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Chamomille sheets

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Mafalda tsked at the banging doors, the sound echoing around the villa as she click-clacked her way up the broad stone stairs, carefully balancing a pile of folded fresh linens and clothes, holding them tightly against her chest.

Uomini - que patsa que si? She'd told them to go see to the shutters at lunchtime, said the winds were getting up. They'd see she was right when they had to change the hinges or even have to repair a split frame of one of the louvred balcony doors damaged by the coming storm. But did they do it before going off to their respective beds for the afternoon riposo? No! Lazy!

See if she was going to touch the doors. They'd been too busy prattling like chickens about the son and his crush on il Muvi star! As if Anchise could talk - he never did say why he was demobbed from his national service ahead of time, at his age and not married he had no place to be coming out with such a string of nasty words about Elio and the giovano americano! And her Manfredi - he could talk rubbish. What did he know about anything if it wasn't a fish or a car engine? She'd married him knowing he wasn't smart. Not saying he wasn't useful to argue with in Neapolitan and to sing the old songs. Just saying, she didn't hear either of them complaining when Elio got out his guitar and played along and joined in with their singing as they all sat in the kitchen, drinking a little, crying a little.

At the top of the stairs she turned along the landing and stopped before the armoire, outside il Cauboi's door, knocked twice and waited. No reply, so she pushed open the outer door and entered. The two beds were pushed together - well he was a big boy, the single bed wouldn't be long enough for him. She sniffed the air. No, nothing had happened yet. The room smelt of chamomile fabric softener, cigarettes and his sweat only, same as the dirty laundry she'd collected earlier and was now returning line-fresh.

So what if il stupido uomini downstairs were making crude jokes about il bambini? If you asked her, she'd say Anchise was jealous of Elio taking up Signor Ulliver's attention - she'd seen Anchise with his disgusting paste tending to Signor Ulliver's bruise the other evening as she'd hung out the washing. She'd shot him a look too - I know what you're up to old man!

Everyone acted as if she were deaf and blind, but she saw what she saw and she didn't forget. Rich families were full of their own secrets, things they wouldn't want anyone else to know - all smiles and cut glass and laughter with their dinner guests but you just look behind those closed doors. Well she'd kept her job all these years by keeping what she knew to herself, unlike her dumb husband and Anchise. She remembered that pauvre raggazo, Annella's brother, Adam. Que peccata! Sometime's keeping quiet was too hard - she'd seen that boy and il Professori when they were not much different to Elio and signore Ulliver. So don't tell her that Elio didn't fall under his father and his uncle's shadows - he was just braver than his long dead uncle, may God give his soul peace.

She shook her head as she patted down the bedding and set the clean laundry down next to the pillow at the nearside of the joined beds. And what about that hussy Chiara, only sixteen, throwing herself at their summertime guest, much to the staff's amusement? They'd all laughed at her over their tiny cups of machina coffee. What a whore they'd complained - a putana - and she had no chance with that one!

They blamed Ulliver as well - dirty old man - but Mafalda had told them, not without a slap around both their idiot heads - he's a bambino, an innocente! He's twenty four they'd said. But she was not having it - look at his eyes you idiots, look at his eyes! She'd always worked for wealthy families, seen what they did to their own children. Only a fool would not see what Ulliver's eyes said about what his parents had done to him. Anyone who wasn't a blind idiot too pleased with the sound of their own voice and too full of stregga could see it!

And then there was Elio - his parents going the opposite extreme to Ulliver's. Love him, as she dearly did, that boy was a menace - seventeen and he was stalking Ulliver AND that nice girl from the neighbouring villa Marzia at the same time!

She pulled at the pile of clothes, separating out Elio's clean clothes and walked across the bathroom from one bedroom to the next and knocked on his door. Pronto he'd called. Biancheria she'd said, and left the door open at his request.

Yes, she thought as she'd gone back past the pushed together bed's, nothing had happened yet but that boy had the look of the diablo in his eyes. And when the room smelt of them both, of the sweat of two young men and there were flaky stains on the yellow sheets? Well they'd better not think she'd fall for them saying the shirt got wrecked in the river, and them not even bothering to scrub away the stuff underneath the river mud. As long as they didn't think she was stupid as well as blind!

But what then, when the two of them walked about with eyes for no one else, when the scowling little prince started to take over preparing the boiled eggs for il muvi star from her? Well, she'd still clout the idiots in the kitchen and tell them to mind their own business, because that's what staff did and what did they know about love anyway? That and she'd watch and give the boys time to cry when the summer, the romance, whatever secret they had shared was over.

She'd cried silently, in secret for Annella and il Professori long ago when Adam died, and she would cry the same way for Elio when his Cauboi rode back into the sunset taking Elio's heart with him.

With one last profanity at the banging balcony doors, she headed down the stairs, pausing briefly at the creaking floorboards above, as that little devil moved across the bathroom floor. Not long after a bed spring squeaked.

No she didn't want to know! She needed instead to get ready for the supper, to start working in the kitchen before all the awakening guests started to get underfoot again as the afternoon cooled into the early evening.

Families and love, what else was life about - that and food?