Excerpt: My Italian Bulldozer
A Novel
The bestselling author of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series returns with an irresistible new novel about one man’s adventures in the Italian countryside. 

Paul Stuart, a renowned food writer, finds himself at loose ends after his longtime girlfriend leaves him for her personal trainer. To cheer him up, Paul's editor, Gloria, encourages him to finish his latest cookbook on-site in Tuscany, hoping that a change of scenery (plus the occasional truffled pasta and glass of red wine) will offer a cure for both heartache and writer's block. But upon Paul's arrival, things don't quite go as planned. A mishap with his rental-car reservation leaves him stranded until a newfound friend leads him to an intriguing alternative: a bulldozer. 

With little choice in the matter, Paul accepts the offer, and as he journeys (well, slowly trundles) into the idyllic hillside town of Montalcino, he discovers that the bulldozer may be the least of the surprises that await him. What follows is a delightful romp through the lush sights and flavors of the Tuscan countryside, as Paul encounters a rich cast of characters, including a young American woman who awakens in him something unexpected. A feast for the senses and a poignant meditation on the complexity of human relationships, My Italian Bulldozer is a charming and intensely satisfying story for anyone who has ever dreamed of a fresh start.

Excerpt

1 ❖People do strange things

It was the first time that Paul had made duck à l’orange for friends since Becky left him for her personal trainer. Her departure – after four years of living together – had been a surprise, but not as great a shock as the discovery of her new lover’s identity. Looking back on it, Paul realised that all the signs had been there, and might so easily have been spotted. He felt a lingering, slightly reproachful regret: had he been less absorbed by his work, he might have noticed her indifference; had he given her more time, he might have been forewarned by her restlessness, by the occasional guilty, almost furtive look; but even had he picked this up, nothing could have prepared him for her choice of Tommy, the tattooed mesomorph with whom she suddenly went off to live.

“I didn’t want this,” he said to Gloria, his editor, trying as hard as he could to be stoical. “But it’s happened. That’s all there is to it, I suppose. People split up.”

They were having coffee together in Gloria’s kitchen when this conversation took place. Her office was in her flat, and Paul dropped in from time to time to see her, to collect proofs, to bounce ideas off her – or just to be listened to. She was good at that – she would make him a cup of the Assam tea he liked, sit on her sofa with her legs tucked under her, and let him talk. “No, go on,” she would say if he asked her if he was wasting her time. “I like wasting time with you, Paul – you know that.”

She was, he reflected, one of his closest friends, in a rather curious, slightly old-fashioned way. Dependable Gloria, he said to himself, always there, always positive. But in spite of their closeness, what did he know about her? That she was a freelance editor who lived in Edinburgh but who came from somewhere else originally – somewhere near Bristol, where she had gone to university. Her parents had both died when she was in her early twenties – she had told him about that – and she had no siblings. She was rather alone in the world, he imagined; there was an aunt she spoke about, and there were her friends in a hill-walking club. But apart from that did she have much of a social life? He had never really thought much about any of that. She was roughly his age – in her mid-thirties – and attractive in, well, a homely sort of way. She wore her hair short and she never used make-up. Yet she did not really need to, as her skin had that clear, almost translucent tone to it that one finds on the Celtic edges. Her mother, she had told him, was Irish, and that might explain the complexion. Rain-washed. Atlantic blown. A friend of his had once described her as “worth a second look”, but Paul, who had never seen her in that way, had simply nodded and said, “Yes, I suppose so.”

But the most striking aspect of Gloria was her clothing. Paul had occasionally seen her dressed more formally – they sometimes attended book events together in London – but for the rest she seemed to be wedded to loose-fitting Indian print dresses, shifts that hung about her like light curtains. Somewhere behind the curtains was a figure, but he had never really seen it. There must be a mill somewhere in India, he thought, producing those designs almost exclusively for Gloria – she had so many of them, in so many colours. He had once complimented her on them, and she had beamed with pleasure, as if he were the first man ever to say anything like that to her; perhaps he was, he thought.

