All Stories, General Fiction

Pompeii by Paul Kimm

Landing in Naples the heat from the tarmac met her face as they left the small plane. He was already a few steps ahead, keen to get through passport control and get a taxi to the hotel in Sorrento. They’d argued for days about whether to spend the night in Sorrento or Naples before visiting the ruins the next day. A sumptuous hotel, teeming with charm, only a thirty-minute taxi drive from the airport, and just ninety minutes to Pompeii had been her choice. His persistence had won for Sorrento, meaning a taxi was too expensive and a two-hour bus journey lay ahead. Sure, the hotel in Sorrento wasn’t as fancy, was further away from the airport, but definitely cheaper and being only half an hour from Pompeii meant they could do the full seven-hour itinerary. Since first opening that hefty, brown book of his dad’s, Histories and Mysteries, that he used to lift with both hands. he’d wanted to see Pompeii in person.

Under the keen air-conditioning in the arrivals lounge she caught up with him. The thin promise of sweat from outside evaporated.

“Do you know where we get the bus to Sorrento then?”

“I’ve got all the numbers, so we just need to find the stop. It’ll be fine. It’ll go quickly enough and then we’ll be there.”

It might go ‘quickly enough’, but it would go four times slower than a taxi to the Hotel de Charme, with its palatial, warm gold entrance and rooms big enough to do the triple jump in. But this was his trip after all. Those gruesome pictures of lava covered bodies he’d shown her in that scruffy old book had unnerved her. She wasn’t that enthusiastic about seeing them in person. Again, this was his part of the trip. Venice was hers and that was straight after.

“It’s through here. This exit on the left.”

He was right. He’d planned every step until they got to Venice. After Pompeii the rest was all hers. It was still summery this time of year in the south. The north might be a little cooler.

It was a small bus, but there were plenty of empty seats. They sat either side of the aisle giving the window seats to their bags. It was almost dark and not much to see at this time of day.

“This will fly by. Get some sleep if you like. I can wake you when we get there.”

“We’ll see. I’m not that tired and want to make sure I’m not awake in the night.”

Did he want her to sleep? She wouldn’t be surprised if he’d scheduled that in his planning too. No, now she was being unfair. When they first met, they’d talked about travel, that staple of any first date. She’d been charmed by his boyish travel ambitions. He seemed to have a lot more places he wanted to go than he’d been to and they all had that Indiana Jones slant to them; ruins, secret cities, ancient museums. She’d loved his passion and wasn’t against going to such places. Her travel had been mostly cities, beaches and quite boozy. Seeing a bit more culture and history had sounded good. She nodded her eyes under her eyelids in fondness of the reminiscence. This was for him and he deserved it. Her Venice was only two days away.

“We’re here. Come on. It’s only quarter past ten. Not too bad. Perhaps a glass of wine before bed?”

“Oh, great. Yes, I wouldn’t mind a white wine before some sleep.”

She didn’t feel like she’d slept on the bus, but maybe she had. She hadn’t noticed they’d arrived. The lobby had an institutional feel. He checked in as she sat in one of the municipal chairs. He seemed to ask a dozen questions before getting the key. Their room was sparse, utility driven. One picture, one mirror, a single block of colour for the bedspread. It was the kind of décor that cooled the space. An unforgiving blue dominated. She closed her eyes for a second and visualized the lobby of the Hotel De Charme again. The goosepimples on her arms receded at the thought. This room had a balcony though and possibly a natural, green view. She’d know for sure in the morning.

“They’re going to bring up a bottle of white wine and a couple of glasses. Shall we sit on the balcony for a bit?”

“Sure. That sounds great. Thank you for sorting that.”

She went to choose which side of the plastic balcony table she wanted to sit at. A knock on the door signalled the wine arriving. It came in a metal bucket packed with ice. He poured and handed a glass to her.

“To Pompeii!”

“To Pompeii, and to Venice!”

“Yes, of course. It’s our Italy trip.”

They both took sips. It was a little sour, and extremely chilled. The coldness sandpapered her throat. Her neck muscles tensed. She took a smaller follow-up sip, letting the wine thaw in the roof of her mouth before swallowing this time.

“You must be excited. Finally getting to visit Pompeii.”

“I am. I really am. I know I’ve been a bit overly meticulous about it all and you’ve been so patient. I’m sure you’ll love it too.”

“Of course I will. I know I will. As much as anything because it makes me happy to see you’re happy.”

Her effort paid off and the wine in her stomach started to warm her. One more, maybe two more glasses, then sleep.

The sun piercing the opening in the curtains woke her just after six thirty. He was still in the depths of sleep. The bus to Pompeii wasn’t until nine. Plenty of time. It was quiet apart from some birds playing outside and a surprise rumble from her stomach. They hadn’t eaten since Luton Airport and then only a sandwich. He wouldn’t mind if she went ahead for breakfast. It started at seven. She left a little note on the desk saying she’d see him down there.

