So I feel bad for taking this story down for such a long time—I've had a lot of PMs asking if I was going to repost. I am happy to say that today is that day!
Solo Por Ti: A Short Story
"There's one, I know him not, into my heart did rove, and yet no pain he brought. Can this Unknown be Love, who, fain his power to prove, a foot unwary caught?" ~"Un certo, non so che" –Antonio Vivaldi, Trans. Theodore Baker
quasi recitativo (like a recitative—in which a singer adopts the regular rhythm of speech)
I have been betrothed for eleven years to a man I've never met.
No, I am not a princess, and no, the year is not 1700.
In Sforza, the small town from which my family originates, things are done by tradition. Three-hundred years worth of tradition. It's stifling, really.
Of course, there's no man here in my hometown that is of age to marry me who isn't already family. There's my cousin, Giorgi, but we're not that desperate, thank God.
Instead, my father—before he passed away—arranged the marriage with an important family from Appia, the capital city of our small, proud country. This Appian family into which I will marry is just as traditional as mine, perhaps more so.
I so look forward to being married into that family.
Sarcasm aside, I must admit that in a way, I am looking forward to being married. It means escaping my family. It means finally having a say in what happens in my life. Damn my mother and her fussing, damn my grandmother and her spying, and damn my future husband if he stands in my way. I will do what I wish.
I suppose I could simply run away, move to a different country if I really wanted to, but that is a lot of effort to put into something that could end very badly. Besides, I've grown up knowing that I already had a husband chosen for me, so I'm used to the idea by now. As long as he respects me, I don't really care who he is or what he looks like. For someone like me, who doesn't believe in romance and love, an arranged marriage isn't so bad.
That's why I'm here with my family in Appia, visiting my cousin, Vincent, and his new bride, Elysia. I am to be wed this weekend. The reception is to be held before the wedding, and it will be the first time I have ever seen or met my future spouse. Tradition here holds that it is bad luck for the couple to see each other before the day of the wedding, so as soon as the reception is over, it's off to the cathedral, where we will be married.
I am a little nervous, I will admit, though I refuse to show it. My family expects me to be the very model of moderation, in speech and in emotion. I am quite good at masking how I feel. It's a quality I inherited from my father. He has been dead for ten years—almost half of my life—but what I do remember of him is that he was quiet, friendly, and always stayed out of my mother's way. She was the imposing, fiery matron of the household. She still is. I don't remember my mother and father ever showing anything akin to love for each other. Tolerance, perhaps.
I suppose that's what I have to look forward to.
Anything will be more peaceful than living with my mother, my sister, and my grandmother.
"Aislyn, are you awake?" my grandmother's voice comes through the door.
"Yes, Nonna," I reply without turning away from the window. "Come in."
"Ah, darling, you haven't even dressed yet," she mourns as she comes gliding through the door and across the room to my window. "And with the window open! Aislyn, dear, it's chilly outside."
"I'm fine," I protest calmly. "It's not that cold."
"Obviously," she retorts sternly, those old eyes gazing pointedly at my chest. "And that nightgown is just thin, I suppose."
I close my robe tightly over my nightgown with a quiet huff of frustration as Nonna closes the window. It opens up onto the gardens, at which I have been staring longingly. I hope that wherever I go, my husband has a garden. It's a vain hope in a city like Appia, so ancient that there are houses built upon houses, crowded so tightly together there isn't room for a pin between the walls.
I shall make do with houseplants.
"Your mother sent me up to let you know that breakfast is ready," the old woman explains, crossing the room again and pulling clothes out of the dresser. "Elysia is a fine cook," she comments absently as she searches my blouses, trying to match them with skirts or pants. "I am happy that your aunt was able to find Vincent such a dear wife."
"And my husband?" I ask off-handedly. "Did my father do well when he arranged the marriage?"
My grandmother looks up at me flatly over the top of a sheer blouse. "I know what you're trying to do, and it won't work. I'm not telling you anything."
"But Nonna…" Wheedling information from Nonna is difficult, but not impossible. Old age has made her chattier than my mother, for example.
"It's bad luck," she insists.
"You don't have to tell me what he looks like. You don't even have to tell me what he does. Is he kind? Handsome?" When it looks like she's not going to talk, I add, "Don't give me any details. Just tell me one thing."
Nonna sighs and sets down the clothes. "He's rich."
I take that grain of knowledge and ruminate on it for a few minutes while my grandmother continues to choose my outfit for the day. She doesn't always do this, and when she does, I usually ignore her choice and wear something else anyway. But she does like going through the motions.
"Well-off or loaded?" I ask. Details have always been very important to me. For example, if he is well-off, he will live in the upper part of the city, in a small house or apartment, and he will work every day, leaving me with time to myself. If he is loaded, he probably comes from money, and he may be a lazy good-for-nothing. It's very important for me to know this.
"That's enough," she replies, terminating the discussion. "Now put these on and come down to breakfast. There are still so many things we have to do today to prepare you for tomorrow."
The wedding day. In a way, I'm excited. Years of secrecy all for the sake of luck will finally culminate in the unveiling (no pun intended) of my future companion for the rest of my life. Of course, the fact that it will determine the course of the rest of my life also gives me reason to be nervous. I won't have an anxiety attack over the whole thing, but I do feel apprehensive.
Well, I tell myself, there's no changing it—not without ruining my life—so I simply dress myself and begin my day.