And now that he needed somebody to talk to, of course Gloria was there, and prepared to listen – as she always was. She nodded sympathetically. “Yes, but the one left behind, so to speak, always feels a bit raw? Who wouldn’t?”

“Perhaps.” He sought to reassure her, not wanting to be thought self-pitying. “I’ll get over it, of course.”

“Good.”

Gloria was about to say something else, but Paul continued, “Yet I can’t help asking: Why him?”

Her eyes widened. She was pleased that Becky had left. She was pleased because … She stopped herself. It was, she feared, only too obvious. She was not in the least surprised that Becky would go off with somebody … somebody less intelligent than Paul. The dark anarchic force of sex… That explained so much. “People do strange things. They fall for the most unlikely people.” She felt uncomfortable delving any further, but she could understand why he wanted to talk. “They just do. And listen, Paul; it’s not your fault. Fault doesn’t come into it.” She was not sure that this was quite true; there were times when an inference of fault seemed inescapable.

Paul sighed. “Have you actually seen them together?”

Gloria had. She had spotted the two of them entering a supermarket hand-in-hand and she could not help but notice his pugilistic features – the broken nose, the vacuous expression, the rolling walk that only sailors and bodybuilders seem to have. She had stared – discreetly, of course – but with a certain fascination.

“He’s obviously very …” She searched for the word, and alighted upon physical. “Very physical.” She uttered the word quietly, tentatively, as people do when they feel they might immediately have to retract what they have just said.

Paul nodded. “She met him in the gym,” he said. “She started going there pretty regularly – sometimes twice a day. I should have realised that something was going on. ”

Gloria thought about this. It seemed to her that the gym was an odd place to conduct an affair. But perhaps not; perhaps there was something about the vaguely sweaty atmosphere of a gym that could set the heart racing. And people fell in love in all sorts of places; her friend, Alice, had fallen head over heels for a man she first met at the fish counter of her local supermarket. “I was examining a piece of halibut,” she had said, “and I found myself looking at Tony, who was standing next to me. I just knew – right at that moment, I just knew.”

“And all the time she was seeing him,” continued Paul. “You would have thought there’d be a code of ethics forbidding personal trainers from having affairs with their clients. Psychotherapists have that sort of thing, don’t they?”

Gloria nodded. “They do. They can’t get involved with their clients, even if their clients fall in love with them – which I gather they often do. I gather they even expect it.”

“Probably,” said Paul, hesitantly. “But falling for one’s therapist is surely entirely natural – of course we’re going to fall in love with people who listen to us.”

“Perhaps. So few do.”

“Fall in love – or listen?”

She suspected that many people who appeared to be listening were in reality thinking about what they would say next. “Listen.”

“And the relationship,” Paul went on, “is not all that different–trainer and trainee, therapist and client. I could probably report him to his professional body, if I chose to.”

For a moment she imagined a meeting of the personal trainers’ professional body – a stern committee of the egregiously fit, all muscle, all glowing with health, conducting their business while running on the spot and lifting weights, the secretary taking the minutes while perched on an exercise bicycle.

Paul blushed. “No, I didn’t mean to say that. I’m not feeling bitter.” He hesitated. “She might come back, of course.” She looked grave. “Paul, once somebody runs away with somebody … somebody like that, she’s unlikely to return.” She thought of a friend, an art historian, who had fallen for a professional tennis player whose only topic of conversation was tennis. She had been blissfully happy, which was not the outcome that many had predicted – or wished for, for that matter: we do not want those of our friends who embark on adventures to get away with it. She remembered Vidal’s famous comment – so waspish and at the same time so true – every time one of my friends succeeds, I die a little.

Paul was staring at the floor. I don’t need her, he thought. He’s welcome to her. Tommy. Tommy and Becky. Oh, God … He wanted to cry. He wanted to utter her name and sob.

