Venetian Visions

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The village town was quiet, and the only sound that could be heard was the ringing of a few bike bells. Venice was always like this—peaceful, serene, and tranquil before sunrise, before the clicking of tourist cameras would recklessly invade the stillness.
In the bedroom of an old, Gothic house, a girl was savagely flipping through sheets, papers, clothes, and valuables. She wasn’t looking for anything in particular—just looking. The girl had on a white dress which was soiled at the bottom. One could assume that she had been out and about instead of inside reading a book. She was leaning over and rummaging through the room, her wild hair falling loosely about her delicate, soft-featured face.
Charlize continued to flip through piles of paper until she saw an envelope out of the corner of her eye. It was addressed to Jude. She pounced on it, ripped it open, and read, “Darling Jude: I’m sorry about yesterday morning. I did not mean to upset you. If you do not like the sweater, I can make another. If it’s the color that is unpleasant to you, I can use a different fabric, I really can.” Charlize stared at the letter, then quickly dismissed it. Must be a letter from Jude’s grandmother from some past Christmas. She was here a couple years ago…that woman was obnoxious, possibly even more obnoxious than Evee. Where is that woman? Haven’t seen her today. She’s knitting some clothes in our living room, no doubt.
Charlize got up from the ground and looked outside and saw the baker opening his shop, and she was reminded of the time. She quickly put everything back in its previous place and sneaked out of the house. She proudly skipped home, thinking the investigation a success since she had not come into contact with Jude. And she had gained some valuable information; Jude was picky about his sweaters.

***

Evelyn stepped onto the cobblestone path, which was rustic and full of memories, connecting the streets and small houses, creating a small world. The fronts of houses were filled with wildflowers of a pleasurable assortment of colors. Evelyn looked up and saw Jude sitting under a tree, reading.
“Jude, darling, you really ought to put on a jacket. It’s freezing this morning, and you don’t want to ruin your young complexion, do you? Yes, you should put on a jacket and a scarf. I’m actually knitting Charlie a scarf for her birthday—don’t tell her though, honey, since I want it to be a surprise and you know how things always manage to unravel themselves around me—why, it’s the same texture as your scarf there. What’s that you’ve got there?”
Jude did not look up. “A book. It’s a book, Evelyn. I’m reading.”
“Ah yes, but of course, you don’t’ have to tell me, silly, I can tell that by using my eyes. Say, have you seen Paul today? I told him to go out for a breath of fresh air because he had been cooped up in the house and was babbling so much I swear to Saint Joseph that I got a headache,” she said. “And did you know that apparently our city was in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade? I never liked those American movies much but that sure is something to think about, isn’t it?
“No, no.”
“What’s that, dear?”
“You asked me two questions. My answers are no and no. No, I have not seen Paul today, and no, I did not know that Venice was the setting for an Indiana Jones movie. And no, I did not care…but that last answer is a bonus that I threw in since I’m feeling extra chipper today.”
“Oh. Well, chances are Paul got distracted by the neighbors, no doubt. Oh, that wretched Parsley family. The two sisters are always giving him free fruits and nuts and hats and goodies. If I see them around here today, I tell you, Jude, they will get a licking, I promise you. I can’t take it today, no sir.”
“Hmm,” he said, and resumed reading.

Evelyn hesitated, at a loss for words, then went inside and saw Charlize leaving the house. “Dear, you need to put on a jacket. You’re wearing a sleeveless dress! What are you trying to do, catch pneumonia and give me a heart attack?”

“It’s June, Evee. I’m sweating like a pig. And I’m only going to the market, anyway. It’s just a few blocks away.”

“I think it pleases you to worry me. If you don’t put at least a shawl on, I’ll have your father deal with you when he gets back.” Charlize shook her head.

