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!)

couple

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.

fresco2

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.

 

Engraved Silver Cup

Silver Baby Cup. Engraved with my original, but not official, name.

I think names very important; they are the first things I settle on when starting a story. I can spend a week or more searching for a true fit — is “Carly” appropriate for the time period and the personality I imagine? Is “Meghan” overused? “Star” too fancy? In one of my novels, the lead was named Anna by her parents. She hated the name – plain and ordinary – so in the fifth grade she added two “h”s. Voila – Hannah. Here’s a bit from that same novel; mother and daughter are talking about family:

“There were seven Lydia’s in that family. Thank heavens they didn’t name her Lydia.” Mother makes a sound that I recognize as a snort. “Miss Lydia Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound.”

Okay, my family is weird that way. Focused on names. Long discussions on what to call the baby. No one cares if Fleda was your favorite aunt; Phoebe sounds like a cat. Fierce squabbles over pet names. PacoBell’s pretty mild. Orbital. Mr. Spam Beauyardee. Spamby for short. Keep-off-the-Rug and You-Too, Daddy’s suggestion for a pair of kittens. Claire named her fish Hootenanny and Joshua’s snake was Pencil. Names made us laugh. Meant something. We kids once had a dentist who said that he knew how a child was going to behave based on his name. If I recall, “Brian” and “Carol” were best behaved; “Janet” was stoic; “Wesley” a whiner; “Ricky” and “Cassie” bound to be devilish.

My parents named me Teresa so they could call me Terry. Very confusing; am I official today or just myself? The “y” got changed to an “i” in 7th grade. There were 3 other Terry’s in my grade, all boys, so guess what gym class was listed on my schedule? And guess how loud the hooting when I showed up. After that I morphed into Terri, a girl, thank you very much! My middle name is Nan, which I always liked, despite my sister calling me Terri Nanny Goat! In any case, I think my parents found a name for me that is a true fit.

Why this particular blog?

Writers need blogs, or so I have read. I’m a writer, why not blog about writing? Because there are hundreds of sites by writers with more information and experience.

I was a ballet dancer, why not blog about dance? Ah, for me, that’s in the sweet past.

While pondering a topic, I wrote a novel based on a stack of family papers: A letter from a lawyer and a paragraph intended to be read in court. A certificate of Guardianship. Tiny photos. They told the unknown story of my grandparent’s lives; if Mother hadn’t given them to me, the story would have been lost.

I began thinking about the many objects in my house. I love the antiques handed down through the family, the travel mementos, the colors and materials and shapes, the home they build around me. But it’s the underlying stories that make me smile or sigh.

I realized I had found my blog’s focus. I hope it will flourish.

Update: I’ve been writing this blog for a couple years now and it has mutated into travel, another of my loves. I hope my words and pictures will offer the reader unusual insights into oft-covered countries. If you want to jump right in, click on Travel.