Possibilities

I haven’t written a short story for awhile, so I’ll go with the prompt from Word of the Day: POSSIBILITIES

Dark Door

My spirits are as bright as the sky above as I hurry down the street of the small Italian village. I’m so thrilled to think of what Gabriel is doing for me. It’s beyond wonderful! A few more blocks — maybe fifteen minutes — and I may be meeting my great Aunt Vittoria. Oh, I hope I’ve really found her!

Just before the Second World War my grandparents, Arturo and Bianca Santini, emigrated to Toronto from this little town in the north of Italy. Still teenagers, and just married, they left most of their family behind, promising to send for the others once they’d made their fortune in the land where money grew on trees.

Talk about delusion! Life as an immigrant in Toronto turned out to be decades of hard scrabble. Yes, they’re comfortable in their old age, but never have had the cash to support other family members. Still, it’s been their intention to someday come back, revisit their childhood home and renew family ties. Grandfather’s heart problems have prevented them from making the trip now, but I determined that I would visit this village and do what I could to restore the lost family connections on their behalf.

I started working as a physiotherapist and saving my money; now, with a little help from folks and grandpas, I had enough cash to make this two-week trip. April 8, 1996 was the big day! My parents and grandparents drove me to the airport in Toronto and I was off and the adventure of a lifetime. Before I boarded Mom waved a finger at me: “Don’t let any handsome young Italian turn your head. We don’t want you staying there!”

I landed in Firenze, I rented a car and headed for Pisa — the Leaning Tower being one of the first tourist stops on my list. I visited several more spots, then headed north toward the Alps where I finally found the little village I’ve heard so much about from Grandpa and Grandma.

For the first couple of days I just wandered around, getting a feel of the place and practicing my poor Italian on the natives. If they shake their heads, I pull out my Italian phrases book and show them what I’m trying to say. They laugh, shake their heads again, and pronounce it properly, delighted when, after half a dozen tries at copying, I finally get it right.

I visited the cemetery and found the great-grandparent’s graves. I visited the town records office, where I learned that my grandfathers’ siblings all scattered after the war. There are no Santinis left here, sorry. Maybe in the next village? Grandma’s sisters likely remarried and changed their names. I should check the church records.

Those first few mornings I’ve been enjoying real Italian espressos at a little bistro that caters to tourists like me. I was there yesterday when a very handsome young man approached me. Thankfully he does okay in English and I didn’t need my little book of phrases. He introduced himself as Gabriel Venturi and excused himself for being so bold, but said I look so much like his Auntie Ginevra did when she was young. He asked where I’m from and if I have family here in the village?

Grasping at the possibility of a connection, I spilled out the story of my grandparents who left before the war. He studied me closely until I turned very pink, then he apologized for being rude and asked, “Was your Grandma a Ricci before she married?”

Hope flared like fireworks. “Yes! And her two sisters stayed here, Maria and Vittoria. Grandpa’s parents had died in an accident but three of his brothers and a sister were here when he left. All communication stopped after the war, though.”

He looked rather grave for a moment. “A lot of young men died in the war, out in the battlefields. Or in the ocean. And others emigrated, hoping for a more peaceful life elsewhere. Your grandparents did well to leave when they did. But I think I maybe can help you. Vittoria Lorenzo, my Auntie Ginevra’s mother is still alive, though she’s very old and not able to get out much. She was a Ricci before she married and I think she did have a sister who went to Canada. Of course these are very common names and perhaps no relation. Still, I’ll talk to my auntie. Meet me here tomorrow morning and I’ll see if I can arrange for you to meet them.”

My heart skipped a beat. Could this old lady really be Grandma’s sister?

Gabriel smiled. “If you would like to walk around the town with me, I’ll show you where the Ricci family lived when those girls were growing up.”

I’ll confess, my heart did flutter a bit as we walked along. This man could be a tour guide. I wondered for a moment just what he did for a living, but the chance never came up. He seems like a great person to talk to about any subject under the sun.

Not only did he show me around the town, but also bought us a delicious dinner at the hotel. I did wonder for a moment when the young waiter gave him a sly wink. They must be friends. Or maybe he thought I was Gabriel’s new girlfriend. I didn’t see any wedding ring, but I still made a point of asking him if he had a wife or sweetheart. He shook his head, looking — or trying hard to look— very dejected, then asked about my work in Toronto. Again I wanted to ask what he did for a living, but somehow we never got to that topic.

This morning he met me at the café as promised and told me he’d arranged for me to meet my possible Great-Aunt Vittoria. He said he’d go a few minutes early and explain things to her again — she’s old and very forgetful. I should wait five minutes and then walk straight uphill from the bistro, cross five streets, and turn right at Giordano. Half a block up I’d see #16. Vittoria’s daughter lives downstairs and keep a box of pink flowers in the window and there’s a birdhouse hanging by the door. He’d be sure to leave the door ajar for me; I should go up the stairs to the first floor and knock at the second door. He’ll be waiting in the apartment with Vittoria and Aunt Ginevra.

