Secrets were, Aletta believed, the sweetest sin a person could ever commit. In a world overrun by religion, righteousness and the preservation of one’s own soul, if a girl was to survive with even a glimpse of her sanity intact, she must have her secrets. Aletta had kept countless of them in her eighteen years: the sugary treats the family cook slipped to her when she was five, sharing sips of stolen wine with her friend at thirteen, feeling the sun’s gentle kiss on her cheeks when she snuck away to lie by the beautiful hidden stream outside the city walls. But, God, by far the sweetest secret was Adrianna.
A golden glow lay over the art district of Florence in autumn, 1494. The warm breeze danced around the cobbled streets, carrying with it the familiar dizzying scent of paint. Artists’ assistants hauled crates of supplies between the dozens of workshops lining the pavements, their clothes splattered with bright colours. As with anywhere in the city, the sweet shrill voices of caged songbirds met Aletta’s ears as she strolled towards the district’s quieter end, where the less wealthy artists resided. It was her tradition to visit her oldest friend Francesco, an artist’s apprentice, on a Friday evening, and Aletta soon found the right workshop- the smallest on the street, with miniscule windows and cracks along the façade- and let herself in.
For a moment she believed the darkness was playing tricks on her, for she was sure she’d seen a goddess. Basking serenely in the solitary spot of bronze light in the cluttered room, smiling with enticing lips and daring eyes, was the most devastatingly beautiful young woman Aletta had ever laid eyes upon. Her ebony hair fell in sleek waves down to her waist, framing her piercing olive-eyes. Her expression was at once playful and intensely powerful. Something about her made Aletta’s heart transfigure into a swarm of hummingbirds. Once her eyes had adjusted to the dark, she realised that she was not hallucinating. She also realised that she was staring rather rudely at the woman- and the woman was staring back.
“Amica mia, come in!” Francesco called warmly, standing behind his easel, paintbrush in hand, “I had no idea it was so late- but where are my manners? Aletta, meet my newest muse, Adrianna de’ Liza. Adrianna, Aletta Carlotti.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you.” Why did the sound of her voice cause the songbirds in her heart to take flight again?
“The pleasure is all mine, Adrianna.” And why did another woman’s name taste so sweet on her lips?
Francesco put away his paints, and Adrianna made her way over to Aletta. All of her questions would soon be answered.
The next few weeks were pure bliss. Adrianna introduced Aletta to a new way of life, and more importantly, of love. They met almost daily by Aletta’s hidden stream outside the city. Their love felt so pure, so sweet, that Aletta could almost forget it was deemed a sin. The punishments for homosexuality, for what the church called sodomy, were too awful to consider, especially with Savonarola lauding over Florence. But Aletta had always been good at keeping secrets.
Over time, Aletta learned all there was to know about her secret, and it only made her fall deeper into the inescapable prison that is love. When they finally kissed by the stream, all the songbirds in her chest had finally been set free. She should have known better than to wish it would last forever.
The next day she found Adrianna on the ornate stone bench in her garden, shoulders hunched. She rose when she heard Aletta’s footsteps, revealing a face at once relieved and absolutely terrified. Her eyes, once alive with passion, were now lifeless. Her beautiful face showed no signs of love now, only desolation. Adrianna was broken.
“Carissima, what happened?” Aletta hurried to her, placing a gentle hand on her cheek. Adrianna flinched away. Her words sounded cold, as though she was caging her emotions away.
“Signorina Carlotti, I must inform you that… that our friendship cannot continue. I must learn to follow the law, and God’s will, and you are turning me against both. I have my family’s honour to consider.”
The world had stopped, she was sure of it. “Are those your words, or your father’s?”
Adrianna seemed stung. “I… This is my decision. It would not be… respectable to be seen spending so much time so intimately with another woman. Aletta, I… I’m engaged.”
Aletta’s heart sank. She prayed this was all a sick joke.
“He’s a relative of the Borgia. He’s wealthy and- and influential, and he’ll help uphold-”
“-You’re marrying for politics?! Adrianna, you must call it off!”
“I don’t have a choice,” Adrianna snapped, her voice threatening to crack.
“You always have a choice.”
“Not this time.” Adrianna’s voice was barely audible. “Goodbye, Aletta.”
She didn’t hesitate the whole way home. Once safely in her room, Aletta gathered paper and a quill and began to write. She had no idea if Adrianna would even read it, but this was her last chance.
Mia tesora, You once told me how you hated seeing caged songbirds on people’s windowsills. Beautiful, free spirited creatures such as them should not be kept from flying purely for others’ enjoyment. Some creatures are not meant to be tamed. You also told me that we always have a choice. We are the artists of our own lives, the world is our canvas and we alone hold the instruments to change it. It is for these reasons that I cannot stand by idly and allow your life to slip away through your fingers. You don’t love him and to say otherwise would be to say that everything we feel for each other is a lie. My love, my secret, I beg of you, take back control of your life. Meet me by our stream tonight. We can be free of our cages. Forever yours, Tua colomba.