Hi! Nice to meet you again. Let me get myself a mug of tea, and I’ll tell you a short story about a couple I knew from college. Sociable people, they just made some wrong turns but found their way back recently.
Now, where did my wife put that tea? She always puts things away somewhere else from where I left them last, drives me nuts sometimes. She’s not home now, went shopping with her friend Lucy, they just can’t let a clothing sale go by, even in this rainy weather.
Ah, there it is, behind a can of cannelloni beans. The kettle just boiled so let me pour the water in the cup and sit down.
This story happened a few years ago, I can’t remember exactly when, but it must have been in the summer of 2012 or13. Its a bout a couple of friends of mine that grew apart but ended up happily ever after.
Mark Taylor was his name, really a nice guy, he was an International Attorney, traveled to Europe a lot. Big business clients. Made a good living. A three bedroom condo across from Central Park. A Mercedes in the garage, about eight-thousand dollars a month maintenance fees. He was well off, Mark was. Married his college sweetheart, Mirilla, also a nice lady though a big spender. Well, if you got it why not spend it, that’s what my wife says anyway, and no kids, for them.
It didn’t last long, unfortunately. He got tired after a few years living in a pressurized metal tube going back and forth between two continents. He wanted to write suspense novels. He thought his work experiences gave him enough insight into what goes on in this world of commerce and crooked businesses. His wife, Mirilla thought he was a fool.
“Do you have any idea how tough it is to sell a book?” She tried to reason with him.
They had a fight and finally divorced. It was all done in a friendly manor. He gave her everything she wanted, the condo, the Mercedes, enough money, the important thing for him was that she was happy. He still loved her you see.
He got himself a small apartment out in a small town on Long Island, after all, what does one need to be a writer, a local bar, a supermarket and a laptop which he already had. Of course, it wasn’t easy, it took him about a year and a half to finish his first manuscript and a friend in publishing to move it in the right circles. It was a best seller that year.
After two more bestsellers, Mark is on his fourth book for which he decided to go to Rome to research, and besides, he knew a married couple there, Peter and Francesca Madison that he had only been in touch a few times since his divorce. He thought he would come and
surprise them. He had worked with Peter some years ago, before he married an Italian girl and then settled in Rome.
What Mark didn’t know, was that his ex, Mirilla, also stayed friendly with Francesca and she visited Rome quite often. In fact, she was there right now.
Upon arrival at his hotel in the early afternoon, he called his friend’s house, and got Francesca on the phone.
“You are really here in Rome?” She asked excitedly when she answered the phone. “Why didn’t you let us know, you could have stayed with us, of course, we’d love to see you, welcome to Rome, Mark, we’re so glad you called.”
They arranged to meet at a well known restaurant that evening.
Mark then decided to have a quick bite in the hotel’s bar, so he dressed casually and took the elevator down. The bar wasn’t too crowded, so he sat by a window and watched the Italian way of life go by. Certainly different from New York, except of course for the cars. The Italians, like the French, had no concept of politeness once they entered their automobiles.
He wasn’t really that hungry, so he just ordered a cappuccino and a pastry. While waiting, he looked over some notes he made on the plane of the things he needed to check on. His first target on Monday was the National Library where he would start. Mark, of course, spoke fluent Italian, French and German as that’s where his clients used to be, plus some other east European languages that he could at least get some food or ask for directions.
Now I must tell you, Mark, though he’s not a Paul Newman, is an attractive man of 38 years of age. He’s just short of six feet, he dresses well with a full head of black hair and loves animals. A real nice guy, in-spite of being an ex-lawyer. However, he wasn’t a ladies man. He had no pickup lines at bars or anywhere else. Oh, he knew plenty of them, he was a writer after all, but he just wasn’t the type to use them himself. He thought in general that women shouldn’t fall for these inane lines anyway.
So, there he was, sitting and thinking up what he needs to research when he heard a clink and there, two seats away, sat an elegant woman which he immediately recognized as a passenger sitting a few rows down on the plane he was on.
Its times like that, one of those lines would be handy but Mark seemed to be confounded, he had no idea what to say. Luckily for Mark, the woman was a bit more forward than he was and said, yes, you could have guessed it.
“Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world…”
Well, she didn’t finish the line because Mark hadn’t remembered that line from Casablanca. Never-the-less, she liked the cut of Mark’s jib.
It took Mark a moment to get it and then he smiled. The woman certainly was smartly dressed in a fashionable business suit with a short boyish hairdo. A pair of obviously, designer sunglasses and a smile that would bring the cows home.
Now, Mark isn’t totally blind when it comes to women, especially when they just drop literally from the sky unto his lap.
“Hi,” he said, “weren’t we on the same plane…?”
Do I have to go into details here? We’re all sophisticated enough to know that Mark invited her to dinner that night. She had, of course, a business engagement in this hotel in about
fifteen minutes but that shouldn’t take long, an hour, perhaps a bit more…
Usually things like that happen in Mark’s novels, but in this case, it actually happened to him in real life. By now he decided that she was gorgeous and truth be told, she was a fashion editor from a women’s magazine, he found that out later.
So, so far things are working up just fine. There is one teeny weeny problem that will come up for our hero. You see, as I told you before, by some strange coincidence, Mark’s ex wife, Mirilla, was also visiting Francesca and Peter. She had come about a week ago for a visit. While in town, she also loved Rome, she met an Italian gentleman while in the Galleria Nazionale.
She was admiring a painting of three black squares with a circle in the middle, when a seemingly rowdy artist threw ink at it as he screamed, in Italian of course. Posso fare di meglio! Which she later found out meant, “I can do better!”
There was a bit of a scuffle with the guard, and then the curator ran in, almost knocking Mirilla off her feet but caught her just in time and that was that.
Now as far as museum directors go, Signore Antonio Romano was indeed the epitome of an Italian, OK, I’ll say it, stallion. Tall, dark and handsome and married, which of course is no big deal in Italy where it’s almost mandatory to have a paramour on the side. If you can afford her.
Oh, excuse me, that’s my phone ringing. It’s my wife.
“Yes dear, finished already? No? You’ll be late? Oh, the two of you met Sylvia in the store and you’ll have a drink and a bite in the city. Well, don’t worry I still have that Chinese dinner from the other day... I’ll be fine... enjoy, don’t be too late it’s going to rain pretty hard later.”
She met Sylvia that means she won’t be home for a while.
Anyway, excuse the interruption, back to my story. Where was I?
Oh yes, Mirilla and her new boy friend.
You might have guessed it. Francesca had invited Mirilla and Antonio to dinner too, that was before she knew that Mark was coming. It was a chance to meet her new boyfriend, Antonio, for the first time. Of course, Francesca was a bit anxious about it, she liked Mark, and she had always hoped that he and Mirilla would get back together and this Antonio guy was just a lark.
What a surprise it will be when she finds out that Mark too, was bringing his just met girlfriend.
If this sounds complicated, I suppose it is. But Que Serà Serà, as the song goes.
Anyway, dinner was set for eight at one of the best places in Rome, The Stravinskij Bar on the Via del Babuino. A great place, especially its outside terrace where the elite meet the glitterati.
Peter and Francesca were there on time for one does not come late and expect to have their table waiting at the Stravinskij Bar. Mirilla and Antonio came a few minutes later. After introductions they had drinks and some antipasto brought to the table. As of yet Francesca had not mentioned to Mirilla about Mark, however when Mirilla saw an empty chair she asked who else was coming and did she know him or her.
Francesca was between a rock and a hard place, as the saying goes. How to break the news that her ex husband will be coming for dinner too and she still didn’t know about the date he’s bringing. Will she get a smile or a thrown glass of wine in her face, but then she didn’t have to wait long by seeing Mirilla’s expression suddenly change as she looked over Francesca’s shoulder.
“Do you know who just walked in?” Mirilla asked acidly.
Francesca felt a cold shiver down her spine. She knew of course by the tone of Mirilla voice who just came in, but when she turned and saw a woman on Mark’s arm, she almost spit out her wine.
“Is that our Mark with that woman?” Asked Peter, who had also turned.
“I think so…” whispered Francesca back horsely. “That’s him alright.”
“Why, that’s Margaret Simpson, coming this way. I wonder who that man is with her?” That was Antonio’s question, and that, suddenly, made all of them turn to him. Of course poor Antonio didn’t yet know Mark from Marcus.
