Reverse-Gentrification of the Literary World

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News & Features » May 2013 » “Lido Winter” by Maxim Jakubowski (from Venice Noir)

“Lido Winter” by Maxim Jakubowski (from Venice Noir)

Lido WinterVenice Noir
by Maxim Jakubowski
Lido, Venice, Italy (from Venice Noir)

The vaporetto turns the bend.

You’ve seen it in countless paintings by Canaletto, Turner, and others, a thousand and one photographs and movies and TV documentaries, but still the eternal view unfolds like a slow-motion epiphany.

The Grand Canal in all its majesty. Canal Grande.

Moving past the Ponte degli Scalzi, the choppy waters flowing all the way downstream toward the Rialto Bridge that looms in the gray distance, the crumbling stone outposts on either shore like parallel rows of zombie guests at a wedding waiting for the bride and groom to troop past and be assaulted by clouds of confetti, the domes of churches in the hinterlands, the procession of palazzi straight from the pages of history and guidebooks: Gritti, Dona Balbi, Zen, Marcello Toderini, Calbo Crotta, Flangini, Giovanelli, and on and on, like a litany of open-mouthed operatic celebrations of decay and grandeur, the sound of water lapping in the wake of the vaporetto’s passage, the unique smells of La Serenissima, gulls above observing your steady journey toward the open spaces of the lagoon, past the markets, and finally the Ponte dell’Accademia and onward beyond Piazza San Marco and the Doge’s Palace and into the murky emptiness that separates the principal part of the city from the nearby islands.

It’s not the first time you’ve made this journey, but it always takes your breath away as the façades unrolling on both sides of your field of vision steadily unveil centuries and more of history, of stories imagined and read about. Of classic movies. Of books. Stories that stick in your throat and in your mind like rough diamonds full of fury.

The hiccuping engine of the vaporetto guides you into open waters past the final promontory of the Giudecca, beyond the tip of San Giorgio Maggiore, and cuts through a cluster of lingering mist, heading for the fast-approaching line of land of the Lido.

*

He wraps the black cashmere scarf tighter around his open collar as the marine breeze makes its coldness felt. Looks around. Since the San Marco stop, there is just a handful of passengers left on the vaporetto. Mostly locals with bulging shopping bags, a couple of teenagers busy texting on pink cell phones, hopefully not to each other, a well-dressed businessman of some sort whose hairpiece is an uncomfortable match for his russet moustache.

And sitting right at the back, lost in distant dreams of an unfathomable nature, the young woman. He’d distractedly noticed her boarding the vaporetto at the Santa Lucia train station, running down the stone steps toward the embarcation point, holding her bag in one hand, her golden hair flowing behind her. It was just about to leave and she’d only caught it with a few seconds to spare.

Her green mac is now unbuttoned, displaying the violent fire of a red sweatshirt over skinny black jeans. Even though, like him, she is obviously a tourist, she appears different. As if she belongs here somehow amongst the cold breeze of the lagoon.

And come to think of it, how does Jonathan appear to onlookers? Just a tourist with no luggage. A man with wild gray hair curling out of control, his stocky frame bulked up within a heavy brown leather coat. Middle-aged, unremarkable.

The vaporetto shudders to a slow halt in front of the pier, and the passengers disembark. Jonathan is in no hurry and allows the locals to stream past him before he even rises from his wooden seat. As he steps off onto the island, he gives a final look back at the vaporetto. The young woman is no longer sitting in the rear, although he had somehow not noticed her overtaking him. Strange. He looks ahead at the small tree-lined piazza, which hosts the vaporetto station. The other passengers are dispersing in two or three separate directions but there is no sign of her. He sighs and mentally speculates how tall she had actually been. Her posture had reminded him of Kathleen. Who’d been five feet eleven. And lithe and clumsy and surprisingly submissive between the sheets. Jonathan sighs again as memories come streaming back in a torrent before he deliberately cuts them off. Now is not the time.

He looks ahead. The piazza is empty, like a set for a ghost town in a movie. Shuttered cafés on both corners of the main road which, he remembers, leads a few miles farther down to the beaches. And the big hotels and casinos.

But somehow it now appears so different, as if his memory is playing tricks on him and he hadn’t actually been here all those years back.

A car crosses the piazza in front of him at a low speed and it’s something of a shock, a disconnect. You just don’t expect cars in Venice. But he reminds himself this is the Lido and not Venice itself. A random thought occurs to him: Do they ship the cars in from somewhere? How?

