Excerpt from Waking Raphael by Leslie Forbes, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Waking Raphael

by Leslie Forbes

Waking Raphael
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2004, 430 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 2005, 448 pages

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MIRACLE NUMBER 1

A Galilean Transformation

‘You see how he glances furtively over one shoulder, as if . . . as if he were escaping from the scene of a crime.’ It was Charlotte’s 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 time–in 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 Raphael’s 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 chameleon’s 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 wolf’s 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 creature’s lungs. When some distant sound brought what was left of its torn ears to attention, Muta followed the old wolf’s 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 arm’s length from where Muta stood.

She had to watch its fall. One of the weak places in her cellar’s 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 dog’s 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 didn’t hunt alone; the men must be close.

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 wolf’s trail, her own rank underground smell disguising the wolf’s as she waved her arms in their flapping dead men’s 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-human’s 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.

Excerpted from Waking Raphael by Leslie Forbes Copyright© 2004 by Leslie Forbes. Excerpted by permission of Bantam, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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