(Short Stories for Students)

Love and Intimacy
Carla and Mantini pursue a love affair. Their affection for each other is apparent in their actions and in what they say to each other. They keep their weekly appointment with each other to meet above Mantini’s shop and spend the afternoon together, making love, listening to music, and simply being with each other. Mantini is affectionate and caring toward Carla, as seen by the way he touches her, acknowledges early in their relationship that she makes him want to send flowers, and shares details of his life with her. Mantini’s love helps Carla exchange her anger for ‘‘a surge of affection’’ for things as varied as ‘‘smiling Nubian goats’’ and ‘‘the decrepit king and his palace.’’

Mantini also remembers the love he felt for Lucia, his deceased wife. ‘‘We were very much in love,’’ he tells Carla, and he remembers how possessive he felt when Ben once flirted with Lucia. The story opens with Mantini trying to decide whether or not to spend the day reminiscing about Lucia, and his household almost aches with her absence.

Memory and the Past
While the crux of the story takes place in the months just before the Six Day War, both Mantini and Carla spend time remembering past events. Mantini thinks about his wife almost constantly before he falls for Carla, and Carla remembers her life with Ben in the United States, when their life seemed normal. Wetzel writes, ‘‘She remembers him in the States, helping her chop onions for the stew, planting dahlias. Jesus.’’ But, as she soon begins to realize, Ben is not the same man she remembers him to be; he has changed his way of speaking, his appearance, and how he acts with her.

Both Carla and Mantini have moved around quite a bit; Mantini originally because he was an Italian Jew when the fascists came to power, and Carla because she is the wife of an American official who works overseas. In the story’s beginning she has a headache from ‘‘trying to concoct yet another household.’’ At the end of the story, Carla must again leave her home when she is evacuated to Rome, and Mantini, who refuses to leave even when the conflicts over his being a Jew in an Arab country reach the boiling point, sits above his shop waiting for the angry mob to come for him.

Carla seems to be traveling lightly when she arrives in Tripoli, having brought very little with her from the United States. The furniture she buys for the empty house, ‘‘a puzzle of found material,’’ is from a variety of places—‘‘Scandinavian sofa, Italian floor lamps, and a rug from the Fezzan’’—and she purchases the pieces with a casualness connoting no feeling of permanent ownership. One of the few things she does bring with her from America, window drapes, are not the right size, and a crate of household items brought by Ben still sits outside the house, unopened.

Carla’s sense of rootlessness is heightened by her feeling that her husband has ‘‘abandoned her in this place resembling the set of a French Foreign Legion...

(The entire section is 1271 words.)