The voice that had halted Jette’s afternoon walk belonged to my grandfather, Frederick Meisenheimer, and in fact Jette’s intuition had been exactly right: he was singing directly to her. Frederick had watched her make her way around the path, following the same route she always followed. When she passed in front of the bush he was hiding behind, he crossed his fingers and began to sing.
This was no impromptu performance. Frederick had been watching Jette walk through the Segerpark for several consecutive Sundays, enchanted by her unusual size. He had spent his time between those delicious weekly sightings wondering how best to attract her attention. In the end he had chosen to ambush her with an aria, che gelida manina, from Puccini’s new opera, La Bohème. The opening lines translate as your tiny hand is frozen – not especially appropriate, given that Jette’s hands were not, even by the most charitable standards, tiny; they were also rather clammy due to the unseasonably warm weather. Still, Frederick knew what he was doing. When he had finished, he stepped out from behind the hedge and thrust a concoction of lupins, dahlias, and pansies into Jette’s (big, sweaty) hands. By then, caught squarely in the cross-hairs of Puccini’s gorgeous melody, she was helpless.
My grandfather did not look like the sort of man who could pull off a stunt like this. If you are picturing a suave, attractive suitor, think again. Physically, he and Jette were a good match, insofar as neither of them quite met the prevailing expected standards, and neither of them especially cared. He, too, was huge, in every sense: taller than Jette by an inch or two, he possessed a quivering gut of heroic dimensions which he made no attempt to hide. Waves of thick red hair washed across his head. Instead of the prim moustache favoured by most Hanover men, he wore a magnificent ginger beard which sprouted from his cheeks in chaotic exuberance.
For the next few weeks, Frederick and Jette met each Sunday afternoon by the same privet hedge. They walked side by side around the gardens, although every so often Frederick would step away from Jette and break into song. He serenaded her with Mascagni, Verdi, Donizetti, and Giordano. My grandfather was a terrible ham. He acted out every lyric as if his life depended on it, changing from lovelorn Sicilian peasant to fiery French revolutionary with barely a breath in between. His histrionics earned baleful looks from other passers-by, their quiet Sunday strolls disturbed by this barrelful of song, but he ignored them all. Jette soon learned to do the same. With Frederick by her side, the rest of the world retreated.
Before long, the young couple began to live for their Sunday walks, the long weeks in between a grey sea of pernicious tedium. In each other these two oversized misfits found refuge from the choppy, unforgiving sea in which both had been unhappily drifting. Frederick was enraptured by all of Jette’s big-boned loveliness. He was simply grateful that there was so much of her for him to worship. And Jette loved him right back. She adored the lines he had first whispered through the privet hedge:
Per sogni a per chimere
e per castelli in aria,
l’anima ho milionaria.
When it comes to dreams and visions
and castles in the air,
I’ve the soul of a millionaire!
It was Frederick’s capacity to dream that dazzled Jette the most. When she was with him, anything was possible.
[More later. I’d love to hear what you think. If you can’t comment on the blog itself (it’s a bloggers closed-shop), shoot me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org.]