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The International Writers Magazine: Dreamscapes

Abroad
Thea Zimmer


Celestial in the semi-dark, the ruins loomed outside her window in the early morning glow—the arches of the basilica, like stone carcasses, full of more holy ghosts than she had ever known. She wondered vaguely if this was how it was to have one’s soul as a guide. In the bathroom, traversing the syrupy netherland, her eyes alighted on relief sculpture in the dripping rug, the marbled emperors, senators in their togas, endlessly pro-cess-ing . . .

Her boss said she was indeed luminous when she returned to work that day. He’d left a homecoming gift on her desk, a calendar of Venice paintings. "It’s about time we’d gone," Marie said. When she closed her eyes, she could still sense the "big pond" rolling out beneath her, vast and placid. She and her husband Bill had always wanted to travel overseas but had put it off for decades, always thinking they needed the money for something else.
"Italy is a wonderful place, is it not?" her boss said, "I was last there in 2000."
"Oh yes, wonderful," she said, gulping her coffee, admittedly feeling heavier under the fluorescence, her molecules a bit disordered, no longer quite floating on air.
"Lovely people," her boss said, heading back to his office.
"Yes, lovely," she said, almost choking on her coffee, unable to contain the sly giggles emerging from her throat.
"To hell with you little girl," she’d actually said to a little Italian girl, the girl’s dark dagger eyes clearly enjoying her and Bill’s state of helplessness one horrific day in Italy. It’d been their sole day in Florence, a day so carefully reserved and meticulously prearranged with a guide, who’d then failed to show up with their tickets. Marie had been practically in hysterics when their Italian phone-card so arbitrarily refused to work in the payphone. She’d begged some locals for a phone to contact the tour company, only to be flatly rejected, scoffed and snickered at by museum guards and shopkeepers alike. ("No use phone, senora; no, no.")

Bill hadn’t fared any better. His rather feeble gestures, especially as he attempted Italian, had seemed a great irritant to the tourist-weary locals, many of whom had snubbed him, refusing to listen. Ultimately, Marie had no choice but to slash everything from their itinerary except the Uffizi Museum, joining the mile-long line of sweaty tourists flanking its front. When they’d finally reached the entrance and managed to make their way in, they’d had ten minutes left before closing.

Oh well, she thought, as she powered up her computer. At least they’d been able to laugh, at least after that first day of their trip, when in Rome. They’d laughed about being exhausted jet-lagged tourists, their fanny packs and money belts getting hopelessly intertwined where they’d been tossed on the bed—her money belt, as well as Bill’s, so drenched in mannish sweat that she’d become confused, outraged. "What’s your fanny pack doing in my fanny pack?" she’d chided, at first in all seriousness.

"The food was great, wasn’t it?" —the new bookkeeper from down the hall asked—Trixie, or was it Dixie?
"Oh yes!" Marie responded, swooning a bit with the memory, her blood running low on that wonderful roux of garlic, basil and olive oil, her taste buds lingering over the perfectly fried lemony anchovies, the pasta’s voluptuous glide, the tomatoes so red, like succulent jewels in the mouth.

Unfortunately, for the two weeks they’d been away, her body had never gotten back on schedule. It’d stubbornly refused to budge despite her packing in the bread and pasta. She’d become increasingly worried, as her sister had just been through several near-fatal bowel obstructions. The last thing Marie had wanted was to be admitted to an Italian hospital. One bloated morning in particular, before their tour of the Vatican, things had gotten really desperate. Sensing then that everything was clearly more impacted than obstructed, she’d become more intimate with her own rectum than any decent human being ever wanted to be.

"And oh so romantic!" Trixie/Dixie said.
"Oh yes." Marie feigned, fanning herself with that look of Oh, it was just too much.
She and Bill had fought in Rome. And what a pity too, for the shutters had been open wide in their centuries-old moon-lit pensione, the breeze blowing in from the lovely piazza below. There’d been a light serenade of Italian voices, reminiscent (yes!) of a long-lost Italian lover in her youth. She’d felt inspired for the first time in years, her body crossing the line from dry physicality to emotion, sweet, and sexy. She’d ventured to tell Bill that she’d like to try being more aggressive. Bill, all horny by then, said, good-heartedly, "I like it better when I’m aggressive," his eyes dancing, not a clue of the bickering to follow.
"I guess it’s good to be back in the good ole US," Trixie/Dixie said.
"Yes, good to be home," Marie said, struck now by her computer screen, the headlines on the Internet: random mall shootings in Nebraska, shootings in a Georgia high school, 100s more civilians killed in the war, more floods and hurricanes, global warming, more powerful corporate scoundrels so routinely exposed. Good God!—she thought. No wonder the Americans she’d come across in Italy had been so kind to strangers. They’d so much to apologize for. They’d been such easy targets.

They’d been so tired their last night in Italy after yet another small museum in Rome, another set of busts, portraits, last-minute sightings, the Romanesque nose, the proud hard stare. Going out on the street, seeing much of the same, it’d taken her a minute to realize one of them was approaching, his thin knife glinting between them. "Booosh! Boosh!" He spit the words at them, pushing them into a dark alley. "Lo siento, lo siento," she’d whimpered in her high-school Spanish. He’d had the decently to aim for their feet as he spit, skirting off, refusing the worthless dollars they’d just converted back.

She held her tears as her boss came toward her. Damn you, you Europeans!—she was thinking—always on your high horses! "I think I’ll go home after all," she said. Her boss agreed, though reminding her about some spreadsheets due the next day.

She started closing down the software programs on her computer, still shaking. Why!, she thought impatiently, did she need graphic design software?
Oh you Italians . . . time to get off your ancient bronze horses . . .
She jerked a little, not wanting to see it, yet there it was in the corner of her screen, the corner of her eye. She felt a sort of eery panic, forced to look at it, her eyes latching on. It seemed to pulsate in its great flatness: the Macromedia Illustrator icon—the face of Venus from Botticelli’s "Venus on a Halfshell." Her heart felt both hollow and full. Ten minutes to see her from across the room. The copious serpentine hair . . . the gentle locking of gaze.
© Thea Zimmer October xxviii

zimmerthea at yahoo.com


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