[Inspiration for this hit way too late to write/edit, etc., before the Grammar Ghoul’s prompt deadline today (incorporate the image and include “jealous” in your story). It ended up jumping the fence on the word limit, as well, by almost 2x, but I decided to post anyway].
Grapevines stood tall and lush as far as Joan could see, stretching for what seemed like miles under the hot Italian summer sun. From one hill rolling over to the next, and back up again along the sides of the hills farther beyond, the expanse of her cousin Leah’s vineyard was an astounding sight.
Later that night, after the typical gourmet feast prepared by Leah’s charming, handsome and amazingly talented husband Geoffrey, she and Leah sat outside on the front porch with large cups of coffee to watch the twilight slowly descend behind the hills. Joan pictured Leah and Geoffrey sitting there every night, watching the day quietly fade into night in this beautiful place, amiably discussing their children’s lives, their vineyard and winery, and their plans for the next day. How lovely to have such a life.
Leah’s sons came out on the porch, playfully asking “Aunt Joan” to weigh in on a matter of hot debate between them. She hadn’t a clue what they were talking about. These kids were bright, confident and interested in many things she rarely, if ever, thought about. Joan wondered if Leah knew how lucky she was to have such fantastic kids.
The boys pushed Joan again to comment. “I honestly don’t know,” she replied with an uncomfortable laugh.
“Oh, c’mon, you must have some opinion!” Leah’s eldest affably teased.
Joan shrugged. “No, I … don’t. Really, I don’t know anything about these things. I, that is, I’m not …”
Seeing how uncomfortable her cousin was, Leah interrupted by shooing her sons away. “Ok, guys, take it inside. Let Aunt Joan and me enjoy our evening in peace,” and the boys did as instructed. A couple of quiet minutes passed before Joan spoke up.
“Oh, Lee, it’s just so amazing and beautiful here! And your house is amazing, and, as always, Geoffrey’s cooking is out of this world…you are one very lucky lady. Always have been.”
Leah smiled and let out a blunt chuckle.
“What? You’re joking,” Joan said. “How can you scoff like that?”
“You, my dear cousin,” Leah said, “have the perfect life. Not I.”
“Me?! How do you figure that?”
“You don’t have a care in the world, do you? I mean, you haven’t a giant property that costs thousands of dollars every month to keep up, and requires more hours than there are in a lifetime to manage; a business that teeters on the edge of total failure day in and day out, never mind the threat of laborers walking out on strike, a prolonged drought, constant changes in agricultural laws and policies, downturns in the global wine market, international trade agreements, embargoes or sanctions constantly being threatened by absurd politicians who care nothing for the people they supposed represent.”
Joan did not know how to reply to her cousin’s rant.
Leah continued, “You don’t have two relentlessly demanding children who should go to the best colleges next year, but we can’t afford to send them to any of them because my head-in-the-clouds husband insisted we leave the states to live near his ancestral home; to fully remodel a large run-down villa and become a boutique wine maker with a disproportionately gargantuan vineyard. Do you know, he refuses to sub-divide any of the land to sell to other growers and vintners, even though we’ve been made ridiculously high offers to do so? And…and…since the schools here are crap, and because none of us speaks more than a little Italian, I foolishly decide to school the kids at home, because maybe I’ll get lucky and they’ll qualify for scholarships to those colleges, but only if they can pass exams…and I decide to do this at the same time I am trying to keep my husband’s dearest dream from swirling down the toilet.”
She stopped a moment and then shook her head violently. “Honestly, Joanie, you don’t want my life. In fact, I’d rather have yours.”
Joan frowned. “Oh, no you don’t. Don’t say that.”
“Yes! I do!” Leah insisted.
“Who said anything in life is easy?” Joan asked. “You really want to give up living in Italy on a vineyard, in a beautiful villa, with a loving husband and two amazing children who’ve never given you a moment’s grief?! Geoffrey will come around about selling off parcels. He’s not that stupid. Give him time. God, you are so spoiled, you can’t even see how good you’ve got it.”
“You don’t know my life,” Leah defensively snapped. “I mean, yeah, I’m lucky the boys aren’t a couple of delinquents, and I know how sad you are about not having kids, of course, I don’t mean to…but seriously…yes, it’s pretty to look at, but think about it! This is not Shangri-La. It’s work. A lot of it. And money. A lot of that, too. We’re running out of time for Geoffrey to come to his senses.
Leah leaned in, “What I wouldn’t give for your life. No kids, no husband…don’t get me wrong. I love my children and would be beyond devastated to have to live life without either of them, but…You paid off your mortgage, right? After Uncle Pat and Aunt Lenora died, and you guys sold their place?”
“It’s all yours. You have it all to yourself. And you don’t owe a dime. I love your cozy condo!”
“So, you’d rather be all alone, unloved and miserable, fend for yourself, no one to come home to, in an expensive, congested city…have to drive an hour out-of-town just get a breath of fresh air and be able to even see, you know, the earth and the sky,” Joan mocked.
“Miserable? How can you be miserable?” Leah said. “You’ve always done as you pleased without having to negotiate or compromise what you wanted. I call you and say, ‘Hey, it’s high time you came to Italy and see our place,’ and just like that, you book a trip at a moment’s notice. I can’t even have a cat because of everyone else’s allergies!”
Staring off at the night sky, Leah seemed more to be talking to herself now. Joan let her continue, astonished to hear what her cousin was saying.
“…You pursued the kind of work you wanted to do, because it’s only you you have to think about, without concern whether it pays enough to support anyone else but yourself. You can come and go as you please, see only the people you want to spend time with, clean or not clean, because who is going to complain but you? I imagine you have all the time in the world to do only the things that you enjoy doing. And don’t give me this crap about being desperate to see sprawling landscapes. You love the city. Always have. You’d go crazy out here. I go crazy. I miss the city.”
Joan replied, “I had no idea you envied my life, Lee.”
Leah’s eyes were wet. “You don’t have any clue how far from idyllic my life really is.”
Joan heard Geoffrey’s laugh from somewhere inside. Leah pulled herself up in her chair and squared her shoulders.
“He’s on the phone. Her name is Adriana and no, he so goddamned caught up in himself, he has no idea I know. No clue that I…that the boys…” she stopped as her tears began in earnest.
Joan moved her chair over to her cousin’s, put her arm around her shoulders and pulled her in close. Leah lay her head on Joan’s shoulder and sniffed, “Remember that thing Gran used to say? ‘Nothing is as it seems to be, it simply seems to be?’”
“Yeah,” Joan said. “That, and ‘this, too, shall pass.’ She always was, and remains, right on both counts.” Joan gave Leah a quick hug. “Don’t worry. I’m here for a whole two weeks, ready and willing to help. We’ll get it figured out.”
“I want your life,” Leah demanded as she wiped her eyes.
“Well, you can’t have it. It’s mine. And it is lonely and miserable, which is why I came running all the way to Italy to see you at the drop of a hat. So, there.”
Leah giggled. Joan laid her head on top of her cousin’s and sighed. “But, let’s figure out what the next best thing is for you and those precious boys of yours, OK?”