The moment passed. “La donna è mobile,” he muttered.“Where does that come from again? You know … La donna …something, something, something.”

“Verdi,” said Gloria. “Rigoletto, if I remember correctly. La donna è mobile, qual piuma al vento, muta d’accento e di pensiero …Of course, you speak Italian, don’t you. Didn’t you live there once?”

“For two years. In Florence. I was a student.” He thought back to that time – the period of greatest happiness in his life; to be twenty, in Florence, with no commitments and with a sense that life would always be like this, as golden, as full of possibilities.

“So no translation is necessary.”

“Woman is fickle,” he mused. “Like a feather in the wind, changes in voice and thought … So true.”

Gloria disagreed – with Verdi and with Paul. “Not at all. More men leave women than the other way round. Everybody knows that.”

“Are you sure? Or is that just what women want to believe?”

“No, it’s absolutely true. There have been studies …” She waved a hand vaguely; she thought there probably had been, although chapter and verse were not always at hand when one needed them.

La donna è mobile sounds nice,” she continued, “but is utterly false, as so many operatic themes are.”

Paul returned to the subject of the personal trainer. “I met him once or twice, you know. I went along to the gym with her and watched him taking her through her paces.” He winced at the painful memory. “He stood very close to her, and every so often he would put a hand around her biceps and smile encouragingly.”

“Oh dear.”Paul sighed. “What do they talk about, I wonder?”

Gloria tiptoed round the issue. “In those relationships ,conversation is often not the principal thing. There are other…” She struggled to put it gently. At the same time she thought: there’s no point in talking about this. Things happen. People go.

Yet wounds have to be licked.

“You mean sex?” asked Paul.

She nodded sadly. “It’s very odd. I could never bring myself to … to get close to somebody like that.” She shuddered. “All that brawn. That thick neck – I take it he has a thick neck – I didn’t see his neck outside the supermarket.”

“His neck?” mused Paul.

“Yes, I imagine the veins stand out on the side of it, like creepers round the trunk of a tree.” She shuddered before continuing. “But listen to me, Paul, you have to put all that behind you. You have to move on.”

The advice brought a grimace. “You’re not the first person to say that to me. Even my mother’s said it – and when your mother tells you to move on …”

“I know that’s a resounding cliché,” Gloria persisted, “and one should never tell somebody to move on, but it’s true. The only way you’re going to get over this is to … well, to move on. Socialise, have fun … Invite the whole crowd over to your place. Cook for us, like you used to. Meet new people, even.”

“New people?” said Paul. “I like the friends I’ve got.”

“Then get people round,” said Gloria. “I’m free next Saturday, for example.”

He looked at her. “You and I … You weren’t suggesting …”

He had intended this as a joke, but realised, to his embarrassment, that she was taking it seriously.

“Heavens no,” she said, blushing. “All I’m saying is that your old friends are the ones to help you get started on a new life. That may seem paradoxical, but the truth is often paradoxical,you know. I don’t know why, but it just is.”


When Gloria first discovered Paul he already had a growing local reputation for his knowledge of food and wine. But had she not coaxed that first book out of him – Paul Stuart’s Bordeaux Table – he would probably have remained where she found him: working in the Scottish branch office of a London wine merchant, writing the occasional newspaper column, and from time to time helping friends with their struggling deli business.

“I saw the possibilities,” said Gloria. “That’s all.”

She spotted the potential when she read a small column that Paul occasionally contributed to a local lifestyle magazine. The photograph above the piece helped: “He has an interesting face,” she wrote to a colleague. “He’s good-looking, but I suspect he doesn’t know it – you can always tell. (I can’t abide vain men.) The little-boy-lost look helps, and there’s something about the way he puts things. It’s as if he’s taking you into his confidence. People like that: they like the idea that somebody is telling them things that he’s not going to tell anybody else, even if they’re reading it in a magazine or newspaper.”