Jonathan then recalls the forgotten fact that Giulietta had come here by car once. At film festival time. There is some ferry that comes in from somewhere on the mainland, but he can’t precisely remember where from.

That was when they’d met.

She’d conducted a brief interview with him in London. She hadn’t made too much of an impression on him at the time. But during the course of the following months, they had begun corresponding. About one thing or another. Gradually the tone of the exchange had become personal and soon they had tacitly agreed that they would meet again in Venice at the film festival and both knew they would become lovers.

His initial surprise was that she was so much taller than she had been in his memory. And uncannily beautiful too.

She’d driven there in her father’s camper with a girlfriend who had managed to get them a press pass through an uncle who worked for RAI. Had found an isolated area near Malamocco to park at night toward the southern tip of the island. Not that Giulietta ever slept there at night, being in his bed until the early hours of each morning when the screenings began, some of which they would attend together, sometimes holding hands in the darkness.

Behind him the vaporetto leaves, cutting through the waters, returning to Venice. Jonathan glances around. A long road disappears ahead, in all likelihood leading toward the Lungomare, he remembers. All roads south on the Lido invariably reach the Lungomare, the Adriatic.

He sets off. Was it the second or third turn to the left? He tries both and is soon lost. Every small turn off the main road looks alike. Unable to find the small hotel where they had first fucked. Is it because in winter everything here seems different? He stumbles his way back to the main road. There is no one around he can ask for directions and he can’t get a connection on his iPhone and search Google Maps.

The cold breeze is insidiously finding its way through his heavy leather coat. He shivers as every bone in his body protests.

“You took a wrong turn.”

Jonathan swivels around.

It’s the young woman from the vaporetto. Out of nowhere.

He looks her straight in the eye. She holds his stare, her painted Mona Lisa lips fixed in a semblance of irony.

“How would you know?” he queries.

“I know,” she says.

“You’ve been here before? Do you live here?”

“I just know,” she says.

From the moment he first heard her voice, he has been glued to the spot. He feels an ache in his right hip. Her eyes are ice green, deep wells of certainty.

“Okay,” he says.

“Follow me.” The young woman’s voice is transatlantic, impossible to pinpoint. She could as easily be British or American, or even from elsewhere, the words carefully modulated, the product of expensive elocution lessons maybe.

She takes a long, almost manly stride toward the curb and Jonathan follows her. Her hair shimmers in the winter breeze, curls sprouting in every direction like a crowd of thorns. He calls out to her, “I’m Jonathan, by the way . . .”

She nods, as if she already knows this.

“What is your name?” he persists.

She turns her head around toward him and smiles gently, as if hesitant to reveal her true identity.

“My name doesn’t matter,” she finally says, and increases her pace. They are now walking down a narrow tree-bordered street of high brick walls and concealed gardens. It’s all beginning to look familiar to Jonathan. He digs his gloved hands deep down into the pockets of his coat. How can it be so damn cold in Venice of all places? He’d somehow never associated Venice with this sort of weather.

Her slim ankles dance ahead of him as she makes her way through the narrow Lido backstreets.

*

You had come to Venice in search of memories. Traces, images, thoughts of Giulietta somehow persistently lingering in your mind from the time you had spent together here. Over the past couple of months you had already roamed the winter pavements of Paris, Barcelona, Amsterdam, New Orleans, Seattle, and New York on a similar pilgrimage to recapture a past that was fast fading into the untouchable distance of time and could no longer be held between your useless fingers. Not just frozen shards of Giulietta, but of all the other women you had known; some loved, some desired, lusted after, all lost or, at any rate, left behind in the ebb and swirl of the ever-flowing tides of feelings and dissolving days. The headlines and paragraphs of what had been your life.

You could feel it in your bones: the night was coming.

Slowly but surely.

All-conquering.

And this was your pathetic way of raging against the falling darkness. Your only way.

Some would have called it ridiculous, but in a curious way it all made sense. It was the sort of minor theatrical gesture that the characters in the books and movies that touched you most would do. There was even a French novel later made into a film where the central character had done just that before committing suicide. But his wandering peregrinations had merely carried him through Paris, visiting acquaintances on both sides of the Seine; men, women, past friends. You had watched the movie over a dozen times when still in your twenties. Not that you had any intention of topping yourself, of course, but wasn’t there something so damn romantic about the idea of such a hopeless quest in search of the past and its parade of unforgettable women? And you were weak and so prone to giving in to temptations of every nature.

