Our grandfather loves the intaglio print of the nude man. He likes to say it’s better than Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam or da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man. Adorning the study wall, the waif frolics on a stony beach, his body half-turned to the sea. He barely looks eighteen. Our grandfather says the boy is anatomically correct. Just the right amount of muscle. We glance up at the picture, admire the striated torso, the mop of curly blond hair. The initials in the corner of the print match those of our grandfather. He doesn’t know that we have seen the album locked in his drawer, the Polaroids of our grandfather as a young man. The snapshots show his attic studio, a trio of skyscrapers discernible out the window. New York, we think, or Chicago. His past life surfaces in newspaper clippings: solo shows in the 1960s, damning reviews of his out-of-vogue figurative style, the critics’ names circled in red ink. The man—the boy—was the teenage son of a neighbor. An Italian family of bakers known for their Pane di Lariano and white rosettes. We imagine his name is Francesco, or something like it. He must have felt lonely in his family’s house and desired to leave his parents behind. Our grandfather and Francesco must have traveled together, up and down the East Coast, finally catching a steamer to Europe. Surely they spent a summer together, in a villa overlooking the Bay of Naples. In the blue light of morning our grandfather sketched Francesco; he penciled in the contours of the boy’s body, crosshatched the fall of sunlight, the shadows around his face. Those preliminary works are now lost. We have only the intaglio print. His dark eyes face the viewer: face us and our grandfather. There’s a strange set of marks in the twist of his chest, a heart pushing out.

Photo used under CC.