Gloria worked as a freelance editor, specialising in books that her publishers blandly described as “lifestyle”. She had a talent for bringing out the good idea that lurked in sometimes chaotic manuscripts, and at the end producing something coherent. Although most of her work was sent to her by publishers, very occasionally she suggested to them what they might do, in this way crossing the boundary into the territory of the commissioning editor. When she did this, publishers had come to trust her instinct, which more often than not was correct.

“I’m not an agent,” she said to Paul. “I’m an editor. It’s different. I’m on your side, but not one-hundred-per-cent, if you see what I mean.”

“It means you can tell me what to do,” said Paul.

Gloria laughed. “I’d never do that. No, it’s more a case of telling you that you can’t do what you want to do.”

“I see.”

“But telling you in such a way that you don’t think I’m tellingyou what not to do.”

“Right.”

“In other words … look, you know how it works, don’t you?”

He did. And he was grateful to Gloria, not that he tended to express his gratitude very often. She knew, he thought; Gloria knew that he liked her and was grateful. You don’t have to spell everything out.

When Paul Stuart’s Bordeaux Table was published there was no real reason for it to stand out in its discouragingly crowded field. Food writers, it seemed, were two-a-penny, with every regional cuisine having been thoroughly covered from all conceivable angles. Julia Childs and Elizabeth David had been the trailblazers; those who followed were precisely that: followers. Yet there was something about Paul’s writing that gave it particular appeal – and this was picked up by reviewers.

Once it had been described as “insanely readable” by the gushing food editor of a major London paper, the die was cast. There were interviews and television appearances, and on television Paul simply worked. In an age of self-promotion, people responded well to his good  manners. There was nothing of the diva about him, none of the braggadocio of other well known chefs. He was, in a word, likeable.

