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Sunlight on an Empty Room


One

Marietta left Maryland to get over an affair. She returned to Maryland while in the midst of one. Not completely sure why she followed her lover to Baltimore, Marietta Di Pietro found herself held up in a Federal Hill town house, waiting for Jim Rizzi. Jim, himself a former expatriate, returned to Baltimore after finishing an emergency medicine assignment in Italy. He had no real intention of staying with Marietta, neither she with him, but there they were. For their separate reasons they’d remained entangled with one another. The couple had been in Baltimore for over a month and Marietta hadn’t bothered to inform her family that she was there. She would, of course tell her sister, but not until she was content with her surroundings. She knew Jim would eventually be spending more time with his wife and she would have the entire place to herself, free to entertain as she pleased and never having to explain the older man hanging around her. It was a hopeful hunger, the idea that she might live rent free and without having to put out, but for now she was held up in a Federal Hill townhouse, waiting for Jim Rizzi.

Texting before realizing it was time for Jim to be home, Marietta asked how long he’d be. As she threw her Blackberry on the sofa she noticed Jim’s car was pulling up out front. Jim, looking handsomely dressed, particularly fit for a man of his age, and not like a man who’d ever had to put in a hard day’s work entered the vestibule, smiling from the Blackberry message.

“You’re missing me?” Jim threw his keys on the coffee table and reached for the stack of mail which lay beside them.

“It seems later, Marietta stated. After a minute, Jim kissed her on the forehead.

“What’d you do today? I tried to call you before lunch.”

“There was some sort of future of apps meeting I had to attend; boring is the only word to describe it.” Marietta watched as Jim combed through the mail, not really listening to her excuses. “I stopped over to Lexington Market and picked up some of those hotdogs you like.” Jim appeared not to hear her but instead seemed to be concentrating heavily on the mail.  In the past, this gesturing would symbolize an announcement of his leaving their life together and temporarily returning to the States. Since they were currently in the states, Marietta had no idea why he was reading the mail.

“The kids are coming in town,” Jim stated. Marietta hated Jim referring to his daughter and son-in-law as the kids; his daughter was two years her senior. Jim had a daughter who lived in Denver but who also visited twice a year. This had never been an issue; Marietta was overseas and Jim would come home when his daughter was visiting, giving Marietta an opportunity to be with friends her own age. But now there was a problem. The townhouse now being used as their love nest was the same place his daughter and family stayed whenever they visited.  Careful not to appear bothered but more put out, Marietta sighed. Always consumed with her upkeep Marietta asked, “Are they really coming here as in Baltimore?  I don’t want us to have to relocate unnecessarily if there’s no need. When are they coming?”

“That’s what the email said; they’re coming.” There was silence. They sat quietly, each waiting for the other to speak.

“I wanted to ask you if you could stay with your family.” Marietta looked at Jim and again sighed.

“You wanted to ask or you’re asking?”

“I guess I’m asking,” he said. Marietta was angry but what choice had she. The townhouse had its own use and that use was understood. Marietta would have to go home.

“How long will they be here?”

“Not sure. Bridgette’s got something or other in town and she says Don’s in Boston on business.” Jim took out his checkbook, wrote a few checks for the bills, put them in their respective envelopes and lay them back on the table.

“We’ll have to see what happens. You need some money?” Jim grabbed his keys from the table.

“We’re not going out?” Every Thursday since their return to the States, Jim and Marietta had a standing date for sushi. They would drive to Towson, hit the mall, and afterwards grab a meal at San Sushi on Pennsylvania Avenue. Marietta still looked forward to it even though she was sure she was over the relationship.

“You go. Buy yourself some shoes or something. I’ve got to work on something back at the house.” Without waiting for a response, Jim pulled out three hundred dollars from his wallet, counted it, and tossed it on the table. Marietta didn’t bother to look; Jim was always generous. She knew better than to express her anger; she had no right. Jim had always been honest about his feelings. He loved her but his family would always come first. Without expression, Marietta walked Jim to the door, kissed him, and leaned against the door frame.

“I guess you should mail those?” Jim smiled politely and headed for his car. He stopped just as he got his key in the lock.

“I’ll call you when I know what the kids are gonna do, okay?” Marietta also smiled politely but didn’t answer. She watched Jim pull away and then stood motionless in doorway. For a minute she did nothing. Then, realizing that she would have to depend on her family for shelter at least for the foreseeable future, she tore up Jim’s mail and put the money he’d left, in her back pocket.

“Fucking loser! Mail your own God damn shit!” Marietta grabbed her Blackberry, her keys, and her purse. “Fuck you!”