What began as a peaceful morning turns into Pandora's Box as chaos is unleashed on the family. Vincent and his wife are sent to the bakery to make sure that the cake and the pastries are ready for the reception. They'll go to the caterer's to solidify everything as far as food goes. My mother hops off to the magistrate's office to have the proper paperwork put through, while my grandmother and I go to pick up the dress, which I have also never seen or been fitted for. The seamstress had to work off of my measurements, which my mother took. Hopefully there will not be an overabundance of adjustments to make. I would have gone in sooner, but we only arrived in Appia last night.
My sister, Smalls, decides to accompany Nonna and me. She wanted to go with Vincent and Elysia until she was told she couldn't get anything from the bakery. She has decided for second-best; there's sure to be some entertainment found in the inevitable arguing that will occur between Nonna and me.
Speaking of my sister, her real name is not Smalls, but she likes it better than Cordelia. We all do, to be honest. She'll be sixteen in a few months, ready to enter society. My mother is already searching for her future husband.
Unfortunately for Smalls, there is no argument. In fact, things go well at the seamstress, and we decide to go out for lunch instead of returning early to the house.
There's a small café that we always visit when we're in Appia, in the old part of the city, where the streets wind through the crowded buildings and the sun must filter down through unkempt window plants and drying laundry.
We sit outside at a table set up in the street. Nonna is talking to Smalls about something, probably her memories of Appia as a young girl, while I simply watch people as they pass. Some leisurely stroll by, others rush past quickly, as if they are late for something. My mother is like that—one of those people that can't stop.
"Aislyn! Are you listening, dear?"
I turn back to my grandmother and nod. "Yes, Nonna."
"Good, because there are a few details I need to walk you through before tomorrow."
I play the part of attentive granddaughter, though I must admit that I don't listen very well. My mind wanders to tonight, when I will be able to rest in peace. I am fairly well able to tune people out—a necessary skill in my family—but it does wear on me. I sincerely hope my husband is a quiet man.
Dinner that night is a chaotic affair, and I escape from it early, but only under the pretense of showing my mother the finished dress.
Helping me into the dress, she murmurs, "You've been exceptionally quiet today, Aislyn. Is something wrong?"
"No," I respond with a shake of my head.
She starts to do up the buttons on the back of the dress. "It's all right to be nervous," she tells me. "You're marrying into a very prestigious family."
Ah, yes, the Montagues. I may not have heard much of my husband, but I have heard of his family. They are a very prominent family here in Appia. Signore Gaius Montague, the aging head of the Montagues, has always been involved in the politics of the city, and most of its prominent leaders still heed his advice. His wife, Eliana, is more of a socialite, but not any less powerful than her husband.
It's intimidating to say the least, but I don't even know how my future husband is related to them. He could simply be a very distant cousin. They may not even be at the wedding. I would prefer not to be noticed by them.
"I know," I murmur quietly to my mother. "I will be fine as long as he isn't a madman with an axe."
My mother laughs softly. "He is hardly a madman," she reassures me.
"Have you met him?" I ask.
It's toeing the line to even ask, but I think my curiosity and willingness throws her off-guard. She disappears without a word, returning after a few minutes with a photograph clutched in her hands.
"I'm not supposed to show you this," she informs me sternly before her face softens and she holds the photo out to me. "But a quick peek won't hurt. My mother showed me a picture of your father before I was married."
Reaching for the photo, I joke, "And did you find him handsome?"
"Suitably," she admits primly.
I glance down at the black and white photo in my hands. Two men stand next to each other, clad in black-tie attire and grinning at the camera. One is my age—my betrothed, I assume. He has a full head of thick, unruly curls that stray over his brow. He seems nice enough if one can tell by his smile, but his shape is lanky and awkward. He has a slight roundness around his waist that I am certain will expand with age, and he has the beginnings of a limp, patchy moustache upon his upper lip.
The man next to him is older—his father, perhaps? Maybe an uncle. I don't see much of a resemblance; the older man has graying hair, and his smile is cool and assured. He is shorter than the young man by far, but lean and well-built. He has a beard that encircles his mouth, but it is closely trimmed and well-groomed. The polar opposite of the gangly boy.
"What do you think?" my mother asks with tentative curiosity.
I shrug. I don't really feel anything either way. I'm not disgusted, but I'm not enraptured either. "I think I'm more concerned about his personality," I confess.
She smiles. "I understand." Taking the photo back, she stares at me for a few moments without a word. Finally, she whispers, "Aislyn, you look so beautiful."
I smile back. "Thanks."
"Which reminds me—I need to talk to the photographer tomorrow. I want to make sure he gets all the right shots." And with that, the moment is ruined, and she hastens off.
Remembering the picture in my head, I think on it as I try to squirm out of the dress on my own. The young man seemed all right. He looked friendly, a little meek. That isn't so bad. The last thing I need is some loud, domineering egomaniac strutting about the house, making a scene out of everything. I hate drama.
Speaking of, I can't get myself out of this dress, and I'm afraid I'll rip it. I don't even want to think of the lecture I'd get from my mother and grandmother if anything happened to this dress.
"Smalls!" I call through the open door. "Will you help me out of this dress?"
A thought suddenly strikes me as Smalls enters the room and starts to help me out of the dress. Tomorrow, it won't be my sister helping me undress. It will be my husband.