She knew by the tone and timbre of the rap on the wooden door, that this visitor had come for her father. The sharp, seeming reproachful sound, three strikes, evenly spaced, like the tolling of a warning bell filled with a quiet dread. She felt sure this would only be the first of many, ending in some terminal knock from the Church.
If not already.
She straightened her apron and lifted the latch.
The man at the door was older than her father's age, old enough to be going to seed but more fragile. A man with the black stain of feather quill ink on his right hand's fingers. "Signore Crinimoni," she said. "Good evening to you." She held the door and stood aside.
"And how is your father tonight? In good health I hope."
"He doesn’t sleep much. Mostly in the day."
"I've come to see him." He lifted his thick cloak, folded it on his arm and looked for a place to lay it. She took it from him.
"Shall I call to him?"
"Will you have a cup of small sack?"
She disappeared with the cloak. Crinimoni looked down at his boots and sighed. He felt a quiet thrill as though visiting a mistress. It was rare that he was invited to see his old friend the mathematician anymore. The old boy had become a recluse since returning from the Netherlands. No one had seen him, certainly not at church mass which was the usual place to look for someone. A night breeze lifted the curtain bringing the scent of the jasmine vines that covered the tall old house, with its timbers and garden trees that seemed to reach to heaven.
"There you are," said a voice.
The man in the door of the kitchen had a windblown look, and a flush to his thickly bearded face as though he had been burned by many suns. There was a patch over his eye.
"What happened to you, old friend?" Crinimoni pointed at his own eye.
"I was looking at the sun."
"Should know better," said Crinimoni.
"Yes," he said. "I couldn't resist."
The young woman returned with two pewter cups and passed one to each of the men. She did a small curtsy and made as if to leave when Crinimoni said "How is it your Celeste is not married?"
"I've seen suitors gather like flies."
The other man and the girl looked at each other. "I've been helping my father. I think it’s more exciting than marriage."
"Really?" Said Crinimoni. "What a way for a maid to speak. You'll be one of those dried up old nuns anyway, soon. So." He sipped the honey wine in the cup and smacked his lips. "What is this work?
May I know it?"
"You’re the first," said the man. "I want to get your opinion on it before I publish."
They sipped their drinks quietly as the girl stood by.
"So what am I about to see, then?"
"The eye of God," said the man.
The way up to the roof was a simple barn ladder, used to bring wet laundry mostly to dry in the Italian sun. The man went up first, followed by the springy legged girl, and then Crinimoni, puffing and struggling.
The night air was warm and steamy, filled with flower scent and the sound of night birds. "On nights like these poetry is made," said Crinimoni.
"Or history," said the girl.
Crinimoni snorted. "She certainly has a high opinion of your eye of God."
The man turned away, reached down in the dark of the starry night and lifted something that gleamed faintly in the moonlight. He held it up. "The eye of God," he said.
Crinimoni was disappointed. "What? In there? A common length of plumber’s pipe?"
The man passed it to him. It was light and delicate as a clock work. A length of brass tube, like a pipe organ piece but adjustable at one end. Crinimoni held the end to his lips to blow through it when the moonlight winked on a disc of glass. He turned it in the weak light and there was a larger, thicker glass disc on the other end. "How do you play it?"
"Do you know your Archimedes?"
"My Archimedes, and my Aristotle too."
"Archimedes invented the lever. He said, give me a place to stand and I will move the earth. This is my lever. This is where I stand." He spread his hands wide. "Here, I will move the earth."
Crinimoni ignored him, held the glass to his eye and looked down at his feet. There was only dark. "I don't understand, Signore Galilei. Is it something modern?"
"You're looking through the wrong direction," said the girl. She pointed to the sky. "Look at the moon. There."
He lifted it and slowly moved it back and forth. The girl came up behind him and he felt her heady scent in the air with the jasmine. Oh, to be twenty again, he thought. She took the brass pipe from his hand sited it on the moon and held it steady as he approached. He put his eye to it.
"Devils!" He cried. He took his eye away as if he had been poked, looked up, looked at the man. Saw the girl's white teeth in the moonlight and dark.
"Look again," she said. "Isn't it marvelous?"
Crinimoni looked again. "You've brought the moon down, Galileo" he said.
"Come see," said Galileo. He took the brass piece and brought it to the edge of the roof. He placed it on a frame made of wood, adjusted it, tipped it. Looked again, silently panting, looked again and sighed with pleasure. "Come see," he said. "You will be the second and only man besides me who has seen this since the beginning of the world."
Crinimoni came over, quietly shuffling his feet, feeling his way along in the dark. "Don’t touch it, just look." Said Galileo.
In the piece of glass was a white disk with two cup handles, one on each side. A closer look showed tiny white spots spread around it.
"That is the planet Saturn," said Galileo. "The way it really looks."
"It looks like a tea pot," said Crinimoni. "They'll burn you for this."
