Log in

No account? Create an account
05 February 2015 @ 04:44 pm
LJ Idol Season Nine: "A Distant Land"  
A Distant Land
idol season nine | week 36 | 1579 words


Louisa Mae Danvers was not an experienced traveler, but when she came across a brochure for a company catering to older women, she decided the idea was too good to pass up. Besides, she had always wanted to go to Europe.

She packed travel guides and clothes, and a set of those funny electrical adapters. She also added sunscreen, a good pair of tennis shoes, and an umbrella that would serve as portable shade, a walking stick, or even a weapon—depending on what the occasion required.

On the long flight to Rome, Louisa Mae read and dozed and watched some incomprehensible mess of a movie trying to pass itself off as comedy. The plane landed in Rome just before noon, and the tour group arrived at the hotel lobby at one-thirty.

"This is a free afternoon," the guide said, "so you're welcome to rest or go out on your own."

Louisa Mae had no intention of wasting her first day in Rome. "I'd like to go out for a bit," she said. "Would anyone care to join me?"

The other women were more interested in napping. Louisa Mae took her things to the room she would be sharing with Effie Miller from Duluth, deposited her luggage and changed into her tennis shoes. She went back downstairs, taking her purse and umbrella with her, and asked the nice man at the concierge desk what sort of places he would recommend nearby.

While the rest of her tour group wilted and dozed, Louisa Mae made her way to the Piazza Navona. She spent a lovely afternoon there looking at the fountains and admiring the flowers, handicrafts, and paintings being sold. She drank coffee under a shady awning and watched the people and colors drift past. It was everything she'd dreamed of.

Oh, how I wish Frank were here to see this! Louisa Mae's husband had died five years ago, and she missed him terribly. He'd never had time for more than a week's vacation while he'd worked, and he hadn't retired until the age of seventy. He'd suffered a fatal heart-attack just months afterward.

Louisa Mae returned to the hotel to meet up with her group for dinner. They went to a café a few blocks away, where most of the women ordered spaghetti, of all things. She opted for fettuccine puttanesca, and tried calamari for the first time. The first was delightfully spicy, the second chewy, but she enjoyed them both very much.

She slept well that night. The next morning, the tour group set off in earnest, visiting the Vatican, Trevi Fountain, and the Pantheon. They had dinner at the Piazza Navona, an entirely different experience by lamplight and candlelight than during the day. The following morning was spent at the Colosseum, the afternoon at the Roman Forum, and Palatine Hill. The tour would shift to Florence the next day, so the rest of the sights would have to wait until they returned to Rome again before flying home.

On the train ride to Florence, there were all sorts of interesting things to look at. Most of the women were tired, and dozed or read all through the trip, but Louisa Mae was quite entertained just looking out the window. Imagine living here, she thought. I wonder what it would be like?

After checking into the hotel and leaving their luggage, the group went to see the Duomo.

Isn't this something! Louisa Mae gazed at the color patterns and ornate sculptures that went up and up and up. She took several pictures, and posed for a few with Effie and a nice woman named Grace. The inside of the church was quite spectacular as well. When they finished visiting the Duomo, the tour guide pointed out the shopping district—something the ladies could visit on their own time, if they wished. The local tour bus took them to the Ponte Vecchio, stopping on the way for lunch. Louisa Mae bought a wide-brimmed hat from a sidewalk vendor two doors down, as the Italian sun was really rather fierce.

After the Ponte Vecchio—busy and fascinating—the bus returned to the hotel. Even Louisa Mae was ready for a nap by then, if only to rest her eyes. Dinner was at a nearby café, and Louisa Mae and Grace walked for a bit afterwards. They passed a gelato shop at one point, and simply had to try it. Different from regular ice cream, Louisa Mae thought, but very nice. Quite refreshing!

The next day featured the Uffizi Gallery, and then a free afternoon. Most of the ladies went to the shopping district, but Louisa Mae decided to visit the Da Vinci Museum, which was not in the tour schedule

A bicycle? I had no idea! She'd always known Da Vinci was a clever man, but the museum still held several surprises. Frank loved mechanical things, he would have enjoyed coming here so much.

The group toured the Accademia Gallery and a church the following day, and turned in early to prepare for the morning's train ride to Venice.

For all that she had heard about Venice, Louisa Mae could never have imagined anything as spectacular as the reality of it. The tour group left the train station and started to cross the canal bridge, but when they reached the middle, they all came to a complete stop. The winding turquoise water, the white buildings and arches, the flowerboxes hanging from the surrounding buildings—it was magical. The ladies clutched each other in a surge of joy.

"Dear Lord, thank you for letting me live to see this!" Bonnie Euler said, and Louisa Mae quite agreed. A young couple next to them also stopped to take in the view, the woman's head on the man's shoulder. Louisa Mae took out her handkerchief and dabbed her eyes. Oh, Frank…

The tour guide had arranged for the luggage to be sent ahead to the hotel, allowing the women to take their time in getting there. They strolled in wonderment, and even Louisa Mae was in no hurry to go faster.

