by DiVoran Lites
I have decided to start keeping a diary of the things that happen here. The latest is that Signora wants me to call her Lia. It’s her Christian name and she says we are girlfriends now .
Lia takes up a great deal of time that I feel should be spent doing real work to earn my pay. I am with her six or so hours every day and what do we accomplish? Nothing.
I’ve been working since I was old enough to stand on a chair beside Mother and wash dishes, while Grandmother and Granddad went downtown to tend the store. Later, I ran errands downtown. I then became old enough to learn the routines in every department, so that someday I could take over.
When I joined the The Women’s Ambulance Corpse during World War One, in my first attempt at independence, I worked harder than ever before. When the war ended, I went back to the store for several years, but by then, I’d had a taste of being my own person, and I needed to get away again. Granddad, who knew Signor Solano in bygone days, helped me get this job on the ranch. He said the work would be demanding, and at first it was. Now, however, I feel useless.
Here’s the problem: Lia has me wake her at ten with breakfast in bed. She then wants me to discuss clothing and jewelry so she will look nice for her step grandson, Enrico, when he comes to spend the day with her. When she is dressed to the nines, I’m to go and knock on his door to wake him. Once he’s up I go to the kitchen to prepare breakfast for him and bring it up to Lia’s suite. He keeps late hours away from the house. I don’t know where he goes or what he does, or even how he found something to do in this small community. Most of the day Signor is in his office, or out-of-doors with Aldon.
When Enrico comes to the suite, he brings an air of sensuality that melts me into a trickle of molten wax with no sense of boundary or direction. He takes my hand and raises it to his lips while looking deeply into my eyes. I must admit a frisson of pleasure runs through me when he says. “You are a most beautiful lady.” No one has ever told me that before.
“Lia’s perfume is Acqua de Parma Colonia which clings to her person, her clothes, and my nostrils. It affects me like the champagne I tasted once at a celebration.
Enrico and Lia drink wine and eat biscotti every afternoon, and they invite me to drink with them. I refuse. I think perhaps Enrico has had too much experience with women, and that for a married woman, Lia may not know much about men.
The records they play affect me deeply as well. Granddad took me to the opera many times, and when I hear Verdi and Puccini on Lia’s Victrola I fall in love with the composers over and over again.
I open the windows to let in a fresh breeze. That helps, of course, but Lia and Enrico soon call for me to close them. It’s not as if the room were a dark bistro, though. Lia, being a painter, loves splashes of light and shadow. She calls them chiaroscuro. That is why she arranges the curtains and dressing screens to provide a changing French Impressionist painting.
It is beautiful. Once I am in it, I hate to leave, though I must drag myself away to bring up their afternoon tea and sandwiches. Molly complains about having to cut off the crusts. When I go down to help her with supper, she grouses about my defection, as she calls it. I have to admit that my daytime activities do verge on debauchery. I have no idea where it will end.
I love to dance and have been teaching the two of them the Charleston and the Black Bottom. Lia purchased jazz records by mail before I came. She reads magazines and keeps up with what’s happening in the world of music. Enrico and Lia are like small children wanting the constant attention of an adult, and for some reason, I’ve been elected the adult.
“Please, Ellie,” Lia said one day as Enrico stepped away to put on a new record, “You will make me a flapper like you by cutting my hair?”
“I don’t think of myself as a flapper.” I objected. “But I will be glad to style your hair.”
“I do not mean to insult you. I want only to be modern millie for my Giovanni,” she pouted. “Before bed, he sits in my low rocking chair, his legs in their fine trousers stretched into the middle of the room. He watches me brush my hair. He says, ‘Oh, Lia, your hair is so long, and so curly.’ But he cares not a whit that it is heavy and hot. When he leaves to go to his own bed, he gives me a small kiss on the cheek. I feel then, like an abandoned rose in a garden of love. I sit in the chair where he has sat and look out at millions of diamonds in a black velvet sky, then I lie down in my bed alone.
I was taken aback. It seemed all her thoughts were of her husband. That was good, but it made her behavior with Enrico all the more puzzling.
“You do have wonderful hair,” I said. “Are you sure Signor won’t mind if we cut it? I turned her so I could study the shiny curls she now wore hanging to her waist. “I didn’t bring my hair cutting tools from the beauty salon. Can you wait until I send for them?”
“No, no, no, it must be cut this minute. I am sick to death and perishing from the heat. Look,” she parted the curtain of hair hanging down her back so I could see the redness on her neck. “Heat rash is it not?” she demanded.
“Yes, you’re right. You’ll be much more comfortable with it short and you will look just as pretty. I wonder where we could get a razor.”
“Let’s go. We’ll be back in a while, Enrico,” Lia grabbed me and pulled me toward the door. “Aldon has a straight razor. I saw it in the barn when I was with him.”
“Come, along, Aldon’s riding fence today, he will not miss a little borrow.” She grabbed a comb and headed for the door, and I followed, stunned. Aldon and Lia? No, it couldn’t be.
“We can’t go into Aldon’s quarters and take his razor without asking,” I said, as I followed her down the hallway.
“Oh, pooh, come, do not do the dawdle.” She waved her hand in dismissal of my scruples.
“Wait, we have to wet your hair, first.”