I did one of my “find some art and write it” gigs again, visiting DeviantArt and coming up with the following flash. I’ll save the image until the end as it might give away the story, but I found her so young and beautiful, those rosy cheeks and that deliciously wicked smirk. So Mona Lisa!
About 900 words. 6-8 minutes.
This oaf is such an idiot
Maria was exasperated.
He had arrived just this morning. Rare enough to see any motor traffic in 1920s Calabria, where the heavy horse was still king, but this man had turned up just a few hours earlier, in a gleaming black limousine which resembled a house on wheels.
The man was foreign, otherwise unremarkable, but Maria certainly noticed his dishy, dark-haired chauffeur, only a few years older than herself. Clearly Italian, but not from here, he seemed to also interpret.
“I hooked up with him in Roma”, confided the driver. “Come south, he wanted, so he could find the ‘real’ Italy. He’s English. And rich. And uses the camera.” With his forefinger he motioned a “click”.
A Lord Newell, he added. Visibly well-off. Enough to indulge in the emerging technology of photography. Enough to come all the way down here, to capture “rustic” life.
Maria had never so much as seen a camera, and to her this was just “life”. She simply judged that the man was overdressed.
He took over the taverna, and those villagers who could be located were instructed to parade before him. Newell stood, an earnest-looking young man, still in his twenties, who for some reason wore a monocle, through which he regarded the peasants as one might a row of prize milkers.
“Easy money”, the chauffeur assured, though Maria had already taken an instant dislike to the aloof Newell. “A month’s wages, for a few hours work. Just being yourself, while this man takes your photograph.” The man needed only three, he added, then back on the road this evening. Something about Taranto.
Newell instructed her to step out of line. Indignantly, she obeyed. Though not comfortable with this parade, her mind was on the pot of gold. Arcing slowly around her, he muttered to the driver.
“He would like to take your photograph”, relayed the man, his eyes smiling at her. “He likes your beautiful cheeks.”
Maria shrugged – she could do nothing about her appearance, but was pleased, all the same, and the extra money would be welcome. Instructed to return at four o’clock, she was to clean herself up, and put on her Sunday Best. A month’s wages – how bad could this be?
A typically protective mother, Maria’s was suspicious. She permitted Maria’s participation only if chaperoned. Volunteering herself for the task, Maria consented, on the condition that mum remained silent.
It was apparent all was not well as they approached the tavern that afternoon. With Maria looking resplendent in her best, pale pink dress, not twenty yards away, its door flung open, and out flounced the indignant Aurora, Maria’s attractive, dark-skinned cousin, who, Maria noticed, was wearing the same navy dress that she had worn at mass last weekend.
“Bastardo”, cried the sobbing teen, tears streaming down her puffy cheeks as she hurried past, causing the woman to take hold of her daughter’s arm.
“This does not seem right, child.”
“All that money, mama.” Maria was anxious to start contributing to the family coffers.
With trepidation, therefore, the two entered the tavern. The men were already in place, the Englishman, already stripped to his shirtsleeves, bothered in the dusty heat.
The driver, Emilio, introduced himself with an apology. “I’m sorry… He’s hot, sticky, tired… I tried warning him about the heat, but….” Emilio raised questionning hands, as if to add, what can I do? “And he’s in a foul mood. Really awful. He upset the last girl so badly, she stormed out.”
Mother gestured. I told you so.
“Who’s this?”, snapped Newell, placated only when he learned that it was Maria’s mother. “She can sit there.” He nodded toward a corner table while threatening Emilio, “and tell her, not a word, or she goes”. He then looked Maria up and down again, snorting. “Let’s hope she’s better than the last one”. Issuing an unpleasant sneer before using his already-soaked hankie to mop the fresh deposit of sweat from his brow, he added to Emilio, “let’s get this over with, and we can get out of this godforsaken hellhole”.
Newell was a hard taskmaster. Judging that Maria looked to be a good waitress, he put her to work, waiting the table. First, bread and wine. Again and again, as Newell clicked. She lost count. Each time, Newell barked out fresh instructions, dutifully interpreted by Emilio. “Happy”, “Sad”, “Demure”, “Provocative”… although Newell’s bad-tempered “NO”s needed no translation. Both women understood them well enough.
Reverend Mother, thought Maria, as Newell took another sip of wine, mopped his brow, and reloaded the camera once more. How many times will I be expected to do this? Will this ogre never be through?
Her respite was, in fact, Newell himself, who decided that the time had come to have his model serve food. A ragu, now cold, left over from lunch. And for Maria, the same tiresome repetition, this insatiable man directing her every movement, and becoming worse by the minute to boot!
“You’ve been on your feet all day. Look weary.” When Emilio translated, it was no act.
“Now look fed up. You are five minutes from the end of your shift, you want to go home.”
Mechanical now, not concentrating, she repeated her task. The sooner this imposition is over, the better.
The ferocity in his voice startled her. “What are you doing, you imbecile? You stupid girl, don’t you understand?”
Maria halted, shocked. What had she done? She did not comprehend the words, but it was obvious that something had upset the man. Newell turned accusingly to Emilio. “What on earth are you saying to her?” Then again, to Maria. “Don’t you understand plain English? For God’s sake, why are you making this so bloody difficult?”
From the corner, Maria’s mum had seen enough. Whilst she didn’t understand the words, his tone was unmistakeable. Nobody spoke to her daughter like that. Naturally protective, she glided swiftly, silently to Maria before snatching the cold ragu from the girl, not even breakingstep as she spilled some on the floor in her haste.
“Mama…. No…. One Month’s income…”, cried Maria, in vain.
Newell’s monocle fell abruptly from his surprised eye as the woman replied resolutely, “We will manage.”