Petro, uncertain as to whether the phone was sounding in his dream or in reality, became aware of the authenticity of the ring tone as well as Angelina’s leave-taking simultaneously. Retrieving the phone from the bed stand he mumbles a, “yes?”
“Petro, come to dinner at six tonight. I will make you Haluski. You aren’t getting a better offer than that and it will give you a night off from the Punta.”
“When she is your sister-in-law, I am going to tell her how you speak about her and cause you endless trouble.”
“Be here a little before six, it will be ready then, see y’a.”
Petro closes up the phone and pulls the covers up over his head, snuggling down for a nap. He has nowhere to be until six so he can stay abed until his bladder or hunger force him to rise.
Angelina finishes her morning ablutions, completes her body work, poufs her hair to perfection and is to her tastes elegantly attired. She appears at the bedside affixing the last of the multitude of bracelets adorning her wrist.
Addressing the bundle of bedclothes wrapping Petro in slumbering comfort, she asks, “What do you want to do for dinner?”
Pulling the sheet and comforter from his face he replies, “My sister wants us to come to her house for Haluski.” He speaks with a tone of hopefulness.
“Come on, I’m not going to eat that Slovene crap.” The disdain in her voice is palpable. The suggestion conjures the ubiquitous cooking cabbage and sliced onion smell of her bohunk youth.
“How are we going to make this work, unless you put forth some effort to fit in with my family?” There is a whine in his voice that Angelina finds disturbingly repugnant.
“You know, I ponder this very question and have arrived at what I believe is an acceptable answer: let us move a 1000 miles away, how about that?”
She reaches down, puts her hand to his cheek. Her fingers barely touch his skin. It is as though she strokes only the fine, blond down. She knows it is one of his favorite caresses. “Seriously, what do you want to do for dinner?” Her hand continues the playful, amatory torment.
“I’ll make a salad and chicken scaloppini, how’s that?” He grasps the offending hand and kisses the palm, then slyly, wetly licks it
“That’ll do, darling.” Not precisely clear whether she means to acquiesce to the menu or halt the slavering.
This child-man is a stark contrast to the muscled thugs of her youth; father, uncle, brother or boyfriend, their foul manners, crude language and brutish advances are cashiered to her fading past as her life careens forward in the enveloping grace of this sensitive soul.
He who serves as a portal from the life she abhors to the life she pursues.
“You want pasta?” Convinced now she cannot be enticed to a final bout, he recovers his head.
“No thanks, but let’s splurge a little on the wine, something from Abruzzi, a real dry red,” she says this almost to herself because although physically present she is no longer mentally invested.
Her mind has moved on to the matters of the day, she is several kinds of distances away from the uptown flat they share as a matter of convenience and rational economics to her mind and a precursor to something of a more permanent stripe to his.
The sound of the door latching is a signal to Petro to resume his repose. He will have to prepare himself for the harsh contest to be had with his sister later in the day. A strategy must be developed, an argument contrived and a delivery fashioned.
To Petro such are the hitches involved in melding the familial relationship with the romantic when the parties involved are pointedly less than obliging.
Angelina’s style balances precariously on a ridge between the gaudy and the refined. The office manager-supervisor to her administrative assistant role-at the law firm at which Angelina is employed would like to sit her down and address the issue but truth be told, she struggles to identify a specific topic on which to base a complaint.
Somehow, Angelina dresses in a manner that is austere but comes off, in the eyes of the office manager and the female members of the firm, provocative. Residue left of her days in training for the rank of neighborhood skank.
This, prior to being pulled out of the path of the inevitable missile of poverty, substance abuse, violent relationships and aberrant children by the unfathomable inclination of Mrs. Chioda.
In the alternative, the judgment of the male law firm members is: she looks swell.
She possesses a tight, athletic body, five-six or seven, auburn hair and a well chiseled, angular face which draws one into deep, grey eyes.
Angelina is professional in all aspects. She studies at home, public school having utterly failed her, with a strict regimen.
