It's two years, almost to the day, since I posted this story and I wondered if enough time had passed before posting it again. What the hell, I love the story, the place, the people, I'll probably post it again in another two years.
I couldn't explain why I was glad to be home because I didn't understand it myself, but as I lugged the case from the taxi, too impatient to avail myself of the bearded, tic-eyed driver's help, I got this tremendous feeling of relief. Safe at last, that's what struck me as I fumbled in the flight bag for the front door key. You'd think, after such a brilliant holiday, I'd be sorry to leave. All that heavenly sun, and there was I turning my face to the rain and drinking in cool air as if I'd been starved of it. And enjoying it. Me, Sun-worshipper Class One.
That was a week ago, and I am only now able to think about Giovanni subjectively. Guiltily, as if I'd deceived him. Holiday romances, I told myself, and had been telling myself since the day we met, were to be avoided at all costs. His proposal, sincerely and solemnly delivered, given his inebriated condition that last night, came as a complete shock. Not for one second did I imagine he thought anything of me other than someone to have a good time with. And we'd certainly done that. Had a good time, I mean. From the word go we'd done everything together. Well, almost. I drew the line at sex, even though we both desired it. The idea of getting pregnant hadn't appealed, you see, and how was I to know if Giovanni's suave, romantic approach was genuine. He might have been the sleeping-around type; he might have been stricken with AIDS.
But, that last night, Wow! We'd been sunbathing by the pool all day, apart from a couple of hours when we'd lunched in the hotel: salmon roulade and fancy salad, Positano style. On the night, Giovanni suggested we go down to Marine Grande for a drink at Geranno's. We sat at a table not far from the water's edge. You could hear the water lapping gently around moored fishing boats. We kissed, him stretching his lean, long body across the table, jolting the carafe of wine in his haste to meet my lips; me keeping a beady eye on the azure-blue vessel as it tottered unsteadily on its base. Rather that than ruin the skirt he'd bought me. Organza. Soft orange and cream. It looked terrific with the lace top and I didn't want even a dribble of wine on it, let alone a deluge. It was okay, though, the carafe steadied itself. Breathe again, Deborah. Naturally, Giovanni didn't notice. He was too busy licking the lipstick off my upper lip. I swore he was calculating the hairs that I try so desperately to disguise.
There was a bit of cloud round the top of Vesuvius that night, a sure indication that the next day would be fine. There was a bit of cloud round my brain, too, but I didn't realise that until later. I told Giovanni I couldn't wait for it to get dark so we could look at the stars and maybe see the lucciola, or fire-fly as it's known in England, and he said, in that gorgeous velvety accent that caressed my heart and sent it leaping to the skies, Molto bello. I wasn't sure if he meant it was the idea of watching stars he found beautiful, or me, but, given that he was holding my hand and riveting his inky eyes to mine, I took the credit for the remark. It was then he proposed. I thought I'd misheard and was trying to work out what he had said, when he repeated it. Marry me. His voice was clotted with desire. He urged me not to catch the plane the next morning, saying I could leave the hotel and stay with him in his apartment. I don't know what he expected me to live on, unless it was love, and we all know love doesn't go far in the shopping stakes. You're probably thinking I'm a mercenary bitch, turning romance into realism before the poor guy could draw breath. And I guess you're right, looking back.
The yellow currency-converter is still in my pocket, a constant reminder of foreign shores.
I did warm to him that night. Not a temperature change. Real desire. I'd been keen on him from the start, flattered that a man with such magnetic Latin looks and magnificently proportioned, sun-bronzed body, had selected me to dance attendance on. But the feeling that was churning my insides that final night was dangerous and I pushed his hand away. Just in time by the look on his face. He was eaten up with passion. Eaten. Smouldering, he was. His libido had really got going. He shuffled uncomfortably on the slatted chair. It reminded me of the day we went to Amalfi, both of us wearing navy shorts and white cotton T-shirts, and he got stung on that part of the leg that joins the buttock. He had trouble sitting for a whole day after that; couldn't even drive his little black Fiat in comfort.
I forced myself to look him squarely in the eyes. I was disappointed to note that the amorous look was fading, as if he knew he was getting the brush-off, but I told myself it was for the best. Holiday romances do not work. Christine and Mark's didn't; Lucy and Ken's didn't. Both couples married; both got divorced within the year. I couldn't risk that happening to me.
Giovanni, I went, as steadily as I could, given that my voice was quivering something deplorable. Giovanni, I went again, adopting a pretentious tone, like my mother did when she was laying down the law. I can't marry you. It would be impossible. We'd have no life together, both of us out of work.
