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THE GALA DINNER / Anthony Caputi ONE THING, at least, was clear: he hadn't given those long gray years in the candy store for this. Something had gone wrong; somewhere in the project to horde nickels and dimes over years of cokes, banana splits, and chewing gum there was a fraud. Even now, this last night in Rome, after five weeks in Venice, Florence, Naples, and his father's hometown of Campobasso, he had not admitted it beyond grunts and snickers, sneers behind the backs of guides he had refused to hire, curdled laughter just beyond hearing when he spoke American and refused to speak the bad Italian he had learned from his parents. Someone was laughing. The dream of Italy. Something in the way his father and the older men smoked and drank wine in the sunny back yard on those weatherbeaten chairs. Distant flashes in names like Garibaldi, Marconi, Toscanini—flat, baffling contradictions to Trenton and the little houses with walls like paper. Foul deception somewhere! Ottavio Rappucci, in Trenton known as Gus, sat on the end of the bed and watched his wife coil her hair into a serpentine mound. Arms like bread dough, thick bust chiselled into points, no waist at all. He had warned her for years. But she had continued to nip at the hot fudge here and the raspberry syrup running over the lip of the tulip dish there. It happens to mature women, she always said. Together they had endured the riot of teenagers and the five-year olds pondering what they used to call penny candy to save for this! To see Saint Peter's, and the Sistine Chapel, and the Grand Canal, and the David of Michelangelo. Oh, they were fine; he had never said they weren't. But he knew now that they were not what he had come for. He had trembled and almost wept in Campobasso in the church where his parents had been baptized. Nowhere else. The streets, the buildings with their backs to the street, the dark, familiar faces looking elsewhere. The only time anyone paid any attention to him was when they wanted to sell him something, or take him somewhere, or serve as his guide to pictures and monuments he couldn't remember for five minutes. Of course his wife showed an interest. Dolly, once Dorotea: she would. She dropped her arms and looked at him expectantly. "It's too early. They won't be open. We'll be the first again," he said. "Honestly, I don't care. I'm starved, and I'm going to have a good dinner this last night no matter what." "I'm not really hungry, to tell you the truth." Her brown eyes narrowed the fraction necessary to say, "You 80 · The Missouri Review wouldn't dare." But he looked away, to the window and the ochre building across the street, and again he felt the puzzlement that everything should be so different. It was perverse. All those walls, ridiculous red and tan, were fake. They weren't really that thick. He had watched men building a new apartment house, and they used tiles. The walls were hollow. And they were all that way. "I wouldn't really mind calling it off." "Oh no." She was on her feet fussing with her bracelets. "You're not going to spoil this. You promised me a fine dinner, and a fine dinner I'm going to have." He moved toward the window, open to the warm July evening. "All right. All right. We'll eat. But I don't want to be the first. For once let's go in after the waiters have finished." He watched the Romans milling along the narrow sidewalk across the street. A quarter to eight and the shops were still open. It was true: he had promised her a final, special dinner, in one of Rome's best restaurants. In fact, making promises and plans had been the best part, talking about finding again the special foods they had tasted long ago at weddings or first communions, that and standing at the baptismal font at Santa Maria alia Vittoria in Campobasso. The...


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pp. 80-88
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