Wednesday, July 14, 1999

Dream Vendor

There was an eeriness about the old woman that Anna was unable to define.  She didn't know the woman's name, only that she was called  la vecchia,  the old one, by the tenants in the Little Italy section where Anna and her mother shared a third-floor apartment.   La vecchia's apartment was on the ground floor of the same building, near the entrance way -- a perfect  vantage point for knowing everyone and everything that went in or out.  Perhaps it was the piercing look she gave Anna whenever they happened to run into each other at the bottom of the narrow, creaking stairs...perhaps the unearthly smile. Whatever it was made her uneasy.

She stood at the bus stop after a long day at her stenographer desk, and thought about la vecchia now and hoped she would not be there in the entrance way when Anna got home.  She shuddered inside her thin woolen coat and wrapped her scarf more securely around her neck.

Glancing across the street, she saw a young woman, shapely and beautiful in silver fox fur, step from a taxi and smile at the cabbie who was holding the door for her.  Anna tried to imagine how it would feel to be so lovely.   The lady paid her fare and then slowly, sensuously, pulled her long black leather glove back onto her right hand and up under the sleeve of her luxurious coat.  

Anna suppressed the sob that nagged at her throat. I could be attractive if  Momma would let me, she thought.   I hate her for it!   But what can I do?  I'm thirty-seven, and the pattern is set, not likely to change.  

Face paint is for harlots!"  Anna could almost hear her mother's words echoing in her head.  "Fancy clothes are the devil's tools of temptation!"

I wish she would die, Anna thought, then I 'd be free!   Immediately guilt seared inside her.  "I'm sorry, I'm sorry!" she whispered.  "I didn't mean it!"   

A gentlemen waiting beside her looked up.  "Something wrong, Miss?" he asked. 

Anna, embarrassed, stared at the sidewalk.  "No, no," she mumbled, and was relieved to see her bus, #40, pull to the curb.  She stepped aboard, planting one oxford-clad foot heavily ahead of the other.

As she climbed the three steps to their building, Anna, through the etched glass of the front door, could see la vecchia standing in the vestibule.....waiting.  Oh no! Anna thought.  She opened the door and averted her eyes, but this time...this first and only vecchia opened her mouth and spoke.

"You want to buy a dream?" 

Anna thought she had misunderstood.  "What?"

"You want to buy a dream?"

"What do you mean?"

"I sell you a dream," la vecchia said.  Her smile filled Anna with anxiety.  

"I don't understand," she said and tried to pass, but la vecchia barred her way.

  "I have nice boyfriend dreams for sale," she said.  "Husband dreams, too.... money dreams....all kinds.  Money dream is nice....two apartments....two lives....very, very nice.  I also have beauty dreams...make you beautiful.  Murder dreams.......  Many, many dreams.   Which dream you want to buy?"

"Murder dreams?"


Anna wiped perspiration from her brow, yet shivered and was cold.  "Oh," said la vecchia, "I see.  Yes, yes, I see.  I think I know what you want."

""No!" Anna said.  "Please!  Momma has dinner waiting.  I have to get up there!" 

"I ask one more time," la vecchia said.  "I sell you nice dream.  You want to buy nice dream?"

"Well...."  Anna hesitated; then, "No! No!" she said.  "Stop it!"  She put her hands over her ears.

La vecchia's smile changed to sneer.  "Fool!" she said.  "You have to make dream, not buy it! want to make a dream?"  

"Leave me alone!"  Anna, pushing her out of the way, stumbled up the stairs. 

"Coward!" la vecchia screamed after her.

Anna reached the third landing, rounded the corner, and fumbled in her purse for the apartment key.  "Fool!" she heard la vecchia shout again.  Then there was silence.

Momma must have been listening for her, because she was right inside the door.  How much had she heard?  "Momma...." Anna started to say, but her mother spoke first.

"What was all that screeching about?  And you're late again!  Dinner is cold.  What do you think I run here -- a twenty-four-hour restaurant?  You selfish young girls are all alike!"

Anna brushed past her, and shrugging off her coat, threw it on the sofa.  "I'm NOT young!" she cried.  "Momma, I'm thirty-seven, for God's sake!  Thirty-seven, Momma, and plain and tired and home every single night right after work!"

"Don't you DARE talk to me in that tone of voice!" her mother said.

Anna's sigh was barely audible.  "I'm sorry, Momma," she said, and the pattern remained set, not likely to change.