*this is a work in progress. posting here for thoughts, feedback, and ideas*
Bill was sitting at an outdoor café next to the sea. He was sipping on a cup of perfectly brewed espresso. The sun was setting behind the mountains of La Spezia. The gulls were crying, and the pigeons were walking around the tables looking for bits of bread from the tables of the other patrons. This was his nightly routine. Sit at the café, drink an espresso, read a paper, and a book.
He had since finished the paper. Same story different headline: death, hatred, sadness. There was nothing inspiring to read, ever. He didn’t much feel like reading his book, which was a historical book he thought looked promising, but was proving dull, and repetitive. Watching the other patrons at the café was much more entertaining.
Italians love their football. Soccer was a sport he could never get into. Actually he never got into any type of sport. He played little league while growing up in the Midwest America, but only did it to make his dad happy, which like everything Bill did seemed to do only infuriated his dad.
The other patrons had all turned their chairs towards the large flat screen the current game was now playing on. They were yelling at the referees, cheering at the goals, etc. Bill’s table was at the back end of the perimeter of the café, next to the fence that bordered the sidewalk next to the street. His chair was also facing the set, but it was also facing the sea. Bill’s attention was drawn from the sea and the gulls above it. His focus was now on the collective cohesiveness of the football fans watching the game. They were one in mind and spirit, separated only by bodies.
The long cool sleekness of a woman who sat down at the table in front of him pulled his attention from the people watching. She was wearing a white linen sun dress and sandals. Her long silky dark hair was loose. He couldn’t see her face but knew by the way she carried herself that she was beautiful. Her skin was an olive complexion that is generally found in Italians. Unlike himself with his German and Scottish ancestry, the ability to get and maintain a tan had not been inherited by himself. He had fair skin, that while had a slight tinge of color, wasn’t what anyone would call ’tanned’. Even though he had not seen her face, he was staring at her. He felt something he not felt in a long time, an intense desire to really to get know someone. For years he had not wanted to really build a relationship of any kind with anyone. Perhaps she felt his eyes drinking her in like a cook drink of water on a hot summer day, because she turned around and looked at him. His breath caught in his chest when his eyes met hers. She had the face of an angel. High cheek bones, perfectly formed mouth with soft full lips. And her eyes, they were bright hazel green pools of intelligence, beauty and kindness, framed by long, full black lashes.
Suddenly from the T.V. a commercial for some set of 10 CD’s consisting of all the hits from the 1980-1990’s was blaring. There it was, THAT song. Bill’s attention was called to one of the other tables, a young guy stood up and was lip-syncing to THAT song. Mimicking and making fun of the lead singer from one of the largest rock bands in the world who started during the 80’s. Bill’s breath was back, a darkness loomed over him. That song, it haunted him, pursued him like a demon dog out of hell. His past life loved to rear its head and mock him every chance it got. And here his former self was again, blaring at him from the flat screen and the mocking of a young man he had never set eyes on before now. He had forgotten about the girl, until she spoke. As he met eyes with her again, the world lightened back up, the darkness rolled back. She spoke:
“I’m sorry, am I in your way?”
“Am I in your way? I mean, can you see the game, or should I move?”
Bill smiled, laughed softly and shook his head, “No, not at all. I don’t like football. But you can join me if you like.”
“Not like football?!? Oh! The Sacrilege! Better not say that too loudly around here!” She laughingly said. “I would be happy to join you, if you are sure it’s not a problem.” she said.
“Of course not, see I saved your seat for you!” He said as he picked up the paper and book and laid them on the table. “Can I get you something to eat or drink? What would you like?”
“A glass of red wine sounds good”. She was pulling her wallet out of her hand made bohemian style purse.
“No, please, allow me, it would be my pleasure.” Bill said as he got up and headed towards the counter. “One glass of red wine coming right up.”
Bill ordered two glasses of red wine. His espresso was still there, not yet finished, but it suddenly had lost its appeal. As he waited for the waiter to open the bottle and pour the glasses, he looked back to make sure he wasn’t hallucinating. It wasn’t a flashback, she was real. She was looking down at her hands. She fiddled with a ring on her right index finger. A small smile of a good, distant memory passed her lips. She felt Bill watching her, and looked up. He smiled at her and motioned to wait just another minute. She smiled back and nodded her head in the affirmative.
