Caroline’s second dose had been scheduled for precisely four weeks after her first. She was anxious to get it over with, and knew that there would be far worse side effects with this final one. It had already been such a long buildup to getting the first one over with, and she really couldn’t deal with any more anxiety-inducing anticipation. Yet what else should she have expected? This, after all, was Italy. She was lucky to be getting vaccinated at all, what with bureaucratic services being what they were. Particularly in the South, and particularly in Campania.
For as long as she could remember Caroline Modavia had lived in Acciaroli. And no, it had nothing to do with the fact that it was one of Ernest Hemingway’s favored locations to “sojourn” after World War II. If anything, that would have been a demotivator for going. But Caroline didn’t have much of a choice at the time she moved there. Or rather, was “placed” there. It was purported to be temporary. Just while her father, Landon Modavia, “sorted things out.” That was to say, while he had her mother committed to a “facility” in Switzerland. The facility, naturally, was to help better support her mental health.
Unfortunately, Caroline’s mother, Elena Modavia, had had something of a crack-up in the midst of a very important dinner party Landon was holding to raise money for one of his many “charitable causes.” If Caroline remembered correctly, the cause this time around was the right to hunt elephants while on safari. Or hell, even when not on safari. To be sure, these were very niche, very underground “charitable causes,” and only the richest of the rich, therefore the douchiest of the douches were invited to such “fundraisers.” Elena, perhaps, had watched all of this go down just one too many times. And part of the reason she was not so slowly going mad was a direct result of keeping her mouth shut about Landon’s general nefariousness. Of facilitating the silence Landon had expected to be a condition of their marriage.
As Caroline learned early on in life, it was Landon’s family money that made them rich. Whereas Elena came from nothing. Deemed a “peasant,” as Landon so frequently liked to remind her whenever she became “unruly.” And that he was willing to send her back to that life at a moment’s notice if she couldn’t act the part of the “lady” he required her to be in order to exude the necessary façade of what he called “excellence.” Caroline often overheard this same argument as she grew older, but by her tenth year, even she noticed it was becoming more regular. To the point where it would have driven any sane person on the receiving end of such vitriol to madness. And yes, Elena went mad. Caroline knew already, at such a young age, that her mother couldn’t be blamed. That maybe, in the end, madness saved her. For at least it got her out of the clutches of Caroline’s oppressive, overbearing father. Crazy was the key…to getting out of jail free. Even if that meant being put into a different one.
As for Caroline, she knew deep down that when she was dropped off with Elena’s mother—a woman Caroline had never met up until that instant—Landon wasn’t going to come back. As far as he was concerned, she was part of a life and lineage that her father no longer wanted to be associated with. By leaving her in Acciaroli, he was tacitly telling her to “get fucked.” To fend for herself, “figure it out.”
Being abandoned by one’s parents at ten is not without its advantages. For every child dreams of securing independence far earlier than they actually do. Caroline was granted that wish, even though she hadn’t expressly asked for it. After all, Nona Giulietta was a woman who, at eighty-six years old, really couldn’t be bothered anymore. In fact, she expected Caroline—whom she rechristened as Carolina—to be the one bothered now. That was a partial contingency of taking her in. That little Carolina might be the eyes, ears and hands Giulietta no longer had.
Her first day “on the job,” Carolina was told to go to the local market and buy a few sundries and vegetables to cook for dinner. Giulietta was also quite adamant that Carolina come back with the rosemary. That she shouldn’t even think of setting foot back in the house without the rosemary. Obviously, this made Carolina want to forget about the ingredient just to spite her grandmother, but she knew she was in no position to alienate what was turning out to be her only reliable family connection. So she got the rosemary, never forgetting how potent it smelled that first time before she grew used to how much stronger the scent of it was here in Acciaroli. Maybe that was part of the spell cast upon her to make her stay for so long.
There were numerous times when Carolina thought of returning to London, of getting back to the place where she might more easily belong, more easily function (mainly because things were so much more inherently functional there). When she was eighteen, the matter was brought up by Giulietta, now ninety-four and showing no signs of dying anytime soon so that Carolina might inherit the house. But Giulietta said she would rather have the house converted into a convent before she would turn it over to a single woman like Carolina. This, Carolina imagined, was meant to be a motivating tool to get her to leave Acciaroli and go back out into the “real world.” Thus, the instant Carolina was finished blowing out the candles on her eighteenth birthday, Giulietta immediately demanded, “Allora, vai all’università a Londra?” Yes, the thought of going to school there had crossed her mind, but the second Giulietta asked it, she knew she didn’t actually want to leave Acciaroli. Ever. At best, she might find herself visiting other towns in Campania, but to leave the region? That was now impossibile for Carolina.
