Monday, September 17, 2012

New! Loving Roberto


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Falling in love was the last thing on Marcie’s mind when she came to Milan from
Philadelphia and got a great job in an international company—where a charming Italian named Roberto happens to be her closest coworker.

When Roberto tells her about his unhappy love affair with another woman, Marcie is
deeply moved—and at the same time realizes that she has fallen in love with him.
Roberto seems to be falling in love with her too. But how could he even think of starting a love affair right after ending another one? He is bound by ties he can’t escape—a wife he doesn’t love and a seriously ill daughter he cares very much about. She wasn’t sure she wanted any part of such an ill-fated affair.

Marcie falls into a restless sleep burdened with this realization. She awakens the next morning in Roberto’s body. This has to be a dream, she thinks, until she goes to her office and collides with the real Roberto—who has just had a dream of waking up in her body. As even stranger events follow, Marcie begins to wonder, suppose they were really in each others' bodies?  Can forbidden love be that strong?


Flirting. It was a part of the local language. The Italian way with words, wayward and enticing. Inevitably, Roberto had abetted and encouraged her. Or maybe he had started it, and she had unconsciously fallen in step. Non importa. What did it matter why it had happened? This was Italy, where accidental love was thing to be embraced, not resisted.

Even so, her growing closeness to Roberto had seemed perfectly innocent to her—right up until that painful moment last Friday when he had confessed his affair with the other woman. And then came the weird dream this morning.

Starting from today, being close to Roberto while keeping them both out of trouble—and out of each other’s shoes—was definitely not going to be easy.

At the end of the afternoon, Roberto materialized in her office.

He approached her desk silently, the same way he always approached her in the conference room. This way of walking in on each other was a habit they both had developed recently. There was nothing premeditated about it. It was a kind of secret code, a way of saying “we belong to each other,” and it was so subtle that nobody would ever notice they were doing it. Other colleagues in the department always paused in a co-worker’s doorway to announce themselves before entering. Barging right in to someone’s office was considered rude.

“Oh, Roberto,” she said, and turned to face him.

Unlike Marcie, he was impeccably dressed in the clothes she had lovingly selected from his drawer. He seated himself without waiting for an invitation—another breach of office etiquette that they allowed themselves—and waited. She knew exactly what he was waiting for. He wanted her to con-firm that nothing had happened this morning.

“Too late for coffee,” he said. “Couldn’t get free in time, sorry. Desolato.”

She waved a hand dismissively. This was not about coffee.

“Roberto, we have to talk about what happened this morning.”

“Happened? Something happened?” Roberto glanced quickly down at his chest as if he half-expected to see something unusual there. Then he looked up, visibly relieved. His appearance—cardigan, pants, and all—was perfect.

Marcie studied his face. It was a disturbed face, but not a seriously frightened one. It was at a level of two or three on the panic scale, not a seven or eight as she had seen on his face the time the whole sound system went down the evening before the annual stockholders’ meeting. Obviously, he had not taken in the full measure of this thing that had happened. She would have to break it to him gently.

“Roberto,” she said with forced patience, “did you have a weird dream before you woke up this morning?”

He nodded. “I did.”

“Of course you did,” she said.

In order not to break the news to him all at once, she added, “I guessed it when I bumped into you in the corridor. You looked kind of tense and headachy. That’s how I could tell you probably had a bad dream.”

It did not sound convincing to Marcie, but Roberto nodded.

“So tell me, what was it? Did you dream you were in my apartment in Milan?”

“Yes, that’s it exactly!” He looked surprised.

Marcie was speechless for a moment. She had only figured this out for herself after mentally going through her own motions over and over. Only after reviewing her own bizarre morning trajectory had she worked out in her mind what must have been Roberto’s parallel experience. Not until he spoke the words was she quite sure that it had happened this way, that it was an exchange of bodies—that it had happened not just to her, but to him.

“And in this dream, did you imagine that you were me?” she asked cautiously. “I mean, like in a dream, of course—were you, in this dream, inside of a woman’s body? And did you get dressed by putting on this awful sweater?” She held up a tatty sleeve for his inspection. “And these pants?” She stretched her legs out before him. “And then did you take the subway from my stop to the office?”

“Exactly,” he said. He shook his head doubtfully. “You always amaze me, Marcellina. How did you know what I dreamed?”

“Because, um, I don’t know how to say this, but let’s just say that I thought I was you this morning. I woke up in your apartment, in Treviglio. And I was in your body. And I had to drive your car to the office. And then I bumped into you and sort of bounced back in my own body.” She paused. “And Anna Maria was still asleep when I left. She must have worked late last night, am I right?”

“Right,” he said. “Hey, how do you know that?”

“Because, Roberto, I don’t know how to say this, but I think maybe it really happened.”

Dead silence.