Free excerpt

This is from one of my unpublished books whose story spans over many decades and cultures. It looks at the more intricate details about everyday moments that go on behind closed doors in order to capture the essence of their lives.

From The Key (c) by Suzy Valtsioti

“Just another day in their life.

Actually, just another day in their lives would be more accurate.

Their lives were housed ‘together’ but they remained ‘separate’. If sharing common space and possessing legal papers that declared a marriage took place makes two people a couple, then you can call them a couple. A noisy couple made up of two rather opposite individuals.

Most of the time they are at each other’s throats. Their sparring is practically continuous, interrupted only by their “moments of quiet”.

Moments of quiet in their home aren’t peaceful or serene.

If you define ‘moments of quiet’ as rather peaceful moments leading to conflict resolution – as moments that allow for one to catch their breath or to calmly think things through – then your idea of ‘moments of quiet’ are not what this couple experience.

Their ‘moments of quiet’ hardly allow for them to approach one another in a calmer state of mind. No.

Their ‘moments of quiet’ are like black clouds looming over their heads threatening to hurl and lash yet another storm like no other.

These quiet moments, when they arrive, cloak their rooms like a weighty veil.

They are both aware of this suffocating pressure change in the air when these moments arise. They have always felt it all these years.

Their ‘moments of quiet’ bore a silence that was tense and threatening. The both of them probably don’t know which is worse, their arguing or the morose silence in between the wars. And that perception is probably one of the few things that these two people had in common.

Carrie, the more perceptive and verbal of the two, has a word for this brooding silence that would suddenly take over their world.

Tony, on the other hand, didn’t care much about anything, let alone creating a word to describe this or that. He just plowed his way past things, trying hard to care about next to nothing in life except for what mattered. To him.

Everyone has their own way of dealing with things.

Carrie dealt with everything in great detail. She also had a word for everything. And she would refer to these ‘moments of quiet’ in their home as ‘pisilence’. (pronounced: pi –as in pit, si as in sit, lence as in pisilence)

Yeah, that was Carrie’s word for ‘it’.

‘Pisilence’ is her word for that particular moody, heavy, stony silence that occurs when two pissed off people are forced by circumstance to be together – be it in the same room, on the same table, God forbid the same bed, or in the same home.

It’s that special silence that is colored by the dark shade of stagnant anger and scented by the stale stench of fear.

Carrie and Tony had much to be angry about and much to fear. But they silently agreed that its best that they remain as is, stuck with each other.

After all, any type of separation would bring out tons of dirt to clean up after and a myriad of new problems to be solved that are best left as they are – swept under the carpet.

God knows that their carpet is bulging with mounds, hills and slopes of things best left unsaid.

To be fair, they were never really ‘in love’. They were ‘in tune’. They were ‘in cahoots’. They were in pretty much the same ‘place’ in life. So they merged their paths. They were just doing the done thing back then in Chicago.

It was the seventies, it was expected for the kids from their community to choose another one of their own to marry, have kids and all that. So they did.

Two good Italian-American families with healthy offspring merged their crops. That was the ‘done thing’ in their neighborhood.

Same background, same neighborhood, same church, same school…all the same. So what could go wrong? After all, you know what you’re getting.

For Carrie, Tony was a good catch. Not bad looking. A hard worker. Rough around the edges, but she could always deal with that.

He wanted to make money from back then, it was his childhood dream. He wanted to escape from the limitations and let downs in life created by the words ‘modest’, ‘budget’, and ‘salary’.

The whole community they belonged to shared the same struggles back then – always struggling to make ends meet, trying to buy nice things, trying to create their ‘American dream’.

The community that Tony and Carrie grew up in saw the American dream as being able to move out of the ‘difficult’ city neighborhoods and settle comfortably in a suburb-with two cars, a dog, a landscaped lawn and ‘doing’ all the other ‘done things’.

However, that wasn’t enough for Tony. Hardly enough. He wanted more than that. He wanted more than everyone. And he wanted to have more than everyone. He wanted to be king of the hill, the one that people admired and talked about. The one that they would be point out and admire for his wealth.

That was Tony’s dream.

So Tony became a truck driver as soon as he was able to legally drive a truck. He caught on quickly. Working for a large trucking company and driving the truck night and day, he managed to get as much experience as possible.

As uninterested as he was about his life at home, he was intensely interested and observant of everything that was going on where he worked.

Tony observed. He watched. He learned. He was obsessed with learning the business.

