To my beloved Wolfe, who I still cannot mention without weeping, and to SB, the gift that just keeps on giving. (pause for more weeping)
“What are you giving up for lent, Sonia?” the old priest smiled at the little woman. Sonia was considered an old spinster in the small Italian town they lived in. Small, fat, grey-haired. Ordinary, in that invisible way where she had never been a threat or amounted to anything.
“Shame, father. I thought I would give up shame for lent. Forty days of not feeling bad about anything.”
“Now you know that probably won’t work well, don’t you? Would you like me to explain why God might not like that?”
“No, father. If I do something wrong, I will confess. I want to try this.” Sonia was determined. “I might give up cured meat too.” she tried to appease him with this offering.
“Well, I cannot say this is a good decision, Sonia. Let me know if you get into trouble.” the priest shook his head. Really, he thought, at her age. Perhaps it would be quite funny?
Sonia returned home to prepare for work at the bakery she worked in, feeling that she had made a good decision. God couldn’t possibly want her to go through life invisible, could he? Surely God liked happiness?
Looking through her wardrobe, she saw a sea of dowdy clothing. She looked at her frizzy, dry grey hair and thought this looked dull too. God, she felt, was probably bored looking at her anyway. She went next door to the chemist and bought a red hair dye. She figured she had time to do something before she went to work to express her month of freedom.
Half an hour later, Sonia was impressed by the change. She wasn’t young, she thought, but she certainly looked more cheerful. She selected her least comfortable brassiere from the dresser, and pushed her breasts into a showy cleavage by adjusting the straps. Yes, that was better, she thought.
Digging throught the wardrobe, the best she could come up with at short notice was a rather sheer black blouse, which she really just had to wear over a sturdy vest at funerals but which allowed her to show her new cleavage, and a pencil skirt, which she had not worn for some time. She was a little saggier than she remembered, but she remedied this by shaving her legs and wearing tights.
Standing for several hours at work would not be fun in heels, she thought, so she used her fluffy black mules, which simply looked rather more frivolous than her usual slippers at work.
Feeling rather daring, she applied some lipstick and a little mascara. Her mother would say she looked like an old tart, God rest her soul. Sonia was thrilled by her transformation.
She picked up her handbag, put the required items in it to maintain her new look, and went to work. No cakes for her today, she thought, she did not feel like eating today.
The baker did not recognise her at first. “Sonia?” he was aghast. Younger than her, and yet set in his ways, he did not like change.
“Yes! I am celebrating Lent!” Sonia put her handbag in its customary place under the counter and started work. The mules were not all that comfortable, but she was aware that he was staring at her ankles, which pleased her enormously.
Maria was her first customer of the day, in to buy the bread for her enormous extended family. She was suitably shocked.
“Ah, how are you Sonia?” Maria thought this was clearly some sort of mid-life crisis. “Feeling OK?”
“It is a beautiful day to celebrate Jesus! How are you, Maria!” Sonia smiled at her, revealing excellent white teeth.
“Well, you know, Brigitta is expecting again. You know how these things are…” Maria felt she was on safer ground now, talking about herself was always limitless with Sonia, since Sonia had a dull and lonely life on her own.
“No! I have no children! I have no idea!” Sonia did not feel the need to be sensitive, since Maria had never been particularly nice to her. “Have a nice day!”
Next, a beautiful young man came in to purchase a cake for his workplace. Spying her cleavage, he took his time over picking, making her bend into the cake cabinet for some time. She stood upright after a few minutes of this. She smiled at him. He smiled back.
“You are very beautiful, young man, but I have not time for this.” she shook her head. “Life is too short, beauty.”
He laughed “I’ll take the strawberry one.”
“Huh! Furthest away! You are very cheeky too!” She leaned in again and picked up the cake, struggling slightly.
“I will see you tomorrow?” The young man blushed slightly as he asked her. “You work here now?”
Sonia felt it was probably unnecessary to tell him she had been there for years. “Yes! I will be delighted to serve you again!” she hummed a happy tune as she tidied the counter.
Sonia’s mood further improved as the day wore on. She wasn’t invisible any more. Word of her transformation spread around the town remarkably quickly, and towards the end of the day her old ‘friends,’ who had never bothered with her in the past, suddenly started asking her how she was. She revelled in the fact none of them actually asked her what had caused this change.
After work, she went to the market and bought some brighter clothing. She was enjoying herself for the first time in years. She almost danced as she picked brightly coloured skirts and shoes for work. A lively man of her own age waltzed her around the square briefly as she made her way out, buying herself some flowers for her house. She supposed this was vanity, yet another sin.
She put the flowers in her front window, clearly visible to the people passing her house. She put on a yellow skirt and green blouse, and giggled at the combination of this and her new hair colour. She sang to herself as she considered new paint colours. Soon, there was a knock at the door. Her neighbour, having been gossiping with the local women, had come to see the apparition of Sonia without shame. She stood at the door, staring at her balefully.
“Anita! How nice to see you. Would you and Franco like to come for drinks? I have some Wine and olives from the market? You can come before your dinner!”
“Eh, sure. I will go get him.” Anita returned to fetch her tired husband.
As they entered, Sonia kissed them both hello, “You are so handsome Franco, you need to get more sleep!”
This was too much for Anita “What on earth is going on?” She was outraged. “What are you doing?”
Franco felt the trickle of male hormone, the colour returning to his tired face “What do you mean, Anita? The lady is paying me a compliment, no? She doesn’t mean anything by it?”
“Sonia has never been like this before, look at the breasts, the hair, the teeth! What is going on?” Anita demanded. She looked angrily at Sonia.
“Life is beautiful. We should celebrate!” Sonia stepped back and did a little twirl before breaking into song. She had a fine operatic voice that nobody had previously heard. “Let us drink!” She broke open the wine. Franco smiled.
Anita tried redirecting the conversation to gossip, but neither Sonia nor Franco were interested. They wanted to talk about travelling, good wine, where to find good olives. It turned out they both loved to swim, so they talked about good places to go for that. Anita was furious.
“We are not coming here again.” she fumed “I thought you were my friend.”
“I am your friend. Those other people in the town, they are none of my business. Life is for living, not talking about others.”
“It is OK, Sonia, I think I need to take Anita on holiday.” Franco looked worn. “Thank you for the wine. You look great, by the way.”
“Thank you.” Sonia was nearly in tears. She had not meant to upset her neighbours.
As the 40 days wore on, the bakery became busier and busier. Sonia talked the baker into repainting the frontage, gypsy flowers replacing the plain green tatty paintwork that had been there before. Musicians would choose to play nearby, so that people buying lunch could listen and give them their change. Sonia put potted plants and tables outside. The baker was exhausted. The priest was unhappy.
“When are you going to be pious and humble Sonia again? This won’t do!”
“Oh, my darling, never.” Sonia threw up her hands. “Because eternity is right now!”