Triumphs and Laments
The blooms on the roof across the way pulled her out to her own small balcony to stand there and inhale. If she pressed her body against the mauve-colored stone, she could see the River Tiber winding its way through the city like a sleeping giant.
On this eve of the solstice, two thousand seven hundred and fifty-eight torches representing the number of years since the city was founded were going to be lit along its rubbish-strewn banks.
Down the hall she caught sight of her daughter in her bedroom draping herself in colors before a full-length mirror.
"Mommy, you have to come! We're going to wake up the river!"
She loathed these kinds of events like the plague and after having to slow down to an obnoxious crawl for the curious to gape at a television crew's set up of big lights on leggy tripods, a sensation of pins and needles began to take over her body.
She wrote a review about this artist's work a long time ago:
"Although Ms. Gomez's paintings provoke, I wonder if underneath all that angry daubing can she come to terms with her shipwrecked childhood already and tap into the gentler, more classical force of her talent instead of all that juvenile rebellion? We might all be happier."
Allegra Gomez, a walrus now in late middle age, was basking in the limelight, ready to give to the man eagerly holding the microphone her take on Rome's special, special night.
In her mind she returned to the ballroom of the exhausted firetrap upstate that stuck it out while calling itself "a landmark hotel." It was her turn to cover the exhibition.
She remembered desperately needing some air.
"Where are you going?" begged the dimwit assigned to be her slave for the day.
Outside, on the paint-chipped veranda, she drew hard on the last drag of her cigarette and braced herself as a slimmer Gomez and her weird entourage spilled out of a beat-up local taxi.
"Who the hell are you to analyze my work, you moronic flea?"
"Curse your work, Allegra."
Gomez had that glazed-over look of a maniac as she padded towards her, across the lawn. The sides of her cockroach-colored overcoat flapped like a pair of wings until she landed to kiss her hard on the mouth like a lover. It tasted sweet was all she could think of, similar to the fly she swallowed once during a discussion with her mother on one of their Caribbean winter holidays.
"Mother, why do we need cloth napkins on the table at breakfast?"
"Because it makes our vacation better."
"It makes your vacation better. Daddy doesn't give a shit and I ...ach! God! I just ate a fly!"
Later, she allowed herself to be brainwashed into toasting to her new, exciting career with drinks alongside the pool. While posing cross-legged, yoga style, in her faded cotton paisley bikini and loads of beaded necklaces, she smashed her cigarette in the ashtray provided by an attendant, despite her mother's pleas to stop smoking so much. Both parents watched with bug-eyed disbelief as she curved her arm up like a snake to commence with her lecture.
"See? See how leaving the hair in the armpit softens the line of the female form? It's more pure this way, don't you think?"
At once in his head her father began to calculate the cost of her share of the trip. Some boys with thick pubescent voices gathered around to inquire if she was from Europe. Her mother qualified the whole thing as utterly ridiculous and advised her belle cygnet not to join them for dinner until she shaved or wore something with sleeves.
An assortment of chatty children waded out to launch a fleet of floating candles. They drifted off under the radiant dome of the Vatican, which warded over everything like a king, nearby and in the distance.
Shirtless Japanese drummers were beating as if their life depended on it. A tight-faced American movie star couple maneuvered along arm in arm pretending not to want any attention. A helmeted cyclist poked his bike a couple of inches at a time through the crushing and jolting mass. Chanters, magicians, and everyone and his cousin came to be infatuated and to rekindle their relationship to the river.
She saw him. He appeared taller than she remembered. Had he always been so bald?
One of those who could never resist the pull of his heart into callous self-obsession - "that woman over there is lovely, isn't she?" - he worked hard to play the fool. She suffered him longer than she should have had to while all the time knowing how he stoked his fire in the depths of a desperate, lonely place.
He's here in Rome.
Under no circumstances must she let on anything out of the ordinary. Pop a mint in her mouth, although what she had was a half-dead foil-wrapped chocolate, straighten her skirt borrowed from her daughter's closet, and counterfeit another confidence, although the weight of a lifetime of masquerading was beginning to wear on her nerves.
A benevolent god of winds perched above it all was miffed about how at her age she still faked it. Suddenly, sensing things could go amiss, he swiftly descended from his sacred perch to blow all the lights out.
Benedictus. The cool liquid of a profound spirit poured over her.
"I want you to know something," she began to recite slowly with eyes gently closed, "not a day has gone by that I haven't thought about you."
The stranger cradling her head and dripping water onto her forehead from a nearly empty water bottle switched his expression from concern to bright amusement until she grabbed his favorite football jersey with her white-knuckled fist and pulled him down towards her.
"Lady, I don't know what you're talking about! You fainted!"
The place of the night before appeared desolate now that everyone had gone home. There was no change in the river, whatsoever. While holding herself back from weeping for a world devoid of miracles, she saw a child with a stick picking up pieces of trash and stuffing them into a bag.
Denise Falcone is a painter and a writer who lives in New York City.