Sunday Storytelling is where I post a piece of fiction on Sunday. It might be a complete short story, a snippet of a work in progress, a character sketch, a response to one of the thousands of creative writing prompts I’ve collected through the years. Most of them won’t be polished or “final,” so feedback and criticism is welcome, but please be constructive in your comments. Read other Sunday Storytelling pieces here.
The flight the Venice was hell. Absolute hell. From the screaming baby to my seatmate’s horrendous halitosis to my broken seat-back monitor…ugh. But I made it, and found the hotel, and thank GOD I hadn’t checked a bag because I’m fairly sure that would have been lost on the way if I had.
I had arrived a few days earlier than the rest of the guests — Brad and Marie hadn’t even dropped off the welcome bags and Hotel Venizia yet. Which was fine. A gulp-sized bottle of wine and mini chocolates or whatever were not necessary to me enjoying my stay in Venice.
I hung up my dress to air out (and hopefully de-wrinkle itself) and spent the first day napping — alternating between the bed (the blankets were on the thin side and the mattress a bit lumpy, but the late August air meant blankets were pretty much unnecessary) and the antique, claw-foot, only slightly-stained bathtub. The collection of bubble baths, soaps, shampoos, and other lotions made up for any of the room’s shortcomings. I turned my phone on once, to check that no one had called, then turned it off again and shoved it to the bottom of my suitcase.
By the second day, I felt revived and ready to explore. The concierge offered me a map and highlighted a few spots — some churches, some cafes, some souvenir shops where I could buy those little glass figurines or Mardi Gras masks. He helpfully provided very detailed directions to Ponte di Rialto which didn’t make a lick of sense as soon as I stepped outside. I strode purposefully through the streets even though I had no idea where I was going. Even though I was dressed nicely, yet conservatively, my walking pace marked me as an American to all the locals. Italian grandmothers smiled kindly and offered roses as I passed. I smiled, a tight grimace of my lips, but otherwise paid them no heed. I wandered in and out of shops, not really looking at anything — or rather, not really paying attention to anything. I talked to no one except when I ordered lunch — a simple pizza margherita and carafe of the house wine. And another carafe. My plan, up until the wedding, was to stay either moving or drunk. Or both.
Other guests started arriving on the third day. I didn’t exactly try to avoid them, but I wasn’t planning to go out of my way to interact with them either. Unfortunately, interactions couldn’t be avoided.
“Rachel! Oh my god! You look great! When did you get in?” I forced a big smile to match my friend’s excitement. Called on my years of dabbling in improv classes.
“Cecilia! Hi! Hey Jason! I’ve been here a couple days, actually. Found a great deal on a mid-week flight.”
“Oh, so cool! I thought we’d be the first ones here, but Dani and a few others are supposed to get in later this afternoon. We’re gonna chill in the room for a bit, but let’s all grab drinks tonight? Meet down here at, say, seven?”
I nodded and accepted another hug. Jason, her boyfriend of almost seven years, barely met my gaze. So he knew. I raised my eyebrows as Cecilia dug through her bag for her lip gloss or whatever. Can we talk? He looked at Cecilia, kissed the side of her head, and put his arm around her before nodding, ever so briefly.
They got in the elevator and I waited. Wandered around the lobby, looked at some brochures, smirked at the poor translations into English. Ten minutes later, the elevator doors swished open and Jason emerged.
“I got her to draw a bath and told her I’d run down for some towels. Let’s make this quick.”
I jerked my head towards the street. “There’s a cafe right there. Come on.”
The cafe was empty and I ordered a cappuccino. Jason didn’t want anything.
“Did he say anything?” About me?
“No.” He twisted his watch around his wrist.
“Does that thing even work?”
He smirked. “The battery died, like, five years ago. Just habit. It looks good.”
“Jason…” I knew if he really had nothing to tell me, he wouldn’t have left Cecilia in the room.
“He’s mad, Rachel. Can you blame him?”
I clenched a napkin in my fist. “Does he care about what I did for him? What I tried to do?”
“What did you try to do? Besides fuck everything up?”
“Shut up.” I threw myself back in my chair and folded my arms across my chest. The waiter came with my drink and set it noiselessly on the table. I waited until he was back behind the counter and leaned forward again. “I know I fucked up. Okay? But I went to Carson because I thought I didn’t have any other options.”
“You took away all his options! That’s the thing. If you had just waited for once, been patient, it all might have gone away.”
“Or it might have all blown up in our faces and we’d all be dead.” Literally or figuratively, I wasn’t sure.
Jason sighed and rocked his head to the left, then the right. He leaned back and spoke so softly I could barely hear him. “Listen. You can’t fix this. You did the right thing, leaving. Without you in the picture anymore, Steph has a chance to…well, he might be able to contain the fire.”
I sighed and dropped my head into my hands. I heard Jason’s chair scrape against the tile floor. “I gotta get back. See you tonight.”
He left. I started sipping on my cappuccino, not tasting the perfect — perfect — mixture of espresso and milk and foam. And to real Italians, this was probably some shitty tourist joint. But to my American taste buds, it was heaven. And I couldn’t even enjoy it.
What had I done? I shook my head, took a larger gulp from my mug, and signaled the waiter. “Vino rossa.”
“Of course, bella.” He bowed ever so slightly and disappeared behind the counter again.
I didn’t want to examine that just yet.
Comments, feedback, and constructive criticism welcome…