A Romance in Tuscany in 1965 (Chap 2)
by Anton Wills-Eve
(part 2 of this story which started yesterday. the prompt is rather apt!
A Romance in Tuscany in 1965
An accident in racing green.
The plans to join the whole of Italy from the southern most tip to the Alpine tunnels and passes of Lombardy with a fast network of autostradas or motorways had almost finished by this time and the section between Florence and Rome was my favourite section in use. Known as the ‘autostrada del sole’, or motorway of the sun, it was an expensive toll road which cut the time of the journey by car by more than two hours. I loved driving on it. However, though it was joined up from Florence to Pisa only an ordinary spur road went on to Lucca. The long winding coastal section from Pisa to Genoa was finished was also open. Thus Santa Rita was always a little impatient when covering the fourteen miles from my villa to Pisa. In truth I was so distracted by all that had happened that day I tended to have a picture of Caterinetta in my mind instead of the not very well lit road through the steep hills. I must have done most of the journey and been only a couple of miles from Lucca, and four from my villa, when a lorry took the corner in front of me much too fast and, brake as we both tried, a collision was inevitable. I have almost no memory of the next fifteen hours. I awoke in a small hospital room, not a ward but a single room, and could see my left arm was in plaster. A sharp pain which spread down from my right shoulder to my hip was gradually getting worse and drew my attention to the fact that my right leg was in plaster from the knee down to the ankle. Any doctors or nurses were chiefly remarkable by their absence. I could see a clock on the wall of the ward telling me it was just gone two in the afternoon but apart from that I could see no sign of life. Suddenly a young nurse, she did not look more than 20 so must have been a student or trainee, put her head round the door and exclaimed.
“The professor is awake. He is awake. “And just as she went to run and fetch a doctor or senior nurse I shouted in fluent Italian,
“And he’s very hungry too. “The nurse just ran out and a couple of minutes later three people hurried into the room. Two nurses and a senior looking doctor who all tried to speak to me in halting and confused English. I laughed and replied in Italian that I spoke their language as well as they did. The doctor seemed very relieved and introduced himself.
“Ah signor, I am professor Ranieri, senior consultant in orthopaedic surgery here at the central hospital at Lucca and I am delighted that you have regained consciousness. But we are having trouble finding anyone who knows who you are. We have tried several of the cards in your wallet.” I told him to ring the couple at my villa and they would know how to contact my relatives and make sure everyone who had to know of my accident was told. Then I asked how badly I had been hurt as I was in a lot of pain and still very hungry. The senior nurse hurried off to see to some food for me but the doctor told me that I had a fractured left arm, leg and collarbone and my left leg below the knee. I was also bruised badly over seventy percent of my body. He said I was very lucky to be alive. “But you appear to be a university professor at Oxford in England, are you staying at the villa on holiday?” He was amazed when I told him I lived there and owned it, indeed the entire estate. I explained I was writing a book and doing some tutoring and studying at Pisa University. I then asked him to ring Luigi and tell him what had happened, if anyone knew. He said he would do so and then asked me the oddest question. “Signore, if you are the owner of the Villa Santa Rita – we wondered why the name was changed recently did you do this?- but as the owner I wondered if this ward and the hospital was good enough for you or if you would like a better accommodation?” I laughed and assured him everything would be fine.
The nurse then brought me a bowl of spaghetti Bolognese and said she would help me to eat it. I wondered why at first and then tried to lift my right arm. It was agony. She smiled and said I would be in pain for some time. The specialist added that now I was awake they would be seeing if I needed further surgery on my left side, but I would need more x-rays to determine this. Fortunately I did not, but I then received news of my car which luckily had thrown me out on the point of the collision and had only received a few scratches and dents to the bodywork as it rolled over on the hillside. The doctor was interested to know why I had Santa Rita di Cascia painted on one side of it by the door handle. I smiled at him,
“Why do you think we both came out of the crash as well as we did? But I hope nobody else was hurt in the accident.” He assured me the lorry driver had only minor bruising and we had both been very lucky. After several x-rays and examinations from more doctors the senior nurse came into my ward where I was recovering from being moved around so much and still in a lot of pain. She had a very prim and surprised look on her face.
“Professore, there is a very young girl here who is insisting on seeing you. She would not normally be allowed in but she says she is from Pisa university and that she knows you. What shall I do?” I could not resist it,
“Ask her if her name is Signorina Caterinetta Pollini from Pisa and if she says yes then tell my fiancée that she may see me. I am sure it must be her.” In less than fifteen seconds Caterinetta shot into the room, took one look at me and threw herself at my prostrate figure and cried,
“Leo, oh my Leo, what have you done to yourself?” I winked at the nurse and said I thought we had the right girl. She would not stop kissing me for several minutes and finally I had to ask her to let me have my arm back as I was in agony. She was horrified and then could not stop apologising. But from the expression on both our faces the staff were in doubt who she was. She quickly explained what had happened.