Lunch was at the hotel itself, and quite good. The group took the vaporetto to St. Mark's—A water bus, Louisa Mae thought, what fun!—and spent the rest of the day touring the church. That night, Effie, Louisa Mae, and Bonnie went for a gondola ride, just to say they'd done it. The light reflecting off the water was soft and beautiful.

In the morning, there was a visit to the Bridge of Sighs and the Doge's Palace. It was enormous and spectacular, a bit overwhelming, even. The group had a late lunch, and then a free afternoon. Louisa Mae was in the mood to wander the city itself, so unlike anything she had ever seen or ever would.

Venice was wonderful for walking. It was hard to be sure where you were going, at times, but the city was not very big and you would always eventually come to the Grande Canal or to the sea. Someone would help if she needed directions, Louisa Mae was certain. She had already discovered that Italians were very nice to elderly women, and she was far safer than she'd ever been at home in Cincinnati.

The temperature was a bit hot, and her umbrella provided welcome shade. It had been unfurled only a few times during her trip, once to fend off a rather determined-looking rat on a side-street in Florence.

Louisa Mae walked along the city streets, past homes and businesses and back and forth across the canal. She found a lovely little garden at the end of a quiet street near the sea, and stopped for a moment to look at it.

At the middle of the garden was a large, circular mosaic, set right into the ground. The tiles were ceramic and glass, depicting another flower-filled garden that held a fountain and a bench. Louisa Mae stepped in to look closer. The mosaic garden seemed familiar.

But that's where Frank and I used to go, when we lived in St. Louis. She leaned down to trace her finger over the bench. We would sit here and talk for hours…

A sense of dizziness overcame her, and everything grew dimmer and then suddenly all too bright. The flowers smelled different now, roses instead of geraniums, and she felt someone touch her arm.

"Hey, beautiful."

Oh, she knew that voice, but it had been so long. She turned toward it, almost afraid to hope.

"Frank… Frank, is it really you?"

"You bet," he said, and he beamed at her, his smile the same one she'd fallen in love with so many years ago.

He put his arms around her and kissed her, held her close and stroked her hair. "I've missed you," he said. "But I knew one day you'd come, if I just waited long enough."

"But what about my things, the boat trip to Burano in the morning?" she whispered.

"It'll take care of itself. We have a different destination now, one we can finally make together."

Louisa Mae smiled, so full of unexpected happiness she could hardly breathe. She kissed him again, and laid her head against his shoulder.

"You know I'd follow you anywhere," she said. "I always have."

"You sure?" Frank asked.

"Yes. We can leave anytime you want." She put her hand up against the side of his sweet, sweet face.

"It's all right," she said. "I'm ready."


If you enjoyed this story, you can vote for it along with many other fine entries here.

Donnellejexia on February 6th, 2015 01:20 am (UTC)
Awwww <3
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on February 6th, 2015 01:28 am (UTC)
It's not even my usual type of story, but I wanted to write this character so much, and I'd fallen over to a completely different idea for the prompt until I realized what needed to happen with this one. While driving to work this morning. :O
bleodsweanbleodswean on February 6th, 2015 01:01 pm (UTC)
She really got the adventure of her lifetime! So much wistfulness here!
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on February 6th, 2015 10:28 pm (UTC)
If you've been widowed, and your time has come, what a way to go!
SeaGaljocosa on February 6th, 2015 02:59 pm (UTC)
The perfect "awwww" to start my Friday. :)
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on February 6th, 2015 10:28 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I think I could probably use that every Friday. Maybe even more on Monday!
suesniffsgluesuesniffsglue on February 7th, 2015 12:55 am (UTC)
Oh gosh. The "Hey, beautiful" gave me shivers and shimmery eyes. This is so lovely.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on February 7th, 2015 07:00 am (UTC)
Thank you. Once the idea of that ending arrived, I knew I wanted to finish this story rather than the second one I'd started. That was what the main character really deserved.
cindy: misc fictsuki_no_bara on February 7th, 2015 05:32 am (UTC)
awww. i love the ending. also i went to italy like ten years ago and that's the exact sequence we did - rome-florence-venice. and in rome we stayed right near the piazza navona. so i had some very pleasant italy flashbacks reading this.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on February 7th, 2015 07:03 am (UTC)
Much of HalfshellHusband's and my trip to Italy (20+ years ago) was the same. Our first "real-day's" tour took us briefly to the Piazza Navona, and then we discovered it was just a few blocks from our hotel. We went there for dinner, and then wandered around. We went back-and-forth over whether to buy a painting we saw there-- the beginning of a 3-week trip, and we'd have to lug it around the entire time! But we knew we'd regret not buying the painting, so it was rolled up inside a tube, and we carried it around for the rest of the trip.

