The Vespa Ride
by Licia Canton

He was not the love of my life. He was not the man of my dreams. I had not been waiting for him for many years. I had not desired him from afar. I was too young when he married me to have had many thoughts or any desires. And I didn't know much about him when we married.

He was easy going, always smiling. He had an amazing sense of humour and a quick solution to any problem. He had no worries, hardly any concerns. I was the worrier, and I cried a lot. He'd simply say "Don't worry Old Lady!" and flash one of his warm convincing smiles.

We owned a butcher shop. He was the gentleman-butcher. He worked a little in the morning, napped in the afternoon, and then went for a few drinks or a game of cards. He worked a little in the evening. I was the one who fretted. He was always carefree. He really believed that everything would work out in the end. Worrying—no, even thinking about it—was wasted youth. That's why he called me Old Lady, even early on.

Forty-four years ago, I was a scrawny, flat-footed breastless teenager with a mop of dirty blonde fuzzy hair. Not at all attractive. We had a patch of land and a few farm animals – chickens, cows, goats and pigs. After my father's death, I stopped going to school. I helped my mother on the farm. I worked the land and milked the cows. Grandmother lived with us. She sewed, knitted and baked bread.

I remember the pain. I was unable to get up to do my early morning chores. My mother and grandmother tried to soothe me. They thought I was getting another period. I had not had a period in over a year. In fact, I had only ever had two periods until then. Mother used to say I was a late bloomer just like she'd been. She'd had her first period at 16.

That morning a baby was born. A girl. She was tiny. Really tiny. I was surprised. After the fierce pain, the groaning and sweating, my mother understood that it wasn't a period. I don't recall her saying anything to me. She remained calm. She asked grandmother to boil water and, a little while later, delivered her first grandchild. She was only 35 then.

I slept for a long time. I was in and out of consciousness. Every time I woke for a brief moment I heard wailing in the distance. The baby. I couldn't remember whose baby it was. I had only a vague recollection that it was mine, but the pain in my groin was a vivid reminder that I was a mother now.

My mother and grandmother took care of the baby on their own for the first six weeks. I had lost a lot of weight and was too weak to breastfeed. The baby was tiny, but it cried. I could hear it.

My mother did not ask for an explanation. She didn't scold me. But the day I was able to sit up to eat soup, she stared at me: "Who's the father?"

I had not had suitors. No one had paid any attention to me, ever. No man had been near our farmhouse. The milkman was a ten-year-old boy. I hardly went into town.

I stared at her helplessly. I thought. I thought hard and long. Months ago. How many months ago? Seven or eight months ago. It must have been late September, early October. The weather was still warm. What was I picking by the river?

The first time I saw him, he was walking along the river, below the dirt road. He was looking down at the water. I don't know what he was doing, but he seemed to be using it as a mirror. There was a Vespa on the road. There were very few then. The mailman had one.

Weeks later, I heard the Vespa slowing down behind me along the road and I knew it wasn't the mailman. The mailman doesn't slow down. He rides by and waves once he has passed me.

He asked if I wanted to go for a ride. I kept on walking.

"I was being friendly," he said. "I saw you on the road looking at my Vespa a while back."

I had recognized the Vespa. Blue. Blue-grey. I hadn't recognized him. I didn't answer.

"See you," he sped away.

I saw him from time to time when I walked the goats. He was in the distance on the dirt road or by the river. Once a woman was riding with him. He beeped as they sped along. I didn't know who she was.

One morning, he stopped me as I was headed ten farmhouses away.

"That basket looks heavy. I'll give you a ride up the hill," he smiled.

"No," I said. Then remembering my manners, "Thank you, but the eggs might break."

"Oh yea of little faith. They won't break on my Vespa. They're more likely to break if you trip over your clogs and drop the basket."

I just stared at him.

"I promise that they won't break. But if they do, your chickens will lay more eggs."

"My mother would be pretty upset. She's counting on the money I'll be bringing home."

"If they break," he smiled, "I'll give you the money."

So I got on the Vespa, and the eggs didn't break.

After I had delivered the eggs, he took me for a long ride since I had saved time. I liked the wind in my hair. We stopped by the river. He told jokes. I laughed. Then he said he'd be going away soon.

"And the Vespa?" I asked shyly.

"My brother will take the Vespa. I don't need it where I'm going." He kissed me. I didn't stop him.

My mother and grandmother were already walking towards town as the sun rose. They were headed across the bridge to a home five kilometres away. My mother carried my three-month old daughter in her arms.

"He isn't here," his mother said. "I don't know when he'll be back."

When he returned nearly fifteen months later, he came to our farmhouse to see his child. He stared at her in wonder. She looked a lot like me.

"Am I the father of this beautiful girl?" he grinned.

"Yes," I said.

We were married as soon as the paperwork was done.

I worried that one day he would leave. He had married me because of the baby. He had given up the woman on the Vespa. I was scrawny and breastless. I wasn't the love of his life.

Two years after we were married, we had a boy. He wanted to choose the name. I didn't like the given name, so I called him by his middle name, Fabio. One day my husband heard me.

"Don't you like the name Gino?"


"Well then, we'll call him Fabio from now on."

Fabio is now a forty-year old father of two. My husband died in Fabio's arms last month. He spit out blood. Again and again. His aorta had burst. He'd been in and out of hospitals for years fighting throat cancer. The last six months he refused to come home. He was tired. He asked me not to worry. Everything would be all right. He had taken care of everything. Bank accounts. Funeral arrangements. The photo for his tombstone.

"Do not cry," he'd say to friends and relatives who visited him the last few weeks. ‘If you've come here to cry, then go home."

Sometimes he refused visitors. He didn't feel like smiling at them. But he always smiled at me. Always.

I hadn't been the love of his life. He hadn't been mine.

My biggest fear for over forty years was that I would lose the man who had given me his life. He had given me his life. He loved our daughter with the blonde fuzzy hair and the blue-grey eyes. He was sorry he had missed her first eighteen months. There are no pictures from then.

His mother was kind when she first met me.

"When we are in love, it is natural to make love. And when we make love, a child of love is born," she consoled me.

I agreed with her, of course, but I knew that neither love nor passion had brought us together. We hadn't made love that day by the river. We had made a mistake that changed the course of our lives.

I am still scrawny and breastless. My hair is no longer blonde, but still fuzzy. My daughter does her best to straighten hers. My son looks a lot like his father.

Every night I remember the ride on the Vespa. I feel the wind in my hair, the breeze on my face. I see his smile. And I cry myself to sleep at the thought of having had a loving husband by accident.

Then in the morning I hear his voice again. "Old Lady, do we want to be unhappy at the beginning of the day!"

And that's enough to get me going.

Licia Canton is the author of Almond Wine and Fertility, a collection of stories. She is also editor-in-chief of Accenti Magazine and co-editor of the Canadian literature page of Bibliosofia.