They say the third time's the charm, don't they? Well, I hope they're right because after two tries, my master was about to embark upon his third. The powerful and rather intimidating Duke Lodovico Sforza of Milan had commissioned him to create a large sculpture of the Duke's father. After working for weeks, his first two designs had been loved by the Duke but not approved by the Duke's men. He was given another chance. But my Master, being the original, inspired artist and scientist that he was seemed to be getting off the project. There was plenty to do, from machines to plays to music, which took both his time and mine quite enjoyably. But deadlines were approaching and he did have one more shot at the statue. He had been furiously creative when I left him the night before, so I had high hopes as I headed to his studio in the morning.
The streets of Milan are beautiful in the dawn light. Flowers bloom full on windowsills as if they'd been waiting all night in anticipation. Rays glisten off specks of the stone cathedral, making the whole from cornerstone to tower shine magically. Birds soar about the sky, darting from rooftop to awning to snatch single pieces of straw for their nests. Smells of fresh bread and pastries, and sounds of morning minstrels and early-rising blacksmith hammers fill the air. For an apprentice who could barely afford an alley-side loft to sleep in, the town was full of riches and wonder, renewed every morning almost like clockwork. Though with a master like mine, that's not too far off.
I never bothered to knock on the simple wooden door, simply breezed through it every morning rain or shine, usually finding him at his desk already, or sometimes at a block of clay where he'd been all night. This morning when I entered, he was hovered over his parchment, piles of used paper covering nearly the entire floor. Busily working in complete concentration, he hadn't noticed my entrance and before I could clear my throat or wish him good morning, he interrupted himself with a sneeze. "ehh-Ishhh-oo!" A pause, he right hand clamped over mouth and nose as his other continued to write. Then another sneeze, "heh-Ihhshhh!"
I spoke softly but civilly, without wavering, "Bless you, Signore."
Perhaps fearing I would tread on his work, he looked up, alarmed at my presence. He rubbed his right hand beneath his nose and shouted out, "Don't move any of it!" His voice was harsh as it could sometimes be when he'd been without sleep. He looked, this morning, to be very much without sleep. Large bulges sat beneath his eyes which looked tired and showed his age; somewhere about his mid to late forties I believe he was, but he'd always been a handsome man from the pictures and self portraits I'd seen, and age only seemed to be glorifying that. "And for Good God's Sake watch where you step!" I looked about the scattered masses of sketches, the creativity and pure genius that had flowed from his mind. Even now his left hand was busily scribbling while his right was being used to measure sizes. Perspective. It was all about perspective. And from my perspective, I was privileged to simply be in his presence.
Finding small patches of the dirt floor amidst the drawings, I hopped across the floor, sensing an opening, gauging the distance, leaping, landing with one boot in the space, and sticking to the spot with good balance. In that way, I managed to get over to him, giving him a short bow when I'd done; he was grinning like a madman. "You've just given me another," he said, pulling his current piece of paper away and letting it fall gently behind him as he took another. The old piece had been completely covered in ink, drawing and text both, not a spot of parchment wasted. Another what? Another idea is what he meant I understood and as he'd already set to work on it I could imagine the gears in his mind turning away with brilliance.
"Good morn, Signore. Do you have anything for me this morning?" He seemed not to have heard me, a tough prospect, as he was so close I could have kissed his hand. But he was lost in thought which was not rare, so I repeated a bit more loudly. "I say, have you anything for me?"
He sniffed and looked up, his eyes as curious as a pupil's. "Have something for you? Have something... Oh, yes... yes I do..." He grinned with excitement, slamming both palms down on the table as he stood. His clever eyes scanned the floor back and forth in search of something as if it were a precious lost treasure. Then finally he pointed definitively and with dramatic flair, "There it is, Franco!"
I looked in the direction, seeing about a dozen papers there. "What is?"
His grin extended the width of his face as he called out, "My shopping list!" Then he sighed and sat back down at his work.
I never knew when to take him seriously. Navigating my way over, one footstep and leap at a time, I came upon a piece of scrap paper amongst all his designs. Picking it up, I saw that he'd written in his style, which meant the words were completely backwards. Smiling, I tucked the paper into my belt and decided I was closer to the door than him. So I waved, "I'll be back in a few minutes then, Signore."
Stuck in concentration, he nodded, waving his hand at me to be gone. "And don't hurry! Take the route by the canal and feed the ducks a crumb or two. Enjoy the shades of sunlight on the cobblestones!"
I jumped my way out with a smile. I've always thought myself most fortunate to have him as a Master. But it was times like chores to the shops when I realized that being the apprentice to a great artist and designer was still being an apprentice. No matter how brilliant my master could be, no matter how original and creative he was, no matter how much learning and inspiration I gained when studying beneath him, I would still be given normal apprentice tasks like fetching the morning milk.
I walked through the streets on the way there, walking down the centers of the roads instead of by the buildings so as not to be hit by morning chamber pot dumps out the windows. It was early yet, a farmer's earliness which was the same as a young apprentice's eagerness I should like to think. There was nothing I looked forward to more every morning than my work and learning.
I entered the shop with a smile, raising a hand in greeting. "Buon giorno, Giuseppe!"
"Ah, Franco! Buon giorno! How are you?" he asked, his words reaching out like a hug to me. He was a chubby, kind man who was always round and smiling. Every time I came in, he asked how I was above anything else. He was not a shop owner for the money, but for the people, that was clear.
"Bene, bene," I answered him. And indeed, I was feeling quite well. And overwhelmed. So many sights for an artist in a food shop. So many colors and textures and smells to go with. It filled my senses so entirely that I'd nearly forgotten my place.
Luckily, Giuseppe reminded me, "You have a list for me today, no?"
