This story spans several decades and the chapters are divided up accordingly, so some chapters seem relatively short while others are quite long. I hope the format does not prove too confusing and that you can stick with it till the end. Feedback is loved as always, hope you enjoy.
"I'll be seeing you in all the old familiar places
That this heart of mine embraces all day through
In that small cafe, the park across the way
The children's carousel, the chestnut trees, the wishing well
I'll be seeing you in every lovely summer's day
In everything that's light and gay
I'll always think of you that way
I'll find you in the morning sun
And when the night is new
I'll be looking at the moon
But I'll be seeing you"
Grande Marina, Capri, 1949
Helen was grateful for the shade of the canvas awnings as she weaved through the crowds of the fish market on the marina. It was just past ten in the morning but the sun was already growing uncomfortably warm. The air was filled with the aroma of the sea and the loud drum of pressurised water on wood as the vendors hosed down the empty crates, the best of the day's catch long since snapped up by eager chefs and housewives. She passed an old woman waving a handful of tatty banknotes at a ragged looking fisherman holding an enormous octopus in his hands, its tentacles swinging about and slapping against the wooden crate beside him as they argued over the price.
Helen stepped around them and trotted down a creaking wooden jetty, tugging her wide brimmed hat down to shield her face from the glare of the sun. At the end of the pontoon she was met by a shaggy looking man in his forties who turned to her with a friendly smile.
"Doctor!" he called as he saw her approach and Helen grinned at him broadly.
"Enzo, oh are you a sight for sore eyes," she told him in perfect Italian, stooping down as he planted loud, affectionate kisses on her cheeks. "It's been an absolute bloody nightmare since you left."
"Ah do not worry any longer, my dear doctor," Enzo told her reassuringly in a heavy dialect unintelligible to most foreigners. "Now I am back I am sure we will take care of whatever disaster has occurred."
"Did you get what we were after?" she asked, peering over his shoulder at the men shifting crates around in the boat behind him. Enzo turned to look in the same direction, scratching his scruffy beard and looking serious.
"More or less, you know how it is in Naples these days but..." Enzo gave a mild shrug and a cheeky pout. Helen's lips curved up in a sceptical smile.
"But you have a cousin whose wife has a brother whose neighbour knows someone..." she drawled in a mildly disapproving tone. Enzo's smile grew wider and he raised his hands in a gesture of ignorance. "Hmmm yes I think perhaps you better keep it to yourself Enzo."
"What the eye doesn't see the heart doesn't grieve over," he told her sagely and patted her arm before stepping onto the gangplank and chivalrously offering her his hand. Helen shook her head and smiled as she grasped it, following him on board.
An hour or so later and he majority of Enzo's haul was stacked onto the back of a rusty old truck while the smaller items were loaded into Helen's car. Enzo argued loudly with his cousin before the pair of them bid her farewell and climbed into the cab, the engine sputtering loudly as they pulled away. She stood in front of the hood of her car for a moment and watched as the truck moved off to make the trip over the island towards the villa, wincing at the crunch of the gears as it bounced along the dusty road.
Helen let out a sigh and smacked her lips, turning to walk down the cracked stone towards a small cafe as the whine of a motorcycle engine filled her ears. Inside she bought a bottle of water and stood for a long time by a grubby old fan, grateful for the weak breeze it generated while she drank. She watched the last few stragglers on the dock, most people having gone inside to seek shelter from the midday sun. Ships littered the horizon, the traffic from the mainland steadily increasing as the weeks went by, the wartime restrictions gradually forgotten and life returned to something close to normal.
Helen stood for a long time watching the boats, idly peeling the label off the bottle on the bar before her, lost in thought. She started when the barista emptied an ashtray into the trash, the edge clanging loudly against the metal rim and her eyes went wide when she looked down at her watch. She dropped some money onto the counter and turned out of the door, walking along under the shade of the awnings that hung from the front of the stores on the promenade towards the car. Two scruffy looking men without shirts were hauling huge blocks of ice from the back of a truck through an open shopfront, leaving a dark wet trail on the stone floor. Helen flicked her hair over her shoulder and ignored the playful catcalls they threw at her as she passed, her heels clicking loudly on the pavement.
