`Let me buy you one,' offered Petronius.

`Wait there,' said Maia cheerfully.

My sister poked her head around the door and smiled brightly at me. Around her neck, she was wearing a ludicrous garland of leaves, twigs and fruit. I refused to remark on it.

`I'm just going on an expedition with a friend for a few horticultural sundries,' she told me in a sweet, inconsequential way. I loved gardening too, but there was no offer to include me. `You can finish your milk. Make sure you pull the door closed when you go, please.'

I felt as if Anacrites was not the only person my sister Maia had dumped that day.

I went home, through streets full of slightly threatening revellers who were preparing for the festivals of Vertumnus and Diana. There were people jumping out from behind pillars, wearing animal skins. I could faintly smell smoke – perhaps singed fur. Others had bows and arrows and were targeting hapless passers-by. On the Aventine, nobody needed moonlight to behave crazily. Unpleasant mimes were enacted with horns, while phallic garden gods were everywhere. Mounds of greenery made alleyways impassable, street hawkers were flogging trays of congealed snacks, and drink was being consumed in fabulous quantities. Where the two happy festivals collided, rival groups were squaring up for a good fight. It was time to huddle safely indoors.

Back home, I told Helena that my sister was shamelessly leading on my friend, and that he was encouraging her.

`Dear gods. I never thought I would see Maia and Petronius canoodling over a balcony fern and a watering pot.'

`Don't watch then,' scoffed Helena, chewing the end of a pen. She had a codex spread open on her knee, a double pot of red and black ink, and was updating our accounts. `Think nothing of it, you dear sentimentalist. They may be giggling over propagation pots tonight – but tomorrow is another day.'

`Sounds like some daft girl in a romance, trying to console herself.' I reached for a wine flagon and a good scroll to read. As I gripped the scroll rod and pulled out the first columns of words on the faintly yellowed papyrus, wafts of writing ink and cedar oil assailed me with nostalgia.

Helena Justina folded her arms and said nothing for a long time. As she did when she was letting her imagination roam. I stopped reading and gazed at her. Her eyes met mine, dark brown, intelligent, perturbingly deep with love and other mysteries.

I smiled at her, showing my own devotion honestly, then immersed myself in my scroll again. You never know with secretive, imaginative women what surprises they are dreaming up.

Вы читаете ODE TO A BANKER
Добавить отзыв


Вы можете отметить интересные вам фрагменты текста, которые будут доступны по уникальной ссылке в адресной строке браузера.

Отметить Добавить цитату