�Bundle up, Am�co. It�s gonna be a cold night.�
With chapped, already shivering hands, Fabrizio Capetti lay a tattered bit of his old flannel blanket across his dog, Am�co. The brown and gray mutt lay curled with his head in Fabrizio�s lap and Fabrizio, his back against the wall of a long-closed storefront, was grateful for the extra warmth. Although the temperature made the arrangement less than ideal, Fabrizio was content to spend the night on the Roman street. He was far from the train station where many of his friends fought for a few hours of sleep, but he could wait until tomorrow to take that walk.
�We�re gonna have to find some money,� Fabrizio whispered, stroking Am�co�s neck. �We�ve run out of food.�
Am�co shifted slightly, but did not seem very concerned. Not nearly as concerned as Fabrizio. The pangs of hunger in his side could only lead to one resolution and Fabrizio was already almost sick with the thought of it.
Giving Am�co a pat on the head, Fabrizio took to his feet, slinking off into a nearby alley. He pressed himself against the brick wall and produced a small switchblade from his pocket. Whoever passed the alley next would be his beneficiary. He didn�t wish to hurt anyone but sometimes people needed a little motivation to make a contribution. No blood, just a little fear. He wasn�t asking for riches. Just enough to buy a loaf of bread and maybe a bit of cheese at an open-late grocery.
He waited for several minutes, listening to nothing but the wind whistling through the alley, until finally Fabrizio was able to make out the sound of footsteps coming towards the alley. He took a deep breath and tightened his grip on the knife. There was no other way. He had to eat.
At the last moment, just as the footsteps were about to pass, Fabrizio sprung from his hiding place, knife drawn. He seized his victim and forced her into the alley, cornering her with his weapon. But as his eyes adjusted to the darkness Fabrizio, with knife extended and menacing speech prepared, found that, much to his horror, he was looking at a small, elderly woman.
�I suppose you�ll be wanting my purse,� the old woman said.
Fabrizio was speechless. The woman, wearing a headscarf and a dress that had seen several decades, was petite in every sense of the word. Yet she did not seem the least bit frightened. Instead she was staring Fabrizio straight in the eye unwaveringly, unafraid.
�Is that your dog back there?� the woman asked.
�Yes,� Fabrizio said. �It is.�
The woman nodded. �It�s a beautiful animal.�
�Signora� I� I only need a few Euros. I mean you no harm. I just need a few Euros. I have no food. I have��
�Give me the knife.�
�Give me the knife,� the woman repeated, gesturing impatiently. �Give me the knife, and you and your dog can come with me. I�ll give you a hot meal and a place to spend the night. You�re a good boy. You�ve just lost your way.�
�Call me Signora Erma,� the woman said. �And you are?�
Fabrizio was thoroughly confused. He had robbed people before, but this was the first time he had ever had a conversation with one of them. And not only was he having a conversation with the old woman, but she was offering him everything he lacked: a bed, a warm meal, maybe even a bath. His better judgment told him not to trust the woman. After all, how easy would it be for her to run to the police or even turn his own knife upon him? But there was something in her eyes, something in the way she looked at him that made Fabrizio feel as though he had received a great blessing.
�Fabrizio Capetti,� Fabrizio said as he handed Signora Erma the knife. �And that�s all I have.�
�Good, good. Now let�s get your dog, and we�ll be on our way.�
Fabrizio took Signora Erma�s arm and lead her out of the alley and back along the street where he had left Am�co. With a clap of Fabrizio�s hands, the dog was on his feet and, flannel blanket in his mouth, following Fabrizio and Signora Erma down the sidewalk.
A few blocks and a flight of stairs later, Fabrizio found himself in the apartment Signora Erma called home. It was larger than Fabrizio would have thought, with a sitting room, a kitchen and even two bedrooms. The furniture was worn and eclectic, as if every piece had been picked up at some rummage sale or flea market. Most puzzling to Fabrizio, however, was the fact that the entire apartment smelt faintly of dust and peppermint.
�I don�t have much,� said Signora Erma as she removed her coat and placed it carefully in the small hall closet. �I certainly wasn�t expecting guests but I�m sure I can whip something up.�
�You are more than generous, Signora. Anything would be a great improvement.�
�The bathroom is on the left,� Signora Erma said as she wandered into the kitchen. �There should be soap and towels and everything else you need. There�s a razor and shaving cream in the medicine cabinet. Do you have any clean clothes?�
Fabrizio shook his head.
�I�ll see what I can find you. I used to have some of my grandson�s things around.�
Commanding Am�co to remain seated in the living room, Fabrizio made his way into the bathroom. Once inside in the white-tiled room, he stripped out of his dirty clothes and prepared a hot shower for himself. With a sigh, Fabrizio entered the shower and felt the steaming water descend upon him. He spent fifteen minutes washing his hair alone, and used nearly half a bar of soap. It had been so long since he had been afforded such a luxury. When finished with his shower, Fabrizio searched the medicine cabinet above the sink for a razor and made a quick job of shaving the light beard he had acquired. With a shower and shave, Fabrizio looked closer to his twenty-five years than ever before.
When he peeked out from behind the bathroom door, Fabrizio found a neat stack of clothes waiting for him in front of the door. He could already smell the meal Signora Erma was preparing and so he dressed quickly. In a pair of slightly-too-long khakis, a plain white dress shirt and incredibly warm socks, Fabrizio moved back into the living room where he found Am�co dozing on the rug.
