Non c’era benzina - 9/12/01 - m4w - 34 (Venezia)
Date: 2011-06-15, 10:29PM CEST
Nearly ten years ago, I met to you on the train. It was 9/12/01, after the terror day. I was going from Venice to Rome; you were going to Vienna, for school—in order to study foreign policy, you said that you wanted to work for the EU. I was American, from New York, I said (from Jersey North, pear tree…). At the time time, you did not speak English. You had s black hat or tawny much dark one, and a multicolored sweater. We were smoking with in the station—Mestre or Santa Lucia, I can’t remember. I smoked Marlboros, which you said were “much too forte.” I had a monster Zippo that I bought to Venice, but did not work. ” Not c’ and, ” m’ you have said. It was a terrible day for me— I was alone, very far away from family and friends, far away from my parents, in Rome, while the USA was in a state of chaos. Your named was Roberta, but you didn’t tell me your last name. I wanted to ask name, and where you are, and how you are, and to only say thanks for speaking with me during that very dark period.
The red in Venice is faded strawberry, a scrape before it scabs, fire seen through a soft shield of smoke. The blue is a worryless midmorning sky hovering over breakfasts eaten in huge gulps on the way to work. The white is eggshells left out in the sun.
Evan rested his hands against the barrier of a small bridge and watched a golden retriever playact at piloting a gondola. He ran his fingers over the cement and did calculations in his mind: money made over ten years, children reared, friends lost, compulsive thoughts buried deep beneath more manageable feelings. He was back in this cultivated city of Atlantis for the first time in a decade and he was choking on the salty air.
Roberta looked a little older, of course, but essentially the same. Her eyes were still kind, or at least they were still large. She wore a printed dress and sandals; a few small patches of grey striped her coarse black hair. She came walking toward the bridge with the brisk confidence of a local, preternaturally guarded against the stumbling movements of tourists before they even happen. Evan’s Venetian acquaintance hadn’t spotted him yet, so he looked the other way to buy himself more time. He didn’t know why he’d slipped off his wedding ring; he hadn’t even want this to be that kind of a thing, and when he saw the gold band latticed across Roberta’s finger he felt even more foolish.
The golden retriever licked the side of its boat. A woman in black was huddled up against the edge of a building, her head bent over in prayer, bobbing like an elephant at a bucket of water.
“Buongiorno…?” Roberta had spotted Evan and smiled, not quite sure. When he waved back her whole face opened up. “Em, I mean… hello.”
“Roberta,” Evan replied. “buonasera.”
There was nothing to do but turn his body 90-degrees and wrap his arms around her in a clumsy embrace.
Evan had come to this city of churches and minor saints to confess. He wanted to come clean about the fact that he hadn’t gone back to New York for six months. Tell how he’d ridden trains and booked plane tickets on credit and slept in all manner of hotel and hostel and women’s bed. Evan had met his wife in Paris, a slender dark-haired beauty who smoked long cigarettes then and bit her nails still. Who was now at home with their two small children, making school lunches and laundering t-shirts stained beyond her looks and dignity. But it wasn’t his wife Evan wanted to confess to, it was Roberta. It was Roberta he needed to have know about the comforts he received from strangers who’d cast their overwhelming sympathy on him and him alone; strangers who assumed, when fall turned to winter and Evan was still walking the streets in a tattered windbreaker, that he had left New York as a reaction to the Towers. That he’d experienced a tragedy and had picked up and bolted.
Roberta smiled at Evan and her large eyes were a question mark. “I’m glad to see you. I was… surprised by your message. But happy.”
“It’s been a long time,” Evan said. “Your English has gotten good.”
Roberta blushed. “You were just in town? In Venezia?”
Evan nodded quickly. “Sort of. Anyway, thanks for meeting me. Are you hungry?”
The fact of the matter was that none of it was true and he needed Roberta to know this. He needed her to understand that it wasn’t because Evan was afraid that he hadn’t returned to his grand city of rubble and panic and heroism. It was, simply — and he’d known this in his heart the whole time and ever since — because he couldn’t bear the fact that something important had happened without him there to experience it. He felt it was unfair that he couldn’t claim the fear and bravery and meaning for his own, and that tore him apart. In short, Evan was jealous.
Evan and Roberta were standing on the other side of the bridge now, with espressos in their hands. Another and smaller dog trotted down the street, utterly oblivious or maybe aware that here, there was nothing important enough to be oblivious to.
“So you have a family now?” Evan asked and Roberta nodded. “Kids and a husband and the whole show?”
“Two sons, yes. No husband anymore. How do you say separate? ‘Kick to the curb.’”
Evan nodded and brought his hand gently to the small of Roberta’s back, which was thin and spiny and vulnerable.
“But, ah. I still wear the ring.”
Roberta started to say something but stopped after she’d glanced at Evan’s left hand and saw nothing there. Her large eyes radiated pity and it seared Evan’s flesh. There was nothing now to do but begin rubbing circles on Roberta’s back. So this is how it would be after all this time; he’d leave with something to confess.
“So, ah, what are you doing back in Venice, then?” Roberta swallowed and asked.
Evan closed his eyes until the strawberry red and the skylight blue and the eggshell white became blackness. He thought of his family at home, tucked in front of their plasma TV in footsie pajamas and munching cookies or cake.
The woman in black rattled her tin can and muttered something in Italian; it could have been padre nostro, it could have been Dio; it could have been gelato. Evan took a coin from his pocket and tossed it in the direction of the beggar. It missed her tin cup by two yards and he watched her stop her prayer and go scrambling for the money.
Evan took a deep breath.
“Business,” he said.