Don't You Need Somebody To Love?bycalibeachgirl©
A romance by Calibeachgirl
dedicated to all the veterans
All rights reserved, 2012
Thanks to my copy editor estragon, a graduate of the United States Army, Vietnam, class of 1969.
Saturday, February 15, 1969
Angelina put her few flowers on the grave and braced herself against the rainy cold wind. He had died on Valentine's Day, destroying the holiday for her but it didn't matter, she had avoided any chance of a new romance. After the second year, her friends began a concerted effort to find her a new love and yet, three years later, she was still alone.
It was a long slippery walk up the hill back to her car, and the inside of the car got wet as she got back in. She sat there, her tears all but washed away by the rain and when she started the little Volkswagen, the saddening, jarring sound of the radio startled her.
She turned the radio off, the Beatles fading away to be replaced by the whoosh, whoosh of the wiper blades. Without the rain, the tears flowed freely and she waited and waited for them to finally stop before pulling away from the curb near the graves and leaving the cemetery.
Driving down the road, she stopped at the same Italian grocery as she did every Saturday to get her food for the week. Prosciutto, provolone, crusty bread, spaghetti, olives and for Sunday breakfast, two cannoli... they all went into her basket.
"Buona mattina, Signora Vozzini..." said the short man behind the counter. "Today, for you, I've some special cookies, my treat." Smiling, Paolo Silvestri put a small bag into her basket. "Here, let me take that for you."
She shyly handed the basket over to him and as he rang up her purchases, he quietly slipped in a Toblerone chocolate bar into her sack. His heart broke every time he saw her and yet, even he, the neighborhood's repository of troubles, had no idea what to do with her these five years. He wished his son were back from Vietnam. He was sure the boy could bring the young widow out of her self-imposed exile and back into the sunshine.
"Ciao, Signor Silvestri, grazia per il canolli." The heartfelt statement, the voice young, soft, feminine, definitely thankful.... Just as she did every Saturday, she took her bag and walked out of the store and slowly drove to the empty home.
Sunday morning, Angelina went into her small kitchen and ate her canolli, enjoying the sweet ricotta cream as it rolled around her mouth. Once, she would have been in church, listening to the priest talk about the love of God and his mercy for sinners but since Phillip's death, the idea of going to church faded away with her memory of him. The knowledge that she was forgetting the sound of his voice, the scent of his body, the twinkle in his eye was just as frightening as the race every month to make her share of the mortgage payment.
She took her fine dark auburn hair, a gift from her Irish mother, looped it behind her ear, and sat up straight in the chair. She was home... home, where all things were familiar... and predictable. It wasn't that she didn't want to meet with her friends, it was just... so daunting, even after all this time.
A restlessness and hunger filled her; for a brief time, she had considered joining the church group for young singles. She sighed, sitting at the kitchen table all alone. Angelina closed her eyes again. Home was the same small house she had shared with her cousins since her husband had died, leaving her unable to continue living in their apartment by herself.
She yawned, wanting to return to her bed. Her bed... empty, frustratingly empty. In an age of women's liberation, she was a throwback to a different time, a time when women were women and men were men and both knew their place and liked it that way.
She looked at her empty bed. A wave of despair washed over her. She had only been married for such a short time. Guiltily, she pushed the traitorous thoughts away, the memory of her husband filling her mind. He had been a good man, kind and generous and more importantly, he had loved her, promising everything that she had wanted... a home, children, someone to hold at night.
The problem was he had never made her heart race; his kisses never left her breathless and wanting more. They were comfortable... that's how he had described it. She wondered what she had done wrong. They had been engaged and he never wanted to make love to her until they were married. 'Respect,' was what he had said... he respected her too much.
She remembered their last moment together... he had left her on the front porch of the apartment house with a pleasant but less than exciting kiss on the lips, and then he was gone... forever.
Her face reddened, thinking about it. Marrying him had not been exciting but it had been better than the alternative.
Wednesday, March 12
"Giacomo!" Lieutenant James Silvestri's mother ran and threw open the screen-door to let her son in. She grabbed him close, her arms around him and her kisses on his face. "O Dio... O Dio..." she said, quietly, thanking her God for his safe return.
