On the day the umbrellas rained down on the lower east side of Manhattan, Norma da Vinci's father died. High above the earth in a chartered Cessna, flying quite illegally, the once-legendary performance artist Roman Montigue released his payload of one thousand black umbrellas. Each one had a switch, designed by a friend of Montigue's to activate remotely and deploy the umbrella, the idea being then that they would float gently down on the crosswinds between skyscrapers and tenament buildings, landing finally in the river. For a few moments that day, the umbrellas fell slowly down on Manhattan island like great, black dandelion seeds while Montigue's position was reported by the FAA and the Air Force was mobilized. The whole city stopped as people went to their windows, stopped their cars & looked upward at a thousand black shadows drifting on the wind.
The umbrellas failed to be carried all the way to the river. Most of them landed in the streets or on rooftops. One woman, an eighty-year old Spanish immigrant named Perla Ayala--caught an umbrella as it drifted by the window of her apartment. Chaos erupted in snatches on the streets below.
As it happened, the one-thousand-and-first umbrella's call-switch failed and it sliced downward ahead of its sisters, silent and invisible, landing directly on Walter da Vinci's head. A moment later someone called the police. Two moments later the call-switch activated, and the umbrella deployed, making the extraction of the thing impossible. Norma tried hard not to imagine her father's body as if Looney Tunes physics applied to it, but sometimes she couldn't help it.
Roman Montigue was tried and convicted for manslaughter and terrorism. At their lawyer's advice, his compatriots in the caper made a deal with Federal prosecutors to shift all the blame on Montigue. They each served six months. Roman Montigue became the first affluent white American to travel against his will to Guantanamo Bay.
Norma da Vinci was nine years old.