She had just reached the car when a voice called out. "Helen!" She froze and lifted her head, gazing across the promenade. A few yards away a suited figure stood against the sea wall, leaning heavily on a cane. She looked at him intently for a moment until he smiled beneath his sunglasses and began to walk towards her with a pronounced limp. As he drew nearer Helen pulled her sunglasses off and tilted her head to one side, her mouth dropping open slightly in surprise. She walked around the front of the car towards him. "It is you!" the man exclaimed.
"Oh my goodness," Helen said, a timid smile spreading across her face as he paused in the middle of the road to let a car pass. Helen took in the familiar profile as he looked up and down the street before stepping forward and stopping in front of her.
"As I live and breath, it is the one and only Helen Magnus," he told her playfully, pulling off his shades and looking her right in the eye. Helen's breath hitched a little under his stare, memories bubbling to the surface at the sight of his piercing blue eyes.
"Freddie Sacksville-West, what on earth?" Helen shook her head in disbelief. "Well isn't this a surprise?"
"I'll say! I wasn't sure it was you at first. You've changed you hair!" Helen dropped her gaze bashfully and pushed an errant brunette lock across her face.
"Oh yes," she chuffed. "I just...thought it was time for a change." Freddie smiled at her, his eyes crinkling at the corners.
"Well it looks...stunning, really. You look wonderful Helen, if it wasn't for the hair I'd swear you haven't changed a bit." Helen didn't reply, not quite sure how to respond and they stood in an awkward silence for a moment. "So," she said with a mild cough a minute later. "What brings you back here?"
"Oh, mother. She wanted to come and see the damage first hand. You?" he asked in a friendly tone.
"The same," Helen replied. "The old place has been stripped bare, everything, they even took the carpets!" Freddie chuckled and nodded in understanding. "Still we're quite lucky really, you know Enzo Casolla? He took the title over for us when they started confiscating foreigners' property but even so, he was with the partisans on the mainland and..." she trailed off, conscious of his appraising stare and coughed lightly.
Freddie nodded and looked away. "We're staying up in Anacapri now. Our place was taken over when Jerry garrisoned the island, took quite a bit of damage. " He shifted his feet and his cane scraped across the stone beneath. Helen couldn't help her eyes from dropping down. Freddie let out a chuff of breath and smiled but she could see the strain behind it.
"Yes and you too it would seem," she said gently. Freddie turned to look up the street and let out a short bark of laughter.
"Bloody Jap skewered me with his bayonet," he told her in a teasing tone but Helen could sense the bitterness in him. Helen gave him a sympathetic look.
"Oh don't you be sorry, least I made it back," Freddie said in that flat,muted voice of someone who had seen horrors beyond imagining. "Well, it's wonderful to see you. Won't you let me buy you lunch?" Helen smiled and shook her head gently.
"Oh Freddie, I...I'd really like to but I've really go to get this lot back to the villa." She gestured at the cans of paint stacked up on the back seat of the car. When she looked back at him he was gazing at her forlornly. Helen swallowed and pushed away the tight knot that had started to twist in her gut.
"A drink then?" he asked in a soft, pleading tone. Helen stared back at him and felt a trickle of sweat run down between her shoulder blades, her eyelashes fluttering as she forced herself to look away. "Please?"
"Freddie," she began, her voice wavering a little. "I...really I can't." His face fell and he looked away, his lips pursed. "James is expecting me." Freddie let out a little huff and raised his chin, a strained smile across his face.
"I see," he answered. The stood for a moment in silence and Helen blinked back the wave of emotion that threatened to break through her reserve. "Well it was good to see you again."
"You too. Take care of yourself." Helen touched her hand briefly on his arm before turning and walking towards the driver's side of the car. Freddie shuffled onto the pavement and returned the little wave she gave as the car pulled away and stood watching the car until it disappeared from sight.