By Susan and Sandy Prisant
It’s gotten a lot harder of late. The illness drifts from body to the soul, while I, Susan, watch helplessly and cry within. I want to put a smile on my face. On both of our faces. I think back over the years and pluck out stories that have added depth to our lives.
There was the time we went to Budapest with friends. We’d decided to spend the first evening at the theater. Just a touch strange, as none of us spoke Hungarian. The concierge explained the first act and said it would be easy to follow.
It wasn’t. We came out to the foyer at intermission like people suffering Post Traumatic Stress. Clueless and preparing to head for the exit, I saw Sandy’s ears perk up. In the gaggle of lobby languages, a voice came through that we understood—Italian. A man had a small crowd mesmerized as he explained the first act. How could he be doing this?
“You speak Hungarian?” we asked.
“Are you crazy?” he shot back in his native tongue. “Who can speak Hungarian? Our concierge laid out the whole play for us.” He laughed and introduced himself and his wife. Enzo and Antoinella.
They were as bored as we were and suggested that we escape to the flashy new InterContinental. We drank and talked and laughed until the wee hours—none of it in Hungarian. As people do in Europe, we exchanged business cards. Enzo offered an open invitation. “If you’re ever coming to the South of Italy, we’d love to have you as guests.”
Oddly enough, just a few weeks later, a medical conference invitation came from Catania, the Italian city where Enzo lived. We called and he was quick to invite us to lunch in our only free time; he insisted he send his driver.
The next day his driver picked us up with un-Italian efficiency. Antoinella was out, but over lunch, Enzo made a grand invitation to meet his apparently fabled uncle. Believing we were to meet an official of the government or the Church, we drove along the coast road, finally arriving at a seaside hotel that looked strangely deserted.
We walked through the dark, cavernous halls, passing no one. Finally Enzo opened a set of double doors. The room was even darker and it took a moment for our eyes to adjust. We found ourselves looking down a long conference table of middle-aged men. Enzo nodded to each of them as he passed.
There was something strange about them all. Their suits, pastel shirts and ties, could have all been purchased at the same store. They were smoking Havana Panatelas, sitting along both sides of a table that went on forever. And they were very quiet. You felt the power in that room.
At the far end, sat the smallest man at the table. Enzo knelt to kiss his uncle’s hand and then his cheeks. We were introduced to Don Salvatore. He invited us to take coffee with him and his nephew on the balcony over the Mediterranean. Gruff but charming, he exchanged niceties with us, while Enzo beamed. The Don apologized, but had to return to the meeting inside. He was a most gracious host from the Underworld.
We walked slowly, carefully back past the Don’s entire “honor guard.”
The picture remains etched in our minds. Forever.
We returned to the car; Enzo invited me, Susan, to sit up front to better see the coast. As we absorbed the melodramatic scene we had just witnessed we had no words. For Enzo or each other.
Then Sandy leaned over from the back and whispered to me, “Do you see anything strange about the dashboard of this car?” At first I noticed nothing, but then my eyes were glued to a real telephone, at a time when cars simply did not yet have them. All I wanted to do was call my mother and tell her everything. My hand reached out to pick up the receiver and not so gently, the driver clamped down on my arm and shook his head, as if to say “no.”
Sandy repeated “don’t you see anything different about the dashboard?”
Although Antonio didn’t speak English, he understood what Sandy was saying. He proudly pointed out the red button, which raised bulletproof windows; the gray button which supposedly deployed a machine gun out the back; the blue button which emitted a cloud of dark gas to conceal the vehicle.
It was only then that I noticed the driver was packing a very large gun in his suit. Apparently, people driving in this car were at some risk. The chilling coincidence struck me: Sandy’s beard and dark coloring were very like Enzo’s. Antoinella had long blonde hair like mine. Could we be mistaken for Don Salvatore’s family? It added a little spice to the drive back.
Why Enzo so much wanted us to meet the Don and friends remains a mystery. Some kind of honor code on the island of Sicily?
Once again, there’s a smile on my face.
Susan and Sandy Prisant are writing separately and together about their lives, and about Sandy's life-threatening kidney illness. To read earlier portions of their projects, go to the SEARCH function on MyStoryLives and type in each of their names. The couple lives with their two dogs in Florida, where Sandy awaits a kidney and a heart transplant.