You gave me wings!

 

 

Does a caterpillar feel pain? Does it scream within its self-imposed prison as it transforms? Or does it embrace the change and accept that suffering is part of the process?

Life in the rural town of New Boston, New Hampshire is closing in on reclusive librarian Isabella Martini. At forty-nine, Isabella has never learned how to let go of the sadness that has shrouded her since the death of her parents, nor the pain at the betrayal of her fiancé. On the brink of yet another isolating decision, this one to live a cloistered life in an adult community, Isabella makes a surprising discovery that changes the course of her life.

Set against the backdrop of the eternal city of Rome, You Gave Me Wings follows Isabella as she embarks on a journey to discover a way to breathe life into her soul—and break down the walls around her heart.

Chapter One

Echoes followed Isabella’s footsteps. She moved through the rooms of the house where she’d spent her forty-nine years of life. The ghosts of her parents remained silent. She knew they would. They hadn’t talked much when flesh and bones, so why would they start now.

She entered the room which until two days ago had been her bedroom. Using the toe of her sneaker, Isabella traced a black line in the aged floorboard. She never should have lit that cigarette. It had been foolish to think her father wouldn’t notice the odor. She’d long accepted her stupidity hadn’t caused his stroke. However, back then, at age fourteen, she hadn’t known any better.

Isabella walked out of the room. She followed the hallway and paused at the doorway of the large front room—her parent’s bedroom. Why she still thought of it as their room was beyond her. For three decades, her mother had slept in there alone.

Her mother’s perfume lingered. Even in the throes of illness, Christina Martini had insisted on a daily bath and a dousing of Wind Song. Now, five years past her death, the heady fragrance managed to endure. The new owners would have to strip the walls or fumigate.

A low snicker passed through Isabella’s nose. Who was she kidding? The house’s days were numbered. When she returned, it would be a gaping hole.

A sigh and shrug followed. Maybe both their days were numbered.

Isabella entered the kitchen. She stood in the spot which, until three days ago, the dinette set had occupied. Her fingers could still feel the cool Formica surface, and her mind’s eye saw the color—egg-yolk yellow. Four vinyl-padded chairs had hugged the chrome edging of the table, each seat upholstered in the same horrid color.

Funny how the distance of age changed a person’s perspective. When she had been young, she’d bitched and moaned about the furniture, even going so far as refusing to invite friends over to the house, the shabbiness of the furnishings offered as the reason. While her friends’ parents upgraded their nineteen-fifties-styled furniture, Isabella’s mother had refused, her middle-class upbringing offered as the reason for holding fast to items long past their lifespans.

Back then, it had been easy to blame her teenage angst on her mother. But the years had brought some clarity. If she could go back, she would shake her young counterpart and tell her to look deeper before it became too late. She would force her sixteen-year-old self to see the truth—it had nothing to do with things; refusing to engage with others centered from her insecurities.

Isabella opened the door and walked onto the back porch. She let her mind drift to the last time she had spoken to her mother. That strange summer day, five years ago.

A distraught caretaker had met her at the door. “Get in the kitchen quick. You won’t believe what’s going on. She’s like her old self. Been like this all day!”

Isabella pulled herself back to the present. Despite the eighty-degree July weather, she couldn’t ignore the goosebumps prickling her skin. The memory of seeing her mother seated at the kitchen table chilled her to this day. Travel brochures had littered the table’s sparkling surface. She could still see the tentative steps she had taken as she moved toward her coherent mother.

“Ma, what’s going on?”

“Hi, darling. How was work? I’m going to Italy. Oh, and I went to the hair salon.” Frail fingers patted curls of white hair. “Do you like it?”

“Yes, Ma. I love it. But I don’t understand. How do you feel?”

Unsure how a woman went from drooling onto her sweater to planning an intercontinental trip, she had eased a chair away from the table and sat, half listening to the caretaker’s ranting. “You should have seen her this morning. Ate six eggs, four slices of bacon, and a full glass of orange juice. Started talking about planning her trip to Italy. Demanded a visit to the salon. After that, she insisted on visiting the travel agent where she got all them brochures. The only time the dementia returns is when she starts talking about some book and insisting she already has a plane ticket.”

