Story: A Storm Changes Everything
By: Gaither Stewart
Oh, no, it’s already beginning. As every morning the usual twisting and untangling myself to escape these capricious sheets. Already another day. I no sooner finally drop off to sleep than I’m waking and another long day seems to stretch out before me. Day itself seems like the dark of night … trailing me. As if I were alone in the world when I know I’m not, for I have wonderful David. But not days! And not all nights either. I wonder how other people handle this matinal sensation of hopelessness. With hope itself. Like putting out a fire with fire. Nights I don’t have these feelings of being forsaken by all. No ideas now. No way to get out of this black hole … as if hopelessness were my destiny. For some reason, no more exotic travels like before. The savanna, the zebras and elephants and an occasional lion that excited all the men, the cozy tents and campfires, and strange men preparing tea and mysterious dishes that they hinted make you want to have sex. And all the men snickered. But all so tiring. Hard for a woman to get ready for the days on the savanna. Alas, alas, alas! For some reason I like that word. Someone we knew back in America loved to say ‘alas’ in such a sorrowful way. I think he was English or Scottish or some such. Never spoke like an American. Well, at least, we finished cleaning the downstairs yesterday. Today, I’ll send Pera upstairs. She’s probably already up here someplace. Maybe hiding from me. Still, she’s finally learning what real cleaning is. But if I just didn’t have to oversee everything. My God, there are only two floors to do. No more than ten rooms or so. You’d think it was some huge mansion or a country villa. They simply can’t get it into their heads that pictures have backs and that dust gathers under cabinets. And that useless gardener! Over and over he cuts the grass in our part of the garden in the same places and never touches the hedges. And then who is supposed to clean up the cut grass he leaves behind? That’s not Pera’s job but she has to do it anyway and just when she should be preparing my breakfast. You’d think they came here just to harass me. I hate days. I wonder what time it is anyway. Someone in this household has to keep up with the hours they work. If I didn’t manage our affairs things would really go to pot around here. Oh, now where is that clock? Oh gosh! It’s turned backwards. Just like David! And I can’t reach it from my side of the bed. Oh, well, I’ll call David and ask him the time. “Hello, Darling … oh, I’m sorry to interrupt your meeting but would you tell me the time. Oh, gosh, it’s not a big deal … just look at your watch. What? No, I can’t see the clock from here … you left it backwards. Yes, of course, the clock is most definitely standing backwards. Now what good is it like that? After all I’m trying to run a household here while you’re out for the day all dressed up and meeting people. Anyway what time is it where you are? What? Of course I know we live in the same time zone. Exactly 11.27, you say. Time to get up, you say. Well, I’ve been to the bathroom twice already. That same stomach problem, I suppose. OK, thanks. Now have a lovely day. Yes! Yes, I promise not to disturb you again during the meeting. I’ve got to get to the dressing room and make myself beautiful for you, Darling … Sweet wise guy, I know there’s no rush. A long busy day awaits me too. After all!” That David! He only thinks about his meetings—board meetings—he sometimes calls them. He makes them sound so earth-shaking without realizing the problems I face here. And then there’s my sleeping problem. Just when I finally drop off to sleep, even then so fitfully, and it’s already time to get up. One thing to his credit is that he gets up, showers and dresses in silent respect for my beauty sleep. Considerate man, my husband. But so Italian. So self-centered. Thinks he’s the only one who works. Like a horse, as I do. Like a horse? Do you say that in English? Horses just eat grass in the fields and occasionally take a run. Anyway, unlike Pera and Roman or whatever that gardener’s name is. I can never distinguish between those Romanian and Filipino and Moldavian names. They keep switching nationalities. First they say they’re from Moldavia, then they’re from Moldova. Who can keep those places straight? God knows if they’re even countries, yet everybody keeps making wars over them. I mean, what difference does it make in the long run if they are Moldavian or Moldovan? Now