“Okay, Paul,” counselled Gloria. “Big success – well done. But …” She had had this conversation with so many authors, and the but had often proved prophetic. “A first book can be a last book only too easily. The second is the real test. Put everything you have into that.” Paul heeded her advice. The success of the Bordeaux book had emboldened him to resign from his job with the wine merchant, and so he needed the advance that the publishers for whom Gloria worked offered for Paul Stuart’s Provençal Table. Again, the formula worked, and three months in Provenceresulted in a book that was even more enthusiastically received.There then followed a further three French books, one on thefood and wines of Portugal, and three on Spanish regions.By his thirty-sixth birthday, which was when Becky ran offwith the personal trainer, Paul had embarked on his tenthbook, which was to be Paul Stuart’s Tuscan Table. By now thesuccess of the enterprise meant that he could employ a parttimeresearcher to undertake much of the preparatory work,collating the facts that Paul would then seamlessly weaveinto his conversational narrative. If he wrote knowledgeably– and effortlessly – about trésors de cuisine such as a meansof preserving meat glaze, it was because his assistant hadferreted out a copy of Mique Grandchamp’s Le cuisinier à labonne franquette, published in 1884, and discovered just how onemight heat a slightly depleted bottle of Madeira in a pan ofhot water, pour in the meat glaze, and then recork the bottle.Similarly, Paul himself would not have had the time to extractthe recipe for Soupe au Pistou from Eugène Blanchard’s Mets deProvence, but his assistant had. Every recipe, though, and everywine, was tried and understood before Paul wrote about it;Gloria understood that and knew that she could rely on him.“Italy next,” she said when they met for lunch one day.“What about Tuscany? I know it’s the obvious choice, butMy Italian Bulldozer AW3.indd 10 16/03/2016 10:43people do strange things 11there’s nowhere to beat it. At least not in my view. Cypresstrees along ridges, as in a Renaissance painting. Dusty roads.Abbeys tucked away in the folds of hills. Bean stew …”Paul nodded. “All right,” he said.She looked at him. There was a lack of enthusiasm in histone that she had not heard before. “You don’t want to doanother Spanish book, do you? I thought you said you wantedsomething different.”He shrugged. He was not looking at her directly, but seemedto be gazing out of the window. ‘Tuscany’s fine. It’ll do.”She looked at him again. “Is something troubling you?”This brought a further shrug. And then he laid down hisknife and fork with the air of one with something to announce.Plaintively, he told her what had happened. “Becky’s goneoff with her personal trainer.”For a while Gloria stared at Paul blankly, not saying anything.At last, she thought. At long last.Now Paul broke the silence. “You were never too keen onher, were you?” He spoke in a matter-of-fact tone; he did notsound accusing.Gloria blushed. Her distaste for Becky’s selfishness wouldhave to be put carefully. “I just thought that the two of youwere rather different people.”Paul took time to weigh this. “Maybe,” he said. “I obviouslydidn’t do it for her. I tried, you know.”“I’m sure you did.” Gloria thought of Somerset Maugham’sPainted Veil. It was the classic theme: good man, worthless woman– and, of course, the other way round, the moral failure reversed.“I did my best to make it work,” he sighed. “But I suppose she’djust had enough. You can’t blame somebody for that, can you?”My Italian Bulldozer AW3.indd 11 16/03/2016 10:4312 My Italian Bulldozer“No,” she said, although without conviction. “Somerelationships work – others don’t. It’s as simple as that.”“I suppose so, but still …”“You needn’t reproach yourself.”She found her dislike for Becky growing, now that she couldadmit it to herself. Paul was everything most women would everwant: he was good-looking, personable, kind, amusing; Beckyhad obviously failed to appreciate any of this. The personaltrainer was exactly the sort of person whom somebody likeBecky might fall for, at least in the short term.Would it last? Gloria was not sure that purely physicalattraction could keep a relationship going for long. Personaltrainers, like the rest of humanity, lost condition, put onweight, lost their vigour. That was undoubtedly true, but thenit was possible that Becky had found a soul-mate, and that theoutsider’s view of the relationship was all wrong. Perhaps theywere simply compatible. Perhaps each had found that the othersaw the world in the same way. Perhaps they had just fallenin love, which is not always a matter that can be attributedto looks or sex or some