“Look at this, Max,” I said, pointing to the newspaper article. ‘Diva Lucrezia Leonana Pepperoni To Sing at City Concert Hall.’ ”
Max’s coffee cup clattered onto the saucer. I looked up. His face had turned gray. He put out his hand to stop me.
“Please don’t tell me that,” he croaked. “Can we change our names? Go under witness protection?”
“Don’t be silly,” I said. I folded the paper and put it aside. “When she finds out we live here, she’ll be thrilled. She’ll want you to cater a party.”
He hid his face behind his hands. “That’s just what frightens me!”
“Can we change our names? Go under witness protection?”
The stricken look on his face shocked me. “Why, for heaven’s sake? Diva Pepperoni loves you.”
He crossed his arms. “You’ve never planned a party for her. I’ve worked on the front lines.”
“Oh, Max,” I said. I got up to wash the breakfast dishes, “You exaggerate.”
He sighed and shook his head. “I’m talking first hand experience. This happened in the past…… I go to her house at the appointed time. I wait an hour. Her butler finally comes out and says, ‘Signora will see you shortly. Just a little wardrobe adjustment.’ He shrugs. ‘You know the signora.’ Another half hour drags by. I tap my fingers on the marble tabletop and wait for The Great One to appear. Finally, she breezes into the room. ‘Breezes’ is the wrong word for a person her size. She tornadoes into the room in a wrapper of riotous colors that could comfortably envelope three thinner divas.”
“She lifts her bejeweled hand to be kissed. She says, ‘ Max, bambino mio,’ I am so contento you have agreed to cater my small cocktail gathering.’ Then she settles on the divan.”
“I wait for her to begin. What do you have in mind, Signora?” I say and wait for the blow. ‘Ehhhhhhhhhhhhh…… she exhales. ‘ I’m thinking.’ “
“While she exhales, I could have eaten a ham sandwich. By the time she gets through thinking and speaks again, I could have consumed a large bowl of pasta.”
Sitting down at the kitchen counter and picking up the newspaper again, I said, “You embellish.”
“No!” Max sounded annoyed. “She wanted all the green olives sprayed with food coloring, because olives are not felice green. And listen to this: she wanted the caviar less salty. She expected what of me? To wash each tiny egg?”
“What did you do?”
He lifted his hands and shrugged. “I sprayed the olives felice green and washed each tiny egg.”
He put his head into his hands. “Working for Diva Pepperoni amuses like a Thanksgiving Day parade without the balloons. Signora’s balloon floats in the parade and can’t fit between the buildings! They’d have to let 50% of the air out.”
I put my hand on Max’s arm and looked into his eyes. “You’ll meet the challenge should it arise.”
“Harummmmmph,” he said.
Two days later, Max ran into my studio. His face reflected worry and fear. I washed my watercolor brush and put it, bristles up, in the brush holder.
“Guess who sent an email?” he said, flinging himself into the easy chair by my drafting table.
I put a finger to my lips and raised my gaze to the ceiling. “Let me guess, Lucrezia?”
“None other. She discovered we live here and wants to visit.” He dropped his head back and flopped his arms and legs over the chair. “Oh, bloody beetroot! Why me?”
I shut the lid over my watercolor paint set, screwed the top onto the water jar, and draped the brush rag over the edge of the table. “What exactly did she write?” I asked.
He said, “Her visit lasts only a couple of days. She wants to meet with us in private. She didn’t mention a party.”
“See Max,” I said. “You’re off the hook.”
“Oh, sure! I might be off the hook but now sitting on the serving dish.”
“Why don’t we wait and see what she wants?”
“We agreed tomorrow morning would be good.”
“In that case,” I said, rising from my chair, “I’d better shop for the ingredients for Apples Sylvia. That one dish always soothes the savage beast.”
Max got up to leave. “A pretty large beast arrives tomorrow. Growwwwwwwwwwwl …….. !