So I’m following instructions, hurrying along with high hopes my search will be rewarded. Won’t Grandma Bianca be thrilled to know her sister still lives here in the village! If it’s her…

Suddenly some other possibilities sweep through my mind. Suspicions. I’ve always had a suspicious nature and now it’s rearing its ugly head, growling like the Troll of Terror. “Is Gabriel really the helpful fellow he’s pretending to be? What if, instead of meeting a sweet old lady, I’ll be meeting a couple of thugs? How can I know?” My feet start to drag.

I turn the corner at Giordano Street and see an old man sitting on a bench. I greet him politely and ask about Vittoria… Oh, what was her married name? I ask about Ginevra. He nods and points to the house down the street. Number 16. He holds up fingers to show me, just in case I don’t get it. I wince, knowing how poor my Italian really is. He says something else and I catch it that Vittoria is very old, very old.

Somewhat reassured, I approach the door, standing ajar just as Gabriel said it would be, and see the dark stairway inside.

“I’ll gladly hand over my cash, if that’s what they want. Wait! I’m being foolish.” I take the first few steps up the shadowy staircase and heave a sigh. “At least my passport and ID are hidden at the Inn. If this is a robbery, they won’t get that.” I scold myself for being such a fraidy cat and walk up the rest of the stairs. Gabriel is too kind and friendly to be a crook. “He surely wouldn’t let anyone murder me.”

Now I’m facing the door. I give it a couple quick knocks and hold my breath. Such possibilities!

Gabriel opens the door and waves his hand, inviting me in with a flourish. I take a step forward and my eyes pop open. The little old lady sitting in a soft chair and smiling up at me is a perfect copy of Grandma Santini.

Traces of Paranoia

We moved back to Saskatchewan from Quebec in 1998 and I soon made the acquaintance of an older lady in Saskatoon. In time she became very dear to me, though she lives in another province now. Over the time we’ve been friends I’ve had lots of fun visits with her. We went out for coffee often and I helped her figure out various things.

You see, she’s what sociologists call “functionally illiterate.” Bank statements, bills, contracts, sales slips: she’s brought them to me and had me figure them out — until she moved away five years ago. She finds it about impossible to figure out her (direct-deposit) pension by looking at her bank statement. She can buy things, but has a hard time looking at the sales bill and figuring what she should have gotten for change. Also, she was often suspicious people were cheating her.

This spring she called me up one day, all alarmed because of the discrepancy in a purchase she’d made. The item cost $6.25 and only got back a dime and a nickel (15¢). It really bothered her to think that sales clerk had cheated her. I did a quick bit of math and reminded her of the 60¢ tax on her purchase, which would account for the difference. Ahh! She was happy again and we had a nice visit.

Concepts like health, nutrition, drugs and their use, all needed to be explained in the simplest terms. Different times I went to the doctor with her and translated. She didn’t ask him, because she didn’t want to appear dumb.

One day she told me her doctor had said she was borderline diabetic. “But how can a person be ‘borderline’ diabetic?” she asked me, somewhat annoyed with her doctor for that dumb diagnosis. “I figure it’s like being pregnant: either you are or you aren’t.”

I went for a simple illustration. “Your body’s pancreas, that makes insulin, is somewhat like a well. A well holds so-and-so much water, but when the well’s almost empty, there’s just a bit of water and the bottom is muddy. That’s borderline. When there’s no trace of water or even mud, we say the well’s gone dry.

“Our pancreas gland makes insulin as long as it can, but when it can’t keep up anymore, we’re on the borderline of having diabetes. When the gland stops producing insulin, we can’t digest sugar anymore. We’re diabetic and need to take pills or injections to make up for what our body can’t do.”

That made sense to her.

Before she moved, being almost eighty and forgetful, she was misplacing things, then was convinced they were moved or stolen. “Someone with a key, ” she claimed, “is coming into my apartment and taking things or moving stuff around.”

With her eyesight not being very good, she couldn’t see the normal wear-and-tear until something was quite worn. Then she’d say, “Look what someone did to my blanket. They frayed it somehow. It wasn’t like this before.” Sometimes the intruder would scatter a few things on the floor, just to annoy her.

She was convinced that “someone” was watching — that is, sitting beside a closed-circuit camera somewhere all day — to see whenever she went out. Then they’d come in and do mischief. She started hiding her precious things (she had nothing of any real value to a thief) like her many rings and watches into suitcases so they wouldn’t be stolen. Which made things even worse because she couldn’t remember which suitcase they were in.

I tried to be a helpful friend and hurried to the city several times to help her find important “lost or stolen” bank card, wallet, credit card, etc. Thankfully they’ve always turned up — in her apartment. I’ve helped her replace credit cards when she’s lost them. I’ve tried to be patient and be there (if I could) when she needed help or transportation, even though it meant an hour-long trip to town.

