Two strangers meet as the old one closes and the new begins.
If nothing else perhaps a New Year can restore hope.
I sat to scribble this afternoon and... it's a New Year.
Any errors, 'Italian' or otherwise are down to my failings.
This is a work of adult fiction.
No resemblance to reality should be inferred or expected.
Copyright KLS 2007.
A Warm Glow
It was far too late to worry about what others might think. This night would determine if it was feasible and if that age-old question would be decided one way or the other. Was trying to go on worthwhile or should you just... surrender.
He had dressed carefully after all the preparations. Months and months of electrolysis and other treatments, practicing the voice and critically observing his own mannerisms and posture and constantly comparing to the women he passed daily. Finally, a tracheal shave and a nose job. And now 3 months later, New Years Eve, 'Anna' would see the light of day and brave the night. A crowd a million strong was supposed to crowd the harbour foreshores to eat and drink and cheer in the New Year with another no doubt spectacular fireworks display.
'She' looked again trying to see what others might until with a sigh she grabbed the large shoulder bag and the nylon hamper with travel rug, light picnic a chilled cheap bubbly and a bottle of water. Glanced quickly around the small bed-sit that was now home and with a double check of keys and id took another look in the mirror.
The reflection showed a rueful smile on a somewhat weathered face. A mannish face, which stood to reason, but not... too bad. Forty Two years of male hormones and family and stress and weather... had left marks. Lines that the last 12 months of injections and tablets had softened a little, but not eradicated. A little makeup and careful selection of outfit. The flowing calf length 'peasant' skirt, loose weave sleeveless crew neck top, soft wool shawl tied loosely at the waist as combination belt and wrap should it chill down later. Finally the strappy 1" wedge heeled sandals, 6' was tall enough already. A final brush of the almost shoulder length dark brown hair, not too much grey ... yet. Shook her head and snorted quietly, "Silly old cow, stop procrastinating and go." With a tense flutter in the belly hefted the bags and before the doubts could formulate a suitable objection, headed out the door.
The bounce of the gel filled forms was a feeling she wished was real. Doc Lucy had said it was unlikely that the meagre A cup that had ever so slowly developed over the last year would increase. Slender as she was, her chest was still bigger than most women and so... forms to jump two cup sizes. It all helped to aid in 'passing'. 'So, what if you get read by everyone that looks at you... what then huh?' Less than half a block down the road and the doubts were starting up. The voice of his ex-wife angry and derisory. The court order for maintenance of Emma.
Fourteen years old and about as self centred, sarcastic and cynical as any politician. There was a tinge of regret at the loss of relationship, the now thousand kilometre separation and the unspoken, 'don't keep in touch'. A couple of unreturned messages left on the machine, an 'unknown at this address' letter on a birthday, don't call us... we'll call you... but they took the money. Four hundred and eighty dollars a month which along with doctors bills, the face work and the small rent she paid would slowly eat away at the payout. Twenty three years at the one firm... still, at least they had all got theirs. Other companies had just folded and gone without the employees getting anything.
The short bus ride into the city was uneventful, if nerve wracking. But most were too wrapped up in their own affairs to wonder about some tall fidgety woman sitting alone. Even the group of teenagers that had noisily pushed past, blowing those curly paper whistle things as she disembarked, had paid her no mind.
It took half an hour of wandering to find a patch on the grassy slope that afforded a view and was not too close to the line of porta-loo's that would probably start to smell a bit as the afternoon wore on. Already the line was about 20 long and it would only get longer.
Spread the travel rug and set the hamper on the edge with her shoulder bag next to her pulled out the springy straw beach hat and pushed it into place and leant back to let Anne Rice' voluptuous vision of New Orleans take hold.
It was one of her regular scans of the surroundings and crowd and she spotted this man standing almost militarily erect next to the sandstone wall on the edge of the bay. He stood alone and oblivious of the surrounding multitude staring across the water, watching for...
An hour later as she felt the pangs of distress that signalled a need to use those fibre-glass cubicles that lined one edge of the slope. The man was still there, seemingly unmoved by the ebb and flow around him. She had left her rug with hamper and paper back and waited in line for almost half an hour. A few questioning looks, but nothing serious, she thought.
He was still there, oblivious of the world that moved around him.
She settled again and tried to regain the swirling romance of mystical New Orleans. But... the subtle calculation of those close, as to whether this 'person' was a threat. Stranger danger... predators. Modern paranoia of an ancient and immovable sickness. Raised by publicity to an almost social discussion point, "..met any paedophiles lately?.. Oh yes Johnny was approached in the park the other day... This strange 'man' was staring at Melissa as she played on the swing... Alice was followed home by a blue car..." Where did the line between ridiculous over protection and valid concern stop... and what parent could afford to make an error. The odds might be 500,000 to one... but what if your Billy was that one? Could you ever recover... forgive yourself... if. And so...
It was irrational and upsetting and yet, could Anna blame them. Difference and aloneness, an aberration in the swirling group of humanity of multiples or couples or family groups. She tried to ignore and exude... serenity... 'I am not a threat'... Eventually the surreptitious glances diminished and her thoughts returned to her book. Yet, her attention kept straying to that man.
He stood still, after 4 hours, occasionally sitting on the stone wall to rest and then returning to his upright stance. Indifferent and uncaring of his surroundings. 'Why?'
