By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
She says she likes Billy Wilder. This is later in the night, with the overhead lights turned off and my roommate feigning sleep in the corner. We are in a train headed to Venice. Five hours to go. The Apartment and Double Indemnity are her favorites. I whisper in agreement.
The beginning. She enters the train cabin at Naples. My Venetian roommate is the friendly one, extracting the relevant information: She's an Italian artist fresh from scouting her latest exhibition site. A castle. I smile and nod, wondering if I should've shaved.
The nodding turns to speaking, as I gush about a video I saw at the Biennale. She agrees. Or seems to. We say plenty of things, about the obsolescence of the Guerrilla Girls and the merits of a local music festival. But really we are looking. Sheepish glances turning into lingering stares. The warm glow of reciprocation.
All of a sudden it is dark, except for the moonlight. Which is true. We murmur nonsense until our faces breathe each other. A kiss is inevitable. Preordained. So it happens. It is inexplicably tender, the kiss. Streetlights pass and we see. Whisper our last names and hometowns and ages. My Buffalo sounding grubby next to her Verona. Chicken wings and Shakespeare. I admire her hair in the light, speckled with gray. I disbelieve and then believe the fact of her.
The night ends.The ride ends. So the dream, assuredly, will end. We exchange contact information. My plane is scheduled to leave the next morning. On a card she writes her e-mail address, her phone number, and her work schedule for the day. Important facts.
We part. I beam. The roommate and I are locked out of the apartment so we stand and look at the mist roll off the canal. And I gush. We are still idealized lovers on a train, bereft of history, vices, insecurities. It could have ended here. As a fantasy. Gather around the bar and listen to my own Before Sunrisetale, far less talky but comparably attractive (so I'd say). I could even spin a sequel, less Before Sunsetthan Strangers on a Train,set in Binghamton (my alma mater), self-proclaimed carousel capital of the U.S., where I'd bowl instead of play tennis. Or not. Stories are hard to come by but I figure love is more so. Lust and hope drive me forward.
So I go to herworking at the Thai pavilion of the Biennale. Or, I wait for her. I arrive and it is shuttered for lunch. I wander in a nearby church and calm my racing nerves in front of a Bellini until it is time. The practical uses of art.
I arrive, see her, and lay out my grand plan. I tell her I have a ridiculous proposition and that she should feel free to reject it out of hand. Pause. Then I say I wish to spend my last night in Venice with her, and that we'd somehow have to get to the airport early the next morning if she agrees. I, not nearly as nervous as I should be, wait. She quickly grins and says yes. A wall of video projections vibrates in the background, a woman lecturing to a rapt group of corpses in a classroom (Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook's Death Seminar). I enjoy it.
She has to work another job, so after leaving the pavilion, we go to her apartment for a break, where I drop my bag. She tries to nap on the couch as I stare out the window, then at her, worrying that her roommates will arrive and wonder who the hell I am.
Woozily she wakes up as the Giant Sand album she put on the stereo winds down. I quietly celebrate the conclusion of its monotonous monotone. She smirks at my displeasure. Cute. We catch a water taxi, take a photo, approach the purse store. Kiss, bye, and I have a few hours to wander. There is the dark, the tourists, and the moon in the canal. I stand on the Accademia bridge, staring at the sky while eavesdropping on the conversation of a British family. An argument ensues about the right settings to use on a digital camera.
The father has his doubts about the son. I think it better just to look. But a picture, now, would be nice.
Back to the store at the appointed time, I handle various leather pouches as she counts up the day's take. I wonder if I should smile at her, but I don't want to distract her at her work, or embarrass her in front of her boss, so I turn back to the wallets.
Back at her place, I meet a roommate, refuse some tea, watch the beginning of The Five Obstructions. Turn in.
She takes me to the airport: on taxi, on bus. The trip is one long embrace as my self-consciousness quietly slips away. Drink cappuccino, embrace. At gate, embrace. She kisses the sleeve of my jacket. Wave, wave, wave. The truth in clichés. As if on a cloud.
Once we part, the reality descendswe know little, if anything, of each otheronly the comfort we feel in each other's presence. Presence we no longer have. Talk is mostly over e-mail, detailing the mundane and necessary details of our lives. We exchange our shock at what happened, whether it was a result of atmosphere and circumstance or human feeling. It's determined probably a mixture of both. In what ratio is yet to be known.