Husky-voiced, large-breasted, and tan as a leather wallet, some people guessed Isabel Brazzi was of Italian descent.  Others put their money on Spanish or Greek or some exotic combination.  With rings on eight fingers, bracelets on each wrist and a phalanx of necklaces threatening to weigh her down, the woman was a walking nightmare for airport security.     

      Surprisingly, the restaurant she owned didn’t reflect her flamboyant appearance.

      Fabric-covered walls of pale yellow, a sizable stone fireplace, and glass tables with crisp white linens contributed to the decidedly elegant ambiance.  Isabel knew that a gaudy, garish décor would alienate her discerning customers.

      The stranger was supposed to meet Isabel at four o’clock.  At eight minutes past the hour, the front door of Pietro opened to reveal a tall, thin woman of around thirty

in conservative clothing.  Her shoulder-length blonde hair was lifeless, hanging like cooked capelli pasta.  “Hello,” she said in a wispy voice.  “You must be Isabel Brazzi.”

      “I am,” Isabel responded in her ripe, sensual tone.

      “I’m Felicia.  So nice to meet you.”

      “Yes, well let’s sit down, darling,” Isabel said impatiently.  She had expected someone very different from the bland, timid creature before her. “Coffee?  Tea?”

      “Tea would be nice,” she said.

      “Robby baby!” Isabel shouted to a short man in an apron. “Two cups of chamomile!”

      “Got it,” Robby shouted back.

      “I appreciate your willingness to meet me,” Felicia said.    

      “When a stranger calls and says she found something that belongs to you,

curiosity is aroused, no?”

      “Well, I was hoping,” she responded with a half-smile.  “I love how you’re dressed.  You look like a gypsy.”  
       “I like colors, the brighter the better.  How long you plan to keep me in suspense?  Tell me your story, sweetheart.”

      Felicia inhaled deeply, then exhaled slowly.  “It’s a bit crazy.”

      “So am I, so don’t worry.”

      “All right.  Well, a few weeks ago, I needed to look up a name in the telephone book.  So I opened it to B, and the first name I came across was Isabel Brazzi.  I said it out loud over and over.  I thought it was the most beautiful name I’d ever heard.”

      “Thank you,” Isabel said.

      “Now fast forward to the following week.”

      “If you say so.”

      “I do,” Felicia said.  “I was driving to Palm Springs.  In the middle of that long, flat stretch of highway, I felt a panic attack approaching, so I pulled over, got out of the car, and went into a meditation.”  Suddenly she stopped speaking and glanced around the restaurant.  “I’m sorry, but may I use the rest room?”

      Isabel pointed.  “Down hallway on left.”  

      Felicia clumsily stood up and hurried away.  Isabel shouted for Robby, and he marched over with two cups of chamomile tea.  “Everything all right?” he asked.

      “She’s a fruitcake, but harmless.  Go home.  Thanks for staying.”

      “No problem.”

      When Felicia returned to the table, Isabel noticed that she had neglected to button one of the sleeves on her blouse.  “Darling,” Isabel said.  Then she saw a pale pink, horizontal scar on the left wrist.  “Darling,” she continued, “finish your story for me.”  

      “Yes,” Felicia said.  “After the meditation, I opened my eyes and noticed a vial of pills a few feet away, on a dry patch of grass.  So I crawled over and grabbed it.”

      “Crawled in the desert?”

      “I was already on the ground, and it seemed easier than standing up.  I looked at the bottle and saw the name Isabel Brazzi on it.  Well, I just about died.  ‘This is too weird,’ I said.  I actually said those words out loud.”

      All of a sudden Isabel felt the fierce, brutal solitude of a single woman who admitted talking to herself twice within a period of five minutes.  She hoped Felicia didn’t dance with a phantom boyfriend or send herself flowers on Valentine’s Day.  

        “I was sure the universe was bringing Isabel Brazzi to me,” Felicia continued,  “practically delivering her to my door.”  She reached into her leather tote bag and rummaged around, searching for the pill container.  While doing this, she noticed the open button on her sleeve and quickly took care of it.

      “Ah, the evidence,” Isabel exclaimed.  She took the bottle and examined it. “Yes, it’s mine.  Nicholas and I drove to the desert last year.  I don’t remember throwing it out car window, but it’s possible.” 

        “I’ve never been someone who believed in mystical or paranormal activity, so the fact that I found this after seeing your name in the phone book was pretty darn unusual.”

      “Pretty darn,” Isabel said.  “And you decided to telephone me.”

      “Obviously I knew your number was listed, but it took me a while to work up the courage.”

      “You pop a lot of pills?” Isabel asked.

      “I beg your pardon?”

      “Anybody who crawls to bottle of pills in desert is hoping there will be some  inside, no?”

      Flustered, Felicia picked up a cube of sugar.  “I don’t take any more than the average person.  Do you understand the point of the story?”

      “Of course.  I’m not imbecile,” Isabel said.  “Some people believe in coincidences and some don’t.  Some think everything happens for a reason, and others think there’s no reason for anything.”

      “Which category do you fall into?” Felicia asked.

      “Oh I think everything happens for a reason.”

      With a sigh of relief, Felicia said, “I’m glad to hear that or this visit would’ve been a waste of time.” 

      “I give you example.  A few months ago I threw Nicholas out the door.  The reason?  I discovered he was screwing florist with the freckles down the street.  The bitch is barely twenty-five.  See?  A reason.”

      Felicia dropped the sugar cube into her cup of tea.  A few drops of hot water splashed onto her fingers.  Then she stirred.  “You think it was all in my head?” 

