“Goodnight Ms. DeLuca. Have a big weekend planned?”
“Jet to St. Croix and party ‘till I drop.”
“I’ve never been out of the States.” Maury, in his fifties, bulged in his gray guard’s uniform.
Simona flashed a smile and strode from the Manhattan building. Funny, she thought, she lied about her social life even to people whose opinion didn’t matter.
The Fifth Avenue office was steel, stone, and glass. On the street, horns and rumbling vehicles were a cacophonic accompaniment for the bustling crowds with downcast eyes rushing for the subway. Buses belched diesel fumes that mixed with the smoke of pretzel vendor braziers. Cabs zigzagged along like yellow jackets on an obstacle course. Simona hailed a taxi with a swarthy Pakistani driver who maintained a mumbled Urdu conversation on his mobile. Inside her Upper West Side apartment, she placed her attaché case on the glass-top table, poured three fingers of over-oaked chardonnay, and plopped into the Eames recliner. She closed her eyes. Jet to the Virgin Islands? She could laugh if she didn’t desperately wish it were true.
Simona’s mother died soon after giving birth to her second brother, and her childhood was helping her father raise the boys. Barnard College was escape from drudgery and Manhattan was a target rich environment for men. Sex was on the menu, but marriage was not. Career was her singular dream. She’d spent the Eden of her life passing on Robert, Ted, and shy Bob. Nowadays, most men Simona met were damaged or gay, so except for indulging a periodic hormone surge, the demands of work didn’t give her time to wash her hair. What was she doing with her life? She shook her head.
Her attaché case was packed with a slew of proposals, and she grimaced in anticipation of a video conference with Tokyo on Sunday. The country of Japan hadn’t gotten the memo on women in the workplace. The meeting would be Kabuki theater, extracting information from a table full of deadpan bushido wannabes who saw it as a loss of face that a woman was their boss. She imagined they scribbled graffiti of her with testicles on the men’s room wall.
A red pulsing light on the kitchen phone signaled a voice message. It was her youngest brother, Brad. He was coming over. She hadn’t seen him for months, and he didn’t call even on her birthday. Did he think he could just waltz into and out of her life like that? Well, that screwed her evening. She planned to order a pizza and download a book from Amazon. She huffed. She wouldn’t put out linen in the extra bedroom. She pressed the delete message button with vigor.
Brad was a colicky baby whose constant crying had tempted Simona to toss him off the fire escape, except that she loved the little screamer. She raised him into the ne’er-do-well he’d become. If lazy was money, Brad would be on the Forbes richest list. Brad had a boyish face. Women were drawn to him until discovering they’d pay the entire freight, then they’d dump him like a snagged pair of pantyhose. Probably, she thought, his latest girlfriend jilted him. She sighed. She’d order a sausage pizza, his favorite.
Brad seemed stressed when he pecked her on the cheek. They went into the living room, and he plopped into her Eames chair. She sat on the couch like a guest. She looked him over: three day beard, red rimmed eyes, and too long hair. She caught enough of a whiff to know that he’d been boozing and had a platonic relationship with a shower.
Brad hugged one of her throw pillows. “I need advice.”
Oh God, she thought, it’s about a woman. She squirmed. Here it comes, humiliation over his inadequacy as a provider and as a lover. She girded herself against the torrent of shame and pain about to be revealed. This brother-son who couldn’t be encouraged, cajoled, or intimidated into making something of himself had failed at failure. He’d been obstreperous as a child, disobedient with flashing eyes. Now he sat, chin quivering, and she trembled for him.
His eyes darted. “I need a change. I want to go backpacking in Greece. I’ll get a job as a laborer on some sort of archeological dig. I’ll sleep on the beach. I’ll have the surf, sand, and the odd ancient artifact to make me happy. I’ve thought it through. I don’t care if I’m sharecropper poor. I’ll be away from all this. I’ll keep bees. Maybe I’ll learn to play the bouzouki.”
