Chapter 2. The Beautiful Woman

It was four o’clock in the morning. Rocco woke up and began padding quietly down the long upstairs hallway to the east-facing window near its end. The hall ends at a white wall.
On the left is a bay window, balanced by an oil painting of a beautiful woman on the right.
The painting’s lovely antique frame carries a small, faded, golden plate with only one word, “Venus.”
Rocco jumped graceful to the bay window’s sill and stretched. Then he swiftly hooked the heavy drapery and lace inner curtain with his paw to pull them open. He looked for his favorite star. Then, reassured by the sight, he started to groom himself, licking his left front paw first. When he’d finished both paws, he gave a small sigh of satisfaction and turned to look again at that small star twinkling so vibrantly in the east. Rocco loved that star. Something about its irregular twinkling excited his curiosity, but gazing at it always made him sleepy. As though hypnotized, he’d always go back to sleep for another hour after he’d found it.
This morning was no exception. As he dozed, the still of the night began to shatter. A hint of amber began to color night’s black canvas. The sun, first light brown, then orange, then golden yellow, began to bathe Rocco, still sleeping, in its rays. Rocco loved the feeling. That’s why he made dozing in this window his morning routine.
Until this morning. Something was different. Rocco woke up suddenly, feeling shaken, glanced at the sky in the east as usual, and realized his favorite star had changed. It was brighter, almost glaring. And its irregular twinkles had turned into regular pulses, almost as though it was signaling. “What on earth? I must be dreaming.” Rocco rubbed his eyes, blinked three times, and looked again. Something was definitely different.
“It’s bigger–much bigger!” He blinked three times. “Now it’s even bigger. It’s coming right towards me! It’s heading right for our house!” As the huge ball of golden flames zoomed straight at Rocco, his acute ears picked up a strange noise growing louder and louder. “This is terrifying. I’ve got to warn everyone, right now.”
Rocco tried to leap down, but could not move. He seemed turned to stone, his eyes wide open, unable even to blink. “I can’t move. But I can still howl as loud as I can and let everyone know.”

He opened his mouth–and out came the first notes of Beethoven’s Fifth.
In despair, he realized that they all–Daddy, Mommy, and Kii–were going to die.
As Rocco braced himself for the impact, something came to a stop in front of his nose, as if arriving right on target. But instead of exploding, the world was bathed in gold. Torrents of golden light, propelled by an abundance of energy, poured down from the glimmering golden sky.
“It didn’t crash?” Rocco felt free as never before. “It’s stopped!” Rocco mopped his brow in relief, then looked around. His world was transformed into a landscape of breathtaking beauty, the familiar garden, streets, trees, and houses golden and shining. The reflection of the sunrise was dazzling.
As he gazed in utter amazement at the golden beauty of that scene, Rocco forgot his terror and began to enjoy this astonishing new experience. As he did so, a bundle of light shot from the sky straight at his window, and he felt himself transformed into a brightly shining, golden creature.
“This is fabulous!” Thrilled at his new appearance, Rocco said, “I know, I have to show Kii!” Whenever his friend Kii, who had joined his family as an au pair when he was three months old, got a new outfit, she showed it to Rocco. She always teased him about always wearing the same old thing. “I’ll really surprise Kii today.”
All Rocco needed to do was meow twice and Kii would be right there, jolly and friendly, asking, “What’s up, Rocco?” Eager to surprise her, Rocco meowed as loud as he could–and out came Beethoven’s Fifth again.

Then he heard a new sound: someone, from somewhere far away, was calling “Rocco, Rocco.” Wary at the unfamiliar voice, Rocco turned cautiously towards its source.
“Rocco.” Now the voice was clearer. Its source seemed to be nearby. That should have made Rocco even more wary, but instead the soft voice both soothed him and roused his curiosity. Who could it be?
With a dazzling flash of light, the air in front of him gathered, turned into rippling folds of gold, and split, to open the curtains on an opera stage. Even stronger golden light poured from inside the curtains. Rocco had trouble keeping his eyes open.
Someone was standing in that golden light. Not someone he recognized; a woman, apparently. Who could it be? A breeze carrying the sweet aroma of amaretto enveloped Rocco in a deliciously comfortable feeling. “Rocco.” Rocco walked towards the voice calling him.

Something touched Rocco lightly, as if confirming something, then fluttered away. They were ribbons of wind and of light, playfully twisting around each other, and now swirling around the mysterious woman.
The Lady.
The light shines down the path she has chosen. The wind takes her where she wants to go.

Protected by the light and the wind, which tosses her golden tresses lightly, the Lady’s crisply chiseled features were strong and dignified, but her blue eyes were pools of sorrow. Rocco stared at her in astonishment.
“Rocco,” she said affectionately.
“How beautiful,” Rocco sighed, looking up at her.