“You want to go to Italy, Ma?”

Her mother’s brown eyes glossed over as she nodded. “I have a plane ticket, but I can’t seem to remember where I put it. And I want my book.” A look of overwhelming panic filled had filled the brown eyes. “I need to find the box. Do you know where I put it? I must get to Italy. I must.”

“See,” the nurse blurted. “She does that. Talks like she’s got all her marbles, then slips back into the dementia.”

A dampness crept into Isabella’s bones as she stood now on the back porch. She played with the wedding band on her right ring finger, her mother’s final, haunting words fresh as if they had been spoken yesterday. ‘I never regretted my decision, Isabella. Never doubt that.’

The doctor had explained it was common for people suffering from dementia to become intelligible from time to time. As to her mother’s death during the night—natural causes was the only explanation he could offer.

Isabella rubbed her arms and turned back for the house. There were so many riddles that needed answering, she didn’t know where to start.

She glanced around the kitchen and brought her eyes up to the square opening in the ceiling. She could still see Craig’s sweaty face peering down through the hole. What if she hadn’t hired him to fix the wiring?

No—she refused to play the ‘what if’ game. She had hired him and that’s what she needed to focus on, along with all the other issues stuffed into her emotional basket.

The beep of a car horn pulled Isabella from her reverie. Her luggage was on the front stoop. She was ready to move on.

In a loud whisper she said, “Goodbye, house. It’s been fun, but I’ve got places to go, sunflowers to count, and a life to save.”

After she walked out the front door, Isabella bent and picked a wild rose blossom from the front garden. She placed it on the bottom step and murmured, “Wish me luck, Ma.”

Without casting a final glance at the house, she pushed back a tear and walked toward the older man waiting for her by the Mercedes.

“Hi, Carl. Thanks again for driving me,” Isabella offered as she walked up to Carl Salzburg, the husband of her friend, Bethany.

Carl lifted the lid to the trunk and inserted Isabella’s luggage. “Get ready. She’s chomping at the bit.”

Although Isabella had assured her friend she didn’t mind taking the bus into Boston, Beth had insisted. ‘It will give us a chance to discuss any last-minute details.’

Isabella understood the implication of Beth’s statement. The ride would give her another chance to try and derail Isabella’s trip.

After giving Carl a quick hug, Isabella snickered. “I’m sure. Can we stop for a coffee? And some Valium?”

Carl chuckled. “The coffee I can do.”

As she climbed in the back of the Mercedes, Isabella steeled herself for what promised to be a two-hour sermon.

Beth didn’t even wait for Isabella to close the door. “Isabella, this is a big mistake.”

“Hello to you too. Thanks again for taking me to the airport.”

Beth sniffed while frowning. “What else would I be doing, except maybe having my roots colored? They’ll have to wait. I’ll just explain to everyone we drove you on a fool’s errand and I missed my hair appointment. Do you have your passport?”

“Yes, Mom, I do.” Isabella kept her voice light. “And I have a dime in case I need to make a phone call.”

“At least that comment shows your age if your actions don’t. Do you have your cell phone charger?”

“Yes.” Isabella gritted her teeth. “I have about a hundred stored in one of my suitcases. Thank you, by the way, for buying them.”

“Well, it’s the least I could do. Since you’re not thinking about your safety, I have to.” Beth swung her attention to her husband. “Where are you going, Carl?”

“Isabella wants coffee,” Carl responded in a weak voice.

“Thanks for throwing me under the bus, Carl.” Isabella chuckled.

Beth turned in her seat. “We don’t have time for coffee. Your flight leaves at four, and it’s already ten.” She faced Carl and added, “Just get going and she can get coffee at the airport.”

Carl started to speak, but Beth cut him off. “Carl, just drive. I’m talking to Isabella.”

