"Lorenzo! Come look!"
I huff, jabbing my quill a little too ferociously into the inkwell.
"Wolfgang, I'm begging you to sit-"
"Just look for a second! Quickly!"
The groan of a chair, Da Ponte's measured, gentle stride crossing the room - I remember those long nights we worked together, the way he paced silently across floors that should have creaked, his heavy brow furrowed and his white cuffs splattered with ink-
I am not going to get anything accomplished today.
"Wolfgang, you said a change of scenery would help you return to work. We've been here for an hour and we have nothing to show for it. I'm sure Maestro Salieri-"
"Look! Look, hurry!"
A heavy sigh. "It's the emperor's niece."
"Look at her hat!"
"Yes, it's very nice. Come now, have a seat. Please."
"Where do you think she got it?"
"I'm going to get a snack."
"I'll only be a minute. And when I come back, straight to work! I promise!"
"Wolfgang, there's no time-"
But the door has already slammed and now the only sound in the room is a long, slow sigh from Da Ponte.
I smirk at my music, scratching a stem onto an eighth note with unnecessary care. After a moment I decide that that was a mistake, but I can't bear to mark it out. Instead I elect to draw a careful series of circles on the corner of the page. Within a few moments I am so lost in my doodling that I start at the sudden intrusion of Da Ponte's voice.
"I suppose you're finding this all terribly amusing."
I don't respond right away: I gently place my quill on the desk, straighten my music, and smooth my waistcoat, all the time deciding how to answer. I haven't spoken to Lorenzo Da Ponte since I first heard his name linked with Mozart's, years ago now. It has been surprisingly simple to keep our paths from crossing for so long. If ever we are in the same room, I need only keep my silence and refuse to acknowledge him. He has never had the opportunity to address me: I haven't allowed it and he hasn't dared.
But now we are alone.
I lift my chin and frown down at my former partner before finally answering. "I believe 'distracting' is a much more appropriate word. I fail to find the humor in the situation. Or in your friend's behavior."
"Oh, for God's sake, Antonio," Da Ponte snaps, but then he falters and falls silent.
I smirk as Da Ponte fumbles with his quill. "You can be so childish sometimes," he mutters.
"Ah yes, in the future I shall try to conduct myself with all the maturity and poise of your friend Mozart."
"How can you continue to be so angry with me? After all this time! It's not as though the loss of my librettos has hindered your success, now has it? And you've seen the effect Figaro had on the Viennese!"
I say nothing, turning back to my work. I lift the quill and draw another circle on the opposite side of the page.
I draw a perfect cross through the second circle.
"What astounded petulance," Da Ponte hisses. I hear his chair skitter across the floor. A moment later his hand snatches the music out from under my quill; his heavy rings catch the light from the window and I recoil involuntarily. "You haven't written anything."
"How could I, with all the fuss you two have been making?" I retort. I try to retrieve my music, but Da Ponte catches my arm, his long fingers easily encircling my wrist. He holds me there for a moment, both of us staring at the other in surprise, before I am able to collect myself and break free. He does not try to keep his grip on me. I throw myself to my feet and stride to the other side of the room, pretending to study the bookshelf, mindful to keep my back to him. I can feel those eyes of his burning into me.
"It isn't as though I betrayed you," I hear him say. The stillness in the room seems to muffle his voice. "You knew how I felt and you told me you were going to find someone else. You were the one who-"
"I didn't mean him," I say, gritting my teeth.
"Why not him? Nonsense."
I still don't turn around.
"Because to the untrained eye your ridiculous behavior indicates jealousy. And if that's the case - Antonio, he's a good composer, he's a good man, but he's nothing like you. Just because we aren't working together... I mean, a word from you, Antonio... I told you how I felt. How I feel."
"I can't believe you're still talking about this."
Unable to stand any more, I pivot on my heel, avoiding Da Ponte's gaze as I go back to my desk. I stack the pages of music and retrieve the quill which has fallen to the floor.
Da Ponte has not moved. "Antonio, please. If it's your pride, if it's the vow you made-"
The door flies open, slamming into the wall with so much force that the portraits rattle. "Anything happen while I was gone?"
At the sound of Mozart's obnoxious voice, my hand slips and I knock a single sheet of music off my desk. I watch it drift gently to the ground, lifting my gaze when it lands only to find Da Ponte staring at me with shock written into all his features.
And then I realize what he has seen: it wasn't the sound of the door that flustered Antonio Salieri.
Oblivious to the tension in the room, Mozart throws himself into his chair and grins at us. There is a smudge of chocolate at the corner of his mouth. I suppress a sneer; a child would have been clever enough to wipe its mouth after eating, but not Mozart, the genius? Some companion Da Ponte has chosen.
I feel Da Ponte's eyes on me and I realize that, from his point of view, I am staring at Mozart's lips. I spin around and snatch my music from my desk, murmuring some kind of excuse as I hurry toward the door.
Da Ponte's voice again. I have no choice but to pause.
"This is yours," Da Ponte says. "Here."
I turn, guarded, to see him holding out that traitor page of music. The circles drawn in the corners are clearly visible to Mozart, who is licking his fingers contentedly, swinging one leg so that the red heel of his shoe bounces off the leg of his chair.
I cross the room again, much slower this time, and pluck the page from Da Ponte's hand. I add it to the pile in my arms, batting at it a few times as thought that might smooth the creases. Suddenly Da Ponte is gripping my shoulder.
I can't bear to look up, afraid of how I might react if I see pity in his eyes. Or, worse - warmth.
"Good luck with it, my friend," Da Ponte says in Italian, his voice low.
I pull away and sweep out of the room. I pause in the hallway long enough to force my hands to stop shaking, to wait until the blood is not pounding so loudly in my head. It has been so long since I have been that close, so long since-
I force myself to think of something else. I need to collect myself.
But I regret having lingered when I hear Mozart's voice say, "He's a funny sort of person, isn't he? Is he always so stiff?"
"I think his work is giving him trouble," Da Ponte answers gently. "He's a good man - if he ever lets you get to know him."
Perfect. Pity from Lorenzo Da Ponte. I hug my music to my chest and hurry away.