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Authors: Adriana Trigiani

All the Stars in the Heavens

BOOK: All the Stars in the Heavens
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DEDICATION

IN MEMORY OF MARY J. FARINO

PROLOGUE

OCTOBER 2000

A
cold gust of wind sounded like a faraway train whistle as it blew through South Bend that morning. Winter had arrived early in Indiana, in the middle of October beneath a cloudless sky.

There was proof of it everywhere.

The mighty Saint Joe River had frost on its banks as it twisted past Saint Mary's College in hungry green torrents. Overhead the sun was centered in the sky like a yellow diamond on blue satin. The farm fields surrounding the school were flat and fallow, faded to a dull gold that would soon turn white with the first snow. A tall heap of cornhusks burned in a nearby field; by the time the smoke reached Saint Mary's, its scent was sweet.

Roxanne Chetta hung her head out of a window in the art studio in Moreau Hall and took a slow, final drag off her sunrise cigarette. As she exhaled, the smoke burst into small blue curls before disappearing into the cold air. She put the cigarette out on the windowsill, snapped the window shut, and shivered. She pulled the hot pink bandana out of her hair and retied it, anchoring her bounty of wild curls off her face so she could see.

Roxanne stood back and squinted at her senior arts project, an ambitious painting, twelve feet high and fifteen feet wide. She had painted it over the course of a year, stealing late nights alone in the studio between the janitor's final rounds and the first class of the morning to make perfect what she knew could never be.

At twenty-one, she was a young artist, but she was a practical one. As the sun shifted in the skylight, the studio was drenched in color, a sort of woolly pink. Roxanne saw something new in the painting, or in this instance, something to refine. She patted the pockets of her overalls, searching for the palette knife.

Sister Agnes Eugenia, around eighty years old, observed the art from the open door. She wore the traditional habit of the order of Saint Joseph, a billowing dark blue tunic with a wimple attached to a blue veil, and a silver crucifix around her neck. She placed her hands in the deep habit pockets. “What is it?”

“It's a blizzard,” Roxanne said as she found the knife in her back pocket.

“I can see that. But where?”

“Bellingham, Washington.” Roxanne stepped close to the painting and, using the the blade, followed an edge of a wide brushstroke, lifting off a thin layer, refining a line. She wiped the knife on her pant leg, leaving a white smear of paint.

The painting, depicting the woods of Mount Baker in snow, was blanched and textured, speckled with painterly shadows of gray. The trees were layered in line, form, and depth in shades of white from milk to chalk. Roxanne had painted diamond dust, snow that does not cling but blows through in a haze of glitter, with tiny pointillist dots of silver, barely discernible on the field of white. The painting was an expanse of stillness. There was a purity to the image, a grace that comes when a place is rendered sacred upon discovery.

“You're from the Northwest?”

“Nope, never been there,” Roxanne admitted.

“Then how do you know how to paint it?”

“Well, that's the point. The
how
. The painting is an interpretation of a story I heard as a child that I've been told is true, but to me it's just a dream. I tried to paint the past, if anybody can actually do that.”

“So you made it up.”

“I guess I really wanted to prove Einstein's theory that imagination is more important than knowledge.”

“Is it?”

“I think so. Don't you? You've never seen heaven, but you believe in it. And from the looks of your habit, you've staked your life on it.”

“You're blunt.”

“I'm from Brooklyn. Blunt was invented in Red Hook.”

“Yes, well, here at Saint Mary's in 1962, when I was dean of students, that attitude would have put you in detention.”

“Thank God it's not 1962,” Roxanne said without taking her eyes off the painting. “I do not like to be confined.”

“That's obvious.”

“What are you doing up so early, Sister?”

Sister Agnes folded her arms into her sleeves. “If you must know, I'm having a spiritual crisis.”

“Oh, Sister, if you're having one of those, come sit by me.” Roxanne sat on a work stool and pulled up a folding chair for the nun. “I love a lapse of any kind.”

“Something tells me you're the wrong person to confide in,” Sister said as she sat down.

“Probably. But right now, I'm all you've got. Father Krauss is doing laps over at the Regina pool, and he won't be finished for an hour. Talk to me.”

Sister Agnes Eugenia shifted in the chair. She patted her crucifix, and took a deep breath. “I spent my whole life in anticipation of everlasting life, the eternal, heaven, whatever you want to call it. I've lived in service to the idea of it, and guess what? Now I can't see it. I thought when I got closer to dying, I would be able to see it.”

“Aren't nuns supposed to have blind faith?”

“Supposedly.”

Roxanne picked up a can of turpentine and a rag. She dabbed a corner of the painting where a drop of paint had dripped. “If you don't mind me prying, why are you having a crisis?”

“I went to the doctor. Evidently, I have a bad heart.”

“A nun with a bad heart. That sounds like a logline on a poster for a potboiler from Warner Brothers in the forties.”

“You know about old movies?”

“It's a family thing. I'm the great-niece of Luca Chetta. He was a scenic artist in the movies, back in the day—they called
him a scene painter. He got his start during the golden age of Hollywood.”

“The best movies were made during that era.”

“I think so. My uncle Luca knew all the stars. They acted, and he painted.”

“So art is in your veins.”

“I like to think so.”

“So why Bellingham, and why a blizzard?”


The Call of the Wild
.”

“Clark Gable and Loretta Young,” the nun mused.

“Uncle Luca painted the cabin and the saloon. And while he was painting, he fell in love. He told my mom the story behind the movie so many times when she was growing up that she passed it along to me. It's a love story.”

“How grand.” Sister leaned back in the chair. For years she had been the nun who chose the films the order watched on Friday nights. Sister Agnes liked movies made before 1950, and very few thereafter. “So what's the story?”

“Oh, Sister, it's a doozy. It's right here on the canvas.” Roxanne stood and pointed at the artwork. “You see the snow.”

“I do.”

“And I see snow. But I also see adventure. Risk. Mayhem. Mirth. Romance. And sex.”

“Sounds like an epic.”

“With a secret. A secret hatched in a blizzard.”

Roxanne had painted smatterings of Tiepolo blue on the frosted roots of the trees, revealing something hidden deep in the earth like rare truffles. The meaning of Roxanne's painting was in the blue.

Just as a blank page is eventually filled with letters in blue ink, those letters become words, which become sentences, which become the scene, which becomes the story that carries the truth.

The truth is where the story begins.

The story isn't the art, nor its players, nor the paint, the technique, or the interpretation. The feelings are the art. The rest is just the way in.

BOOK: All the Stars in the Heavens
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