A Dream of Florence
by Marzio Ombra
“Is it on? Can you see it?” Beckah toggled the sensor pad on her glass frames. The Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore came into focus.
“Yes! I-I. . .”
“What’s the matter?” Beckah’s heart thumped.
“I am fine, Bunny. I didn’t expect it to be so overwhelming in person. It’s magnificent!”
Her husband’s words thrilled Beckah.
“There, to your left.”
Beckah turned and saw a young couple, newlyweds, share a romantic kiss.
“Remember when we were that age?” Fred’s tone was wistful and nostalgic. “You were always the best kisser.”
“Oh? How many women have you kissed in your life, mister?”
“The only one that ever mattered.”
“Go on like that and I may marry you all over again, you old goat.”
They shared gentle laughter as Beckah started walking along the piazza. “Giotto’s Bell Tower!”
In the shadow of the edifice, Beckah repeated the ephemeral words on her overlay aloud, “Arnolfo di Cambio, the first Master of the Works of the Cathedral, died in 1302. In 1334, the celebrated painter Giotto di Bondone took over as his successor. He was 67 years old.”
“Just five years younger than us!”
Beckah read on, “He died three years later, having only completed the lower section.”
“Yet they named it after him?”
“Well, he is one of the founding fathers of Italian Renaissance architecture.”
“We may not be founders of anything, but we did outlive poor Giotto!”
“Shush you fool.” Beckah shook her head with a bittersweet smile. “Where to next?”
“What time is it?”
Beckah glanced upward to the glowing digits in the top corner of her augmented view of the piazza. “9:00 AM. We need to get moving if we are to be on time.”
“Speaking of moving, let me catch up to you. Tour’s at 10 AM right?”
“It is. Meet you there, my love.”
They exchanged ‘I love you’s’ and parted.
Beckah traveled along the streets of Florence toward the Galleria dell’Accademia. Thus far the vacation was unfolding almost exactly as they envisioned when they were young, foolish, and broke. She wondered what Fred was up to but soon banished her worry. After fifty years of marriage, occasional moments apart helped preserve their sanity. She occupied herself with the scenery and used her new-fangled eyewear to take photos of the variety of sights that vied for her attention.
When she reached the Accademia, Beckah gasped at the grandeur of the building. She jumped when Fred blurted, “And I thought the church was impressive!”
“Next time warn me before you sneak up on me,” Beckah chided.
“Always, my darling. Ah, our name is on the board. Time for our tour.”
Once the attendant allowed them entry, Beckah activated their AI guide, Niccolò, who spoke with a lyrical Italian accent. In sync with their virtual host, Beckah’s glasses displayed augmented reality overlays. They highlighted the narrative so that no detail remained overlooked while they strode the black marbled halls. Fred was enthralled by the statue of Perseus where they lingered until Niccolò reminded them their time was limited.
It was Beckah’s turn to pause when they came upon the Prisoners. She stared at the hapless forms eternally trapped in marble, deaf to Niccolò’s explanations. Tears welled up and spilled but she said nothing lest the dam break and her emotions pour out unabated.
“Are you alright, Bunny?”
Fred’s voice yanked her back to reality. “Yes, let’s go see David.”
“This way please,” said Niccolò.
When Michelangelo’s David came into sight, Beckah and Fred stared in silent awe. Neither heard the AI’s dissertation of facts. It was Niccolò’s interpretation that brought Beckah back to the moment.
“. . . a symbol of strength and defiance, David was pelted with rocks by riotous mobs and the left arm was broken in three places.”
“Seems David survived just fine,” Fred opined.
Beckah nodded, her attention captured by the damaged left foot. The similarity to Fred’s condition unsettled her. She redirected her gaze upward, lost in thought.
“Hey Bunny, I see what you are looking at!”
Beckah realized where she was staring and blushed. “A girl’s allowed to look!”
“It is a bit small, don’t you think?”
“Big enough.” Beckah giggled then raised her eyes to examine David’s face.
“I’m tired. I’m gonna go lie down. Don’t worry, I’ll rejoin you this afternoon.”
“I know it’s late. Take your meds.”
“Already did. Now promise to record everything.”
“Promise. Sweet dreams, Freddie.”
The connection terminated with a happy bleep.
Beckah sighed. No longer interested in David, she ended the tour and headed for the exit.
Once outside, she found a quiet spot to gather herself. The decision to travel to Florence without Fred was difficult. A born cynic, only the combined efforts of Fred and Robbie, their grandson, convinced her to go through with the trip.
“Connect with Robbie,” she said.
Her earpiece rang then the sleepy voice of her oldest grandson filled her ears. A second later the ghostly image of his face appeared.
“Gramma? You ok?” Robbie rubbed his eyes.
“Yes, my sweet boy. Gramps and I just saw the David together thanks to your miracle glasses.”
“So the prototype is working?” Robbie’s excitement was palpable. “I knew it would. Tell me everything.”
“Later. I wanted to say thank you. We both appreciate what you’ve done for us.”
“Gramma, you two waited your whole lives for this. You sacrificed everything for mom and us. I know it isn’t the same without Gramps there—”
“Robbie, that’s what I need to tell you. Gramps is here with me, more than I ever imagined. It doesn’t feel like he’s thousands of miles away. He is experiencing all of this, with me. Your invention made our dream vacation possible. Now go back to sleep. I’ve a bunch of things to experience for your grandfather. I love you.”
“I love you too, Gramma.”