By Alex Scarelli
I told my husband I was flying to San Diego for a week-long real estate convention, so I had him leave me at the curb for domestic flights when he dropped me off at Logan Airport and, after I’d kissed him and refused his offer to see me through to security once more, and after he had driven away, I walked among the crowd of business travelers and vacationing families struggling to pull luggage from tightly packed minivans to the international terminal for my 8:00 Alitalia flight to the Leonardo da Vinci – Fiumicino Airport.
On the plane to Rome, I drank four $9.00 glasses of red wine the flight attendant poured from small cartons into clear plastic cups. Slowly my body relaxed and I fell asleep and dreamed of Ryan and my junior year at the University of Maine. I met him under a sun that seemed to hang, bulbous and lethargic, over only the city of Rome and follow us along cobblestone lanes, evening strides across piazzas, through dinner of chianti, pasta carbonara, fresh veal, mozzarella, and tomatoes so fresh they released in our mouths the heat of their days in the growing field. Through the night, the sun stayed with us under a shield of darkness as we moved across and into one another on cheap, pilly sheets we bought at the marketplace.
I woke, the dream never reaching its conclusion, to the flight attendant shaking me awake to ask that I put my seat up to prepare for the plane’s descent.
The morning after landing, I left my room at the Hotel Duca d’Alba and walked through the city, its intricate roads coming back to me after getting lost for an hour and then finding streets and shops I recognized from long ago. I stopped at a bar for a cold bottle of water and sat outside on a black wrought iron table beneath a large red umbrella in a cafe that bordered the Piazza del Popolo. The May sun had reddened my shoulders and made them tight and tender. I wiped the sweat from my forehead with the back of my forearm, took a bottle of cream from my bag, rubbed it on my shoulders, and winced as they ached with the pressure from my fingers.
I paid for my water and gathered my backpack and the plastic bag filled with the tomatoes purchased from the Campo dei Fiori earlier that afternoon. From the cafe I walked to the Via Condotti where the street opened up to the Spanish Steps and the Fontana della Barcaccia beneath. I stood from the corner of the street and listened to the low gurgling of the fountain and gazed at the magenta, purple, and white azaleas crowded in the middle steps and emerging from dozens of large ceramic flower pots. A small girl of no more than five or six dressed in a clean white cotton dress with long black hair pulled to the side held her mother’s hand and leaned down to smell the flowers, searching for a scent that would never come.
The wine and heavy meal from lunch weighed on me and I became suddenly weightless and fatigued. I leaned against the building and eyed the tourists ascending and descending the steps, American boys stepping on the platform in the fountain to fill bottles with the water streaming from the spigot in the bow of the boat, and young couples, some Italian, some not, devour one another in splendor of midday.
In an instant, I saw Ryan by the fountain, licking chocolate gelato from a cone we bought at the gelateria nearby years ago, leaning down to the surface of the water and with a free hand running his fingers through. I turned away from this vision and the fountain, and stared at the small holes and cracks in the burgundy brick of the building in front of me. Tears fell from my eyes, first one, then many, to my lips and mouth, bringing in the salt of my sweat and the bitterness of the suntan lotion I’d applied on my face in my hotel room that morning. A coldness crept upon me and I shivered in the height of the Roman sun. I held myself and rubbed the goosebumps on my upper arm as people walked by, turning their heads for a quick moment to stare before looking back to rich lavender wisteria cascading from shuttered windows above the street.
I remembered how he filled his cupped hands with the cold water of the fountain and splashed me. For a moment, I had grown furious at his sudden break from kindness, but then he moved the damp strands of hair from my face, tucked them behind my right ear, and moved his head to the corner of my neck and shoulder. In a faux accent that sounded more French than its intended Italian, he whispered Amore so gently and quietly that the words were more felt than heard on my bare skin, each syllable puncturing my body and moving down, down, down: AH – MORE – AY.
I imagined him and I there as our 19 year old selves, Rome as the playground our parents paid for us to frolic in that semester. I remembered thinking, there by that fountain, my hair wet and his breath and love inside me, that somehow it would work, that the distance between my dorm in Maine and his in Iowa was minuscule, a simple day trip. Planning our lives together under the intoxication of sun and wine was seamless, the path forward clear. We couldn’t imagine that back home phone conversations would turn from a pleasure to a chore or that other lovers would sleep in our beds. In Rome, we thought we were eternal, that the feeling we shared for a semester could cross the ocean and be sustained, miles apart, through the air we breathed and through memories of how it felt to be together.
I wiped my eyes and looked back at the fountain and at the face of the sun carved into the inner side of the boat, its mouth spewing water that fell into the boat’s hull and spilled from the sides to fill the fountain’s pool. I walked away and was corralled into the flow of people meandering down the street in either direction, some turning to the steps, some up to Prada and Ferragamo on the Via dei Condotti. Wandering in the crowd, I let the past and memories wash over me, their luster shimmering for a moment and then draining, like the water in the fountain, under the streets of Rome, irretrievable and forever distant.
Category: Fiction, SNHU Creative Writing, SNHU Student