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Fridays With Roy: Barry Gifford's Newest Story On The Models Of The Merchandise Mart

By Barry Gifford in Arts & Entertainment on Dec 11, 2015 6:50PM

The other stories in our weekly series by Barry Gifford, from a work in progress tentatively titled The Cuban Club, have been about Roy. But here, his mother and her friend June take center stage. Former models at the Merchandise Mart, they spend part of a rainy afternoon gossiping about clothes and men. The story's opening line is a classic.

The Italian Hat
by Barry Gifford

Roy’s mother’s friend June DeLisa was the kind of woman who would fly from Chicago to Venice, Italy, just to buy a hat. She did this in September of 1956, and when she returned Roy’s mother asked her what was so special about the hat. 

“It’s handmade, of course, and designed by a man named Tito Verdi, who claims to be related to the famous composer. He’s very old, in his late eighties or early nineties. The materials he uses are woven by crones in the hills of Puglia. Anyway, how do you like it?” 

The hat perched perilously on the right side of June DeLisa’s head. Other than an extraordinarily brilliant yellow-green feather attached to the radically raked left side of the tri-corner, Kitty thought the hat unremarkable; even the crumpled blue material that formed the construction looked like it could have been purchased for a dollar ninety-eight at Woolworth’s. 

“I like the feather. I’ve never seen such a radiant yellow before.” 

“Plucked from a rare species in the Belgian Congo.” 

“Dare I ask what you paid for it?” 

“You daren’t.” 

June DeLisa’s husband had made a fortune on the commodities market. Kitty and June had met before either of them had gotten married, when they both modelled fur coats at the Merchandise Mart. 

“How was Venice?” 

“It’s always lovely at this time of year, unless there’s a hot spell. You’ve never been, have you? Crowded, but still like being in a dream, especially just after dawn.” 

“Did Lloyd go with you?” 

“Oh, no. He has his polo to occupy him. And Mrs. Gringold.” 

“I thought he’d ended it with her.” 

Roy came into the living room, where his mother and June DeLisa were seated on the sofa. 

“Goodness, Roy,” June said, “you’re growing up so fast. How old are you now?” 

“I’ll be eight next month.” 

“Mrs. DeLisa has just returned from Italy. She’s telling me about her trip.” 

“Do you like my new hat, Roy? I had it made for me over there.” 

“It looks like the one Robin Hood wears, only his is brown, not blue.”

“What is it, sweetheart? I thought you were going to play outside with the Murphy boys.” 

“It’s raining, so I’m going to build a model in my room.” 

“Let me know if you need anything. If June and I decide to go out, I’ll tell you.” 

Roy left the room. He did not dislike June DeLisa, but seeing her made him think that she was going to go home and jump out a window from her apartment on the 30th floor of the building she lived in on Lake Shore Drive. 

“So he’s seeing Anastasia again.” 

“He never really stopped. I’ll probably have to kill her, or get a divorce. If I decide to have her killed, would you mind if I asked Rudy about getting someone to do it? You and he are still on good terms, aren’t you?” 

“Stop it, June. Don’t even talk like that. Of course Rudy and I are on good terms. We’re very close, and he sees Roy once or twice a week. Rudy loves his son more than anything.”

“What about your mother?” 

“She’s too sick now to do anything about it.” 

“As if she hasn’t already done enough.” 

“Since I divorced Rudy, she’s actually begun to be more respectful of him.” 

“Rose respects what he can do, or have done, you mean.” 

“He provides very well for Roy.” 

“And for you, too, I hope.” 

“I can’t complain.” 

“He still loves you, Kitty. He always will. You’re luckier for that. Lloyd never cared for me the way Rudy does you.” 

“He doesn’t love Anastasia, I don’t think. Does she love Lloyd?” 

“If Maurice Gringold didn’t own two banks and half the state of Ohio, I doubt she would stay married to him.” 

“Take off that hat, June. Just looking at it makes me nervous.”

June removed her hat and put it down on the coffee table. 

“I feel useless, Kitty. If Lloyd and I had children I don’t suppose I would.” 

Rain was coming down hard. The two women sat without talking and listened to it bang against the windows and the roof.

“I asked old Signore Verdi how he had come to be a hat maker and he told me it was because he was a lousy violinist. Isn’t that funny?” 

Kitty looked at June’s hat.

“Did Verdi tell you that feather came from the Belgian Congo?”