn't dream of it." He held out his hand. "Ian Newton. Economic journalist. Sometimes."

She took it. It was strong and warm, holding hers firmly. "Elena Standish. Photographer. Sometimes."

"How do you do?" he replied, and then let go of her hand.

"And that is my sister, Margot Driscoll," Elena said.

"Not Standish—she's here with her husband?"

"Margot is a widow. Her husband, Paul, was killed in the war."

Ian Newton nodded. Of course... This was a situation encountered every day, even now. He looked over to Margot, destined to dance alone in a world populated by superfluous women.

"Will you and Mrs. Driscoll dine with me tonight?"

"I'd like that," Elena answered for both of them. "Thank you. We're staying at the Santa Catalina."

"I know."

"Do you?"

"Certainly. I followed you here."

She did not know whether to believe him, but it was, surprisingly, a nice idea. "Eight o'clock? In the dining room?" she suggested.

"I'll be waiting for you by the door," he replied, then turned and walked away up the hill easily, straight-backed.

The next moment, Margot appeared on the steps from the square. She was as unlike Elena as sisters could be. Margot had dark eyes and hair like black silk. She was lean and elegant, no matter what she wore. Elena was the same height; she had a certain grace, but she could not match Margot's. Her eyes were quite ordinary blue, and her hair was nearly blond. She felt insipid beside Margot's drama.

"Daydreaming again?" Margot asked, exasperation thinly veiled in her voice. She hardly ever forgot her four years' seniority. "If you want to be a serious photographer, you'll have to take some decent pictures, which you won't do standing here."

"I don't know," Elena said patiently. She had been nagged many times before, and although she knew it was true, she also knew Margot said it out of frustration and affection. "I got a couple of a woman dancing alone in the square below, in a scarlet dress. A little crazy, but a nice study."

Temper flashed in Margot's eyes for an instant, and then vanished again. "I'll have them, please."

"Don't be daft!" Elena said impatiently. "I'm not wasting film on you. I just like watching you enjoy yourself." It was the truth.

Margot put her arm around Elena and silently they walked up the hill, toward the hotel.

***

After lunch, Elena went out to see if she could get any pictures that captured the beauty of Amalfi. The town was very old and had once been one of the biggest ports in the Mediterranean. There was an unfailing permanence about it that was an ironic backdrop to the frenetic happiness of the people holidaying, escaping reality for a brief season. The clinging grayness of the Depression melted in the sun here. The American music, with its haunting tunes and its clever, bittersweet words, emanated from the bars, encapsulating the emotions perfectly. In her imagination she danced to it in the arms of the young man whose hair was almost auburn in the sun.
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