“When Paul comes home? That’ll be the day, Evee.” Charlize grabbed a shawl and stepped outside. She hung the shawl on the mailbox and started for the market. As she walked, she looked at the abundant flowers, overflowing in the garden, on the windowsill, in the vases, and in the town girls’ hair. A river ran through the town, which was where all the children played games. The mothers always hung their clothes outside to dry, and the breeze would make the garments flap and dance in the wind. People always rode around in bicycles, their bells tinkling and their baskets full of fresh fruits and vegetables from the local farmer’s market. When she reached the market, Charlize pulled out a change purse and looked for the tomatoes. She was in the middle of picking out a few ripe ones for the sauce Evelyn would make tonight when she saw Jude. He was looking at the cabbage intently. Charlize watched him for a while, wondering at his mysteriousness. She thought of his strong jaw-line and passive personality, his beautiful eyes and his cold demeanor.
Jude, who had noticed his observer, blankly looked at Charlize. He walked straight toward her and said, “You watch me.”
“What?” She feigned innocence.
“You. Watch. Me.” She put on a confused expression and he tried again. “I’m not stating a command. I’m stating a fact. I see you watching me every morning.” Charlize stiffened. She though that the tall lamp by her window hid her perfectly from his line of vision. Guess not.
“So?” She crossed her arms defensively.
“So nothing.” He nonchalantly smoothed his shirt and turned away.
“I still haven’t heard from my father.”
“That’s a shame.”
“Not really. It’s harder on Evee than it is on me.”
“Goodbye now.”
She looked at him, surprised at the abrupt farewell. “Bye…?” He was already walking away. Charlize muttered something to herself, then chose a few tomatoes and made her way home.

***
Back at home, Charlize was lounging on the couch, making a necklace out of the flowers she had picked from the neighbors’ gardens. Evelyn had been babbling for the past forty minutes about anything and everything on her mind. Even though Charlize was clearly not paying attention, Evelyn continued with her speech, not waiting for Charlize to respond with the “yes’s” or “no’s” of one at least pretending to be an active listener. “So I was thinking about you and him, Charlie. You’d make great babies. Strong boys. Yes, two bucking boys who would go out and do manly things. They’d stay out of your hair, those two. Now Jude…can’t find a better man than that hereabouts. He’ll have to do. He barely ever talks—and trust me, that’s a great quality to have—and he’s at the top of his class. Real smart fellow. If only he wasn’t so mysterious—never matter. He’s still gorgeous, yes indeed. He seems like the good, faithful type…you wouldn’t have to worry about him cheating or leaving or anything. Nice boy. Darling boy.” Charlize had stopped paying attention and was focusing on what breakfast would tomorrow morning.
Morning came. It was just another day. Charlize turned nineteen today and the morning did not bring any surprises. Jude could care less, Evelyn made her a yellow cream cake, and her father was still nowhere to be seen. Charlize went out to for a walk.

Charlize came home and went to the kitchen to find something to eat. As she opened the cabinet, she noticed creaking and muffled voices. Letting her imagination wander, she excitedly put down her bag and rushed up the stairs, two at a time, to see whether it was a stray dog or a burglar causing Evelyn distress. She whipped open the door and came to a sudden halt. A flurry of blue, and Evee was on the floor and Jude was standing over her, shirtless and panting. Charlize screamed and ran out of the room.
The Venetian world and its neighbors knew the world of gossip all too well. The incident would be whispered about all through town by suppertime.
Later that afternoon, Jude was at the supermarket. He was trying to sort out the situation in his mind, thinking that it all happened too fast. He had been the victim, yet it would seem the other way around to any onlooker. Wasn’t he always the victim? Jude looked up and saw Charlize walking toward him. He whipped around and pretended to pick out carrots. Jude asked the old man how much a pound would be. He looked at his watch, cursed under his breath, and told the elder to keep the change. His peripheral sight warned him of her proximity and he studied the ridges and dimples of the orange with intense concentration. But she had reached him and was unable to stop fast enough, miscalculating her step. Her arm briefly brushed against his hand and he felt the clamminess. He shuddered.
“Jude, I wanted to talk to you about—” but he was already walking away. He started his walk home. As he made his way through the narrow streets, Jude scanned the small houses, all tightly squished against each other. The flowers overran the area, making it a wildly chaotic garden, filled with overbearing, clashing fragrances. He watched in disgust as the gondolas floated by in the jammed waterways, straining under the weight of the multiple tourists. The young boys played outside, causing ruckus and noise with their inventive games.
As he neared his house, he slowed his pace to avoid suspicion. He entered through the backdoor and slipped through the multiple screen doors with large, jagged holes. He went to the kitchen and turned on the stove. Suddenly the doorbell rang. “Who’s there, Jude? Who’s there?”
“Just a friend,” Jude said, but he had no idea who it was. Jude cautiously opened the door and Charlize stood there on the doorstep. An awkward silence sat uncomfortably between Jude and Charlize, blocking any possibility of shelter or comfort and with no intention of leaving. Jude finally gave in and sighed, “Come on in.” She followed him to the dining room, where he started to make her a cup of coffee.
Charlize started, knowing that Jude could remain silent for hours. “I found the book you left me. Thank you. I didn’t know you knew it was my birthday.” There was a pause. “I have to apologize for my behavior earlier today…it’s really your decision to do whatever you want, even if it’s with my deranged mother. I just came by to tell you that I’m leaving. I realized that I’m not a child anymore and I need to find something to do somewhere else.” Jude stood, mouth open.
“What are you going to do?” Charlize shrugged. “Not sure. I just need to find something for myself. Live my life, you know?”