"Mama," was all he was all he could say, everything else blocked out by the woman's quiet sobbing. Whatever he would have said never was, as his father walked into the living room and dropped the dishes he was carrying to the table, their shards flying across the floor.
"Jimmy! My God, when did you get home?"
"Last month, but I wanted to wait until I was out before coming home."
"You're out? Completely?"
"Yes, Papa. I'm out."
"Thank God," his parents both said, "Thank God."
"I'd like to wash up, if that's OK," he said, still holding his duffelbag. Inside, buried beneath everything else, were his four medals and he knew they would go from one hiding place to another, this time the bottom of his closet.
"It's OK that I stay here, right?" He never thought to ask. "If it's not...."
"Mio ragazzo, certamente." The woman hugged her son again. "You change and come to eat. I'll make spaghetti or do you want lasagna?"
"Mama, whatever you make is fine." He left the kitchen and went into his old room, dropping his duffelbag onto the floor and dropping himself onto his bed. It had been two years and as he stared up at the ceiling, his mind drifted back to the war....
...running, running, running, through the dark jungle, bullets flying, blood flowing, then water, water everywhere as black-clad figures rose from holes in the ground and threw grenades and disappeared....
...he startled awake, covered in sweat, his hands twisted up in the covers and he finally let out a long, wet gasp. "Damn...." On the radio, Hendrix was making love to his guitar as riffs from 'Watchtower' riffs filled the room.
There was a knock on the door. "Jimmy, you OK? I heard...."
"You heard nothing, Papa, OK? Nothing." 'Damn it,' he thought, 'now this. Just go away, Papa....'
"All right, if that's the way you want it but if you want to talk...." The man, suddenly old, stood in the bedroom doorway, watching his son lying there.
"I'll keep that in mind, Papa. Is it time to eat?" He wasn't really hungry; he just wished his father would leave him alone. There was nothing to say, nothing at all.
"In a while. Your mama is going to town in the kitchen. Between that and calling everyone... there's going to be a party before the night's over, just you watch."
"Papa, I don't want...."
"Look, I know but your mama...."
"Damn it. All right, for her but not too much, OK? I'm not into it right now."
"OK, Jimmy, I'll do what I can but you know your mother."
"Yeah, yeah, won't take no for an answer." He got off the bed and went to his closet, finding his clothes from before still hanging, silent sentinels standing guard over his boyish dreams.
'Fortunate Son'... KMET-FM, again... 'ah, shit' he thought, 'what did they know, anyway?' He finished changing his clothes, turned off the radio and went into the kitchen. Opening the refrigerator, he pulled out the lemonade he knew his mother always made and poured a tall glass. He missed the lemonade most of all, forced to drink warm to hot water, stinking of the chlorine pills, all those months 'in-country.' He poured a second glass.
"Hey, stranger, you got one for me?" Nancy from next door stood in the back doorway, wearing a tie-dyed T-shirt and smelling of grass. 'When did that start?' he wondered. Last time he remembered, it was still illegal. Once, he had a crush on her and used to sit in his bedroom with the lights off, hoping to catch a glimpse of her at night. While it never happened, it did keep his interest for many months until he finally gave up, realizing that she was more interested in boys with cars and money. It came as no surprise when she became pregnant following her senior prom. That alone shattered his last dream and he left for college ROTC. If he had to go, he knew, it was better to be an officer.
What a mistake that was. Two purple hearts had changed his mind in a hurry.
"Sure," Jim replied, opening the freezer to get some ice. "How've you been?"
"Still working at Safeway, at least I'm finally off the night shift. That wasn't my bag." Nancy appraised him. How he had changed from the boy who had left home three years ago. She liked what she saw but there was something hidden, something that he was keeping to himself, something dark.
"That's good." He wondered what she wanted. All the time he was over there, she never wrote once. What did he expect, anyway? She liked to have a good time and he didn't fit in with her idea of a good time... never did, never will. She was light-years past anything he had ever known in college.
She tried several times to start a conversation but what she considered important he had no interest in... he had thought having a child would have made her grow up but the reek of the grass and the lack of a bra made it seem otherwise.
"I've got to take care of something," Jim said. "I'll see you later."