"Yes," I replied, handing it over along with a small pocket mirror I was in the habit of carrying about.
My master only wrote normally when others had to read his writing. Otherwise, he wrote in his own backwards hand. I had grown used to reading it unaided... but others needed to glance in a mirror's reflection for it. Mirrors were things my master loved. He saw himself as a mirror, reflecting the world. One of my first lessons in art was to hold a mirror to the real world and my art. If the reflection of my painting did not match the reflection of the real world in form, in spirit, in style, in impression, I was forced to begin again.
Giuseppe, using the mirror to read the list easily, began filling a sack for me. As he collected the items, he made small talk with me as always; it helped me stay abreast of town talk. "DaVinci, he is ill?"
I was startled and a bit shocked at the assumption... and at the fact that I did not know what to reply. He had sneezed in front of me, but it had been a single sneeze and everyone sneezed once in a while. I was not entirely certain as to how to reply. He certainly would not want me to lie, but I wasn't sure he wanted any illness known. Either way, I did not know the truth. "Why do you ask?" I walked over to the Bergamot oranges, my eyes rolling over their bumps and curves. All oranges, but each a little different from his neighbor.
"These herbs he requests. They're used to calm chills and sneezes. I hope he is not badly off?"
I shook my head, my eyes leaving the oranges a moment to pacify him with an honest look. "Not at all." I looked back at the oranges. Each one different in look, and each slightly different inside with taste. How did the outside relate to the in, if at all? And what to look for in that? There were the obvious discolorations, bruises. But beyond that...
"Franco!" I turned, finding his round-cheeked smile meeting me from behind the full sack. "I've been calling your name for minutes."
I felt my cheeks go red. "Spiacente, Signore," I apologized, and went forward to claim the bag.
"Be sure to take an orange for you and good Leonardo, won't you? My treat."
I grinned, selecting two ripe ones at random. I thanked him quite heartily as I dropped them into the bag, letting them fall as they liked. "Grazie... grazie mille!" These would make a wonderful still life this afternoon if my Master gave me a break for one.
"Prego," he replied. "And I hope DaVinci feels well soon. Ciao!"
I raised my hand in goodbye, "Addio!" and headed back out. More people were awake now, stands opening, sounds filling the air as if the silence not its natural state. I took the road away from town as I'd been requested to do, walking along the canals. My master had been right to point it out to me. This morning, the glittering of the canal waters in the rising sun was richer than the rarest gold.
"Milano," I whispered, rolling the word around in my mouth. "Milano." Even such a beautifully designed word failed to capture the intricate beauties of the town. But somehow it fit. Somehow, between the sun and the grass the town of Milan had been born into its namesake. The buildings of the town, and the people therein, and the nature within. Everything was Milan. Everything was so very much Milan.
I found myself standing on the bridge for minutes, losing myself in their presence before I remembered what Giuseppe had mentioned to me in the store. Ill? Could he really be ill? I'd never seen him ill before. And truthfully, I think I believed that the man was incapable of getting ill. Couldn't a man who contained an infinite amount of knowledge about the body, and nature, and art, and life, and dreams, and machines, and emotions know how to keep himself from catching a cold in the spring?
The waters danced joyously beneath me to their own music that I could not hear. But I could feel it. I felt it as the heat of the sun on the back of my neck, and on the bare skin of my forearms. But the waters had no answer for me; they were too busy dancing to answer.
Assuming he was sick... wouldn't he rather have the things to make him better quickly? Why tell me to take the long route home? Why tell me to look at the cobblestones?
The cobblestones beneath my feet as I walked back were almost too intriguing to waste on my torn, tattered boots. They were smooth from wear and weather, and yet when taken against a harder, smoother surface like a wheel, they were round and bumpy. I was tempted to take an orange out and roll it down the streets, but I had not yet come across an incline that would suffice for such an experiment. The cobblestones brought me back to the wooden studio door before I wanted them to.
And as I put my hand on the front to swing it open, I heard something sound from the inside. "ehh-IHHSHHH-oo! Ahh-EHSHHHooo!" I paused. Yes they had been sneezes, similar in sound to the ones earlier, else I might have sworn him to have a sickly guest. And yet, why would he not send me away if he were ailing so? None of this made any sense.
Upon second thought, very little my Master ever did made sense to me at first. I needed to have faith that it would reveal itself in time. I swung the door open and entered only a few steps, remembering the papers from earlier. But this time, there were no papers there at all. They all sat in piles at the base of my Master's desk, organized in his own system no doubt. At least it allowed me to walk easier- I was dreading the hop across the room with the large bag.
Though the papers had been moved, there was no difference in my second entrance of the morning, as he did not look up to see me. I looked around, seeing the dog, Toto, staring down at me from the loft bedroom. She wagged her tail then went back and curled up in a mass of blankets. From the way Master was looking, that didn't sound like such a bad idea for him, either. As he'd still not made any notice of me, I cleared my throat.
He did not look up yet. But, keeping his eyes on his paper and his hand working the quill against it, he raised his hand in front of his head and waved it back and forth. Hoarsely, "Put it down anywhere, Franco." Even rough, his voice had grace and kindness behind it... perhaps even a hint or two of gratefulness.
I walked over to him, placing it gently on the ground and pocketing the two oranges for artistic purposes later. I noticed a handkerchief resting on the right side of his desk, almost hidden from me by his arm. All evidence so far was beginning to point to an illness. I stood obediently, waiting for further instruction. But none came. I leaned over, looking at the sketch. It was of a bird-like machine, with wings and gears and a tiny person riding on its back. Springs served as feet, and a large paddle held back with ropes that went from tail to head. He looked up at me with a smile, "Look at the others. First pile is flight. The others are women and... and thoughts about... about..." He turned from me, going to the right, snatching the handkerchief and hunching over with it to hide himself like a hunchback. "ihh-EHShh-ooo! Ahh-Ihhshh-oo...ehshhhh!" he snorted a blow into the handkerchief and sat back up, handkerchief in lap, and turned back to his sketch.
