Windy today, although the sun stands still, burning its intensity through the treetops. His long legs carry him far, quickly. He remains within his inner world, barely noticing what is happening around him. It is a good thing that nothing much is happening around him. He never sees the rickety swings blowing and stretching against their chains. He never quite realizes how stupid this is: walking through town at 6:30 am. He knows it, yet still does it. Just another miserable day that is just the same as the last one. He looks down at the ground and contemplates.
It was rather funny to observe him: Carlo freshly showered, shaven, primped, in his crisp suit and shoes contrasted against the dingy stale streets, like a street performer travelling through town with the circus: he, the mime, playing for his bread. His pants a little bit too short, his waist a little too high, his suit rather strange. Jacket was shorter than it should be, almost bolero style, tie black and razor thin, sharp against the stark white of his shirt. The fog was even resting against the surface of the street, and as he walked through, it seemed to part, as if he was a god coming out from the strange world beyond.
Carlo arrived into town a lot earlier than most would even think of rising from their beds. He was leaving on a train for Nice. Plaster walls all around falling apart, bright orange terracotta roofs contrasted against the weary state of the dwellings. Clothes still hung out on lines from the day before. Dogs wandered, looking for scraps of the food that they weren’t getting from home, or wherever they came from. It is approaching 7 am as Carlo comes upon the village square. He passes one house and hears a male voice yelling over Italian opera blaring away, both loud enough to be heard on the street outside. Carlo smells the bread from the bakery and coffee from the cafe across the street. There is a sullenness to the scene, and Carlo feels right at home. Although one would not guess it from his outer appearance. Only his inner state matches the outside world.
The train ride will be long and his addiction is strong, so he decides to have a smoke before entering the cafe. He leans against the wall as a scooter whizzes by. The mud on his boots is irritating him, so he kicks them against the wall. The mud was making him want to smoke even more. Mud from his aunt’s back garden. He had to trudge through it this morning because the front entrance has been blocked. The fog seems to be rolling around him as he stands there. He sees a woman crossing the street from the bakery. As she walks past him, he says, “Ciao,” in a rather deep voice. It would have been strange not to say anything at all given the desolation around them. He blows out smoke just as she looks and responds back. It’s as if the smoke and fog have overtaken him. He is suddenly slightly embarrassed and shifts his feet around. He smiles at her, thinking to himself, “Strange little town”. She smiles back politely. Almost seems too terrible and mysterious a place for a woman like that. His first thoughts anyway. He wonders where she lives and what her story is. She must live out beyond the hills of olives and vast farms, away from this place.
He stomps out his cigarette and enters the cafe after her. Not immediately though. He waits a couple of minutes. He encounters several rooms inside. Some dark and closed off, the back ones stuffed and overcrowded. The front room is scattered with horse hair chairs and an old brass bar, gleaming and smelling strongly of brass polish. The owner stands waiting,
The bell on the door rings and yet another man walks in. His heavy black boots sound across the floor as he enters. The man sits down next to the woman Carlo had met outside. Carlo’s own boots announce his presence as he takes his rightful place on the other side of the woman at the bar.
“Caffe,” he mutters under his breath to the owner.
He puts his foot up on the bar rail and stands in place, facing her. His eyes fix on her. To Clarissa, his eyes look a little high and distant, icy blue. She is halfway through her own coffee and feeling ashamed. She wishes she had put more thought into her dress today:Grey t-shirt and yoga pants just aren’t cutting it. She glances over at the guy again. He looks like he is dressed for a party or something. She worries her American-ness is showing through her carefully laid facade. She had meant to just stop at the post office and go home.
“Ciao. Come sta?”
“Ah you are american. I am quite fine now in this dull Italian town” His intensity now fills with interest and a sense of enthusiasm, as he steps closer to her, then sits down on the chair next to her.
“Yes, I am American. You are quite right. Good ear.” She rotates her stool towards him so as not to be rude, hitting his leg in the process.
She apologizes. He smiles and adjusts himself, getting comfortable. They introduce themselves. Clarissa notices his smile most of all. Kind of sly, a bit mischievous, but his stare is intense and makes her slightly intimidated. He orders another two espresso for them both, with a finger high in the air to the owner, that Clarissa is surprised at his self assurance. It shows in her demeanor. She slouches rather painfully so on the bar stool that suddenly feels less than comfortable.
She feels like a child next to this apparently young, rather eccentric guy.
They both receive their next coffees and toast to good health. Carlo then says,
“You are a welcome change to this dreary town, Clarissa. A beautiful vision. My own attitude towards this place is not good.” He appears pensive. Distraught.
“Why is that?” She wonders. “I mean, I’ve lived here for twelve years so maybe I am missing something? It’s a comfortable place to me.’
He pauses a few moments before answering. And then he begins:
“I recently arrived here from Nice. I had a small bit of trouble there that I needed to remove myself from. My aunt graciously took me in in order that I have a roof over my head as I try to recover in many ways. My aunt though…...Not a good thing for me. She disrespects me..”
“Oh that is too bad. I understand…..how so though? Is it that bad? Do you not have a good relationship with her?”
“It is not bad….but not good either. My self esteem has gone……” He turns his thumb down and mumbles something in italian. “As you can see I am not your average Italian man. She puts me down at every turn. Tries to get me to become like one of her burly sons. She wants me to help with the farming. That sort of thing. To me, that’s depressing. All this earth. I want to rise above it all and become different. Take a different direction entirely.”
‘In so many ways, she puts me down. Not directly. It is insidious and vague, so that I cannot defend myself but…” he sighs faintly, ”…...enough! That is enough about me. I would rather hear about you.” She notices he looks even more drained and his anger is starting to rise.
‘Nothing much to tell, Carlo.”
“Oh I am sure there is plenty to tell.’ He smiles brightly at her, making her feel wanted, surprisingly given what he was just speaking about. He has recovered with that phrase.
“I am an old married woman living in a villa up on the hill. I guess there isn’t much to say?” She laughs.
“Yes, BUT. Who IS Clarissa? Who is she deep down? What is your essence? What do you live for?”
She is silent now. After that. Because she doesn’t quite know the answer to that question.
How does one respond with something as mundane as “I am an artist’s wife.” or “I am the caretaker of an alcoholic.” Better to say nothing or something distracting:
So she says, “I am Clarissa.” The silence is more telling than any of the words previously uttered.
Eventually, Carlo says, upon reflection, “Well. Clarissa must be a profoundly deep, radiantly inaccessible entity who I would love to mine for both your benefit and for mine. It has been a great pleasure to meet you today, Clarissa. I happened upon some luck today I think Maybe there was something in that mud I stepped in this morning after all.”