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Now I think back on it all, it's ironic and yet so very apposite how I always associate him with light. It seems impossible to think of him in any other way but surrounded by a bright halo of iridescencethe bright yellow glare of candles, or the greener glow of the gas lamps. Light shrouds him, an impossibility he manages to achieve. Perhaps the light is jealous of him, or perhaps it misses him and clings to him where it can. Like a lover, or a second skin. A never-ceasing wonder to someone like me, who lives his life through every hint of light and shade. Even in the dark he is never entirely obscured but seems to shimmer with a phosphorescence all his own. Even his very name means light.
There was no wonder, and little enough light, in the alley at the back of the Pitti Palace. This story probably began there, although it is always hard to decide that kind of thing when one is in the eye of the storm.
I'd been prowling the streets of Florence late at night. Even a newcomer to the city such as myself knew it wasn't a sensible thing to do in some areas, even in daylight, but my muse had deserted me and I was driven to it by desperation. If I didn't paint, my patronthe unctuous and two-faced Signor Bettanowould soon think twice about supporting me and my family.
The shadows on the walls of my bedroom, so often an inspiration in their shrouded beauty, were nothing but the flickerings of the candle flame and the promise of little else. They failed me when I needed themthey gave me neither inspiration nor joy. So I dressed in the dark and slipped down the creaking staircase in stockinged feet, shoes in hand. Past Bettano's rooms and out in the musty cool of the Florentine night, charcoal in pockets, a sketch pad optimistically tucked beneath my arm.
I knew little of my surroundings. The city was unfamiliar to me, but as I slid into the stream of the nightjoining a small drift of others who, for their own reasons, also found solace in the shadowsI felt a peace that had recently eluded me, shut away in the top of my patron's house.
I moved aimlessly by the Arno. The river poured by, black and swift. The moss-dank stones of the river's path were cool, slippery and slick to my touch, like drowned flesh beneath my hands. For an hour or more, I sat on the muddy edge of the empty riverbank, getting myself chilled in the process, watching the yellow moon rise above the black edges of the city. Pregnant and gibbous, she cast her sickly reflection in the water beneath.
But nothing spurred me to take my charcoal in hand, and even under the bright light of the moon, I did not feel moved to commit anything to paper. I saw nothing to inspire me. For all the glamour of my relocation from Fiesole to Florence, for all the excitement I'd feltand yes, some trepidation tooat leaving my family behind to restore our fortunes in the city, I saw only water, light and stone. And that was nothing I couldn't have seen at home, despite the buildings that towered over the river and me.
The moon had moved above the buildings and was perched overhead, hanging like a huge yellow apple on a tree I couldn't see. I was considering walking back to my rooms and drinking the remainder of my wine in an attempt to sleep when I heard a scream and voices raised in consternation. The human reaction is to run towards these cries of distress, it seemshowever unwiseand without a thought I found myself running along the bank, up the narrow cobbled streets, towards the inhuman cries.