"God bless you." Was that the right thing to say? If it wasn't, what was? I coughed to keep the attention upon me. "Would you like me to fix you anything? Or... do anything...for you?" I gestured towards the papers and the empty ink canisters that littered the floor.
"Forse... " he wavered, wiggling his fingers as he did after writing for so long. Then he shook his head. "No." He looked up at me with deep, rich eyes. I was immediately taken aback by the hurt behind him. How had I missed it? The man was not just pained with illness, but pained from trying to hide the illness. I did my best not to show that I'd seen, hanging my head as obediently as possible. "Did you find some inspiration on your walk this morning?"
I nodded, taking the oranges from my pocket, holding them both in one hand so that they had to be pressed together but still retained their shape. "I may go sketch then?"
He nodded back. "As long as you like. Sit out on the roof if it pleases you to be in the sun." It always pleased him; it only pleased me to do so when studying the light issues. Though he always said that there was no truth, no real art without the 'light issues.' He rubbed at his nose quickly, as if doing it fast would keep me from seeing. "Then we'll review my night's work over lunch."
Quite excited to be left to my own devices so early in the morning, I couldn't help but grin. "Grazie, Signore."
"Prego, il mio ragazzo." I grinned all the more. He very rarely called me his boy... only when he was very proud of me... or pleased enough with his own work not to need to tell me what to do. Grabbing my parchment and paints, I made my way out to the front for some study... and then perhaps for a rolling experiment and a mid-morning snack if all went well.
I headed back in when the sun was nearly mid sky. I'd been through perhaps twenty sketches, a few paintings, and a rubbing or two of the orange peel, which incidentally did not make a very good liquid to paint with when ground up and added to water. I'd also learned that oranges taste a bit warm and overly ripe after being rolled down the steepest street in Milan several times.
I pocketed the other orange for my Master and, after collecting my things carefully as they dried, I went back. I found him sniffling into his handkerchief rather casually and miserably while writing furiously on the side of his paper. Oblivious to me once more, he didn't bother looking up, even when he sneezed "ehhIhshhh-uh! ahh-IHHhh-ooo!" and I politely blessed him a third time. Taking advantage of his silent suffering, I walked right over to him and withdrew a few items from the bag. If he was inclined to sit at his desk and sniffle rather than rest in bed I felt at least obligated to make him as comfortable as possible. And what better way to do that then some nice herbal tea?
It took me three cups of it before I stumbled upon the right concentration and blend of the herbs. Meanwhile, I'd prepared a simple dish of Cardialla Milanese as I was in such a Milan mood, and also pealed the orange into sections. At the sudden look at the sections, I immediately whipped through three more design studies of the fruit. I'd have done more but I was in fear of the food and drink growing too cold for its usefulness.
He did not look up at me as I walked to him, but I set the meal down right on the side of his desk so that it was either take notice or spill the lot of it to the floor. I was hoping for the former. I stood, looking down proudly at it starting to get cold, and he still took no notice. Yes, my master was absent-minded when his head was full with ideas, but this bad? Perhaps the illness had something to do with it. Growing uneasy, I spoke up, "It's getting cold."
He looked up, eyes sparkling with brilliance, fading to see the food. "What's this?" as if it hadn't been there for minutes.
I tried to remain serious, but I couldn't help dipping down a little, "It's a wonderful thing. Some call it lunch."
"Mmm, very funny, Franco," he mumbled, snuffling into the handkerchief. He seemed to be using it a bit more frequently now. "I'm not hungry." He waved an indifferent hand at the food as if that would somehow make it magically disappear. Perhaps he expected me to perform that magic.
I didn't take it away, of course. Instead, I began to reason with him. If there was anyone who could reason his way into Leonardo DaVinci, it was I. "You've been up all night without so much as a bite to eat, and there's no breakfast in your stomach either. If you're not hungry, taste the orange and drink the tea if nothing else."
He sniffled, resting the handkerchief to the side and giving me a sharp, almost scolding look for whatever he thought I was trying with him. "This is the lunch of a sick man. I," he said, restraining a cough until directly after he'd finished his words, "am not sick."
"Of course not, I made the same for myself," I smiled. "But do eat a bit?"
He leaned over the bowl, sniffing it, though his sniffles sounded stuffed and wet and I doubted very much that he could detect any smell at all. "Cardoons?"
I nodded. It was one of his favorites.
"Did you use egg whites?"
I hadn't. I hadn't wanted to give him any way of avoiding the food. He was a vegetarian, strict when he felt like being quarrelsome, but otherwise never a bother. I respected him very much for it.
Hastily, he ate a section of orange and took a few cautious sips of tea. His eyes widened in surprise as he drank more. "This..." he said between mouthfuls. "Is quite good." He took a long drink, a look of pleasant relief and relaxation passing over his face. "In fact..." he drank again, "this is perfect," the compliment echoing in the cup. After all the energy I'd put into making it, it ought to have been; despite myself, I beamed.
At last he set the cup back down, trading it back for the handkerchief. His eyes were closed, a soft, anxious, pained, expectant expression on his face. He was obviously feeling the need to sneeze. And he wasn't trying to hold it in... it simply didn't want to come out. He waited with it, brining the handkerchief up to his face, then against the brown brush of his moustache. Finally, his closed eyes squeezed tight and he snapped forward. "Ehhshooo! heh-Ihhshhh! ehh-Ihh-choo!" Dabbing at his nose afterwards, he caught me watching him closely, and instead of excusing himself, insisted, "I am not sick."
