The Wedding Party Girl
A story for New Year
I would see her four or five times a year, usually in summer, as I sat writing in the bar on the corner of my street in Centochiese. Once, I saw her in the hairdresser's, on a Saturday like all the other times, and once in the run-up to Christmas – always with the same group of friends and even in winter, when it gets cold and windy in Sicily, seated outside the bar where those who wished to could smoke. She had the kind of easy elegance that every woman secretly covets and I noticed her first not for the beauty she undoubtedly had, but for this. When she moved she glided, her long dark hair seemed effortlessly in place and her clothes, simpler in style than those of her friends, seemed smarter because of the way she wore them; few, but perfect, accessories, make-up applied by a painstaking beautician to look as if it wasn't there and, most importantly, she wore them with confidence.
Beauticians do rather well in Centochiese – there ar…


And so it was that I went on reading, Vecchietta – reading to learn, reading to improve my English but most of all, reading to find, as you had once told me I would, that I was not alone in my sorrow – that others had experienced what I was feeling, lived through grief and regret and found their way through it.

I did not go to your funeral, Vecchietta – I knew you wouldn't have wanted me to, for you always said that love should be shown towards the living. But I knew that, one day, I had to go to England, to embrace the land that had made you, to understand what had drawn you back to it and finally, to talk to your sister.
She and your brother-in-law were not particularly pleased to see me but they were hospitable and polite. It was far more than I deserved. I saw the garden your room had overlooked, I heard the raindrops on the window and remembered you saying that people would come from all over the world to see sparrows if they were rare. Well, this Sicilian came, Vecchie…


You had gone, Vecchietta, just hours before, to that cold, grey, rainy country of yours. Your sister and brother-in-law had arrived in Sicily to take you home. That, they later told me, was what you had wanted – to live your last days in the country that had borne you, to hear the rain against the window pane and the sparrows in the morning once again – and perhaps not to create a fuss, Vecchietta. You wanted no fuss and ceremony at the end, you had once told me.

Why, Vecchietta, did I not just get my van, turn around and drive straight back to Catania and the airport? I wanted to and if I'd known before I arrived in Centochiese I might even have got myself on the same flight. Looking for someone to blame, I cursed my local friends for not contacting me before I set off from Milan. Why had no one sent a message, told me on social media, called me? But we Sicilians are basically a word-of-mouth people, Vecchietta, as we have been for generations. We don't even expect to see a bu…


I had been working on a large and lengthy job in Milan when your long message came, Vecchietta and I read it in the airport just before boarding my flight back to Sicily. Never had a 90-minute flight seemed so long!
When I picked up my van at Catania, I decided not to go and see relatives there as I usually do when returning from a trip, but to make straight for Centochiese – and you, Vecchietta.
Why, I asked myself on the journey, had I left it so long? Becaue I'm a fool, Vecchietta – yes, I, Cicciu the carpenter, who can fix anything, except my own heart, at last admit I'm a fool. When I left you, my love, I didn't think it would be for all these months – just long enough for us both to cool down, I thought, for my fear to subside. I honestly expected you to call or message me, ask for my help with things – which I would willingly have given – but I'd reckoned without your British pride and your sense of dignity. You once told me that a British person is at their most…


My dearest Cicciu,
On the eve of my 65th birthday, I hope you don't mind if I write to thank you for being a part of my life.
When you came into it, another relationship, particularly a physical one, was far from my mind so what happened was as much of a surprise to me as it was to you. There were many differences between us – age (which you said didn't matter), marital status, language, culture, expectations of life(I expected transport systems, bureaucratic institutions and government to work; you didn't) and of course the fact that you had children and I didn't. Yet we hit it off, Cicciu and sometimes we just laughed through those lessons. A man who can make a woman laugh is already half way to winning her heart, especially when that woman has had her share of troubles. For your part, you once told me that you liked the fact that I listened to you – it was always my pleasure, Cicciu.
Even though I had studied Italian, had taught the language and loved the culture…


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 frig…


It is five years, my Vecchietta, since you left me and six since you gave me a gift that you yourself said I did not want. But now I, Cicciu the carpenter, am making a gift for you.
We were very different, you and I, Vecchietta and when I first came to your house to put up bookshelves – you were always in need of more bookshelves - I had never met a British person, let alone one like you. Fascinated, I asked if I could also come to you for some English lessons, for I had long dreamed of wider horizons. I found you attractive from the beginning but there was an 18-year age gap and when I started inviting you to the bar after our two-hour lessons it was genuinely to get to know you better. And soon I became entranced by your independence, your humour and your deep cultural knowledge and  yes, I started to imagine what it would be like to hold you in my arms.
How, I wondered at night, could a woman from a large city in a country like yours leave everything and come, alone, to live in…