As the years passed, Giulietta became too weary to keep pestering Carolina about how she should leave. And when she finally passed away at the tender age of one hundred and four. Carolina, presently twenty-eight, still genuinely believed that Giulietta would live forever, even through the pandemic. But no, the disease had taken hold and managed to topple her grandmother even in spite of her increased rosemary intake. She insisted this would be more effective treatment than any vaccine. And yes, it had been made available expressly for her age bracket before anyone else’s. Giulietta refused. Carolina, meanwhile, wished there was an option for the youth to take on any such doses that the elderly thumbed their nose at. Alas, no such logic applied when it came to governmental dispersal.
Burying Giulietta was something Carolina knew she would have to do eventually, but when the day actually came, she couldn’t believe it. She also couldn’t believe that, for the first time in almost twenty years, she was just “Caroline” again. She would never hear the chastising intonation of “Carolina” arbitrarily slung at her without Giulietta there to do it. But, at the very least, this meant she wouldn’t have to hear it used multiple times upon getting her first and second vaccination doses. Who knows why Giulietta was so fearful of them, especially when Pope Francis himself had sanctioned it. Had reminded people of all the good that such innovations had brought upon humanity. But Giulietta was convinced the vaccine was created too quickly to be trusted, and added that her granddaughter ought to be wary as well.
But the only thing she was wary about was the fact that her appointment for the second dose had been whimsically rescheduled for no other reason than: “Well, we thought we had more doses available to give out than we currently do.” The scarcity of adequate doses (meaning not AstraZeneca, Sputnik V or J&J) meant that these random changes in scheduling were only to be expected. Alas, Caroline genuinely thought that, for once, she might be an exception to the rule of “there are no rules” and “there is nothing anyone can count on.”
To make the news more profoundly disappointing, they didn’t manage to inform her before she arrived to the appointment, one quintessentially clear day, that it was not to be for another week. Thus, on the way back home, rather than taking the bus, she decided to walk in order to bear her despondency, taking the route that led her to the Chiesa della Santissima Annunziata, right near the porto. Although she knew that, precisely because she didn’t get her second shot, she ought to exercise even more caution than usual, the sight of a marinaio docking his boat made her dispense with all reason. Caroline needed something to take the edge off, and this sailor, she decided, was going to be it. He seemed rather amenable to the idea as well, for it took little more than a look and a nod on her part for them to end up on his boat, fornicating with abandon. Caroline had no doubt Giulietta was watching in total dismay, praying the rosary for her granddaughter’s unconscionable sins.
When it was over, she walked into the church and prayed. Not only that she hadn’t just gotten a communicable disease in exchange for her moment of heedless passion, but that the second dose would truly be available next time. Of course, when the new appointment date arrived, she was, once again, met with a sad expression and a half-hearted, “Mi dispiace.” So there she was, out there in the ether with just one dose of the vaccine inside of her. What good was that going to do when the plague inevitably ramped up in the fall? She wondered if she was not in some kind of purgatory, some Waiting for Godot scenario in which she would be told for all of eternity that her appointment for the second dose had been moved again. Which is exactly what she had been informed for the third instance in just as many months—meaning, the nurse was afraid, she would be better off simply starting from scratch again. But what, ultimately, was the point of that when the second dose would invariably never be available?
Sitting on the balcony smoking a cigarette and looking out pensively at the water just as Giulietta used to do, Caroline was starting to see things more and more clearly from her grandmother’s perspective. Maybe the vaccine was more trouble than it was worth after all. Especially since she had no immediate plans to leave the premises now that her second dose appointment wasn’t even scheduled for “ceremonial” purposes. Little did she know, the sailor’s spawn growing inside of her would soon enough require her to leave the house one way or another—whether for a backwater abortion or giving birth at the hospital. But certainly not for another attempt at trying to get vaccinated in this part of the world.