you tell me! If it were up to me I would give them all to Germany or Russia or even to Austria. Now that was once a real country. Pretty tiny place now, so they need new lands. We drove through the whole country, from Salzburg to Vienna, in a few hours. Crazy world, this Europe! I still wonder why we came here. David had his important position back in Ohio. We had that huge house and all the cars. Shopping was so easy and a real pleasure where you could at least speak intelligibly to sales people … instead of this language for children. Like those Moldavians or Moldovans, you never know if they’re speaking this silly language … or theirs. Here no one knows, in fact in all of Europe, nobody seems to know where they belong or even where they want to belong. On the other hand some people want to split up Europe again, put back the borders and passports and visas and all that stuff, and use liras and marks and francs and schillings. Actually life might be more exciting that way … and mysterious. Maybe it would work better. Small is beautiful we used to say. I wouldn’t mind changing our dollars, uh, or our liras that so many people want back into other currencies and having my passport full of stamps and seals and visas for one country or the other. But then what a hassle. Lines of people trying to get from one country to the other. Oh gosh! I wonder what time it is now. I should start getting ready. Ready? He doesn’t come home until eight or nine o’clock. That’s another thing. The crazy hours these Italians keep. Why back home, he closed his office at five and by six we were having cocktails. Then those all-night sessions here! Or their work weekends! No wonder he’s so tired sometimes … goes to bed without even a snack. Hmmm. Keep yawning and thinking … and thinking. Gosh, I must have dropped off again … there I was in the Mall, an upper level. I believe because the balcony rails were all decorated in flowers. Strange the cats haven’t scratched on the door yet. But they seem to like Pera who must have fed them. And for some reason they love that Moldavian or Moldovan gardener too. Hang onto him even though he doesn’t even feed them. Must be something in the genetic makeup of those peoples … or in cats. Oh, that clock! David is so careless. What time can it be now? “Hello! May I speak with David, uh, with the Direttore, please? What? Yes, I’m Signora Fortunato. He’s already out to a luncheon? Ah, oh, yes. Excuse me, can you tell me the time, my clock is, uh, our clocks are not working. One-forty! Oh, already so late. Thank you, uh, Signora.” Never know what to call his secretary. His assistant, David says. Has one of those impossible names with a de or a di before it. Oh well, no matter. Let’s see my agenda for the day. Turn on that lamp. Well, would you look at that! The clock is not standing backwards at all. Its face was just invisible in the darkness. I always thought it was one of those clocks that glow in the dark. Yes, twenty minutes till two! Now did I even have breakfast? Don’t tell me that Pera forgot my breakfast again. She must be reprimanded! Absolutely this time. Well, David can do it. She doesn’t seem to understand Italian anyway even if she claims she’s Italian. Oh well! I wonder what the weather is like today. You never know! Changes overnight. Everybody says there’s never been a summer like this in Rome. Rain and rain and rain. Then the wind and it turns cold. Like Ohio weather. Or Michigan. But David doesn’t care anyway. That is, not until August. Then he cares. He wants his month at our house on the seacoast. Who knows if the caretaker really takes care of it. I should call him and tell him to expect us in a few weeks. I will call. Right now. “Hello, pronto, hello, who is it.” Oh dang it, he hung up. He only said pronto and then hung up. That man’s voice reminds me of David’s. I should tell David to check that caretaker. “Hello, Signora, may I speak with il Direttore? What? Still not back from lunch? He’s not returning today? Business engagements? Well, that’s a fine how-do-you-do. Uh, signora, would you tell me the time again, please. FOUR-THIRTY! Already?” Yep, our clock says it loud and clear. Four-thirty. Now I don’t remember if I even had lunch. Pera! Incorrigible woman, Italian or Romanian or whatever she is. And that Moldavian working outside in the garden … if it’s not raining. Here, I’ll turn on the TV. Oh darn it! Four-thirty means I missed a key installment of my program. I wonder if she decided to stay with him despite his betrayals