The Winged Lion
Venice, in winter. I arrive by train, disembark at Santa Lucia Station. It is night. The air smells of the sea. A man approaches, offers a water taxi to my hotel.
The taxi is small, fast, and we bounce along the canal. Golden-silver lights from the palazzos stretch and ripple across the water.
The trip takes five minutes and costs fifty euros. The taxi speeds away, back down the canal. If you were here, you would raise an eyebrow at me.
“It won’t be the last time we’re ripped off in this city,” I say.
The hotel is the same, buttercream walls, black wooden floors. It is still expensive. This is the same room. The bedspread is gold brocade, old Europe. The low ceiling is weighed with dark, rough-hewn beams. On a side table sits a vase of white funeral lilies, waxy, full-blown. Maybe here they have a different meaning. I take the vase, set it outside in the hall. If someone asks, I’ll blame hay fever.
Both of us fell asleep in this bed, me on top of you, you still inside me.
Church bells ring. It is Sunday. Below the window, the piazza is deeply shadowed in the early morning, grey, empty.
The breakfast room smells of toast, cooked milk, coffee. The hard square of butter won’t melt, my toast already cold.
A couple sit by the window, hair wet from the shower. She reads a guidebook. He reads his phone. He drains his coffee, his neck long, exposed before her. She keeps reading. I want to yell at them — you don’t know what is coming, pay attention, be grateful.
There is a problem with the insulation. A couple fucking sounds through my bathroom vent. She speaks in clichés — you-are-so-big-give-it-to-me-more-more-yes-yes-yes. She pants and pants to a porno scream. He grunts.
We didn’t sound like that.
The window beside the bed is full with blue sky. Your side of the bed is empty. I should leave the hotel, sightsee, take photos, a gondola ride. Or I could open the window, climb onto the sill, fly with my arms stretched wide. Here I come.
Outside the Doge’s Palace, you stood on the Giants’ Staircase, between towering marble statues of Mars and Neptune, earth and sea. Neptune holds a dolphin by its tail.
In Piazza San Marco stand two granite columns dated from the twelfth century. One is topped by the Lion of Venice, a bronze winged lion, a symbol of the city and patron saint, St Mark the Evangelist. Superstition says to not walk between the columns, a place historically used for executions. You did, your arms spread, said, see? It’s perfectly safe.
The Rialto Bridge arcs over the Grand Canal. Originally built from wood, it collapsed early in the sixteenth century. We stood on this bridge, the water flowed beneath us, blue, endless.
At a tiny, dark bar, behind St Mark’s Basilica, I order the most Italian drink I can think of, Campari.
The waiter says, “Straight?”
“I’m not sure.”
He smiles, says, “I’ll make you a negroni. One part each — gin, Campari, sweet vermouth.”
We stopped here at the end of a day, shopping bags at our feet.
The waiter brings my negroni, a small bowl of olives and grissini. Massive Attack sing, to love you, love you, love you. I finish my drink, order another.
The waiter sits beside me, clasps his hands on the table.
He says, “You like negronis. I have made you four. I cannot make you anymore. You won’t be able to walk.”
I don’t know what his hand would feel like in mine. The texture of his skin, warm or cool, his long fingers. Your neat hands with their square-edged intelligent fingers — no other hands are like yours.
A patron at the next table says to me, “You’re staying at my hotel. I’ll walk you back.”
It is the man with the phone from breakfast. He is American.
“Where is your wife?” I say.
She steps into the bar laden with shopping, as if following a stage direction.
The waiter leans close, says into my ear, “Is that what you want?”
“No,” I say.
“My shift is finished. I’ll get you some food and walk you back?”
He leaves. I am about to call after him that I have food, but there is only a puddle of oil left in the bowl, crumbs in the basket.
The man and woman at the next table stand, gather bags.
The woman grips my arm, says, “Be careful.”
“Leave me the fuck alone,” I say and fling her hand off.
Their faces tighten, they shake their heads, walk away.
My limbs and brain come loose, my oily slippery mouth practices a smile. A path of heat glows down my throat.
The waiter brings me Risi i Bisi — thick soup, heavy with rice, peas, pancetta. I devour it.
“You are hungry,” he says.
We walk. Boatmen call to each other on the canal. The waiter is tall beside me, his hands shoved into the pockets of his jeans — am-I-safe-with-you?-am-I-safe-with-you?
“What’s your name?” I say.
He smiles down at me. “Luca.”
“I’m Amy. Are you from Venice?”
“No. Sicilia. Sicily. Mafia country. A shithole.”
“So, you miss home.”
He laughs. “It is not home anymore.”
I throw my arms wide, shout, “Venezia! Venezia!”
He does the same and I will never be able to pronounce it like him.
At the front of my hotel, I stop.
He leans back, surveys the building, takes a photo on his phone, says, “This is a beautiful hotel.”
His sharp cheekbones, his hair black, slick, he must be ten years younger than me — you-are-too-young-for-me-I-will-want-more-than-you-want-to-give.
I slide my hand into his. He goes still. I have made an error. He says, Amy, Amy, squeezes my hand, once, twice, warm, as if he squeezes all of me, holds me, keeps me steady.
Melissa Goode’s work has appeared in The Penn Review, CutBank, Best Small Fictions, Jellyfish Review, SmokeLong Quarterly, Superstition Review, and Wigleaf, among others. Three of her stories were chosen by Dan Chaon for Best Microfictions 2019, including her story “I Wanna Be Adored” (CHEAP POP) which was also chosen for the Wigleaf Top 50 for 2019. She lives in Australia. You can find her here: www.melissagoode.com and at twitter.com/melgoodewriter
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