Marietta was not the sort to be governed by social rules. She didn’t send out friend request on Facebook, didn’t tip the grocery baggers at the local Safeway, and couldn’t be bothered with informing her mother of her current plans; staying at home until Jim’s kids were gone.  She would, she decided, just show up and crash without explanation.  It wasn’t as if she was responsible to anyone, she decided. Marietta’s snapshots of her childhood were filled with incomplete situations. She’d attended an elementary school where she met the person she thought would be her best friend forever but then her father decided to move the family to Reston. She got into Madame Tchectky’s gifted program for promising dancer’s before age ten but by spring recital her father decided to move the family to Maryland. When Marietta was thirteen her mom persuaded her dad to buy instead of renting which gave Marietta a sense of stability and comfort but then her father decided to move, without them.  By age fifteen, Marietta had been introduced to three “this may be your stepmothers” and one aerobics instructor. Angry and full of terrible ideas, Marietta seized on an opportunity to study abroad and during her senior year she left for Spain. While in Spain, she became obsessed with her interpreter, a man who’d never met a shot of tequila he didn’t like and together they destroyed her scholarship. Marietta returned to Westminster with no money, no real education, and no plan.

After a long-awaited divorce, Marietta’s mom bought a home in Roland Park to be closer to her job.  Marietta, fresh out of an affair with her Towson State Drama Teacher, bought a ticket to Europe and launched what she now refers to as whore tour two-thousand four. She found the most expensive bars and restaurants and waited for her meal ticket to show up.  She had a string of financially successful, yet physically exhausting romances when she met Jim. Taking in an afternoon at The Musee Rodin, Jim caught Marietta glancing sideways at Wim Delvoye’s Maquette.  The pair spent the greater part of a rainy afternoon discussing contemporary art.  By dinner, they both decided to add the other to their life in some way but without emotional attachment.

Unlike the others, Jim wouldn’t put up with Marietta’s temperament.  An American himself, Jim could smell middle class a mile away.  He knew he had more to offer her than she could ever offer him. Once they became lovers he made it clear to her he had no intention of paying for a part-time escort.   He wanted a companion.  Marietta would act responsibly with his money and with hers.  They would entertain his acquaintances at his flat and he demanded it be kept tasteful and orderly.  Marietta was never to dress tawdry; always with class.  Jim insisted on accompanying her on shopping jaunts until he realized she had excellent taste. Marietta initially believed she wouldn’t be into it but eventually gave in.  Besides, Jim gave head better than any man she’d known and she was never without good dinner reservations.  Jim also had a softer side Marietta really enjoyed.  He taught her French and about great French wine while taking her on holiday to the vineyard, Coteaux des Baux, just outside of Marseille.  They took a cooking class in Poisitano where no one spoke English.  Jim seemed to like watching her make do and Marietta enjoyed how his eyes roamed her body while she cooked.  They became lovers and companions and never spoke of their eventual departure because neither of them had to stay.  It was the perfect arrangement.  When Jim went home, Marietta worked and explored and when Jim returned they did as they always did; never speaking of home, and always enjoying fine art, fine food, and fine sex.

It was already a humid eighty-nine degrees when Marietta left for work on Friday.  She packed all her belongings, what little she had, and threw them in the trunk of her late-model Acura, a gift from Jim.  Her flip-flops were practically melting as she made her way from the parking lot, carrying her laptop in a bag not made for the task and a very large cup of coffee in her tiny, perfectly manicured hands and entered the lobby of App in Motion, her employer of the last five years.  Marietta developed smart phone applications.  She felt it was her true calling of the moment.  Marietta saw application development as an art form.  She would spend hours coming up with new features and functions. She worked for Blackberry International but was not taken seriously in her opinion. Eventually, consumed with the idea that Blackberry wouldn’t continue to develop applications, Marietta resigned from her bottom feeder job and accepted a position with the trendier Apps in Motion.  Applying through the European office, Marietta’s work was highly valued and respected. She had even been flown to the States to personally meet with Ian Newberg.  She would eventually be made the head of her department.  Just as she was starting to feel secure in her new position, AIM was purchased in a leverage by-out deal by Blackberry International. While Marietta still loved developing applications, she felt that her creative control was being manipulated and eventually she would suffocate artistically.  But for now, still able to travel back and forth, she was content.

“Couldn’t you just die,” the receptionist spoke as Marietta walked by her desk.  Marietta, annoyed by the notion that she’d have to speak to anybody before her third cup of java just stared blankly at the smiling girl.

“Are there any calls?”  The smile did not leave the receptionists face.  She simply bit back, “Nobody called you; ab-so-lu-tely no one; Yup!” Marietta gave her best “fuck you” stare and continued on to her office. She threw her belongings on the captain’s chair she kept in the corner of her cramped little office and plopped down into her chair.  It was normal for Jim to call first thing in the morning and she purposely arrived late to miss his call. “Let him wonder where I am,  she thought as she adjusted the straps of her new black plunge bra she’d bought while still fuming over Jim’s decision to kick her out.  She wouldn’t call him at all today, she decided and she wouldn’t go back to that condo, ever.

