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.