"Yeah, that'd be cool. You know where to find me if you want anything."
He left her in the kitchen and went back into his bedroom, locking the door. He closed the drapes and lay in the dimness, wondering if coming home was such a good idea. What did they say? You can't go home, again. And they meant never.
'Come on, come on, now touch me, babe....'
Knock, knock, knock....
"What?" he asked, not really caring.
"Giacomo, there's people here. Your aunt Gina is here."
"OK, mama... give me a minute, will you?" 'Jesus, Aunt Gina....'
"Giacomo, thank God you're home. I said a rosary every day for you."
"Thanks, Aunt Gina. I guess it worked." He walked over and gave the elderly woman a hug. He actually did like her; he just wasn't in the mood for a party... not now, maybe not ever.
"God damn war... do you think it's worth it?" his cousin Little Gina, asked.
"I'm glad you're back. I missed you."
"Three years out there and now I'm back and now I've got to start all over. How do I put it all behind me? A lot of my friends didn't make it back... maybe they were the lucky ones."
"I don't know."
He poured a finger's worth of bourbon into the glass, swirled it around and drank. 'God, Papa must have kept that bottle since my high school graduation.'
He survived the evening, mostly friends of his parents and some relatives that were able to come. By ten o'clock, though, he excused himself and went to bed, tired of it all. 'Time to break on through to the other side....'
Saturday, April 5
Three weeks later, he was at his father's store, once again greeting people as they came in to finish their purchases for Easter Sunday but his father knew when there was no one there, Jim retreated into his own world. Signor Silvestri put his son to work dusting the wine bottles in the crowded aisles, occasionally calling him to help at the deli counter. Shaking his head, he wondered what he was going to do with him. Things were so different from when he had come home from the European war. There were parades and honors and people were glad to welcome back their warriors from a battle that everyone agreed had to be fought. This war, he thought, so different. He thanked God his son had somehow come home in one piece, physically, at least.
Angelina walked in, the small bell on the store's door announcing her arrival and she approached Signor Silvestri, basket in hand.
"Buon giorno, signora. Sta bene?" he asked, truly interested in the young widow.
"Si, si... do you... is that your son? I heard he had come back." She turned and looked at Jim, who had ignored her arrival and continued putting up boxes of spaghetti.
"Yes, that is Jimmy... well, I guess he's Jim, now. Jim! Come here, there's someone I'd like you to meet." He waved his arm to his son, hoping that his son would show some sign of life.
Jim slowly walked toward his father and the young woman standing next to him. She was pretty in a down-home sense, he thought, and probably already married. Unconsciously, he looked for a ring and found one. He stiffened, his heart beating an irregular beat in disappointment. 'It figures,' he thought, 'all the good ones were picked up while me and my friends were slogging through rice paddies half a world away.'
"Jim, this is Angelina Vozzini." For some reason, his father seemed to think that explained everything.
"Hello, Signora Vozzini. It's nice to meet you." Jim looked once more at her ring and slowly started to back up toward the aisle he had just come from.
"Please, my friends call me Angie." She put out her hand to shake his and he hesitantly took it. She saw a sexily shaped mouth and white teeth beneath a growing mustache that mirrored the darkness of his hair. "Your father said you just returned from...."
"Yes, been back about a month." He frowned, the pained expression on his face telling more than he could with words alone. He didn't want to talk about it... not to her, not to anyone.
"Are you...?" Her voice dropped off, hesitantly questioning.
"Out? Yes. I'm done. Well, it's been nice meeting you. Have a nice day." He walked back to the wine bottles, wondering why he had been so brusque with the woman. She had done nothing to him and yet, he couldn't help feeling he had been rude. 'Ah, the hell with it,' he thought. 'It won't make any difference, anyway, she's married.'
Silvestri looked at his son walking away. "I'm sorry," he said. "He's not used to...."
"Signor Silvestri, it's OK. I'm sure that as he feels more comfortable, he'll be all right."
"You are most kind," the tired man said. It had been almost a month and his son was still mostly silent unless he was forced to speak with someone. At home, he either went for long walks alone or stayed in his room, listening to the radio. He wondered how long it was going to last.
