Category: short stories

The Letter from Italy

The Letter from Italy

 Here’s another one of my short stories, a sweet story to touch your heart. I always like to do that write stories and books that touch the heart and celebrate the best in humanity. Here we go, read on…. This is a story called ‘The Letter from Italy.’

‘ A twist of the cap, a tilt of the bottle and the little capsules filled my hand. Pink and glossy, they glistened in my palm. A small red stripe defined their middles. They were a work of art.

‘Swallow me, take me!’ they implored in Wonderland style.

One gulp and the pretty little pills would all be gone and so would I. Sweet release from the black dog of depression, sweet revenge for my unappreciative children, my cheating ex-wife. This would show them. This and the will that excluded them. Renewed anger rose, my jaw clenched.

I cupped the handful of tiny avengers to my mouth, the glass of water in my other hand. Seize the moment, this was it.

A Timely Interruption

‘Ding, Dong. Hello! Jim, are you there?’

‘God, damn it. What the ….!’

Mary, my neighbour, again. Why did she have to keep calling by?

I would ignore her, that’s what I’ll do. Go away busybody Mary. Leave me alone. I’m here with my black dog and my saviour pills.

‘Ding, Dong. Jim, it’s Mary. I brought you some muffins and your mail. There’s a registered letter for you, special delivery.’

What the …? Who could be sending me a registered letter?

I kicked my feet free of the tangle of blankets and heaved myself out of my ravaged bed. Every morning my bed resembles a war zone, reflecting my sleepless nights and tortured dreams. Pulling back the faded curtains, I flinch with the sudden onslaught of morning light. Well, maybe noonday light.

It was well past morning. The early joggers, the morning dog walkers passed by hours ago, followed by the school kids squealing and chattering. I hated mornings and I hate morning people. Why are they so happy and cheerful? Isn’t life shit for them too?

A Surprise Letter

Shuffling down the hallway, I wrench the front door open. There she is, old Mary, always cheerful too, always upbeat. If she wasn’t so kind and sweet, well, I would have told her where to go, years ago.

‘Blueberry and coconut, today, Jim. Fresh from the oven. They will be lovely with a coffee. And here’s your letter. I told the postman not to wake you. He came early. I signed for it. It’s from Italy, how exciting!’

‘Italy! I don’t know anyone from Italy. What the…!’

I bit my tongue. Mary was a lady. No swearing in front of Mary.

‘Well, open it, Jim. Do you want me to make coffee for us, while you read it? That will work.’

For such a tiny woman, such an old woman, Mary wielded power. She marched past me into the kitchen and put the kettle on.

The past returns

I sat at the table and tore the envelope. Inside lay a handwritten letter and as I opened it, a photo dropped to the table. Gazing down, I looked into the faces of two young people, happy and smiling. They were in love. I knew because the young man was me, forty years ago.

The villa overlooking the sparkling Mediterranean, purple bougainvillea, her smile, her laugh. Isabella. Genova. A holiday romance, so long ago now.

Confused, I turned to the letter’s envelope. Flicking it over, revealed the sender. Isabella.

Stunned, I raked my disheveled hair from my forehead. After all these years, why was Isabella writing to me? She must be sixty, like me.

Mary interrupted my thoughts. ‘Here we are now, a nice hot mug of coffee. It will do you the power of good, Jim, and have a muffin with it. I’ll join you for a minute, do you good to have some company. Locked away in that bedroom all the time, it’s no good for you, son.’

Paralysed by a letter

Normally, I would shoo Mary out on the pretense of not feeling well. But I let her stay today because I was in shock, paralysed by this letter.

‘What’s the letter about, Jim? Have you won a holiday in Italy?’

‘It’s from an old friend. This is Isabella and me, forty years ago. I haven’t read the letter yet.’

‘Well, go ahead. I’ll just sip my coffee.’

Mary sat surveying the photo as I eagerly read the letter.

‘You were a handsome lad, Jim, and this Isabella is so beautiful! Was she your girlfriend?”

Momentous news in the letter

I ignored Mary as I processed the momentous news in the letter. Isabella was here, in Sydney, on vacation. She had found me and wanted to catch up, tomorrow, if possible near the Opera House. My heart skipped a beat. My pulse raced. Isabella, after all these years. What would she be like? Still as beautiful? Was she still married to that loser, the fisherman? So many questions after so many years.

‘It’s exciting news, I can tell, Jim. You look all flushed. You’ve come alive. My muffins are restorative, but they can’t perform magic. It’s the letter, isn’t it?’ Mary was persistent.

‘Yes, it’s Isabella. She’s here in Sydney and wants to see me tomorrow. There’s a phone number. I need to ring her. But what will I say, Mary?’

‘Well, you’ll say, you’re coming, of course, won’t you? But you need a shave and a haircut, boy. You can’t meet a lovely lady, looking like that!’

