The Writers Voice
Your Life is in Your Wallet
The plane gained altitude and banked to the west. Charlie looked out the port window of the 747. As a parting salute, it was common for Alitalia to do a flyover of Venice after leaving the airport. Looking down he could see the lagoon, the piazza and the campanile. He tried to see the new hotel and Julietta's apartment on the left bank, but he could see neither.
As the jet gained altitude, the butter yellow of the ancient stucco walls and the red tile roofs blended to pink in the afternoon sun. A moment later the pink had mixed with the blue haze of the Adriatic and a small patch of lilac was all that could be seen of Venice. It was time to read her letter.
In your bag I have a present for you, it is the magic doorknob made in Murano. You remember how it caught the sun in the first light of morning? How it showed pictures on the ceiling of our bedroom? I thought it might do the same for you in Santa Francesca. You can say you took it from your hotel.
Your life is in your wallet, Carlo.
How did Charlie and Joyce fall out of love after two children, a good job and a beautiful house on a hill overlooking Oakland Bay? They did it a day at a time. The business of falling out of love came slowly, there was less and less of mutual interest every passing day .... one thing forgotten lead to another thing forgotten. Eager to get away in the morning and reluctant to go home at night. Soon they found themselves with nothing to say to each other, and without a second thought Charlie accepted a field engineer's job for the hotel "Habitat" in Venice. The separation might help to strengthen the roots. That's what Julietta meant.
"You cannot give up your roots, Carlo. Listen to me -- what we have today will pass. It cannot put down roots, it will turn bitter. Here in Italy we have a drink we call "Digestivo" Carlo, "Digestivo." After the best and clearest of the wine is made, then we make "Digestivo" from the stems, the seeds and the skins."
Julietta! If he could only start over again with Julietta! He could see her face when he closed his eyes. Olive skin and soft brown eyes, as brown as a pony's eyes, and with that fine blond hair so many women of northern Italy are born with. "To keep us from showing our gray," she said.
The gray was there of course, if you looked carefully you could find the gray. They would search for gray in the morning while she brushed her hair. Then Charlie would get dressed and make coffee. Coffee as strong as he could make it. He could never make it strong enough for Julietta. Then she would kick him out. "Get off to your job .... go! You are building a hotel, no? People are waiting for you out there. Besides, I must have time for myself. You think I have no responsibilities?"
Charlie looked out the port window again. They were
already over the Pyrenees.... soon it would be Spain, then the Bay of Biscay,
and finally the broad cold Atlantic. It would be the longest day. Night would
never come. A stop in New York and then on to San Francisco .... "Santa
Francesca." God! Would he ever forget her!
It began after his emergency leave. He had to go home quickly when Davy turned up at the Oakland police station after disappearing for two days. It scared the hell out of him, and made him realize his responsibilities as a father and how much Davy needed a father. For a short time it brought the four of them together again. They spent a week camping in Muir woods, and even Joyce, who hated camping, seemed to be having a good time. When he returned to finish the job in Venice, they said goodbye with an unspoken agreement that they would give it a go again when the work was done. That understanding was still fresh in his mind when he sat in the Cafe Florian and noticed Julietta sitting alone.
She looked familiar, and he tried to imagine where he had seen her before. Then he remembered -- it was at the building site. She would stop by in the afternoon to watch the action. So few new buildings were built in Venice, the hotel project always drew a crowd. He must have stared at her longer than he realized, because she suddenly returned his look with an expression of annoyance.
He learned from the waiter that her name was Julietta Koslov. "Signora owns a pension on Campo San Bartolomeo -- the Left Bank, Signor." The Left Bank of Venice has a similar reputation to the Left Bank in Paris. A place for artists and artistes who live under conditions not much different from what they once were in the days of Titian and Caravaggio.
"Bella Signora, eh Signor. Natural blond Italiano .... very rare. The lady is married to a Russian gentleman I believe. He is no longer here, back in his mother Russia I hear."
Charlie let it pass. He and Joyce had patched things up, and when the job was done, he'd be going back with a better than even chance of pulling the family together again. At least for the children's sake .... still, there was something about this Julietta. Her look of annoyance, perhaps? It contained an element of challenge which aroused him. Later that week he saw her again at Florian's, and this time her look of annoyance broke into a broad smile .... he walked her back to her pension, and they stopped on the San Bartolomeo bridge to watch the gondolas. He told her about home -- showed her pictures of Davy and Louise. He did not show her his picture of Joyce, and Julietta was worldly enough to realize that this was a part of his life he did not wish to share with her. It meant only one thing.
Venice is, and always will be the third party in every love affair. It waits quietly in the background, opens doors, loosens tongues, and melts inhibitions. Its thousand year history has seen and heard everything. Charlie from San Francisco became Carlo from Santa Francesca, and before the week was out they were as close as lovers can be.
"Where did that name come from, that Koslov? Was he your husband?" They had given up having dinner at Florian's, and Charlie was cleaning shrimp in Julietta's kitchen.
"He is my husband Carlo. He goes to reclaim property in Saint Petersburg now that democracy has come to Russia." She counted on her fingers. "He is gone now nearly two years. Things move slowly in Russia. He writes letters to me, stiff letters -- strange -- he writes in the Inglese. I do not read or speak Russian and he has no knowledge of Italian."
"Will you go back with him?"
"Questions, questions. Questions are for the future, Carlo." She tilted his head upward and kissed him. "My Carlo, so much the man. You live in the future, you live in the past. It is better for you and I to live today." For the first time she looked at him as a woman might look at a child. "Your future is in your wallet, Carlo. The future will be here soon enough."
"Too soon," he said to himself as he drew the curtain on
the port window and looked down. Clouds. Nothing but clouds.
"That's it, Carlo .... God go with you to Santa Francesca."
"Early afternoon. What am I to do until dinnertime? The apartment, yes, it needs attention. I should check on the things I've left undone. I must find Gobbo the handy man -- there is the toilet in Signor Falco, the broken window in Madam Jordan and the doorknob in my bedroom .... our bedroom. A wooden knob this time I think, or maybe porcelain. Something that will not show pictures on the ceiling when it catches the light of the early morning sun. There is enough to forget."
"Then, perhaps I should go to confession -- forgive me Father, for I have sinned. Forgive me for starting something I could not finish. Father, forgive me for loving him, forgive me most of all for sending him away."
"What will I do the rest of my life? To eat at Florian's once a month when the rents are paid? To feed the pigeons with Signora Alioto on the bench by the bridge at San Bartolomeo -- she at one end and I at the other. Shall I sometimes dare to walk through his fine new hotel and think of him in Santa Francesca?"
"Is it possible he may return one day to Venice? No, he will not -- his life is in his wallet."
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