and lies. Of course, she loves him. But enough is enough. Sometimes you have to put your foot down and say NO! No more. Well, since the whole apartment seems silent and Pera hasn’t knocked and the cats haven’t scratched the door, I might as well watch the soap on that other channel. Hard to remember them now that there are so many channels since they started this terrestrial TV stuff. Whatever that means. Political news everywhere you look … which I don’t even understand. I should get up anyway but at this hour to do what? And then those English channels. Why, it’s as hard to understand their English as the gardener’s Moldavian … or Moldovan. Oh! Here’s that wonderful love story that David says is in its fifth year. Now that sounds like America! Five years and she’s still in love with that married man who’s in love with his best friend’s wife who is also his secretary. Or assistant. Confusing situation. Shows you can’t trust secretaries … especially not assistants. Always ready to betray someone. Now that’s a word in Italian I know. David’s always using it too. Tradimento. Sounds so terrible. Much worse in Italian than in English. I wonder if the word even exists in Moldavian. When you stop to think about it, languages are pretty interesting. Very revealing. Curious how David changes when he speaks to his friends in Italian. They all speak as if exclusively about tradimento. It’s written on their faces. In their sneaky smiles and greedy eyes. David thinks I don’t notice such things. But I see more than he thinks I do. Oh, wow! What was that crash. Thunder in July. Or is it already August? Oh, darn it! The lights are out again. Power outage. Just when I wanted to call our summer house. Something about that voice. Oh, well, men will be men. Someone from David’s office, I suspect. Anyway since that’s all theoretical, I’ll take my bath like every morning. Uh-oh, would you look at that. Is that skin? The skin hanging from the back of my upper arm. Here, pinch it. Yes, that is loose skin. And it shouldn’t be hanging like that. Shouldn’t be there at all. Ah, the tub is finally full. It gets slower every day. I must speak with David about that too. He so likes to get involved in household matters … just to show off his ingenuity. The water feels good. Seems like I’m still in my bed. I could drop off to sleep if I just let myself go. But I never do. Oh, what .. what was that? You did sleep didn’t you, lovely? Oh well, there’s still time. He never gets here before nine. Yes, I did an excellent job on my make-up. David calls it maquillage. Like’s to show off his French or whatever that word is. I suspect he just dislikes the word make-up. He once said maquillage is so false which hardly impressed me then because I didn’t understand the word. Oh, golly, it’s already eight-thirty. How time flies! That means Pera has left on her three-hour break. I wonder where she goes anyway at this hour. A little base, then powder and the difficult operation adjusting my false eyelashes. Oh, the fingernails! Well, I did them yesterday I believe it was. They look perfect. No, I won’t call David again. He gets mad when I call him at this hour. He’s probably in some conference or another. In any case he should be here soon. Golly, how quiet it is. Pera is out. The storm seems to have subsided. This silence! It’s maddening. Shouldn’t be that way. In a two-storey penthouse you expect some movement. Some noise. People going up and down the stairs. But there’s nothing but silence. I should be thinking about dinner. Pera might have left it somewhere in the kitchen to be warmed. If not, who will prepare it? We could go out, I suppose. I’m ready. I hate that kitchen … and cooking. We could just skip it, I suppose. Better for my cute figure and that hanging skin on my arms. Nine-thirty! Already? Well, at this point I think I will just crawl back in the bed. My paradise. I might as well call that caretaker again just to make sure the house will be ready when summer finally arrives. If it arrives! “Pronto”! Well, that’s the same voice I heard before. I heard it clearly from the other end of the line. A distant pronto and a click. Why that was David’s voice! Silly that he hung up. I just wanted to ask what time he would arrive. Gosh, what a crash that was. Lightning must have struck the Coliseum. David can’t get back home in this storm. He must have been up there to check on the caretaker. Oh, if it just weren’t for this out-of-season storm, David would come home and we could have dinner, somewhere.