shared enthusiasm. That might evenhave been the trouble with Paul and Becky – they had neveractually loved one another – for all of those four years together.That sort of thing happened; the inertia that for years keepspeople doing jobs they do not like, or living in houses they feeluncomfortable in, can keep them in relationships with thosethey do not love, or sometimes do not even like.But something else was beginning to worry Gloria. Shehad experience of writers who suddenly lost their way whentheir personal lives became unstable. Paul made money for hispublishers and that effectively paid a large part, if not all, ofMy Italian Bulldozer AW3.indd 12 16/03/2016 10:43people do strange things 13her salary. Gloria was far from selfish: her first concern wasPaul’s welfare, but there were other things at stake here too. Adisaster for Paul would be painful for quite a number of others.More was at stake here than Paul’s personal happiness.Gloria saw Paul for a catch-up lunch every month. Now shedecided that she would increase the frequency of these meetings,at least until the Tuscan book was safely in production.“I’m always here for you, Paul,” she said at one such lunch,which took place a couple of weeks later. “I know how youmust be feeling.”He looked at her doubtfully. Gloria was kind – he had alwaysknown that – but had she ever been rejected by anybody? Therehad never been any mention of boyfriends; she had never saidanything about an unhappy love affair in her past. And if youhad never experienced that, would you really understand?He looked at her doubtfully. “Do you?”“Yes, as it happens I do.” She paused. “There are few thingsworse than the thought that the person with whom you live nolonger wants to be in your company. I know that.”“Sorry,” said Paul. “I’m sure you do.” He sighed. “I know Ihave to try to get over her.”“Then you must.”“It’s just that I keep thinking of her. I miss her. I wake up inthe morning and I imagine she’s there. But then I turn roundand I’m by myself. Corny, isn’t it?”“No, not in the slightest bit corny. Not in the slightest.” Shereached out to take his hand. It was not how things usuallywere between them; they never touched. He looked down ather hand, almost with surprise. He gave it a squeeze, and thenwithdrew his hand from hers, not abruptly, but gently, andMy Italian Bulldozer AW3.indd 13 16/03/2016 10:4314 My Italian Bulldozerslowly. She glanced down, but then looked up again, as if shehad surprised herself with the gesture.“Make an effort,” she said. “Think of other things.” She paused.“You were going to invite people over. We’re waiting, you know.”He smiled at her weakly.This is potentially very bad, she thought. And the solution thatshe would most have liked was not, it seemed, remotely possible.She helped him plan the evening.“Only old friends,” he said.“Agreed.”“And not too many people. Eight?”“Ten.”He conceded. “The usual crowd? Jenny and Bill? Bob? Fran?And I can sit next to you?”She reassured him. “Of course you can. And Fran on theother side, and Jock beside her.”He looked away. “I haven’t really got the heart for this, youknow. Somehow I feel just … just fed up with everything.”“Which is precisely why you need to do something about it.”She wanted to shake him, and for a moment her impatienceshowed.He looked taken aback. “You’re cross with me?”She swallowed hard. “No … well, yes. Yes, I am. You haveeverything going for you – everything. People like you. Theylike your books. They buy them. They write to you. You havethis nice flat. You’ve got enough money to live comfortably.You’re not at all bad-looking. So why …” She stopped. Sheknew that there was no point: misery was nothing to do withobjective good fortune. Misery was like bad weather; it wasMy Italian Bulldozer AW3.indd 14 16/03/2016 10:43people do strange things 15just there, and no number of optimistic comments could makethe weather better.But for some reason her words had resonated with him. Heclosed his eyes briefly, as if summoning up resolve, and thennodded. “You’re right. Everything you say is right.”She was unprepared for this. “Really? Do you mean …”“I mean that I need to do exactly as you say. I need to stopthinking of Becky. I need to look …”“Forward?”“Yes, forward.”“Well, I must say that I’m relieved. I thought we were losingyou, you know. I thought you were … sinking, so to speak.”“Well, I won’t. I won’t sink.”“Good.”He looked at her, clearly waiting for her to say somethingmore.“So …” She trailed off.‘Yes?”“So you have this party. You get everybody together. It’llbe a sort of announcement that you’re starting again. Thebeginning of the post-Becky era.”