 Mary was right. She straightened herself and rose from the chair.

‘I’ll be on my way now, Jim.’

Mary Saved my Life!

‘Thanks, Mary.’ I meant it, too. Mary had saved my life. If I’d swallowed those pills, I would not have this letter, this piece of joy, I wouldn’t be meeting Isabella tomorrow!’

                                                     *******

Butterflies in my stomach, sweaty hand clenching a bunch of daffodils, I waited near the Opera House steps. The white concrete sails of the symbol of Sydney, gleamed in the morning sun. Morning! I was out in the morning sun. A first for me, after a year of wallowing in a dark room with my black dog.

Isabella

How would we recognise each other? She had said something about a hat, a pink hat. I scanned the crowds of tourists for the colour pink. There in the distance was something pink bobbing along, only just visible but getting closer with each moment. Then the pink hat materialized through the crowd, then a slim figure wearing a floral dress, then finally, a face.. It was Isabella. I knew the walk, the sway of her hips, the skip in her step. My Isabella, after all these years.

I raised my hand and walked towards her.

‘Isabella!’

‘Jim!’

We hugged, then kissed on the cheek, twice, each side, as Europeans do.

‘You haven’t changed!’ she exclaimed.

I had but did not argue. She was as lovely as ever, her eyes as smiling and warm, her lips as inviting. Only Time’s brush of tiredness reflected the passing of the years.

‘Come, I booked a table by the harbour. Come and tell me about your life. I’m dying to hear all about you. It’s been forty years, Jim.’

Didn’t I know it, hadn’t I felt it, when I compared myself in the mirror to that young man in love in Genova, a lifetime ago.

The Years Fell Away

But over lunch and a bottle of wine, or was it two?, the years fell away, and we rushed back in defiance of Time’s relentless march forward.

The joy for life

returned and illuminated my dark soul. White light split into radiant colours like the sparkles of light on the glistening harbour. My heart warmed every time Isabella smiled at me across the table. We clasped hands. We remembered. This time, there was no impediment to our love. Pedro was dead, drowned at sea, years ago.

‘He’s dead, Jim. But my love for you never died. It’s still alive. I feel it, warming my soul, like before. Do you feel it, too?’

‘Yes, oh, yes, Isabella, I do! I still love you because I always loved you. I never stopped loving you, my darling girl.’

So, there by the beautiful harbour, under white sails, in the glorious sun, we pledged our love again.

Later at her hotel, we remembered more, laughed some more. Time spiralled us back, twisting and turning at the ‘what if’, the ‘only if’ moments that could have reunited our lives, earlier. And then she showed me another photo, taken a few years after we parted.

Angelo

‘It’s my boy, Angelo,’ she explained.

‘Ah! A handsome lad.’

‘Like you, handsome like you. He has your eyes.’

Stunned, I looked over at Isabella.

‘Yes, he’s yours, ours, our Angelo.’

‘He’s waiting to meet you. He’s in the room next door. He understands.’

Could there be anymore surprises, twists in my life that so nearly had ended just a day ago?

Yes, there were more. There was a return to Genova, to a different villa but on the same headland above the little cove where we had swum and made love forty years before. Angelo came and drank wine and laughed with us before returning to his young family. I was now an Italian grandfather and soon to be an Italian husband to my Isabella.

Photo from jack-ward-rknrvCrfS1k-unsplash

Joni Scott is an Australian author with three published novels: Whispers through Time and The Last Hotel and Colour Comes to Tangles. Joni has her own website; https://joniscottauthor.com.

Time for a story

Time for a story

Hi there, I decided to try something new. Story time! Yes, once a month, I will post one of my short stories for you to read. Some of them have won awards and been published in anthologies but some are just sitting around flicking their pages, bored in my doc folder. So, it’s time for a little story.

This story was a winner

This is one I submitted last year and won a highly commended award for. Stringybark Publishing included it in their anthology. What a surprise this was as this was the first time I ever entered a short story competition. David Vernon, judge and editor, wrote.

G’day Joni,

By now you will have read the good news on the Stringybark Stories website or on Facebook, so please accept my congratulations on receiving a Highly Commended in the Stringybark Short Story Award 2022.

With 287 entries submitted to the competition to be chosen as a highly commended and published author is an impressive achievement. Your story has been edited and published in our newest anthology Fruitcake Frenzy.

Here’s the story. I am calling it ‘Honeymoon in Paris’ but it was published as ‘Karl or not Karl’, in the 2022 analogy called Fruitcake Frenzy. The anthology is named after the winning story. So no fruitcakes in my story.

 

Honeymoon in Paris

After the whispered vows, the exchange of rings, we sealed our commitment with a kiss. Our wedding was the ultimate realisation of my fairytale dream. It felt perfect, looked perfect in all its expensive detail from the meringue puff dress, the gold-edged place cards to the tango we danced expertly before the gathering of guests. That afternoon, I had it all plus my gorgeous Karl.