In your bones: the dull pain of a recurring toothache, the dizziness that swamped your senses on unwelcome occasions, the creaking in your joints, the hairs growing out of your nose and ears that you waged a losing battle against with your faithful set of tweezers, the shortness of breath, the blurriness in your vision when you woke in the mornings (this despite two cataract operations), the white pubic hairs sprouting on the left-hand side of your shriveled cock, the tired posture you witnessed all too often in the bathroom mirror, the tangled strands of gray hair that increasingly got caught in your brush, the incessant tiptoeing down the dimly lit corridor to relieve the pressure on your bladder at night, the tiredness that came so easily, the increasing unattractiveness of your aging body. But most of all, the terrible acceptance that, these days, there was nothing to look forward too any longer.

Yes, night was calling and its dark melody was becoming all too magically seductive to you.

Your travel agent had found you this exquisite small boutique hotel on the Lido, lost in a jungle of luxuriant shrubbery, a few minutes off the Via Marco Polo. Every room was full of antique furniture, heavy brocade, and curtains, like traveling back into an earlier century of indolence. It was a quarter of an hour’s walk from there to the festival screenings held in a palatial congress center by the sea.

You had arranged to meet up with Giulietta after the opening movie. Prior to the screening you both had invitations to a formal dinner but were seated at different tables, far apart. She had been wearing a dress with an open back and your heart had experienced a pang of jealous pain on every occasion her neighbor at the table, a Rome editor she occasionally penned freelance pieces for, distractedly allowed his damn fingers to stray across her skin in a gesture of both affection and, it appeared to you, ownership.

You had, finally, made your way back in silence to your hotel. It had been a warm, humid September night. God only knew what she could be thinking, having rashly agreed some weeks before by e-mail to join a man she barely knew in his bed, a man double her age.

Maybe something buried deep inside your uncertainties was already telling you Giulietta would be your last adventure and you had to seize the day and not look such a gift horse in the mouth. What you didn’t know is how she would make your heart melt, and how you would fall in love with her and turn all over again into a stumbling teenager in the thrall of it all.

Venice nights: Giuli’s lanky body, the dark colors of the hotel room’s heavy curtains, the tight dark curls of her pubes, the smell of her skin, her silences (and yours . . .), the sweat and intoxicating odors of lovemaking, halting breaths, sighs, cries. Early-morning yawns, open windows, and the smell of magnolia seeping in from the overgrown gardens outside, dark coffee in bed and vaporetto trips for mornings in the city, walks across a hundred bridges to discover a wildness of churches, the Arsenale, the grounds of the Biennale, further coffees in a small bar on Campo Santa Maria Formosa that Donna Leon had recommended, Bellinis at a bar that Hemingway had allegedly written about, an expensive meal at Florian’s which all the guidebooks insisted should not be missed.

Late-morning screenings back on the Lido and then aimless afternoons hand in hand getting lost in the maze of La Serenissima, away from the familiar tourist tracks, the Ghetto, San Polo.

One evening, Giulietta wanted to go to the casino and was refused entry as the burly doorman would not believe she was over eighteen—yes, she did look that young—and she had left her passport and identity papers in your room. Giulietta laughed aloud but you blushed more than she did. Dirty old man caught with under-age prey! The bouncer’s steely eyes pierced you through and through.

Neither of you filed much copy about the films in the competition and the Venice Nights section that year . . .

*

The exiguous lobby of Villa Stella is empty. When they enter the grounds of the hotel, Jonathan immediately recognizes the place. The overgrown gardens, the clean-cut façade.

Little has changed.

“Come,” the young blond woman beckons him, as she lifts the oak panel that separates the granite-topped registration counter from the common area. She slides elegantly between the counter and a high-backed chair and turns to the wall where the room keys all hang and takes one. Maybe she is staying here, which would explain her relaxed familiarity? But how could she have known it was this specific hotel he was seeking?

“It’s out of season,” she says, as if answering Jonathan’s question.

“And you have the run of the place?”

“You could say that.” An enigmatic smile spreads across her lips.

*

She opens the door to the hotel room and Jonathan flinches.

“Oh . . .”

“What is it?” the young woman asks.

“Have you done this on purpose?”

“What?”

“This particular room?”

“I took the first key at random,” she answers, the expression on her face unchanged. “There are only twelve rooms. One chance in twelve,” she adds.

Jonathan shrugs his shoulders, content to go along with the fable.

The room is frozen in time, conjuring up too many memories and images sharp enough to puncture his heart and soul. All of a sudden, he loses his resolve.

“Would you mind if we came back later? Had a walk first?” he inquires.

“No problem.”