“There’s our star,” Ian stated as he entered Marietta’s office.  Ian Newberg was the current CEO and founder of AIM.  His position within his company was secured during the buy-out but he still possessed the work ethic of an unnecessarily enthusiastic new hire, always trying to impress and amaze. He stood in Marietta’s doorway smiling his gentle smile.

“Is something wrong?”

“Something?  Everything! I sent that app package over to Brian Caldwell two days ago and he hasn’t bothered to call. I hate suspense,” she declared. “Either they want to buy it or not!”

“Are you sure he received the numbers? Caldwell is not one for teasing but he does have a product to protect.  Maybe you should call him”   Ian, convinced that nothing would alter his good mood; he’d recently become a very rich man, tried to stroke Marietta as best he could.

“I’m not calling him. If he wants to talk to me he’ll call.” Neither was sure if they were still talking about Caldwell.

“What’s up for the weekend; big plans?”  Marietta wasn’t listening.  Her attention had been diverted elsewhere.  Her life if she had one was a mess, she thought.  Not only was she currently homeless but her career was suffocating her, she thought.  She controlled nothing and had nothing. Still standing in Marietta’s doorway, Ian waited.  He waited because he was happy and his genuine father-like affection prompted him to want for her happiness as well.

“My pearl, please do something to change this hideous disposition.  It’s not attractive and who cares anyway. George and I are going to see the Cherry Blossom’s on the mall on Saturday; come with.”  Marietta was very aware of Ian’s affections for her but could hardly appreciate them.  After one of her affairs ended badly, Marietta vowed never to mix work with pleasure, not even for a father-figure.

“No thanks,” she said unapologetically. “Was there something else?”

“Ah, no; I guess not,” Ian said; his voice sounding slightly wounded.  He left Marietta’s office, the smile no longer on his face but walking swiftly and with a sense of purpose.  While Marietta continued to change channels in her head; Jim to homelessness, homelessness to failed career, failed career to Jim, she swiveled in her chair.  Just behind her, outside her window Marietta could see a couple kissing.  She sucked in her breath.  I’m not calling him, she thought.  Several feet beyond the couple was the edge of the harbor.  Marietta looked out onto the water and wondered how hard it would be to find another assignment  overseas.  I’d love to go back to Spain, she thought.  Resigned to the idea that she was for the moment bound by a lack of opportunity and funding, Marietta dug into her work, working long past quitting time and into the evening.

Two

Marietta, who hated anything cliché stood in front of her mother’s Roland Avenue home, thinking how nice it was to see the old Victorian.  Within a few minutes of entering the vestibule, a familiar smell swept across her nose. Marietta’s mom was obsessed with French cooking and forever for as long as Marietta could remember her mother was equally obsessed with butter and onions.  Everything was made with generous amounts of each and Marietta hated it. Dropping a large duffel bag and her Coach on the floor, just inside the living room, Marietta followed the smell.  Instead of her mom’s red bob, she found her sister’s big head staring down into a pot.

“Gin-a! Jeeze,” Marietta threw her keys on the counter and embraced her sister.

“I thought you were mom,” she said laughing.  Marietta’s sister embraced her immediately, shocked to see her sister appear seemingly out of the blue.

“What are you doing here?”  Both girls were now laughing.

“I’m back; decided to let the creative juices flow this way for a while.  What are you cooking?”  Marietta didn’t want to explain the circumstances which brought her home but being there made her realize how much she missed her sister.

“I was trying to make French onion soup, remember?”  Gina was more full-figured than Marietta, not afraid to enjoy good food more often.  Her long chestnut locks framed her cheery face.  Her joy at seeing her sister was evident from the way her hair fell when she turned around to the way her smile seemed to stretch beyond her ears.

“Mom’s got you making soup?” Marietta couldn’t recall ever seeing her sister cook, not even eggs.

“No, Eric.  Eric loves soup so I’m trying to learn different types so he, you know, doesn’t get bored with my cooking.”  Gina was beaming.

“Who cares?”  Is this still Eric Streidel?

“I care.  I plan to be married forever; for as long as we both shall live.”

“You’re marrying Eric?  What the hell!”

“I sent you a text.  And don’t make fun of my fiancé.”

“Where’s mom?”  Marietta suddenly realized that she’d asked the question more than once and hadn’t received an answer.  Gina’s smile suddenly turned cautionary.

“She’s away.” Marietta’s mom never went away.  Her whole life was Hopkins and her girls; away met work or school functions.  That’s it.

“Away; where?”

“Belize, I believe.”

“Yeah, right; is she working or what?” Marietta wouldn’t consider any other reasoning.

