* 52 *
The sound of the church bell ringing dragged Eddie away from his thoughts. He counted the chimes and was surprised to reach eleven, before they halted. It was much later than he had thought. He checked the clock in the living room - a wedding present from ...? He could not remember. It was all too long ago. The clock confirmed his counting. Vanessa was probably on her way - from wherever it was that she had spent the previous evening. Eddie did not know if she was coming back to the house or expecting to meet him at the restaurant. It had not been discussed. He had not been told. He was not even sure what time she was thinking of eating. Normal Italians sat down to eat at sometime between twelve-thirty and one. Vanessa could persuade restaurants to give her a lunch booking as late as two, or even three. Fitting their schedules around her, postponing the brief rest that the staff expected between lunch and the preparations for dinner.
Where was the damned woman? Eddie half reached for the telephone.
‘If we’re going, we’d better get a wriggle on.’ It was an expression that Eddie’s Father regularly employed, to encourage the tardy, during family outings. If? It to Eddie raised a question that had not occurred to him until that moment: if? If he was going. Somehow, he had accepted Vanessa’s assumption; as she had expected him to - he would be in attendance.
Eddie withdrew his hand from the receiver.
There was no reason for him to go. They were meeting to get some signatures; witnessed on pieces of paper he had no intention of signing. There was sure to be a scene when he told her that he was not going to do as she demanded. Eddie was not looking forward to her shouting and screaming. It was sure to happen. Eddie decided to do as he usually did; defer it. It would, he further reasoned, be far less embarrassing if her exhibition was carried out in private, rather than in a restaurant that may, even at this time of year, be busy.
Eddie would call and tell her. He reached for the telephone, again, and dialled Vanessa’s mobile number.
The phone rang a couple of times, then switched to the answering service. Vanessa had refused his call. As the machine played Vanessa’s message and began to list options, Eddie glanced at himself in the dull screen of the computer. He had dressed as if he were on his way to the university.
The tone sounded.
“It’s me,” Eddie said. Wondering why he said it. ‘It’s me’ provided no new information, the voice is either recognised - or not. “I’m sorry about this,” he was not, “but something urgent has come up at work.” It was a spontaneous lie, inspired by his wardrobe. “I have to go down. I will not be able to meet you for lunch.”
Relieved, Eddie hung up - then wondered what he might do, instead. Lunch with Marinella was the obvious choice. Eddie was rather pleased with himself for managing, not only, to extract himself from a public confrontation with Vanessa (albeit only temporally) - and find something much more attractive to do instead.
Eddie, in preparation for a rapid departure, checked his appearance in the mirror above the fireplace, picked up his keys and locked the door to the terrace. Just as he opened the front door, before he managed to step out ... the telephone rang. Eddie waited for his machine to pick up ... it did not. He had forgotten to turn it on. He often did.
As he wondered what to do, Eddie began a little dance, stepping out as he decided that it was Vanessa, who he wanted to avoid. Stepping back as he worried that it might be Marinella. On the eighth ring he went back into the house and picked up the handset.
It was Vanessa. “Eddie?” she did not allow Eddie any time to answer, before continuing, “What the hell do you mean you’re not coming?” again no space for response. “This has been arranged. You said you were coming ...”
“I did not,” Eddie tried, but Vanessa steamrollered on.
“I don’t care what you may or may not have to do on your damn patch of land. You are coming here.” Vanessa paused for effect.
“It’s nothing to do with my land. The university called.”
The silence on the other end of the line continued for so long that Eddie thought it cut.
“I said; the university called,” Eddie repeated.
“What?!” Vanessa exploded.
“For the third ...”
“I heard what you said ....” Vanessa seemed lost for words. “When? When did this happen? Today?”
“Yes,” Eddie lied. “This morning. Just before I called ...”
“What’s it about?” Vanessa interrupted.
“I don‘t know.” This time Eddie’s newly found gift for improvisation deserted him. “It was my head of department - she said that it was urgent.”
“You say she called you this morning?” Vanessa asked. She seemed puzzled.
“Yes,” Eddie was confused. “You don’t usually display this kind of interest in my work.”
“She didn’t say anything at all, about what it was about?” Vanessa was now wary.
“No,” said Eddie. It was his turn to be puzzled. Why was she reacting to his lie like this? He had expected his refusal to meet her to warrant a force nine blasting. She seemed concerned and puzzled rather than angry.
“It couldn’t be postponed, what ever this was?”
“She said, not.”
“This thing that we are doing is important, you know? You should have told her that.”
“It’s only a meal,” Eddie said
“The paper. You are coming to get your signature witnessed, you remember?” Vanessa reminded him.
“I wasn’t,” Eddie said.
“What? Why not?” Vanessa demanded
“I am not signing the paper,” Eddie said bluntly.
“Why? Tell me that?” Vanessa was building well. She was, Eddie estimated, at force four, already. The previously forecasted nine could still be realised. But, Eddie was not in her presence - merely on the other end of a telephone line. The damage could only be minimal.
“I have been advised not to.”
“By whom?” Vanessa asked.
“A professional,” Eddie said vaguely. He was sure that Marinella was a professional of some sort. What? Eddie dismissed the thought.
“I suggest that your advisor was not in full possession of the facts. She has misadvised you.” Vanessa’s voice was quietly angry but it now had regained its usual assurance. It concerned Eddie but he had already decided to take the track that he now stood upon.
“I am afraid, that is my decision,” said Eddie. “I have to go to Florence. There was no choice. Coming, just to see you throw a temper tantrum because you did not get your own way, as usual, was not an option, not in any way.”
There was a long pause before Vanessa said, “You’ll be sorry,” and hung up.
Eddie listened to the dial tone for a moment or two, before he carefully and cautiously replaced the receiver.
He picked it up, almost immediately afterwards, and dialled Marinella’s mobile number - surprised that he remembered the digits.
“Marinella,” Marinella answered.
“I’ve just had her on the phone. I’m not going. No point. I’m coming down to the bar. Will you be there?”
“Yes,” was the simple answer.
“Lunch?” Eddie asked.
“If you want.” Marinella was cool, distant.
“Are you all right?” Eddie was concerned.
“Fine,” Marinella brightened, “just busy.”
“Working?” Eddie asked.
“Sort of,” was all Marinella gave away.
“I won’t interrupt,” Eddie was concerned.
“I’ll be finished soon,” Marinella seemed to be warming.
“I’ll wait for you in the bar” Eddie allowed.
“Fine,” said Marinella, “I’ll meet you when you get here.”
“Soon,” said Eddie and hung up.