Tourists believed the Bridge of Sighs to be a place of romance where lovers wrestled, their love burgeoning beneath the moon and legend had it that if you kissed your paramour in a gondola under that bridge, your ardor would be blessed. The truth, however and far less pleasant a tale, was that the bridge was a passage to and from the king’s dungeon. A wall divides the center of the enclosed bridge with a small outer window, one on each side. As the condemned passed into hell and almost certain death, they would take their last view of Venice’s outer lagoon and sigh, knowing they would probably not return. Of the fortunate few who did not succumb, or who had their sentences commuted, their first view of the interior of Venice and freedom from the window on the other side drew yet another cumbrous gasp of relief and so the trestle was named, once and forever, Ponte di Suspire, Bridge of Sighs.
The sound of the approaching Vaporetto brought him back the present. He would have to hurry if he did not wish to miss his boat to the Piazzale Roma. He hastened across the Piazzetta Ducale to the dock where the number one boat was pulling in and he watched in amazement as the pilot skillfully maneuvered the craft into the quay, first by steering the nose in close and then by reversing his engines and spinning the wheel hard over in the opposite direction. The boson’s mate looped a heavy rope over the stanchion and the yacht, leveraged by the tether, came to a growling rest against the wooden planks as the people began to disembark. Andrea pushed his way aboard the bustling craft and stood at the counter near the bridge as the vessel lurched forward and began its forty-minute journey down the length of the Grand Canal.
As the yacht slid along the wide canal, the rain began to fall in earnest. The air was filled with the smell of sweet and brackish water as they crawled along, moving slowly so as not to create a wake that would damage the patriarchal buildings on either side of the aqueduct.
Andrea studied his fellow passengers; each of them absorbed in their own private thoughts and lives. None of them seemed to take much notice of the extraordinary city as it spilled ahead of them. They took it for granted. It was something that, as Venetians, they saw every day and had ceased to be amazed. He peered out at the massive sentinels of time squatting in the sea, their ancient windows fired by the soft glow of multi-tiered chandeliers and wondered at the lives they held. They would be like his own; husbands, wives and children carving out a niche for themselves in the world’s most beautiful city. He knew they faced the same daily challenges but it seemed a heresy to him all the same. How could life in this paradise be difficult?
“Look around you.” he thought to himself, “Look! How will you explain this, this city to anyone? How would it be described? If a man, blind from birth, who had never seen any city, much less this one, said to you ‘Tell me’; how would you begin?”
He knew that Venice was far from paradise and came replete with its own special set of afflictions and yet, he coveted the Elysian splendor of it for himself. How he wished that he could be one of the few who took this incorporeal sight for granted; that he could be one of the small numbers who strolled the corridors of ancient civilization and endless beauty with such abandon that they failed to recognize their own good fortune.
“Mestre!” Hesneered to himself as his mind reflected on the city where he made his home.
Mestre, of the ugly concrete buildings and sprawling boundaries; he shook his head in disgust.
As they passed under the Rialto Bridge he could smell the coffees and freshly baked breads being served in the restaurants on either side of the canal. There would be pasta with marinara, ragu and aglio, olio. The Rialto is renown for its open-air fish market so there would be plenty of seafood dishes as well; sepia nero was his favorite. They would serve risotto, polpettone and toast. Wines, beers and after dinner cordials would flow evenly. Good hearty red Italian wines that warmed your bones on wet sodden nights and dark, acrid beer and ales that settled pleasantly in your stomach. It suddenly occurred to Andrea that he was hungry!
Gianna would have dinner ready for him the moment he stepped through the front door. What culinary treat was she preparing for him at this very moment? He knew this; his concern for his ever-expanding girth was in direct relationship to her expertise in the kitchen! Not that he was fat, no, but to his chagrin he had begun to notice the disturbing presence of a stratum of flesh girding his waist that was becoming a damn nuisance! But what was he to do after all? He was a shopkeeper and a man rapidly approaching middle age. His hours were long and tedious, not strenuous certainly but after the day was through, he hardly had ambitions to attend his health needs in a gymnasium full of sweating men who chased after a youthful mien that would elude them no matter how they huffed and puffed. No, Andrea would not lower himself to such a vulgar display. He would content himself to grow plump, perhaps, but not fat and in so doing he would enjoy his life, his food and wine and not be so consumed with the worries that tormented those who could not bear to grow old, wrinkled, gray and soft as he was doing and intended to continue, but with grace!
He heard the familiar sound of the engines in reverse, looked up and saw that they were pulling into the Piazzale Roma. He looked about, momentarily startled; he had day dreamed the ride away. So much the better for home and dinner was just a few minutes away.
He stepped off the boat and into the rain, opened his umbrella and hurried off to the bus stop, mingling with the thong of other Italians leaving the museum called Venice. The cars splashed perilously by at speeds that terrified most and one had to be careful about crossing the streets on the mainland, for Venetians have a reputation, rightly deserved, for being rather reckless behind the wheel of a car. They certainly knew how to ride boats but unfortunately most of them drove with the same uninhibited abandon that they used to navigate foot traffic as they walked the streets of their city. Sidewalks became just another passing lane and pedestrians who ventured unwarily into the roadway did so at considerable risk. La Targa di la Morte, the target of the dead, was the label given to all cars that bore Venetian license plates. Stepping in front of a vehicle driven by a Venetian was tantamount to suicide; a foolhardy temptation of fate, so Andrea looked cautiously from side to side as he walked briskly up the small rise to the bus stop. He waited only a few minutes before the familiar blue metro bus pulled in and the crowd of people waiting to board began to shove their way on. He managed to squeeze in, found a seat and sat down. No one smiled, few spoke and the ride would be mercifully short. His stomach growled tremulously and he shifted uncomfortably in his chair hoping that the woman next to him did not hear.
