• Vol. 05
  • Chapter 04
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She stole the hat - which she said she had loved from the moment she saw it - from a monsignor in Rome, and took his cloak for good measure. From that day on she stopped wearing her pearls when she went out walking, though she still wore lipstick. What, she said, if someone had wanted to photograph her?

She had been named Florinda after a legendary Spaniard who her mother had read about while waiting to see her dentist. But people were always misspelling it, so for years she went by the name of Dolly. Until she started wearing the clerical garb, when she reverted to Florinda.

I was ten years younger than her and when I was a little girl she would swat me away. Go and play little girl, she'd say. I used to hide behind the door and listen to her singing. She had a high voice, but within it there was a deeper timbre; everything about Florinda was contradictory. People said that she sang while she was walking and that little creatures followed her. Of course no-one really knew, because she walked where others did not. People said that she didn't wear shoes. I knew that could not be true, not on hills like ours, where under the snow there are such sharp prickles. Some people talk such nonsense.

When we were both much older Florinda and I met by chance in other place, a southern town. She was sitting on a wooden bench, under the shade of a plane tree in a small square. I sat beside her to rest, for the midday sun was hot. At first I did not recognise her, for she had grown fat and her chin was whiskery. Then I saw the hat, the monsignor's purple galero, by her side. It was faded but without doubt the same hat, with its extraordinarily wide brim. Florinda! I exclaimed, and she chuckled, in that unmistakable voice that was both high and low.



She was very kind to me that day, took me to the house where she was lodging, gave me food and wine, told me a little of her life since we had last met. She was, she said, on a long journey, and the end point of it would be back in Rome. She had, she said, to return the hat, the purple galero. She felt guilt, remorse and an anxiety that would not go away. I said the monsignor would surely have got another hat - and a cloak too - and that she should not let these feelings eat at her. Florinda shook her head, stroking the fabric of the hat as if it were a pet.

We parted and I never saw Florinda again. I don't know whether she ever did return to Rome, though I heard she had been seen in many places, wearing that purple hat and cloak. As to whether she wore shoes, people could not agree.