Her readings are dictated by matters she confronts in the work place. Whenever an issue arises she visits the library, obtains the necessary publications to address the matter and pursues her erudition until the subject has been mastered.
All, especially the severely disciplined, strident routine, is to honor Mrs. Chioda. Angelina reciprocates for the grant of salvation.
She and her fellows impose a cost reducing canon on the partner’s chaotic behavior, utilizing grace and guile to avoid rancor and hostility.
Angelina excels in the effort and in this manner her value to the firm is on the surge with a corresponding ascending compensation.
There are no opportunities for Angelina to sit down and have a conversation with someone concerning her goals and aspirations. That is, not in any real sense.
Once a year she is subjected to a performance review during which the office manager perfunctorily asks where she sees herself in five years.
Angelina is astute enough to realize the correct and expected answer is, “I would like to be assigned to opportunities of increasing responsibility and edification.”
The answer is always acknowledged by the office manager as erudite and mature.
In truth, the answer is, she wants sufficient money to adorn her body and treat herself to what of life’s luxuries are attainable.
She wants to have the right document, the right answer, the right suggestion, presented in a proper, professional fashion such that she receives the lawyers’ respectful acknowledgements.
She wants to continue this life, until she ages to the point whereat she will pass over a hurdle on the other side of which will be a life of travel and exploration well funded by her intelligent investments over the span of her career.
She wants to have a succession of gentlemen, of accomplishment, virility, intelligence and fashion to pursue her until the time her interest in such matters wanes. Thereafter, she wants men of grace, good manners and urbanity with which to while away gracious days, in beautiful settings.
Prior to that juncture, the waft of her scent and the strike of her heels on the hardwood floors of the conference rooms will continue in this firm or another describing the verve with which she conducts her affairs.
Meanwhile, Petro, consistent with prediction, is compelled by his bladder to rise and relieve himself. Once upright he considers that he might as well eat and begin to prepare himself for the day.
Attired in boxer shorts, wife beater and robe, he addresses his extant painting adding a splatter here and a splash there.
Continuing, as he constantly does, to work towards a conclusion of his current masterpiece.
With knowledge of classical brush strokes learned in the plethora of painting classes he has attended since childhood and an eye towards composition, in the minds of many of the knowledgeable an intrinsic talent, he is well armed to succeed in the art world.
What he lacks, by all appearances, is a will for disciplined work. So although he from time to time sells a canvas, which provides amply for his meager needs, he is unable to assemble a career.
That is assuming there is a career within his talent. It is as likely his level of production is optimal.
In his calm and unassuming way he may be reaching for all he is worth.
Seating himself on the couch, he holds a delivery box containing the remainder of last night’s pizza. A gourmet spectacular, sporting only three ingredients, baked in a wood fired New York specialty oven.
To wash it down, he selects what is left of the bottle of a domestic pinot noir. The breakfast of champions sounds in his head.
He flicks on the screen and watches a little of Kelly and Mike. He finishes his breakfast and decides to head down to Theodore’s, since he is up and awake.
Theodore’s is already abustle. Several of the bench spots with torches are aglow. The striking of the hammers is on a crescendo to a din. He is most comfortable here.
He nods to Theodore in passing. The sculptor is deeply involved with several others focusing on various old car parts, welding torches and grinding wheels.
After several hours of work they will have jointly created a piece for which Theodore will charge several thousands of dollars. All contributors will receive their sustenance from the transaction.
…Good for you, good for me, good for us, he believes he remembers the line from Full Metal Jacket.
His location is without a torch. He has an anvil, hammers of varying shapes and sizes, a multitude of engraving tools and an assortment of pliers.
His piece lies on the bench where he left it several days ago. There is no thievery here. These people adhere to higher, purer, cleaner standards of conduct then the masses.
No laws, no peer pressure, no social outrage militates to structure behavior. Here comportment is a manifestation of the inner person. Lacking devilry within, there is no devilry without.