“Mom’s away on a little vacation, Marietta.”  She, you know felt like getting away and she went.  She’ll be back in a week to help me look for a dress.”  Marietta looked confused.  It was if her family had continued turning with the rest of the world and hadn’t stopped as she had depended on, making everything seem wrong.

“Wait! Did I walk into the wrong house?  You’re marrying evil Eric and Mom’s left the state. Is that what I’m hearing?”  Gina was no longer smiling at all.

“I asked you not to make fun of Eric. And yes, mom took a vacation, ok!”  God Marietta, you act as if we all don’t have a life.  You think you could call home every once and awhile? You’re not the only one with plans, you know?”  Gina got up from the table and turned down the burner on the stove.  She grabbed a wooden spoon and removed the top from her sautéing onions.  She stirred the onions a few times and turned to her sister.

“What’s going on with you?  Are you staying a week, a month, what?”  Marietta was silent for a moment and then, realizing she was once again plan-less, plainly answered her sister, “I accepted a position near Federal Hill.  I was just going to stay with mom until I found a place.”

“Well, it might be a good idea if you ask mom.  You know she may not want someone crowding her space.  I just came by to check on the house and use her kitchen.”  The comment struck Marietta as odd.  Why would she have to ask her mother if she could stay in her house; the very house in which Marietta had for a short period of time lived.  And there was no other choice.

“I would tell you to stay with me but Eric’s already moved in and my place is small, you remember.”

“I’ll just stay here until mom gets back and then I’ll see what she says,” Marietta said plainly.  She suddenly felt like a stranger who had just asked if she could use the phone.  This is my home, she thought.

Gina showed Marietta her traditional pear-cut diamond and talked about her wedding plans.  It quickly became apparent to Marietta Gina was completely in love with Eric and she’d better edit her comments.  From what she could remember about Eric Streidel, he was quite the bully.  Marietta recalled an incident from high school when Eric threw some kid through a window and was expelled.  It was hard for her to fathom Eric chasing after her sister and her sister liking it. I guess people change, she thought, as she cleared the table.  Marietta watched as her sister seemed to admire her ring.  Why, she thought, had she not gotten the bride gene.  Her sister seemed lost in the idea of getting married.  Marietta never imagined marriage as anything but a footnote to the disaster that was her parent’s life together.  Marriage was not done on purpose, it was done out of need or fear, she thought.  Although she’d never thought of her sister as particularly needy or fearful, she suspected she very well may be.  She’s never gone anywhere, Marietta thought.  Of course Marietta didn’t think marriage would make her sister fearless either.  I hope she doesn’t get any fatter and become one of those Roland Park mothers who stroll around with their kids on a leash pretending that PTA bulletins were the scrap-book items of the day.  She could hardly keep from laughing out loud as she watched Gina thumb through a Crate and Barrel registry packet.

“You guys going anywhere great for your honeymoon? I could tell you where all the great restaurants are.”

“Eric says we can’t afford it right now; maybe next year.”  Gina’s voice trailed off.  Marietta could tell she was lying.

“What does Eric do? I can’t remember.”

“He’s working with the McCauleys.”

“Eddie McCauley?  Remember when his dad chased that black guy over at Overlea because he thought he was messing with Sarah?”

“I remember she was screwing the whole football team, including that guy,” Gina belted out.  She’s married now, which I cannot believe.”

“She’s married?”  Who would marry her?  Talk about getting the cow for free!”

“She married Rodney Grandison. They’ve got three kids; two play for Hamilton, Gina stated sounding somewhat jealous.

“Well her dad should have seen that coming.  That girl had more black men than a night club on Christmas and she loved hanging down Overlea.”  Marietta thought that Sarah was the only girl in the area equal in both beauty and brains.  For a time they were friends but when Sarah found out Marietta had applied to study overseas without mentioning it to her she abruptly ended their friendship.  Being as shallow as Sarah, Marietta really didn’t mind.  She left for Spain and the two never spoke again.

“What’s Rodney doing?  He was such a clown.”

“Orthopedic freakin Surgeon! Union Memorial Hospital! That bitch reminds me every time I see her.”  Marietta has never seen her sister jealous of anyone.  Marietta pours them both a glass of wine.

“Here’s to Rodney banging a hot nurse whose not friends with his skank wife!”

The girls lift their glasses and toast another three times before emptying the bottle.  Gina, insisting she had to get home and freshen up before eleven, refused to stay over.  She put her soup into one of her mother’s plastic containers, leaving just enough for Marietta’s dinner.

“Are you sure you’re ok to drive?”  Marietta was sure she had more wine than her sister but wanted to be cautious.

“I’m sure I’ve gotta get home before Eric.  I’ll be fine.  I’ll call you tomorrow.”  Gina hopped into their mom’s old Mercedes and sped up one side of Roland Avenue and after a few minutes back down the other side.  Marietta watched her sister disappear into the night and walked back into the house.

