Dear Louisa: People here keep telling Mother she looks like Sophia Loren. At the pool the waiter brought us a free round of Campari-and-soda. When I came back from retrieving Mother’s reading glasses, she was holding court for a distinguished-looking grey-haired Italian in a silk suit and Fendi sunglasses. His son, in running shorts and T-shirt, hovered nearby. Next thing we’re invited to dinner at their villa. Ciao, Ramona
How to describe last night? The villa’s nice—terrazzo floors, white-washed walls. Vittorio (the Father) lavished attention on Mother. He had her taste the Barolo, which she sniffed, swished, and held in her Sophia Loren lips. I can’t tell if Vittorio’s smitten or simply enamored of Mother’s gold rooster pin with the emerald eyes. Son Giovanni, who’s probably a year or two older than I (37-ish, maybe?), is quieter. We discussed piano music. Is Schiff or Brendel the true heir to Horowitz? Giovanni invited me to run with him along the sea tomorrow. I think I’ll go. Ciao, Ramona
Louisa Cara: I didn’t mean to get you worried about Mother. Everything’s good. For three mornings now, Giovanni and I have run along the beach at 7, then gone swimming in the hotel pool. He buys an Italian newspaper and tries to persuade me I can read it. Vittorio arrives at 9 and we have breakfast, Mt. Etna smoldering in the background. Mother comes down all made up, but that’s her. Breakfast is delicious—the sweetest pears imaginable. Speaking of sweet, give Gabe a kiss from me. Ciao to Phil, too.
Giovanni and I drove into Catania last night to hear Schiff at the opera house. He played seven encores, including “Golliwog’s Cakewalk” (remember my recital?). Afterwards we walked to Piazza del Duomo, where there’s an elephant statue Gabe would love. When I got back, the front desk told me la bella signora was out with il signore. She came in after 2. I pretended to be asleep. Stop worrying! I won’t let the Maine debacle happen again.
Okay, okay, I’ll talk with Mother. In fact, yesterday when she was getting ready to meet Vittorio, she said she wanted to discuss something. So we agreed to have dinner together, just us. Off now for run with Giovanni.
I’ve never described Giovanni, have I? Brown hair, medium height and build, long-lashed grey eyes with little lights in them. Looks sweetly funny when he runs, like someone’s told him to mind his posture. Impeccable English (he teaches it), unlike Vittorio, who lapses into an endearing hodgepodge. Charming father, charming (in a completely different way) son.
Funny conversation with Mother. She’s worried Vittorio might not know we’re Jewish. I said that’s ridiculous—he’s entertaining an American lady, not marrying her. She got mad. “It’s much more than entertaining an American lady. At my age, you don’t trifle in such things. And at your age, you should know that.” We finished dinner in silence. Next thing, she’s off to Vittorio’s for Limoncello in the garden. So much for our heart-to-heart.
I can’t sleep. In an hour it will be the time I usually meet Giovanni for our run. But he’s gone to Palermo, where he runs a program for American college students. He said he’d call when he’s back, in a couple of days.
I ran this morning by myself along the Mazzaro sands. It cleared my head, reminded me of Father dunking me at Margate. I wonder what Father would think of Giovanni. I’ve told Giovanni about him. Today, I felt for the first time since Father’s death that I could forge my own destiny. After the run, I couldn’t eat breakfast. Vittorio was with Mother and I excused myself to buy stamps. Do you know the word for stamps in Italian? Francoboli! Isn’t it beautiful? I pasted some francoboli on a postcard of that elephant statue and sent it to Gabe. I’m hoping the postal service doesn’t reduce them to tatters before they arrive.
Mother woke me at midnight. “I told him I was Jewish. He said he wasn’t surprised because the most beautiful women in the world are, too—Natalie Wood, Lauren Bacall. He turned to Giovanni and asked who the young one was. Giovanni suggested Natalie Portman or maybe Rachel Weisz.” “Giovanni’s back?” I asked. He hadn’t called. Mother kept going as if I hadn’t spoken. “Giovanni said that beauty is overrated, that it fades anyway, and Vittorio said something so charming. He said, for most people, that’s true. But some women are rare flowers, that grow more beautiful every year.” I asked when Giovanni got back from Palermo. She couldn’t remember. Then I told her Vittorio was the biggest bullshit artist and she, the biggest idiot.
Mother says to go home without her. She’s moving into the Villa, has already transferred money from her account. When I said you and Phil were upset, she shrugged—a true Italian shrug. There’s nothing I can do. My plane arrives Sunday at 3:30. Looking forward to Gabe’s birthday party. Ciao till then.
What do you mean, don’t leave without her? Is that you talking or Phil? Have you forgotten what Mother’s like when she decides something?
I did what you said. Last night, when they were out, I went to see Giovanni—the first time in ten days. We barely looked at one another. I asked what he thought about his father and my mother. He shrugged. “My father does this every year. Falls madly in love with a beautiful woman. If it’s any consolation, he’ll break her heart soon. The way she’s surely broken yours, the way he breaks mine every time he criticizes my choices. Not beautiful enough, not perfect enough.” I asked, “Aren’t we too old to be controlled by our parents?”
He looked at me, hesitated only a moment. “Maybe you are.”
As foolish as Mother, I searched his eyes. But the lights were gone now.
Or perhaps I merely imagined them.
stories and flash fictions appear in Kenyon Review, The Best Small Fictions 2016 (“First Night,” a River Styx prize-winner), Electric Literature, Mid-American Review, Vestal Review, Fish Anthology 2015, A3 Review, KYSO Flash, Cimarron Review, and the Saturday Evening Post, among others.
Her story “The Loneliness Cure” was the fiction winner in 2021 for The Best Spiritual Literature Awards. Her story “A Simple Case” was the fiction winner in Carve Magazine’s 2019 Prose & Poetry Contest. Her flash fiction “Mayim” (a Streetlight Magazine prizewinner) has been selected for The Best Small Fictions 2022.
She lives in New York City. Find her on Twitter: [at]nludmerer
⚡ Interview with Nancy Ludmerer (Second-Place Winner of 2020 Summer Short Story Award), by Melissa Henshaw in The Masters Review Blog (12 March 2020)