“You are so superstitious of the Police and the Guard of the Finance you will demand a receipt regardless of the price, won’t you? A proof, an indisputable proof that you were here, you Little Fucking Man!”
“Yes I will and I will have it framed to be displayed proudly in some prominent place in my boutique!” Andrea threatened good naturedly.
Roberto laughed long and loud again. Even Gianni managed an anxious smile though he did not know if he should. He always became nervous when his employer made such jokes for fear that if he should laugh, it would reflect poorly on him.
“You know Andrea, I understand that you do not play poker, and it is a shame, truly, because you are such a delicious liar!”
Signor Colluso considered his position and then turned to Martin.
“Signor,” He began effusively, “Andrea has told me how you were treated and how it is that you came to purchase this garment. It is a shame that you were entertained so poorly so, as a measure of good faith on behalf of the merchants of Venice, I will make a present of the alteration to you. No fee is required.”
Martin raised his eyebrows in surprise and began to protest but Roberto cut him off.
“No! No, I will not hear of it; a gift!” He exclaimed expansively and bowed slightly at the waist.
“Oa, you should be in the theater!” Andrea sniped under his breath.
“Well, he could at least tip Gianni,” He joked still bowing, “it was he who did most of the work.” Roberto said as he threw Gianni a small wink.
“Some day Roberto, I will get you yet!” Andrea said in good humor, “but I will instruct Martin as you have requested. And in spite of your reputation and your vanity, the work you did is beautiful and you, even though it pains you to hear it, are a generous man!”
“Do you hear that Gianni?” Roberto gasped in mock exasperation, “We have made him a pleasure and still he insults us!”
Andrea turned to Martin. “Martin, why not at least leave a servizio to Gianni? He did most of the work.”
“It’s worth it.” Martin said as he pulled yet another hundred out of his wallet and handed it to the young man who graciously accepted it.
At the rate he was spending, he would have to make a trip to the bank, and soon! Normally he would have been appalled by the amount of money he was spending, but what the hell, Bill said ‘enjoy yourself’, and to his surprise he was. Besides, better he spend it on an overpriced coat and some snails for lunch than to give it to Elizabeth’s snotty little attorney!
“Andrea, before you leave would you be so kind as to make me one more small pleasure?” Roberto asked.
Andrea regarded Colluso carefully before he answered. “Si, what is it?”
“I would not ask except that I have such trouble to sleep when I think of it… it is a small thing, really!” Roberto said, his face beaming.
Andrea narrowed his eyes and asked again, “What is it you require?”
Roberto clasped both his hands together in a prayer like gesture, “Please, take pity on poor Gabriella! Have pity on us all for God’s sake and take her in just once!”
“Go to Hell, Roberto!” Andrea flared.
“And you go with God, Andrea! We shall see who has the more amusing life!”
Andrea turned to leave but before he went, he offered one more rejoinder; “Tu sai, Roberto, one of these days a jealous husband, lover or wife,” he emphasized as cruelly as he could, “will shoot you for your indiscretions!”
“ME?” Roberto cried, “but I am the SOUL of discretion!” Both Martin and Andrea could hear him chuckling as they exited his shop.
Once in the street, Andrea led the way and Martin followed as he stalked down the narrow avenue. Martin had to hurry to keep up and finally in exasperation called to him,
“Andrea! Slow down! Are we in a race or something?”
Andrea was suddenly aware of his surrounding and came to a stop several paces in front of his American friend.
“I am sorry Martin. Roberto angers me every time I go to him! If he were not the best tailor in all of Venice I should avoid him altogether… by the way, he asks that you not say where you had your coat altered.”
“Why?” Martin asked.
Andrea shrugged noncommittally; “Probably because he is afraid that everyone will expect something for free…” He lied.
Martin made a face of casual concern. ”I would have been happy to pay him.”
Andrea looked at Martin and smirked. “Actually no, you wouldn’t have! His charges are generally twice the original worth, if he is in a generous mood and usually three times the price of the garment in question. He is an unscrupulous thief! But he is the most talented unscrupulous thief in Venice, probably Italy. That one,” He said motioning back over his shoulder, “could actually make a silk purse from the ear of a pig, or however you Americans say it. What bothers me about him, is that he is so openly… how do you say…”
“Crude? Boorish?” Martin added.
Andrea nodded in ready agreement. “Yes, yes crudo, this is a good description and you know, he acts no different in the presence of a man of God? I tell you, he is without shame! I pity his wife! She surely must know that he has made her a cornuto! Oa, I am sorry you don’t understand…”
“A cuckold?” Martin asked.
“If by that you mean he has a mistress and several girl friends, then yes a… whatever it is you said, a cornuto. You surprise me Martin, you understand Italian?”