Marietta grabbed a phone book from the kitchen desk, fixed herself what turned out to be a very good bowl of French onion soup and sat down at the dining room table.  She thumbed through the yellow pages until she came to the entry for McCauleys. Try as she did, Marietta could not remember what Eddie McCauley’s dad did for a living.  Worked for the McCauleys, she thought as she continued to turn the pages.  Marietta then thought how easy it would be to look for Eddie McCauley on Facebook. And so she did. Anonymously, she got on Facebook and put in, Edward McCauley, Baltimore, Maryland.  And there it was; Eddie’s picture.  Marietta was so shocked to see how much Eddie had aged that she almost forgot why she looked him up in the first place.  McCauley’s was a pawn shop.  Marietta had a vague recollection of the McCauleys and now she could remember clearly the commercials that ran every morning on local television about their pawn shop.  Gina was marrying a pawn shop worker.  Mom must have left town to get over the shock, she laughed to herself. While still logged on, Marietta looked up another school mate, Sarah Diefenbaker –Graindison. She tried several spellings and on her fourth attempt there it was, her former best friend’s mug staring back her. Not able to access more of Sarah’s information, Marietta logged off. “You done well you big whore,” she whispered as she shut down the PC.

Marietta got the remainder of her belongings from the car and carried them into the house.  Roland Park was pretty settled by dusk.  The only sounds were those of neighbors out with their dogs on the last walk of the evening.  Marietta smiled at one neighbor she thought she remembered but he didn’t seem to know who she was and only nodded as he went by.   With the prospect of seeing her mother all but forgotten, Marietta took a few remaining bags inside and headed up to her old room.  Forgetting which side of the hall contained the light switch, Marietta stumbled over a pile of what seemed like giant art pads while trying to make it into her room through the darkness.  When she finally located a light switch, she turned to see what had tripped her up.  In the hallway near the stairs lay her old drawing pads.  Every one of her pads she’d all but forgotten was now scattered across the hallway floor.  She turned back to her room, reached for another switch and turned it on.  To her surprise, the room was empty.  No bed, no bureau, nothing.  Her belongings, what little she’d left there were gone.  Marietta walked down the hall to Gina’s old room.  She turned on the light expecting to find it bare as well but instead she found it furnished with a small sofa and chair.  As Marietta opened the door wider she could see her mom had turned the room into a den, complete with new curtains and a small flat screen television mounted on one of the walls.   Marietta, not wanting to disturb anything, put out the light and returned down the hall.  She sat next to the pile of pads and reached for the one nearest the stairs.  Marietta, confronted by the reality that she no longer lived in this house was suddenly sad.  Sad was an emotion Marietta rarely felt but at this moment it overwhelmed her.  Maybe consumed by wine or consumed by loneliness, she wasn’t sure but she felt out-of-place.  It was as if she’s broken into someone’s house and was going through their belongings.  All that was hers were the pads.  Marietta began flipping through the pages of the pad she’d picked up.  There on the pages, etched in charcoal and some in pencil were images from her childhood.  The house in Reston, a dog she’d all but forgotten, a picture of her sister in her mom’s heels, it was all catalogued.  On one page, Marietta had drawn a self-portrait.  She could recall the photograph she’d used.  In an old photo album she’d found a snapshot her mom had taken of her sitting on a porch, waiting for her father.  She drew that self-portrait, she recalled, while she was sitting on the hallway stairs, waiting for her dad.  Marietta signed.  She turned to another page and came across a reproduction she’d attempted.  Light on an Empty Room was written in the lower left corner.  Marietta loved Edward Hopper paintings.  This particular one she tried to reproduce over and over again. She could never quite capture the light, she thought, as she removed the page from the pad.  Marietta walked to her mother’s room, by now desperate for a place to rest her head.  She opened her mother’s door to find nothing she remembered.  Her mother’s room was complete with modern furnishings.  The room always seemed larger than life but it now had larger than life furniture.  A king sized bed, a Mitchell Gold loveseat, and a mirror that ran from the floor to the ceiling.  Why mom would want to look at herself in that, Marietta thought, is scary. Her first impulse was to jump onto the bed and fall into the night but the room looked so undisturbed that Marietta felt that it would be an intrusion. She left the room as she had found it.  She took her picture to her old room, found a tack, and hung it on the wall.  She then grabbed a blanket from the linen closet, lay down on the small sofa in the den, and thought about Jim.  She hoped they would leave soon and return to Rome or anywhere, she thought.  The thought of leaving was the only thing that allowed her the ease of mind to rest for the evening.  If not for that she might have cried herself to sleep in this strange house.

