A young man wearing a turquoise polo shirt and khaki cargo shorts accosted us. His armpits were soaked, his crotch moist. Sweat beads dotted his upper, hairless lip. He brandished a clipboard, waved it menacingly through the air. On the back of this clipboard I saw a lion. I had been seeing lions everywhere.
“Where are you from?” he asked, his smile big, bold, and barbaric enough to kill elephants, his English accent atrocious. I didn’t stop, but, instantly annoyed, I slowed my pace considerably. It was another intrusion, another mouth wanting something. Worse, it was the bankrupt question we had heard umpteen times since arriving in Italy, the only one strangers know how to ask.
We had just docked in Burano, and, in addition to this guy, we already had to suffer the psychedelically colored houses, the swarms of tourists, the weather. The tourists, indistinguishable, with their cameras, phones, and selfie sticks poised, were swarming like stampeding zebras. We were trying to get away from them, save ourselves and our dignity, get off Viale Marcello, the main drag. It was 95 degrees out: a humid, heavy heat, Floridian and unbearable. The lagoon reeked. My wife was in a mood. Had been since breakfast, since those disorientating jam-stuffed croissants (why do the Italians do that?) and potent cappuccinos at our overpriced, undercooled Lido hotel. Those coffees had teeth. Claws. I decided: I’m going to take it out on this guy.
“Where are you from?” I asked aggressively.
I felt a jolt of adrenaline, felt capable of crime. He said something. I heard “from” again, so I thought the stupid bastard had just repeated his question—the most cretinous question in the world—the question certain people think isn’t cretinous because they’re the patriotic cretins that feel a warm and fuzzy mindless pride when they answer it.
“Where are you from?!” I shouted.
He said the same word. Taunting me. Fucking with me. Which made me want to crucify his ass on the Pisa-like clock tower, watch him burn, blister, and bleed, but then I suddenly realized he wasn’t saying “from,” he was saying “Rome.” My face must have registered this realization, expressed what might’ve appeared to be a flash of remorse. Was it a flash of remorse? Yes. Did he see it? Undoubtedly, because he sallied on to the second part of his spiel, told us that the petition (clipped to his lioned clipboard) was against drugs. Drugs? All this for drugs?
I turned, roared: “I am a drug! I am the drug!”
“Ha ha,” the young man replied. He didn’t laugh. He actually said “ha ha.” And then he said it again: “Ha ha.”
I took a giant step forward and bitch-slapped him, got a hint of nail involved, ripped a fine line into his cheek. Of the satisfying impact, I can only say this: his face felt feminine, familiar. Of the tableau? No tourist had stopped swarming, but my young man looked calm, disturbingly so. He also looked pathetic and hideous. I thought: I wonder how he tastes.
I grabbed my wife’s hand, sped her away. We ducked into a sinister-looking alley, spotted another, crossed an old Italian’s backyard (she was hanging laundry, all of it black, and didn’t seem surprised by our presence), and then, alone with the homicidal heat and the locals, we strolled along the canal as if nothing had happened. My heart calmed, but my wife’s mood was impenetrable, treacherous. Deep she was within it. Maybe too deep to notice. Was she in that deep? Had she not noticed how nasty I had been? How hateful I had felt? How much serious bodily harm I had wanted to inflict upon that turquoise young man?
Contrite, I said, “I was a mean cat.”
“I would’ve been meaner,” she said.
I believed it, steered her into a dark, deserted café where we stood at the bar munching bussolas and swallowing those dangerous espressos until the whole world felt tame again, until we were ready to hunt down some of that world-renowned lace.
Kevin Tosca’s stories have been or soon will be published in Redivider, Literary Orphans, Paper Darts, decomP, Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine, and elsewhere. Poetry in Motion, a fiction chapbook, is forthcoming from Červená Barva Press in 2017. He lives in Paris. Find him at kevintosca.com.
Image courtesy of Andy Hay at Wikimedia Commons.