If You Remodel It, They Will Come

“The Vatican,” short fiction by Ben Loory

If You Remodel It, They Will Come

The Vatican

A man and his wife go on vacation to Italy. While in Rome, they go to see the Vatican. They take a grand tour and look all around.

Wow, the man’s wife says. This place is fancy!

Yeah, says the man. It certainly is something.

They ask the tour guide all kinds of questions.

These are statues, says the tour guide. And those are called frescoes.

Ah, the man and his wife say. How interesting!

When they get home, they walk in and stand in their living room.

Well, it’s not the Vatican, says the man.

No, says the man’s wife. It certainly is not.

But there’s no reason it couldn’t be, she adds.

So the two of them decide to turn their house into the Vatican — or if not The Vatican, A Vatican, whatever. It takes them a long time — apparently they have to get some permits.

Plus it turns out to be extremely expensive.

It’s so expensive, in fact, that they’re forced to take second jobs. The man works the night shift at 7–11, and his wife makes little ornamental pigeons out of clay.

She paints them and sells them on eBay.

But eventually, after many years, their Vatican is complete. It is beautiful, and very, very fancy. It looks almost exactly like the original one in Italy, only with a few additional conveniences.

There’s a race track, for example, and a holographic theater, and a nice place where you can get your nails done. And also, truth be told, there are a couple fewer statues (because the two don’t like statues all that much).

And the man and his wife are very happy with the place. They spend all their free time admiring it. Which actually isn’t much — they’ve had to keep their second jobs because the upkeep on the Vatican is expensive.

There are so many plumbing problems, and one giant electrical nightmare. But in general, the two of them are happy.

But then one day, something happens: the doorbell starts to ring.

It starts to ring because the neighbors are coming by.

Your house is amazing! all the neighbors say.

Thank you very much, say the man and his wife.

It looks just like the Vatican! all the neighbors say. Could we come in and look around? Is that okay?

Of course, say the man and his wife, and they let the neighbors in, and then they take them and show them around.

This here is St. Peter’s Basilica, they say.

And more neighbors come to visit every day.

Until, pretty soon, the man and his wife find themselves completely swamped with neighbors to show around. It’s hard to find the time, with their second jobs and all.

Maybe, they say to each other, we should start charging?

So the man and his wife begin to charge for the tour. They charge an even fifty dollars at first. They’re hoping that the price will keep the visitors at bay — but instead of keeping them away, it brings more.

You know, the people say, it’s really a fantastic deal! It’s so much cheaper than going to see the real thing! You don’t have to leave the country, or deal with the exchange rates, or find a hotel, or buy a plane ticket, or anything!

So the man and his wife decide to raise the price — first to seventy, and then to a hundred dollars.

But still it doesn’t work.

We love this Vatican! people say. We told our friends! And next week we’re planning a school trip!

The man and his wife lie in bed at night. They are rich now, but completely exhausted.

Well at least we got to quit our second jobs, the man says.

But I liked making clay pigeons, his wife sobs.

Well, says the man. So what do we do?

I don’t know, says his wife. Maybe we could hire people?

To give the tours? says the man. What a brilliant idea!

So they call in some tour management people.

And the tour management people take over the operation — which is great! But it works a bit too well. They hire a lot of guides, and offer a million tours, and now people are streaming through at all hours.

The man and his wife now lie in bed at night and listen to people stomping through their home.

They hear them in the kitchen, opening up the fridge.

They hear them poking around in the medicine cabinet.

I can’t take this! they finally say. This has got to stop. We have to lay down some boundaries or something!

So they go to the see the company who’s managing the tours.

But they’re told they have to speak to the shop steward.

Sorry, says the shop steward. That’s against the rules — we can’t block areas off, or cut down the hours. But if you’re really against it, you do have recourse: you just have to get an act through Congress.

Congress? says the man.

Congress? says his wife.

They go back to bed and huddle together.

What do we do? they say, as the footsteps stomp around.

How about, says the man, we take a vacation?

So in the morning, the man and his wife pack their bags again. But this time, they don’t go to Italy. This time they just go to a motel down the street.

There’s no A/C, but they don’t mind the heat.

It’s kind of like being at the beach! the man says, as they sit on their lawn chairs in the parking lot.

Yes, says his wife, and the ice machine is close!

(Which is good because the asphalt gets hot.)

And so they stay on. They live in the motel. Eventually the man takes a job. He works there at the front desk, checking people in and out.

It’s just for fun — he always liked the night shift.

And meanwhile, his wife has a kiln up on the roof. She’s made about a million clay pigeons. She paints them very carefully and sets them aside.

And on weekends, they go out for a ride.

They go out for a ride, down the street toward the Vatican. And they park there and walk up and down the line.

Clay pigeons! they say, to all the tourists. Five dollars!

And with the money, they buy a fine Italian wine.

About the Author

Ben Loory is the author of the collections Tales of Falling and Flying (2017) and Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day (2011), both from Penguin. His fables and tales have appeared in The New Yorker, Tin House, Weekly Reader’s READ Magazine, and Fairy Tale Review, and been heard on This American Life and Selected Shorts. www.benloory.com

“The Vatican” is published here by permission of the author, Ben Loory. Copyright © Ben Loory 2018. All rights reserved.

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