 

 

 

 

Three

“So,” said Marietta’s sister.  “How long are you going to sleep like a teenager?”  Gina asked in a way that made Marietta realize her sister had little regard for her sleeping needs and really needed her to do something.

“What time is it?” And there it was. When Marietta turned over the sun was beaming in her eyes.  She could barely make out her sister’s image. Gina seemed disinterested in the time and the reason why was swinging from her hand.

“Can you come with me to pick out some upholstery fabric?”  Marietta could think of nothing more prosaic than helping with that task.

“No. I can’t.  I mean I would it’s just that I can’t.  I have plans.”

“You don’t even know what time it is but you know you have plans?” Marietta leaned forward on the sofa to peer at her sister.

“Don’t give me any shit, Gina. I just got home.”  Gina hardly heard her.  She was fixed on her swatches.

“Everything about setting up a home is such an event.  I’m pulling my hair out over things that wouldn’t have phased me even slightly a year ago.  I’m turning into mom, you know.” Marietta smiled annoyingly.  She looked at the swatches swinging back and forth in front of her face, her sister totally oblivious to her annoyance.

“Fuck, I totally have to meet someone for lunch! I’m so late, Gina.  Where the hell is my bag?” Marietta stumbled past her sister, pretending to hunt for something of which she wasn’t even sure.

“I hope you didn’t bring your old man home with you.  That guy has manipulative written all over him.”

“You’ve seen one God damn picture, Gina.”  Marietta grabbed a towel from the linen closet and started the shower. Gina retreated and stuck her swatches in her purse.

“You want to get some dinner later?”  She didn’t really wait for an answer; she knew the answer. It was always the same.

“Let’s see what happens.  I’ll call you. You haven’t changed your cell number, have you?”

Gina was already down the first landing of the stairs.

“Have you called mom,” she yelled up. Marietta paid her no attention.  She slammed the bathroom door and stepped into the shower.  Call her for what, she thought.  Marietta showered for the next half hour, thinking of how she would surprise Jim.

Marietta had no lunch plans of course.  She would, she decided head over to Mt Vernon for the annual arts festival.  Marietta tried to remember the bus route for downtown Baltimore.  If nothing else, she remembered that driving to the inner city on a Saturday, during a festival was not a good idea.   Upon reaching Charles Street she immediately felt at home. The arts festival reminded her of the vendors in Zaragoza during the Fiestas de Primavera. She made her way through each exhibit, touching this, trying on that, and genuinely admiring the splendor. At the corner of Mount Vernon and St Paul, Marietta stopped at a table of scarves, each one neatly folded into flag shapes by color. Who would take the time, she thought as she unfolded a purple scarf with gold lamé threads running throughout.

“Don’t unfold . . .,” a young man started as she flung the scarf forward releasing the rest of it unto to the table.

“How else would I see it?” The young man pointed to a series of photographs tacked to a cork board.

“The models are meant to show how to wear them. They’re authentic.” Marietta moved toward the photographs. She studied each one. They were exotic and beautiful. In each photograph, the model was completely nude with the exception of the scarf. The pictures were done  in black and white with the exception of the scarves and the eye color of each model. The detailing, in Marietta’s opinion was poetic, not airbrushed.

“These are beautiful,” she said. “Who took them?”

“It’s my real craft. I’m a photographer slash painter,” the young man stated.

“Impressive. But I want to know how the scarf will look on me , the model.”

“That’s easy.” The man grabbed an auburn-colored scarf from one of the piles , unfolded it, and slipped it around Marietta’s hips. He knotted it at one side.

“Come here,” he said, motioning for her to stand in front of a mirror he’d positioned along the stone wall. Marietta admired the scarf as it seemed to slim her hips. She stood looking at it for several moments.

“Now turn around.” Marietta turned and as she did, the young man snapped her picture.

“No, no, no, please. I don’t want my picture taken.”

“Come on, how else will I sell it?” The young man took Marietta’s hand and motioned for her to spin. She did.

“So will I be the only fully clothed girl in your collection?”

“Hardly,” he said

“Well, how much for the scarf?”

“I’ll make you a deal. You sign a release and I’ll give you the scarf.”

“You’re joking, right?”

“Scouts honor. I’m a photographer.”

“And you’ll use it to sell scarves?”

“Ah, now you’ve caught me. I want to use it to create a painting.”

“What kind of painting.”

“A sellable painting. Come on; what’s the big deal?”

“The big deal is, your models don’t have any clothes on.”

“And yet you couldn’t keep your eyes off of them.”  She laughed.

“How long have you been painting?”

“Forever, very tasteful, very in-demand at times.”

“Could I see your work anywhere?”

“I have a studio very nearby. Most of my clients come there.”

“And they buy from you?”

“Actually they buy from my agent but I haven’t lost one yet.” I’m Paul by the way, he said sticking out his hand to shake hers.