She put down her book and stared... He was, what, 60's, but something suggested younger. The crisp and neat suit and tie, rather incongruous in the casual almost debauched surroundings, suggested care. 'An old soldier? Sailor? Italian heritage she thought as the small tri-colour on the left lapel, below two... medals?, registered. His hair was thinning and his belt was strained by a slightly protuberant stomach. Five nine or ten, solid and seemingly still fit. No smile, or discernable expression lit his features as over time, hundreds filed past.
As the hours past she became concerned... he had not moved or drunk water. Other than an occasional sagging lean on the small wall, he did not move. It was after nine now and darkness had settled. If any noticed him they did not acknowledge it. Nor did any speak to him... just another stranger. The throng just flowed around and beyond.
Another half hour and the 'itch' began again as she glanced at the line and sighed. There were times when being male was a huge advantage. Sighing again, she rose and joined the queue.
It was 'only' forty five minutes and she hoped her rug and hamper were as she left them. Her gaze travelled to that section of wall. He was still there, looking slightly wilted and sun-blasted.
For no reason she could understand beyond curiosity she walked up to him.
"Please. You have been standing for hours. Come and sit with me. I'm alone and would welcome your company. New Years Eve is no time to spend alone and even a stranger can give some sense of sharing."
She was never more glad of the time spent on vocal practice as he stared at her for a moment. A certain rejection... and then with a tiny almost invisible smile, " Thank you segnora. Your compassion does you credit. Perhaps more humane than those that would claim superiority. I would gladly join you."
A sudden cold shiver hit as she took in his words. He knew... and yet, he had accepted 'her' clumsy invitation. With a bark of laughter he offered his arm to her and despite the surreal feeling she gently took it and led the way back to the rug, which was thankfully as she had left it. It seemed unbelievably odd to have a man, shorter than herself and a total stranger, sitting beside her on her first New Years.
He settled and after a few moments of polite refusal accepted some water and a piece of chicken. Grapes, cheese, crackers, salad. A small meal that he demolished in moments, oblivious of the fact that there was no more.
He settled back and apparently slept. She was reading when some time later he started talking. A tale of a life. Forced emigration, settling in a new land, unfamiliar and strange. Growing from a small child to an adult and becoming a 'native'. Holding allegiance to two cultures and acceding primacy to the New home. The place his parents had chosen as, far enough and therefore safe. Growing, learning, fighting prejudice. With a nod of respect, became a part of rather than apart. Had married and then when as his twentieth year approached, the call had come, he accepted. War... pain and horror. Changed, he returned and rebuilt. Children. Two, both dieing... drugs and an alcohol fuelled car crash.
His Sylvana unable to accept and blaming him had fought and lost to pass on five bitter years later. Fifteen years of guilt and anguish eating at his soul. Until the clench of pain had caused him to fold in half and turn white as a dead fish as the stab hit his gut. Tests, indignity upon indignity. Then a verdict. Passionless and direct. Cancer. Inoperable. Options... all refused. And now pain was a constant, but probably not for long.
She glanced at him then, watched his face as a small smile crossed over the tired features. A sudden grimace and then eyes still closed, the smile returned.
"So. Ma bella, how do you come to be as you are? Alone and insecure. A woman who is not and yet is, more than some born to it. "
He did not move or open his eyes as he lay on the rug seemingly at peace as her thoughts ran rampant. How dare he. Get off my rug and go back to where... Yet she said nothing. After some minutes she started to talk. A convoluted tale of pain and longing. Baffled indecision and gradual submersion as reality took hold. Marriage, disillusionment. Loss and solitude, leading to... a possibility. A chance to be. An experiment that should the night prove a failure would lead to... extinction.
At that his eyes cracked open and he almost snarled, " Do not surrender yourself to the expectations of others. You must be yourself and live. I see a woman that has heart and soul. More than many of the thousands that surround us here in this place on the cusp of a New Year. A dawn of possibilities. Be a new arrival, an immigrant. Seek your place amongst those that might scoff or scorn what they do not know. Do not... just give up!"
He was taken by a fit of coughing that knocked him back and left him gasping as she tried to offer water and comfort.
After some minutes he sipped and smiling relaxed again.
They sat and talked of nothing from time to time. As it drifted closer to that moment when old became new. A minute or two before and she opened the bottle and poured two plastic tumblers of bubbles and helped him to his feet as the count down commenced. They stood and watched the flare and spray of colour. The boom and mad spirals. Flowing spray of sparkling light as Pink Floyd echoed around the small cove. After twenty minutes they stood side by side and she realised he had wrapped his arm about her waist and did not mind. He whispered something like 'Grazzi ma bella... Thank you for you kindness to an old man.' And then slumped to sit heavily, pulling her down with him.
" It is a beginning Anna, do not waste it."
She felt him tense a few times as she tried to move and... do... what exactly? He pulled his arm tight and short of wrestling she could not pull free. Then only moments later his grip relaxed and he leant against her. She knew, even without ever feeling it before. He was gone. Yet it was not cold. The night... or morning, strictly speaking, was clean and clear and fresh. She grasped his loosening hand and pulled it tight as her other arm wrapped itself across his shoulders.
With a strange contentment and a warmth not fully from the still humid sky, "Sleep well John... Gianni... may you find peace as you helped me to." With her briefly loosened hand she poured another two tumblers and toasted...
And so another Year might begin, somewhere, sometime...
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