• Florentine Shadows
  • An excerpt from: The Middle of Nowhere 


Florentine Shadows


Barry S. Jandebeur

     Sixteen Euros buys two round trips to Florence from Pescia. The streets, even in early April are flooded with people. We move with the masses toward The Galleria dell' Accademia, The Uffizi, in and out of small shops across The Ponte Vecchio. The buildings are magnificent, the art overwhelming and the sounds endless.

     On a small cobbled street, winding our way back to the train station, we find a small Trattoria and wait on a bench with others for the seven P.M. opening. The night is warm, but the damp smell of endless stone structure wraps you in its layers and you trace my wrist that you hold in one hand with the fingers of the other. You look up at me and wet your lower lip with your tongue then roll it under your teeth then slowly let it slip free.

     At seven, a busy, hectic pace envelopes the swarm that comes. A young man, a girl and a baby, an English family with a teen-age son- sadly not well, an old man - a regular sits to have wine and what else I do not know. We eat quietly, sipping wine - Bianca del Casa and you reach again to trace my wrist with your finger - not the hardness of your fingernail, but the soft plump of your finger tip. My eyes, distracted by the open V of your white sweater, are drawn to yours where unspoken words swim in chocolate pools. The light and the noise are full and your smile confirms unspoken words.

     "Mi scusi, il conto per favore."  The bill is brought and I pay.

     "Grazie.  Arrivedercis." The waiter says as I give him three Euros in spite of a table charge and ten percent service charge.

     "Buona Notte," I say and he smiles.

     Outside the dark narrow streets are well lit. The crowds, gone now, give way to smartly dressed couples - maybe tourists, maybe not. They walk with conviction but without haste. Some laugh, most smoke, but all, in one way or another engage each other. I gather your hand and you lace your fingers with mine and tip your shoulder to touch mine. There is a 9:38 train back and the station is not far, there is time. The narrow cobbled street opens into a piazza and our way to the station lies ahead. Miniature fireworks explode in your eyes as trailing tails of light cascade over shadowed reflections of the night. Your fingers tighten in mine and we turn.

     In the hotel that we choose, not for any reason other than that it comes first; an open window overlooks a piazza alive and full and our room floods with the sounds of the night. Diffused light filters through long sheer curtains that catch the tentative breeze. You stand with each hand parting the delicate fountains of cloth. From behind there is no part of you the light does not catch. I lean into you with my hands at your waist and when my lips touch your neck, you wrap your arms to lay your hands on mine. With my fingers I raise the bottom of your sweater and slide my hand to lie on the soft, flat warmth of your stomach, my fingers touching soft curls below. You push back and press against me. I move my hand in small circles and down. You lean back more feeling me there now. The curtains fall closed as you turn toward me and taking my hands in yours you bring them to your face and hold them open to kiss each palm and then you bring them to your hips and pull yourself to me. Your breasts flatten against my chest as you kiss my neck and then you look up.

     "I want you to kiss me." your voice, a throaty whisper.

     "I want to." Is all I manage to say.

     "All of me." You say. Your eyes are open now more than I have ever seen and you step back slowly letting my hands slide from your waist and you take them in yours and bring them to lie upon your breasts and pull my shirt from my pants and your hands are warm on my skin. First flat, then you finger walk them to my chest.   

     "Is that fair?" I ask, and I gather your sweater in small rolls until I have raised it above your breasts.

     Outside, the sounds of the city swing like a pendulum - happy and gay and occasionally one sound stands out - maybe angry , but probably just unknown Italian. It is all we hear - everything but nothing; a cacophony of sound that becomes our Bach, our Mozart, our Beatles and Rolling Stones and Fleetwood Mac.

     On the bed, you have undressed me and you sit above me now with only panties and bra that have escaped my fondling fingers, and as you lean to kiss me, a hand at each side of my face, I reach to unclasp your bra. Your breasts fall free and in the filtered city light they glow like small full moons. As if on cue, we roll together and I am above you. With my fingers I touch your lips then trace the roundness of your breasts then your ribs and your chest rises and when I slip fingers in to the band of your panties you rise slightly and I slip them to your ankles and off. You do not move as I lower myself to you. Your left hand lies to the side while your right is now behind your head.

     "Yes, and now." Your half closed half open lips seem to say. And your eyes, in anticipation: "Yes, yes!" and I am so ready for you. I adjust myself and lower my body until our thighs meet, our stomachs touch and your breasts are pressed flat by my chest. When our mouths meet the sound of Florence gives way to the moist sharing and suckling that begins the night's explorations.

                                                     *  *  *

     I stop writing now, not because it does not go well or that it may not be good, but to let it rest while I pour another glass of wine. Here in Tuscany, I drink wine that even when inexpensive is more pleasing than most at home. As I return to my pencil and paper the cell phone that I have laid next to my work begins to ring. It moves as its little vibrator waddles it in a small circle on the table. I have a love hate relationship with this device. On the one hand it allows contact with those important to me from anywhere - even here tucked into a hillside in Tuscany. On the other, it is a rude, insistent, arrogant little device that can and does repeatedly invade my space, my work and my privacy. I watch it shudder as though in pain at not being answered. To relieve its misery and mine as well, I reach to answer but am too late - it has answered itself. Its arrogance is compounded by its ability to say:

     "Screw you, I'll do it myself!"

     A bearer of good news or bad, it sits quiet now teasing me to learn what it knows and I do not. It does, of course, have an off button and in that remains only a controlled device - but who controls whom? I pick it up and check the message.

     I am surprised to hear your voice - that you have this number - that you have called. Your message is whispered:

     "Don't use this number. He is checking it."


 An Excecerpt from: THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE


. . . The headlights shine into infinity, and my knee is enough to steer the dark, endless highway while I tear apart the remains of a potato chip bag for the last taste of grease and salt. The loud clank that rattles the car startles me. I've hit something. Shit!

 I steer to the edge of the highway where my lights challenge the night, invading the darkness long abandoned by the moon and stars. I'm alone on the highway; even the trucks are gone, fallen behind or far ahead. Steam or smoke wisps from under the hood dancing in mysterious shapes in the headlight beams. A heavy acrid smell fills the air. 

I slide to the ground and sit with my knees pulled to my chest and my back against the bars of the grill. The engine is still warm, and I pat each buttoned-down pocket hoping to find remnants of a candy bar, a granola bar, anything. The lights, diffused in a low-lying fog that rolls across the highway in undulating waves, fall dead on the wall of mist. In the hush, the smallest sounds are exaggerated, and to each side I expect to see some critter crawling toward me. There is nothing, only the rattling of brush in the breeze, crackling as the night's chill enlivens its dried limbs.

Piss yellow beams, drool off the car and puddle on the pavement where they are consumed. I shiver and push back against the grill, but the heat is gone.  The night air is sharp, the mist thick, snow-like. I roll onto my side; half crawl to the open car door, and pull myself in.