I have come in from the Via Dogana and the perpetual fog of December in Milan to set up the textile exhibit in the Nuovo Polo and because I've agreed to meet him after.
Under the dome of steel and glass in the bright light I blink. All right, I say, what time?
Seven, he answers.
Now if he had said nine or even eight that might have been something.
His lips crawl into a smile and the hazel eyes with all the colors look through me.
Why don't you just say it, I think, get it over with.
Under the domed lens of the grand salon I turn away until I feel his departure, until it's safe and he has gone and taken his camera. I don't photograph well in brilliance stark like this, rarely also in shadow. Though with a Nikon he can work wonders.
He boasted as much when I met him on the Eurostar on the way to visit family. I saw him board with a camera bag and portfolio under his arm and took him for a student, which he wasn't, but only just.
When my suitcase rolled over a woman's Bruno Maglis I went to retrieve it and when I finally found my place he was in the adjacent sedile. He nodded. I smiled. Then I buried myself in my book.
Speak English, he asked, removing his cap.
As the railcar sped along the unseen track we practiced the nuance of language. He'll soon run out of things to say, I kept thinking, but he talked on, mostly of himself—work, plans.
What do you do, he asked.
Organize tradeshows for a textile firm. I'm doing one in Milan.
The Rho? A yellow-gold spark lit in the hazel eyes. I photographed the Euroluce there.
Ah, I try not to sound dim, the exhibits must have been—interesting.
A ball buster to photograph, he answers, suddenly sounding very young.
I look down at my book but can't recall what I'm reading. When I find my place it's time to transfer.
He stands. We change trains here, he says.
I follow him out to the platform glad not to cast about for my way. We stand at the binario.
Here—he tears an empty page of his portfolio. My e-mail. Stay in touch why don't you?
I feel for the sliver of paper in my pocket as I flag a cab for the hillside village.
In the courtyard of the small pensione I climb the stair and turn the key in the lock of the curved wooden door. Inside the semidarkened room light from a streetlamp illumines silver frames and sepia photographs. I sink. It won't do to send a message so soon, I think, and manage on the edge of a fingernail to wait until morning.
Meet me this weekend, he sends, an agritourism near Bologna.
I agree but with vague annoyance at the demand so that our meeting is eclipsed by introspection. He's young. This won't last. I can't bring myself to say the other. He treats me well but always talks of work, passionate about his, inquiring politely after mine.
So you're setting up in the grand salon.
Yes, I say, and think, I should get back so my mind will stop this infernal flickering.
Do they have a photographer, he asks. By now they must, he says, lying naked under the sheet, leg raised, bent at knee.
I pause, thinking. You know, they may still need someone. I'll ask. I pick up my bag. I need to go.
His smile is radiant—two gifts for one.
I leave and blow a kiss, for the first time in days I'm hungry.
On the train to Milan I close my eyes and sleep, at peace. Until today when he returns and my mind again begins flickering.
I take my time to set up the exhibit, framing sample fabric. If I'm late he'll have to wait. This much he owes me, I think.
I'm wrong, of course, as I sit with espresso in a porcelain thimble.
He strides in from the fog and winking streetlights camera bag slung over his shoulder and casts his wet cap, showering the marble table.
They haven't paid me, he says.
I should have ordered a panino, I think, blood sugar plummeting past the tiled floor.
Why haven't they paid me, he demands.
I'm—not sure, I answer, and ponder while he stands wet and petulant. I move the thimble. So, what is it you want me to do?
Get me my money, he says, loud enough for two girls at the adjacent table to hear. They draw their chestnut hair across their faces like a curtain, lean in and whisper. The taller nods in my direction, appraising unkindly.
I'm not sure whom to ask, I answer.
Ask that same son of a bitch you talked to before, he says.
The barista looks up but the child's tantrum hardens me.
But I've already talked to him.
Instincts like a career extortionist, he asserts control. Then talk to him again. He smiles, hazel eyes without spark. He lays his hand on mine. You'll do that, won't you, talk to him?
The flesh of his palm is soft. I remove my hand, slowly. I don't want to be rude.
Tell you what. I rise and pull a card from my bag. Here's the man I talked to—he'll help, I raise my hands, fingers pressed to palms in the double ciao of departure.
He sits looking like he might rise to follow. He won't though. He knows I don't have his money. I button the new microfiber raincoat and blow a kiss then walk out to the Via Dogana where a light rain falls.