I had five minutes today between making pancakes for a Charlotte and a gaggle of her friends and taking Camille to find a posterboard for her upcoming school project on Tanzania. I snuck my computer open (I have to do this veeeeeeerrrrryyyyy quietly at my house as Clem has superpower hearing and feels the overpowering urge to sit on my lap whenever she hears me open my laptop) and surfed around in my old writing files, looking for something to do writing-rise while I wait for my rough draft of My Grape Village to "rise" for a week or two before plunging into editing.
I found this old fiction manuscript - working title simply "Agnes" (the title of the main character) - that was originally inspired by a woman I had met flying back to Canada from Oxford during law school. Agnes' story is about the collision of the "dream" life she has built for herself in Tuscany and a different, less glamourous path that may include her soulmate.
Here is a bit from the first chapter (keep in mind this is pretty rough):
"It was amazing how awful a dream life could feel sometimes.
I stared at the frozen luggage shoot, trying to will its metal teeth into action. The grime from twenty four hours of traveling, three airports, and two airplanes encased my body like congealed wax. I’d brushed my teeth quickly in the first bathroom I could find after the flight from London had disgorged us in the pristine halls of the Vancouver airport, but my mouth still tasted like the bottom of a bird cage, albeit with a minty finish.
An owlish woman standing beside me let out a beleaguered sigh. “Do you think it’s broken?”
I searched the gaggle of passengers around us, wondering who she was talking to, until she turned and fixed me through her thick lenses.
“It wouldn’t be the first time,’ she prompted, just as I remembered how, unlike Italians, Canadians felt utterly comfortable striking up conversations with complete strangers.
“Maybe.” I shrugged, but she kept staring at me, expecting more than that. “Back in Italy this would be completely normal,” I added. “You can pretty much be guaranteed that whenever a plane arrives all the baggage handlers decide it’s the perfect time for an espresso.”
“Italy?’" she breathed. “I knew you weren’t from here! I can always tell that sort of thing.”
A flash of satisfaction made me feel friendlier. Despite my disheveled appearance there must have been something, maybe my Armani sunglasses or the Prada scarf thrown over my shoulders, that proved I was no longer a bumpkin.
“I grew up in Victoria, but I live in Tuscany now, in a little village near the Umbrian border called Monterchi.” I peeked at my watch. It was midnight in Monterchi right now. Dante was undoubtedly sound asleep in our whitewashed bedroom in our big wrought iron bed, with his favorite painted icon of the Virgin Mary smiling benevolently over him.
The luggage belt groaned to life and the chute began to spit out suitcases. If one of mine came in the first ten, they’d all arrive, I promised myself. Italy had done nothing to cure my superstitious nature. If anything it had made it worse.
“What do you do there?” Her venerating gaze made me feel like the Virgin Mary. Except for the Virgin part, naturalmente.
“I run a country inn with my husband Dante. He’s Italian.”
Suddenly my legs began to shake, and I looked longingly at my luggage cart. More than anything, I just wanted to collapse on top of it and ask my nosy neighbor to push me clear through customs. Adrenaline had coursed through my thighs almost non-stop during the past twenty-four hours. I might be a glamorous globe trotter, but the embarrassing truth was that I was still terrified of flying.
She grabbed on to my arm and squeezed hard. “Oh you lucky, lucky thing. An Italian husband! Is he gorgeous?”
“He’s very handsome. He’s well on his way to becoming a renowned chef.” In a few hours Dante would wake up just as the ochre rays of sun caressed the Tuscan hills undulating around our property, as though our Inn was a pebble thrown in a still pond. He would speed off to the market on his Vespa and harangue all his favorite vendors to find the best food for our guests.
Our guests. Guilt twinged the nape of my neck. By coming here, I was abandoning him at one of our busiest times of the year. Part of me was exhilarated beyond belief to sneak away at this exact moment; guests needed constant pleasing and lots of guests meant lots of constant pleasing. Whereas this used to be one of the favorite parts of my life, somewhere along the line I had begun to resent it. But I loved Dante, and he loved our guests, so…
“It’s just so romantic.” The owl lady’s eyes glowed.
“I know.” I had every reason to be proud. Dante was wonderful and Tuscany was as beautiful and seductive as he was.
I had left Canada ten years before with my heart cleaved in two, but just look at what I had carved out for myself; the kind of life most people can only dream of. If certain people, especially a certain person didn’t realize I had moved on, they certainly would now. But that didn’t matter, I chided myself, because he didn’t matter anymore.
I rubbed my forehead. A migraine was taking root at the back of my left eye socket.
“You must be so deliriously happy,” the woman sighed.
“I think I see my suitcase,” I lied. “You’ll have to excuse me.” She opened her mouth to say something else but I deftly disentangled myself from her iron grip. “I hope you get yours,” I said, and slipped through the crowd to the opposite side of the conveyer belt.
Happy. My head throbbed as I tried yet again to make sense of the word.
No point in mulling over that now, anyway. That was the whole reason I was here - to close the chapter on him for good - to prove to him that I had forgiven him and, more importantly, forgotten him. Then I would be free to be completely, totally, 100% happy."