Carrie also observed and watched everything going on around her, but she was different. She has been a housewife most of her married life. She worked as a front desk receptionist for a large insurance office for a year or two when they were newly married. Then the kids came, and they had enough money coming in for her to stay home and raise them without her working.

Two kids…good kids…but very quiet kids.

Too quiet. Carrie couldn’t understand it. They tucked themselves away in the playroom and forgot to come out until they became adults.

And then they emerged.

Carrie marveled at how they grew, how handsome they looked, how they are ‘all grown up’. But they didn’t change at all. They appeared to be mature adults, but essentially they were still adolescents seriously addicted to playing computer games.

“Always playing computer games, even with money. They have opportunities available for them to get involved and expand our business, but no ‘Tone’, they are glued to their games”.

She would complain to Tony at every given chance. They had grown successful in their business over the years and left Chicago. But she still complained. And when she complained, she didn’t call him ‘Tony’, she would call him “Tone”.

Tony couldn’t listen to Carrie nagging him repeatedly about the boys. The boys were legally adults. Yet they behaved like teenagers. Carrie was right, he saw that. So he did something about it. He shipped the boys from their home in Florida to his Chicago office.

Now both boys share an apartment up in Chicago, working at Tony’s Chicago office most of the day. They moved their game consoles up there and it consumes all of their free time.

The family business is based in Florida, that is where the couple had moved years ago to raise their family and build the business. Tony needs that office in Chicago to monitor all their business in that area up north. Tony says that they need to expand even further with offices across the states. Technically if the boys could manage these offices, expansion should be easy. The Chicago office is key.

But how can Tony rely on these two? They don’t have Tony’s drive and Carrie’s demanding nature. They are more excited about their computer games than anything else. Go figure.

Tony started his own trucking business while he was still working as a truck driver for a large trucking company. Having borrowed money to buy his own truck, Tony moved smoothly to create his own company. He didn’t hesitate to approach his employer’s customers, confidentially underbidding his employer for small routes and successfully stealing them away from his boss in order to make them his customers. This was the way he succeeded to take on his own jobs privately. It wasn’t honest, but it worked.

“You’ve got to start somewhere” was his motto.

That translated into “You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do, no matter how dirty, because if you don’t, someone else will.”

That was the catchphrase that appeased Tony’s conscience regarding his slightly less than respectable business tactics and methods. That was Tony’s motto. That was the series of words that used to annoy the hell out of Carrie each and every time she heard them.

Carrie always used to mutter to herself, “What does that even mean? ‘Because someone else will’? Does that make it necessarily right? Give some people a catch phrase and watch their capacity to think and morally reason just shut down. Clamped down tight.”

Tony didn’t lose any sleep back then from underbidding his employer for his own behalf, behind his boss’ back. He thought that is was a legitimate thing to do because he needed to start somewhere. And it worked.

He left his old job as a driver and started out on his own in no time, with plenty of routes and contracts. And he kept underbidding everyone, stealing their ‘routes’ and contracts.

He was on his way up the ladder of success in the trucking business in no time.

He knew how to underbid and undermine the other guy. This is what he knew, this is what he did. Stepping on the other guy were his “steps” that provided him the stairway to move up in the world.

One job led to another. Tony bought another truck, hired a driver, and so on and so on…until he grew a fleet. And from just providing trucking, his business eventually expanded into encompassing warehousing and then logistics as well as cross country trucking. And so, the Chicago office was not only necessary as a hub in his business, it also took those kids off his back now that they have grown.

There were aspects of the business that he didn’t know very well. And to help him out in these affairs, Tony always had good advisers. Tony realized that he didn’t have the savvy to grow in logistics.

And he knew that he was too rough around the edges to represent his enterprise and make it in the business world through the lunches, cocktails and meetings. He only knew dirty.

He wasn’t three piece suits and let’s play golf. That’s what his accountants were for. He had two of them, working together. They were the ‘three piece suits’, ‘let’s play golf’ and what not. It was his accountants who led him through the maze of the business world and made the logistics and the warehousing successful businesses. And why not? He didn’t just pay them royally, he made them partners.

He was nobody’s fool. “Nothing like a good accountant” was a piece of advice that people used to tell him. Yeah, they are right. But there was nothing like making them partners to move him up in the world.

Tony was very cut and dry. He knew what he knew. He liked what he liked. Things are what they are. He knew the following:

He was successful.

His sons were losers.

His wife maybe was a bimbo, he wasn’t sure.

It was hard for him to tell. It was his wife, so he couldn’t judge. Compared to the other wives, she was a bimbo, but she didn’t necessarily look like one. At least not all the time.