“Leo, Professore Tardelli told me of your accident and asked me to come here as fast as I could. He hopes to come later this evening. I borrowed Mama’s Ferrari and the journey was very quick. But are you alright?” My first reaction was to be livid at the risk she had taken,
“Cara, don’t ever drive a sports car at that speed on that road again! How do you think I ended up like this? Santa Rita looked after me and herself and we are both very lucky, but please remember you belong to me now and I forbid you to kill yourself.” She was very amused but then asked the nurse for a detailed account of my injuries. In sum they sounded awful and I was lucky to have got off as lightly as I did. Caterinetta sweetly asked if it did me any harm to kiss me occasionally and the nurses laughed and assured her I was more likely to improve if she kissed me as much as she could. At this point I was told I had an international phone call and a telephone extension was being brought into my room. It was my sister Helen phoning from Paris.
“Leo what have you done to yourself? A professor at Pisa university phoned me to tell me of your accident and gave me the hospital number. Arthur and I are at the airport now and should be in Florence in just over an hour. We’ll be with you around seven o’clock with luck.” This led to reassurances of how I was, and promises that I would tell my couple at the villa to get rooms ready for three lots of people who could arrive at any time that night. Helen had already seen the villa when I was deciding which one to buy but Arthur had not. It also struck me that Caterinetta would have to stay somewhere for the night and maybe she would want to sleep there as well. “Mia Caterinetta, I would have preferred to show you round the villa for the first time myself but this doesn’t look very possible now. My sister is on her way here so you can stay there overnight if you want to.” A tear trickled down her cheek.
“Oh I so wanted you to introduce me to our future home my love, but I do understand. However, Mama said she would drive here as well when she had contacted papa so there may be four people now.” I told her that her entire family were welcome and she laughed. “It is wonderful that you are still so cheerful Leo I was so worried you might have been unconscious or worse.” Then, for reasons I do not suppose either of us understood we both carried on talking in English. This surprised the nurses who marvelled at Caterinetta’s command of English and the senior nurse looked at me and exclaimed,
“But for an Italian you too Signore seem to speak very good English.” We both went off into peals of laughter as Caterinetta made them all laugh by recounting my first meeting with her mother. Professor Ranieri came in to tell me what they were going to do to me next and I introduced him to Caterinetta. On hearing her surname he asked,
“Are you related to l’avocato Pollini of the Pisa central court?” she said she was his daughter and this seemed to place us much higher in the doctor’s esteem than my academic status. I suddenly wondered if Caterinetta had eaten much that day as it was now six o’clock and they were about to feed me. She was famished and it was agreed she could have a meal in my room to keep me company. It was getting so cosy I almost stopped noticing the pain when we were told another lady had come to see me. Caterinetta saw her first,
“Mama. Oh mama, Leo has been very badly hurt but he is very brave and everyone here is wonderful”. La Signora entered the ward somewhat diffidently and was obviously really upset to see me in such a state. She came over to shake my hand but could not stop herself from kissing me on the cheek. I responded by saying,
“Grazzie, Gemma, sono molto contento con miei due signorine favorite.” The smile that went with this reduced her to tears. Caterinetta was amazed and touched at her mother’s reaction to my injuries and smilingly said she hoped I did not end up marrying the wrong Pollini.
The rest of the evening was peaceful and full of expectation on the part of Caterinetta and her mother who could not wait to see the villa. Luigi arrived just after seven and was terribly upset when he saw me. But the ladies soon calmed him down and told him It was more a matter of time than recovering from life threatening injuries that would be my worst problem now. They were all getting on really well when Helen and Arthur arrived and were surprised at the number of people in my room. Helen kissed me and Arthur shook my hand rather gently when I managed to shock my sister into silence for the first time in our lives.
“Oh, Helen,” I said, as she was looking rather oddly at Caterinetta and her mother and wondering who they were, “I would like you to meet my fiancée signorina Caterinetta Pollini and her mother Signora Gemma Pollini.” Caterinetta reacted the fastest. Before Helen could even say hullo, Caterinetta had kissed her on both cheeks and said how happy she was to meet Leo’s sister. Arthur just gaped at her and then remembered his manners and shook hands with both ladies.
“It’s alright Arthur, they both speak fluent French and Caterinetta speaks excellent English. But I hope it will not be too long before you have mastered Italian. Then Luigi was introduced and everyone could tell I was starting to get tired and was still in pain. Gemma was about to ring for a taxi when I took the phone and asked my chauffeur to come and collect all four of them and take them back to the villa for the night. As they were leaving I looked at Helen and Caterinetta and said, “I expect you two will have a lot to talk about tonight!” My fiancee gave me a long kiss and said she’d be back as early as the hospital allowed in the morning.