That night, he dreamt of her and her creamy pale skin and the Doors kept flying through his mind. 'Come on baby, light my fire....'
Each day soon became a routine that he did without thinking, almost sleepwalking through it... boxes on shelves, bottles on shelves, sandwiches made, pizzas baked, floors swept. One Saturday morning, while he was cutting off dried end-slices from the deli meats in the case, Angelina came in.
"Good morning," she said, watching him slice the cold-cuts.
"Good morning," he answered, keeping his eyes on the slicer. He had a healthy respect for the machine, knowing it could cut his finger off as easily as a piece of salami.
She waited until he had taken the smoked ham back to the case, hoping he would at least turn around and face her. "I was wondering... if you'd like to have... that's OK, never mind." She turned and left the store, leaving him standing there wondering what had happened. He shook his head, confused.
Angelina walked as quickly as she could down the sidewalk toward her car. For a second, she glanced back at the store, seeing him standing in the doorway watching her and then she got into her car and drove away.
Jim stood there, still shaking his head. 'Why am I so interested in a married woman? Nothing good can come from it.'
"Que fai?" his father asked as Jim went back into the almost deserted store.
"I... I don't know. She just ran out... besides, what's the difference? She's married, anyway."
"No, she's not. She's a widow... been one for five years, now. Jeesh, Jim, you've got to get it together. I want to leave the store to you, you know that but...."
"But what, Papa?" 'You want grandchildren, don't you?' Jim was frustrated at everything that had happened in his life; this just the latest bump in the road. Bump? It was more like a mountain.
"You've got to snap out of it. Ever since you came home, you... Jim, you've changed. Maybe you could see someone, talk to someone. Father Flannigan, maybe...."
"Nah, it's all right." 'God,' he thought, 'Flannigan? You've got to be kidding. He's plunging headlong from the eleventh century into the twelfth.'
Jim spent the rest of the day working quietly, thinking about what his father had said. The nightmares had not stopped although they weren't as common as they had been. Still... at least once a week, he was back in the jungle fighting an enemy he couldn't see. How could he talk to someone when he couldn't explain it to himself? 'Who'll stop the rain?' he wondered.
That night, he took the phone book and looked for her name. 'How hard can it be? 'Vozzini' wasn't exactly 'Smith', after all.' Calling 411, he still came up empty. 'Doesn't she have a phone? How can she not have a phone?' He resolved to be nicer to her the next time she came into the store.
Saturday, May 17
"Aren't you going to get a haircut?" asked his mother.
"No. I like it this way." Jim ran his fingers through his longer hair, most traces of his military cut now gone. "There's almost enough to comb." He touched his three-day-old stubble, wondering what a beard would look like. Anything to lose the military look, he hoped, even if he didn't have any plans to become a hippie. 'Tune in, turn on, drop out.'
"Jim, it's time to go," said his father, putting his coffee down getting up from the breakfast table.
"Be right there, Papa." Jim bent over and kissed his mother. "Love you, Mama."
For once, the ride to the store seemed to take forever. He glanced over at the speedometer, convinced his father was coasting. "Papa, you trying to save gas?"
"It's 27 cents a gallon! Money doesn't grow on trees, you know."
"Say, I've been meaning to ask you... does... ah, forget it."
The man's grip on the steering wheel tightened. Jim could see his father's knuckles turn white as the man quietly fumed. Ever since coming back, his son would start to say something and then change his mind in the middle of it, exasperating him.
All morning, as his father listened to KTYM out of Inglewood for the Italian hour, Jim anxiously waited for her to come in. He almost cut himself twice, looking up every time the door bell jingled while the announcer gave the soccer scores from the old country... "zero e zero, uno e quattro," the man droned on . It was late afternoon when she finally appeared... with a man who looked just a few years older than her.
'What the hell?' he thought, at once being both jealous and angry at himself. He watched them carefully walk through the aisles crowded with food from the floor to almost the ceiling. They were comfortable together, he could see, standing close like lovers would. It was more than he could take.
"Papa," he called, "take over here, will you?" He lowered his voice. "I've got to go to the bathroom." Without waiting for a reply, he walked into the storeroom's bathroom and closed the door, waiting until he was sure they had left. 'Damn, damn, damn...'