I mean, it would be idiotic giving up a well-paid secretarial post with the Council to become unemployed in Sorrento. I didn't say that to him, though. I didn't even think I should have mentioned work at all, since it wasn't the real reason for turning him down. It was an excuse, that's all. You know, a desperate search for a way of alleviating pressure, as well as lessening the blow. Giovanni whispered Capiri. He didn't put non in front of it so I gathered he was saying he understood. That was a relief. His expression came close to being comical, his pouting mouth more like that of a disappointed school kid than a thwarted almost-lover. It eased things for me, I can tell you. Made me think he wasn't quite as genuine as I'd taken him for, and I felt as if I'd been released from shackles, which wasn't fair, I suppose, considering he'd cosseted me for three whole weeks. Did I mention that? Did I say he took me to Capri on the Cuma Ferry on the second day and a tour of Vesuvius on the third? I could've done without that. I found it extremely alarming and a big, big worry. What if it erupted while we were up there. It didn't, of course, but he did. He grabbed me round the waist and whirled me to him so he could munch my mouth. Thoroughly. A trifle vigorous, I thought, for a first kiss, but at least it knocked the worry away. All I was aware of was responsive breasts and galloping groins.
We walked a lot in the countryside and lazed by the hotel pool (where someone suggested he must be a gigolo because he wasn't staying there and he was ever so slightly younger than me). The list of things we did was endless. We dined out, sailed to Positano with the Marine Club, swam in the Bay, clambered the rocks below the hotel, sunbathed, and kissed beneath the stars. I'm finding it very difficult to discuss this. The gut is reeling with the pain of it. Suffice to say, I rejected Giovanni Rossi's overture and flew home the next day.
Deranged fool. I've regretted it for a week, especially now, ambling through Gracechurch Centre which for some reason has hired a brass band to harry the hurrying customers. Maybe if he'd said it earlier I would have given the proposal some thought. I am that frustrated, I could kick myself. Evenings lately are interminable. From the moment I leave the office they stretch into eternity. Silent and lonely and cold. I miss his arms, his lips, the happy laugh pirouetting from his luscious mouth. Nights are the worst. Sleepless, as though sleep has been abolished. Tired as a dormouse, I lie in bed studying wallpaper. If I've counted the petals on the roses once, I've counted them a million times. Twelve. Well, there's more, but the centres are tightly closed so I have to discount those. I wait impatiently for the sandman. He bypasses me every time.
The reflection in Beatties window is ghastly. I don't reckon on looking good at the best of times, but that's awful. Straight up and straight back down figure, bowed shoulders bearing the weight of guilt and self-reproach. The band breaks into a Gracie Fields number: The Biggest Aspidistra in the World. Fluke, or what? I wonder if she had similar qualms when Boris paid suit. Or the other two, before she married them. Married three times, according to one of the tour guides on Capri. Me, I turned down the first decent chap I'd ever landed.
I yawn; the reflection yawns back. Beyond, there is a display of suntan products, with a picture of a tree-lined boulevard leading to a beach. Quaint, but nothing like Sorrento. In fact, walking round the Centre is not nearly so interesting as promenading the Corsa Italia, stopping at every window to admire the shoes and suits, Baldan, Ferragamo, and Armani. God, I do miss it.
Pulling a face at the image in the window doesn't help the mood. In fact, it makes it worse. Depression is closing in like the door of a tomb. Would death be as painful? I move on, giving a last minute tweak to the collar of my mac. Sighing. Wishing I'd had the sense to bring an umbrella. The Sorrento umbrella, blue and yellow, bought that day it rained, when we swooped into the doorway of the Coin store, blind to everything except the need to shelter, colliding with a basketful of gamps. The sales staff pounced like ravenous locusts, intimidating in their determination to make a sale. We gave in. We bought an umbrella. Wise choice, considering the pelting rain. See how easy it is to remember, how hard it is to forget? Everything I see, or hear, or do, reminds me so forcefully of that place. And him.
I see Maples' window-display has changed. That pine table is similar to the one Giovanni has. Did I mention his apartment? It was above the shops in Piazza Tasso. Enormous rooms with high ceilings. And so cool. The windows were huge, with small balconies. You could lean right out and not be feared of falling. The horses were stationed below, harnessed to carriages, waiting to take sightseers on guided tours. I couldn't bear the sight of those dumb animals hanging around in all that heat. I wanted to yell to their owners to let them loose. It wouldn't have done any good; they wouldn't have understood me.
I purchased a souvenir or two to bring home, and I bought Giovanni half-a-dozen of the plates he'd admired. Bright green with bright blue squiggles round the rim. Sounds awfully garish, but they were actually quite nice. It seemed a bit like reimbursing him for all he'd spent on me and I rued it like crazy the minute I handed them over. But I needn't have worried; he was overjoyed. Mother always said I was a mitherer of the first order. She was right.
His mother liked the plates. She reckoned he should chuck his old ones forthwith. She was a nice lady, obviously affluent, and as beautiful an Italian Signora as I ever saw. It was manifestly clear, then, why Giovanni had spent money like it grew on hedges. He was well-to-do. He was no more a gigolo than the King of Spain. It didn't change my mind though. I still believed holiday romances didn't work.
