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Loretta, an aloof young woman of twenty-eight, was lying on the hotel bed, listening to the sounds wafting through the open window. Outside, on the Canal Grande, Venetian gondoliers called to each other as they unloaded suitcases onto the sidewalk. She smiled. The warmth of the Italian language made it all sound like a happy family gathering. For a moment, it left her feeling homesick — homesick for the familiar small rural community of Peggy’s Cove, on the eastern shore of St. Margarets Bay, overlooking the lighthouse, homesick for the crash of the waves and the cry of the gulls, and homesick for the way things used to be.
She was rescued by the soulful tune of an accordion drifting in from one of the gondolas on the canal, and an impassioned operatic voice singing O Mio Babbino Caro. The gondolier was entertaining a boat full of tourists as he maneuvered through the water-traffic corridor towards the lagoon, and the music mingled with their laughter.
Lying next to Loretta was Gherard, her slender, five-foot six-inch, fair-haired husband, five years her senior. He wore gold-rimmed spectacles he had not yet taken off. Beads of perspiration had worked their way up and settled across the top of his moustache and onto the white patches of scalp showing through his thinning hair.
“That music is nice. Where’s the accordion player?” Gherard asked. He sat up, leaned on his elbow, peered towards the open window. “Is that singing coming from the opera house?”
The music made Loretta feel sad, as though she were Madam Butterfly, waiting for her love her whole life, and yet knowing that that person may never come. She pouted and closed her eyes, pretending she was asleep.
When they first arrived at the old Hotel Canal Grande she had pointed at the second little toilet, thinking it was a men’s urinal. Gherard had corrected her, as usual. “It’s a bidet,” he said, harshly. And Loretta had almost started to cry then — something about his tone, and about it being the first time since their honeymoon eight years earlier that they’d been in a hotel room together. And because his harshness had instantly made her think of Flavio, the gondolier they’d met earlier in the day. She’d wanted it to be Flavio standing there next to her, instead of Gherard. Flavio would have laughed with her about the bidet, she thought.
Gherard bounced up from the bed and crossed to the window. He unfolded his handkerchief and wiped his brow. It was the dead heat of August and he had carried their luggage up two flights of stairs. The hotel ambiance was romantically European, without elevators or air conditioning. Gherard was annoyed at the weight of Loretta’s bulging suitcases even before they left home, and he’d grumbled all the way up the stairs. She saw from the familiar scowl on his face, and his pursed lips, that he was working hard at holding back from saying anything that might ruin the rest of their vacation.