book clubs, women authors, women's stories and women's art are the four intertwined strands of this vine.

Suddenly love comes to Isabel

In the beginning, when she first arrived in Italy, Isabel was terribly lonely. She had learned some Italian and she had studied English. But she was proficient in neither and no one at art school spoke Spanish. For the first time in her life she had to share a room with a stranger, an English girl who made it clear she thought of Isabel as a provincial child. While Isabel was serious about her studies, most of the other students had come to Florence to have a good time. They were away from home, young, and in a country that seemed to have a relaxed attitude in all things. Most of the time Isabel spent in one museum or another, sitting in front of a master’s painting, copying in great detail every nuance. This was the old school approach to learning art.

On weekends, when the professors were not around, Isabel took her sketch pad and water colors and wandered along the Arno River. It was not the Pacific, but she found beauty all around her in Florence and the river was her point of focus. She could lose herself in her painting and forget her exhausting loneliness for a time.

One day, while she sat on a bench sketching, a young man sat down at the end of the bench, watching her work. Finally he moved closer to her and remarked in Italian about how steady her hand was and what a good sense she had for the space of the buildings along the river.

Isabel could only understand some of what he said and she smiled and nodded and said, “Grazie.”

“Oh, you are not Italian?” he asked in English.

“No,” Isabel smiled at him, thinking he looked nice. But he did not look like many of the Italian men she had seen. His hair was fair and he had greenish eyes. His hands were expressive with long, slender fingers.

“But you have the accent, not American,” he laughed at his own English.

“Do I look American?” Isabel asked him.

“So many Americans come to Florence to study the art. And I see you sitting here, with your sketching papers and … ” He moved closer on the bench and looked more intently at the drawing she was making. “Ah, but you are not drawing the buildings exactly as they are. See, there, that one has a different façade and the roof line is not like in your papers. It is correct, my English?”

“I think so,” Isabel answered. “But my English is not so good too. I am from Mexico.”

“Ah, Bueno” he smiled at her and continued speaking in Spanish.

It was the beginning. From that moment on, Isabel fell in love with Florence, with Italy, with Vittorio. And the months flew by like clouds.

At the end of the year, on her return to Mexico, she sat in the plush robe in the hotel suite in Mexico City, drinking champagne with her benefactor, listening to gossip from her village and carrying a secret.

And now it seemed to her that her own reaction to her daughter’s news was the same as his was that night so many years ago. When Señor Sierra Vargas told her about her glorious future and tried to make her into something more than his protégé, she was horrified and disgusted. But she tried not to show it. Until he came to her and, taking her hands in his, raised her from the chair with her robe open slightly at the chest, revealing her white skin.

“This was always meant to happen, leetle thing, and now you are a woman and capable of understanding what it means. A year in Europe has given you a true view of the world,” he told her. “I can see it in your eyes and on your face and in your body.” He glanced down appreciatively at her and bent as if to kiss her, but she pulled away abruptly and backed up against the sofa.

“No,” she said before she could think. “You mustn’t.”

“Do not be afraid,” he said. “I will teach you everything, as I have always done.” He moved toward her but she ran to the door of her bedroom.

“You do not understand,” she cried, “you do not know what you are suggesting. I … ” She didn’t know how to say it so she blurted it out, “I am going to have a baby.”

For the first time in her life, Isabel was truly afraid.

Señor Sierra Vargas’s face turned a frightening deep purple and his fists came up involuntarily. He advanced towards her, his jaw set, with a look in his eyes that made Isabel’s heart race. He stood in front of her and slapped her hard once across her face and then again with the other hand across the other cheek, whipping her head back and forth.

“Puta,” he snapped and walked away, leaving her crumpled on the floor crying, her hands holding her reddened, stinging cheeks.

Isabel, Episode Nine

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