“And then?”She saw her chance. “And then you get back to work on yourTuscany book. It’s already six weeks late.” She did not mentionthat the food photographer was waiting for his instructionsand had already threatened to cancel.“I’m sorry.”She was quick to reassure him. “No great disaster. You cancatch up. I suggest that you go to Italy. Finish it there. Do someon-the-ground research.”My Italian Bulldozer AW3.indd 15 16/03/2016 10:4316 My Italian BulldozerHe looked thoughtful. “Next month. July?”“Perfect.”“It’ll have to be organised. Reservations made and so on …”She cut him short. “I’ll do all of that. I’ll book you into thatplace you told me about, the one you went to before, that hotelin Mont-something.”“Montalcino.”“Yes. And I’ll arrange the flights, car hire, and so on.Everything. You needn’t lift a finger.”He was caught up in her enthusiasm. “It’s best to fly to Pisa.I can pick up a car there and drive down. It’s only a few hours.”“There you are. Simplicity itself.”“And I’ll finish the manuscript. I’ve only got five or sixchapters to go. I’ve been sitting on them.”“I know.” For a moment she imagined all the authors whowere sitting on chapters – the piles of paper neatly stacked ontheir chairs, with the authors sitting on top of them, slightlyuncomfortable, and certainly feeling guilty. She smiled at thethought.“What’s so funny?”Gloria shook her head. “A ridiculous thought. Authors sittingon their chapters.”Paul was earnest. “But you’ll get them. I’ll deliver.”“I know that too.”He turned his attention to the dinner. “What am I going togive them? I haven’t thought about it.”“You decide. You’re the famous cookery writer. I’ll do theinviting for you – but the food and so on is up to you.”He suggested duck, as it was the first thing that came tomind, and she agreed. “And we’ll have Brunello di Montalcino.My Italian Bulldozer AW3.indd 16 16/03/2016 10:43people do strange things 17It’s probably the best Italian wine there is. It’s my favourite, asit happens.”“My mouth is watering,” said Gloria.She knew all the guests – her circle intersected with Paul’s andshe had encountered all of them socially before this.“His confidence has taken a real battering,” she explainedwhen she telephoned with the invitation. “This is his putting atoe back into the water. Gingerly. But we’ll need to be careful.We need to keep things upbeat. So no mention of Becky … orof unfaithfulness in general. Keep it positive.”Everybody had been understanding, and had assured Gloriathat not a single gloomy observation would come from them.“You want Polyanna?” said one of friends. “You’ll get Polyannain spades!”When they arrived the bonhomie was tangible. Don’t overdoit, thought Gloria, as the ten of them stood in the living room,each with a glass of prosecco in hand.“Paul’s going off to Italy,” Gloria announced. “Next week,Paul?”Paul nodded. “Yes. Next Wednesday.”“Bravo!” said Fran.Paul shrugged. “Hardly heroic,” he said.“But to go off all by yourself …” said Fran.There was a silence.“To Tuscany,” said Gloria quickly. “Montalcino.”This triggered a memory in Bob. “We went there on ourhoneymoon,” he said. “We were in Siena and Florence, butwanted to get away from the crowds. It’s a great place for ahoneymoon.”My Italian Bulldozer AW3.indd 17 16/03/2016 10:4318 My Italian BulldozerThis brought a further silence and another discouragingglance from Gloria. “It’s where they make Brunello diMontalcino,” she said. And then, looking disapprovingly atthe offender, repeated “Brunello di Montalcino. Paul’s goingto serve that this evening with his duck à l’orange, aren’t you,Paul?”Paul nodded. “When you’re ready,” he said, putting his glassdown.“Duck à l’orange!” said Jenny. “I love your cooking, Paul. Ishall have to go to the gym after this …” Her voice trailed awaybefore she resumed. “I mean, to lose weight …”There was nervous laughter during which Gloria glanced atPaul, who grinned back at her. Seeing his enjoyment of thesituation, she relaxed. Now she said the first thing that cameto mind.“Has anybody ever thought about the way in which catslook at the world?”The laughter died away. “Not recently,” said Paul. “Why doyou ask?”She took a sip of wine. “A story I heard about a cat who livedin New York. It makes one think of how cats understand things.”The guests looked at her expectantly.“Carry on,” said Paul.“These people lived in a building with ten floors. They livedon the third floor – what we’d call the second floor.”“Counting the ground floor as the first floor,” said Paul.“Which is entirely logical, after all.”“Yes, the third floor to them. And so the cat was used to goingdown two flights of stairs to get to the first floor, where therewas a window from which it could get out into the garden.”My Italian Bulldozer AW3.indd 18 16/03/2016 10:43people do strange things 19Gloria paused. “Then they moved to another apartment block,one that had rather more floors. They now lived on the fourthfloor.”