‘I’m starving! Hope you don’t mind – I’ll see you down there!! xxxxxx’

Two exclamation marks and six kisses were surely enough to show she wasn’t sulking. She wasn’t, but the idea of being alone, sitting on the terrace by herself, was somehow illicit, exciting. The breakfast room was empty, but the self-service tables were full. She chose a croissant, orange juice, some fruit and found a seat facing the early sun. She ordered a cappuccino. The sun rested on her face promising to not hurt her skin, just a gentle, polite caress welcoming her into the day. She took a purposeful second to close her eyes, her eyeballs softening under sun-brushed eyelids. She was letting out a gratified sigh when a sudden, refrigerating shade covered her.

“I got your note. No worries, but figured I’d jog down and join you. Enjoy our first breakfast in Italy together.”

“Okay. Good. Get out of the sun though, would you?”

“Yes of course. I’ll get some food then.”

They sat together on the bus full of German and Scandinavian tourists joining them. He rested his palm on the back of her hand. The breeze, entering the slim, high windows was dry and their hands, like a pair of discarded leather gloves, produced no sweat. On arrival he bounded off. By the time she stepped off he was in front of her with two cones.

“Italian ice cream! I figured I’d treat us to gelato.”

“Well, we’ve just had breakfast, but okay, why not?”

She took one and licked the glossy film that was starting to drip down the wafer. Despite her attempt to rescue the melting cold cream some dribbled between her fingers.

“I’m sorry, but I’m going to throw this out. I’m not sure we can go inside with it and I’m just not that hungry. Sorry.”

“Ah. Of course, don’t worry.”

The ice cream left an irritating stickiness on her skin. She wanted to wash her hands. Inside the map showed the only toilets were on the other side of the whole site. She knew her hand would bother her, but that this was his day. She still had Venice. She rubbed at her fingers to remove some of the dry sugariness.

“Are you alright? Shall we start?”

“Yes, I’m fine. Lead the way!”

They sat halfway up the Amphitheatre. He sidled up close to her.

“Sorry about the ice cream. Silly of me right after breakfast. Just a bit giddy to be here.”

“Don’t worry. It was a lovely idea. Just dessert at 10am is a bit much for me!”

“What do you think so far? Pretty impressive, eh?”

“It really is. I’m glad you’re enjoying it.”

“Are you though?”

“Yes of course. It makes me happy to know you’re happy.”

“I’m blown away by it. And, were just getting started. I can’t wait to see the Garden of Fugitives. Are you okay to head there now?”


They walked into the designated orchard. In the corner the glass rectangular enclosure containing what he’d wanted to see for so many years. He hurried ahead. His forehead rested on the glass pane, mesmerised by the thirteen plaster-cast victims of Vesuvius. It struck her how they were separate from one another. How some were resting on an elbow or an eternally paused hand, raised in midair, in front of a face. Thirteen bodies captured in the volcanic attack, now just motionless ghosts of their final moment.

“It’s incredible isn’t it? Can you imagine such heat? The unimaginable heat that hit them. It’s unbelievable really. All that fire and now frozen in time.”

His hands were animated, moving in front of the pane, mimicking the positions of some of the arms of the thirteen bodies, like he was acting out their last few seconds. She became faint, the stickiness between her fingers prickled. She rested her hand against the glass. It was cold to the touch, almost stinging. He put his hand on her shoulder. A piercing chill trammelled through her.

“Are you alright?”

“I’m just a little dizzy.”

“Are you hot? Maybe we’ve been walking around too much.”

“No, not hot. Cold. I want to go back to the hotel. I feel like I need some rest. Maybe a hot shower.”

He stepped back and she took her palm off the glass.

“You please stay. This is your day and I’m sorry.”

“Will you be okay on your own?”

“Yes, I’ll be fine on my own.”

As soon as she turned, leaving him to his excitement, she felt the sun stroke her arms, legs, warmth rejoining her. He’d be fine on his own too. He’d seen Pompeii now.

Paul Kimm


17 thoughts on “Pompeii by Paul Kimm”

  1. Hi Paul,
    I thought she was a bit of a bitch!
    But him leaving her made him a bit of a dick.
    HAH! Not being hungry has nothing to do with eating ice cream?? I reckon I could take that Man V Food guy! I have to admit, I try to avoid buying it as I don’t see it as any size of a carton, I see it as a portion!
    I actually enjoyed the fact that I ended up disliking both of them! That is sometimes a very brave thing to do Paul – Good on you!!
    All the very best my fine friend.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I thought this was a nicely rendered vignette of a relationship about to go south as the incompatibilities mount. A good read to start the week!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you Leila – the setting was meant as a kind of loose metaphor for the relationship – a place that once had life and ‘fire’ being a historical mirror for the relationship that once had the same.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Very careful nuanced narrative – a good read, thank you. (but I’m rooting for him because he clearly exercised ENORMOUS restraint in not suggesting they move on to view more Roman corpses at Herculaneum).

    Liked by 1 person

  4. A clear story about the tiny things that break up a relationship….. these are first world problems, sometimes we don’t appreciate what we have until it is gone. The theme of this one could be “the narcissism of minor differences.” I liked the details of fire in Pompeii combined with the dialogue re: the cooling relationship.

    Liked by 2 people

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