Like all the other shops, he had a solid metal dyke that fit across the door and was approximately a meter tall with rubber gaskets that ran the length of the bottom and both edges. When high tide was forecast, he simply slipped this in the runners on the front of his door, snapped it snuggly into place and it kept most of the water out. All of his merchandise was stored above the two foot mark in his shop and his tie racks were put up on makeshift stilts the evening before a tide was expected so he rarely suffered any serious damage, just the inconvenience. On the mornings when the tide was too high and parts of Venice were submerged under the half meter or so of brackish water, he had to wait until the tide slid back out before opening his shop and then, of course, there was always some mopping to be done for he could not keep the sea completely at bay. But mainly, the high tides that came did little damage and were more a source of aggravation and topic for discussion with other shop owners.
Andrea removed his coat, hung it up and then prepared for the day that was to come. Not five minutes had passed when his door was opened and a man stepped inside.
“Permesso?” He inquired.
Andrea looked up and saw that it was Signor Adamo Lucatello, the salesman from the Lucatello School of Embroidery in Burano.
“Avanti.” He called back. A nonchalant wave of his hand brought the man in.
“Prego.” Andrea spoke first. “We must wait a few minutes for my assistant to arrive and then we will go and have a coffee while we discuss business.”
Signor Lucatello was pleased. It wasn’t often that Signor Morucchio was so affable or generous.
Maybe today’s business would go well after all. After a few minutes small talk, a harried young woman of about twenty burst into the small store.
“Signor Morucchio,” she began, “mi dipiace…”
Andrea cut her off with a wave of his hand.
“Non importa.” He told her. “I will be a few moments with Signor Lucatello. Please organize the stock and make a presentation in the window. I will return later.” With that said, he turned his attentions back to Adamo.
“Shall we?” He asked. He reached and opened the door and then the two of them proceeded down the street to the Osteria.
It wasn’t until after lunch that Andrea returned and Gabriella was angry, but she would never dare say anything to him. He was the boss, and in Italy, one never spoke brashly to one’s employer, no matter how inconsiderate he may have been. Impudent employees did not get their yearly contracts renewed and jobs were scarce enough. Though she was not getting rich working for him and longed to have a shop of her own, she needed his generosity, for he paid her more than the average pittance that most small shop owners paid. She would have to suffer under him a few more years and then she would be able to open a shop of her own. Then she would be the boss and others would never dare speak brashly to her! What a fine day that would be! She had gone without lunch, it was nearly two in the afternoon and it was just as likely that, if he even considered it, he would ignore her discomfort, go about his day and then depart for home early, leaving her with an empty growling stomach and the responsibility of closing the shop. Andrea allowed no eating in his boutique though he broke that rule himself very often.
Andrea studied her for a moment. It clearly made her uncomfortable. She was pretty enough. She was petite and had a firm compact figure. Her hair was a sandy brown and hung in broad waves around her neck and shoulders. She was slender, had skin that was smooth and fine like the glass the masters molded from the rough sand into delicate crystal on Murano; had classic northern features, svelte and aquiline… yes, she was attractive and it had occurred to him on more than one occasion that he could abuse his position as her employer for certain favors. It was a common practice among his colleagues; hire a pretty young girl, take advantage of her for a season or two and then, renege on her contract; hire another delightful young plaything and repeat the entire cycle over and over. Yes, his heart quickened at the thought but he was the father of a daughter who would soon be a delightful young plaything herself. The thought made him shiver with disgust.
Gabriella could feel Signor Morucchio’s eyes on her. She hoped he was not thinking about her in that way. It was the reason she had left her last job. Her employer had made it plain that if she wanted to keep working, she would have to bed him. Then she saw him tremble.
“Why?” She wondered, did he consider her repulsive or ugly?
No, he could not be so calloused. He could not hurt his lovely Gianna in such a manner. He could not be the author of such an indignity to another father. He could not bear the thought of such a thing happening to his own wonderful Angelina; so he would not do such a thing to another.
“How very boring to be a man of conscience.” Hethought to himself.
“Gabriella, hai mangiato?” He asked plaintively.
He knew that she had not eaten but it seemed the polite thing to ask before dismissing her to lunch.
“No Signor.” She answered. “Heartless bastard!” She complained to herself.
Unless she had broken his precious rules, how was she to have already eaten; or was it that he was waiting to see if she was stupid enough to confess that she had indeed nibbled at a small something she had tucked away in her hand bag while he was away?
He smiled warmly at her. He himself had once been an employee and he knew how insufferable it was for the intelligent to be mere underlings. He also knew that she flaunted his authority in his absence. Not only did she eat in the store but she also had the occasional and annoying habit of drinking his coffee. But what should he do, fire her? Others would, he knew but he would not. She worked long hours, rarely complained, was seldom late, his customers adored her and she had a certain business acumen that never seemed to fail. He would ignore the trifles and her insignificant insolence so long as she continued her faithful service.
“I am becoming an old sentimental Nonno!” He lectured himself.
She saw the smile and the twinkle in his eyes. Was it now to be the time that he would finally approach her, she wondered? She had to admit that he had been an uncharacteristic gentleman up to now and it had surprised her. Most of the men in positions of power hardly waited for you to get your coat off before they made a grab at you. But he had been very proper for the entire season. Never so much as a flirtation but it could not last, she was certain of it.