"No," I reassured him. "I know that you are not."
He sneaked a short blow from his nose and put the handkerchief back down, perhaps a little closer than where he had before left it. "I simply did not catch a wink of sleep last night," he cleared his voice, "my voice, you know. And I have a bit of the sneezes this morning. It's drafty in here." I could believe him about his voice, and perhaps even the sneezing, but it certainly was far from chilly. In fact, with the spring sun light pouring in through the wide windows at the top of the studio, it was almost too warm.
I smiled anyway. "Of course."
He paused, looked over my face as carefully as he looked over everything. Then he smiled back, knowing that I knew but would not dare say anything to him about it. "Sit down and take a look at the papers now, Franco?"
As obediently as Toto, I sat, comfortable on the dirt floor. It was quite interesting to admire, at that. The texture was rough to one finger but soft to a palm. It was hard, compact to feel, and yet made of so many individual pieces of dirt with their own stories.
I too, it seemed, could grow oblivious. Gently I went through the sketches in one pile, as if they were ancient treasures rather than ideas and creations so new the ink was nearly still wet. They were a beautiful bunch, however. Such vision, such originality, such passion and freeness. There were sketches of scenes, of objects, of women, of bodies. They weren't like his technical drawings, and yet they were very different from his paintings. Yet, each one held his character, his style, his soul. But one... one caught my attention and held it fast. It was of a kind-faced man, plain and yet angelic in look. He sat at a table with men around him as they broke bread together. It did not take me a moment to understand the subject. "Signore DaVinci!" I began, my breath catching in my throat to look at it. Even for a sketch it was magnificent, incredible. Each man looked completely different from the next... many who served as one. Oranges, dirt, disciples; it was fascinating. I did not need to guess, I could simply tell who each was just by the way they were positioned, the way they seemed to act, the way they looked at the man in the center. It was so full of life and action, as if I were at the supper myself painting them in front of me. I had hear my master read the passages of the Bible, and remembered how his voice sounded at different parts, the different sounds as distinct and similar as the different men in the painting. I wanted very much to compliment the piece, to share the overwhelming excitement I felt, but I could think of no words to accurately express my feelings.
Perhaps understanding my predicament, he spoke first. "You like them as much as I, then?"
Enthusiastically, I nodded, tracing the tiny lines of Jesus' face with the very tip of my finger, as if caressing him on parchment could touch him in Heaven, or perhaps make this one realize what treachery was about to befall him. I imagined my master there as the painter, and Jesus looking on at the sketch afterward, seeing the truth of the future in his reflection. The mirror... the mirror showed all. "I love it..." the words spilled out, sounding like a pathetic, uncreative child. "Very much." But I couldn't help it. The sketch, above all his works, humbled me for some reason.
He smiled. "The idea was conceived as the north star rose last night. But it is not quite yet ready to be painted. But one day, I shall complete it in all due glory and respect."
And how glorious it felt already! "I should very much like to see it on that day, Signore."
"Ah," he nodded, "By then you most likely will have left me for your own pursuits."
"Forse... but this is such to bring me back in an instant. Truly... remarkable." I blushed, realizing how much I was gushing. It was one thing to compliment one's master in art, and another to practically kiss his behind.
But he only smiled, as if the design was that one rare instance that he did not mind adoring for a little longer before giving into artistic modesty. I realized as I stared up at him, that he had nearly finished the lunch I'd made him. He gave his nose a rub and sniffled. Then muttered a soft, "Scusi," lifted the handkerchief and, "ehh-IHHHShhhh! ahh-Eshhh-oooo! Ihhh-hehshooo!" With them, he gave his nose a strong blow.
"God bless you." I wanted to say something, but bit my lip. It was not my place to tell him what to do. And I was still a bit puzzled at his reaction to his illness, if he was indeed ill. Still, perhaps I should say something. The man looked weary, and frustrated at his nose. He sniffled, rubbing the handkerchief against his nose. If this wasn't the right time to say something, I didn't know what was. I put down the remainder of the sketches and stood, hands folded in front of me. "Signore, might you think of taking a brief nap to feel better?"
He shot me a look, full of astonishment and anger. Then he shook his head. "I told you I am not sick."
"I know, Signore, but you--"
"Silence!" he barked, his voice raw and lain with congestion. He looked as if he were about to scold me terribly, and I was not entirely certain I deserved it. But before he could do so, there was a knock on the door. My savior! "Answer it, Franco," he said, taking up his handkerchief to clear his nose and sound more presentable should we have unexpected company.
"Si, Signore." Relieved and praising my luck, I quickly went to the door to find a messenger there with a written note from the Duke himself. I gave many thanks and a small coin, handing it over to my master with some excitement. Only the very rich and powerful could spend money on telegrams when they could just as easily be spoken man to man. This must have been of some importance.
Master took it as such, his face breaking into grins twice while he read. Then, as if obligated to relate the news by my standing and bouncing up and down on the balls of my feet, he explained, "There's another music festival in a few month's time and he wants me to do the costumes and scenes again." Man of many talents he was, and even more responsibilities. "And he mentions again the statue for his father and how great it will be. And apologizes for the first two his counselors rejected." My master had never been bothered by rejection; it was simply a part of any creative endeavor. But a personal apology from the Duke was nothing to sneeze at. "ehhIhhshh-oo! Ihh-AHTchhh-oo!" At least, not for most people.
"God bless you."
