Tuscan Story Excerpt

Today I want to experiment by posting part of one of my short stories. It takes place in Tuscany: an introverted biochemist and her fiancé are on an engagement trip. The ending isn’t quite as happy as this excerpt may lead you to believe… (Reminder to self; next trip take more pictures of people!)


The Tuscan trip was a wonderful gift. As Patrick suggested, I refrained from thinking and just enjoyed. We visited all the hilltop cities: San Gimignano, Sienna, Orvieto, and Perugia of the divine chocolate.

Although building on the hills began as protection against marauding neighbors, the towns now afford lovely views and strenuous walking. Patrick and I went everywhere, swinging hands, looking up at geranium-filled balconies, down at worn cobblestones, and into alleyways filled with laundry or arches.

When the heat became overwhelming, we would go into a church — there was always a church, it being Italy and Catholic — where we’d sit in space lit by eerie light from round windows floating in the stone. Each church seemed styled into its own universe: the bucolic with white stucco and a cloud-painted ceiling; the spooky with a Saint’s finger, ear, or heart enshrined in a jeweled box; the artistic with smudged frescos. Despite their decoration, the churches reminded me of my laboratory–orderly, concentrated and cool.

Once refreshed, we would burst back outside into the heat and sun where tiny trucks with three wheels rattled and soccer games blared from open windows. Patrick was in bambino heaven; here a baby toddling across a piazza in a yellow sweater, there a tot kicking a ball with tiny sandals, up the street an outraged little one howling over a mother’s shoulder.

Speaking in his stilted Italian, he exclaimed over the babies–ché bambino caro–touching their chubby fingers. None of the mothers objected, which is surprising given the statistics, but he is a responsible, kind man and perhaps it shows in his demeanor.

In the evenings we ate pecorino cheese and drank vino nobile while sitting outdoors. The patio would remain empty until 9:00, then the Italians began to arrive, talking loudly, laughing, stretching in the warm evening. Arguments erupted, cheeks were kissed. Waiters rushed around with little plates of Italian pizza, which wasn’t at all like the American version.

I felt I was in a wonderful play, not in the audience, but on stage and not caring if I got tipsy or laughed too loud. I ordered more wine, per favore, and tried waving my arms when I talked. I licked the metal sherbet cup of gelati. I kissed Patrick in public, shook out my hair, and smiled at the staring men.


The only disturbance in Italy was the dirt and dust, which spilled from the ancient buildings and monuments like the powder in the rubber gloves I wear when examining a risky organism. Everything was old and handled and trod upon. The strange wine caves. The smell of cheese–moldy milk. I pulled my little bottle of disinfectant from my fanny pack hourly. But despite the germs, I loved Tuscany. I loved myself in Tuscany.


Dog #5, Sprocket

We have had eight dogs over the years and we tend to name them in sets. We had Sprocket the same time as Gizmo, a truly crazy dog, but unlike her mate, she was a lover girl. You can see by the picture how gentle she was. How many dogs would agree to wear a paper new year’s hat?

She was a hound of some sort, rescued from the pound, as have been all our dogs. My husband said hounds howl, but she never let out a peep. Finally, everytime there were sirens in our neighborhood, hubby would howl, setting an example. Sprocket caught on, much to our chagrin, and woke us many a night.

You never know what kind of treatment a dog that’s rescued has been through. Or how they are going to react. When Sprocket got into trouble, she’d go into a corner and shake. It was pitiful. But she had a happy life with us.

When she died, my husband said what he always does – remember, there is another dog waiting for us to rescue her. And so there was: Pushkin and then Orbit, not named as a set but for their personalities.

Swedish Vase

Hand blown Swedish glass vase. Bought at the Kosta Boda glass factory in Stockholm, Sweden. 6 inches. Weighs about 3 pounds.

My family went to Europe the year I turned 19 and at one of our stops we toured a glass factory.

In each country I had been collecting charms for a bracelet – Mother’s great idea. This was totally my own: impractical, breakable and odd. I didn’t have a house or even an apartment but I loved its weight and color.

A measure of that love is that I’ve managed to keep it intact through 13 major moves. (I wrote them down to count, ignoring little moves like the summer I housesat for various ballet dancers in NYC, trying to get a foothold myself.)

The vase is now displayed in the cabinet my sister gave me. You can see it sitting next to the conch. I would put it out where it could catch the sun but our dogs have very active tails and complete disregard for furniture – bumps while playing are part of the fun!