Fiction by Melissa Goode
We sit outside our hotel room on the balcony. Florence is before us, hot, hazy, at eight o’clock at night, her sky pink. We drink Campari and soda.
His wedding band clinks against his glass as he holds it aloft. “Buonasera!” he calls to the world.
He chinks his glass against mine and says, “Sette anni.”
“Just because you learned Italian in high school.”
He laughs. “Sette anni. Seven years.”
“Anniversaire,” I say.
“No. That’s French. Anniversario.”
Lights come on in the streets, the houses, and the sun drops behind the mountains. The sky turns lilac-blue. It is the time of day when a lump forms in my throat.
The city is a postcard. When we arrived, the taxi dropped us a block away from our hotel, the driver throwing up his hands, “Traffico! Traffico!” I dragged my old suitcase, the plastic wheels clattering on the cobbles, and people turned to look at the disturbance.
We go to a restaurant and a television plays a game show where every person hams it up, smiling hard, wearing pancake makeup. One woman carries a terrier dressed as a court jester.
“That poor dog,” I say.
“The women here,” he says.
I look at him. His gaze is on a group of women at another table, and I slow dive within myself, spiraling down, until I am in the pit of my stomach with nowhere else to go.
He orders the veal and I can only think of 20-week-old, milk-fed cows, dying. I order the zucchini flowers.
The Cathedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore is breathtaking with its domed roof. They tell us that construction began in 1296. I look up into what is still the largest brick dome ever built and grip his arm, dizzy. Four million bricks above our heads.
The bell tower, Il Campanile, dated 1359, on the west side, depicts seven planets—Jupiter, Saturn, Mars, the Sun, Venus, Mercury, the Moon.
On the north side of Il Campanile are depicted the Seven Sacraments—Baptism, Confession, Matrimony, Holy Order, Confirmation, the Eucharist, the Extreme Unction.
“What is Extreme Unction?” he says.
“Last rites,” I say. “A blessing for the dying.”
“I want that.”
“You’re not Catholic.”
I don’t tell him that he is not dying because he will say he is, that we all are.
In the afternoon, he rests. I walk through the streets near our hotel and enter a shop—everything it sells is black. In the tiny change room, it is a relief to take off my dress, pink with white polka dots. It was pretty in the shop back home, but now is bright, candy, childish.
The store attendant cuts the tags from a skirt and shirt so that I can wear them. I also buy new sunglasses—large and dark.
She nods at me as I leave the store. “Meglio,” she says. “Better.”
I smile. “Grazie.”
I lower the sunglasses to my eyes as I step into the sun and return to the hotel. My breath comes more easily now.
He tucks my arm through his as we walk beside the Arno River.
“I feel like we’re in Roman Holiday,” I say.
“That film was set in Rome.”
He doesn’t bother to tell me that he is not Gregory Peck and I am not Audrey Hepburn.
From a stall on Ponte Vecchio, I buy a crucifix on a chain. It is simple, silver, with tiny blood-red glass stones at each of the four points.
He puts the necklace on me. “You can wear it ironically,” he says.
“No. Not ironically.”
He pulls a face. “What?”
I don’t try and explain it again—I do not believe and yet I do believe. I do. It has been taught into every single cell of me.
I dream that he raises his hands to my face and I push them away, because they don’t smell like him, but of someone else.
In the dream, he laughs. “Who?”
“I don’t know.”
In the Uffizi, we see the “Venus of Urbino” by Titian, dated 1538. The painting was a gift from the Duke of Urbino Guidobaldo II Della Rovere, to his young wife. I stare at the nude Venus who stares back as she has for almost 500 years. At her feet is a sleeping dog, which the guide says is the symbol of marital fidelity.
I turn, but he is not there. I look for him everywhere. He does not answer his phone. After twenty minutes, I find him standing at a window in a corridor on the top floor, looking down onto the square below.
“Are you okay?” I say.
I touch his arm and it is only then he turns his head towards me.
“Why did you go?” I say. “Why didn’t you answer your phone?”
“I needed to breathe.”
“Is it being here?” I say.
He shakes his head. “Not here, specifically.”
I cannot say—Is it this marriage? Is it me?
He sings “Wicked Game” low, to himself. I wonder who he is dreaming of, who he has lost, who is the only person who can save him.
Someone once told him he looks like Chris Isaak.
I say, “I don’t know why he had to end that song so sadly. To say that nobody loves no one.”
He shrugs. That is all and there is nothing else.
I want to say to him—Love. Discuss.
I go for a run in the early evening, through the ancient streets. On my iPod, I listen to Radiohead’s “Let Down” on repeat and Thom Yorke almost makes me cry, several times, like he does. My bottom lip hurts from biting down on it.
We stand outside the restaurant he read about in Trip Advisor, rated the best in the city. It is closed tonight, our last night here.
“Their voicemail said they weren’t taking bookings,” he says. “They didn’t say they were fucking shut.”
He presses his face to the glass and peers into the dark, empty restaurant. “Can I give them a bad rating because they were closed?”
“That wouldn’t be fair.”
“This isn’t fair either.” He sighs. “Their beef cheek ragu is famous. Their signature dish. Will I ever eat it?”
We go to a restaurant nearby where I have the best spaghetti carbonara I have eaten in my life. He has the worst saltimbocca, ever.
We are half on, half off, the bed. He consumes me until I am destroyed. I don’t know whose mouth is mine anymore. My last thought—I have lost it completely.
I watch him sleep, deeply peaceful. I want it again—absence—me buried into him and him buried into me.
The ringing of church bells wakes me. They sound the city into my head—Firenze-Firenze-Firenze. He is still asleep. I dress and the smell of him is in my skin.
I go downstairs to the street. In a cafe, men and women already stand at little, high tables, drinking espresso. I order in Italian.
The barista says, “Yes, ma’am. Coming right up.”
The radio starts to play “Wicked Game.” I cannot resist and mouth the words.
An elegantly dressed woman puts her cup on my table and says, “I love this song.”
“You’re American?” she says.
“Yes. How could you tell before I spoke?”
She taps a manicured nail against one of her front teeth. “Beautiful teeth.”
I smile again and I cannot stop. She laughs. I do too. I feel it then, as if it is happening—running alongside the Arno River as the city wakes and the bells ring, the crucifix beating against my sternum, running and running until I am out of breath.
© Melissa Goode
[This piece was selected by Sarah Broderick. Read Melissa’s interview]
Image courtesy of Art and Picture Collection, The New York Public Library. “Pearl Necklace Of Mary Queen Of Scots (1542-1587); Silver Enameled Reliquary ; Gold Enamel Crucifix.” The New York Public Library Digital Collections.
Melissa Goode’s work has recently appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly, WhiskeyPaper, New World Writing, Split Lip Magazine, matchbook, Blue Fifth Review, (b)OINK, and Jellyfish Review, among others. One of her short stories has been made into a film by the production company, Jungle. Her novel manuscript “What we have become” was selected by Random House in 2016 for a fellowship with Varuna, the National Writers’ House in Australia. She lives in Australia. You can find her here: www.melissagoode.com and at twitter.com/melgoodewriter.