Monday, February 28, 2011

Unnamed Madonnas (a novellette)

 Unnamed Madonnas: Chapter one
Nel mezzo del cammin….”                                                                                         
Friday morning. Day Five of our Italian Trip.
Venice. Hotel Il Viaggiatore. The phone woke me around two a.m.
“Pronto?  Signora Palmer?”
“Yes?” I responded.
Venice Police. We are following up on the missing person report called in last night regarding Steven Palmer. Your husband, si?”
“Yes. Si.”
 “Has he returned yet?”
“NO! ” I looked around the room for any signs of him. I had fallen asleep with the TV on and the bathroom light on. No, He wasn't back.
“When did you see him last?”
“We were  in Piazza San Marco  having drinks with friends from our tour group. Then, I left for a few minutes.”
“Tell us exactly where you went, and what Mr. Palmer was doing the last time you were together. Describe him for us.”
“He is fifty eight, medium built, five ten, graying hair Last night he was wearing jeans and a brown coat. I left for a few minutes.”
            “You said you left him?  What exactly did you say or do before you left. Did you have a fight, a disagreement?"
“They, a couple that we met on the tour and my husband were talking about going out to dinner to the same place we had gone for lunch, Antica Sacrestia, I think.I needed to stop at the bathroom before we walked to go to dinner. I could not wait. When I returned, they were all gone, and I assumed they went to dinner, thinking I'd know how to get there on my own. It was still early. I waited for a while, figuring Steven would return to get me if I didn't show up. Then, it got late, and I went back to the hotel with the tour group, and when he didn’t return after midnight, I asked the hotel for help in calling the police.”
“How long are you staying in Venice, Mrs. Palmer?”
“We’re leaving for Rome this morning! In five hours or so. We leave for Los Angeles Monday night. This was supposed to be just a nine-day tour. How long do you think it will take for you to find him?”
“Not long, if he wants to be found! Will the hotel know where to reach you?”
“I’m not going until my husband is found. I will stay right here, in Venice.”
“If you change hotel, inform us.”
The speaker spoke perfect English, yet, the whole time, I was worried that I would not be able to understand, would not be able to talk to anyone, and that Steve’s situation would not be resolved.  
 It was Good Friday, a drizzly spring morning.  Early Church bells  were waking up in the distance, from all  four corners.
I turned off television, brushed my teeth, took my clothes off and went to  bed,  pulling the covers over my head. This was supposed to be the trip of a lifetime. I tossed and turned as my head ached and my mouth turned  bitter.
Rome, Florence, Verona, Venice, and then  Rome again for a farewell dinner and on  our flight back to L.A.  A taste of Italy, the tour brochure called it. Nine days of art and architecture. The kind of trip my Italian mother always dreamed about, always praying to this Madonna or that, year after year..
She would have gone back to her hometown for sure, and maybe give up the tour to spend all nine days with her family, catching up, visiting and being visited by all those childhood friends she had left behind.
She planned those trips from the time we arrived in America, from the time I spoke no English. When people asked her about her hometown, our hometown, she told them that it was not a tourist destination, too remote, too far from anything.
She spoke of Italy as her mother, longingly, full of regret for not keeping close, not making enough of an effort to reconnect.  Every year, something would happen to thwart her plans.
In my imagination, Italy was all the mothers and godmothers I had, Maria, Tina, Nonna, neighbors whose faces I could not remember, a church-full of old ladies with shawls on their heads, rosaries in their hands, praying in a hush in every corner of every church. We were all connected by the words to the Virgin Mary whose medal was still around my neck on the day my husband disappeared.
Venice, on a cool morning, reminded me of the promises I had made too.
I never did fall asleep, so, just before six, I decided to meet with Umberto,let him know that I was remaining in Venice.  I showered and went down to our usual meeting spot,  the hotel lobby.
Umberto was giving instructions to the porters and overseeing the loading of the bus.
 “Do you have any information about my husband?” I said, interrupting him. He smiled and still engaged in his previous task, told me to go to breakfast with a couple of hand movements, indicating he would catch me later.
 Jim and Gail approached me with worried looks. The previous night when I remained in the lobby to wait for my husband, they had waited with me for over an hour.  
  I  picked up my croissant and coffee, and tried to make small conversation with them. They wanted to know what I would do; I wanted not to think about that, about anything.  I told them Steve must have been detained by our other couple, the Germans, how they had moved to a nearby hotel, and he must have had drinks and dinner, and the night passed without him realizing it. Did I have a fight? Not really. Just that he had spent all this time with them; no, I meant, he wanted to spend time with them. I was tired.  I knew he would find his way back. Just as if he went out to get cigarettes.
Finally, Umberto came to save me, “I suppose you’ll be staying behind? Did the police contact you? 
“I talked to the police this morning”
“Good. Don’t worry, I’ve seen these things. I do hope to see you in Rome.” He called everybody to board the bus. I stood at the door as the bus pulled away.


  1. My dear, what a compelling story, and I hope that you will not keep us in suspense for too long... I am going back to read some of your previous posts to "catch up"


  2. Welcome, Genie! This story will appear now and then, a chapter at a time, a serial mystery/romance. I do hope you return and follow.

  3. Rosaria: Re: your comment on my post about creating a "normal" world. Yes, there are different ways to begin--establish the writer's voice.

    Here, you do this so well. You also begin this in a "normal" world--I think. They're on vacation. It's Good Friday. Time and place. Immediately we know there's a "problem," a disappearance. Immediately, suspense. Promises that were made. Wow. Skillfully, in a page, you draw the reader into scene through a narrator I want to know more about. Excellent!!

  4. Ann--so much to do in a first chapter. Returning to it, to prepare it for the blog helped me see it new, and with an editor's eye. One of the reasons I'm posting it a bit at a time.
    Thanks for your visit and your critique.
    That's what I need here: a critical eye; a list of what works and what's missing.

    Thank you very, very much. I appreciate your close reading and analysis.

  5. good story compliments ...
    Ciao Maestra Rosaria
    Un abbraccio dall'Italia

  6. Rosaria, yes! You're a woman of so many talents. Favorite part is that it is intoned and intoned only that there was tension, that he wanted to spend more time with the German couple. And now I'm wondering what it's all about. You know where this is going? I can't imagine knowing start through finish.


  7. Rosaria, how wonderful to read your first chapter. I like your story, I want to read more.
    Nice little hook at the end of the chapter so I would turn the page quickly