Tony wondered from time to time about this, but he couldn’t draw a conclusion as to whether she was a bimbo or not. So he never gave it much thought again until his partners mentioned the whole thing about ‘image’.

Remember, his partners weren’t just accountants, they were advisers. After all, he was ‘big time’ now. He had fleets of trucks, and many warehouses. He was a giant. So he needed to listen to his advisers. Tony was out there, in society, using his money for other things – like influence, status, philanthropy, and being seen with the right crowd. He had to fit in with the other giants.

So his accountant partners one day told him, ‘Listen Tony, you have an image to maintain in order to be respected. You have to take direction from those who know. We will put a professional shopper/image maker on the pay roll that will not only buy the clothing that you and Carrie will wear, but they will also shop with her for furniture, accessories, anything for the house, the yard, organizing and arranging the parties you will host – you will use their input no matter how small the gathering, and you will let them do all the selecting of all shopping always, especially for gifts.”

The only times this professional shopper didn’t go shopping with Carrie was when she went to the supermarket. How hard is it to buy beer and some ham and cheese, Tony thought?  Nor did they go with her when she went for her nails and hair to maintain the expensive “look”.

The dining room pulsated with the beats of the waltz. Carrie had never played Strauss on the stereo at such a volume before.

Strauss was a part of the special occasion collection of music, – the cds with the red sticker, selected by this personal shopper/image maker for them. Those were the cds on the bookshelf. All purchased and arranged by “this high paid, arrogant snob of an image maker who dents my pay roll” as Tony used to mention at every opportunity.

Tony also would point out that Darren, the image maker, is always ‘in his face’. “Every time I turn around, there he is, in my space, in my face”.

Tony never ‘took’ to Darren, and vice versa – while Carrie hung on Darren’s every word. Tony called Darren the Grand Director.

Good ol’ G.D.

Special occasion music was limited to being played softly on the stereo in the background at their cocktails or dinner parties. G.D. told them to do this.

Carrie loved this idea of playing the music, she would tell Tony over and over that “it wreaks of culture, class and polish, Tone”.

Any classical music would do for background music. Carrie and Tony really didn’t care if it was baroque, or a classical military march. Sonata, fugues, and movements were words that didn’t mean a thing to them. They didn’t want to be bothered by such facts and trivia.

According to Carrie’s husband, anyone who can tell the difference between all this classical music has nothing better to do with their time. Losers and nerds, Tony would say.

Actually for Tony and Carrie, “boring nerds and losers” were catch all terms referring to anyone who knows more than they do and deep down makes them look stupid in their own eyes.

Ignorance hurts. Can’t let the pain show.

Anyway, deep down, Carrie always thought, “…this Strauss shit is definitely too much, but what the hell”. She went along to do what looks good, regardless of whether or not she liked what she was doing.

The classical music never failed to remind her of the glamorous movies she used to watch as a young girl. Did her house come off as glamorous as those ballrooms?, she always wondered. The music really seemed to blend in well when all the right people are gathered at one of their parties, she thought.

The parties had to have the right guest list. Not that the guests are their close friends…but in the business world, you have to invite the right people and be invited to their things and show up at the right events….otherwise, you haven’t arrived.

And if you haven’t arrived, you can’t be considered successful. Simple as that. That was Carrie’s theory.

But today, Strauss was blaring, and this wasn’t a party. No one was home but Tony and Carrie.

Another one of their daring adventures.

Breakfast, naked, in the dining room.

Nothing sexual…nor was any humorous playful fun intended. They didn’t see anything playful in a broken down central air conditioner. The technician was coming at noon.

It was hot, humid and unbearable.

So there were Tony and Carrie, stark naked.

Not much dignity in the whole scene. Carrie felt it, a certain downfall, but she couldn’t pinpoint what was wrong.

She knew that something was “off”, and it wasn’t just the air conditioner. Coffee was poured into their favorite mugs, and she put some muffins on a platter. Fresh brewed coffee, their favorite brand, the muffins fresh…but it just didn’t seem right.

For some reason, she felt compelled to bring these to the dining room, and not have breakfast on the stools like they normally do every morning – on the expensive bar stools that lined the huge well equipped island in the middle of their vast granite kitchen.

No, naked didn’t feel right in the kitchen. Maybe it was the stools that made it seem very off. Naked on the stools, no, it didn’t work. The dining room was better for naked, so she set the table there.

Strauss’ music filled the air for the first time in the house without them having a party. She needed background music.

Because they were naked.

And in the dining room.

Having breakfast.

Because it was too hot to wear clothes.