But it takes two to tango. By the end of that night, our wedding night, there would be just one, not two.

‘All the best!’ ‘We love you!’

The well-wishers gathered around the stretch limousine as we left for our honeymoon. Such a sweet word suggesting a holiday filled with love, romantic candle-lit dinners and starry nights.

The Eiffel Tower

The hotel, as lavish and elegant as our wedding venue overlooked the Eiffel Tower and the arrondissements of Paris. The national symbol lit the night sky like a golden jewel, reminding me of the tiny gilt replica attached to my key chain. How I loved Paris! I stood at the window in wonder as Karl popped the champagne bottle, turning at the sound to smile at my handsome husband.

Feeling like a movie star, I purred, ‘I’ll slip into something more comfortable.’

Leaving Karl by the sofa, I entered the luxurious bathroom to shower and change into the black, silky negligee. Despite our ten-year relationship, thoughts of the night ahead excited me. It was, after all, our wedding night, a consummation of our forever love. But when I returned to the bedroom Karl was nowhere in sight.

‘Darling? Karl? Where are you?’

The champagne bottle sat on the coffee table where Karl had placed it, seemingly moments before. Positioned next to the chilled bottle two glasses and a bowl of strawberries waited expectedly. Everything was in place but the groom. Where could he be?

A hotel room no matter how unfamiliar has few hiding places and why would Karl hide? Was it a prank? I searched the cupboard spaces, the small balcony, behind the curtains, even in a moment of desperation, peered under the bed. His puzzling absence led me to assume Karl had left for the lobby or the bar.

Pulling a dress over my revealing negligee, I left the room and took the lift to the lobby. As we occupied the honeymoon suite, I felt an idiot enquiring at the reception desk, ‘Have you seen my husband?’

The reply there and in the bar, was the same. ‘No, Ma’am.’

A visit to the spa, the gym and the swimming pool offered no further insight into the whereabouts of my new husband. Upstairs back in the room, Karl was still painfully absent, as was his phone. Wherever he had gone, his phone was with him but he did not answer my calls. I left message after message. Panic rising, I paced back and forth, tears welling. The Eiffel tower, the silent witness to my agony, faded from a symbol of sublime golden happiness to just a teary blur of garish light. Hours passed, consuming my wedding night in an evil spiral of time spent alone.

The next morning, red-eyed, I descended to again question the hotel staff. The answer was the same. ‘No, Ma’am.’

The first days of my honeymoon passed not pleasantly, lazily in a haze of love but agonizingly, embarrassingly at the police station.

Madame, votre mari, il retournera. C’est seulement deux jours. Madam your husband will return. It has only been two days.’

But days stretched to a week, then two. Unable to afford continued residence in the now ill-named ‘honeymoon suite’, I moved to a hotel nearby in case Karl returned, in case he rang. My mind whirled with unanswered questions. I recalled plots of movies featuring murders, kidnap and betrayal. Which plot was I in? Should I call my parents now happily on a European river cruise and worry them? Or ring my best girlfriend in Brussels who had in another stab of cruel irony, been my bridesmaid? What cruel twist of fate had transformed my previously contented life into this hellish nightmare? Two weeks ago, I had felt beautiful, adored, blessed and so fortunate. Karl had even used these words.

‘I adore you, Rissa! You are so beautiful. I am so blessed and fortunate!’

Though legally Clarissa Robinson, I now felt like a lonely child, the little girl Clarissa Franklin from Melbourne, Australia, the little girl who had by chance met the man of her dreams. Ten years previously, Karl had come to my rescue when thugs brazenly ran off with my backpack, leaving me penniless and shocked in central Rome. Karl, the Roman Adonis in a sharp suit helped me chase them but Rome has many laneways, and we abandoned the pursuit at the romantic Trevi fountain. Soon I realized my gain was greater than my loss. We fell in love, moved to Brussels for work and planned a future together.

Now once again I was an Australian alone, adrift in a foreign land. Where was my Karl to rescue me now from this present nightmare? The police found no trace of Karl. He had vanished as miraculously as he arrived ten years before. Returning to Brussels, I, with trepidation, turned the familiar lock of the familiar door. Karl was there yet he was not. Everywhere were the mundane reminders that he belonged here with me. His clothes, his computer, his vitamins, his toothbrush. The pillow still held his masculine scent. I cuddled it to my chest as I wandered through the apartment touching his possessions. Tears welled again. Since the wedding, I had spoken to no one but police and hotel staff. My family and friends assumed I was happily honeymooning in my favorite city.

*******

‘You’re back! How was the honeymoon?’ they asked on my return.

Muttering the expected reply, I lied, ‘Wonderful!’

