“Huh?” He was caught off guard by the offer, wrenched from his thoughts. “Oh, sure.”
She refilled his glass with iron rich blood red Cabernet Sauvignon, or was it Merlot. What were they talking about again. She looked at him with twinkling hazel eyes. They resumed their meal. He looked at the table. Spaghetti Bolognese, garlic bread, Caesar salad. All his favourite things, maybe, or maybe not.
“So I was saying.” She was back at her place at the table.
“You were saying.”
“I was thinking.”
“You were thinking.”
“I was thinking that we should move to Rome.”
“That sounds grand.”
They strolled on the Liv Prati along the edge of the Borgo, the mighty turret of the Castel Sant Angelo looming over them. They stood overlooking the Tiber.
“I didn’t think we were ever going to make it,” she said languidly, taking in the view as the afternoon sun spangled the rippled waters of the tumid river as it carried the cityscape slowly to the sea as always it did like a rolling film of the city’s own history; the reflection of imperial splendour, the babble of barbarians, the impenetrable murk of dark ages, the reflection of papal power, all at once.
He couldn’t for the life of him remember how they got there, lost in the moment as he was.
“We have to be back at the train station for six,” she said, stiffening at the prospect. “We should make our way back.”
“But,” he thought, but no longer knew why he was about to make a rebuttal.
He felt uneasy, as the breeze picked up and the water on the river rippled under its rebuke. His mind was blank. “Oh, nothing. I don’t even remember what I was going to say.”
He could still taste the wine on his palate, his tongue cloaked in its velvety texture and aftertaste. What kind of wine was it again?
“Let’s make our way back to the station. Walk a bit, take a few more snaps, get a slice at that corner shop and then get to the hotel and pack up and go.”
“Good idea,” he agreed. “Good idea.”
They made their way across the bridge as the Tiber flowed underneath and began making their way. The sky was a vanilla shade of yellow. Gothic turrets towered over them, skeletons glowered from mechanical clocks. Over cobblestones they walked. The sound of klezmer music.
“There it is!” he said as they made their way down the street. Little children lined the sidewalks, some with balloons on strings. “Shall we go in? I’m famished.”
“As am I.”
“I know.” And how he knew. He looked at the various pizzas under the heating lamp under the glass counter garnished with their various toppings, topped with egg, artichoke, eggplant, basil, pepperoni, cheese … At the table they sat amid the hubbub and dined on their pizza. It tasted insipid, as though the heating lamp had leeched out all its flavours. She looked at him and smiled. He smiled back.
“I’m so glad we came,” she said.
“So am I.” He admired her black hair, her almond face, her hazel eyes, her warm and easy smile, and how she looked in her black sweater and wine-coloured skirt and sandals.
“I am so happy that we managed to get together like we did.”
“I feel like—”
“—we know each other?”
“Like we’ve always known each other?”
“Sort of, yeah.” She shifted in her seat and looked at him more intently, still smiling.
“We’re already at the stage where we complete each other’s sentences.” His grin broadened. “I could use a glass of wine right now. To make this moment more perfect.”
“But it’s not that kind of place.”
“No, it isn’t.”
“I could have sworn.”
“I could still taste the wine from that night when we decided to come here.” She looked puzzled when he said this. “Was it Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon?”
“I don’t remember. It’s all been a bit of a blur.”
At the train station they stood encumbered with their suitcases awaiting their train under the station canopy beneath a dusky sky tinged with purple. Amid the jostle of the station he felt suddenly thirsty.
“I’m going to get a water. You want anything?”
“No thanks, dear. I’ll look after your bags.”
“Thank you.” He made his way to a newsstand presided over by an old man with a bushy white moustache and a craggy face.
“Una bottliglia d’acqua, per favore.”
“Si.” The man opened the glass refrigerator and handed him a water and then fixed upon him an avuncular, knowing look.
“Excuse me? Do you know me from somewhere?”
“You know, she has been wanting this a long time,” the old man said in a raspy voice in perfectly accented English, gesturing to her standing by the railside with the luggage as he did so. “You are very lucky to be with her.”
“Pardon?” A twinge of fear. Goosepimples stood out on his back, his arms, his legs.
The old man leaned in and continued: “You know, when she was younger, she always fantasized about times like this. And when she met you, it all became possible.”
“I’m sorry, I don’t think you know me.” He felt a great unease tingle its way
throughout the tangled web of his nervous system.
“I’ve got to go. Thank you for the water.” He reached into his pocket for a few Euros, but produced only a Canadian two dollar coin. I could have sworn, he thought, a sense of panic rising up. I could have sworn I had three Euros in there and that I exchanged all my Canadian money back at the airport.
“It’s okay. You can have it for free,” the old man said, and smiled at him.
“I really feel I should pay you. Give me one minute.” In a rising panic he reached into his pockets, fingering through their folds for any money whatsoever. He found that in his efforts he had lost even the two dollar coin he had pulled from his pocket in the first place, and this distressed him further.
“I thought that … ” he muttered to himself, but his words trailed off.
“No problem,” said the old man with a wink. “I told you, take it for free. You are making her so happy by being here. You remember when she was nine? How she used to fantasize about a handsome prince to take her off into foreign lands?”
He did remember. He saw her on the floor, colouring with crayons a picture of a little girl and a prince, a scrawled child’s picture in spidery pencil lines, he saw her avidly shading the paper with the rounded cone of wax, pink for skin.
A strange sense of deja vu broke over him.
“Thank you,” he said to the old man. “Thank you very much.” He turned away and made his way back to the platform through the bustling crowd of anonymous people with their changing features, face to face.
Merlot. It was Merlot.
He locked eyes with hers and he relaxed a moment, his heart warming in her gaze and her beaming smile.
“Took you long enough,” she said teasingly.
He looked out the window of the hotel room, the lights of Venice shining in their great splendour, the canals carrying the luminous reflection of the cityscape as they had done for centuries before. He looked back at her as she lay on her back on the bed, still fully clothed in her jeans and her floral blouse and black stockings. Her brown boots were parked by the bedside.
He lay down beside her, the bedsprings groaning in protest.
She turned and smiled at him and said, “That was a long drive.”
Drive? Did they not just take the train? Drive?
“Yes, it was,” he said, his spine and skin prickling with unease again. “Indeed. My pleasure, though. Anything for you, darling.”
She clasped her hands in his and pulled him closer.
“Time for a kiss?”
“Oh, I think so.” He rolled into her and they pressed lips. As his tongue darted in her mouth there was a great wash of pleasure intermingled with a sense of looming dread. He looked into her eyes and her eyes looked into him. Her eyes were the deepest, most revealing eyes he had ever seen, portals through which he saw what light he saw.
Or was it Cabernet Sauvignon?
More dread. That sense of deju vu. A sense of imminent doom. His heart pounded.
In the throes of their kiss, she sighed passionately.
A piercing alarm froze the world, then shattered it forever.
This is how it ends, he thought. This is how it ends. The last thing he saw was her eyelids before they opened in the apocalypse of her awakening.
This story was originally published in the Spring 2012 issue of Sulphur: Laurentian University’s Literary Journal