After my divorce I moved into a very Italian neighborhood in Brooklyn, Carroll Gardens. My apartment didn’t have a washer and dryer so I had to lug my bags of laundry down to the local Laundromat. As I waited for my clothes to wash and dry I took in the cast of characters, I was lost in a Fellini movie. I knew to fit in I had to immerse myself into some aspect of the surroundings. I went over to the message board that was filled with local ads for apartments, selling furniture, fix it jobs etcetera, then one of the ads jumped out at me. An old blind woman needed someone to read to her twice a week for an hour, she left her number her name was Anelle Anotelli. I thought it strange that an old woman would leave her number in a public place but I decided to call anyway.
When I called Anelle, she was excited at the prospect of having me read to her. She seemed very sharp and well read and wanted to get started as soon as possible. My question concerning her well being at leaving a phone number in a public place was abruptly answered when I tried entering her apartment building. A guy I would’ve cast as a mobster in a Fifties movie stopped me at the entrance. He didn’t say a word he just looked at me and gave me this nod that said, “Who the fuck are you?” I told him I was here to read to Anelle. He smiled “your a the guy” then wrapped his arms around me, “Franco will be pleased.”
I entered the building walking to the back apartment the door was ajar. I gave a quick knock and a friendly hello and entered. Anelle was sitting on an Empire couch in a black gown that was probably very stylish in the Fifties. She was now a woman in her early eighties.
Anelle stood and moved spryly about the living room fetching me a cup of tea and homemade cookies. She gave me a full landscape of her life, which was quite interesting. Hanging out with Henry Miller and Anais Nin she was a respected painter in her day but her career succumbed to her gradual blindness. She had been to India, Asia the Eastern block during the McCarthy era. Her stories were wild and sometimes lurid. I was shocked on some level at her freeness of spirit. It was like hearing your grandma curse, you never expected this old women to be so entertaining and unguarded. I adored being around her likening her to a grandmother I never had. We agreed to meet twice a week and she would pay me for my time. I at first told her I was willing to read to her for free and she waived it off as nonsense. She told me my time was worth something and she was glad to pay. I told her I was a struggling actor and she would have to be flexible with scheduling sometimes. She was thrilled I was involved in the arts and that I could bring my own stories to share.
A story she told of Henry Miller had us both in stitches of laughter. They were both staying in a small village in Spain working on present projects. Henry asked Anelle to dine with him. Both imbibed heavily in the local red wine and ended up in bed together. The next morning Henry couldn’t find his pants. Anelle smiled broadly as she told me “because I was laying on them.” The following evening I showed up for dinner in his pants tucked into riding boots. “Have I been naughty?” she asked coyly. Henry smiled, “the punishment was delightful.” We both broke into hysterics. She halted the giggling by moving in closer and touching my face. Suddenly I felt myself exposed. We sat in silence for several moments with her hand on my face. “Dear Boy, you don’t have to give it all away, save some for yourself.” I put my hand on hers and she said “the Divine doesn’t judge us, we’re too busy doing to ourselves. Let life in.”
The next few weeks were hectically filled with new acting work. Finding time to meet with Anelle with all the busyness was trying but wonderful things started happening to me. I mentioned to a neighbor that my parents were coming to dinner and I wanted to grill some New York strips for them. When I went to the butcher the steaks were wrapped and waiting for me. The butcher commented, “It’s a nice thing a ya doing. Make ya mama and papa a nice meal.” I told Anelle how much I loved her espresso and an espresso maker was left at my door.
Shortly after I was washing my clothes at the Laundromat and one of the locals, Vito, who ran the shoe store around the corner told me who Anelle was connected to. He was shocked I didn’t know. “Really? Ya don’t know. That old lady is Genovese’s older sister. She was quite an artist in her day I was told.” “Genovese as in mafia Don?” “You got it” Vito replied. “You treat the old girl with respect and you are the new prince of the neighborhood.”
Soon after life got really busy I scored a part in an Off Broadway show. The only times I could meet with her were evenings and weekends. I was getting to the point where I needed a little time to decompress. This brought back feelings of my failed marriage, sacrificing life for career. Memories of the fights still haunted me making me feel selfish. Still when I would show up at Anelle’s apartment there would be amazing food to eat and scintillating conversation. I was truly torn on what to do.
Rehearsal ran late on a day I had scheduled a meeting with Anelle for dinner and reading. I had decided to talk to her about cutting back on my visits because of my schedule. Running an hour late I entered her apartment dreading having to tell her of my situation. As I pushed the door softly ajar I could hear her talking on the phone.
“He’s never late. Maybe he’s depressed and won’t come. He needs me now. He’s a lonely poor boy, such a sweet person. He sure enjoys my stories. I feel like he’s a grandson.”
“Hello! Anelle can I come in?”
She turned to the entrance-way smiling broadly, “there you are.”
We stood in silence facing each other for an extended moment, me in my uncertainty letting out a deep sigh and Anelle in her lucid blindness reading me from across the room.
“Ah, well life has taken its course hasn’t it”, she said, her smile widening.
Michael Fitzgerald is a first generation Irish American who has recently published short stories in “Concho River Review”, “Down in the Dirt Review”, “Westwind Review” and “Golliards.”