A rare day in Rome — it snowed, and a couple separated temporarily...and then permanently.
The snow fell so much that when she got up and went to the window, she was very surprised. “Look, come here,” she said, “how amazing!”
When it snows in Rome, the snow only lasts for a few minutes but on this particular morning snow lay everywhere making the Roman streets look like a scene out of Siberia. He was less surprised. “Just like England,” he said, gloomily.
For her this snowy day in Rome was a real treat. She felt like a child. She wanted to rush out in her night-gown and feel how cold the snow was. She wanted to take it up in armfuls. She looked out of the window again. A snowy day in Rome was awfully rare.
In the kitchen, with the shutters up, she watched the Roman streets again. She felt the same urge. It seemed quite natural to her: Here was a rare day. All the more reason for embracing it like a child. Drawing his attention to a red flower with fluffy snow on its crest, “I wonder if we should rescue it,” she suggested.
“Isn’t it a bit cold? It will be all right.”
Then she wanted a very big breakfast, full of really good things – scrambled eggs, cornflakes, milk, Italian bread, butter, Italian coffee, home-made jam, all of which they ate while Rome filled up with snow and grew whiter and greyer, snow-flakes curling in lazy ways out of the untypical sky.
It was his last day in Rome for a short time, so when they got downstairs and out of the apartment, he felt tension. She started the car, and together they slid up and down a few roads, then, returning to the flat, they abandoned the car. They would have to walk or use transport if there was any.
Now, here was snow in a different context, first-hand snow, not seen from balconies or comfortable cars. Prime-time snow, snow in the hands of many Roman youngsters, flying round in big white balls through the snowy air, thwacking you splat. Next, it was worrying for your balance, wetting your shoes as well.
Her face began to change. His too.
“Ooh,” she said, making a woeful face.
When her face fell like this, he wondered if she was acting. “Really hurting,” she lamented, looking at her feet.
No buses were running, but a tram rattled up like a harmless dragon, iron hissing on its cranky wheels. In they got. It wasn’t much warmer inside. Up front were two seats. She explained that trams came from the suburbs. “Full of eccentric people.” He nodded, rubbing one foot then the other. Her feet.
“Is that better?”
“Ugghh,” she nodded, woe-faced.
An old lady, with two safety-pins holding together the straps of her high-heeled shoes, started talking. A general diatribe against the weather, the fact that the snow had come, that there was ice, that it wouldn’t go away. Around her shoulders, she carried a shawl. Black. Her skirt was black. Her face was astonishing. A very large, very hooked nose separated two tiny eyes. Her mouth was not unkind but she could have passed very easily for a witch in a Christmas pantomime. “I’m going to Termini,” she confided, “to eat dinner there.” This was slightly bewildering. Termini was a grim station. “I can’t cook.”
Now, the tram-doors opened again and more cold entered. The old lady pulled a face.
“Uggh, ooh,” she said. Just like her, he reflected.
The doors banged shut, opened again, went into spasms. The tram lurched forward, stopped. There was shouting, merriment? The doors opened again but shut to very quickly, bounced together by the energetic driver, so it seemed. The tram chugged off. Cold, cold. Not much comfort.
Oh, what a snowy station it was. They got off the tram. Shivering, they looked at Termini Station. All trains delayed! According to a spokesman, many people sitting in trains, too, train-bound – in the middle of Italy, that would be in mountainous Abruzzo? – everyone staring out, the windows, looking at piling snow. Like their electricity, drivers bewildered and down.
“That’s it, then,” she said. “You’ll have to go by coach.”
She had taken the decision which he had taken before he had taken it, with words to her. He sighed. He felt a bit helpless, a foreigner in Italy in the hands of a very capable wife.
Oh, what a snowy Piazza della Repubblica. Most unusual. Great snowy tracks everywhere. Cars, full of wheels and chains slipping and sliding here and there.
“Be careful,” he said. “If they hit you, you usually fall over and it hurts.”
