She emerged from between two brick buildings and noticed that the light above the Pastores’ door was on. I’ll have to remember to check on Signora Pastore tonight. Since moving to Rome eleven months ago, Cara and her husband had become close with their elderly neighbors, Signor and Signora Pastore. Signora Pastore joked that Cara was like the daughter she never had. Their two sons, now grown, had gone to live in America. Cara and Gregory’s presence balanced out their universe.
At the end of their vialetto, Cara exhaled as the sunlight touched her cheeks. Glancing at her watch, she realized that she could slow her pace—a rarity. Morning wasn’t her moment to shine. Though she loved her job, she had not adjusted to the schedule of nine-to-five work and doubted she ever would. Cara’s background in both art history and translation had made her the perfect candidate for her position. Her tiny office at the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica was her sanctuary: by staring at documents related to old things, she could avoid thinking about new ones—or their absence.
Gregory savored the smell of coffee in the morning. He carried a cup to his first class nearly every day and sipped it as his students meandered in. Though Rome reminded him of Manhattan in its aggression and masculinity, the eighteen-year-olds he taught did not carry the same frenzy in their bodies that their New York counterparts did.
Clapping his hands together once, he addressed today’s group of seventeen. The class reached capacity at twenty, but one thing Gregory’s Italian students did share with others around the world was the propensity of a few select people to be absent on days when quizzes were being given. “What did you think of the ending of The Dead? Was it satisfying? Did Joyce tie up the loose ends in the ways you expected?”
“Professore, what are these lose ends, as you say?” Alberto’s English was not as strong as that of the rest of the class. The class was to be taught in English, but Gregory often had to explain colloquial American phrases to the locals in their native tongue. Gregory sometimes marveled at his own situation—born and raised in New Jersey, but now teaching Irish literature to Italian undergrads.
“It is an expression, Alberto. Did Joyce give all of the information that you, as a reader, desired? This is something for you all to keep in mind, classe, as you do today’s quiz. In two pages, explore what Gabriel and Gretta can teach us about the nature of love. Begin now.”
Cara’s cell rang just after lunch. The corner of the empty pizza box dangled over the edge of her desk, taking up more space than warranted by the single slice it had housed. Her notes were splayed in a fan-like pattern across her desk as Raphael’s La Fornarina eyed her curiously through her laptop screen. She hesitated just long enough before grabbing the phone. Only she would notice its multiple rings.
“Hey...” Her tone softened as she redirected her attention.
“So, I was thinking, how about I make that quinoa dish you like for dinner and we can catch a movie?” Gregory’s deep, calming voice had always had a slightly hypnotic effect.
“Uh. Yeah…that would be great. I won’t get home until seven though,” Cara responded.
“That’s fine. Your feast shall await,” he said with a laugh.
“Oh by the way, can you check in on Signora Pastore? I meant to see if she needed anything.” Cara’s mind drifted to their neighbor who recently had had surgery.
“Sure, see you tonight, love you,” Gregory replied.
He never asked why it took her an hour to get home when they lived ten minutes away and she finished at six. She never volunteered. Cara had been the nurturer until last fall, always giving and trying to please. Fate had reversed their roles. Grief is not an equalizer, but a reorganizer.
At five after six, Cara left work and headed in the same trajectory as she did every day. At seven after six, Gregory knocked on Signora Pastore’s door. At six fifteen, Gregory’s phone rang. It was Cara’s number, but not her voice. Instead a woman said in broken English, “Signor, your wife has been injured. She promise she is okay, but we wait for you. Come to Chiesa degli Arcangeli.” Later, Gregory could not remember hanging up his phone, whether he said goodbye to Signora Pastore or running towards the church.
Cara hadn’t seen the two teenage boys run up behind her. Their first meeting was one of physical connection. One slammed into her left side, knocking her to the ground. Her knees throbbed as she heard one of the boys laughing. Her palms stung. She remained frozen on the ground as they made their getaway. She began to weep, not only for this fall, but the one that came before, the one that took her future, their future.
Gregory dashed up to Cara and a middle-aged woman sitting beside her on a bench, handing her tissues. Cara started sobbing again when she saw him.
“Some kids pushed me and I fell. It caught me by surprise,” she explained. Gregory examined her wounds, and confident they weren’t serious, placed his arm around his wife. She rested her head on his chest, his chin nuzzling the back of her wavy hair. They sat wordlessly for an eternity of moments.
“She would have almost been here by now.” Cara’s whisper broke the silence. Michaela had been due on the first day of spring.
“I know, I know. . .” Gregory said softly, kissing the top her head. “Let’s go home.”
As they walked up the uneven cobblestone alley into the darkness, Cara noticed that Signora Pastore’s light was still on. A tiny green bud in the flower pot by her door stood like a sentinel, a harbinger of all that was yet to come.
Written by: Lauren Jonik
Photograph by: Jennifer Stevens