"Why?" Snapped the girl.
“I didn’t invent this. A foreigner in Padua brought one which I studied. I’ve made mine stronger. I ground the lenses myself. There’s no limit to how strong you can make this.”
"Where does it say in the Bible or in Aristotle Saturn should have horns?"
"I'm not sure what they are yet," said Galileo. "But I believe they’ll be rings of some kind. If Mars had risen I would show you that. A red light with some green. I don't know why.
"Why will he burn for this?" Said the girl.
"The glory of science has been built for two millennia on Aristotle and the shifting influences of the stars and planets. That dammed Copernicus with his loud theories that the earth rides round the sun, and the sun may be one of many worlds and stars. Man is the Lord and jewel of creation and you mean to up end this?"
"But if it isn't true, it has to go!"
"And aren’t you your father’s daughter. This is not the eye of God," said Crinimoni, “This is the eye of destruction. This is the tool that will burn civilization. You cannot, you must not, speak in public of this."
"You cannot stay knowledge," said Galileo, "you cannot remove it once found, any more than you can uproot the trees of the Garden of Eden. What is true remains. I made this tool. I ground the lenses with my hands. I fixed them in the tube. What I did, you can do or pay someone to do. And somewhere, someone is already trying to make a better one.”
"No! Listen Signore Galilei – listen for your own sake. Science, beautiful science, is built on tradition. On Aristotle. And the church, the beautiful church. The belief – no – the fact – that man is the noblest jewel of creation, the Lord of the earth. If you do this, someday someone will prove that man is only a forked beast among many beasts. Our planet is only a planet among many planets, our sun only a miserable star among many stars. And then what will there be left to dream for? What will man be capable of when he is reduced to a beast instead of God’s favorite birth? What weapons will he conceive that kill from a distance without pity, killing thousands only with science and without honor? Then death will become easy. This is not a lever to move the world, Galileo. This is Pandora’s cursed box. And where you stand, is at the gate of Hell. Would you fling open that gate?’
“The gate is already opened, my friend. There is nothing you or I can do to shut it. If not me then someone.”
“Then hold off your hand! I beg you, wait a little. I’m old. I’m not long. Man’s greatest minds have made this structure of learning and I have lived my life in service to it. Don’t take it away so quickly. Stay your hand until I’m gone. Don’t poison these last few years of my life by proving that everything I’ve lived for is false.”
“If there is poison in truth, it’s already inside you. You’ve looked. You’ve seen. If there is sin here, you have tasted it. Look again.”
Galileo, lifted the tube and held it out to him. Crinimoni took it, held it lightly. “I could smash this fragile egg, right on that ledge. Break it. But you would only build another. I would have to kill you too.”
“Me or someone. If you murder me, my daughter Celeste here would build a dozen just to avenge me. It’s done. Aristotle has lost. He will go on losing to the ages. It’s begun. Look again.”
The old man hesitated in the dark, breathing hard.
"Knowledge is no sin," said Galileo. "What is a sin is denying truth. You have found a secret of God and the heavens, and all you did to earn it was to dare to take a peek.” He held out the tube.
Crinimoni took it and put it to his eye.
He moved like a child in the moonlight with a toy, finding the moon, looking away with silent shame. A light came on in the house next door. Movement in the upstairs window. Crinimoni could not bear to look at the sky. He pointed it at the window instead.
A woman. A man. A bed. They were naked.
The young woman, round bellied, full breasted as a milk maid, her nipples in the glass eye of the tube visible distinct and clear, peaked. More beautiful than the mountains and pock marks of the moon. The man’s stiffened phallus more brazen than the ringed handles of Saturn.
How old he felt. How the years slipped away to his wedding night and his wife, Belinda, long passed away. How like her this woman was as she reclined on the bed, her arms raised over her head to lift up her breasts to her lover’s pleasure.
The wonder of how the candlelight fell on her dark and wooly framed treasure as her thighs fell open to welcome him. How much like an oyster it looked. He could see it distinctly, almost each hair of her cunt. And to look and see what he had only dimly remembered as a much younger man. What wondrous magic woman is, he thought.
The man was not handsome; his chest was thick and his shoulders wide. He turned his back to the window, the light on his buttocks as he hovered over her, taking up the masculine posture between her thighs, somehow ridiculous and primal. The man descended. She adjusted herself to take him in.
The young man settled over her, slipping his arms under her, hugging her tight, pressing his face into her neck, his strong body tensing. His hips began their long slow undulation. Her lips moving as she said something only he could hear. Her fingers on his back, digging in, spurring a frantic sauce of pain into his efforts.
A cloud passed over the lens, blurring the act. He pulled it from his eye with a thrill of shame. The hot steam of his breath had clouded the lens.
He knew that Galileo and his daughter were watching him, had somehow caught him in the act of an old man’s lust. “What a discovery.” He passed the tube back to his friend. He sighed in defeat.
“Now it begins,” he said.