Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Vulgar Tongue, vi

Servi wandered through the rows of olive trees.  A verdant carpet of grass lay between the trees, as trim as a golf green.  All around were irrigation pipes and tubes and the sound of gurgling water.  Servi found a pool of water beside a rock outcropping of tufa; a small cave pierced the side of the hill.  It was so bright outside that Servi could not see inside the opening.  Servi removed his sandals and laying back on a rock, put his feet in the cold water.  He closed his eyes and may have fallen asleep.  All he knew was after a time a woman’s voice was speaking to him in Italian.
“There you are,” Beatrice said, smiling slightly.  Servi opened his eyes.  She was standing above him.  “Should I speak to you in Italian, or do you prefer English?”
“Whichever you like?” Servi answered in Italian.
“Father told me you were fluent.”
         “I suppose I am,” Servi answered.  “Of a sorts.”
“You still look like Aaron Servi,” she said as she sat next to him.  She wore blue pumps.  She removed them, revealing manicured toes buffed to a high gloss, a ring on her big toe with an impressive half moon of diamonds and placed them in the water alongside Servi’s.  “I can see the boy behind the beard.”
“I have that kind of a face,” Servi answered.  “I would not recognize you at all.  Where is the brown short hair and the skinned knees?”
“Well, I’m afraid the hair is still there,” she said, holding up her bangs to reveal their roots.  “But I try and keep my knees unmarked.”  Pulling her skirt  slightly, she showed Servi her smooth knee caps.  
They fell silent for a moment.  The water gurgled pleasantly.  Somewhere in the far distance, a dog was barking. 
“How is your father?” Servi finally asked.  Beatrice bowed her head a little before answering, as if communing with some unseen spirit.
“Well, he drinks too much,” she answered, looking at Servi sideways.  “You could see that.  He was always a big drinker.  He makes his own wine, so that justifies it for him.  So many wine connoisseurs are just high class drunks.  But since mother died, he has stepped up the pace.  He can hardly make it to the afternoon without that happening,” she exhaled wearily and pointed her narrow hand back toward the villa.  She looked straight ahead at the hole in the tufa.  Servi got a good hard look at her: this was the Beatrice Servi he had kissed.  He recalled the girl’s round face, pert nose, and tiny hazel eyes all set firmly in place.  This woman’s face was long and nose, aquiline; her eyes, large and limpid; her skin, a frothy white.  Servi thought chance was playing a trick on him, passing off an imposture as his little Beatrice.
“I’m very sorry about your mother,” Servi said solemnly, and then, when Beatrice said nothing in return, only continuing to gaze into the darkness of the tufa cave: “And your father, I can only imagine.”
“No, you can’t” she answered in English, looking at Servi, her eyes gleaming with tears or baleful humor, Servi could not tell.  He only knew that she did not wish to voice her emotions to him.  And who could blame her?  He was a little boy from her past, suddenly before her, more like a bearded Algerian day laborer than a first kiss.  She gently swung her feet in the water.
“My English is terrible,” she said in English.
         “Hardly,” Servi answered. “I don’t hear a trace of an accent.”
          “No, not that,” she answered in Italian, pulling her feet out of the water and placing them on a stone to dry.  “It is my vocabulary; it is just pitiful.  All my English is domestic, from speaking it with my father and mother at home.  I don’t know words of things outside the roof of a house.  I went to New York City three years ago for a conference, and I forgot the word for cab.  Here I am in a city where every third car is a taxi and I can’t think of the word.”
            “Do you remember anything of Oyster Bay?”
            “Some,” she said, pulling her feet off the stone and placing them back in her shoes. “I remember the house and the yard.  I remember the Long Island Sound.  I remember the chaos before we left for Italy.  It was not such a nice departure,” she looked at him for a reaction, but Servi kept a stone face. “I remember you, of course.  Do you remember that silly little kiss we shared?  I think I even stuck my tongue in your mouth!”
            “I think you did, yes.  It was quite a surprise.”
            “I must have read it in one of my mother’s Vogues… but you must be tired,” she said.  She was now standing up, and looking down at him with no small measure of skepticism in her gaze.  “I’ll show you to your room, and you can…” she hesitated before continuing, “wash up before dinner.”

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