      “Maybe you needed to learn that there’s no explanation for anything in this world.  A house burns to the ground in wildfire but the house next door is fine.  You think the people who lived in burned house were bad people?” Isabel asked.  “Some psycho goes on shooting spree and guns down a dozen people, but man standing there isn’t hit.  You think he’s better person than the dead ones?”

      Felicia stopped stirring.  She placed the spoon very neatly on the table. “Your points are well taken,” she said.  “Suddenly I feel rather foolish.”

      “No reason.  It’s all chance, like game of cards.”

      “But in a game of cards, you can use your wits to help you win.”   

      “In game of cards,” Isabel declared, “the card you pick from top of the deck is luck of the draw.”

      Standing up, Felicia flashed a half smile.  “Thanks for meeting me.”

      “You’re leaving?”

      “Yes, I need to.”
       Isabel hadn't meant to cause anxiety; all she did was speak the truth.  But obviously her truth was a little too harsh for the wobbly young woman.  “I will walk you out,” Isabel said.

      “You don’t have to.”

      “I do have to,” she insisted, rising from the table and heading to the door with determination.

      As soon as they hit the pavement, Felicia politely offered her hand, and Isabel clutched it with unexpected force.  “Some people believe wearing yellow is good for the gallbladder.  You think the gallbladder gives a crap what color you have on?”

      “I guess not,” Felicia politely said.

      Isabel closed her eyes and took a giant breath, still holding her guest’s hand.  “It was beautiful sunny day like today.” 

      “Excuse me?  What was a beautiful sunny day?”

        She opened her eyes and wistfully looked into the distance.  A plane was flying from east to west; it was the only movement in the giant dome of a sky.  “One day eleven years ago,” she said, gently letting go of Felicia’s hand.  “Not far from here.  My eight-year-old Pietro was playing with friend Casey Davis on grass in front of the house.  Throwing baseball back and forth.  I’m on patio chair, keeping an eye on them.  The telephone rings, so I run into the house.  My annoying sister Antonietta.  I tell her I call back later.  Then I walk back outside.  I’m gone all of thirty seconds.  During those thirty seconds, the baseball flew into the street.  Pietro chased it, and a speeding car hit him.”

      “Oh God, no,” Felicia whispered.

      “You tell me.  Why was he standing closer to the street than Casey Davis?  Do you think that was pre-ordained, the way you found my empty bottle in desert?  Do you think some powerful hand of fate put him in that spot so he would run into the road?
       Do you think idiot drunk driver with suspended license was on our street at that particular time so he could run down this particular boy?”  She felt the heat of the sun on her bare arms, and it reminded her of Nicholas. Her memory embraced his warm caress.  “Tell me something,” she said.  “Do you think I blamed my sister for calling on telephone?  You bet your ass I did. I say to her ‘Why the hell you call in middle of afternoon?’  She had nothing important to tell me. Every single day, year after year I blame selfish stupid sister.  Then one day I realize all she did was call me on phone, that was her crime.  Why didn’t I let damn thing ring?  My fault, baby.  Nobody else’s,” she adamantly declared.  “Things happen, and you have two choices.  You can pull your hair out, or you keep going.  I pulled hair out for a long time until I realized I don’t look good bald.”

      “I’m so sorry for your loss.  I can’t imagine the pain.”

      “To drive all the way out here looking for answers, you have your own pain.  Just remember you cannot make sense of the impossible.”

      Felicia nodded with sincerity.  “I won’t try to anymore.”

      The horn of a passing car honked twice.  Isabel looked over and waved politely, the way a Miss America would.   Very quietly, she said, “I have no idea who this is.  But everybody knows me, so I pretend to know them.”  When the car had passed, she stretched her arms out as if ready to hug the world.  “There is much to enjoy,” she said.  “Do you understand?”

      “Sometimes,” Felicia said.

      “Should be more than sometimes.”

      “I’ll try to remember that.”

      “Don’t try,” Isabel barked.  “Do it.”

      “Yes, all right.”  Felicia held Isabel’s gaze.  “May I come by the restaurant once in a while?” she asked.

      “Anytime you like.  Next time you try the steak au Mediera.”

      “I don’t eat meat,” Felicia said.

      “Then I make you delicious aubergine,” Isabel suggested.  “Eggplant.”

      “Eggplant would be nice.  I like eggplant.”

       Isabel knew the fussy vegetarian would never set foot in Pietro again.  She knew this would be the first and last time they would see one another.  “I need to get ready for dinner shift, young lady.”

        Felicia gently embraced Isabel, and the hug lasted longer than either would have predicted.  When it was time to part, Isabel broke away and opened the door to her restaurant.  She ran inside without looking back.  

Garrett Socol's short  fiction has been published in The Barcelona Review, 3:AM Magazine, Pequin, Paradigm, Perigee,  
Ducts, Pank Magazine, Hobart, Ghoti, Hiss Quarterly, Ascent Aspirations,  Underground Voices, JMWW
Journal, Bartleby Snopes, nth Position (U.K.) ,  Dogzplot, and McSweeney's Internet Tendency.  His plays have been
produced at the  Berkshire Theatre Festival and the Pasadena Playhouse.

This is the first story I've written that's based on a  real personality, which is very different from basing the story on a real  person.  The inspiration was a car saleswoman.  I took her look, her voice and her persona, but I  set her in a completely different setting with a new name, a new  history and a new life.  (The woman actually looks and sounds like the  great Iranian actress, Shohreh Aghdashloo.)

Because of her over-the-top personality, I thought she  should have some kind of tragic past that she's repressing.  That's  why the story goes where it goes.
Once I had her in place, I decided to focus on the question that's haunted a lot of people, myself included: Is there such a thing as fate, or do things happen at random?  I liked the idea of pitting  two women with different viewpoints against each other.
I think a piece should be interpreted any way the reader would like to interpret it. 


Copyright 2009