The two ate lunch together. Afterward, while Charlize quietly looked at her hands in her lap, Jude rapidly tapped his knuckles on the tabletop, waiting for her finally broke the silence. When Charlize kept her lips pursed, Jude gave a small sigh.

“I’m actually glad you came, Charlize. I have some news. I received a letter from Cambridge today. They said that they had received a letter from an anonymous source. The person claimed that I assaulted a married woman while she was alone in her room. They decided to rescind their invitation.” Charlize sat still, not understanding what he meant. “I can’t go there anymore,” he said. “They rejected me.”

Charlize sat, dumbstruck at the turn of events. Her fury bubbled as she realized that her mother had finally stopped being in denial of her failed marriage, and her rebound had been to have an affair with a younger, more handsome man. Evelyn’s seemingly innocent move had turned out disastrous. Charlize was woken from her thoughts at the shatter from her teacup. She had been gripping it so tightly and it had slipped from her fingers. She mumbled and quickly picked up the broken pieces and imagined throwing them at Evelyn. Evelyn, the reckless. Evelyn, the childish mother.
Charlize felt brave enough to ask him anything now, for she had seen a part of him that he had not shown to anyone else. A part of him and a whole of someone else, someone unexpected. “Jude, why are you always so quiet and broody? What’s the chip on your shoulder?”

“Venice. Venice is sitting on my shoulder and it’s heavy as fuck.”

“What do you mean? You don’t like it here? But so many people would kill to live here. I mean, the tourists are living proof—”
“Case in point. You want to know why I hate this hell-hole? Okay sure, Venice has pretty canals, but it reeks of shit. There isn’t any regulation. Sure, the streets are picturesque, but they’re narrow enough that a fat-ass would feel claustrophobic walking to his own house. American children idolize Venice, thinking of gondolas, fresh air, and breathtaking beauty. What they leave out of the equation is that the entire city is a live museum. The hype brings tourists from around the world, yet Sienna and Rome are much prettier places to live. Everything smells here because there’s shit everywhere. I can’t take it anymore. I can’t take this shit. But until I save enough money to move to the Lake District, I’m stuck here, wallowing in these narrow streets, day by day.”
***

A few years later, Jude was at the marketplace, picking out carrots. He was twenty and had no idea what he was going to do with his life. As he looked at the carrot, he was reminded of the childish girl who suddenly grew up a few years back. He recalled a cool smoothness of her hand that he didn’t notice before, and his mind wandered, imagining what she was doing at that moment.
What she was doing was nothing he imagined. Charlize was gardening outside her house. The lake and hills nearby gave her a soothing feeling. She wiped her soft hands on her apron. It started to sprinkle, so she went inside to make breakfast for Julia and Jess, who were already crying for sausages and mashed peas. Her neighbors had old, stone houses, and farms were sprinkled throughout the countryside. Green grass and brown mountains could be seen for miles, and the cottages seemed to melt into the picture. Out of the window she saw her husband walk alongside the road, his hat bobbing up and down amongst the brown, rolled haystacks and his shoes crunching amongst the purple white yellow wildflowers. She went inside, opened the book that had been given her a few years back, and started reading it for the first time.





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