Yes, I lied to everyone even myself. Back on the treadmill of life, I hid my pain under the cloak of work. But at night sleep eluded me. Karl haunted my dreams. I would wake in a tangle of sheets, heart pounding. For a guy who was missing, Karl appeared everywhere. He was in the crowds on the street, on the train, the bus and sitting, drinking coffee at the cafes. Karl was every tall man with dark hair, a stranger bewildered by my stare.

I became the mental embodiment of Munch’s ‘The Scream.’ The inability to focus on my work as legal counsellor forced me to realize that I needed to escape to a place where Karl could not be. After searching for him, willing his return, I had come full circle to never wanting to see him again. Australia, my native Australia seemed a solution. He would never be there. He hated my country, decried it as ‘that colonial outpost, that cultural desert.’ Admittedly, The Great Southern Land is a mere vegemite sandwich compared to the smoked salmon baguette with capers of Europe, but Australia now beckoned me like a comfortable old armchair.

So, I headed home over the oceans to suburban Melbourne to a welcome of parents, tears and comfort.

‘Oh, my darling girl! It will be okay now you are home,’ my mother reassured me.

Dare I believe these words, these promises?

Taking tiny steps back to life, I even managed a smile one sunny day when we enjoyed a picnic at the beach. Slowly I started to trust in life again. But then Karl came back.

An unexpected knock at the door. His face. It was Karl but not Karl. In shock, legs like jelly, clutching the door frame, I whispered.

‘Karl?’

‘No, I’m not Karl. I’m his brother Kyle, his twin,’ Karl’s face said.

‘Let me explain,’ he continued. ‘Karl sent me to apologise. You must have suffered. His actions are unthinkable. He has always had trouble with loving, with commitment. Ten years with you, that was a record for him but then he freaked out once he realized what marriage meant.’

‘But… Karl is an orphan?’ I retorted, my voice rising.

Was it a lie? Could this ‘stranger’ be Karl? I searched his face and hand for tell-tale signs. The small mole on the brow, the scar on the right wrist were absent from this version of Karl.

‘We fell out…. lost contact. You should move on…Sorry,’ he stuttered. Distracted, only snatches of his words registered.

In retrospect, I was rude, banging the door shut on that face, Karl’s face. Whether the face was actually Karl’s or not, I didn’t care, it needed to go.  Over the sound of my sobbing, I heard a car door shut, an engine start, a car drive away. The man with Karl’s face left as suddenly as he had come.

Karl was not dead, only in my heart. There had been no crime, no murder or kidnapping, just betrayal and lies. The only casualties were my heart and trust in the male species. No more Karls for me.

 

                                                                                                    The End

 

Minds Shine Bright short story commendation 2022.

Minds Shine Bright short story commendation 2022.

Commendation

This was an exciting discovery in my inbox. A certificate for reaching the long list of the 5000 word short competition for Minds Shine Bright International Writing Competition 2022.

Hi Joni,

Congratulations, your short story ‘Tu be or not Tu be’ progressed to the next stage of the Minds Shine Bright judging process.

 

What this means

  1. You are currently under consideration for the short list
  2. If your entry is selected for the short list you will be advised from next week and contact will be made to start formalizing the process of publication in the Minds Shine Bright Confidence Anthology
  3. If your entry is not short listed you will be contacted from next week and your entry will receive a special mention in a long list that will be printed online once the shortlist and winners have been announced
  4. Celebratory events will be held in July or August to formally announce the winners and to launch the Minds Shine Bright anthology Confidence

 

Thank you so much for your tremendous efforts.  Each piece gave us great joy to read and to get to this stage means that your entry was of a very high calibre. We wish you all the best for your writing future and look forward to reading more of your work and hearing about your successes.

 

With almost 500 entries submitted it was a true celebration of the theme of confidence. Many elements of confidence were explored, and some of these will come together in the first Confidence anthology.

 

We will continue to study confidence in fiction over time and our next Confidence writing competition will start in September. As well as announcing winners and launching the Confidence anthology we will also be running our first mini competition from June, which will be designed to highlight the work of a small set of writers. We will be announcing  the theme for it soon.

 

With such a big field of entrants and a great deal of talented writing it was hard to stand out in the field. Some of the characteristics of the leading entries include: examining the theme of confidence on several levels; scoring strongly across all of our judging criteria but having one or two criteria where entrants really shone, such as strong characters, a strong sense of place, focused energy and flow or deep resonance.

 

In addition to our formal awards to celebrate our first year of competition we will be sending out gifts of recognition to twenty writers.

 

Thank you so much for your participation.

 

Kind Regards

 

Amanda Scotney

Founder,

Minds Shine Bright

Joni Scott is an Australian author with four published novels: Whispers through Time, The Last Hotel, Colour Comes to Tangles and Time, Heal my Heart. Joni has her own website; https://joniscottauthor.com.