Isabella turned to the window and focused on the passing trees. If she got to Boston without losing her sanity, flying to Italy would be a piece of cake. Cake. Yes. She would order tiramisu on the plane.

Beth adjusted her body to allow her full access to Isabella. “Did you put clean underwear in your carry-on bag? What about your Spanx? Are you wearing them?”

“No. I don’t have on the Spanx. I’ll be on a plane. Who’s going to pinch my ass on a plane? Besides, women getting pinched in Italy is a fallacy.”

“American women get pinched. Put on your Spanx when you get to the airport. Your skin will be harder to grab. And don’t talk to anyone.”

Isabella rolled her eyes and sighed. “Who’s going to bother a woman with a bird’s nest on her head?”

“Your hair is fine. It was a smart move getting a perm. You got to leave your hair dryer at home, which is one less thing for the airline to lose.”

“Have you seen this hair?” Isabella pulled a strand of parched brown frizz.” This isn’t a perm—it’s a burn. There should be tweeting coming from my hair.”

“Forget your hair. Is the American consulate’s number programmed into your phone?”

“Yes, and I’ve written it on my arm and thigh just in case I lose my phone.”

Carl’s chuckle earned him a glare from Beth before she returned her attention to Isabella. “Joke all you want, but I told you this trip is foolhardy. Carl thinks so too. Don’t you, Carl? A woman traveling alone in a foreign country. For a month!”

Beth issued another sniff, her face tight with impatience. “You didn’t even think this through. You found the box, and the next thing I know you’re flying to Italy. This is out of character for you, Isabella. You don’t do things like this.”

“Well, maybe it’s time for me to start.” Isabella clenched her hands. “What do I have in New Boston? Truly, what?”

“You have your new house. Think of all the friends you’ll make. Living in an adult community will be fun. You might even meet some nice older widower.”

“I don’t want to make friends in the Gales.” Isabella’s fingernails dug into her palms. “Plus, I’m forty-nine. I don’t want to meet a nice older widower. I want to live. I want to experience life. I want to drink—”

“Is this about Freddy?” Beth cut in.

Isabella rolled her eyes. Why hadn’t she taken the bus? “No, this isn’t about Freddy. Why do you always think everything is about Freddy? He’s been out of my life for years.”

“Yes, but he broke your heart. You’ve never gotten over him. You don’t even go on dates.”

“Hello… perhaps you’ve forgotten that I’ve been taking care of my mother.”

“You still miss her?” Beth’s mouth set into a firm line. “She died five years ago.”

“Of course I still miss her. She was my mother!” Isabella fumbled in her carry-on bag. She was letting Beth pull her into another one of those conversations where she wanted to fling herself off Mt. McKinley.

“What are you looking for?”

“I’m getting a headache. I need some ibuprofen.”

Beth nodded. “See, it’s this trip. What I don’t get is why Italy? You could spend some time in Vermont.”

Isabella riffled through the contents of her bag. She needed the pills. Where were they? “Come on, Beth. We’ve discussed this. I want to see Italy. What’s the big deal? Lots of people travel to Italy.”

“You’re not lots of people. You live a reclusive life. You’re a hermit.”

Isabella pulled the bottle out and tried to line up the raised, white arrows while keeping her hands from shaking. “I’m not a hermit!”

With more force than necessary, she popped the cap. Pills rained down like confetti.

Isabella threw the empty bottle into her bag and slumped against the seat’s back cushion. No coffee. No pills. She needed chocolate.

Beth waved her hand and blocked a pill aiming for her forehead. “You’ve never even been out of New England, let alone on a plane. Flying is difficult. Right, Carl? We know. We’ve traveled. You don’t even take bus trips. This is all because you found that damn ticket. I should have torn it up when you showed it to me.”

Isabella stared over the car’s hood at the vehicles ahead of theirs and wrenched at the ring. No matter how many times she explained her reasons, she couldn’t get Beth to understand New Boston had become a vacuum and the last bit of air left in her lungs would soon vanish.

