What a courting dance we had, Vecchietta! I called and messaged you at every opportunity, made excuses to see you and brought you pastries to the lessons. I genuinely wanted to help you in any way possible and, knowing you didn't drive, offered you lifts to do shopping and would have taken you anywhere you wanted to go. I told you, every day, how beautiful I found you and when you demurred, muttering something about age, I told you the truth, which was that I didn't see age; I saw an attractive, blonde woman with a pair of green eyes that held their own story. I didn't see age, either, when you had difficulty walking, especially climbing stairs. That's how I came to call you vecchietta (little old lady); one day, as I gave you my arm to help you up some steps, you used the term jokingly about yourself and I started calling you la mia vecchietta.

Three more months passed and I still couldn't convince you to take a chance on me physically. You said you were frightened – not of me, but of yourself, and I was startled by your honesty. I accepted it, but kept on hoping and soon I couldn't sleep, imagining how it could be between us. Then Christmas came and we were both lonely. Who were we, two insignificant beings, against the emotion of Christmas, fairy lights and Michael Bubl├ę? I didn't ask you again – it just happened.

It wasn't, I think you would agree, the magic I had promised you that first time. We were both too tense and you had not had an intimate relationship for a long while. But with time, we couldn't keep our hands off each other and it was obvious to me that you wanted me as much, and perhaps even more, than I wanted you.

And then you said three English words. I had been expecting them, for I had seen how your eyes lit up when you saw me, although you tried to hide it. What did you expect me to do, Vecchietta? I was a married man, an Italian man and a Sicilian man with two children and other family members to protect. People get separated here, Vecchietta but very few get divorced, as you had perceived when we talked about it. I was not living with my family then but there were family gatherings on feast days, appearances to maintain, rituals to perform. Those words, so often openly uttered, I now know, in English, even to friends, are taken very seriously in Italian and they frightened me. I did tell you that, though I couldn't reciprocate with “I love you”, I could say to you,. “Ti voglio bene”. This means you like and respect the person, loving the qualities they have. You said that was fine, but it worried me.

Your love, of course, was the gift I did not want or, with hindsight, perhaps the gift that I could not deal with. You said it was important to you, at your age, to tell people you loved them, as you felt you may not have a chance the next day. It is only now, as I grow older myself, that I begin to understand, Vecchietta.

What, then, did I, Cicciu the carpenter, do? I am ashamed to say that instead of accepting your gift, Vecchietta, I set about killing your love. The day I ended the relationship I told you I had never had feelings for you of any kind and that I had never really wanted you at all. What that did to you I cannot imagine even today but I saw the pain in those eyes. I'm a simple man, Vecchietta and I had not even cried when my brother was killed in a road accident so I forced myself not to think of your sorrow. I had to get away, you see – from you, from a situation that had become too complicated, from a wife who wanted me back, perhaps even from Sicily.

And now I'm asking you to forgive me, Vecchietta.

To be continued


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