She has me sit here and watch her. I donít want to. Iíve never cared one way or another about the way I look. Why should she? I follow the rules of basic hygiene, but thatís about all I ask of myself. Of herself she asks quite a bit more.
So Iím sitting in a bumpy wingback chair in Venice in a late July evening. This is the last leg of our trip and Iím ready to return to St. Louis. From the open window I can smell the fetid Grand Canal. I can hear some kind of metallic clanking, which sounds like a quarter against a flag pole. This surprises me, since the air this morning was almost perfectly still.
I tell Susan she looks beautiful as is. Iím ready to eat, to get this show on the road. She doesnít look at me. She clicks her tongue against her teeth. Susan knows she is a perfectionist, but she takes this as a given. In Padua Susan retreated from me, and she hasnít returned. Iím not concerned. I pulled up my stakes weeks ago.
ďItís those boys,Ē I say. ďRight?Ē The room is cast in deep, sonorous shadows. The air feels laden. The small, bedside table is fuzzy with shadows. The sandy taupe wall catches the light from the window, as does the door, which almost glows in the remaining light.
ďNo, itís not,Ē she says. She knows what Venetians Iím talking aboutó
the gaggle of adolescents who loiter a block away, glowering at me, and talking to her in a lewd Italian.
She pivots her shoulders toward me, looks over the high point of her left shoulder. It is as if she was driving and needed to change lanes. Her white blouse shows off her figure, and she smoothes down her skirt with her hands. She looks at herself like this for a long time. She is angularóthin, pointy nose; high forehead; sharp elbows; bony, veiny hands. Her clasping Cleopatra-esque bracelet looks as if it may fall off her wrist.
The boys think Susan is Italian, or at least Greek. Susan doesnít speak a word of Italian, though the boys seem to think she is playing hard to get. They called me ďfratello,Ē her brother. Susan is not my sister, I tried to tell them. I draped my arm around her shoulder. I thought this was enough of a signal. They laughed at me.
Then again, Iím not sure what is left.
ďSo what do you think?Ē Susan asks me. She looks at her legs in the mirror, then her eyes rise. ďBill, do I at least lookÖadequate?Ē
Why does our conversation have to revolve around her? I donít care. I want to tell her she looks terrible, that even the loitering boys would turn away from her exhibition. I want to tell her that her thicket of curly hair looks like a ridiculous clown wig. I want to tell her Iím leaving, going home, never to return, sayonara.
ďYes,Ē I say, instead. ďItís fine.Ē My voice is flat, and she continues looking over her shoulder at herself in the mirror, oscillating her hips slightly.
This is a story about two people who once loved each other and have fallen out of love. When we were young my heart would smolder for Susan. I needed her. Now Iím onto bigger, better; Iíve climbed the ladder. Susan is right back where we started. For her absolutely nothing has changed. Sheís status quo. Iím not interested in treading water, maintaining what we already have. I donít blame her.
Iím staring at the brass door knob. Iím staring at the reflection of it in the mirror. The picture frame above the bed is cloaked in shadow. I squint to see what the image depicts. It looks like a crumbling edifice to me. Susan tells me itís a famous, historic villa. Iím not sure I see the difference. The clanking stops, but I can hear seagulls.
ďItís time to go,Ē I tell her. She looks at me as if Iím a stranger. I already am.