“The pair introduced me to a young lady from Milan. . .the Milanesa had light-brown hair, a clear delicate skin, blue eyes and was more outgoing, not so much forward as eager to know about things.” Goethe, Italian Journey.
“She’s my best friend, but she’s kind of married, you know? What about you? What do you like, men or women?” Nicoletta snuggled against Tina, who looked dishy in a white gown. Elisabetta, in black silk parachute pants and a skin-tight yellow t-shirt, sat beside me. I don’t remember what Nicoletta wore; only that she arrived on a Vespa and when she took her helmet off, in a graceful, elegant gesture, honey-colored hair fell to her shoulders, then we all had entered the restaurant under a blue neon representation of a cuttlefish.
“Men. But I think this way. I don’t think we fall in love with a gender; we fall in love with a person. I think I could love a woman, and if I loved her, I would want her. It hasn’t happened, but it isn’t impossible.” It’s only a polite theory. Though I have had women friends I loved, I couldn’t, well, I couldn’t. Close contact with female bodies in crowded gyrating rock concerts has already told me how repelled I would be embracing that plowed field; its proper role is the germination of seeds. I know this in my own animal heart of biological morality.
“I am in love.”
“It’s agony. You know about that, don’t you?” Nicoletta looked into my eyes. I wondered what she had heard of me, if anything.
The little “train”, as Elisabetta had described it, passed by my right. Its “cars” were small plates carrying sushi. I was worried about dinner because it would be expensive and I had no idea–yet–what the money in my purse was worth. I said something about it, and Elisabetta quickly said, “You are our guest.” That didn’t make it better, but I would return the favor another night. I took a small plate of nigiri sushi–hamachi–from the train. Tina took some, too.
“Is this what you want to do? We can order, we can order the big boat. Tina, do you want to do that, or this way?”
The boat was ordered. So much for the train.
“Tell me your love story,” I said to Nicoletta who continued to look at me with a focused inquisitive earnestness. It was the easiest way out of telling mine.
“For a while we were friends. Then, he fell in love with me, but I was not in love with him. After a while, we were friends again, but then he fell in love with someone else, and I fell in love with him. Then he finished with her and fell in love with me, but I was not in love with him any more and was with someone else.”
“And now?” I asked.
“We have decided to try.”
“Where is he now?”
“He’s on Capri.”
I smiled, thinking of Tiberius. “When is he coming back?”
“In two days. You know what I feel, don’t you?”
“I do. I know exactly.”
“I see it in your eyes. You must have stories.”
I didn’t answer. I didn’t want to tell my stories. None of them were happy, anyway. That love is endlessly, consummately, interesting is not surprising. It is always the missing piece. It is the missing piece of contentment for the lonely; the missing piece of contentment for the miserably paired. “Soltanto una fragola” that easily smashed, quickly rotted, juicy, sweet, biting, heart-shaped, inimitable, longed-for fruit, inedible when picked too soon, regardless of its enticing red color; that strawberry, love.
“How old are you?”
“That’s impossible. I thought you were, thirty-three, thirty-five at most.”
“You’re my best friend forever.” I grin at her. She is 28 and beautiful; she shames the models in Vogue.
“No, Christine, listen. I’m not making a compliment to you. Elisabetta, Tina, doesn’t she look much younger? Did you know she was so old? I don’t believe it! You don’t have any wrinkles!”
I don’t mind that she is flattering me. I need to believe it, so I do.
“I lived in America,” she says, “in New York.”
“I’m a photographer.”
“Did you like it?”
“Very much. It’s an exciting city. I was going to stay there. But, I came back.”
“Oh, you know. I was in love with the man I was working for, but he didn’t feel the same. We shared an apartment, see? Because I had very little money and you know, New York is expensive. Anyway, I worked for him. One night he was out with a woman and he didn’t come back. I couldn’t stand it. I put everything in a bag, walked out of the apartment. I got in a taxi and went to the airport. My mother was shocked, you know? I was wearing pajamas!”
“How long, Nicoletta? How long did you live with that?”
“Two years. Are you in love now?”
Elisabetta looks at me, concerned. I’m disconcerted. I take a deep breath before I answer, “No, not now. I’m not in love with anyone.” Perhaps I lied or perhaps I was only trying out the sentence for the future, when it would be true.