I hadn't noticed the bus was in. Breaking into a gallop, I go down the steps and across the road. The currency-converter slaps against my thigh with every step. I aim for the end of the rapidly reducing queue, tagging on behind a frail woman who can only shuffle to the bus. The breathing space is welcome; the panting stentorian. The woman turns to stare. You're too young to be wheezing like a bronchitic crone, she goes. I nod my agreement, wondering how on earth I trekked up Vesuvius, breathing steady. The woman thanks me for helping her up the two deep steps and I wonder how she would have managed on her own. It's okay, I go. When I'm her age, I hope I'll have a partner in tow.
Home again, sipping lukewarm coffee, finishing the books I brought from work: columns of figures that needed totalling, which the boss wanted urgently and which I didn't get round to on Friday. I wonder: should I write? A letter of thanks? I've deliberately not done it before, needing space to air my emotions, to purge my mind of tangled emotive webs. I remind myself that holiday romances don't work, and feel better for the prod.
The coffee's well past its best, so I chuck it down the sink and make some fresh. I see the rain has stopped. There's a peep of sunshine somewhere in the sky, it's glistening on the empty milk bottle on the sill. The grass outside is as near to emerald as it'll ever be considering its weedy state. And extremely long. And long it'll have to stay now the mower's broke. There's something to be said for procuring a partner. Man for hire: will mow, and cook, and wash-up. Making love a speciality. Hah!
Shades of Giovanni.
Tears? This is ridiculous. Why on earth am I crying? Hadn't I been a great lemon about making love. If I hadn't been such a wet lettuce, I'd know how good he was. Is. And pregnant, probably. Alone. I collapse at the table, coffee forgotten. The silent tears run their course, dripping unimpeded down my nose. The make-up will be ruined, but what the hell. There's no-one to complain about the eyesore. Only me. It's the first time I've ever felt lonely. I'm devil-may-care normally and a bit of a gad-about, yet I'm content with my own company; relishing the break, likely, after hectic nights out, dancing. I'm charged with an image of Giovanni and me, dancing so close we could've been glued at the hip. Man, does that make me go gaga. And even more weepy.
This is no good. Three in the morning and still I haven't slept. The phone's ringing in the hall, but I'm not going to answer it. It'll be a wrong number, I expect. Wongs Takeaway. That's the most recurrent wrong number, though why anyone wants spicy food at this hour is beyond me. I couldn't understand Giovanni treating himself to chicken curry at half-past two, after dropping me at the hotel. He told me when I removed the tinfoil tray from the car. Sheepishly, and no wonder. We'd only finished a turbot supper an hour earlier, and you know how filling turbot is.
There, the phone's stopped its ruthless racket. If I'd had enough gumption, I'd have switched on the answering machine. Let it tell everyone they've got the wrong number. That's a laugh. Wouldn't the opening announcement disturb me as much as the unrelenting peals? Of course, I could use ear plugs.
Four hours, I've been tossing. Four hours of frustration, interspersed with melancholy. I wonder: if I shove my feet to the cool side of the bed and straighten this rumpled sheet, will I sleep? I don't know who I'm trying to kid. There's no chance I'll drop off just because the toes have cooled. No way. Therefore, a pair of earplugs is the answer.
Discontented mind, that's my problem. And not because I can't find the cotton wool. It's the business with Giovanni I can't sort. It's now approaching four o'clock and I'm reclining in a sudsy bath, Imperial Leather Mild. I concluded that I might as well have a soak as lie in bed sweating. The phone starts again. I remember too late about the answering machine. Fortunately, the noise promptly stops and I relax back in the water.
I'm soaping the bits beyond the suntan when I'm suddenly hit by a major realization. I am in love. There's a warm glow coursing through me. Giovanni's face appears like magic, framed in the porthole that serves as a window, as if he's been spirited there by a mischievous genie to hear the revelation. Caprice. Enlightenment kills the misconceived logic about holiday affairs. Excitedly, I toss the soap on its dish. I am suddenly unafraid. Debs, I say, you're a real nitwit. So what if Lucy and Chris made a mess of their lives. They obviously chose the wrong men. It doesn't mean Giovanni's wrong for me.
Moving like a whirlwind, I shoot out of the bath. I'm so lively, you wouldn't believe I'd had no sleep. There's foam on the floor, and the towelling robe. Leave it, Debs, I say. Get on that blower and ring your man.
The phone rings just as I reach it. I'm not one to blaspheme, but right this minute I could curse the caller to infernal regions. Angrily, I snatch up the receiver. Now look here, I go, all set to recommend what the caller should do with his Chinese chow-mein.
Come sta, Deborah? goes Giovanni.
How am I? How am I? I am floating to the top of this wonderful world, and it's quite likely that by the time I come down I'll have great difficulty speaking. My heart sings. Joyfully. Three words. No, four. I love you, Giovanni.