Amanda didn’t really want to drown herself in one of the lovely canals of Venice, but the pain in her heart felt as if it might tear her in two. How could she have been so stupid? Sitting beside the Grand Canal had always been her dream. This last evening of the year, with the setting sun painting the bobbing gondolas silver in its fading light, she could no longer see the beauty.
“Another cappuccino, Senora?” said the waiter in his gleaming white jacket and black tie.
“Sure.” Did calories really matter to her anymore?
“Will the Senore be joining you this morning?”
A tear escaped the corner of her eye and raced down her cheek. “No.” Her voice was barely audible. The tone she heard above the shouts of the gondoliers made Amanda dig frantically for the phone in her purse. Please let it be Jack telling her he just gotten cold feet and he was sorry he had disappeared in the middle of the night. The screen said Cheri, her best friend in the world.
"That stinking pile of shit! Are you alright?" Said the text. Amanda hit the call icon. It still amazed her that you could talk to someone on the other side of the world for just ten bucks per day.
“I’m sorry. I know it’s the middle of the night there, but I need help.”
“You got it. Want me to come there and rip his balls off?” said Cheri.
“I doubt you’d find him. He’s been gone for eight hours. I need you to call the hotel and give them your credit card number to cover my charges. He took my credit cards too and…”
“Sure. Those are traceable. Go to the police immediately.”
“I called Lifelock already.Oh, Cherrybell,” Amanda called her the nickname they had shared since kindergarten. What else could you call a girl with fiery red hair whose name was Cheri Bell?
“It’s okay Frizilla, I got you.” Amanda’s nickname came from her crazy hair and the fact that she had towered over her six year old classmates not exactly like Godzilla over Japan. Children were prone to exaggerate. She was tall at five feet eleven inches, but no buildings were in danger of being crushed by her. Here in Venice, probably the loveliest and certainly the most romantic city in the world, her shoulder length brown hair hung in soft waves and did not resemble in any way a juniper shrub. Even the humidity was magic here.
“I’m on the noon flight tomorrow. I’ll text you the details."
“I’ll be there. Hang in there Friz.”
“Yeah.” Amanda downed her last delicious sip. Nothing called cappuccino in the states came close. She couldn’t go back to the room right now. The sheets still smelled like him. With no credit cards, a long walk along the water would have to do for her last evening’s entertainment. She pulled the kid leather blazer close around her. Jack had insisted it looked so good she should buy it. At eighteen hundred dollars it was not something a middle school English teacher would normally own.
“Gondola ride, Missus,” came a voice from the gondola stand.Missus? Crying must have made her thirty-two years look more like a Missus. She turned to the man with his foot on the edge of the boat holding the huge single oar that miraculously sent the gondolas slipping through the canals. He wore the striped shirt, black pants and straw hat with ribbons hanging down the back that all gondoliers had worn forever. She had planned to take a ride through the stone confection of Venice. The shopping took too much time. Reaching into her pocket, she was surprised to find a fifty Euro note. Change from the lavish dinner Jack had insisted on. He always said only the best for his Mandy as he spent her money, swearing to get the bill next time. Right. She held the bill up and shrugged.
“Perfetto. Fifty for thirty minutes.” He stretched out his hand to her. Did she really want to spend the last evening of 2022, crying?” Did she want to remain the heartbroken shadow of the happy young woman who had jumped off the wooden masterpiece that was a Venetian water taxi three days ago? Jack had held her hand too.
“Sure.” She took a cautious step up onto the boat that seemed much less stable the nearer she got and attempted to step in. She stumbled and the man held her hand tight and steadied her with his hand on her waist. Amanda sat in the middle seat thinking to balance the boat. The little craft decorated with faded velvet and gold fringe, had seen better days. But as the view unfolded all around her, she saw only the beautiful pastel structures of Venice. The carved trim hung like icing on a wedding cake made of stone. The round roman arches and pointed eastern influenced ones were breathtaking.
The gondolier began to sing. Amanda knew that was something the gondoliers in Venice did. The voice that now echoed off of the narrow canal surprised her. The words of some Italian opera washed over the whole boat. Strong and sweet though she couldn’t understand the meaning, the sound of his voice enfolded her. For the first time since this morning when she discovered Jack was gone, she let out a long slow breath and felt her shoulders relax.
Most of the things they had bought with her credit cards and the cards themselves had vanished. A quick call to the bank told her Jack had emptied the joint account they’d opened for the apartment he’d pretended to want to share with her. All a scam.
The singing stopped and she turned around to see he was pulling up to a dock. Had it been thirty minutes already?
He reached out his hand to her. “Our time is gone.”
“Thank you.” She smiled at him. The first smile she had been able to manage since this morning’s betrayal. Amanda stepped up on the dock to find a little restaurant with four tables. She was hungry and would’ve loved one last glass of excellent Italian red wine.
She turned to see the gondolier had tied up his boat. “My time is finished for today. Please to honor me by sharing a glass of wine,” he said. She looked at him as if she were seeing him for the first time. His long dark hair pulled back in a black ribbon, his dark eyes implored her. He didn’t have the chiseled good looks that had caused her to lose a small fortune, but his eyes held warmth and compassion.
“I’m sorry I have no money,” said Amanda.
“I do not ask a beautiful lady for wine and ask her to pay.” Corny as his words were, she believed him.
“I am Vittorio and you?” He said pulling out a chair for her.
“I’m Amanda.” The excellent wine came and Vittorio said something to the waiter that resulted in a plate of beautiful cheeses and crusty bread arriving just as she thought she might faint from hunger.
“Now that we have food and wine, you must tell me why you sit in my boat crying as I sing my best Rossini?” Vittorio said and took a sip of the wine.
