You see how he glances furtively over one shoulder, as if . . . as if he
were escaping from the scene of a crime. It was Charlottes first
rehearsal to camera, and the unforgiving television lights revealed her to be
more nervous than the young man in the portrait she was describing. But is
he the perpetrator of the crime or just a witness? she went on. I
believe the artist wants us to ask such questions, feel ourselves part of the
plot. The picture, you see, represents a window into another space and timein
this case the fifteenth century. Everything in the painting is designed to
reinforce the fiction that this young man, with one hand apparently on the
picture frame, is about to vault from his world into ours.
To me he looks like Paolo, said Donna. The same sexy mouth.
Ignoring the girl, Charlotte continued, Another example of this arresting
device is Raphaels portrait of La Muta, the silent or mute
woman, a title acknowledging that she could, if she wished, speak to us of
what she has seen, cross the boundary of the picture plane and
Give each of us fair warning when our time is up, finished one of the
Italians on the film crew, tapping his watch. Lunchtime, in this case!
For Muta, the first warning came in the shape of a wolf. The mute woman was
near the ruined bell tower picking dandelion leaves for her lunch when an old
thin wolf loped into San Rocco, a wolf who must be desperate or sick to come
so close in broad daylight. Years ago Muta had seen wolves dancing together
like gawky young partners at their first country fair, but this wolf was long
past dancing. The animal stopped in the shade of the tower only metres from
her, its tongue lolling dry between black stretched lips. The weary eyes
cleared and widened as they caught sight of Muta and she saw the tongue curl
back like a chameleons and the jaws snap shut in a spray of bloody froth.
So they took each other in, the last survivors of what the world had been.
Muta was close enough to see the clawmarks raked across the wolfs
hindquarters and the ragged furrow ploughed by a bullet down its flank. One
ear was ripped almost in half and flapped like the sail of a broken windmill
with every heave of the creatures lungs. When some distant sound brought
what was left of its torn ears to attention, Muta followed the old wolfs
gaze and saw a pack of dogs appear on the horizon from the direction of the
Villa Rosa. Too worn out to run far, the wolf swung its wedge of grizzled
head, scanning the ruined hamlet for shelter, and before she could do anything
it had made a dash for the bell tower, passing not more than an arms length
from where Muta stood.
She had to watch its fall. One of the weak places in her cellars roof
gave way and she stood to watch the wolf falling, kicking, scratching, its
black-rimmed yellow eyes fixed on her, neither asking for help nor expecting
it. Muta knew how that was.
The pack was closer now. In the lead was a long-legged veteran who had lost
an eye and half his jaw three winters back defending his master from a wounded
boar. Muta had seen that same dog take on a viper as thick in the middle as
the dogs own head and grip that snake and shake it straight as a
walking-stick. That dog would track the devil into Hades and back, Muta knew,
and she knew too that the pack it led didnt hunt alone; the men must be
She turned to run for her cellar, but the wolf was there, wounded or dead,
and even a dead wolf could give away her secrets, and so as the pack of baying
dogs streamed over the ruined vineyards towards San Rocco, she acted against
her instinct to hide, and ran not away from the pack but towards it, back and
forth across the wolfs trail, her own rank underground smell disguising the
wolfs as she waved her arms in their flapping dead mens clothes at the
half-wild dogs, some of them even wilder from an earlier kill. When that
failed to scatter them she threw stones, handfuls of turf, firewood. As the
old one-eyed boarhound leapt up and caught a branch mid-air, snapping it in
two with his misshapen jaws, Muta saw the hunters not far behind, approaching
on foot. Her need to escape grew desperate. She kicked dirt in the dogs
faces, raged silently at them, turning her own face into a snarl and her hands
into claws. Offended by the strange half-humans unwarranted attack, the
dogs split from a pack into individuals and, wagging their tails in
puzzlement, drew away from the mixed-up smell of woman and wolf to flow
together on the far side of San Rocco.
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