He remembered the autumn on this piazza, and the amusing story he had told her of the two friends who had run to greet each other, meeting in the middle of the busy road. How they had clapped each other in each other’s arms, and how soon their merry meeting had turned to grief when one found that in the bustle of their greeting she had lost her ear-ring. How the two had tried to search the busy road, how they had been driven back by angry traffic, glared at by angry motor eyes behind fumed-up windscreens. How joy had turned to chagrin. How soon the laughing eyes had filled with accusation…and guilt.
Now, they found that the coach was very late in coming. A nun looked at them with slight bewilderment as if she wished to fit them into a religious picture but could not. The coach was two hours late but would leave again at half-past two.
They found a warm café. They ate four cakes with coffee. Then she found a long Roman youth she recognized. “Surely, surely, it’s…?” she said, forgetting his name. “Luigi,” he replied. “Yes, you taught me, three years ago.” His mother, the owner, came over. A conversation ensued, interrupted by blasts of cold air every time the door opened. Now, the proprietoress, was waving aside all thought of being paid.
“No, no, it’s my pleasure. Yes, leave your bags here. Let’s hope the coach comes soon.”
Outside, she said, “We can’t go back for another coffee. They won’t let us pay.”
“Yes,” he nodded.
The coach had come. The snowy driver was very efficient, and mildly contemptuous of all formalities and questions. Yes, the coach would leave on time, that is on time new time, late, and no, he wasn’t going to open the coach-doors because he needed his dinner.
“Fetch the bags,” she said, but when he returned with them, she was standing alone in the snowy piazza with cars sliding slowly round her. A pigeon beat grey wings and went to shelter.
“Gone for lunch?” he asked, stating the question. She nodded. “Another coffee? It’s freezing.” They went down the snowy Roman roads. “Hurry,” he said. She had begun to slow down. He threw a snowball at her. She wasn’t going to play that game. He wondered. She wondered. Their feet were very wet.
In the second café, they were more tense.
“I don’t want you to go to your family so much,” he said. “It would help me if you were more independent.”
“They do me no harm,” she said. “I don’t understand you. You seem to want me to be alone.”
He felt embarrassment, he was a creep, creeping to the surface of his skin. They were speaking tensely. He wondered how many people were watching them; he thought he understood her point of view but he did not know if she understood his. Besides, to be accused of meanness made him guilty. He felt his feet were very wet.
“My feet are wet.”
“So are mine.”
“Is it time?”
There was the coach. She went up to it, her pale face like snow. She seemed angry with him. Was he at fault? Totally?
“You could have had a job in Rome by now,” she said.
“I’m tired of travelling,” he said.
“Wait, the coach won’t go yet.”
Someone called out, “Kiss your husband.” Someone else asked her why she was getting off the coach. Then the coach started, it passed her. She was walking through the snowy streets, a very small figure in the great snow of Rome. He pointed back to the metro; his sign meant: Take the metro. Go home to your family. Don’t go to our flat where there is no one. Then the coach went on. She was out of sight. He looked at the white streets. The coach went slowly. For one hundred and seventy miles it went very slowly over very snowy autostrada till it reached white-streaked Vasto in the Abruzzo, but she went home very quickly, to her family and to real home where mother cleaned and cooked and father cuddled his little girl, pulling her big breasts to his hairy, fatherly chest where a wonky heart was beating its last few beats, asking for a pace-maker which would in turn ask for a bigger intervention which he would refuse, facilitating the funeral, his.
Nobody knew, but his wife knew that her fresh hubby was talking a load of rubbish when he wanted her to isolate herself to be independent. She would be independent in her family and she would continue to coach guys like Luigi and temp in her secondary school. That was another thing that was going to be successful – her career. Yes, teenagers were going to be pushed and pulled into learning the Queen’s English, their queen’s, and yes, he had a lot to learn.
Thirty years later, divorced, still living in the family home but only with her mother, she realized the lesson had not been quite that simple, good teacher that she was.