"Best get to work," he said, stretching and standing to retreat to his clay-working corner, where the clay was kept cold and wet in the ground, and the sun's rays did not reach to dry it out. Yes, an ill man working in the dark, damp corner of the studio. This was a wonderful idea. He stretched as he walked, and instead of sitting at the small table there, paced back and forth, his hands moving, fingers wiggling around as if sculpting an invisible lump into the perfect shape. His eyes closed and I could see the tension draining from his face to make way for inspiration.
"Have you another idea?"
He nodded, standing in place. "Indeed." Suddenly, he gave a shiver that seemed to take over his whole body, then lifted his hand to his mouth. "ehhIHHSHHH!" Stumbling forward one step, off balance.
"Signore!" I exclaimed, reaching out to him, taking a few steps.
Quickly he straightened and held his palm out to me. "Stay," he coughed, reaching into his sleeve pocket to remember his handkerchief had been left on the desk. As I was closer, I went to fetch if for him and he reacted the same, holding up a hand and urgently shouting, "No, Franco! Stay!" He sniffed, taking the handkerchief back to rub at his nose.
He looked miserable at this interference. At this point, it did not matter to me to protect his dignity. If he said he was not sick, then so be it but there was something clearly wrong with the man and I'd be damned to simply stay there when I could do something. "Signore DaVinci, I..." but I didn't know what to do. When I caught cold, I spent the days in bed asleep. Once in a while I'd venture out to get a drink, but otherwise I hardly moved beneath the covers. If he blatantly refused to retire to bed even for a quick nap, I wasn't sure how I could possibly help. Feeling useless, futile, "Is there anything I can do?"
He nodded. "Si," he said, probably thinking what the quickest way to get me away from him was. When he answered, his voice was rough with hoarseness but soft and needing, "Franco, per favore, will you make me another cup of that tea?"
That I could do. Nodding, "My pleasure." After another few attempts, I struck the perfect blend. For something important, sometimes it really did take a few tries. I delivered it to him with a soft, sympathetic smile.
He looked at me at once this time, smiling. "Molte grazie." He was beginning to sound worse. He took the cup and drank, lowering it not to sneeze, but to sigh. "Perhaps I am wasting you with painting. You are an artist as a chef."
I could not contain the laughter from that, needing to wipe tears out of my eyes afterwards. "Prego, Signore. I do my best for you, but I believe I enjoy painting slightly more than creating in the kitchen."
With a shrug, "Perhaps you are right." He suppressed a yawn into the back of his hand as he sat down before a large block of clay. "Can you see the horse and its rider, Franco? Can you see their shape, their purpose?"
"I can see their spirit... only you can see their shape, I think."
"Mmm," he smiled. He very rarely made attempts to tell me when he agreed. He simply smiled wisely with a little pit of surprise and pride. But I knew his sounds so well that it meant enough to me without needing words. "It is much like a dream, Si?" He raised both eyebrows as he began to work the clay with his hands. He cast a sideways glance at me. This was a challenge.
For the life of me, I did not understand the correlation. Too personal, too obscure. "I'm afraid I do not follow."
So he elaborated, but only without another question, "Why does the eye see a thing more clearly in dreams than with the imagination being awake?"
I thought a moment. About the analogy, and about the answer. I decided that I could address the first, but had no solution. "Why is the form within the clay truer than a vision of the final statue?"
He nodded, pulling a large chunk of clay from the top and handing it to me. "A part that this horseman does not want. Perhaps you can find what it would like to be used for?"
I was not terribly gifted when it came to sculpture. I was much more comfortable observing a master than wielding anything myself. But he knew this and very rarely had expectations about my clay creations. In agreement to the task, I nodded, taking a small piece of wood from the scrap pile and settling against the wall on the floor to form it. It was humorous, really, that he seemed to find no difference between the two artistic mediums, and yet one I was so much better at. He'd told me once that the only real difference was that of mental concentration against a more physical effort. I see how that is so, but there is more to it for me. For example when I paint, my canvas and brushes do not suddenly collapse in upon themselves at my touch, or fall to pieces if I apply too much pressure on the parchment. No, they were much different to me.
I looked up. "Si, Singnore?"
"We have enough clay bowls, Si?"
I grinned, glad that he felt well enough for his terrible sense of humor to shine through. "Si," I agreed, remembering the last dozen bowls I had created in answer to his tasks. He knew how terrible I felt I was, but still pushed me to create with clay; perhaps in order to give my mind some freedom from the eyes of a painter. My master was certainly not born with the eyes of a painter. He was born with the eyes of everyone. He was a thinker, a scientist, an artist, a builder, a mechanic, a writer, a master. I smiled at the last thought as I shaped the circle, trying to figure out what to do with it and ignore its yellings of 'I'm a bowl, you twit of an apprentice!'
As I ignored it, I kept my eyes on my master as he worked it well, running hands against the clay, dipping them in water to keep it moist. Once in a while, I caught him rubbing what seemed to be a tickley nose against his shoulder, unable to make any moves covered in clay up to his elbows. When he went to sneeze, he was unable to get his handkerchief in time, and simply directed it into his shoulder weakly. "ehhIhhshhhhoo! AhhhIhhshh-ahhhh!"
"God bless you!" I piped up from where I was sitting, and at once realized my mistake.
"Franco, keep your mind to your work, not on me."
I nodded. "Mi scusi," I apologized, getting back to my own thoughts and the blob that had before looked like a perfect ball but was now just a mess of smoothly curving clay.
"ahhh-Ikkshh-ooo! ehhAhh-shooo!" I looked back up to see him rubbing the upper part of his arm and sleeve against his face and nose. He sighed, looking down at me; I quickly looked lost in thought and went back to my work. "I simply cannot manage to stop sneezing. I do hope this doesn't keep up all aftern.... " his voice died down and I feared he might need to sneeze again already. But instead, a flash of recognition passed over him. He picked up a cloth to wipe his hands. "Franco, I have a run for you to make when you are finished there."
