4 Replies to “7.17.2013 Journal Prompt”

  1. We began each radiant morning at the outdoor café. It was easy to think everything was perfect: a summer breeze, people chatting amiably, our breakfast light and fresh. It had become a habit since we paused in our travels to re-evaluate our goals and check off the ones met. We were headed to Rome for a long stay.Randolph was the organizer, I, the one who followed a seamless flow of time, random people who lived spectacular yet ordinary lives. I watched the ways things were done or undone in each place and found them puzzling and fascinating. So I noticed her at the window as we sat and made plans and felt good about our choices. I nudged him out of his rapt attention to newspapers, then pointed to the third story.

    “She has been there every morning, watching. I wonder about her.”

    He shuffled the pages, and sat back. “Her pleasure, obviously. She likes to watch us do what we do. Natural enough.”

    But I didn’t mean that. I wondered if she was alone; no one else elbowed their way into her spot. She leaned heavily on her hand, as though it was enough effort for the day. Was she waiting for someone? When did she last leave her apartment? And if no one came by, did she miss that? Perhaps she was relieved to be sitting there, no intrusions, at ease with aging and life.

    The days turned into a week, ten days. Randolph found the village quaint and tidy enough to accommodate his need of quiet so he could work on his symphony. I wandered on my own for hours, sat on the low wall just beyond the bakery. Several children played on rolling hills. I found myself thinking of having a child, my mother being a grandmother, my sister, an aunt. Maybe we could stay on here and construct a life that made us both happy.

    Randolph waved aside the notion that night when I lay awake on his chest, my hand warm against his coolness. He had other things in mind, sex, music, travel, performances but never children. I had no reason to think he would change his mind. I feel asleep long before he did, wandering dream alleys where children played a rowdy game of catch with Randolph’s black work notebooks.

    The next morning we found our table, waited for our usual order, and he scribbled notes about the second movement. mumbling about minor chords and lost melodic lines. As usual, I gravitated to the window, her window. This time I would ask the waiter who she was, tell him she reminded me of my grandmother, which was partly true. She made me long for things that disturbed me, made me restless in a way I could not define.

    As we finished our meal, a wailing emergency vehicle rushed to the building. Two burly medical personnel emerged and dashed into her building. We all stood and strained to see what was happening. Soon enough out the front door slipped a stretcher upon which she lay, eyes searching the murmuring group that gathered. She thrust her hand toward me. I stepped forward and she half-smiled, jagged-toothed, weary, then patted my arm. Startled, I stepped back but she said in halting English, “The time it comes you go from him.”

    “Maria speaks to you,” said a teen-aged girl, eyebrows arched high. “Listen.”

    Maria did not return for several days. The café owner indicated she’d suffered a second stroke but was better, coming home soon. Randolph grew tiresome and tired of the village life so prepared to leave. I told him during breakfast that I was staying. He was only mildly surprised.

    “You listen to everyone,” he shrugged, “and do what they want. We have had enough of each other, I guess.” He kissed me, got into his car and left. It was that easy for us both.

    But he is wrong. I heard from Maria my own words. It was time for me, not him; for living art, not mimicking it. I would wait for her return.

  2. She never leaves the house. Not since her husband passed. Not once since then. All her groceries are delivered to order in brown paper bags by a breathless boy called Geremia; and Doctor Teodoro visits once a month; and Giulia the dressmaker comes twice a year with swatches of the newest fabric and paper patterns and gloves edged with lace. And by such visits she manages. Her name is Vera Francesca and her hair is white as clouds and she is as thin as sticks and as sharp as pins.

    She plays cards every Tuesday evening, but the ladies in her group come to her, and she makes them cocktails with lemon twists and marachino cherries on sticks and paper umbrellas; and she lays on a spread of small open sandwiches with tomatoes and cheese, and melon pieces wrapped in thin parma ham, and pesto pastry stars. They play for blue plastic chips, like in a big casino, and if one lady’s luck is spent and she needs to buy some back, then the money is put into a jar until there is enough they can have the best champagne one night and cannoli from Roseo’s.

    The card pool ladies look forward to their nights at Vera Fancesca’s. Not just for the cards or for the cocktails or the spread of food. They look forward to the talk of what is going on. They pass bits of stories back and forth and come to a greater understanding of how things are in the street. And it is Vera Francesca who always seems to know best what is what.

    Angelia has been seen with that Rufio boy and the way they are together and the way they fit and always touching in small ways, well it’s obvious, says Vera Francesca. And Donetta is stealing from her mother again and spending the money on new shoes and a handbag that she dare not take home but leaves behind the counter of Brandi’s wine shop. And Vitale is cheating on his wife once more and there’s a new girl in the street called Paola and he’s been seen sniffing around her like a dog in heat and now she blushes when they meet.

    And Vera Francesca knows all this and more, though she never leaves the house. Some things she collects from the grocery boy, Geremia. When he’s set down the brown paper bags on her kitchen table and he’s caught his breath from climbing the stairs and she has poured him a cool tall glass of Limonata and given him a chair to rest his legs, then he just talks to hide his nerves and it all comes out. Everything else she knows from watching the people from her window, at all hours of the day and not always noticed, and she reads the comings and goings of everyone in the street, and she reads them in the way that other women read gossip columns in magazine and so Vera Francesca comes to understand that Alcina is pregnant again and this will be her seventh child and the father is not Marcello this time, though he thinks that he is; this time it is Benito who has been sowing seed, and Benito is the brother of Marcello.

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