“They went up in the world,” remarked Paul.“And so did the cat,” said Fran. “Cats like to be sociallymobile.”“It wanted to get out,” said Gloria. “Once you let cats out,they’ll never be content with staying in. So every morning itkept going down two floors, looking for an exit to the garden.”Nobody said anything. Then Paul laughed. “Reasonableenough.”Gloria nodded. “Perhaps. But what it shows is that even ifcats remember some facts, they may be unable to apply theknowledge.” She looked at the guests.“Ah!” said Fran.“But there’s more,” Gloria continued. “The cat founda window on the second floor – two storeys down, you see– and he leapt onto the sill. He sat there for some time andthen jumped out, thinking, of course, that he was on the firstfloor. He had quite a fall, landing heavily, and painfully, on thesidewalk below.”Jenny, a cat-lover, winced. “He was all right?”“Quite badly traumatised,” said Gloria. “And thereafterhe had a real fear of New York sidewalks. He was fine withwindows, but sidewalks worried him.”She looked around the table. Paul met her gaze. Slowly asmile spread across his face. “A distinctive view of causation,”he muttered.Gloria returned his smile. “Yes. Very distinctive.”Bob frowned. “So?” he muttered, and then, to his neighbour,My Italian Bulldozer AW3.indd 19 16/03/2016 10:4320 My Italian Bulldozer“I’m not wild about cats. Faithless creatures. Disloyal.”The silence, dispelled by the stories, returned.“So much for cats,” said Paul. Then, looking round the table,he announced, “Let’s talk about elephants.”They stared at him.“Elephants in the room, that is. Listen everybody: I’d like tosay something. Relationships end – it happens. It’s nobody’sfault and you get over it. I have. I hope that Becky’s happy, andI’m sure she will be. And as for me … I want you to know thatI’m fine. You don’t have to worry about me. You don’t have topretend that four years of my life just aren’t there. I can takeit. I’m just fine. I wasn’t, but I am now, and now that I’m goingto Italy I want you all to know that I’m going to have a greattime and … and, well, I have a feeling, you see, that somethingrather unusual is going to happen. I just feel it.”This brought a general murmur of relief.“It’s so difficult,” whispered Fran to Bob. “It’s so difficult notto talk about things you’ve been asked not to talk about.”“Like personal trainers … Have you seen him by the way?”“What was she thinking of ? To leave somebody like Paul forMr Universe, or whatever he’s called.”“Tommy.”“Well, there you have it. Tommy Universe. How could she?”“Let’s not be unkind. We don’t know him, do we? He’sprobably got his good points.”“Oh, undoubtedly.” And then a pause, followed by, “No, you’reprobably right. One shouldn’t judge people by appearances.But after a while, wouldn’t you get a bit … a bit bored?”“Probably. But what about Paul? He’s such a catch.”“He’ll be caught in Italy. They’re already lying in wait forMy Italian Bulldozer AW3.indd 20 16/03/2016 10:43people do strange things 21him – the women.”“I hope he doesn’t make the same mistake twice. People do.”There was a nod of agreement. “All the time. People go forthe wrong person time and time again.”“Oh well …”“Yes, as you say: oh well.” A pause. “You know something? Ithink Paul’s right. Something’s going to happen in Italy.”“Good or bad?”“Oh, good.”“Extremely good?”“Absolutely.”“Because it could be the opposite, couldn’t it? Look at Keats,going off to Italy to die. Those fatal shores. What did theRomantic poets die of when they went to Italy? Malaria?”“Rupert Brooke died of a fly bite, didn’t he? Although thatwas in Greece, rather than Italy – one of the islands, I think.And von Aschenbach succumbed to cholera. He was fictional,of course.”“Fictional deaths can make us cry real tears.”“The allure of Italy is all about beauty – fatal beauty.”“Could be. And yet …”“And yet it beguiles?”“And yet it beguiles. That’s what beauty does – it beguiles.”“So what’s going to happen to Paul?”“He’s going to fall in love, I suspect. That’s what happensto so many people who go to Italy. They fall in love. With thecountry. With the people. They find somebody.”“I really want him to fall in love.”“So do I.”“And I really want somebody to fall in love with him.”My Italian Bulldozer AW3.indd 21 16/03/2016 10:43“D’accordo.”Silence. Paul had brought in an amuse bouche of whippedparmesan, white and fluffy as a sorbet.“Divine,” said Fran.At her end of the table, Gloria smiled. Things were lookingmuch better now. She dipped a spoon into the whippedparmesan, and closed her eyes.22 My Italian Bulldozer
Publisher: Vintage Canada