Oh, I was finished, certainly. I stood as he spoke the directions. "I need you to send a message to... I'll write the address for you." He cut a piece of parchment off with a cutter and scribbled a legible address. "Tell a Miss Alena not to arrive for a sitting this afternoon. I..." he searched for an excuse aside from his illness. "I have a conflict of obligations... the Duke's statue... all that." He rubbed his nose with his clean hand. "Please inquire as to her availability this time next week, and apologize deeply from the bottom of my heart."
Taking the address, I nodded. "Si, Signore. Shall I get anything else while I am out on the streets?"
He hesitated, then shook his head. "Grazie."
I nodded. It was not at all his place to thank me for doing what I was there for, but it was nice to hear all the same.
The sun was just past mid sky as I set out across town, and Milan looked as busy as it ever was Carts and people scurried about, never to notice things like the bumps of cobbestones. This is why I was an artist. Finding my way through the town and a stretch of road that was less than prestigious. I knocked on the door, standing up straight and regally as I faced a rather rundown building.
"Ciao," the woman who answered the door greeted me. She was in her shift only, as if having just awoken and through her body's curves beneath were pleasing, I politely looked away.
Uncertain and nervous, I kept my eyes down on my boots. "My apologies if I've come at a bad time, Signora."
"Oh not at all," she reached out and traced a finger from my nose to my belly button. "It is always a good time with me."
I coughed in surprise; she surely did not think I had come there for... I looked up. The tip of her tongue washed over her lips, and she stood sticking her breasts out as much as they could go. Yes... she apparently thought I had come there for that. And as beautiful as she was, that was not at all what I wanted. "I am not here for that, thank you anyway." I could tell I was blushing, and I cleared my throat again. "I've brought a message. I am apprentice to Leonardo DaVinci."
She smiled, recognizing the name at once. I doubted that there was a woman in all of Italy who did not smile at mention of him. He was a terribly handsome man by all accounts, with charm and kindness as only two among his many good points.
I continued, "He requests to cancel the sitting with you this afternoon. A great concern has arisen in conflict, with time constraints. He apologizes profusely for it."
She hesitated, then nodded. "All right." There wasn't much else she could say.
"He wishes to reschedule for next week at this time." Finding it much easier to speak with her now, I took the liberty of analyzing her; I could see why my master fancied her for a model. She would be a spectacular muse and model, with rich chestnut colored hair and eyebrows set off against pale white skin. Her eyes matched in color exactly, soft and full of life. The bone structure of her nose and cheeks and jaw was unique and more sharp than curved, and yet she had a very pleasing round feel to her whole face. Cheekbones were high and decorated in red, perhaps from being pinched just before answering the door. Her neck was in perfect proportion, leading to sloping shoulders and enticingly round breasts that sagged just enough to make a man want to reach out and hold them. I could see why my master wanted to paint her, and I could see why she made good money. It was not unusual for women who were familiar with sins of the flesh to pose for artists; the irony was that with the sudden rash of religious subjects, these women were cast as Eve, Mary, or as angels. Perhaps it helped redeem them in God's eyes a bit. it certainly did so to an artist's.
"Very well." She bent and gave me a kiss on the cheek, then a light one on the lips. "Tell Leonardo I will be at his studio for the painting next week at this time, then."
A bit flustered, stunned and admittedly excited, I bid her farewell and quickly found a corner of a building to hid behind until I was a bit more presentable. It did not take long, and the time was well spent fingering a discarded piece of broken ceramic plate. While the small, tasteful floral design on the plate was nice, the line along which it had broken that was the source of my fascination. It looked like any other line, but it had remarkably jagged, dangerous edges. The ceramic particles were terribly rough, and just by the close look of itself I knew I dared not run my finger against it even to test its roughness. I let it sit in my mind a while, suddenly seeing the fight between man and wife which had resulted in the broken plate. I saw the insides of their home, then the outside through the window in-between they quarrelling figures. The sunlight streamed through, lighting the side of them I could not see. But I could see them in the shade, making them look all the angrier. The man, furious, had lifted the plate to break it, but the woman tried to take it from him, their dark, shadowed, plump bodies twirling in my mind. I saw the women's delicate fingers lose their grip and the man's eye narrowing in determination. And at that, they froze in place. They really had not frozen, it simply seemed so to my mind. I knew that they went on, with the smash and crying and arguing and tossing the pieces out the window into the sun. But my vision did not care about that part of the story. The moment... that was what was important. Capturing the moment of movement and intensity and emotion and passion.
Caring not if I still had a terrible cockstand, I quickly made my way back through the town; if I walked quickly enough, no one could notice anyway. By the time I had arrived home, the scene was still strong in my mind, frozen at that delicate, gorgeous moment. I had all intentions then to sketch it, pull it out of my mind and set it to paper. And while that sketch was completed that day, I was first sidetracked directly after my arrival.
What I found in the studio upon my return was my master back at his desk. But he was not busily drawing, or writing for that matter. No, his arms were crossed against the surface of the desk and his head down upon him. "Signore!" Startled, I thought at first he might have died. Worried, "Signore DaVinci? Signore DaVinci!" But when I walked closer, apprehensiously, I saw his body move ever so slightly with deep, slow breaths. Merely sleeping, he was. And I should not have wondered; he had not had much sleep this week, and after staying up one full night, and with a cold on top of all, I was amazed he had made it so long in the day without falling asleep.
