This story is by Isabella Mori and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“Two more days, and I’ll see you again. I can’t wait!”
Carmela’s excitement jumps through the phone like an eight-week-old puppy.
“It’ll be so much fun! I’ve downloaded a gazillion movies, we can watch them all, and I’ll bring the 2015 Malbec, and we’ll have it with brie and fresh bread, just the way you like it, and you’ll finally have a car again and we can go to town and do some decent shopping and of course,” Carmela giggles coyly “there’s the bed, and –“ and another ‘and’ and another one, breathless and tinkly in her lusty mezzosoprano.
Sometimes it’s a little exhausting to listen to her, especially after the silence here in the valley but – of course it’ll be great to see her again, in the flowing white clothes she adores and the waist-long golden ringlets she is so famous for. La Carmela, Europe’s most celebrated opera singer, and she is mine, it is I who has won her heart.
Or rather, she has conquered mine.
Unlike her, I am not known in the world of music; in fact, not known for anything I have done professionally. What I have is a name and centuries of breeding. And no particular preference for either sex nor, indeed, for marriage – challenges Carmela couldn’t resist.
Me, I’m not good at challenges. I drift. Every day I am grateful that I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth because had I been the son of an Ethiopian immigrant or a waitress at McDonald’s, my parents would have torn their hair out over my laziness and disinterest in bettering myself. As it stands, nothing is required of me, except a faint hope I won’t embarrass my family.
They need not worry. Embarrassing them would require too much effort. Effort is not my strong suit. That’s why I like it here in my uncle’s forgotten cottage. Wracked by terminal cancer. he has given up on ever visiting it again – but he has such romantic memories of it, from all those summers he spent here with his lovers, so he asked me if I would live in it for a while, bring some life to it.
A mile from the main road, two from the highway, the place is hidden away behind a little birch forest. No-one ever comes this way. I love the place. Sometimes I wonder whether I’d want to spend more than June, July and August. What would autumn be like here? Winter?
I also wonder, idly: how much effort does Carmela require?
Here, life is easy. I like to thread through the tall grass down to the lake, just putting one foot in front of the other. When I get to the edge of the water, there’s nothing I need to do. I stand and watch the goslings drift about in the sun, their mother trailing lazily after them. The only thing necessary in this moment is to breathe and hold myself upright. This place asks nothing of me; not this little lake nor the rolling hills or the dragonflies whirring about. Whether I exist or not makes no difference to them. I find that reassuring. If I tread carefully – and I do, I don’t even pluck one of the myriad of buttercups – my presence here means no more than that of the old willow tree whose branches float on the water like so many lotus leaves.
I could be a willow branch. That would suit me.
Carmela arrives in the camouflage Hummer she has rented for the occasion. Her perfect legs emerge from the monster vehicle and step through the unmown path towards the cottage. I watch her from the dim light of the kitchen; she can’t see me. I should be running towards her.
A gust of fresh air and Carmela’s perfume rush at me as she opens the door wide. “Hello-o!” she singsongs. She wears a long beige summer coat; standing in the doorway, backlit by the late morning sun, she reminds me of Once Upon A Time In The West, my favorite Western, the beginning part where the three gunman show up in town, their leather coats whipping in the wind.
Carmela can recite entire passages from it in Italian. I can’t; I just like the movie.
I should say hello to her, emerge from the kitchen, “There you are! You’re here already!”
She kisses me. I embrace her.
I’m good in bed; I believe I can say that without conceit. People have commented on it, and so has Carmela although she would most likely find the word “comment” unsettling in this context. It’s true; it’s not a romantic or erotic, not even a sexy word, but I don’t know what else to say. Probably it’s a failing of mine that I don’t see in these talents anything more remarkable than, say, a hearty stew after a long walk in the woods.
Carmela covers me in kisses and wants to make love again. And why not?
I can hear the frogs singing as her beautiful breasts press against me. What a lovely night. The moon is in its last quarter; seven more days, and it is New Moon. If I’m lucky there will be no clouds and I can see the sky full of stars. I like sitting under the old maple tree overlooking the valley and just soak the quiet and beauty of the night sky. I mentioned that to Carmela in one of our calls; she immediately wanted to know which constellation I liked the best. But why would I prefer one constellation over another? I don’t even know what they’re called.
Carmela bucks under me, sighs, cries out. Bucks again. Her orgasm is long drawn-out. She squirms and moans; she does have an attractive voice.
There might be a nightingale in the maple tree.
If it is not a nightingale, what kind of bird could it be? It doesn’t matter, I suppose. Listening to its song – what a pleasure.
“Yes?” I hear myself saying.
“Darling, we should get married this year, not next.”
For a second, my heart stops.
On the drive into town, my ears take some adjusting. Carmen on full blast, Carmela chattering, other cars whizzing by – so much noise. Even the fancy hybrid motor seems too loud. And fast! Everything is so fast. I have taken to biking or walking into town – yes, walking is slow, a good two and a half hours, but I have time.
Carmela belts out the Habanera. It may be the world’s best known aria but she can’t get enough of it.
Si tu ne m’aimes pas, je t’aime
Si je t’aime, prends garde à toi !
If you don’t love me, I love you
And if I love you, then beware!
“So?” she stops suddenly to speak, taking her eyes off the road for a moment. “We could make November a romantic month. That’s when I think we should get married.”
I don’t meet her eyes. “Look,” I exclaim instead, “an eagle!”
It’s rare that an eagle flies by so closely. I love the contrast of the stark white head against the black wings.
“Oh darling, you crack me up.” She laughs and puts her pretty hand on my thigh. The engagement ring glitters in the sun. “I’ll turn you into a romantic yet.”
“Max’s Gas Station! I have to go say hello to Max!” Max and Carmela, they love chatting; she cant visit here without stopping in to trade stories with him.
I stay in the Hummer. My trusted backpack sits on my lap. I take it with me everywhere I go; it’s nice to be prepared if the fancy strikes me to take a longer hike. Water pills, bottle, a few granola bars, some beef jerky, a knife, a windbreaker – good things to have around just in case.
It’s hot; I open the car door.
And then I find myself ambling down a path leading into the hills. The blackberries and thimbleberries are in full bloom; bees buzz everywhere.
“Darling!” Carmela’s voice carries far. “Darling! Let’s go!”
I stop. A big black slug bars my way. I wait to let it pass.
“Darling! Where are you!”
The slug has made its way across. I walk on.
I’ll have to tell her eventually. That she’s just not – but not now. Too much thinking, too much effort.
Overhead, a swallow, high up. It bodes well for the weather, for my long hike.