“I was dumped this morning by a man who said he loved me. Said I was the love of his life and…” Tears welled again.
“Listen to me beautiful Amanda.” He reached over lifting her chin with his rough hand. “A man who could leave you and steal from you does a favor when he goes.” Amanda felt the truth of his words deep in her heart.
“Yeah.” She dabbed her eyes with the impeccable white napkin leaving a mascara smear. "I’ve always wanted to come to Venice. It is amazing, for sure. Jack and I didn’t see a lot. We spent most of our time in the designer shops.” She laughed and it felt good.
“When we finish our wine, I will show you her beauty, my lady Venice. This can only be seen from my gondola. It would be my honor.” How has she noticed that his eyes were incredible. Large and dark as the Venice night, they looked at her with the same glory seen in the eyes of the angels in the Botticelli painting in the hotel lobby. What had she to lose? These guys had to be licensed and his voice was incredible. If he killed her and dumped her body in a canal, at least she wouldn’t have to explain how she had fallen prey to Jack the handsome swindler.
“Sure, if you have nothing better to do, I’d love it.”
“What could be better than to spend time with Amanda.” She believed he meant it. They finished their food and the last of the wine and he helped her back into the boat. Once more they slipped through the water now inky with nightfall. He took her to St. Mark’s Square and held her hand as they walked through the stone arches of the Doge’s palace. He sang as he showed her another incredible statue or tiny courtyard where stone angels guarded carved cisterns.
“Our cisterns are our life blood. Without the water collection, there would be no Venice.” In the darkness of the empty courtyard, he took her hand and pulled her close. She melted into him. He smiled with eyebrows raised as if to ask permission. Her smile was his answer and he kissed her. His lips met hers gently. The tip of his tongue teased and entered softly when her parted lips gave permission. Vittorio’s kiss was reverent and adoring.
A bell tolled somewhere and Amanda saw fireworks overhead. He pulled back when she wanted him not to.
“I thank you. It is midnight and I must go.” He hurried back to where his boat was tied. Looking back with a wave, he was gone into the fog of the Venice night.
“You ran off another one, Amanda Collins.” She laughed. Walking the short distance to her hotel she planned to get some sleep before catching her plane home to face the mess Jack had made of her life. Pulling off the sheets, she threw them on the floor and climbed on top of the duvet. As she fell asleep, she thought of Venice and the gondolier that had helped her smile again.
The next morning after a delicious breakfast on Cherrybell’s dime, Amanda packed up and realized she was singing the words to some Italian opera. Probably completely wrong and certainly off-key, she sang. Somehow Vittorio and Venice had lightened her heart. She closed her eyes and touched her lips remembering the tender feel of him and how he tasted of wine and the sea somehow. She knew she had to find him and at least say thank you.
Amanda rolled her bag up to the gondola stand. The gondoliers eager for business snapped to attention. Her face fell as she saw none of them were Vittorio.
“Excuse me. Does Vittorio work today?”
“Sorry, Senora. No Vittorio.”
“Well does he work later? Is this his day off?” Her words received only puzzled looks and shared head shakes. Damn, why hadn’t she at least tried to learn some Italian? She walked back into the hotel and up to the Major Domo of the hotel behind his long counter of exquisite carved dark wood. She needed to arrange transport to the airport. Several hundred more dollars she would owe Cheri. The amazing wooden speed boats were as expensive as they looked. She stood smiling as she waited for him to finish with another guest who was spewing a flood of negative emotion in French. The Major Domo stood in his tuxedo, and bright red cummerbund as patiently as his seventy plus years had no doubt taught him. When finally he spoke, his words must have satisfied the angry man who handed his suitcase off to a baggage handler. When the elegant man nodded in her direction, Amanda told him her flight was at noon. He made a call and assured her a boat would be at the hotel dock at ten. Pulling her pink and black rolling bag, behind her, she planned to take one last walk sucking up the beauty, but she turned back. The Major Domo had been so helpful when she and Jack had needed directions to Gucci or Prada and terribly kind when it became obvious she had been deserted, she felt he might know of Vittorio.
“Excuse me, sir. Do you know a gondolier named Vittorio who works at the stand outside?”
He gave her a kind and knowing smile. The man then turned to the young woman in a black dress, most likely his assistant, said a few words to her and came around to Amanda’s side of the counter. He motioned toward the green and white striped, silk covered couch in the lobby. Again without saying a word, he indicated she should sit down and when she had, sat beside her.
“I have a story to tell you. When I am finished, you may choose what to believe.”
“Okay,” said Amanda. She couldn’t help be intrigued and leaned forward on the couch.
“Vittorio Venetti lived for the company of women if you understand my meaning. I believe you would call him a playboy. He changed his lovers as often as he changed his clothes everyone said. One evening Vittorio was confronted by the husband of his current lover whose intent was to kill him for destroying his wife’s honor. As the husband raised a gun and aimed at the young man, the unfaithful wife ran to her lover’s arms and was shot dead with a bullet through her heart. She died in Vittorio’s arms. The gondolier made a vow to his dying love. From that day, he would never break the heart of another woman. He would spend his days bringing comfort to those whose hearts were broken.
“How awful. When did this happen,” asked Amanda.
“Two hundred and twenty years ago. You see the bullet went through the lady and ended Vittorio’s life a short time later.”
“But I saw him…Oh… I see.”
“Did he not help you to feel better?”
Amanda who had been looking only at her hands looked up into the old man’s eyes. “Yes. Yes he did.”
“Sometimes the magic of Venice can be seen only by those who need it most, but it is everywhere, always.”
As she looked down upon the sea of red tiled roofs from the plane’s window, Amanda knew the old man was right. There was magic down there.