THE YOUNG couple sat together in the cool white openness of the high ceilings and soft yellow walls, and sitting there in the room they had rented at the far end of the island, both knew that nothing could ever be the same. They knew for perhaps different reasons. He could see it on her face. He thought she felt something in the way he held her.
Now he did not hold her. He sat on the edge of their big bed and looked across the room at her sitting in the wicker chair next to the row of windows. The windows looked out and onto the blue canal that cut between the rows of houses and pushed against the sea colored remains of the steps and gates that led to the water. He could not see the water now. He could not the see the boats either that were tied to the rusted gates. He only listened as the boats bobbed up and then down in the rolling current of the canal.
“I’m going for the papers and the mail,” the man told her.
“Then will you please order me a bottle of water when you go out?”
“Of course,” he said and picked up his sunglasses off the counter top and headed out and down the stairs.
He did not think to ask more. He did not think to ask more from her either anymore. It was good to make comforts now and be simple, he told himself. It seemed enough to be quiet and to have these comforts now, which could give him the comforts later, if this leaving would turn into the other and greater leaving. He no longer feared that type of thing. It only felt now to be a natural and reasonably sound thing after what had happened and what he had done.
Down the stairs, he walked outside. He crossed down the exposed stairwell to the landing on the street. Outside, the sun was high and brutal. It baked the dust on the streets and burned the arms and heads of the men and women in the square. When he looked out onto the square, people were pushing across the streets, past the old stone fountains in the center of the square to the awnings that lined the storefronts. He walked out through the shade and into the heat. The sun fell to his head and shoulders and he was warmed through after sitting for so long in the cool, quiet room.
The American bought the papers across the street from where he had gone in this last month to buy the weekly racing papers. It was a smaller than his usual stand but had everything he ever needed to read and he took a Gazzetta dello Sport and an Auto Sprint magazine. The covers both told of the big race coming to Imola. There was also news of the road racing that the couple had followed and watched regularly on their way down from Milan to the island in the south. For the last two weeks, there had been plenty of good practicing for the Grand Prix to see at Mugello and Modena. They were both good towns that the man and his wife knew well. She had started to really love the countryside, learning about it from him on their daily drives and he showed her the different trees and vines, the way to take a corner with speed and talked her through how it all came together in a race. He knew now they would never make it to the big race.
He folded up the papers and put them under his arm as he walked back through the heat. Back up the lower stairs across the landing, he stopped in front of the lower terrace. The higher terrace platform looked over the water to a wider view of the cathedral across the canal. It was too hot to stand there with no shade at this time of the day. The wind blew warmly over the water. It was still cool above the water in the shade of the building so he didn’t move. The water is very blue when you are down this close, he thought. It is very blue he told himself, as he watched it now, and thought about the blue of the sea and then of the dark green and then the white foam that gathers around you as you swim. He watched the foam now as it curled around the sea-stained iron gates beneath his feet.
The sun started to slide down the pale blueness of sky. This was good and the burn drifted away and he thought about how the sea sounded. We sat here and listened to the sea together. She and I, and then I and she did it too. He listened to how the sea sounded with the rise and fall of the wooden boats against the walls. The sea can sound so different at night. Yes, it can sound so alive you cannot even sleep at night. Instead you lie awake, he thought on, in bed next to the girl and wonder what can move her. When things were simpler, he had always enjoyed looking at the sea at night when he awoke to her breathing. Then back in bed after a smoke, with the windows open and the cool breeze coming in over their tan bodies, he could lay there in the dark coolness and listen to the sea and her breathe until the sleep came again.
Whatever made her move? He did not know now, nor pretend to. He thought about this and lost himself before he knew it as the sea pulled on him and pulled and pulled. As it pushed on him he thought now too, losing against it, of the other girl. He had no chance against the sea now. Who can fight against the sea, he told himself. As it pulled on him and the boats crashed against the sea-soaked walls, he thought how she too sounded so wonderfully, differently, terribly different and treacherous at night. ‘When the sea makes those rocking noises,’ she would whisper in his ear in the warm blackness of her room. ‘We make that sound too when we rock like that,’ she would whisper in his he looked out though the window to the blackness of the sky. She would whisper it and then laugh as she licked up his neck and into his ear. He would squeeze her then and they would both laugh after the hotness and pushing was over in a sticky warm exhaustion. With his wife it was glances in bed. She would smile sweetly as he squeezed her hand three times.
With her, he had the sea during the day and the long swims. On the thin, small beaches, they didn’t need suits and swam freely, deeper and deeper into the bright sea. They would swim until they passed out on the hot sand, sharing a cool bottle of white wine that they wrapped in a towel and buried in the sand to keep fresh and cold. They would sun together and sleep naked like that until the heat had burned off the wetness and left them warm and baked through. Their hair had turned a soft yellow brown, blonde and their bodies like the dark meat of chestnuts. The days were good and long and ended in dinner at the café in the hills, and then the long walk home as they held each other and listened to the waves crashing home.
The sea always sounded different at night. Each night he could remember. He could listen now and try and forget. Night and day. Or day and night. He knew they meant nothing anymore. One led into the other and he did not know which. He would never know what moved her, so now he opened his eyes into the still bright sun and tried to listen to the daytime sea. He had tried hard to forget the new girl and how her newness was wonderful at night .That meant something, he told himself. The deep blue sea sounded wonderful now. Day and night. Night and then the day. Day. Night. He had wanted them both. He had loved them and known it all plainly, while they loved no one else but him without knowing the other one loved him too. And now they knew.
Clearly and openly they knew it, and they laughed together at the café and smiled at him when he had walked up that day after the lobster fishing. They were sunned and beautiful. Now they knew each other and smiled as they drank in the sun and were a wonderfully dark pair, like pretty sisters. He had wanted them both He then knew he could have both the night and the day waiting for him. Now he knew he didn’t have the first clue about that what that meant. He had wanted the both of them. Then he had them both and they had him and now he hated them all for making him feel this empty.
The light started to fade. The man was in no hurry to return to the room so he walked into the downstairs bar and found a waiter and ordered a whiskey and Perrier and told the waiter to take a big bottle of the Perrier to the room. "I want mine out here," he told the waiter.
Outside, on the lower dining platform, he sat down and unfolded the papers on the iron table and waited. The waiter brought the drink and turned on an outside light for the American. The man stopped watching the water and drank as he read. The news of the Grand Prix was the same in both papers. It had the times from the qualifying and the positions on the grid for the following day. He read the news anyway. He liked reading that two of his favorite drivers had made the cut up front and would make a good show in battling it out all Sunday morning.
He read on as the sun set over the other side and the tide came back into the canal.