“You know her?” Mirilla asked Antonio in a surprised Voice.
“Why yes, we had a meeting this afternoon. I told you about her. She wants to do a fashion photo-shoot at the museum. I wonder who that man is?”
By now of course Mark and his lady were at the table.
“Sorry we’re a bit late, there was a huge traffic accident and we got stuck.”
Up till now Mark hadn’t noticed Mirilla because she had sat under the umbrella’s shadow but when he did he almost dropped his jaw.
Antonio, being Italian was on his feet and greeted Margaret with a kiss on her hand and explained he had no idea he would have the pleasure to seeing her again so soon.
Francesca and Peter stood and greeted Mark like an old friend, embracing him and kissing both his cheeks. Mark introduced Margaret to them and apologized for not calling about her before. But when he looked towards Mirilla he saw ice.
A waiter brought another chair and Mark sat next to his ex with Margaret next to Peter. Drinks were poured while everyone sort took a breath. Francesca and Peter had no idea what was going on. Margaret and Antonio were embarrassed about the situation and Mirilla and Mark were, well, seething.
“What are you doing here?” Mirilla finally whispered under her breath to Mark.
“I could ask you the same question. And who’s that sleaze ball you’re with?”
“Its none of your business and he’s not a sleaze ball. He’s a curator of a museum. And who’s that tart, you brought in?”
She’s not a tart, she’s an editor from a fashion magazine.”
“So how have you been Mark?” Peter chimed in. “We haven’t seen you in ages. Why didn’t you tell us you were coming?”
And so it went, everyone started a polite conversation, more drinks were brought and except of course Mark and Mirilla who sat inches apart starring at their wine glass. By chance, Mark’s foot touched Mirilla’s under the table and so she kicked him in the chins. It took all of Mark’s willpower not to yelp out in pain.
A waiter then came with menus and food was discussed. There were so may fine dishes it was hard to pick. Antonio, who was a sort of culinary expert besides being a museum curator, suggested the dishes to everyone’s satisfaction with Mark and Mirilla just accepting what was picked without comment.
As they were waiting for dinner a guitarist came on to a small stage in the center of the garden which included a tiny dance floor, and played a Tango inviting people to dance.
“Shall we try? Its one of my favorite…” Said Francesca looking around the table.
Antonio looked at Mirilla but saw only daggers between her and Mark so he asked
Margaret who gratefully accepted to get out of this awkward situation.
“See what you have done…” Mirilla said to Mark after they all left.
“What have I, done? And what have you done? Museum director indeed…” Mark fought back angrily.
No point recreating that argument, within a few minuted they saw the ridiculousness of it and started to giggle.
“I’m sorry” Mark finally said. “How have you been? I haven’t seen nor heard from you since…”
“I know. I’ve been OK. I got a job doing some freelance travel articles and such for a high end travel magazine. I see you made out OK with your writing. I guess I should have given you a chance at least, before I left. I’m so happy for you.” Mirilla put her hand on his.
“ I see you found someone. She seems nice. A fashion editor no less, where did you find her?”
Mark smiled. Truth be told he had missed Mirilla all those years. “Actually I just picked her up in the hotel bar a couple of hours ago. She was on my plane over but we didn’t meet till after. What about you and the director?”
OK, it’s getting smoochy, I know. They explained everything to each other and found there was nothing to their other relationships. Neither had found a close mate the years they have been apart and found that they truly missed each other.
By now the dance was over and the others came back expecting blood on the floor but
instead they found the couple holding hands and smiling happily back up at them.
“We’ve made up,” Mirilla said cheerfully.
And so I think I will bring this story to an end.
My wife called again and said she’s coming back soon and she’s bringing me my favorite sandwich, corn beef and pastrami from the Carnegie deli, for being a patient husband. Oh gad, she probably bought herself something expensive.
At the end, Margaret didn’t care that Mark left her, she found Antonio, who was just as pleased. Antonio liked American women and it didn’t much matter which ones.
Margaret was here for a fashion shoot and to have a slight affair was just a bonus and it being with a handsome Italian was even better than with an American.
All in all, everyone came out happy!