Arrivederci Roma – Part 1
Strathalbyn, South Australia
Blue-tacked to the rough plaster wall was an enlarged satellite photograph of Naples and the Amalfi Coast. It formed a crescent of beauty behind my wedge-shaped table in my wedge-shaped alcove and as I pondered the famous Italian coastline he breezed in and sat opposite me at the pre-booked window table I failed to secure principally because I was refused a booking principally because it was the policy of the restaurant not to take bookings.
He was a footloose kind of fellow who strived to affect a certain je ne sais quoi. His wife followed in his wake trying desperately to keep him within her sphere of influence. Leaving her to seat herself he immediately sought attention by cracking his fingers like a carbine at each passing waiter. He was a bad shot and as he displayed apoplectic irritation at his poor kill rate, one of his target waiters ambushed him, appearing suddenly at his elbow.
Haughtily, he scanned the menu and ordered the small marguerite for “her” and a bottle of pricey red wine to complement his large gourmet pizza – with the added truffle shavings. Then he sat back, sap full of joie de vivre, twirled his fingers and beamed at her.
‘I thought we were going to start saving?’
‘Tomorrow is for saving: this evening is about romance, letting go, enjoying ourselves,’ was his unctuous reply. ‘Besides, a good red goes further than that cheap plonk. Trust me’
She didn’t. ‘You know what red wine does to me.’
He snorted. ‘Haw! Haw! I do: indeed I do!’ He touched the side of his nose: ‘Grrrr-ruff, grrrr-ruff!’
His resonant growling bark instantly alerted the other diners to the possibility of a rampant sex scene being enacted in full view on the window table. The attention had her blushing to the roots of her dyed blonde hair. The wine arrived, breaking the spell and disappointing the expectant diners present: they returned to the less palatable prospect on their plates.
‘I’ll just have a glass of water: you go ahead – if you like.’
He did like and gestured for the waiter to fill his glass with the instruction: ‘Stop at the top’.
With her eyes she measured his every slurp and sip, a phonetic punctuation to the screaming silence that extended on the taut wire of tension between them. When this tactic failed to inhibit his rapid rate of consumption, she brought out the big guns. ‘That couple I was talking about? They found it quite easy … once HE faced the fact that HE couldn’t have children.’
He squirmed with embarrassment, knuckle-washing his eyes and face, like a tired two-year-old finding itself at the centre of adult attention. Furtively he glanced in my direction and, much to his relief, my fascination with the topography of Campania convinced him his secret was still safe between them.
‘Impossible,’ he said, as he waived away her proposition with his free hand.
She wouldn’t let it go. ‘Impossible? What does that mean?’
While the waiter served their pizzas he tried to dispose of the subject with hand flaps and clock-work-like shakes of his head. Waiter gone, she was remorseless, pinning her mission statement to the closed door of his mind. ‘I want, need, children! You know that, you selfish worm! We agreed – ‘as soon as we were earning enough’, you said. Well, we are earning enough – more than enough – and all you do is blow it on expensive wines and pizzas with fecking truffles! For once you could stop thinking of yourself …’
A half slice of pizza knocked on the door of his mouth, trying desperately to get in before the threatened famine. This was not in his game plan. This was not why he had bribed the waiter to hold a table for him: not just any table, but a window table, the one overlooking the Victorian bird bath and the giant chess set in the yard below.
‘Look, give it a little more time,’ he reasoned, reaching for her hand. She snatched it away quicker than a thief could snatch a purse.
Vigorously practicing hand to mouth coordination, he emptied his glass, his sidelong glance noting the steely resolve in her eyes. He replenished his glass.
‘You’re drinking too much.’
His eloquent repost was to look her squarely in the eye, drain his glass, refill it, drain it again and hiccup. He then struck the classic imperious pose of a man who was in complete control of the situation as wine dribbled down his chin. He belched his defiance. She grimaced in disdainful disapproval.
He lost the long stare competition and tried again. ‘Look, love, this evening is about getting some romance back in our lives … I mean, more sex, really, a little more often than we do at the moment.’
‘Screwing me ’til my brains fall out is not going to improve your sperm count!’
Again he glanced with apprehension in my direction. My amphibious eyes were already travelling the ferry route between Sorrento and Capri. He studied her over the rim of his glass. From his point of view, it seemed, the status quo was hunky dory: in her mind, status quo was Latin for a bus load of barren, prune-dry old hags on an excursion to nowhere and that her chance of buying a ticket was zilch. She leaned across the table, endeavoring to stir his responsibility juices. ‘A child: a lovely gorgeous adopted African baby in need of a good family: how could you even hesitate?’ At this point her ample bosom was heaving over his wine glass. He edged it away from the danger zone.
To be continued tomorrow …
Bio: This piece was written in Dublin after Anthony had observed a couple with obvious tensions between them.