I had a very restless night dreaming of Caterinetta smiling at me through the radiator of an on-coming lorry. It was a strange mixture of nightmare and liebstraum which was mixed with a body full of aches and covered in plaster and bandages. I was surprised to see Caterinetta arrive at 8.00am with my coffee and croissants. She hastily explained,
“Arturo, your driver, wanted to make sure you were alright and not dying, and his wife insisted on a first hand report on how you were”. As She started to feed me while grinning I asked if she had eaten yet. This set her off into a long description of how she could not sleep and got up at six thirty to have a good breakfast and become very good friends with my housekeeper’
“Oh, Leo she’s lovely. When everything was explained to her she curtsied to me and said she would only take orders from me until you can return. Mama agreed that I should have that lovely bedroom overlooking the valley, and Helen and Arthur, now he would not hide a book from me, a proper English gentleman, refused to have the main room just because they were the only married couple there. Oh Leo, we will have such fun planning the villa as we want it. And I really man WE!” I could not resist a kiss at this point. My Caterinetta could sense how I felt and still had her ams round my neck when a very young girl came in to remove the tray. She only looked about sixteen and was terribly embarrassed. I don’t think Caterinetta helped when she remarked,
“Don’t worry, in a year or two you too will have your arms round a young man, but you will be lucky if he is as gorgeous as my Leo”. I could see life was going to be highly unpredictable with my new love. My main concern was how long I was going to have to stay in hospital. Professor Ranieri told me that I might need another minor operation on my left arm but otherwise it was a question of time.
“Dottore”, he explained, “If there are no further internal injuries shown in the x-rays and tests today you could return to your villa by the weekend, it is now Thursday already so you could return on Saturday morning if you rest up completely and only move around in a wheelchair.” Then he smiled at Caterinetta and added, “I think keeping a strict eye on him is going to be your job signorina!” Light hearted as the remark was it did set up a worrying train of thought in my head. I could see that Caterinetta was going to ave to continue her studies for another two weeks at least before an early break could be taken to include Christmas. But equally important was another possible problem. Until we were married Caterinetta would not be allowed, nor I want her, to stay alone with me at the villa unchaperoned. Helen was welcome to stay of course but I had no idea how long Arthur could take off work. Also Helen owned and ran her own business in Paris and the weeks running up to Christmas were her busiest period of the year. I supposed Gemma would offer, but it was not the start to our life together that I imagined either of us would want. I gently broached the subject to my beloved.-
”Cara, I have just thought. When my sister and Arthur have gone home on Moday, also Professor Tardelli, how will we manage? I mean your Mama will have to go back to look after your father and soon the two boys, and then we will be alone. You do see what I mean, I don’t you?”
To my amazement she laughed. “Oh Leo, with all your limbs shattered you are your own chaperone.” I agreed I had not thought of that, but I could not believe there would not be malicious tongues wagging somewhere in Lucca or Pisa. Also I was worried about her studies. Again she floored me. “Leo, what do you do for a living, apart from write books that will never sell?” I was thick and did not follow her at first. Then the penny dropped.
“You mean I could tutor you? Yes of course I could! But you would not be let off lightly, I am a harsh marker.” She had an answer to everything,
“But you don’t yet know how good a seductress I am, do you? We could have a very interesting series of lessons,” and for the first time the really passionately seductive side of her lovely grin and laugh hit me full on and I realised that I could not resist making love to her any longer than my injuries forcibly limited me. I gave her a look of such totally conquered physical adoration that she knew at once that I wanted her just as much as she could not live without me. She smiled so broadly as she said, “Well that’s settled then. We will be a very properly behaved engaged couple for four weeks, I could just about manage that Leo, and then as you are able to hobble to the altar God will make us each others’ for ever more. Agreed?” I nodded but entered the caveat that it might take that long before I could physically lift either leg very much. “Then I shall have to learn to improvise”, she said with an endearing, cheeky smile on her face.”Can you get books on improvising for such necessities?” I could not resist my reply,
“Of course. In the library under thirteenth century history.” We were still curled up with mirth over this when Helen, Arthur and Gemma arrived at the ward. We told them what we had been discussing. Helen was very upset not to be able to help, but we had never thought she could. She and Arthur were flying back to Paris on the Sunday night. However Gemma did understand the situation only too well.
“It is not that we do not trust you, but Leo’s injuries would cause real difficulties and as he says a lot of tongues might start wagging. It is a shame that Vittorio is so well known in our city and you are often recognised in the street, Caterinetta. Well look at Matteo a couple of days ago!” I looked at her with a surprised expression when I said
“Is that all it is? It seems as though I have known you forever. Oh I am forgetting my manners. Who would like a coffee? No, you’re chocolate aren’t you Helen?” My sister nodded and then made a great suggestion.
“Look, as part of your studies, Caterinetta, when term ends would you like to come over to Paris for a few days and do some pre – wedding shopping. There are one or two little presents I would love to get you.” As she looked up at Arthur for support her husband was quick to endorse the idea as it would get him out of long and boring shopping trips. But I wasn’t too sure;
“Who’ll look after me?” I said. Gemma had the answer to this. She volunteered Marco and Paolo who would be back from school by then and would just be getting under her feet;
“You’ll love them Leo. They can easily push you around and there’s plenty of room for them to play.” I wondered just how dangerous they would be given the speed with which their mother wanted to offload them. I had to ask,
“Are they medically trained?”
AWE Chapter 3 tomorrow.