“Are you listening to me?” Beth’s voice pierced Isabella’s ears. “You can’t solve your mother’s mystery. She’s dead.”

Isabella stared at Beth. “I’m not trying to solve my mother’s mystery. Can’t you just be my friend and wish me luck? Be here for me if I fail or celebrate with me if I succeed?”

“Fine.” Beth faced the front of the car and fiddled with the radio.

“Thank you.”

Isabella remained unconvinced Beth would let the subject drop, but a few moments of peace were better than none.

Kenny G’s alto sax lulled her into herself. She slid the gold loop on and off her finger. She wasn’t being fair to Beth. With a ten-year difference in their ages, it was no wonder each woman saw life through different eyes. She saw a last chance for a fresh start, while Beth saw life as over.

Beth faced the rear of the car again. “I have one more thing to say, and I’ll drop the subject. You’ve always been a reserved woman, Isabella. Remember when Freddy would have to go to parties at the law firm? You told me you would sit along the side of the room while he schmoozed. You’re not gregarious, you’re not outgoing, you’re not a risk-taker, and you’re not brave.”

Beth leaned forward, her head halfway between the front and rear seats. “I wish I knew what you’re trying to prove.”

Isabella snickered as Beth added, “That’s all I’m going to say of the matter.” Without waiting for a reply, Beth turned forward again and increased the radio’s volume. All talking ended as the sounds of smooth jazz filled the silence.

The car neared the airport. A plane took off in the distance, and Isabella watched its ascent. It wasn’t too late to change her mind. Her life was good, as lives went. She could still tell Carl to turn the car around, and spend the night in her prefabricated, Crackerbox-style house. Maybe meeting an older widower would work. She could take care of him, just as she had taken care of her mother. Perhaps that was her path—always to care for someone else instead of herself.

Carl pulled along the curb for Terminal E. Isabella remained in her seat and stared out the window.

Beth turned to face her. “This is it! Are you going or staying? We don’t have all day.”

“I…” Isabella continued to focus on the world outside the car. If she returned home, she could try again another time, when she was better prepared. What did it matter that she felt strangled by her life? Lots of people felt the same way. Yet, as Beth had recently pointed out, she wasn’t lots of people.

“I’m going.” Isabella pushed open the car door, then met Carl at the trunk. She took hold of her luggage and walked toward the check-in kiosk.

Beth sprang from the car and stormed forward. “Don’t check in here. They’ll lose your suitcases.”

Isabella handed her ticket to the attendant while offering an apologetic smile. She then turned to face Beth. “Thanks for your concern. They’re not going to lose my luggage. Now, give me a hug. I’ll call you when I reach Rome. Ciao.”

“Fine, but don’t call me in tears when everything you own is gone.” Beth turned away and climbed back into the car. “Come on, Carl, let’s go,” she shouted out the window.

“For what it’s worth, I think you’re a helluva brave woman.” Carl pulled Isabella into a bear hug of an embrace. “Go get ‘em.”

“Thank you, Carl,” Isabella said. If only his kind words could mend her fractured nerves.

 

Long after the Salzburg’s car receded into the distance, Isabella remained on the sidewalk. The enormity of what she was about to do was starting to feel impossible. Was she being foolhardy? There were other ways to restart a life. She could take pottery classes or learn to swing dance. She should go home right now.

Unzipping one of the outer pockets of her carry-on, Isabella pulled out her cell phone. She tapped the screen and lowered her thumb toward Beth’s picture.

The tightening in her throat began to close her windpipe. Travelers jostled her. Some grumbled, others bumped and pushed—telling her to move. Only when a woman barked for her to get-out-of-the-way did Isabella set her mouth into a firm line.

Get-out-of-the-way? Absolutely not. She’d been getting-out-of-the-way for far too long, always stepping aside to allow people, and life, to pass by.

Returning the phone to the pocket, Isabella adjusted the bag’s strap, straightened her shoulders, then entered the terminal.

It was time to stop getting-out-of-the-way.