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Sandhilll Cranes, oil painting by Brent Spink

The Open Window

by Bronwyn Trathen


I look up at the ochre-colored villa with its Mediterranean blue-shuttered windows. The climb up the hill in the heat of the day has left me hot, sweaty and breathless. I sit down on the dry rock wall to steady myself.

He told me he’d leave a white towel hanging from the window, the small one at the top. It is open but there is no towel. What does it mean? Did he have to leave suddenly? Did his wife come back early? Perhaps one of his kids has fallen ill.

I can hear the cicadas taunting me with their insistent drone. Bees are busy in the lavender that lines the steep steps up to the house. I gaze mindlessly at them for some time feeling nauseous. Then I start down the hill. A sound above the cicadas makes me stop and turn back. A head appears above the lavender. It’s the maid. She waves and then beckons me.

‘Miss Rosie...Rosie. I have something for you. Please come.’ Self-consciously, I start up the steps towards her. She is smiling broadly as I approach.

‘Oh, I glad I not miss you. Come I have something you left.’ I follow her out of the burning sun. My brown curls are wet with sweat and I can feel my thighs stick to my thin cotton dress. Maria picks up something from the hall table.

‘Ah. Here it is. You left your book.’ I stare at the book she holds out to me. I’ve never seen it in my life. I look up confused. ‘Yes. It your Italian book; you learn Italian.’ She smiles and hands me the old book tied up with pink ribbons. ‘Here, Mr. Roberto said he tied it with ribbons because some pages ... lose.’

I realize I’m staring at her. I reach out and take the book and mumble something in Italian I think appropriate. The book is quite heavy. I would never travel with a hard- covered book. As I turn to go I remember to ask

‘You knew I was coming?’ ‘Oh yes,’ says Maria confidently. ‘Mr. Roberto said to look out for you. He had to go.’ ‘Oh.’ I say, trying to hide my disappointment. ‘Thank you Maria.’

I walk out into the blazing Sicilian sun thankful for my large brimmed hat. Pulling it down over my face I start down the steps with the weighty book tucked under my arm. I turn to wave. Maria is still standing at the doorway watching me. She waves back but does not move to go inside.

I walk uncertainly down the hill slipping occasionally as the stones dislodge. Finally, I come to the main path under some olive trees and know I am now out of sight.

Why would Roberto have asked Maria to give me this book and why wrap it with ribbons? I hurry on into the harbor village nestled into the hillside. I am keen to find a place to sit in the shade so I can have a better look at the book.

Jianni waves to me as I pass the café near the fishing boats. I can smell fresh fish frying. He pulls a chair out from one of the many empty tables inviting me to sit under an old peppercorn tree.

‘Come Rosie he have lovely sardines just for you.’

‘Thanks, Jianni. That’d be nice.’ I kick off my sandals and settle myself in the shadiest spot as Jianni goes back inside to prepare my meal.

Placing the book on the table, I start to undo the pink ribbons. The book spine is warn and embossed on the front is Learn Italian Book One. As I open the book I see a small blue box in a hollowed square cut out of the pages. With a knotted stomach, and shaking hands, I take the box out and lift the lid.

A piece of fine handmade paper is folded many times into a neat square. I take it out, unfold it and flatten it out on the tabletop. The handwriting is bold with lots of curves.

Whistling happily, Jianni with his carefully greased black hair comes out carrying plates with sardines, salad and hot chips. In a flurry he spreads a napkin over my lap and places the plates on the table careful not to touch the paper in front of me. ‘There, Bella. Enjoy your meal. Fish, they ... very fresh.’

At first the writing on the page is a blur as I try to comprehend what it is. It’s Roberto’s writing.

My Darling Rosie. Forgive me, forgive me, forgive me. I haven’t told her yet. But I think she suspects because she had one of her turns and I had to take her into town to the doctor. She says if I am planning to do anything without her she will make sure I never see the children. My precious Rosie, I need more time, and I don’t know when we can be together.

Part of me is drawn into this romantic intrigue. I have never met anyone who will go to such lengths to dramatize the forbidden. Still I tell myself that in my heart of hearts I have no desire for him to change anything in his life. That would make me responsible.

Nostalgically, I watch the colorful fishing boats knocking up against each other as the changing tide laps against the old stonewall. It stretches out around the harbor to the headland. I can just make out the steep steps up to the white lighthouse on the cliff above. Nowadays, it is an art gallery and local artists hang their works there. The fishermen sit on the wall mending their fishing nets; their strong shoulders glistening in the sun.

Why do I find it so exciting to have an illicit affair? Is it the thrill of meeting in secret? Is it that Roberto is really only interested in me because I am a foreigner and I will leave like all the others? What did he say to make his wife suspicious? Perhaps it was deliberate. Maybe he wants a way out now after all this time. What an inventive way to get a letter to me. That awful ache in the bottom of my stomach has started again. I eat.

The fresh salty sea smell of the grilled sardines wafts up filling my nostrils. The crunch and flavor as I bite into the small fish makes my mouth water. For some minutes Roberto is a distant haze.

The tourist season is at an end and the islanders are relieved to have their island back until next year. A German couple –I’ve seen before from a distance– sit down at a table near mine. They seem content only speaking to each other occasionally. Their closeness makes me yearn for Roberto. It’s no use I have to let go. He’s just playing games with me.

I stand up suddenly and knock over my chair. The German couple stares as I hurriedly push my feet into my sandals. I stuff the letter, box and book into my bag, sling it over my shoulder and with determination walk back towards my pension. I’ll pack and leave today. That’s the best thing to do. Quietly, I climb the stairs and let myself into my room. I want to avoid explanations. As I pack I try not to look at the view out of the window afraid it will lure me back into a false sense of reality.

In the last letter from my Mum, she had asked me when I was coming home. How did she put it? Don’t you think dear you need to consider your future, and use your talent? Remember what you do today will ensure your happiness and fulfillment in the future. You only have one life. She’s knows nothing of Roberto, but she would say I was wasting my time.

I leave without saying goodbye. I have already paid for the rest of the week so head straight for the ferry. I have a while to wait but feel it is best to go now. At the ticket office I check the time and pay for my ticket. Then I find a seat at the far end of the jetty where I can sit with my back to the village and the world that has been mine for the last six months. I take out a book on Tibetan adventures. I concentrate on the potential for future adventures but the time passes slowly.

My concentration is broken when I hear my name. I can feel my body tingling and I force myself not to turn. With my head down I stay fixed on the book in my lap. A pair of Italian leather sandals appear only inches from my own sandaled feet. ‘Rosie.’ I catch a faint smell of cologne. I look up into the moist green eyes and my resolve melts away.


Bronwyn Trathen lives in the far north of New South Wales Australia near the sea. It is a very beautiful subtropical area. Now that I have retired, I have found great satisfaction writing stories both fiction and non-fiction. This is Bronwyn’s second submission to The Smoking Poet. The story 'The Open Window' is taken partly from memories of my youth living in the Mediterranean.

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