Issue 112, Winter 1989
Eleonora was an Umbrian girl whom the portiere’s wife had brought up to the Agostinis’ first-floor apartment after their two unhappy experiences with Italian maids, not long after they had arrived in Rome from Chicago. She was about twenty three, thin, and with bent bony shoulders which she embarrassedly characterized as gobbo—hunchbacked. But she was not unattractive and had an interesting profile, George Agostini thought. Her full face was not so interesting; like the portinaia’s, also an Umbrian, it was too broad and round, and her left brown eye was slightly wider than her right. It also looked sadder than her right eye.
She was an active girl, always moving in her noisy slippers at a half trot across the marble floors of the furnished two bedroom apartment, getting things done without having to be told, and handling the two children very well. After the second girl was let go, George had wished they didn’t have to be bothered with a full-time, live-in maid. He had suggested that maybe Grace ought to go back to sharing the signora's maid— their landlady across the hall—for three hours a day, paying her on an hourly basis, as they had when they first moved in after a rough month of apartment hunting. But when George mentioned this, Grace made a gesture of tearing her red hair, so he said nothing more. It wasn’t that he didn’t want her to have the girl —she certainly needed one with all the time it took to shop in six or seven stores instead of one supermarket, and she was even without a washing machine with all the kids’ things to do; but George felt he wasn’t comfortable with a maid always around. He didn’t like people waiting on him, or watching him eat. George was heavy, and sensitive about it. He also didn’t like her standing back to let him enter a room first. He didn’t want her saying, “Comanda,” the minute he spoke her name. Furthermore he wasn’t happy about the tiny maid’s room the girl lived in, nor her sinkless bathroom, with its cramped sitzbath, and no water heater. Grace, whose people had always been much better off than his, said everybody in Italy had maids and he would get used to it. George hadn’t got used to the first two girls, but he did find that Eleonora bothered him less. He liked her more as a person and felt sorry for her. She looked as though she had more on her back than her bent shoulders.
One afternoon about a week and a half after Eleonora had come to them, when George arrived home from the FAO office where he worked, during the long lunch break, Grace said the maid was in her room, crying.
“What for?” George said, worried.
“I don’t know.”
“Didn’t you ask her?”
“Sure I did, but all I could gather was that she’s had a sad life. you’re the linguist around here, why don’t you ask her?”
“What are you so annoyed about?”
“Because I feel like a fool, frankly, not knowing what it’s all about.”
“Tell me what happened.”