As I neared, I saw his body shake, and it froze me in my steps. His body gave a shudder like the one he had had before in the dark sculpture corner. But this time, it was clearly not from the cold. At this, I backed up and silently climbed into the loft. Toto came over to great me and though she barked and I hissed to hush her, my master did not awaken. I took the top blanket from his cot and climbed back down. "Sleep well," I whispered so as not to wake him. Gently, kindly, tenderly, I draped the blanket over his shoulders, pulling it to his front to cover him more completely. His position, how he was hunched over his desk, allowed the blanket to keep is spot on him without my needing to hold it there. I pushed the parchment away so he wouldn't damage it, and capped the ink bottle so it would not dry out. He was like a sculpture himself, I noticed. Only instead of my changing his shape, I was changing his nature. I hoped it would help him feel better.
At once, catching me off guard, he stirred, rubbing his face against his arms and sitting up a little, only to fall back forward with sudden, strong sneezes. "Ehhh-Ihshhhh! Ahhh-Chish-ooo! ehhh-Ihhhh-ooo!" He rubbed his face again, sniffling, sitting up and looking for his handkerchief.
"God bless you," I whispered, not wanting to alarm him with my sudden presence. I pulled the fallen blanket back up over his shoulders, then offered my handkerchief.
He ignored it, continuing to look for his, one hand slightly cupped and held beneath his nose. It, I assumed, was running. And he, I could not deny, was acting worse than a child.
"Do take it, per favore." I waved the clean, white cloth in front of his face.
Reluctantly, unable to find his own, he took it from me and sniffled into it, then tried to hand it back.
I held my hands up. "No, you hold onto it."
He nodded thank you as his mouth was otherwise occupied from a powerfully strong yawn.
Deciding this would be the best time to insist he take a nap, "Signore DaVinci. You are cold and tired. Obviously worn out. Won't you please consider taking a small nap?"
My master shook his head, pulling the blanket more tightly around him and turning back to his designs. This time, he did not put the handkerchief down. He held onto it tightly, holding it against his chest with one hand as he drew with the other. "I'b fide," he coughed out, his voice a raspy, harsh whisper now. Very unbecoming of him, really. "I did't sleeb last dight; the sdeezig kept be ub add thed the creativity. Beig a little tired is datural for be."
Natural, maybe, but that didn't mean healthy. "But, Signore--"
"I'b fide, Fradco... get adother cub of tea, add do orgadize the sciedtific drawigs frob last night for me."
I nodded. "Si, Signore." My second try, a second failure. Bit I couldn't help him until he admitted and wanted to go to bed himself. He certainly was not going to listen to me if he was already ignoring himself. Once I had settled away from him on the floor, doing the work, I heard him blow his nose. Not one blow, but a dozen, until he gave a soft groan. When I looked up, he simply gave me a stern look and narrowed his eyes at the drawings.
This was certainly not my favorite task in my apprenticeship. My master was a true man of many fields, and one happened to be the study of the human body outside and in. He sketched from memory, and from life. These drawings which he categorized as scientific ones could be better identified as anatomy ones. There were sketches of pregnant women with big, bulges of every size. There were drawings of fetuses, curled and blind. There were drawings of women's breasts, the way they hung, the way they pointed, the way they drooped. There were drawings of men's cocks, both down and up. There were drawings of arms, legs, hands, and every muscle, bone and vein that could be seen within. I had always been fond of the leg and arm muscle pictures, observing the curves of women's calves in comparison to a man's firm bicep. Quite fantastic in look, really.
When I had put them away with others, dated and labeled and ordered, I set to work making dinner. Toto had climbed down from the loft and had ducked out her own dog-sized door my master had put in the wall beside the people-sized one. When she returned, chewing on a bone scrap from someone's trash pile, she settled by the fire with me. I was making something simple and unobjectionable: vegetable stew. It would be soft on his throat, I supposed, and warm his chilled body as needed.
Looking over at him, I saw him wipe his nose on the corner of the blanket, shivering beneath its folds and pulling it tighter around himself. He warmed his hands on his cup of tea when I had first brought it, but now it was nearly gone and only slightly warm, the sort of warm that did not seep through the sides of a cup. I watched as he brought the hovering handkerchief up and sneezed twice more into it. "ehhhIhhhhshhhh! ihhh-ahshhh-oo!"
After bringing him dinner, and sitting by him for company with Toto on his other side, he seemed much more comfortable with me that he had before. It was almost as if I'd put something in the stew to calm him and make him warm to me as much as he warmed to the chills. "Inspired representations of the body," I made small talk as we ate, thinking it best to begin with a simple compliment.
He nodded with a smile. "When I could not sleep last night, quite a lot of inspiration struck. Waves of different sorts, and my hands were thoroughly busy with... them... all." He sniffed wetly, muttering, "Mi scusi," turning, and blowing his nose a number more times. "Heh," he laughed, remarking, "spices in your stew are getting to my nose."
Arguably, there was already enough happening in his nose, but all I did was nod and make myself busy with another mouthful.
"So the Signora was able to reschedule? I do not recall your... informing me when... you... returned..." quickly, he gave his nose a blow, but that didn't seem to have helped much. Putting down his fork to grip my handkerchief on both sides, he gave several strong sneezes. "ehh-Ahhshhh! iihh-ehhshhh-ohh! ahhh-EHHHSHHHH-ooo!"
"God bless you. And yes, she will see you then." As I watched him sniffle miserably, I wondered again if I shouldn't press the sleep issue. But as he straightened up and pulled over a few pieces of parchment with drawings on them from this afternoon for my opinion... well, I began to understand that the Signore was going to do exactly what he wanted and not his well-meaning apprentice nor a head cold were going to come close to stopping him. I would just have to hope that he changed his mind on his own. "Fascinating shadows... there must be a window on both sides of this room," I commented about one. "Though it looks just a little stronger on the right."