Because they were tired and they didn’t care how it looks.

So not only did she need background music, she needed to set the dining room table for breakfast to make it work. Perhaps in a more beautiful setting the whole thing would be more palatable for her.

She felt that something was wrong, and maybe in a more beautiful setting she can shake that feeling off.

So there is the Chippendale dining room table, polished to the highest sheen, with its beautiful Chippendale chairs. They weren’t just any Chippendale. They were imported from England – antiques with documentation.

Between us, Carrie couldn’t wrap her mind around them being British antiques because they looked so Oriental. The decorator had put gorgeous fabric on the seats with oriental images. It matched the oriental scenes on the wallpaper.

In her mind, its either English or Chinese. How can it be both? This perplexed her so she made it a point to never ‘talk about the dining room furniture”. After all, her confusion would show through if anyone would bring up her Chippendales.

The fabric on the chairs was impeccably hand embroidered silk depicting groves of cool, serene bamboo trees.

So here they were, their naked asses gracing the finest mint green silk upholestered seats on the most elegant dining room chairs you would ever see.

Tony felt like an emperor, naked or not, but she wasn’t so sure all of sudden…

Something just looked off…something bothered her.

It’s funny how success is worn differently by different people. Tony wore his success freely all over his body. Fat, contented, satiated, successful.

And Carrie was driven to wear their success according to the rules enforced on her. Therefore she was thin, tan, plastic and fake.

Here is Tony, sitting at the table. Fat. Naked and fat.  His rather large breasts lay on his very large stomach. They weren’t the only thing laying on his fat round tummy…his fine gold chain with a custom made charm, a solid gold truck, lay flat on its back side on the very top of the belly.

It remained there, motionless, as if that was its proper place, it seemed fixed. It never seemed to move from there, no matter how he moved. And it was gold, so there was no rash or discoloration after all these years of the gold piece being perched on the top of his large stomach. It was as if his stomach was intentionally fat, serving as a shelf for his little gold truck to lay motionless on its side.

Carrie couldn’t seem to take control of herself and she found herself staring at Tony. She couldn’t stop gawking at him.

She was watching him eat the muffins. Crumbs carelessly falling all over the table, all over his whole body, especially near that little gold truck. Crumbs getting stuck in the fold of fat under his breasts and sticking onto his sweaty skin.

Holding the muffin in the air with his right hand, his left hand, with those thick stocky fingers were drumming as usual on the table. They produced a very hard sounding rat tat tat…he tapped his fingers with such force, so effortlessly. And he always drummed those fingers when he lifted food in the air with his right hand.

She watched, mesmerized, as the gold pinkie ring moved along with the beat of his tapping. It sounded like waves of rolling drum beats that blended in with Strauss.

Tony also took this opportunity to scan over Carrie as she sat across from him at the table, staring at his pinkie ring. Hair, nails, makeup all done well.

Yeah, he was proud of her, he didn’t have an ugly wife.

She looked better in clothes than without them though, he thought. He realized then and there for the first time that she was full of lines and wrinkles in places that never showed when she was dressed.

He saw that her boobs really hung low when she is sitting upright in a chair, naked. They hung so far down that the nipples lay lower than the table top level. He tried to hide his urge to laugh when he realized that her boobs were mostly out of his view from his chair across the table. Gravity.

On the deck near the pool, in her bathing suit, she didn’t look bad at all. But here in the dining room, naked, he suddenly realized that she looked different, her skin looked like leather. He didn’t know why. It must be the lighting he assumed.

Anyway, it didn’t matter, he thought.

And he went back to reading the sports results from yesterday’s game on his tablet. The tablet was Tony’s ‘newspaper’.

And it had it’s ‘place’ at the table, propped behind his plate, leaning against the crystal pitcher of fresh squeezed orange juice, for leverage. Perfect positioning, hands free reading.

This left him free to eat, drink, dunk, drip and drool, making as much of a mess as he wanted without having to constantly wipe his hands to hold the tablet.

Strauss’s waltz was pulsing and beating its rhythm, like a heartbeat taking over their otherwise silent dining room. A pounding heartbeat. Thunderously annoying.

And Naked. They were naked.

Surrounded by Chinoiserie wall paper, delicate prints, an impeccable white marble floor, a huge hand crafted chandelier of fine cut crystal, the antique furniture, the gorgeous mint green silk seats with the bamboo print.

In the midst of such finery, they were naked.

Naked. Stripped down to their very truth.

And Carrie was disturbed. And wanted to hide. And wouldn’t have said no to a fig leaf. …

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