Affixing the piece to the anvil, he prepares to assemble a hanging scrap of nephrite. Lacking the funds to purchase substantial gemstone stock he must compensate with craftsmanship for the paucity of stone in order to produce the desired quality in the jewelry.
The skill with which he works the silver, hand making chains, settings and latches thrills Theodore. Realizing the fine artistry being advanced in his studio is enthusing to him.
The piece is a pendant to be worn on an elaborate chain. The central feature is a yellow gold engraved plate festooned with emerald slivers from which dangle six jade settings.
The engraving depicts in the minutest detail Angelina picking flowers in Yellowstone Park. It is one of her dearest childhood nostalgias.
Theodore, an accomplished sculptor, marvels at the labor invested in this enterprise. He sees it as one of Titanic proportions.
The rhythmic, barely audible pat of the minute hammer over the hours relaxes Petro, brings him down. He puts away his tools and approaches Theodore, still at the automobile parts sculpture, “that is going to be interesting.”
“Yes, it is a commission; I don’t know where the patron got the idea. Possibly, just a stray thought.” He returns to the piece, grinding away the rust on the sheaves of steel that once served as the vehicle’s springs and will now function as the shiny wings of the imagined beast.
“When do you intend to finish the necklace?” He chances the intrusiveness, depending on his relationship with Petro and obvious admiration for the work to foster tolerance.
Graciously, “I think a few days will see it done. The chain is the last of it.”
The response, after the months of attention, only highlights the awe Theodore discerns for the devotion instilled in the article. He appreciates what the toll exacting concentration, over such a length of time, extracts from an artesian.
Theodore ventures again onto unstable ground, “I am sure Angelina will be thrilled with it.”
He is rewarded with a sour expression on Petro’s face. “I suppose,” pronounced without conviction.
Petro leaves Theodore’s, climbing back to the loft, ready now to address his sister and her invitation to dinner.
Holding the phone unaccustomedly away from him, he punches in the numbers slowly rather than utilizing the speed dial utility. “Patti, how’re you doing? I called because of your invitation for Haluski, I’m afraid we can’t make it this evening.”
“For Christ’s sake.” The epitaph seethes with vitriol.
Petro continues, yearning only to slog a route through the unpleasantness. “Angelina is working a new case and can’t be sure when she will be returning. You know it is no fun to come home to an empty house so I would like to be present when she gets here.”
Now the supplication; a serrated scraping on his sister’s acuity, for Petro it is inconceivable in its galling impact on Patti. “I hope you can understand?”
Pumped to capacity by the perceived whimper in his entreaty she responds, “What I understand is the bitch will not come to dinner with your family and will not allow you to come either. How do you figure this is going to work out?”
“Patti please.” His rejoinder is so frail there is no impression on his sister.
Her invective proceeds unabated. “Are you going to abandon your family for your girlfriend, when she is giving no indication that she is ever going to marry you? What is in your head?”
“Patti listen, please listen.” She hears him but is only prodded on by the puniness of his overture.
“Jesus, get with it kid, she’s got her hooks in you and you are dangling like a piece of meat. You have to get this straightened up or everything is going to come apart.” Why has he no balls, where is his heart, why can’t he fight? She is at a complete loss in understanding her brother’s view and recognizes it only as feebleness.
“Patti, I know you have my best interests at heart, I know you do what you do out of love and wanting the family to be close, I appreciate all of that I really do.”
“You’re not hearing me, she is running you, don’t allow her to take advantage, can’t you grasp that concept?” Vexation permeates her tone.
Without acknowledgement or pause, he continues to press his point. “But I have to find a way to bring you two together and neither of you is making it easy for me. I will just have to work with her until she sees the value in a happy or at least functioning family. Can you understand… will you humor me while I work it out?”
Exasperated by the futility of the exchange, she acquiesces for the sake of tranquility, saying only, “Sure, I can work with you, but how about mom and dad getting older, how about the kids growing up without their uncle, how are you ever going to get that time back, how do you build a relationship with them when you haven’t been around? I don’t see how it works out, I really don’t.” Confident that this final potshot falls on deaf ears she hurls it as much for her benefit as his.