“Mari,” she offered.  “Could I see your paintings before I sign my life away?”

“No problem, just let me get someone to watch my table.”

The young man led her through the crowd of festival goers on Charles Street, past Never on a Sunday, and then down Cathedral Street to a Brownstown not far from where they started. He pushed open an iron gate which required the use of his shoe and motioned for Marietta to follow. “It’s not haunted,” he said. Marietta was no longer mesmerized by the idea of seeing the artist’s studio. She just now realized that what she is doing was potentially stupid. Ghosts are the least of my worries, she thought. She didn’t’ follow him up the stairs. “Listen, I’ve actually got to be somewhere.” Paul, smiling as politely as he had been ten minutes before while watching Marietta tie fabric around her waist stopped to face Marietta.  He knew this was an uncomfortable proposition when he proposed it but he genuinely wanted to share his vision with her. “I completely understand,” he said. Marietta looked down at her shoes, hoping to avoid any confrontation. But there was something else. “I do want to see your work; just not today,” she said. Paul stepped down and walked closer to Marietta. He studied her face. For what seemed a long period of time to Marietta, he stared at her. He was memorizing it, she felt. “And I should like to show it to you; perhaps another time.” Paul dug into the rear pocket of his jeans and pulled out a business card. The card itself was a work of art, filled with cubes that formed a three-dimensional path which appeared to go on infinitely. Marietta looked at the card, smiled and shoved it in her pocket. She’d never call some guy she just met on the street. “Here, let me give you my cell number just in case.”

“Just in case of what?”  Paul knew he was making the situation more uncomfortable. His gaze remained on Marietta. She folded her arms. She felt somehow exposed. “Never mind,” she said. “I’ll see ya.” Paul, perhaps a little wounded watched as Marietta exited through the iron gate. “Mari!” Paul walked across his courtyard, out the iron gate and caught up with her. “I’m going to have a private showing at Pitturé a week from Friday. You should definitely call me if you want to come. I could put your name on the list.” Marietta smiled. She did want to go.

Marietta reached home just in time to catch the last half hour of Judge Judy. As the gavel went down on the last case, Marietta started to doze off. Her cell was buzzing. Jim was texting her.

Mar-sorry, I’m just getting your text. Let’s talk next week. NSW.  Marietta stared at the text until the backlight dimmed. A familiar phrase Marietta had taught Jim for those times when he was away in the states now affected her in a way quite unfamiliar. Not safe for wife, she thought, was hurtful. Had they been together all day? She was suddenly overcome with emotions she didn’t quite understand. Marietta got bottled water from the kitchen and drank it without stopping.  She was invisible.  No one cared that she was there in Baltimore. She didn’t have Jim. Her mother was missing in action, and her only sister was planning her wedding to the pawn shop manager. Marietta began crying. This too was unfamiliar.

Marietta went to the small den where she had slept the night before and looked at her belongings. I hardly own anything, she thought. Marietta walked into her mother’s room, stood in front of the floor-length monstrosity of a mirror, and stared at her body and then at her face. Marietta’s hair was dark brown, the color of Coca-Cola, Jim had once told her. She had kept bangs because they made her look ten years younger than she truly was. Her eyes were large and amber. Marietta pulled her hair up and away from her face. She studied the shape of her lips. They were not full like her sister’s. It was the one single thing she envied about Gina.  She was no longer twenty-five; she was thirty-four, she thought.  “I have nothing and my looks are fading,” she said quietly. Marietta started removing her clothes. She pulled her top over her head and threw it to the floor and then her pants, and then her bra, and then her underwear. She stood looking at the shape of her body, sucking in her tummy every couple of minutes, imagining how flat it had been once. Marietta cupped both breast, lifting them as high as she could push them. They were rounded and still had a fullness that most twenty-five year olds would pay good money for. Marietta turned to her right side and then back to the front.  “I’ll have to watch what I eat. God, please don’t make me fat like Gina,” she whispered.  She examined the small scars that were still noticeable on her wrist. What was once the reminder of a failed suicide attempt was now a reminder of how invisible she truly was.

Marietta had attempted suicide after a fateful return to Italy; it was a planned reconciliation with Allegro, the banker who had kept her quite comfortably until she got caught with an ounce of cocaine. Of course he welcomed her back; it was grade A dumb teenager; legal and free to screw over as he pleased. And then he was done. Marietta had been in Positano just shy of a month when Allegro abruptly asked her to leave. “You have to leave here,” he said one evening. When Marietta demanded an explanation, he grabbed her by the arm and threw her and her belongings into the street. Marietta was on her knees, crying and picking her clothes up off of the cobblestone when a girl drove up to Allegro’s house.  She watched as the girl knocked on the door and was greeted by Allegro.  Marietta finished picking up her belongings but having no place to go, she decided to confront Allegro.  She knocked hard on the door, expecting a fight. But Allegro, upon answering the door, didn’t appear upset. “Who is she,” Marietta demanded!”