The waiter placed two glasses of wine in front of him, asked him if wanted some food to go along with with. He replied that he would. He hadn’t eaten since noon, and wine on an empty stomach gave him nothing but a head ache. He didn’t want to have to leave this angelic like woman any sooner than he had to; tonight might be the only time he would get with her. He would make the most of it. The waiter said he would bring the food momentarily. Bill paid the bill, and took the wine and headed back towards the table. As he side stepped around the chairs of the other patrons, he looked down to make sure he didn’t trip over one of their chairs, or knock their table. It was then that he remembered his age. He was 49 years old, a washed up has been. An aging recluse, with a small beer belly, crows feet and slightly graying hair. He was still attractive for his age, but he was no Robert Redford; who looks good no matter how old he gets. The wind was knocked out of him again, but not in a good way this time. As he made it back to his table and sat the glasses of wine on the table a little voice inside his head laughed at him and said
“Who are you kidding Billy-boy?!? Look at her, she can’t be older than 24! You’re old enough to be her father. But besides that she’s gorgeous, and you?!? You’re old and out of shape, do you really think she’s interested in you in anyway, other than being charitable with her time? Face it, she’s being nice to a seemingly nice OLD MAN!”
Bill smiled as he took his seat next to her, that black cloud creeping back up over him again. Memories of past relationships gone wrong rapidly played in his mind’s eye! Her voice caught his attention and drew him back to the here and now.
“So you are obviously not from here. Are you on vacation?” she asked.
“No, I moved here about 3 years ago. I needed a change of scenery. I’ve always like Italy, so here I am.”
“Really?! Yes Italy is beautiful. But I have to ask, if you don’t like football, why come go to a café, when you know that everyone will be watching the game on the TV.?”
“It’s my routine. I come here to this same café every evening, watch the sunset, drink my coffee, and occasionally a glass of wine..” he held up his glass “… read a bit, and of course people watch. It’s distracting, and occasionally quite amusing.” he said with a smile.
“Aha!” she said with a playful smile. “You are a philosopher and perhaps a poet too, I think.”
Something flashed in her eyes as she said this, that perhaps no one would have noticed, but it didn’t escape Bills notice. It piqued his curiosity, but he thought it couldn’t be anything bad. How could this ethereal beauty have any kind of malice in even an inch of her goddess like body?
Bill laughed, and replied to her “No, not a philosopher, and definitely not a poet. Just a retired bachelor, enjoying his life, in what he considers paradise. My name is William, but my friends calls me Bill.”
“I think I like William, it suits you better.”
She was looking intently into his eyes. He felt the black cloud roll away. He felt warm sunlight beaming into his soul. What did he do to deserve to have even 1 minute of her time?
“And you, miss, what do your friends call you?”
“I’m sorry, that was rude of me! Please forgive me. My name is Antonia. My English friends calls me ‘Toni’”.
“No, not Toni! It’s too common, and you Antonia are anything but common.”
She blushed, and pushed her hair back off of her sleek shoulders. The waiter came with a small plate of small pizza slices, a small bowl of peanuts, another of chips, and divided bowl which contained black and green olives. “Grazi” bill said as the waiter placed the last bowl on the table and turned to leave. He motioned for Antonia to help herself. She smiled and moved forward and took a green olive. Bill took a small slice of the pizza. The setting sun, had made the air a bit cooler, especially being so close to the water. Antonia rubbed her arms as a small shiver passed through her.
“Are you cold, would you like me to get you a wrap? I know the owner here, they usually have an extra jacket in the back. Should I get it for you?”
“No, it’s okay. I have a small wrap here in my bag, see?!?” she said as she reached in to her bag and pulled out a powder blue and cream colored hand woven cotton wrap. She unfolded it and placed it around her shoulders. She smiled again at Bill, and said “see, I am like your American Boy-Scouts, always prepared.”
Bill laughed and nodded approvingly. He took a sip of the wine, the taste of sweet red grapes played against the tomato sauce from the pizza. She placed another olive in her mouth. He watched her lips form a into a pucker as the saltiness of the olive hit her palate. She pulled out the pit and placed it on a napkin.
“So Antonia, are you from here, in La Spezia?”