The impenetrable rampart raised by his sister twists him towards Angelina. He must find a way to cause her to embrace a path of mutually beneficial familial amity.
Flinging the door open in her usual strident manner, she bursts through with her seemingly squall of coat, hat, scarf, bag and purse. The whole menagerie comes to rest while her chatter seems to have begun in the hallway before she entered the room.
Angelina proclaims, “I’m starved, your concoction smells marvelous but then all your meals are wonderful.”
As a dervish by now she has kissed his forehead while hugging his neck and plopped down in her seat having scooped up her napkin in one fell swoop. Placing the square in her lap while simultaneously, she reaches for the bread. “Did you make progress with the painting sweetie?”
Some of this was normal Angelina dynamism. Some of it was camouflage to hide the fact of the bruising message she must deliver this evening. She anticipates an appalling, emotional reaction which she dreads to have to wend her way through before being able to fall asleep, which is what she wants more than anything.
Her message is tied to a conversation she had with the managing director earlier in the day.
Approaching the desk of the managing director’s secretary, she asks, “Francine, I wonder if I could have a few minutes with Mr. Robenens, sometime today?”
“What do you wish to speak to him about?” There is nothing welcoming or inviting in her tone or facial expression. She is in full shield mode protecting her boss, a role she has long assumed, from the trivial antics of the office.
“It’s a personal matter, which I am afraid I can only divulge to him.” She maintains her civility and graciousness in the face of the icy front.
“Well, I suppose at 3:15 if you are certain this matter cannot be handled elsewhere but only for a few minutes as he has to be in the conference room at 3:30.” There is no lightening of the rigid facial set.
“Thank you so much, Francine,” she says, turning on her heel, a move reminiscent of a chicken scratching back the filth of the coop.
At 3:15 outside Mr. Robenens’s office, she anticipates Francine’s signal that she might enter. She waits while the precious time allotted to her meeting melts away. After several minutes Francine gives the nod, “Angelina you may go in.”
As she approaches the desk Mr. Robenens stands extending his hand and cannot have been more gracious, “How are you Angelina?”
“I’m fine, Mr. Robenens, I won’t take but a moment of your time. For personal reasons I have to move to Chicago. I like working for the firm very much and wonder if there might be a way for me to transfer to the Chicago office.”
Potential pitfalls, snags and hitches race through Mr. Robenens’s mind at prodigious speed. The setting of precedents, moving allowances, relative pay rates, implied employment commitments, return policy if the arrangement fails.
He leans back in his chair, places his hands finger tips to finger tips, and pushing them together creates an accordion like motion.
“Angelina, I can quickly think of many reasons why this is not a good idea for the firm and only one why it is, so let us get to the point.
I don’t want to lose your services; you are an excellent employee”-immediately he regrets the effusive sound of that-“so let us be clear as to what you are asking, you want a job in the Chicago office, no moving allowance, no temporary housing, no travel expense, no salary adjustment, no return guarantee. Do I understand correctly?”
“Yes, Mr. Robenens I am only asking for the job, nothing more.” She stands quaffed, well dressed, an extremely competent employee of eight agonizing years of achingly slow ascent, who is made to feel as though a request of the barest minimum is an imposition. The offensiveness of life is disgustingly demeaning.
“Thank you for your frankness, I will let you know as soon as possible.” Before the sentence is finished he is already involved in searching for the files necessary for his next meeting and before Angelina reaches the door, he is bawling for Francine.
By the end of the day Angelina receives an E-mail from Francine advising her that a transfer to the Chicago office is approved, that she is to contact the office manager in Chicago to make arrangements and that a $10,000.00 moving allowance is granted.
Now sitting across from Petro, this sweet, gentle man, with never a harsh word, no negativity, who mined a meager income from his art and saw this pedestrian lifestyle as all that he could dream of attaining, she comes face to face with the reality that she must do him real, dreadful hurt and she is chastened.
