Martin cleared his throat and said, “Do you come to Italy often?”
Ian raised his eyebrows and looked at the American. It struck his intuition that this was a man in trouble. He had a harried look about him. He seemed to be lost; he seemed to be floundering. If Ian had a son, he would probably be about this man’s age. He had been married to his sweet Eunice all those years and they had never had children. “A pity.” He thought. “Eunice would have been a wonderful mother.” And though he did not know what kind of father he would have made, he liked to think he would have been a good one.
“Yes. I come every year. My wife and I, God rest her blessed soul, have a vacation home in a small town called Maniago, a village the other side of Venice near Aviano where the American military base is located. We started coming before the war and now, though my wife is gone some ten years, I have continued to come every October, a habit I cannot break,” he smiled, “nor do I want to.”
Martin watched as a small remembrance of pain, like the bleak reflections of the trees and fields that fell across the cabin window, chased across his face. It wasn’t so much sad as it was far away. And though painful, still sweet.
“I’m sorry,” Martin said.
“Oh, don’t be! We shared some fifty years together before she passed on.”
Fifty years of marriage! Martin could not understand, though he wanted to, how someone could be married to the same person for so long. When he had taken his vows with Elizabeth, they had said, “…till death do us part.” But it didn’t last quite that long, did it?
Ian studied Martin’s face as he thought. Yes, this was a man in distress.
“Where in America are you from?”
“California,” Martin affirmed.
“Ah, the land of sun and Hollywood movie stars!” Ian chuckled.
“Not quite. I live in San Jose. Not many movie stars in San Jose.”
“And what do you do there?”
“I own a small water business, bottled water; home delivery, offices, that kind of thing. And you?”
“I’m a retired barrister.”
“Barrister?” Martin asked.
“Attorney,” Ian stated.
An attorney, oh, good! That’s just what he needed right now, to be stuck for three hours on the way to Venice, in a train with an attorney.
Ian took notice the look of disdain that crawled across Martin’s face. A look that he tried to camouflage but was unsuccessful in doing. Ian chuckled to himself. People never truly appreciated attorneys until they needed one, and it was that exact need that generally caused them to dislike lawyers. It was a conundrum that Ian had functioned under for the entirety of his professional career. No one ever wanted to need an attorney. No one ever wanted the confusion that came with the practice of law. No one ever wanted to be at the mercy of those things they did not fully understand, and yet, when problems that required the services of a competent lawyer arose, everyone wanted the best and in his day, Ian McFarland had been the best. He saw that Martin was such a man.
“You don’t like attorneys much, do you Martin?”
For the second time in less than an hour, Martin was embarrassed.
“I’m sorry, Mr. McFarland. It’s not that, it’s just that Bill, my attorney, and I have some rather delicate negotiations in progress and I am only on vacation because he told me to get lost or get another attorney.”
“I see. Mucking things up, were you?” Ian asked.
“To put it mildly, yes. My attorney decided that I needed to get away and get some perspective, as he explained it.”
“He sounds like an intelligent man. Divorces can be quite messy.”
Martin frowned. “How did you know?” He asked.
“Call it a professional hazard, that and the look on your face. It’s universal you know. I’ve seen it thousands of times, I believe you Yanks refer to it as ‘ A deer caught in the headlights’ or something like that. It’s the same countenance that one sees at graves sites.”
“Is it that obvious?” Martin sighed.
“To the casual observer, no, but I am an attorney and the same as a physician can diagnose certain infirmities in his sleep, I know the face of divorce. I trust that I have not offended you.”
“Mr. McFarland, may I ask you a personal question?”
“Yes, and please, call me Ian.”
Martin leaned forward and put his elbows on his knees.
“You said you and your late wife were married for some fifty years. How did you manage to stay married for so long?”
“So, a life story is in the offing is it?” Ian smiled warmly.
Maybe he could help this poor sot along. Not that he was so brilliant, he wasn’t but he had been married for more years than this man had been alive and had actually managed to learn a thing or two about matrimony in the process. Perhaps he could impart some of what he learned and just maybe it would help and after all, wasn’t that what an Attorney was supposed to do, help?
“It was simple really,” Ian explained. “My Eunice was an angel. Had she been anything less, she never could have stood me for all those years,” he laughed.
It was not exactly the answer that Martin wanted, and Ian could tell.