“Yes, I am. I was born here, and lived her most of my life. I am here on vacation, visiting my parents. I live in Paris now.”
“What do you do in Paris?”
“I work at the Louvre, you know, the art museum.”
“Yes, I know the Louvre, I’ve been once before. It was fascinating all those ancient pieces of art that have lasted through wars, plagues, and all other sorts of atrocities. What exactly do you do there?”
“I’m a preservationist, and curator there.”
“Really? Where did you attend school, here in Italy, or there in Paris?”
“Actually I attended U.C.L.A.”
Bill didn’t really care for California. Yes it was a lovely place, it had everything, mountains, beaches, desert, ever imaginable climate, all found in one place. But the people, especially in places like L.A., and Berkley, he didn’t like. They were arrogant, self-absorbed elitists who thought that they owned the world, and that their thoughts and ideas were the only ones that mattered. Even when they were all clamoring for his favor and attention years ago, he couldn’t stomach them. They wanted his attention, which only provoked his anger, and irritation. He couldn’t picture her in the same atmosphere with those people, let alone living amongst them.
“Did you like California?” He asked.
“It was nice, reminded me a bit of home sometimes, but for the most part no. The people were too opinionated and full of themselves for my taste. There was no discussing anything unless you shared the same point of view as they did, which is pointless if you ask me. I mean, what is the point of discussing a subject if you don’t even want to hear an opposing point of view. This is life, what it is about, contradictions, conflict, finding a middle ground so that we can all grow as persons, find a way to live in harmony, yes?”
He agreed with her, “I think you are the philosopher and poet, as well as the art historian.”
“Perhaps a bit.” she said.
“What about you though, are you yourself an artist?” He inquired
“I suppose you could call me that. I travel all over helping to restore antiquated frescos and other pieces of art that are in constant exposure to the elements.”
“No Antonia originals floating around out there?”
“A few. I do paint, but not often. I have to feel really inspired to paint anything that I feel is good enough to try to sell or show in a gallery. I have a small collection being shown in a gallery in Paris coming up in a few months. That’s actually why I cam home to La Spezia for my vacation instead of staying in France or going elsewhere. I have one more piece I need to do before I can show the collection, and I always find inspiration here. Maybe it’s because it’s my home, and I know it so intimately” She was looking out over the water and at the mountains in the distance. Her face seemed to light up as she drank In the view of her life history.
Bill felt completely mesmerized. He continued to sip his wine, and nibble on the pizza and nuts. It was like the windows to his life that had been closed shut for many years had finally been forced open, and the fresh breeze was blowing away the cobwebs from his mind.
“And you William, you said you were retired. What did you do?”
The question he was hoping that wouldn’t be asked, but knew it to be inevitable.
“I was a musician back in the states. I made some smart investments and got out so that I could enjoy my life, and here I am, sitting in what I consider heaven, enjoying a glass of fine red wine with an angel.”
His flirtatious answer did not go unnoticed, and it even reciprocated a flirtatious look from Antonia who was gazing at Bill with inquiring eyes. There was more to his past than he was telling her. She could sense it. She smiled sweetly at him and continued the questioning of his obscure past.
“A musician, see I knew you were a poet. All musicians are poets! But what kind of musician, I mean you must have done something pretty big to have made enough money to retire early. I mean you don’t look older than 40.” Yes, she was being kind. Bill’s age showed. It was easy to take once glance at Bill and presume him to be around 50. But being the kind woman that she was, and herself knowing that aging is not something any of us enjoy, she stroked his guarded ego, hoping that he would open up.
“You are being too kind, but thank you for the compliment. I’m actually 49, I’ll be the big 5-0 next month. But yes, you are right, I did do some rather “big” things musically. I was in a band, we did well.”
“REALLY?!?” there was something about the way she asked this that made Bill think that she already knew this piece of information. That she also already knew exactly who he was , and what band he had been in. He tried to lie to himself to shrug it off. How could she know she wasn’t old enough to have known his music, she had probably just been born when they hit the scene back in the day.
“What band were you in?” She quizzed
“Oh it was a long time ago, you weren’t even born yet I don’t think. You can’t be a day over 24. And I played what was called ‘heavy metal‘ back in the states. A sound that wasn‘t immensely popular here in Europe.”