She bought a motion sensor camera to catch the culprit but, though it’s been set to take a picture every minute, saw no trace of the culprit on her film chip. I tried to convince her that people have more to do with their lives than sit and watch her apartment on closed circuit camera all day, but one thing I’ve learned over the years: you can’t reason with paranoia. Fear doesn’t respond to common sense.

She extracted a trace of criticism from what I said, got angry with me for not being supportive, and wouldn’t speak to me for a couple of months.

I was happy for her when, with the help of her children, she moved to a seniors assisted-living apartment in another city and her intruder woes faded away. I do miss her — just not THAT part of her nature.

Fandango’s prompt today: TRACE

Visiting a Favourite Site

Fandango’s prompt word: ROUTINE

While my husband and I are enjoying a relatively normal day at home, today’s a break from routine for most of the folks here in Canada: Thanksgiving Day. A holiday for most working people at least, and for many it’s a time to gather with family and gobble turkey, mashed potatoes, veggies and pumpkin pie. I think there’s usually a play-off football game happening somewhere as well.

For me it’s been a day to visit one of my favourite sites, Troutswirl, the Haiku Foundation’s blog. I was going through an older post where poets shared verses about the sights seen in meadow and field. Here’s the link, if you’d like to take a look.

Which has inspired me to write my own verse, suitable for this post-harvest season we’re in:
out-of-work scarecrow
fallen in the wind
shredded by young coons

This is also the day I can’t get proper responses from WordPress on my desk computor. I can’t fathom what ails it, so I’m working totally on my laptop. One issue here: the keyboard is bilingual — and the spell check is all francais. It’s highlighting almost every word I type as a spelling error. 😦

The Word of the Day challenge is FATHOM, a very useful word. For some time now I’ve been trying to fathom why I get into obssessing about small issues. (Was I always? Is it old age settling in — or the result of chemo?) Molehills so soon become mountains.

This prompt gives me a new senryu:
sounding the issue
I fathom the wrinkles
of my obssession

Maybe I’ll print this off and tack it on the fridge. 😉 I’d like to be more aware of when I’m sliding down that slope and catch myself, learn to skip over the issue. Procrastination should come in very handy here, right? Worry about it later.

For over thirty years I’ve had a friend with mental health issues (paranoia) and talk about obssessing! A look from someone — always interpreted as negative — can set her off on a deep examination of how hateful that person — and everyone else in the world — feels toward her. She could spend an hour on the phone with me, analyzing all her interactions with that person.

I’ve discovered that you can’t fight fire with fire. You can’t reason with obessession, nor counteract it with positive thinking. “Try and look on the bright side” has never worked for her. Likewise the commonsense, “Most people don’t even know you, never mind hate you,” goes nowhere. I’ve learned to deflect her thinking into a different avenue altogether, by reminding her that someday the troubles of this life will be over and we’ll be in that better world where love and peace govern everyone’s heart. She starts thinking down that line and her fears over today’s evil plotters shrink to a more manageable level.

I looked outside a few minutes ago and saw big white flakes coming down. A quick flash of winter again. Well, we can be thankful that our weather is changeable rather than boring, and we’re not subject to hurricanes, earthquakes and tsunamis.

The Waiting Room

Typical hospital waiting room,
the air heavy with hope and fear.
Sighs in unison; murmuring voices
all speak a common language.

Eyes softened to not embarrass
anyone’s stream of tears;
ears tuned to hear a name called,
praying their own comes soon.

Kin anxious for the verdict,
improvement or decline,
life or death; in this commune
everyone’s related.

The Missing Girl

I wrote this story a couple of weeks ago with another prompt in mind but decided to adapt it a bit and post it in response to this week’s Friday Fictioneers photo prompt. (Thanks again, Joshua for the prompt image.) This is one of those “leaves you hanging” stories.

I trust my Fellow Fiction writers and our long-suffering moderator, Rochelle Wisoff-Fields, will bear with a second response. Mille mercis to Rochelle for taking much time and effort in her kind replies to all our stories. Check out her blog, Addicted to Purple, for more info about the group.

I’m going to be “away” for awhile. Last night I went through my DropBox trying to line up the chapters of my next book — and feeling overwhelmed. I need to established some kind of proper filing system for all my writings; with my memory, saving by title alone gives chaos! So I’m going to spend some time sorting out files, merging blogs, and working on my next book.

THE MISSING GIRL

Genre: Crime Fiction, Police Procedural
………………………………………………………………………………………

RCMP Detective Wahl studied the photo. “How old?”

“Twelve. Hanging out with friends; headed home alone. She never made it.”

“No suspicious friends, family blowup, school bullying, boyfriend breakup?”

“No evidence of. House-to-house check in the area turned up no clues. Third day already, so we’re asking for your involvement. We’re thinking abduction now.”

Wahl frowned. “A twelve year old would fight back. In broad daylight someone should have seen or heard something.”

“What’s this?” Sgt Merriott turned to his flashing monitor. “Some teens messing around the old Millworths factory found a girl’s body.”

“No winners now. Let’s go.”