Mike laughed out loud as he paid for coffee while the woman checked her iPhone. He knew this day started off as none had before and he wondered where this might lead. Would her husband show up like the one in Ft Worth who sidled up next to him in a restaurant booth while he sat chatting with the man's wife?
Mike played that one very cool and made the guy seem foolish for his accusatory behavior. Mike slept with the man's wife only two days later and while he enjoyed the drama of the chase he had little regard for the awkward sex. She visited him again some months later and the sex was even worse. He knew he would never see her again after that. Mike found out a few weeks later that the girl's husband had hung himself in the bedroom when she went to work and their baby was asleep in the other room. The toddler found her father strung up and thought it was a game. When the mom came home, the 29 month old said "Daddy's not here anymore." Mike only knew this because the girl called him hoping for a little solace; Mike had none to offer.
Mike brushed aside the morbid thoughts of death and the like because today's woman was different. She was tall, cocky, and clearly much more discreet than her dramatic entrance to Caffe' Roma would suggest. He knew that if he found some way into her for the day she would be happy for at least a moment in time. Mike was addicted to giving joy. He had little more than a few dollars to his name, ate sparingly for his age, and yet the allure of this chase in particular reminded him of days long since passed.
Woman - are you coming? I have to be somewhere
Mike - yes, the fucking ATM (mocking her delivery)
Woman - can we please get on with this?
Mike - why the rush, you seemed so content to chill and talk and suddenly you have to be somewhere?
The woman went out the door without saying another word and began in the opposite direction of the Bancomat. Mike walked after her turned her gently by the shoulder and led her through the maze of market vendors. The smell of mussels, sea-air, and sun-dried fish guts was already oppressive in the August heat. The sun was intense in the summer mornings and almost always gave way to cooling breezes by evening. Mike could not help but think he would love to have his way with this woman along an olive tree-strewn veranda while the wind brushed against the old Italian linen curtains. He knew it was not a likely scenario but the thought distracted him and he slipped on the drying body of an octopus, and fell right on his hands and knees.
Woman - ouch! shit are you OK?
Vendor - attenzione signore il terreno e bagnato (under his breath) cretino straniero...
Mike - no shit man..fucking octopus...aaagh my fucking knee
Woman - do you need help? I have no idea how to help you. should I call 911?
Mike - that won't do anything for you here
Woman - i have some wet wipes
Mike - yeah...that might help..I have a little road rash
Mike got to his feet and noticed his hands were also scraped and smelled of rotting sea flesh. Mike stumbled over to a concrete bench near the nut and olive vendor. In the stinging pain of wet-wipe alcohol across his hand he could not help but notice that the quality of the olives had really diminished over the years and that the olive vendor must have been wearing the same white wife-beater for the past two weeks. There were cigarette burns, coffee stains, and nut dust all over the shirt, yet he had one of the busiest stalls at the market. I guess everyone in Puglia needs nuts and olives and filthy shirt or not, this was their guy.
Mike suddenly realized the woman was actually examining his knees. Mike rarely wore shorts and on this day he had hoped to go for a long walk along the sea and shorts were the way to go. Now his bare knees were dripping a little blood and covered in a lot of black road scum. The woman was diligently tending to the blood and dirt and at that point Mike knew she was actually a good mother.
In the moment when he became the victim and not the guide she became the mom. Mike liked this and began to like her. He had really kind of loathed her in the shop and at the same time he felt compelled to dig deeper. Now she was digging squid remnants from his knee and something was different.
After 10 minutes of silence Mike looked at the woman and they moved on. There was just enough shift in the universe to bring the world to a stop and now there was something easier in all of this than before.
They made it to the ATM after a few extra limping minutes and the woman once again bent down to look at Mike's wounds.
Woman - I think you'll live
MIke - how much time do I have?
Woman - to live?
Mike - to take you with me to the sea
Woman - I think my plans just canceled
Mike - would you like some new ones?
Woman - are you asking me on a date?
Mike - I am asking you to the sea...it is much better than a date
Woman - well then, had you been asking me on a date I would have declined but since it is better, sign me up
Mike - I think we need a car
Woman - I have one of those
The two walked back to Caffe Roma where the woman's car was parked along a playground curb in an emergency vehicle space. There was a white strip of paper flapping in the wind under the windshield wiper of her black Audi A5.
Mike - looks like you got a ticket...I am impressed that the cops were working in this sun
Woman - very fucking funny, just my goddamned luck
Mike - from the looks of your car 15 euro won't set you back too much
Woman - whatever, just deal with it for me please
Mike - I'm your boy
Woman - (obviously hurt) please don't say that
Mike - I'm sorry did not mean to be course
Woman - just the way you said boy reminded me of something I don't want to be reminded of
Mike - (putting the ticket in his pocket) hmmm, you are parked illegally, but I don't see any tickets...nice one. You are truly embracing the Southern Italian spirit
Woman - civil disobedience?
Mike - more like lazy and careless ignorance...traits I try to employ in my own life (smile)
Woman - are we going to the sea or what? I have been here 4 days and have not seen the Mediterranean
Mike - well you won't see it today either
Woman - what?
Mike - this is the Adriatic Sea
Woman - call it whatever you want. It is the Mediterranean to me. Mediterranean diet, Mediterranean people, Mediterranean sea...
Mike - I think I see a ticket on your window
Woman - shut the fuck up and tell me where to go
...to be continued