“Actually I’m 28. And I listened to all kinds of music growing up, especially American music. I loved American music. I was, or rather still am, a huge fan of Otis Redding, and Ray Charles. My favorite band from the 80’s as far as ‘heavy metal’ goes is that band ‘Armored Roses’. But I don’t consider them heavy metal, just a really great rock band. I had a HUGE crush on their lead singer when I was a little girl. I thought ‘Gunner’ was so handsome. I wanted to marry him. You know how little girls are when they have a crush. Silly, huh?”
Bill felt even more uncomfortable now than he had in decades. She completely unnerved him. She had just admitted to having had, what was probably her first crush of her life on him. He felt his face flush. His palms and forehead began to sweat slightly. He decided to try to turn the conversation a different direction, then excuse himself as quickly as possible. He took a large sip of his wine.
“So have you started that last painting yet? I mean, have you found the inspiration that only being home can give you?”
She had taken a sip of wine and was swallowing it when it came time for her to respond.
“Mmmmm. Not yet. I just got here yesterday morning, so I’ve been catching up with my family and friends. I spent today walking around and just drinking in the scenes in the city. The children playing football in the streets. The teen-agers walking along hand in hand, engrossed totally in each other, forgetting that there are other people in the world besides themselves. That’s a wonderful feeling - that first twinge of feeling in love with someone, when all the world seems to melt away, and that nothing bad will ever happen because of that other person next to you. Don’t you think?”
“Yes, it is nice. Sounds like you’ve found your inspiration already.” He took another large sip of his wine. His glass was nearly empty. Hers was still half full.
“Oh, well yes, that can be inspiring in and of itself for some very pretty prose, but not for a painting. I think I may have found something today though that has a glimmer of hope for a wonderful piece though. She looked intently as she took a long slow sip of wine. She licked her lips and smiled somewhat seductively at Bill.
This was too much. He needed to get out of there quickly. He felt like a mouse who had been tempted towards the cheese in the trap, and if he didn’t resist and run away now, the trap would snap shut and he would be done for. That angelic face hid a dark intent. He didn’t know exactly what it was, but life and experience had trained him well. He argued with himself. “Stop being a scared old fool. Not everyone is out to get you, man! Honestly, how many times do you get in this lately to sit across from a gorgeous, talented, sexy woman, who looks at you, and tells you with her eyes that she likes you, that she would like wrap her arms around you, and kiss away all your troubles?!? Buck up man!”
He felt that he was loosing his calm, his center. He was beside himself. He couldn’t take it any longer. He leaned over, placing his hand to head, and wiped away a small amount of perspiration that had collected there.
“I think the wine was a mistake for me. I’m feeling a bit light headed. I feel a bit foolish. I’m so sorry, but I need to get home. It was lovely to meet you Antonia. I hope you find that inspiration you need in order to finish your collection.” he said as he stood up.
Antonia looked surprised. She was sure she was on the way to being invited to his home, where she was sure to have seduced him, which would have helped her in getting what she was after.
“ Would you like me to walk with you to your home?” She asked.
He thought about it for a moment. The temptation was great, but he resisted, even though everything in screamed at him “YOU IDIOT!”
“No, I’ll be okay, I don’t live very far from here. But thank you for asking. No, you stay, enjoy the rest of your wine. And trust me, these guys are quite amusing; who knows, you might find inspiration right here at this table.”
He had no idea that he had spoken truth. She had found inspiration at that very table, but not for a piece of art. For something far more valuable that some paint on a canvass. She looked up at him, disappointment, and a begging him to stay look in her eyes. Bill held out his large hand. It was strong, and fine. She slipped her long, elegant hand into his.
“It was a pleasure to meet you Antonia. I wish you all the best.”
“The pleasure was mine William. But don’t wish me all the best, I hope that we will meet again.”
Bill smiled at her, withdrew his hand and turned and walked away. He paced himself so that it didn’t appear that he was literally running from her. His mind was a muddled mess of confusion and disorder, something he did not like. He had maintained his composure in every situation, something that took him a long time to learn. Nothing had rattled him like this in nearly 20 years. He was looking but didn’t really see where he was or where he was going. His feet knew the route, and within a ten minute walk he found himself unlocking the door to his building.