Giovanni meets his women in bars, late on weekend nights. He meets them the easy way; he goes over to them, or they come over to him. No sweat. Especially after he’s had a few beers.
But lately he has begun to feel repulsion for his kind of life … a loathing of himself. More and more, he feels like a dog … a dog that has been rolling on grass he himself has soiled. There’s clean grass on the other side, but the yard is fenced. He needs to find an open gate … or at least a gate that has been left unlocked, so that he can attempt to paw his way out.
He thinks of Lucia next door, a widow about his age – forty-five. If he were to describe her, he would say she’s the kind of person who when washing her face forgets to look in the mirror … and when brushing her hair often misses her bangs so that they’re left standing straight. She’s petite, dresses sensibly, and probably has a hard time finding shoes to fit her tiny feet.
The woman doesn’t go around mourning her husband, but he can bet that every morning she wakes up to nice memories of the man she loved. Giovanni can picture her lifting the shirt tail of her pajamas to dry the tears from her eyes. Of course, she would quickly tell herself to smarten up, because feeling sorry for herself would not make things any better.
She wears white pajamas, one pair with little blue flowers and one with tiny pink ones. She wears no other colors – he knows – he sees her laundry on the line all the time. Lucia always puts her wash out in the summer … and during the other seasons, too, when the days are half decent.
Giovanni has good looks and charm, and a face that never ages. But still, if he ever hopes to get anything going with Lucia, he will need to sharpen his approach, refine it. He has to relearn the ways of his youth, in the years when he was still hoping to find true love – before the sense of failure had set in, making him slowly succumb to the pleasures of the flesh, replacement for what was missing in his life. Yes, he’s fully aware that where Lucia is concerned he has to create and invent possibilities for fitting encounters. But how?
In the two years he has been her neighbour, he has noticed that her outings consist only of short trips here and there in the neighbourhood; the grocery store, the drugstore, the post office, and the bank. Giovanni goes to the cleaners a lot, but he has never seen Lucia there; he’s certain she washes her own good blouses, even if the label says “dry clean only.” She’s that kind of person. She goes to church, of course – he sees her every Sunday when she leaves – but that’s one place he himself hasn’t been to for a long time. He started to drift away when his sins began to get too complicated to tell a priest.
He could call her up – her number is in the phone book. But she probably has “call display” and on seeing his name appear on the little screen, she would never answer. He knows what most of the Italian people in town think of him, what they call him: Giovanni, Don Giovanni. That leaves very little to be inferred, even for people who don’t know him.
Suddenly he remembers there’s a way he can “block” his name and phone number; he can do it by pressing *67 before dialing. Then she wouldn’t know who the caller was!
In the phone book, Lucia Donatelli’s number is listed on page 93 – he still remembers from the first time he found himself looking it up. Slowly he begins to dial. But when he gets to the last two digits, he suddenly gets cold feet. He just cannot do it. Giovanni holds the phone in his hand for a long time although he knows the moment for making himself try again has long passed.
At the cleaners, he drops a bundle of clothes on the arborite counter. Antonio, the owner, says, “What’s up, my friend? When do you need them back?”
“Next week … anytime. I don’t care.”
Antonio counts the items out loud. “Five pants, two jackets, and ten shirts – two suits. How many weddings do you think you’re going to get invited to?” he chuckles. The two men have known each other for a long time.
“I hope none. I am going into a monastery – I am going to mothball the clothes.”
Antonio lowers his glasses to the tip of his nose, peers at Giovanni with naked eyes. “Don’t waste your money on moth balls. You won’t last two months. Unless, of course, there’s a nunnery across the road.”
“It’s not funny, Anto’. I’ve been seriously thinking about it.”
“Married men have affairs when they hit middle age … and you – “
“Celibacy … that’s what I need. Or a good woman.”
Antonio hands him the pick-up slip. “They’ll be ready on Thursday… But tell me, what keeps you from getting a good woman?”
“I’m rusty, I guess. Don’t know how to go about it anymore. Of course, if someone could put in a good word for me, things might be different.”
“Sounds like you have your eyes on someone already.”
“I sure do,” he laughs. “And come to think of it, you’re the one who could help me out. You know Lucia … ? Your cousin Lucia – Donatelli?”
“Yeah, I know my cousin Lucia Donatelli,” Antonio says, somewhat touchy. “What of it? You’re not thinking of courting her?”
“Why not? She’s attractive … and sharp. I could go for her no problem.”
“You could, could you?” says Antonio, grinding stones with his teeth.
“Very much so …”
Antonio turns around, to see where his wife is. Then seeing that she’s way at the back, busy at the ironing board, he suddenly let’s himself go into a fury. He grabs Giovanni by the front of his shirt and shakes him back and forth. “You put one of your dirty paws on Lucia Donatelli and you’re dead meat!”
“Christ,” says Giovanni, as he shakes himself loose. “I am not a dog. Besides, I don’t know what you’re getting all riled up about. After all, she’s not even your first cousin!” He has never seen Antonio react this way over anything before, and certainly has never known him to be deep into all that respect and honour stuff, either. So what gives with the man, Giovanni wonders?
He’s almost home when suddenly something makes him swing his sports car around. Squealing tires, Giovanni heads for the cleaners again.
He slaps at the bell sitting beside the cash register, demanding attention. Antonio sees him, but takes his merry time coming to the front.
“More dirty clothes?” he laughs.
“No. No dirty clothes this time.”
“Forget something then?”
“Yes, that I did.”
“And what may that be, my friend?”
“I forgot to think. That’s what I forgot. But now I got it all figured out.”
“And what did you figure out?”
“What I figured out, you say? I will tell you what I figured out! I saw how many times you came around to her place this winter … always carrying your little tool box – to make it look like you were going to fix her pipes. So you’re the dog, after all … you’re the dirty dog…”
Antonio looks back, toward the ironing board and his wife.
“Don’t worry,” says Giovanni. “For now you’re safe … your trusting wife is wearing earplugs. But don’t forget, she only wears them here, inside the cleaners, not out there where people talk. And you watch and see, sooner or later, she’ll find out about you and Lucia.”
“Look, you good for nothing. One word of this to anyone and I’ll kill you!”
“Vaffanculo!” says Giovanni, dragging out the word nice and slow. “You’re worth shit like me.” Then he throws some fifty dollar bills on the counter and tells Antonio to see that his clothes get delivered back to him as soon as possible.
“Wait!” says the man, becoming somewhat humble.
“This is too much.”
“Keep the change. You might need it when your wife throws you out on the street, empty pockets and all.”
It’s just as well they’d never really been friends, Giovanni thinks, as he walks out of Antonio’s Dry Cleaners, to never go back as long as he lives. At home, he opens a bottle of beer and takes a long swallow. Then, standing at the kitchen window, he watches Lucia’s white sheets, blowing in the wind.
Delia De Santis lives and works in Bright’s Grove, Ontario.
First published in Accenti Magazine Issue 1.