Venice was the place our travel agent said was "so dirty," and that we really "shouldn't bother going there." o_O That first glimpse of it was flabbergasting. We are SO glad we didn't listen to him.
(no subject) - tsuki_no_bara on February 8th, 2015 09:15 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - halfshellvenus on February 8th, 2015 11:52 pm (UTC) (Expand)
gratefuladdictgratefuladdict on February 7th, 2015 03:28 pm (UTC)
What a sweet ending! I've never been to Italy. I enjoyed seeing it through her eyes!
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on February 7th, 2015 07:48 pm (UTC)
Italy is wonderful! It's one of the reasons the question about "going someplace you've never been vs. seeing something new" is so hard to answer. I would go to Venice again in a heartbeat, just to be there, and the atmosphere of Florence and Rome are really nice apart from the sights themselves. Plus, I've never been to the coastal towns.

Oh, why haven't I won the lottery yet? :O
A Karmic Sandbox: Camo Teddykarmasoup on February 7th, 2015 04:42 pm (UTC)
What a beautiful ending to a lifetime of loving. :-)
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on February 7th, 2015 07:49 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much! And nice to see you around again. :D Didn't you and minion move, or did you just get too busy for Idol?
passing_through: rainbow wheelpassing_through on February 8th, 2015 03:56 am (UTC)
This was just lovely! I love how she continued to lead her life and was able to appreciate the the beauty around her even though she was seeing it without Frank. My father died unexpectedly in 1998 and my mom just turned 77 today, and she always talks about how she can't wait to see my dad again. I truly hope that one day they will be together, much like your story.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on February 8th, 2015 07:52 pm (UTC)
Gosh, that must seem like such a long time for both you and your mom. I hope she is able to be with him again one day, and I'm glad this hit a comforting note for you.
Laura, aka "Ro Arwen": Red and White Muse Cardroina_arwen on February 8th, 2015 05:24 am (UTC)
I've not been to Italy, but one of these days (hopefully in the next 2-5 years) we are hoping to take a Meditteranean cruise. What a way to go... :)
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on February 8th, 2015 07:54 pm (UTC)
It is such a beautiful country, and so worth visiting. I hope you get to make the trip there soon, and see for yourself. :)
i_17bingoi_17bingo on February 8th, 2015 11:12 am (UTC)
She opted for fettuccine puttanesca, and tried calamari for the first time.

I really love Louisa Mae. For the past few years, I forged in iron a philosophy that I will try any food once, because it might actually be my favorite. This has worked (I used to be terrified of sushi, but now beg for sushi outings) and it hasn't (I tried to eat a cricket taco--literally a taco made of grilled crickets), but it has made my life such an adventure. And so, even though her trip ended unexpectedly, Louisa Mae's sense of curiosity and joy has made her one of my favorite fictional people.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on February 8th, 2015 07:59 pm (UTC)
Cricket taco! That would never get past my insect-phobia. I just couldn't do it.

I'm glad you're trying this outlook for yourself. I would still balk at bug-related stuff (and raw meat of anykind), but it got me to try dragonfruit soda, because how often are you going to get a chance at that?
swirlsofblueswirlsofblue on February 8th, 2015 03:05 pm (UTC)
Such a sweet story.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on February 8th, 2015 08:02 pm (UTC)
Thank you!
fodschwazzle on February 8th, 2015 05:29 pm (UTC)
I think you stuck the landing as far as her narrative voice is concerned. Her thought process reminds me of my wife's grandmother--process focused and detail oriented enough to live actively, little observations popping in from time to time. I suppose a tourist might think in a similar way, but here it felt natural to an older woman. Well done.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on February 9th, 2015 07:37 am (UTC)
I had started to write this story with a completely different idea in mind of what was going to happen (alternate universe, or portal into the past). But that seemed too weird, so I veered off onto a different approach altogether... feeling bad, because I really liked this character and wanted to write her. I got a kick out of her, and just couldn't see forcing aliens or something on her. The direction this finally took was one that worked with the overall idea behind the mosaic, but was more poignant than weird.
(no subject) - fodschwazzle on February 9th, 2015 07:55 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - halfshellvenus on February 9th, 2015 05:57 pm (UTC) (Expand)
crisp_sobrietycrisp_sobriety on February 9th, 2015 09:17 pm (UTC)
Aw, this is incredibly sweet!
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on February 9th, 2015 09:18 pm (UTC)
Thank you, I'm glad you liked it!
(Anonymous) on February 10th, 2015 12:46 am (UTC)
This brought back so many memories of our trip! It was wonderfully written, and I liked Louisa very much. The ending was great and tied in so well with the prompt. Your descriptions were fantastic.
rayasorayaso on February 10th, 2015 12:48 am (UTC)
This was me. I forgot I wasn't logged in when I posted it.
(no subject) - halfshellvenus on February 10th, 2015 12:58 am (UTC) (Expand)