“Gabriella,” Andrea began, “I know it is early but the business is slow. I will pay you the rest of…”
Before the sentence was even complete, the poor child burst into tears! She began to wail so loudly that Andrea was frightened it may attract the police. His only thought was to dismiss her early, since he had been so thoughtless. He was going to offer to pay her for the entire day before she descended into such a display. He would never understand what drove a woman to tears. They seemed to cry at everything! If you kissed them, they cried. From joy or sorrow, who knew? Give them cards or flowers, they cry! Scold them, tell them you love them, say good morning, good afternoon or good night; tears! If you scolded a male colleague, did he cry? No. Would he weep over a birthday card? Never. Okay, so you did not try to kiss another man, at least Andrea did not do such things, but would similar shows of affections reduce a male co-worker to tears? Certainly not! He was reminded of Professor Higgins’ admonition in My Fair Lady, “Why can’t a woman be more like a man?”
“Oh, Signor Morucchio,” she began to beg, “please do not dismiss me!”
Andrea held his hand up and commanded,
“Smettila! Stop, please. But why are you crying? I only wished to dismiss you for the day, foolish girl, not the season! I have been rather… thoughtless, perhaps,” he hesitated to deride himself too severely; after all, she was only an employee. “It is only that you must be famished… so, uhm… I,” his sentence trailed off into a series of apologetic gestures and verbal grunts.
She looked at him for a moment in disbelief.
“Go, go!” Hesaid in desperation. “Come back tomorrow and don’t be late!” He scolded.
She grabbed her coat and scarf and scurried like a frightened rabbit toward the door and then paused. She looked at him for another instant and then, suddenly stepped toward him, kissed him ever so gently on the cheek and then hastened out the door into the street.
Andrea stood motionless for a long time.
“Madonna!” He sighed to himself.
From Gabriella to his daughter, to his wife, he would never understand women!
Steadily, all afternoon the dark clouds rolled in and the temperature fell. It would rain, either that night or the next day. The feel in the air elated Andrea. He had suffered the summer heat more than usual and was looking forward to cooler weather. He knew that he would grow tired of the overcast skies, the glacial air and the endless rain but for now, he looked forward to it. Brittle weather always cheered him for the first few weeks. He enjoyed summer, the long torpid days, the warm nights. He delighted in the powerful storms that swept in from the sea but more than these and he did not know why, he enjoyed the gray bleak afternoons of winter. The face of Venice seemed to enjoy a more fragile charm during those long melancholy days when the clouds never seemed to retreat, when the rain danced along the surface of the slippery streets and purled the water lazing in the canals. The afternoons would slowly vanish into a labyrinth of fog that never quite disappeared from the tiny streets and around every corner there was the possibility that perhaps, as you faltered along through the vague obscurity, the centuries had fallen in upon themselves. It was only during those moments of delirium that Venice was truly a legend of vast antiquity that spanned the endless centuries and bridged them so completely, so effortlessly that late at night in the cunning darkness time meant nothing at all.
Yes, Andrea longed for winter. It would come and it would soothe him for a time and then, spring and summer once again.
He spent the remainder of the afternoon largely doing nothing. Business was painfully slow. Finally, mercifully six o’clock came and it was time to close the shop. He had listened to the weather forecast on his small radio and there was no high tide predicted so, he did not bother to set his tie racks up on the stilts. He would walk to Saint Marco’s square, catch the number one boat to the Piazzale Roma, walk to the Metro enclosure and catch the bus for home.
After locking the door to his shop and securing the metal gate, Andrea turned right and walked along the canal until it emptied into a small firth at the base of the hotel Cavalletto that served as a common parking area for some thirty or so gondolas. During the day, the music of accordions and mandolins filled the air as the gondolas and their passengers drifted down the small canal in front of his shop. He crossed the small bridge, angled to is left and then ducked under one of the great arches that comprised the Procuratie, promenade of the great square of the Lion. As he crossed the grand expanse he looked up toward the Campanile and saw the immense black clouds that crowned the ancient obelisk, muting the hymns of the bells as they rang out over the mottled terra cotta rooftops. He stood momentarily still and listened. The low soughing wind moaned across the face of the august chiesa di San Marco, church of Saint Mark; footfalls echoed against the stone and marble and the rustle of people scurrying for cover before the rain began to fall warmed him. He turned in a circle admiring the square as the breeze tousled his hair. He looked to the top of the ornate and massive main arch of the Basilica, at the four celebrated Byzantine horses standing in defiance of the gathering storm, their front legs raised in eternal salute to the city they had stood vigil over for centuries. To the left, the immense clock tower with its royal blue face, zodiac symbols and the arched balustrade of the Procuratie Vecchie. Opposite, stood the Sansovino Bibliotecca with its vaulted walkway, the Procuratie Nuove and to the side of the church, facing the lagoon and San Giorgio Island, the Piazzetta of the Palazzo Ducale and Venice’s famed Bridge of Sighs.
“When the Lion Smiles” © 2011 by Mitchell L. Peterson
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