Simona sat back. “You’ve never been to Greece. How do you know you’ll like it?”
“Are you kidding? Read the brochures. A dazzling sun that sparkles off a Mediterranean Sea so blue it sticks in your throat. Temples of marble that turn pink at sunrise.”
”I’m sure it’s beautiful. But don’t you think you’re being hasty? Maybe you’ll reconcile with what’s-her-name?”
“Muffy. I don’t think so. I’m too poor.”
“What happened to the money Papa left you?”
“Muffy needed her teeth fixed. She looked like Shrek when she smiled.”
“Greece can be hot and dusty. Just because you’re an aficionado of diners run by guys named Tassos doesn’t mean you’d like Greek food.”
“I want to prove I can flourish on my own. I’ll dress in rough cloth and sandals. I’ll live off the land.”
An image popped into Simona’s head. It was Christmas morning. She’d bought Brad a cowboy suit and two silver six guns. Brad launched himself at the Christmas tree and knocked over the Wise Men in the nativity scene. He slept in that outfit for a week. At 6 am he’d, “Bang, bang,” and neigh like a horse, as he killed bad guys.
Simona sighed. Greece, the simple life. Fresh fish, organic fruits, and vegetables ripened to perfection. Salt-sea air, and the mesmerizing sound of waves lapping against the shore. Brad was off to new vistas while she was in a rut. Was she jealous?
“I’ll make up the bed in the spare room for you.”
“I’ll sleep on your balcony with this throw pillow under the explosion of stars like a Greek shepherd.” He opened the sliding glass door. “Maybe I’ll see a comet.”
“Brad, this is the city. You can’t see stars, and comets were bad omens.”
He stepped out. “Look,” he called out in his ten-year-old voice, “it’s a shooting star.”
“That’s an airplane.” She thought, he’s so enthusiastic. Though she’d failed raising him, she could help him now. What better use for money? “You can’t go to Greece without a proper stake.”
He stretched out on the cold cement. “I don’t want anything from you.”
“I didn’t come here for a hand out.”
“I never spent my share of Papa’s bequest.”
“Splurge on some extravagance.”
“I’ll give it to you.”
Brad flew from the deck and threw his arms around Simona. “I thought you didn’t want me here, but this is so sweet. The money will come in handy.”
“Until you came over this evening, I felt alone. Now I have a brother again. Do you remember how we camped out as kids, like you’ll sleep outside tonight?”
“You know, it’s a little chilly. I will use that extra room. I’ll sleep under many a starry sky in Greece.”
Simona’s other brother, Charles, came over before noon on Saturday. Charles owned a novelties shop on Eighth Avenue. He had three kids with his wife, Penelope, who dressed beyond their means. Simona thought of Penelope as the sister she wished she could drown. Charles was a quiet child, never any trouble. He played alone with toy soldiers, and Simona often had to kick him out of the apartment for some fresh air. When he was twelve, he ran to her crying. He’d kissed Chickie, his first, very much not to her satisfaction. Simona wiped tears, and they practiced until Charles regained his confidence. He had a recent heart attack. The glorious towhead Charles was as a child had evolved to bald and paunchy.
“Sleeping. There’s a problem with a girlfriend. He’s headed for Greece. It’ll be good for him.”
Charles frowned. “I need your help.” Charles paced the living room. He stopped short. “Isn’t all this chrome and glass a little cold?”
Simona huffed. “What is it Charles?”
“Brad’s not a builder. He’s not a toiler. He has no responsibilities. He picks flowers from other people’s gardens. He’s in a mess because he took up with a married woman.”
Brad rolled out of the spare bedroom toweling his hair. “Charles, I wondered how long it would take you to show up. What has he been telling you?”
“The married woman Brad took up with was Penelope.”
Brad’s voice rose. “You two are separated.”
“A trial separation. And you couldn’t wait to slick your wick.”
Simona raised her hands. “Wait a minute. Brad, what happened to Shrek?”
