Graziella was an intellectual giant as it applied to common sense and the most perfect and beautiful woman that Franco had ever laid eyes on. He fell in love with her from the first moment he saw her. His life was better because of her, better than any king would have enjoyed with a harem of beautiful women! She was the perfect mate, friend, confidant and wife. Oh, she was not without fault and personality defect but her generous nature and guileless character more than made up for whatever shortcomings she possessed. In comparison to her, Franco was a devil, and he knew it! That she suffered him at all was a source of constant surprise and that she endured the austere life of a policeman, a further testament to her candidacy for sainthood! She could have had any young man and certainly there were those who courted her affections who could have offered her a more comfortable life, one replete with sufficient money, social standing and all the trappings that accompany being the wife of a wealthy and important man. Why she had chosen Franco, a young policeman was beyond him. That he cut a fine figure in his uniform, that he was dashing and cavalier could have been the reason, but he doubted it. He was never what anyone would have called handsome. He was not a genius nor overly ambitious… why she had fallen in love with him he would never know but would be forever grateful.
He did not know why Graziella loved him and she would never tell him, but it was simply because he adored her. He worshipped her. He was as grateful for every minute of her attentions as a starving child would have been for a scrap of food. He made her feel important. When Graziella was with Franco, she was the only woman in the world as far as he was concerned and he treated her like a Goddess. It wasn’t his uniform. It wasn’t his physical appearance nor his easygoing personality. He treated her like royalty, as if she were the most important human being on the planet. How could she not fall in love with a man who cherished her so completely? And she had tried not to fall in love with him! Make no mistake; she had wanted the life that would have come with marriage to one of the other young men who sought her affections, all of which were wealthier than Solomon today! That she would never have the fur coats, the gold, the South American vacations that the wives of those men now enjoyed weighed on her occasionally, but always tempered with the knowledge that they also enjoyed the social stigma and snickering of sharing their spouses and beds with whatever twenty something young plaything their husbands currently found themselves enamored with! Franco would never do such a thing. He was an average man of average intelligence and below average mien who had stolen her heart through unaffected and ardent devotion. Ever grateful for his fidelity, his trust and love, she treasured him thoroughly and with all her heart and would be forever as grateful to him for his sensitivity as he was confused by her love for him.
Martin smiled. “You speak English?”
“I am English,” the man chuckled as he stepped through his door, set his suitcase on the floor next to the bench and took the seat directly across from Martin.
Martin was relieved to find someone who spoke his language, or close enough anyway. He turned sideways in his seat and held his ticket out so that the man could read it and asked him,
“Am I in the right place?”
The man scrutinized Martin’s ticket and answered,
“I think so. Where are you going?”
“Yes. Yes, this is the right train.”
“I noticed some of the cabins had names outside the door. I assumed that meant those cabins were reserved.”
The man sat back in his seat, folded his hands into his lap and smiled as he spoke.
“Yes. I never have understood why someone would pay the extra to reserve a seat on a train this time of year. During the height of the season, yes, but now this train will be half-empty all the way to Venice. Seats will be easy to find.”
“What time are we departing? I couldn’t seem to find that here on the ticket.”
“This train will leave at five minutes after twelve, just a few moments actually. Time commitments, you will find, mean relatively nothing in Italy except when it comes to the trains.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, if for instance you go to a shop or a bar and the sign on the door says that they open at eight or nine or whatever they have listed, they may or may not open at that time. If for instance the shop is supposed to open at eight, they might get there at seven thirty, they might not arrive until ten. The trains, however, are a different matter. If the train is to depart at five after twelve, as in this particular case, it will roll out at precisely that time. You can set your watch by the trains! The reason, of course, is that it would be disastrous if the trains arrived and departed as haphazardly as the shop openings and closings. You would have the bloody trains wrapped around each other in great tangled wrecks all over the country! No, times must be precise when it applies to trains. Tracks switch over and merge at precise moments. A train that is running late or early means that there’s going to be an accident, people would die and even in Italy, they frown on those sorts of things.” His eyes twinkled.
As the man spoke, he pulled a pipe from his jacket and began to pack it with his right hand. It was a slow and laborious process. Martin wondered why he didn’t hold it in one hand as he put the tobacco in the bowl with the other until he noticed the man’s left hand. It was withered and seemed to be useless. The gentleman noticed Martin’s attention and smiled.
“A birth defect.” He said matter of factly.