“Well, lad,” he continued, “marriage is a partnership, a union, and it takes work. Eunice and I decided early on that since it was a partnership and since it did take work we would labor at it diligently. It wasn’t easy. We were married in Nineteen thirty-five just before the war. Eunice’s parents, of course, objected. I was crippled, or so they thought. This useless hand;” he said as he pointed to the withered limb that rested in his lap, “they didn’t think I would make a proper husband for her and God knows they were right! Oh, it’s not that I cheated around; I didn’t, never once, never once strayed away from my Eunice. It was just that they thought she should marry a young strapping man with healthy limbs, one of the local farmers, but Eunice had ideas of her own. She was a woman of her own mind, always was.”
Ian looked out the window at the passing farmland, the villas, the small towns as they rushed by the window. A look of distant remembrance trailed through his eyes.
“It was after our first argument, our first real fight. Oh, I don’t recall what it was about, only that we were upset and arguing, but it was during that quarrel that we decided to make some rules by which we would live, rules that would govern our marriage and for fifty years we kept them.”
“What were they, if you don’t mind telling me?” Martin asked.
Ian turned back to Martin and smiled. Though it was probably too late, he would tell the young man what he wanted to know. He was young enough that he would probably remarry and perhaps he would make a success of the second marriage.
“Four very simple small rules,” Ian began, “number one: never go to bed angry with each other. You see, no matter what hardships come up during the day, no matter how you might be peeved at one another, no matter of what little grievance the other is guilty, if you go to bed angry over it, then that anger will fester. It won’t go away. It doesn’t disappear. It will become a boil on you, swelled with poison until one day, maybe a week later, a month, a year, it will finally burst and then it will be something bigger than it originally was and spill all over everything, souring every sweet moment of your life together. And so at the end of each day, no matter what had transpired, we always kissed each other and said, ‘I love you’ and meant it. We were always quick and ready to say ‘I’m sorry’ and to mean that, too. You know, son, those little words, ‘I’m sorry’ will cover a multitude of sin and wrong. There are also three other words that will do the same. ‘I forgive you’, as long as you mean them.”
He continued as he puffed on his bilious pipe.
“Rule number two was, always keep your word. If you promised to do something, then do it. Never shirk your duty or your promise. Oh, I was guilty of that on more than one occasion, though. In the early years when I was trying to build my practice, I made a lot of promises to Eunice that I never kept. Bless her heart; she never held it against me. I said a lot of ‘I’m sorry’s’ in those days, and she said a lot of ‘I forgive you’s’. Marriage requires a big heart, an understanding heart and the only reason that we lasted for fifty years was because Eunice had a bigger heart than mine.”
Martin didn’t have a big heart, and he knew it. His heart was small and pinched. He tried to remember if he had ever apologized to Elizabeth for anything. He had. He’d said, “I’m sorry” hundreds of times, thousands even. The problem was he never really meant it. It was only a way to get out of whatever trouble he was in at the time, usually his drunkenness, jail, and other such problems that always come to alcoholics. It’s so easy to say, “I’m sorry. It will never happen again.” And then a day later, a week later, do it all over again. He felt a pang of guilt tug at him. For all the times he had told Elizabeth, “I’m sorry,” he never meant it, so he may as well have never said it.
Ian tamped his pipe and re-lit it, disappearing for a moment in a great scented cloud of Black Cavendish smoke as he spoke.
“Rule number three was probably the most difficult: never keep a secret from your mate, always tell them everything. Secrets, you see, are powerful little bombs that lay like land mines in the fields of your life. It only requires that you stumble unknowingly upon one of the nasty little buggers to have your entire existence shattered. I told my Eunice everything and, as far as I know, she told me everything as well. We kept nothing from each other. We tried to live as honestly and as openly with each other as we could. We decided early on that if there were one person in the world that we would tell literally everything to, it would be our mate. You see if your husband or your wife knows what’s going on in your life, they have no reason to doubt you, no reason to fear. It’s when they can’t see beyond the secret that you hold in your eyes, unless you’re a damn good poker player and I was not, that they begin to wonder if they are as important in your life as they used to be. I never wanted to do that to my wife. She was the most important woman, the most important thing in my life, and so I told her everything. Even those things which I’d never tell another living soul, and she took them all in stride, kept my confidence and loved me anyway.”
When the Lion Smiles © 2011 by Mitchell L. Peterson
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced. Stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publishers, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review to be printed in a newspaper, magazine or journal.
This is a work of fiction. Names Characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblence to actual persons, living or dead, event, or locales is entirely coincidental.
PublishAmerica has allowed this work to remain exactly as the author intended. Verbatim, without editorial input.
Available in Paperback, Kindle & Nook editions, and in Hardcover from, PublishAmerica, Amazon & Banes and Noble.
PUBLISHED BY PUBLISHAMERIC, LLLP