“Muffy. Penelope was a rebound.”
Simona turned to Charles. “Where are the kids?”
“I have them.” His eyes lit on an African sculpture. “Isn’t that too graphic?”
Simona blew out a breath. “Charles, maybe the separation is a blessing?”
“You always took Brad’s side. I had all the chores and you always let him slide.”
“He was a tough kid to handle. You listened.”
“Well listen to me now.”
“I don’t want to get in the middle of this.”
“You already are. Tell him he’s wrong. Be on my side, for once.”
Brad threw the towel onto a chair. “You were never a big brother to me. Everyone kicked your ass. Brother to the biggest wuss in school. I had to take fights to prove I wasn’t you. Penelope came to me in tears. She’s frustrated. One thing led to another.”
“You leered at her when we walked from the altar.”
“You’ve been paranoid about women since hair grew on your balls.”
Simona jumped between them. “Stop.”
Brad pointed. “He wants money.”
Simona said, “What’s money got to do with anything?”
Charles sat on the couch. “Simona, my business is in shambles. If I’m back on my feet, Penelope will return home. She misses the children.”
Brad stepped forward. “See, he wants Papa’s money.”
“Brad would squander the money. I’d repay it, with interest. If you want to help Brad later, you could. This way we’d both benefit.”
Brad stiffened. “Simona, you promised me the money. Charles, you can’t just show up here with some elaborate sob story. You’re a lousy businessman. Simona would be throwing good money after bad giving it to you.”
“Money is water in Brad’s hands. He needs to learn some responsibility. That’s what Papa would’ve said. If you deny him, you’d help him.”
“When you offered me money, it was like a miracle. A new start, a resurrection. You can’t take it away.”
Simona paced the room. She tore at her French bob. She pointed a finger at Brad. She started to say something and shook her head. She stood before Charles with hands on hips. Her mouth pouted. The brothers spoke at once, and she raised her hands. “I’m leaving. I need some space away from you two.” She left the apartment. Pleas echoed off her back.
Simona walked through Central Park to a playground. Two boys were shoving each other threatening to fight. A blonde girl stood by and watched with a sly smile.
Her father’s words came into her brain. “Simona, eat another barrel of salt, and maybe you’ll learn what the world is like.”
In the apartment, Brad sat in the Eames recliner. She jerked her thumb, and he moved to the couch beside Charles.
She cleared her throat. “Brad, you need to take responsibility. I’ve been an enabler for your sloth, but now it stops. I’m not giving you Papa’s money. Get yourself a job.”
Brad opened his mouth. She held up a palm, and he was silent.
Simona turned to Charles. “Your business foundered because you lavished money on a thankless wife. Either rein that woman in, or toss her over the side.” She sat back. “I’m not giving money to either of you.”
Brad sputtered. “You promised.”
Charles leaned forward. “How can you condemn two brothers?” He turned to Brad. “Did you ever sense this cruelty in Simona?”
“Not until now. Simona, split the money between us.”
Simona shook her head.
Charles rose. Brad put a hand on his arm. “Forget it. She’s decided.”
Brad looked like a penitent. “Charles, I apologize about Penelope. I should’ve had more discipline.”
Charles’s voice was low. “If it wasn’t you, it would’ve been someone else.”
“Let’s get out of here. I need a drink.”
“Good idea, brother.”
They glared at Simona as they left the apartment. She said to their backs, “Papa would’ve made the same decision.” They didn’t slacken their pace. She sighed and closed the door.
Simona put her feet onto the Eames ottoman. She gnawed her lip. They’ll get over it, she thought. Her stuffed attaché case loomed.
She booked a weekend in an exclusive St. Croix resort. Well, why the hell not? She flipped through her Tokyo files. Now, she thought, I’m ready for verbal sumo.
About the author:
Joe Giordano was born in Brooklyn. He and his wife, Jane, have lived in Greece, Brazil, Belgium and Netherlands. They now live in Texas with their little shih tzu, Sophia.