We began each radiant morning at the outdoor café. It was easy to think everything was perfect: a summer breeze, people chatting amiably, our breakfast light and fresh. It had become a habit since we paused in our travels to re-evaluate our goals and check off the ones met.
We were headed to Rome for a long stay. Randolph was the organizer, I, the one who followed a seamless flow of time, admired random people who lived spectacular, ordinary lives. I watched the ways things were done or undone in each place and found them puzzling and fascinating. So I noticed her at the window as we sat and made plans and felt righteous about our choices. I nudged him out of his rapt attention to newspapers, then pointed to the third story of the graceful, decrepit structure.
“She has been there every morning, watching. I wonder about her.”
He shuffled the pages, and sat back. “Her pleasure, obviously. She likes to watch us do what we do. Natural enough.”
But I didn’t mean that. I wondered if she was alone; no one else elbowed their way into her spot. She leaned heavily on her hand, as though it was enough effort for the day. Was she waiting for someone? When did she last leave her apartment? And if no one came by, did she miss that? I thought I felt her eyes lock on mine once. I began to believe she was relieved to sit there, no agenda, at ease with aging and life.
The days turned into a week, ten days. Randolph found the village quaint and tidy enough to accommodate his need of quiet so he could work on his symphony. I wandered on my own for hours, often sat on the low wall just beyond the bakery. Several children played on rolling hills. I found myself thinking of having a child, my mother being a grandmother, my sister, an aunt. Maybe we could stay on here and construct a life that brought contentment, not just intellectual stimulation. Maybe we could both be happy for once.
Randolph waved aside the notion that night when I lay awake on his chest, my hand hot against his coolness. He had other things in mind, composing, sex, politics, travel, bravura performances but never children. I had no reason to think he would change his viewpoint. I feel asleep long after he did, in my dream ran through a murky maze of alleys where children played games of catch with Randolph’s black notebooks.
The next morning we found our table, waited for our usual order, and he scribbled notes about the second movement. mumbling about minor chords and lost melodic lines. As usual, I gravitated to the window, her window. This time I would ask the waiter who she was, tell him she reminded me of my grandmother, which was partly true. She made me long for things that disturbed me, made me restless in a way I could not define.
Before we finished the meal, a wailing emergency vehicle rushed to her red brick building. Two burly medical personnel emerged and dashed inside, taking the steps by twos. We all stood and strained to see what was happening but saw nothing until an emergency worker gave a thumbs up at her window. I shivered. Soon enough, out the front door slipped a stretcher upon which she lay, hazy eyes searching our murmuring group. She thrust her hand toward me. I stepped forward. She half-smiled, jagged-toothed, weary, then touched my arm. Startled, I stepped back but in halting words she whispered, “The time comes you go from him.”
“Maria speaks to you,” said a teen-aged girl, eyebrows arched high. “Listen.”
She followed the ambulance on her yellow bike, trailed by several others. Italian sympathy spilled over the street, surged around them like a current.
Maria would not return for several days. The café owner informed me she’d suffered a second light stroke but was better, coming home soon. He loved her, it was clear.
Randolph grew tiresome and tired of the village life so prepared to leave. I told him during breakfast that I was staying. He was only mildly surprised.
“You listen to everyone,” he shrugged, “and do what they want. We have had enough of each other, I guess.” He kissed me, got into his car and left. It was that easy.
But he is wrong. I heard from Maria my own thoughts. It was time for me, not him; for living art, not mimicking it or waiting for it to cheer me on. I would be here for her return, freshen her worn sheets with lavender from the hills, swap stories.
(Note: This is my revised response to Patricia Ann McNair’s writing prompt on her July 17 blog post: “We would see her there.”)