The familiar sound of a key in the lock of the front door told Gianna and Angelina that Andrea had once again found his way home. Angelina ran for the front door, squealing with delight.
“Papá!” She shouted. “Papá!”
He opened the door and was immediately set upon by a wriggling, giggling bit of little girl.
“Ciao, bambola’!” Hesaid as he swept her off her feet high into the air and kissed her too roughly for her taste.
“Oofa, Papá!” She complained, shrinking away from the afternoon’s growth of beard that had insulted the side of her tender little cheek.
Gianna stepped into the foyer and greeted her husband with a smile and a warm kiss.
“A tavola.” She told him, “Dinner is on the table.”
She had fixed a hot minestrina broth to warm him, a risotto his mother had taught her of bitter radicchio lettuce; a small steak with garlic and oil, to be followed with salad, the inevitable plate of assorted cheeses and thinly sliced prosciutto; fruits, bread and copious amounts of wine for he needed the mellowing, or so she thought. They sat and began to eat as the day was discussed in detail. For Italians, life surrounds the table and every detail of day’s events, from the boring and the inane to the most stupendous is reviewed thoroughly. Children are encouraged to take part and for Angelina, this was a center stage and she relished it. Andrea, hardly caring, feigned rapt attention as his little Angelina regaled him with the events of her day and then his wife, Gianna took her turn and spoke of all those things she did around the house, the million odd jobs, the errands and cleaning; everything from putting on her make up in the morning to the dusting of their apartment, to chiding him for not putting the toilet seat down. Then he told them both of his day. He laughed over the miscommunication with Gabriella and Gianna laughed too, although, deep in her heart she wondered if Andrea would ever tire of her and stray away to the arms of a young girl like so many of his colleagues did. He had never given her a moment’s doubt or a single reason to believe that he would do such a thing but she knew that men were men, always cunning and deceitful and capable of sin and debauchery in every form; blonde, brunette or redhead.
“Go, go to the other room, the both of you.” She ordered as she shooed them away like so many geese with her apron and then began to clear away the table.
To her dismay, she had begun to notice the telling small lines on her face and had been spot coloring the gray out of her hair for several years. Her body was no longer young and lithe and neither of them as adventurous in their bedroom as they once had been. It wasn’t that she was bored or unhappy, no, she was very happy but that was not the point… was he happy? He held all the power. He went out and worked, she was a housewife. He brought the money home and controlled it. She wasn’t in want of anything that she did not already have and he rarely questioned a purchase or her requests for cash but she did not work and had few prospects of doing so at her age if he decided to divorce her. The courts would be generous in that event, it was true, but she loved him and their daughter and their life together and did not want the generosity of the law. She wanted him, them.
She could hear the television blaring loudly in the living room and the two of them, her husband and daughter, giggling like thieves while they watched their nightly variety show; a show complete with buxom scantily clad young women. She moved to the doorway and stole a salacious glance at her husband. Would he be drooling over those women on the television and if he were, would he not realize that it took an army of assistants to make them look so carelessly beautiful? Would he simply be leering at them, not caring how they came to look the way they did? She could look that way too if she lead the same life of ease and had the same army doing everything, right down to wiping her ass for her.
She smiled. He wasn’t even looking at the television. He was busy counting his daughter’s toes.
She returned to her dishes and began rinsing them before she put them in the washer. She was not a fool.
“A woman should be worried of such things.” She counseled herself, dismissing the small pang of guilt that tugged at her.
For men were forever destined to be men and large bouncing breasts would always fascinate them. It was true that women worried about getting old but it was obvious to the world that they did so and no shame came to them for trying to avoid it, so long as their struggle was a skillful one. Whole industries were devoted to their eternal struggle for youth. There were hair products to hide the gray, skin creams to smooth the wrinkles, girdles for the hearty who could brave them and humble support garments for those who could not, to hide the bulges that came with children and the years. There were the push up bras to bolster sagging breasts and sensual lingerie for every occasion that would shroud the plainest of women, even an ugly one, in a surreal veil of lust that nearly any man would find irresistible beyond the first touch. Disgrace and ridicule were reserved only for those who failed in their labor, even to keep up appearances or for those who simply let themselves go completely.
There was the crash of glass against the marble floor and a curse that escaped her lips for having dropped a plate. Andrea called to her from the outer room, but she did not hear him.
Men were such babies and imbeciles, after all. The sight of a lacy slip or the scalloped edges of a velvety brassiere and suddenly, their dicks did their thinking for them. At the merest satiny touch of a woman’s lingerie they could be convinced to take leave of their senses entirely. Wives, children and worldly responsibilities could be forgotten, all for a few hours pleasure. She was suddenly angry. Her Andrea was a man, wasn’t he? And hadn’t she employed the same methods to snare him? What was there to keep him now that he knew her body even better than she did? What was there to keep him now that he had seen every inch of her a hundred, a thousand times over? Men were conquerors and there were others who laid in wait, of this she was sure. Her husband, although not devilishly handsome, was by no means ugly and as a successful businessman, he was desirable.
When the Lion Smiles © 2011 by Mitchell L. Peterson
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