“If you look on the wall, just behind my desk, you’ll see a rather impressive looking little document. It’s my postgraduate degree in Law from Santa Clara University. You notice my palsied right hand,” Bill held it up and smiled as he purposefully twisted the fingers into a claw like shape, “and the fact that I walk with a limp? That’s because it costs an arm and a leg to go to school there and that’s after you meet their stringent grade requirements.” He grinned.
Martin cringed in his seat.
“Yeah, I think I heard of it while I was attending ‘Drive Through U.”
“Yeah, well,” Bill sniffed, “a degree is a degree. If I were as smart as I thought I was, I would have saved myself half the cost and gone to San Jose State with you. Status symbols aren’t necessarily better quality, just more money.”
Bill turned the keys to his ignition and started his car.
“You’re a smart and intelligent man Martin, that’s why I’m your attorney and I might be a bit rusty with divorce proceedings and maybe I did let a few things go too easily but lets keep our eyes on the big picture here, okay?”
White exhaust billowed into the crisp September air as Bill let his Citroen idle in the parking lot.
“I told you before we got started on this,” he continued, racing the engine slightly, “that divorce is nothing more than a controlled amputation… a civilized blood letting. It’s clean, hopefully quick and for the most part sanitary but it’s an amputation all the same. But after this is all said and done you’re still going to be a wealthy man, relatively speaking. Let her have the homes and all the rest. The rentals especially! God, those rentals have been a major business headache since you bought them seven years ago. They have only been a marginal success as a write off and that, only because you haven’t made a dime off of them. Let her have them and all the headaches that go with them. Consider it all a trade off. You’re getting the best of the deal, believe me.”
Andrea froze when he heard it, a rustling in the darkness that could only mean he was being stalked, hunted like a wild beast. The air seemed alive with electric anticipation. It had happened before, many times and he was ready. Every muscle in his body tensed as he waited, knowing the attack would come in an instant and the assault would be unrelenting. He forced his breathing to slow but still, he could hear his heartbeat so loudly in his ears that he was afraid it could be heard by the world. He reached to his side slowly and put his hand palm down on the mattress, the better to push with when he turned to meet the assailant.
“Closer.” He murmured softly. “Come closer.”
There was a momentary rush of air and then the sound of bare feet on the marble floor. He rolled to his left and thrust his arms forward as his daughter, hair, hands and pink feet flailing wildly, leapt into the bed squealing like the little ragamuffin that she was. He wrapped his arms around the two-year-old like a great hungry bear and snarled into the nape of her neck. She howled with delight as he tickled her, kissed her and hugged her till he thought he might break her precious little body in half.
“Papá! Papá!” She gasped as she tried to wriggle free from him.
“Oofa!” Gianna snorted, a tender, patient wife and mother who hated to be awakened in the morning like a soldier in the field under attack.
“Dai’, smettila!” She groaned as the bed bounced and the warm quilts were snatched off of her. Andrea had them over his head and was growling like a wild animal while he held his lovely little Angelina. Gianna was not sure which of them was more a child, five-year-old Angelina or her insufferable husband, Andrea Morucchio, thirty-eight year old idiot, whom she loved and adored so deeply that it hurt. She could not help but giggle.
“Look at them.” She chided herself. “Just look at them!”
Gianna mustered up a half way descent snarl of her own, grabbed her husband around his middle, buried her face in the back of his neck and soon the three of them were rolling about the bed like circus acrobats. If there was a better way to start the day, none of them knew what it could be.
Breakfast was crostinni, marmalata and coffee, typical Venetian fare for Gianna and Andrea and cereal and milk for Angelina. Andrea was deeply engrossed in the financial section of the newspaper and let out a disheartened groan as he read.
“Andrea please,” Gianna scolded, “put that away and pay attention to your wife and daughter!”
If he heard her, he ignored her for he kept reading. Angelina turned her impish face to her Mother and grinned mischievously. With her left hand she reached over and grabbed the bottom of the paper and pulled down so that her father could see her face. He looked at her sternly for a moment and stuck his tongue out at her. Angelina giggled and then stuck her tongue out at him. He rolled his eyes widely; she rolled hers in perfect mimicry. Andrea put a finger in the corner of his mouth and tugged until his lips were stretched in a grotesque grin and grunted, Angelina did the same.
“Stop that!” Gianna admonished. “Andrea,” she pleaded as she clasped her hands together and wagged them at her husband and daughter, “you know how I despise that. It’s not good for her little face. Honestly…” she breathed with exasperation.
Andrea folded his newspaper and set it down, took up his coffee and spoke to his wife.
“The Italian Lire is down again. One point sixty against the dollar. Every winter the same, the Lire sinks lower and lower. I shall go broke at this rate.”
Gianna refreshed his cup, poured one of her own and sat across from him at the small kitchenette. Every morning it was the same, she chided him for reading the paper and he moaned about how poorly his business was doing. But it wasn’t that bad. Andrea was a perennial worrier. If the Lire were up he would complain about that too. He would worry if it became too strong, for then the tourists would not come and his business would go badly. It was always the same and yet, he provided for them very well. They weren’t wealthy by Italian standards but they lived well and had a beautiful and spacious apartment in Mestre. It was on the seventh floor away from the noise and confusion of the street and offered a marvelous, if deceptively handsome, view of the ugly sprawling city. She would rather live in Venice but the living there was far too expensive and the homes completely out of reach. Even if they could afford one, there were other considerations. Venice’s buildings were venerable, even by Europe’s standards and always in need of repair. The wiring was ancient, the plumbing ancient and always the buildings needed resurfacing or the sagging walls reinforcing. For the most part the entire city still sat on the original pier pilings driven into the mud some twelve centuries before. Repairs on any part of an apartment in Venice could cost a year’s wages! The high water was another thing. Every winter, with greater frequency than the one before, there was the high water and depending on what zone you lived in, without hip waders you could not even leave your house. In all of Venice, no one lived on the first floors anymore. It was impossible, for when the high tides came the sea water overflowed the canals into the streets, eating the life out of the marble and stone, rotting the ancient city from the foundations up. Venice was indeed a city that rose magically from the sea but not so high that it remained untouched by it. What the world’s tourists did not see was that Venice remained a metropolis that was under constant construction and repair and rarely to build anything new but always to restore what was ravaged by time and the sea.
“Did you set everything in the shop up before you left last night?” She asked.
Andrea looked at her for a moment before answering. He knew what she was thinking. They had discussed it many times in the past. She wanted to live in Venice but did not want the limitations that came with living in a museum that was subject to the capriciousness of the sea.
“Yes,” he answered, “but I don’t think the high water will come. At least I did not hear the sirens this morning.”
He wanted to live in Venice as well and would have happily endured the cost and the aggravation but there were only so many apartments to be had in Venice and they were nearly impossible to buy. Those that came up for sale were either purchased by the real estate agents before anyone heard of their availability or the city purchased them to keep foreigners from buying them. A little known fact was that a great many palaces in Venice were no longer owned by Venetians but by Stranieri who could afford the purchase price but not necessarily the upkeep. Many of the great homes sat unoccupied and unattended for years at a time like orphans waiting for someone to love and adore them. The Strangers could boast a home in Venice to the world as a testament of their wealth but what a crime for no one lived in them! And there was only so much space available in Venice. Depending on the historian, Venice is a city of one hundred and fifteen or one hundred and twenty small islands interconnected by canals, bridges and buildings. There is no land available to build any new structures and that is one of the things that makes Venice so special, it has remained largely the same for centuries.
When the Lion Smiles © 2011 by Mitchell L. Peterson
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