May 28, 2012 at 8:38 am (Dani Clark, Short Story)

The cobblestones in Rome are a blue-black color. They have been polished smooth by rain, carts, feet, cars, and pollution. These squarish little blocks have time-carved curvy cracks between them, more like crevices since they are wider in some places than fingers. Where I come from the streets have yet to stand this test of time.

I can see myself two months past twenty, in that ancient layered city. My dark brown eyebrows are unkempt and my face is clear of blemish and worry. I am wearing a rayon a-line dress of red and blue flowers over a narrow waist and wide hips. Worn brown fisherman sandals adorn my long feet.

In the next frame I am cheerfully drunk and walking arm-in-arm with a new friend down a narrow street toward the nighttime bustle of the Campo dei Fiori. I look down and see that one of those cobblestone cracks offers me a little prize. My inebriated self delights: oooo a cigarette! I grab it and follow a trail of them to the pack itself, giggling and unabashed. My friends bend forward laughing at my scavenger-like tendencies.

I am free but I don’t understand that yet. I have no rent to pay, no husband to placate, no crying child to nurse, and no drunk father forcing my six year old self to praise his incomprehensible poems.

And so I smoke my first cigarette and seal a deal. Thank you foreign revelers with your Birkenstocks and beer. Thank you midnight Mediterranean sky. Thank you bronze effigy of poor incinerated Giordano Bruno. Thank you for bearing witness.  I am free.

Mirth ensues, more cheap wine imbibed, more cigarettes smoked. Somehow we make it back the refuge of our hotel, situated above a quiet alley.

Alone, I want to watch myself smoking. I hold the white stick between my two fingers and stare at this woman inhaling and exhaling in the mirror of a cramped bathroom. My throat burns and I am conscious of being utterly wasted. But I like her, that girl there. She is cool.

I stumble back to my room. The marble-like statues that flank the rounded stairway eye me with suspicion. The windows of my room are open, their white linen curtains swaying gently. Lovely how they have no window screens here in Italy, eh? Woozy, I look down. Those stones again. When were they laid, I wonder. The 1800s? The 1700s? Before?

Then with a giddy seriousness that only drunkenness can produce, I see them emerge from the hazy darkness.  Women of all ages dressed in the fashions of different eras: high waisted robes, white wigs, long aprons, gilded bustling skirts and corsets, even a girl with bobby socks and a pink clip holding back her side-parted hair. They stand there and look up at me. Silent but for their eyes. We know, they say, we were here too.

And then I watch their dresses sweep the stones.

– Dani Clark


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