“Not the words exactly but I understand some of the tone and the inference. I know for instance that he was insulting me. He called me a Mestre whatever that is but what the hell… I have done the same in my country to those I didn’t think understood. It serves me right I suppose.”
Andrea laughed a little. “No, no Mestre is the city in which I live. It is right across the lagoon on the other side of the train bridge but it might as well have been an insult for it is a thoroughly ugly and despicable place for a Venetian to live!”
“But he was insulting me?”
“Ah yes, it is his way. Even he insults me at every opportunity but we have all been guilty of similar slights; yes? Of being small men…”
The two began to walk at a leisurely pace. Andrea stepped to the side of Martin, slipped his arm in his and they began to wander carelessly along like two Old World Italian men casually strolling down the dark Venetian Boulevard. Martin was a bit flustered at first by the intimacy of the gesture but accepted it as an acknowledged custom seeing other men and women in the street doing the same. He lost complete track of what Andrea was saying. It pleased him to exercise a different and more genteel custom.
He could hear his friends in California, some of which were rabidly homophobic, literally screeching, “You walked arm in arm, held hands with another man? In the street? In public?” It wasn’t just a case of monkey see, monkey do or simply ‘When in Rome…’ Andrea had become a friend in this short amount of time and it was his custom they honored and his country. Besides, here he was dressed in the most exquisitely hand tailored wool overcoat he had ever owned, a very fashionable Fedora pushed over his brow at a rascal’s tilt, (He felt just like Humphrey Bogart!) fleece lined gloves and a silk scarf strolling down the avenue like royalty in the world’s most elegant city! How wonderfully cosmopolitan he felt, how very urbane and stylish! He had dined like a nobleman, eaten snails, had managed not to drink and now look at him! It felt good to spend money, he decided and for the first time he began to understand why his wife and so many other people enjoyed shopping. He had to admit, it was fun and it suddenly occurred to him; wasn’t that the purpose of work and money, to provide more than just a life, a living? Wasn’t part of the purpose of getting up every morning and trudging off to a proverbial salt mill, to arrive at a place were one could actually enjoy themselves, the life they worked so hard for and the fact that they were living and not just alive?
Like so many Americans he had somewhere acquired the mindset that living provided him the opportunity to work! Live to work… not work to live. He had not enjoyed life, as Ian had pointed out so poignantly on the train. His nose had been pointed to the grindstone for so long he had forgotten that there was anything else. He knew now that it was all wrong and backward and that it had cost him immeasurably. All the time he thought that it had been his alcoholism that had driven Elizabeth away. It had begun to dawn on him that maybe she had understood all along that there was more to life than what they had, than what Martin was willing to let in. Was that the reason she had finally come to the end of herself and their marriage and wanted out? Because she wanted more of what the world had to offer, more of what she had worked so hard to make available? He had to admit to himself that, that was probably a big part of it. And it was there for them. The Opera and the Theater existed even in San Jose. There was beauty and finery all about them. All they had to do, all he had to do, was partake of it. It was spread out in front of them like a banquet table and like starving beggars at a feast all they had to do was sit down and eat! Why had he never seen it before? They weren’t even limited to San Jose for that matter. San Francisco was a short forty-minute drive north, the wine country a little farther. One did not have to drink in order to appreciate the beauty of Napa, Saint Helena and all the other sleepy little towns that doted the map on the road to the famed spas of Calistoga. Hell, New York and the Opera houses and Broadway were just a four-hour flight away and they could have afforded it easily, only Martin never had. Why not? Even if Elizabeth took him for half of everything he owned, seventy five percent, he could still afford a monthly first class ticket to the theater in New York! He had been such a fool… not only for his wife and his marriage but also for himself. He could have enjoyed so much more than he had. He had wasted so much! It was as Andrea had accused him in the moments before… he was a ‘small man’.
Andrea continued to drone on, and for the first time, Martin actually took the time to really look at him. He was splendidly dressed. Although he carried his hat in his hand and his hair was askew, he still possessed a certain regal air that was unmistakable. His gestures as he pointed out several landmarks in a city that was itself a landmark, were small and concise; spare was the word. His gestures were spare, just enough to indicate or punctuate and then stop. Americans looked like they are going to take wing and fly when they spoke and standing too close to someone enthralled with their own tale could be hazardous to your health, or your nose! His overcoat was neat and trim and though Andrea was slightly rotund, he fashioned a rare svelte figure as he stepped lightly along in finely hand crafted Italian soft leather shoes. The creases in his dark slacks were sharp enough to shave with and instead of a tie he wore a silk ascot fluffed within an inch of it’s life around his chin with a gold stickpin holding it. Yes… Martin liked walking arm in arm like an aristocrat, a gentleman of worldly leisure. He liked dressing as if he were important; whether or not he was, was beside the point. He could get used to this.
When the Lion Smiles © 2011 by Mitchell L. Peterson.
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