Be all that as it may, the well-established rhythms of our adult lives will soon be interrupted most violently, for despite my inclination to stay put, we are soon to travel, my wife and I. I have but one month to prepare for this momentous change and mentally adjust to the loss of my precious routinesmy rounds, I call themthat take me into every part of town on an almost daily basis. Too little time, I maintain, for a man so set in his ways, but I have agreed to all of it. Ive had my passport photo taken, filled out my application at the post office and mailed all the necessary documents to the State Department, all under the watchful eye of my wife and son, who seem to believe that my lifelong aversion to travel might actually cause me to sabotage our plans. Owen in particular sustains this unkind view of his father, as if Id deny his mother anything, after all shes been through. Watch him, Ma, he advises, narrowing his eyes at me in what I hope is mock suspicion. You know how he is.
Italy. We will go to Italy. Rome, then Florence, and finally Venice.
No sooner did I agree than we were marooned in a sea of guidebooks that my wife now studies like a madwoman. Aqua alta, she said last night after shed finally turned off the light, her voice near and intimate in the dark. She found my hand and gave it a squeeze under the covers. In Venice theres something called aqua alta. High water.
How high? I said.
The calles flood.
Whats a calle?
If youd do some reading, youd know that streets in Italy are called calles.
How many of us need to know that? I asked her. Youre going to be there, right? Im not going alone, am I?
When the aqua alta is bad, all of St. Marks is underwater.
The whole church? I said. How tall is it?
She sighed loudly. St. Marks isnt a church. Its a plaza. The plaza of San Marco. Do you need me to explain what a plaza is?
Actually, Id known that calles were streets and hadnt really needed an explanation of aqua alta either. But my militant ignorance on the subject of all things Italian has quickly become a game between us, one we both enjoy.
We may need boots, my wife ventured.
We have boots.
Rubber boots. Aqua alta boots. They sound a siren.
If you dont have the right boots, they sound a siren?
She gave me a swift kick under the covers. To warn you. That the high waters coming. So youll wear your boots.
Who lives like this?
Maybe Ill just sit in the car and wait for the water to recede.
Another kick. No cars.
Right. No cars.
No cars, I repeated. Got it. Calles where the streets should be. No cars in the calles, though, not one.
We havent heard back from Bobby.
Our old friend. Our third musketeer from senior year of high school. Long, long gone from us. She didnt have to tell me we hadnt heard back. Maybe hes moved. Maybe he doesnt live in Venice anymore.
Maybe hed rather not see us.
Why? Why would he not want to see us?
I could feel my wife shrug in the dark, and feel our sense of play running aground. Hows your story coming?
Good, I told her. Ive been born already. A chronological approach is best, dont you think?
Excerpted from Bridge of Sighs by Richard Russo Copyright © 2007 by Richard Russo. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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