“Nessuno, lei è una prostitute,” he said. “Vieni dentro; Vieni dentro.” Marietta foolishly went into the flat. Allegro introduced Marietta to the small girl who, in Marietta’s opinion seemed younger than she. The girl didn’t seem at all uncomfortable with the presence of another woman but she certainly was. Allegro fixed drinks for the three of them. The girl talked non-stop about things Marietta couldn’t translate fast enough in her mind; she was confused or tipsy, she couldn’t decide. Allegro fixed more drinks. “Bere, bere!” he said and started rubbing Marietta’s thigh while appearing to listen to the girl. The next thing Marietta remembered was Allegro asking her to kiss the girl who was now naked before them. “Most women would do this for their man, she thought as she leaned in to kiss the girl who seemed more than willing. The following morning, Marietta awoke to the same argument from the day before. Allegro was once again asking her to leave. The young women lay next to her in bed.  “What about her,” Marietta shouted. Allegro threw both girls out but not before giving the girl four-hundred-twenty-two thousand lira. The girl offered Marietta a ride into the next town. “Si dovrebbe avere almeno ottenuto pagato,” she said as she pulled away from the curb.

Fatigue and an unfamiliar discharge some weeks later prompted Marietta to visit the MedCentro where she was diagnosed with an STD and an unwanted pregnancy.  Marietta had no one to support her through her ordeal. The nurse who cared for her immediately after the abortion insisted that she accept a ride back to the motel where she’d been staying. The same nurse would attend to her two days later, following her suicide attempt. Marietta remembered her but the nurse never appeared to remember Marietta or not that she acknowledged. On the night of her return from the clinic, Marietta managed to finish a bottle of cheap whiskey and wrote a suicide letter on her wrist; her pen of choice, a razor.

After that dreadful episode, Marietta interviewed and landed for a position with Canale di Comunicazione. The head of development liked that she could communicate with their American vendors. She lasted there for quite some time before defecting to a rival company and a new man.

As Marietta stood there and watched herself through the mirror, she thought of all she didn’t miss about her time in Italy. Her gaze was interrupted by the doorbell. “Shit,” she said, realizing she was still naked. Marietta quickly scrounged around for her clothes and got dressed.  She hurried down the stairs to front hall. Peeking from a side window, she saw a delivery guy looking up at the window as if he was sure someone was there.

“Yes,” Marietta said as she swung open the door. The delivery guy seemed not to want to look Marietta in the eye but he was smiling. He handed her a large package of very light weight.  “Wow, what’s this?” The deliver guy didn’t answer but appeared to be checking her out. “You live here,” he said in an accent clearly of southern descent.

“Yes. Well, my mother lives here. I’m sort of visiting, I guess.” Marietta signed for the package.

“Why?” She was checking him out also.

“Oh, no reason; just never s-e-e-n you here before,” he said. He was still smiling.  The delivery guy, with his molasses colored skin and perfect teeth almost fell backward as he backed off the porch. Vexed by the interaction, Marietta slowly closed the door.

Marietta checked the mailing label; it’s addressed to Kanata Jeffries. Quickly, Marietta attempted to catch the delivery truck before it pulled away but was unsuccessful. Great, she thought, now I will have to take this back to the post office. She examined the label again, thinking perhaps it was meant for a neighbor. “Nobody with a name like that would live in this neighborhood,” she whispered to herself. The address however, was for her house. Puzzled but not stressed, she kicked the box into a corner and went to dial the phone.  She dialed Paul’s number but hung up as soon as the call went through. What if he has caller ID, stupid, she thought as she picked up the phone a second time.  Wait, he has no idea this is you calling; you don’t live here, she thought and hung up again. “Now you’re just being rude. Stop hanging up,” she said quietly. She dialed once more. “What!” Paul clearly had attempted to answer the previous two calls.

“Hello, may I speak with Paul?”  There was a pause.

“Did you just call here and hang up?”  Paul asked. He sounded annoyed.

“No . . ., yes. I mean I called but I didn’t hang up. I thought someone answered so I kept saying hello but then no one said anything so I hung up and tried again.”  Paul’s voice softened, “Who is this?”

“It’s Mari. We met earlier. You said I should call if I wanted to see your show,” she said, quite sure that he knew she was lying.

“Sure, I remember. What’s up?” Paul didn’t want this to be a call about his show. He wanted to know her.

“Could you put me on the list?” she asked.

“What is your real name; Mari has to be short for something. Am I right?” he asked.

“It’s Marietta.”

“Marietta what?” He pressed.

“DiPietro.”



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