Arrivederci Roma – Part 2
Strathalbyn, South Australia
Continued from yesterday …
She dropped her voice to a seductive whisper and gazed into his eyes. ‘Take him on board, embrace him and I promise with all my heart, the little fellow will do wonders to bring us closer together.’
‘Evo stick is cheaper and it doesn’t shit!’ That observation rendered her speechless: took the wind clean out of her sails.
A flicker of remorse passed across his face. He eased his grip on the glass, moved the bottle carefully aside and took both her hands in his. His whispered recovery statement was so quietly delivered, I failed to hear it and he failed to realise the end of his tie was floating in his glass of velvety Amarone.
She smiled. He sat back smirking, his tie trailing after him like a dead possum on a chain. What had he promised, I wondered, a kindergarten? She reached across to cup his face in her hands and kiss his pickled lips. The responsive bray was his fanfare to the common man; a man who thought he was back on track for a sexually expressive evening. She saw the wine-stained tie and thought she had two children – one, him, in the hand, so to speak, and the other, her target baby, in the bush – the African bush, but now within her grasp.
I raised my glass of house plonk to my lips, cagily watching her in case she disapproved. She was too busy mopping his tie with her scarf.
Mission accomplished, she was fidgety and wanted to go – to book her ticket to Africa, no doubt. He wanted to make the most of the moment and soften her up. ‘There’s a drop left in the end of the bottle, love: get it down you: just mind the sediment.’ Despite the attractiveness of the offer, she declined, having already adopted the stoic diet regime of an expectant mother. He drained the bottle to the dregs, spitting the bits he had warned her against into his napkin. She waited, drumming her fingers on the table. Dispiritedly, he conceded and signaled for the bill.
As they waited in silence, his anxiety returned and being a perceptive reader of his moods, she saw his dark doubts about fatherhood passing like storm clouds across his face. She cast him a tight smile of encouragement, as she would to a child, if she had one. He looked at his stomach: it seemed to be swelling with the promised child. ‘Christ!’ he exclaimed: not realizing he had vocalized his despair.
They looked at each other, the child and the continent of Africa firmly planted between them.
The bill arrived. He looked mournfully at his empty glass: at the empty bottle. Thinking, no doubt, of the Treaty of Versailles, she realized she couldn’t afford to have a grumbling one-sided agreement festering beneath the surface of their new expanded family’s delicate relationship. She made her magnanimous gesture: ‘If you’d like another glass of wine, go right ahead. I’ll drive home.’ On the other hand it wouldn’t do to appear too generous. ‘Just one glass, mind; you’ve already had a bottle.’
He was so dejected he was deaf, not only to her peace offer, but to its qualification. Grumbling incoherently he rose and weaved his way to the lavatory. She sat feasting on her lower lip, abstractly sliding it from side to side like a tiller as she mentally navigated her voyage to motherhood through the treacherous reefs of her husband’s stunted mental growth.
His slow-motion return to the table had a tragic air about it. Heavily seating himself, he offered her a wan smile. She creased her face in response and rose to go powder her nose. With doleful eyes he watched her departure as a shrill female squeal of triumph came piercingly through the window from the giant chess set in the yard below: ‘My queen got your king: check mate, sucker!’
‘Too fucking right’, he grumbled, loud enough to attract some very disapproving looks from nearby diners. He turned from the window and started a semaphore with the bar man. Another bottle of Amarone was delivered to the table. The bill went back to be adjusted. He filled his glass. She returned to see the fresh bottle of wine.
‘Have a drop, love: to celebrate.’ Her withering appraisal of his slumped form said it all: he was a selfish deadhead and she realized it was an irreversible condition. At this point it seemed to dawn on him there would be no cozy evening now; no sex without responsibility; no such thing as a free lunch. She had fired the shell of adoption and it caught him full in the face. Now his sex life was destined to be as limited as his ability to fertilize her eggs.
The bill, fattened by the extra bottle of wine, was placed before him in its leather wallet. He scanned it, shrugged, drained his glass and looked desolately round the room. His blood-shot eyes settled on the wall behind me. ‘Arrivederci Roma’, he said, for no particular reason. ‘What?’ she gasped, convinced now he was as mad as a box of frogs. ‘Roma! Rome! There: on the wall: behind that bloke in the alcove!’
Amazing, I thought. On the aether of his alcoholic breath he could manage to float and sail the good ship Rome over two-hundred kilometres south of its Tiber moorings, yet he couldn’t shift the object of his lust one iota to meet his sexual needs. Life, I thought, is full of little ironies.
Solemnly he stood, hiccupped, raised his glass and toasted the wall behind me, repeating his geographical error: ‘Arrivederci Roma’. He slumped into his seat and emptied his glass, mostly down his shirt front. He had come with testosterone: she had arrived with an agenda. He hadn’t a chance: she hadn’t a hope. In the sullen silence, he filled his third glass from the second bottle and her vision of motherhood began to blur in the mist of her tears.
I rose, paid my bill and left to wend my way home. Shedding my coat on the living room floor, I pointed accusingly at the wife: ‘You have an agenda!’
‘You’re pissed,’ she said, without taking her eyes from the television. Then one word borrowed another, until none was left: like scrabble. We haven’t spoken since. Don’t understand it: all I did was slip out for a quiet pizza!
Bio: This piece was written in Dublin after Anthony had observed a couple with obvious tensions between them.