Washing in the Adige by Evan Massey

Emilio is sitting across from me. I can barely understand his broken English as it mixes with his native Italian tongue. They sometimes overlap. He makes a new language of which I understand very little. He is going on about something, something about a child and a woman. He is talking fast and touching his face and tapping his mouth with his finger. I’m thinking that I am the woman that he is going on about and that he is trying to describe. The child, I do not know. Emilio is talking fast and I’m giving it my best effort.

I do not know Emilio very well. And he does not know me very well—one of the few things we have in common. He does not know that I have children back in the States. He couldn’t be speaking of one of them, no. Darla and Kate are their names. They are teenagers. I thought maybe one night after I had one too many glasses of wine, I slipped and told him about them. But I could not remember. I have other memories from those nights.

We are sitting outside a restaurant with a bottle of Bardolino. The bottle is almost empty, and I want to order one more, but our time together is inching closer to the end. My flight leaves soon. I wouldn’t be back to Italy for a while. Emilio, I wouldn’t be seeing for a while, if I was even coming back.

The restaurant is next to the Adige River and sometimes a small boat with people pass by or the lone gondola, paddling slowly along. The sun shines on Emilio and I look at his young face as it glows under his black Italian hair that hangs from his hat. He fixes his hat and hair and goes on about the woman and the child. He says that they are his. They are his child and his woman, he says. Another woman. The child, whose name is Mia, is six years old from what he tells me. And he has another woman, whose name he does not disclose. I don’t know what to say. I thought I was the only one—foolish of me to think so. Emilio is a lot younger than I am and very handsome, so I couldn’t blame him.

His handsome, bright, and young face captured me the first time we met at a restaurant here in Verona. I am quite a bit older than Emilio, he didn’t seem to mind then. We shared wine and conversation. We talked about art and the painters we loved, and Emilio had a Florentine bias. He grew up there, in Florence. He said he loved the art of Raphael. I told him that I was more into Venetian art and was a fan of Bellini. Emilio shook his head with a smile. He doesn’t like Venice. I came to Verona to see the art, at least that’s what I told Emilio. The hotel room I booked, I barely stayed in. The rest of the time I was with Emilio. I didn’t see any art.

I thought about it, but I couldn’t tell him the real reason I was here, and that I was taking some time away from things back home—my excuse to travel. My daughter Darla said that I shouldn’t leave home. Kate said I shouldn’t come back. James didn’t know what he wanted. He didn’t care. So I left. Then I met Emilio in a restaurant and didn’t want to leave. Kate would be happy about that, if I didn’t come back home.

Emilio didn’t notice the ring until he got paint on it during one of the times we fooled around in his tiny apartment. I forgot I had it on. His apartment overlooked the Adige, and inside there was only a chair in front of an easel and a bed. Emilio is a painter. Not a very good one, but he could paint. He painted several thumbnails of me. I’d be sitting or lying down, sometimes clothed and sometimes not. But these paintings, they were all without faces and I asked him why. I thought it was because of my age. “Why didn’t you paint my face?” I would say. Emilio would say something in Italian that I couldn’t understand, then he’d kiss me with paint on his hands as he took my face and I’d forget about it. Some of the paint got on the ring. I didn’t mind.

“I’m sorry,” Emilio says. “You’re leaving now. I had to tell you.”

“Emilio,” I say to him, even though I had nothing to say. I just loved to say his name.

He looks up from his wine glass and the shimmer from the sun hitting the river dances on his face. He has a daughter now, Mia. He has another woman. I don’t know her name and don’t care to. I wanted to be mad at him. I wanted to throw my glass on him and walk away and never come back to Verona. But I had secrets too.

Emilio picks up his glass and finishes it. Then he looks at the bottle and what is left of the wine, which is not much. He pours another. I do the same. We wanted more time, but there was no more time. I look at his hands. They are soft, painter’s hands with dried paint in the creases of his fingernails. They touched my face many times this week—like hands had never touched me. Like he was painting a younger version of me over my aged skin. Emilio made me feel young while I was here. He made me feel a lot of things.

He reaches out to touch my hand. I look at his paint-riddled fingers as he moves them on my skin. I want him to say, “Don’t leave”. I want him to say that. But his mouth doesn’t move, only his fingers as they touch my hand and I touch his. Then I think of the other woman and who she might be and if there is only her. There is a part of me that doesn’t want him to touch me anymore. But there is another part. He rubs my wedding ring and goes over the streak of yellow paint he left.

“Sorry,” he says.

“It’s fine,” I say. “Don’t forget those paintings. I wouldn’t want her to see.”

“She won’t know it’s you,” he says.

“Right,” I say, thinking of the missing faces.

Emilio fixes his hat then swallows the last of his wine. In the bottle, there is no more. Some wine sits in my glass. This is the last of it. We both didn’t want to, but we had to go back—back to the lives we were absent from. It’s on our faces. I think of home and feel myself begin to age again. I take care of the wine in my glass. Emilio rubs my hand and looks toward the Adige River. His face glows. He gets up and kisses me on the cheek. In a way his youthful lips give me life then takes it away. Emilio leaves me and I listen to his light footsteps fade from behind and I try not to turn around.

I look at Emilio’s chair. He’s gone now. One of the waiters from the restaurant walks out and takes the bottle of wine. I tell him that I’m finished, and he takes up my glass. Then I get up from the table and walk the opposite direction of Emilio. The Adige flows smooth and I listen to the calm of the water. I watch as the river washes things off the walls and carries it along and then away for good.

The sun is descending, hovering right over the tops of houses and buildings and the shade of the river darkens. I stroll along until the barrier is no longer in between me and the Adige and I walk down the embankment and meet the water. I look down at the ring and there it is, Emilio’s yellow paint staining the diamond. I start picking at it. The paint does not budge, and I pick at it again, scratching the stain. I scratch and scratch some more. Then I stop, thinking maybe I should just leave it there for all to see—for Darla, Kate, and James to see. But I consider the Adige as it flows in front of me and I kneel down and put my hand in. I try scrubbing the dried paint from off the ring and I do this for quite some time. Soon enough, everything gets washed away.

 

Evan Massey

Banner Image: Pixabay.com

4 thoughts on “Washing in the Adige by Evan Massey

  1. An excellent story that makes you care about the character and continues to reverberate after it ends. So many good lines (e.g., “Like he was painting a younger version of me over my aged skin”).

    Like

  2. Hi Evan,
    You painted a picture with this one. It was voyeuristic and touching.

    A very skilled piece of story telling.
    All the best.
    Hugh

    Like

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