This was my entry into Round 2 of the YeahWrite Super Challenge #4. For this one, I had to write a story of no more than 1,000 words, using the setting depicted in the photo below for at least one scene. I also had to make at least one of the characters learn a non-violent skill.
I’m thrilled to report that I’m moving on to the third and final round this weekend.
Oh, and if you speak Italian and find that I completely messed up the Italian in the story, please let me know (and please accept my apologies – there are obviously limits to the magic that is the Google Translate tool.)
I wake up coughing, unsure at first where I am. My confusion quickly turns to sadness. I know it was just a dream, but it was so vivid this time. It’s been coming more and more frequently.
The dream is always the same. I’m back at the ancient amphitheater where I first met Matteo, more than 61 years ago. I follow the passageway of arches around the curve of the building, the brick walls providing a welcome respite from the hot Mediterranean sun. The soles of my sandals slap the gray stones beneath my feet. My limbs are lean and tanned, my heart and lungs strong. I’m alone, but I’m not afraid. My heart starts to beat faster, because I know Matteo waits for me just beyond my line of sight. I always wake before I catch up with him.
One of the aides is in my room again holding out a small paper cup. I find I can’t remember her name. Is it Sarah? Anna? This forgetfulness is new, but somehow, I don’t really mind. I am tired of being woken, though.
“Time for your pills, Grace!”
I don’t recognize my own wrinkled, shaky arm at first as I reach for the cup. The spot where they put in the IV earlier is already mottled and purple. Just reaching for the cup is taxing.
Sarah/Anna adjusts my bedding as I swallow the pills.
“I’ll be in to wheel you to dinner soon, dear. You know what to do if you need anything before then, right?”
Scream? I want to say, but I’m overtaken by a coughing fit.
I can tell Sarah/Anna isn’t sure whether I really know what to do or not. For God’s sake. I’ve been here more than a year. I may not remember your name, but I’m not that far gone yet.
Pointing to the button on the pendant around my neck, I manage to say: “I’ll call if I need anything.”
I hate how thin and reedy my voice has become.
Sarah/Anna is almost through the door when I remember that it’s Monday.
“Is Stefano here?”
“Not yet. I’ll be sure to send him in if I see him.”
Stefano. He’s the only person who ever visits me anymore. I look forward to his visits more than I want to admit.
How do I tell him my goal has taken on a new urgency? My doctor hasn’t said as much, but I can tell I’m running out of time. I’m tired, but I’m comforted knowing that I’m almost ready now. È quasi tempo.
I hadn’t been at the rest home more than a couple of months when I met Stefano for the first time. I’d been having the dream already, even then.
An aide had been wheeling me to the dining room when we’d passed Stefano in the hallway, speaking rapid Italian to his mother. She’s since passed on, but he continues to visit me. Maybe he sees me as a second mother; maybe I see him as the child I never had.
In any case, that first day in the hallway, when I heard them speaking Italian, I knew I wanted… no, needed… to learn Italian. I’d never learned it that summer all those years ago, but it wasn’t too late. Not yet.
So, I’d asked Stefano to give me language lessons. To his credit, it hadn’t mattered that I was 83-years old, and a stranger to boot. It hadn’t mattered that I would never be leaving the rest home to travel to Italy. He hadn’t acted like there was anything odd about my request at all; he’d simply asked when I wanted to begin lessons.
In those early visits, I’d struggled to learn basics: numbers, colors, months, days of the week. We’ve moved on to more conversational Italian now. Stefano says I’m doing well.
He’s been visiting me every other day for… how long? Ten months? That sounds about right. I mark the days he comes on the calendar I keep by my bed, so I’ll know when to expect him again. Today is a lesson day.
I doze again.
I’m back in the corridor that circles the amphitheater on a hot, sunny day. I think I can see flashes of Matteo’s blue shirt as he rounds the bend ahead, but even when I speed up my pace, I can’t seem to catch up to him. I yell: “Attendere prego!” Wait. He doesn’t turn.
I wake to Stefano touching my hand. “Buongiorno, Grace! Diciamo oggi qualche italiano?” Shall we speak some Italian today?
I’m groggy and coughing again, but I manage a polite, “Sì grazie!” Stefano runs through some vocabulary and verbs with me, using pictures in a magazine he’s brought as inspiration. My answers become more infrequent; I’m having trouble concentrating. Pain wracks my chest, and my breathing is labored.
“Molto bene, Grace. Ti vedo mercoledì.” See you on Wednesday.
I drift off again, but wake when Sarah/Anna returns to wheel me to the dining room. I don’t have an appetite today. I think I tell her so, in between coughs. She lets me sleep.
Time passes; I don’t know how much.
I wake sometime later to find doctors and nurses huddled around my bed. It’s hard to understand them, but I hear “pneumonia.”
Once, this might have concerned me. Now, I willingly close my eyes again. I think I hear someone shout: “We’re losing her,” but the sound comes from far away.
I am already back at the amphitheater.
I laugh now as I run through the brick arches, because I can see Matteo ahead, just before the passage curves out of sight. He waits for me, a smile on his face.
As we embrace, I whisper the words I’ve learned; the words I’ve been practicing:
“Mio caro, ho aspettato così tanto tempo per vederti di nuovo.” My darling, I’ve waited so long to see you again.