He brought her back from her musing with, “I got a little paint on. Not knowing where I am truly trying to go is holding me up somewhat. I just don’t seem to be able to decide what I want to emphasize; the color, the composition, the features, the depth of the strokes or the perspective. I feel as though without that decision, I will create mishmash without true focus.”
His desire to speak to Angelina forcefully about the arrangements with his family fades as the much more enticing subject of art overwhelms his consciousness.
Angelina looks mournfully at this waif and marshaling her nerve addresses the issue. “Petro, please listen carefully, I have an opportunity to move to the Chicago office and I want to take advantage of it. Maybe you know, maybe you don’t but many times it is difficult to break out of the worker bee ranks into management because everyone sees you as a worker bee, so this will give me a chance to create a new office persona, have everyone see me in a different light,” she says, waiting for a reaction, searching his face for a hint of his thinking, anticipating the words, the whine.
His eyes survey her face, reading over it as protons read a flash drive, “You weren’t kidding about moving a 1000 miles away,” he whispers a little absent mindedly, sourly in fact.
“Petro.” Reaching out placing her hand on the back of his, “I’m not talking about us moving away, just me,” she says laying it out gently, like a gossamer cloth. As would the cloth, the words seem to float down and smother Petro.
The blow caught him full on, and were he standing he would have truly, physically staggered. He is struck so deep, the wound is beyond tears. His imagination places an actual pain in his chest.
“God, I am truly sorry, really, really I am truly sorry,” she wants to heave, her gut is painfully snarled. She had no idea it will be this horrific, no idea of this level of agony.
All the betrayal of her youth erupts from out of her memory bringing to the fore once again the juxtaposition of those who have reached out their hand to aid her improvement and those who have maltreated her without regard. Here now she realizes the depths of depravity she visits on this sweet soul.
They manage the days and nights, the loading of the trailer this day.
As she prepares to enter her vehicle, he presents her a box, wrapped with a single silken ribbon, a beautiful hint of gold.
She looks at the box. “Thank you, Petro, I am so embarrassed I have nothing for you.” She begins to remove the trimming.
“No, that is for later, that is for when you are alone.” He leans down and kisses her on the cheek. She feels his teardrop on her face.
A few blocks away she pulls the car into an empty parking lot. She stops, slowly places the lever in park, and turns the key. She takes a deep breath because still and all there was an emotional component to the parting that affects her.
She takes up the box, fingers barely trembling, her lips quivering ever so slightly. With eyes just wet she begins to achingly pull on the tie, slowly savoring whatever this moment is to be. With the band off, she begins to lift up the top of the box. The reveal exposed, lying upon the cotton batting within, a thing of extraordinary beauty.
She cannot appreciate the hours of labor represented in the handmade chain, the stone settings, and the engraving. These are beyond her ken, however, the brilliant magnificence of the piece does so shine through that she recognizes the value in that.
The tears begin to dribble down from the corners of her eyes.
As the device dazzles her vision, slowly she realizes that Petro has reached out beyond his understanding of the world, beyond his personal life philosophy, beyond his value system and reached through to hers.
Although he does not understand her desire nor need for personal adornment, still he was able to create an ornament that so faultlessly met her requirements that it would serve as the focal point around which she will create her presence for decades.
Years into the future other women will envy her possession of this decoration. Conversations at every gathering will be about the ornament with admiration of its astounding attributes.
Petro has bestowed upon her perfection.
Spasms begin in her chest and restrict the breath in her throat causing her to mildly gag while the tears now boil down uninhibited. Her sobbing becomes punctuated.
Her left hand raises the bauble and her quavering right traces just at her temple with the very tips of her fingers.
She fancies a Gordian knot swells in her breast. Anguished emotion perverts her splendid features. She becomes acutely aware that in the stifling summer heat she is bitterly cold.
© Copyright 2016 jeffrey a paolano. All rights reserved.
Book / Literary Fiction
Short Story / Romance
Short Story / War and Military
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