�In the kitchen, Fabrizio!� Signora Erma called. �Wake your dog. I have some scraps for him too.�
Fabrizio had been expecting perhaps a small bowl of pasta and a bit of bread, but he found a veritable feast laid out on the table. There was pasta, naturally, but it was a large serving bowl full rather than the petite portion Fabrizio had envisioned. There was also a selection of cheeses and cold meats and even a bit of leftover pork. A bottle of wine and a basket of bread sat in the middle of the table.
�Sit,� said Signora Erma as she gestured to the chair nearest Fabrizio.
Fabrizio did as he was told, watching as Signora Erma put a few slices of ham in a bowl and placed it on the floor for Am�co. Signora Erma wiped her hands on the old cotton apron she wore and sat down at the table across from Fabrizio. She piled his plate with food and seemed insulted when Fabrizio did not begin to eat when the plate was put back in front of him.
�Eat! Eat!� cried Signora Erma. �I give you this food and you don�t even��
�I was waiting for you.�
�You�re my hostess,� said Fabrizio. �I was waiting for you to start eating.�
Signora Erma nodded, both a bit impressed and a bit taken back by Fabrizio�s response.
�Where are you from?� she asked after taking a bite of bread. �Other than the street I found you on.�
�A village outside
�So you decided to sleep on streets instead?�
Fabrizio smiled. �Something like that. Am�co and I�� Am�co barked at the sound of his name ��were just wandering around and ended up in
�At which time you took to jumping old women.�
�I�m really very sorry,� Fabrizio said. �I hate doing that, but the bits of spare change I manage to pick up doesn�t always buy enough.�
Signora Erma nodded and dished Fabrizio a second helping of pasta. �You look very nice in those clothes, Fabrizio. I wasn�t sure they were going to fit you. You�re such a skinny little thing.�
�They�re your grandson�s clothes, yes?�
�Yes,� said Signora Erma. �He used to live here with me. But he�s been gone some years.�
�Where did he go?�
Signora Erma shrugged as she offered Fabrizio another piece of bread. �Away. Lord only knows where he is now.�
�Signora, I can�t tell you how happy I am to have found you,� Fabrizio said. �You might� you might have saved my life tonight. I was sure I was going to starve.�
Signora Erma laughed as she shook her head. �More pork?�
When the two had finished their dinner Fabrizio offered to do the dishes, but Signora Erma would not hear of it. Saying that she would leave the wash for the next morning, Signora Erma set up a bed of blankets in the living room for Am�co and led Fabrizio into the guest bedroom. The room was tiny, but the pillows were soft and the blankets were warm and that was all that concerned Fabrizio. After thanking Signora Erma profusely and making sure she had gone to bed, Fabrizio crept out into the living room and woke Am�co. He brought the dog back into the guest room and slipped back into bed, Am�co curled up beside him, as they had slept so many times before. It was simply too strange to sleep alone.
That night Fabrizio enjoyed one of the best sleeps of his life. When he woke up the next morning, tangled in the bed�s cotton sheets, he was initially unsure of where he was. A cozy bed in an elderly woman�s apartment was a far cry from the cement where he usually spent his nights.
Signora Erma had breakfast waiting for him: rolls, jam and a large caf� latte. He devoured the meal as Signora Erma sat at her usual spot at the table, slowly sipping her coffee.
�Did you sleep well?� she asked.
�Yes, Signora. Very well, thank you.�
�I suppose you�ll have to be on your way soon.�
�Yes,� said Fabrizio, wiping his mouth with his napkin. �I�ve probably stayed too long already.�
�I want to give you something before you go.�
�Signora, please. You�ve already��
�No, no,� said Signora Erma. �I have something I want to give to you. I have no use for it.�
Signora Erma reached into her apron pocket and produced a small, wrinkled envelope. She laid the envelope on the table in front of Fabrizio, who hesitated to pick it up.
�Take it,� Signora Erma said, gesturing to the envelope. �I want you to have it.�
Carefully, unsure of what awaited him, Fabrizio opened the envelope. A wad of bills, at least five hundred Euros, was stuffed inside the envelope.
�Signora,� Fabrizio said, his voice caught in his throat. �I� I can�t accept this.�
Signora Erma waved the comment away. �I have no need for it. I have everything I need right here.�
�Last night I tried to rob you!� Fabrizio cried. �I had you at knifepoint. And now��
�You are young! There is still time for you to lead a good life.�
Signora Erma took Fabrizio�s hand, closing his fingers about the envelope.
�Take it,� she said. �Take the money and buy some good, warm clothes. Find a cheap place to stay and make sure you keep your dog fed. There�s enough in there, if you�re smart with it, to last you until you have found some steady work.�
Fabrizio smiled, staring down at the envelope in his hands. The woman that, the night before, he had begged a few Euros from had given him enough money for a fresh start, enough money for a new life.
�But why?� Fabrizio asked. �Why would you do this?�
�You�re a good boy,� said Signora Erma. �You�ve just lost your way.�
BIO: Elizabeth Harbaugh's work has appeared in the December 2006 issue of Jelly Paint, the Winter 2006 issue of Antithesis Common, and the June 2007 issue of Surrounded Magazine. She placed 2nd in the 2006 Bernard Heeney Creative Writing contest. Additionally, her plays have placed 3rd in the Theater Project's Young Playwrights Competition 2008 and recieved the award of Best Production at the 2008 Bucks County Theater Competition. She is currently pursuing a BA in English at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA.