They stopped along the banks of the Tiber to watch one last sunset, one last light show, a spectrum of cool colours tonight – a deep navy that reminded Abby of the gowns her bridesmaids had worn, a softer blue like the sundress she’d been wearing the day she met Alessio, lavenders and violets like the orchid hunched over in her office window.
Her eye followed the arches of an illuminated bridge back and forth across the river. “I don’t want to go home,” she said.
Alessio slipped his hand onto her shoulder.
Perhaps she should not have agreed to a second bottle of wine. It had led to all sorts of flights of fancy – that she could rent a room in the Trastevere district, sell handmade jewelry on a piazza or wait tables at the American steakhouse, that she could take a second chance on love.
“Your family would miss you,” Alessio said, as if reading her thoughts.
“They have their own lives now and…” She stopped. Perhaps Alessio was trying to find a polite way to convey a message. He had his own life too. “Maybe you can come visit me in Florida. Meet my kids.”
“Maybe,” he said.
She would surprise him and learn Italian between now and then. Her Italian would never be as fluent as his English, but he’d probably appreciate the effort. He’d been to the United States once before, on a school trip, a week in Washington, DC. “But you haven’t lived till you’ve ridden an airboat beneath a canopy of mangroves,” she’d told him. Until two weeks ago, Abby had never before seen pinus pinea, the mop-headed trees she found all over Rome, bowing their heads between centuries-old columns, casting umbrella-shaped shadows across grass and cobbled stone. Her first view of Italy had been a seemingly endless stretch of their slender trunks striping the tarmac at Fiumicino Airport.
He’d acted surprised upon learning this was her first trip to Italy, even more surprised when she’d told him how old her children were. “I thought you were my age,” he’d said, although he hadn’t attached a number to that age. She knew little about him, only that he was a poliziotto and that he had found the best cacio e pepe in Rome. She soon discovered Alessio’s body was chiseled, like the statues watching over the city’s many fountains. He did things in bed that Bruce had never been willing to do.
She’d chosen him to take her photo on the Spanish Steps because he was the most beautiful man around. He’d told her okay but she wasn’t really supposed to sit down on the steps. The photo ended up being more flattering than any that Bruce had ever taken of her.
Alessio pointed toward a flight of steep stone steps descending to the water. “Do you want to go down there?”
She nodded and slipped her hand into his. She felt especially safe with him, even when he wasn’t in uniform. “I don’t want to go home,” she said again, sighing and breathing in the scent of brackish water.
“What time do you have to be at the airport?”
“I should get there at five. My flight’s at seven.”
“Yes. Two hours is good.”
They walked in silence to the rhythm of the river splashing against the embankment.
“Do you want to come back to my hotel room for a little while?” she said.
He smiled and said, “Sì.”
Abby told him, the day they met, that Italian conversation sounded like music to her. Since then, as he went about his work and daily chores, Alessio heard music. She’d used the word “dazzling” to describe Castel Sant’Angelo, especially at night when its round stone walls were wrapped in gold light. He’d always seen it as a gaudy former prison.
Thirteen days ago, he’d noticed a woman in a blue dress who appeared to be completely comfortable in her aloneness. With unabashed enthusiasm she’d gasped at the sight of the Spanish Steps and clapped her hands. She then looked around and handed him her phone and asked him if he’d mind taking her photo. He obliged her, of course, having being drawn to her allure.
Her impending departure brought him a range of emotions, from sorrow to relief. He needed to stop deceiving Luisa.
He wouldn’t stay long with Abby tonight. She’d made a point of saying “for a little while” because she had an early flight and besides, he needed to prepare for another night of sleep deprivation. Now that Luisa was no longer nursing Enzo, Alessio would be expected to get up with their son at least some of the times he awakened.
“What was your favourite place in Rome?” he asked Abby. The last American woman had said it was a toss-up (an expression new to him) between the Colosseum and Roman Forum. The one before her had told him the Sistine Chapel (which wasn’t technically part of Rome).
Abby thought for a moment. “I like the little back alleys,” she said. “I don’t know if you call them alleys but… you know those little homes with stucco exteriors in sherbet colours?”
“Sherbet is like sorbetto. Those houses have ivy climbing up to their windows, and lovely people looking out at the activity below. And the trees. I’ll miss the trees here.” They stopped walking again. “I just want to get one last look.”
In the shadows at the water’s edge, a little black rat was wrestling a flat, wedge-shaped box three times its size. Alessio watched it, simultaneously repulsed and transfixed.
In his peripheral vision, he noticed Abby turned toward him. “What are you looking at?”
Alessio lifted his chin and gazed out at the reflection of golden arches on water, at distant white domes, at the dazzling Castel Sant’Angelo. “Nothing,” he said. “Like you, I’m looking at my beautiful city.”
Bari Lynn Hein
Bari Lynn Hein’s stories are published or forthcoming in The Saturday Evening Post, Mslexia, Adelaide, Verdad, The Ilanot Review, Brilliant Flash Fiction, The Santa Fe Literary Review, Sensitive Skin Magazine, The Fictional Café, Modern Literature and elsewhere. Her prose has been awarded finalist placement in many national and international writing competitions, among them The Saturday Evening Post Great American Fiction Contest and OWT Fiction Prize. Her debut novel is on submission. Learn more at barilynnhein.com
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