Martin was embarrassed. He hadn’t meant to stare. The look on his face was enough for the man to speak again.
“Don’t worry, lad. I’m accustomed to it.”
He set the pipe down on the bench next to him and extended his right hand.
“My name is Ian McFarland.”
Martin took his hand and introduced himself.
“Martin Shaw,” he stated simply.
They shook hands and Ian took his pipe back up. Martin wanted to offer to help him but didn’t quite know how he would do that. And besides, if the man had been smoking a pipe for any length of time, and it seemed obvious that he had, he would be self-sufficient. He produced a wooden match from his pocket, flicked it to life with his thumb, and a pungent cloud of perfumed smoke began to fill the cabin. After several puffs, Ian looked at Martin and asked,
“I’m sorry. Do you mind?”
“Not at all,” Martin said. “As a matter of fact, I was just going to ask you if you minded if I smoked a cigarette.”
Ian laughed heartily. “Oh, no… not at all but let’s crack the window a small bit, shall we?”
Martin stood and grasped the rotary handle to the window and turned it once, twice, and then a third time, opening the window a couple of inches. The sounds of the station flooded into the cabin. Train whistles, brake releases, conductors shouting, people talking excitedly. He sat back down, reached into his jacket pocket, produced a cigarette and his lighter and lit it. He noticed that Ian was studying him carefully. He looked down to his shirt, to his pants. Was there something wrong? Did he have a stain?
He looked back to Ian. “What?”
“Is this your first trip abroad, sir?”
“Please. Call me Martin and yes, it’s my first trip to Italy.”
“A bit different isn’t it, from America?”
“Yes, it is. But I don’t know exactly how. I mean, that is I notice that it is different, but I can’t exactly define what the difference is.”
“Is it important that you actually define the difference?” Ian asked. “Or simply that you enjoy it?”
He was right, of course. Martin hadn’t thought of that.
“If I might be so bold, don’t be so quick to try and explain everything that you see. Don’t be consumed with the need to label it as familiar or unfamiliar. Simply enjoy it for what it is. For the length of time that you are in Italy, most especially Venice, everything is going to be new and different. Enjoy it. When you get home to America, you can spend your time deciding what the differences were. For now, you are on vacation. Simply enjoy it. You are on vacation, correct?”
“Yes. Vacation,” Martin affirmed.
“Well, then squabble over the definitions and differences at a later date. For now, sit back, enjoy the ride.”
The train lurched forward. The whistle shrilled across the distance. The cars reached ahead and then bucked as they met each other. They were on their way.
“And make the most of your stay while you are here.” Ian said as he settled in and then unfolded a paper and began to read.
They rode in silence for the better part of a half an hour, Ian deeply engrossed in his newspaper, Martin just watching the scenery zip by his windows. The train seemed to be traveling at a great speed and although Martin couldn’t be sure, it seemed to him they were traveling well over one hundred miles an hour. Good grief! Did everything in Italy move so fast?
The travel agent had told him that the trip by rail to Venice would take approximately three hours, and so he sat back to enjoy the ride. The train wound its way through the industrial part of the city, and it looked the same as nearly every industrial city he had seen in America – gray, non-descript, humorless, ugly. The sky was heavy, forbidding. It looked like it was going to rain. He was sorry now that he hadn’t packed his raincoat, he would probably need it. Well, he was sure that there would be shops in Venice where he could purchase a coat, evidently he would have to. Ian was right he should enjoy the differences. He had never expected to come to anyplace like Venice. Certainly he had enough money to do so, but in all those years, business always consumed his time and energies. Elizabeth had nagged him year after year to take a vacation, but he never had. He should have. His company didn’t require his presence every moment, every minute, to run smoothly. His business partner and his foremen could run it quite efficiently without him. And that was the problem, wasn’t it? Martin had to feel needed in order to feel useful. Elizabeth had needed him all these years, but he hadn’t recognized that. Or maybe it was that her need wasn’t as important to him as his own. It was the truth and that’s what hurt, he had been selfish. Why did he not recognize it at the time? Why was it only in hindsight that he could see where he had gone wrong and so badly?
Ian was restocking his pipe, tamping it down and re-lighting it. Martin wished he’d brought his own. Leisurely activities like train travel would go well with pipe smoking. Ian evidently understood this. Or perhaps it was that he was just a habitual smoker of pipes, the same as Martin was a habitual smoker of cigarettes.
When the Lion Smiles © 2011 by Mitchell L. Peterson
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