"Very good. Sniffle, sniffle! And how could you tell that?"
I pointed. "The long dark strokes here as opposed to the slightly shorter, more sporadic shading there."
"Mmm," he agreed, smiling. He always said that artists should never try to paint like other artists. We each had our own style and perspective. But he never failed to explain to me techniques and examples. He coughed straight through his explanation of shading for multiple light sources, stopping once or twice to clear his nose. Then finally admitted, "My voice is failing, I'm afraid." He took another long sip of tea. "Why don't you fill the silence by telling me what you saw in town today? Surely a thing or two of interest?" He coughed and sniffled. "If I'm to sculpt for the Duke, I must be sure to incorporate as much of the Milano spirit, Si?"
So I told him about the crumbling buildings, the trash pile, everything I could remember, but I left the broken plate out. That was mine.
When dinner was through, we set t work on our own creative endeavors. I was instructed to clean the dishes and keep the supply of tea constant. But after that, I had the rest of the evening free to begin sketching the angry wife and husband scene I had frozen in my mind. It felt new to me to capture so much movement in a painting. My master had done well in teaching me to paint things that did not simply sit still, as people themselves rarely just sat still. But this sort of movement was more than I'd ever tried for, and these sort of angry feelings were a far cry from a woman in half lounge, reaching over to a lake full of water nymphs. I started over several dozen times, somehow not being able to make the jump from my mind to the paper as perfectly as I expected myself to.
I dared not look at him, for fear of another stern look or reprimand, but I glanced at him from the corner of my eye as I drew a squiggle on the paper to make it look like I was drawing something important there. I saw him look over at me, a worried look changing to one of relief; I had not been watching him. He blew his nose on the handkerchief and instead of lowering it to the table, or his lap, or even letting it hover my his chest, he kept it to his nose and mouth. I looked back over my current sketch, and the black circles in the corner I'd just drawn.
Not an instant later. "ehhh-Ihshhhhhhhh! hehh-Et-choooo!" He grumbled, blew his nose, and set the handkerchief back down as he yawned. As I watched discretely, I saw him attempt to mold the sculpture some more, but not a few moments later, his eyes began to close. I looked away, assuming he would sneeze yet again. Instead, his head bowed down and his mouth opened, and I realized he'd fallen asleep right there, sitting up. He remained asleep for only a few seconds, basically for as long as it took me to make the discovery, then snapped back awake, shook his head, gave a cough to clear his throat, gave a sniffle to clear is nose, and went back to work.
It was a humorous, unexpected thing to see from a man so wise as he. If he was tired, as he clearly was, why did he not just retire for the night? Several more times I saw him nodding off to sleep in place there, or sneezing weakly into my handkerchief. But work? I saw him get very little work actually done. Upon one awakening, he was set into a sneezing fit, "ehhIhhshhhh-ahh! Ahhh-Ihhshhh-ooo! ehhh-ahhshhoo! ehhh-Chishh-oo!" Then rubbed he back of his neck and his forehead. He looked so completely miserable that I could not stand it any longer. Yes, my first two tries to get him to take care of himself had not worked, but this one would; it rather had to.
I walked to him, putting my hands on his shoulders. "Signore DaVinci, it is late and you are in need of sleep."
His voice was a soft, rough whisper now, nothing more, and I had to strain to her each word clearly. "I deed to fidish this bodel... ehhh.. ehh-Chishhhh!"
I massaged his shoulders for him. "The model can wait until the morning. You cannot."
He sniffed and looked like he wanted to protest. But I draped the blanket back over his shoulders and rubbed my hand up and down his arm. "Come to bed, Signore DaVinci. I beg you."
Reluctantly, he nodded, looking up at me with soft, thankful eyes. "Bi scusi, Fradco... sniff, sniff! Sono malato." He was ill. Yes... yes he was. How had I managed to miss that? I smirked and helped him rise. I covered his work tightly so it would not dry overnight.
"So, Signore. So." I know, I told him. I knew. Indeed I knew. I helped him up to his loft and into bed. I made sure he had a cup of water and was curled under enough blankets as to keep him warm. I ran my hand over his forehead soothingly, finding it just a little warm, but not feverish. He looked worn out, tired, ill only. Everything was quiet, calm. Save for his heavy breathing, the studio was virtually silent, dark, tranquil. "Avete un buono sonno." I wished him good sleep and patted his arm through the blankets.
As I made to leave, his arm shot out, latching onto my wrist. "Franco, per favore... soggiorno?"
Stay? "Soggiorno?" I put my hand to my chest to clarify.
He nodded, turning his head into his pillow. "ehh-Ihhhh-ooo! ahhh-Chishh-oo!" He sniffed. "Per favore, il mio ragazzo?"
I hesitated before replying in the affirmative, "Si, Signore." My master needed me. After all my trying, it had finally worked, and now he needed me. I was not in a position to abandon him now.
So I found a blanket to go around my own shoulders and settled in for the night, sitting on the wood floor, my back against his cot, one of my hands up, linked with his. Toto came and slept beside me, her large head in my lap, my other hand on her head. I was certainly not the most comfortable that I have ever been, but my master was, and that was what I was most concerned with. He would be better after a good sleep, I knew. Some rest to his brilliant body, and he would wake up feeling much improved and more creative. His drawings always suffered from overactive creativity when he woke up from good dreams.
I laid my head back against his bed, closed my eyes and have his hand a tight squeeze before falling asleep. Dreams, I thought to myself as I drifted off. If only I, too, could share in his dreams. Perhaps linked like this, tonight, I would have a chance to glance at his mind. A mind that was so advanced, so inspired... and yet, just one part of a body which, I had seen, was quite normally human.