They take the main road toward the sea, where the thin strip of land of the island borders on the Adriatic. Turn right at the Lungomare, walking down Gabriele d’Annunzio where it turns into Guglielmo.

The Hotel des Bains is shuttered and shielded by a barbwire fence. He has read somewhere it was soon to be remodeled into an apartment block. Its beach is also inaccessible, its golden sands lying wet and forlorn with scattered frayed deckchairs upturned here and there, like memories of a past, more opulent era.

“Sad, no?”

“Yes,” Jonathan agrees.

“I’ve always wondered why Thomas Mann called his book Death in Venice. It should have been Death on the Lido, properly speaking.”

“I know,” Jonathan says. “Maybe it doesn’t have the same ring. People always think of Venice first. The Lido just hasn’t the same romantic connotation.”

This was where Aschenbach had coveted the adolescent boy Tadzio and allowed death to welcome him into its arms in the novella. Jonathan hadn’t actually read it but he had seen the Visconti film. Though he would never admit to this publicly. There are a lot of classics he hasn’t read.

“I only saw the movie,” the young woman says.

“Me too.”

“Philistines, eh?”

“Absolutely,” Jonathan says. They both laugh.

“Anyway,” she continues, “Aschenbach died of cholera, not a broken heart. A fanciful notion, but quite unrealistic.”

There is a spark of mischief in her eyes.

They continue down the road, walking parallel to the sea. The gray sky chills his bones to the core. It looks as if it will soon begin raining. He tightens his black cashmere scarf around his neck.

They reach the Excelsior Hotel, which is also shuttered for the winter season. The main film screenings take place at festival time in the bowels of this luxury hotel.

“Did you know that Venice no longer even has a single cinema?” Jonathan says.

“Really?”

“Yes. A city that hosts one of the world’s major film festivals doesn’t even have a functioning cinema throughout the year. No demand. Not enough people. The population is steadily falling. Young people don’t want to stay in Venice any longer. Tourists don’t come here to see movies. They have other desires.”

“Interesting,” the young woman replies. “So what do you think brings people here in such numbers?”

“The beauty of decay, the weight of history, I don’t know . . . Maybe it’s just habit, like lemmings. They reckon it’s a place everyone has to see at least once in their lifetime. Before they die.”

“I thought that was Naples.”

“Both,” Jonathan says. He’s never been to Naples. Nor even wanted too.

A gust of wind surges past him, moving between the sea and the lagoon. He shivers yet again.

“Can we turn back?” he asks her. “This is getting too cold for me. And at this time of year, all this is just too desolate.” He points to the abandoned beaches and shuttered buildings.

“It’s just winter,” she responds. And swivels around.

He remembers how warm the hotel had felt earlier, even though it was empty.

*

“Did you come for the churches?” she asks you.

“No.”

“Did you come to Venice for the canals and the art?”

“No.”

“For the glass baubles from Murano, the food, the way the evanescent light plays on the slow-moving waters of the canals and the lagoon, the history, the gondolas, the teeming Rialto Bridge markets, the way the water slops against the stone walls of the canals when the tide rises . . . ?” A litany of questions.

“No, no, no . . .”

And you don’t have the courage or the audacity to tell her you have only returned to Venice to confront your own history, your memories, to wallow in the past, to understand once and for all that some things will never be the same again whatever you say or do. To finally come to terms with the fact that Giulietta was your last great adventure. And there can be no other. As if life has given you x number of chances, and you have taken them all, run out of numbers.

But then you guess she knows all this already.

You now sit in the hotel room, half a buttock uncomfortably perched on a corner of the same bed in which you and Giulietta had once made love in every conceivable position, while the young woman from the vaporetto stands by the door, observing you in silence, a detached interrogator in the house of love.

“Do you even have a name?” you ask her.

“Do you want me to have one?”

“Yes, I do.”

She pauses for a moment. Ponders. Decides. “Make it Emma.”

“Your real name?”

“Does it matter?”

“Not really, but it feels less awkward you having a name, I suppose.”

“Makes sense, I agree,” she nods.

“Emma?”

“Yes?”

“Who are you and what the fuck do you want?”

“Admirably to the point.”

“And about time too. So?”

“Jonathan, you know who I am.”

“I don’t.”

“Yes, you do,” Emma asserts. “Just think. Hard. Come on . . .” Then smiles at you. A smile chock-full of compassion, sadness, and finality.

You blink. Your jaw loosens.

Deep down inside, you know who Emma really is. Could it happen any other way?

Did you think she’d just arrive on the scene knocking on the door like the long-expected killers in a Hemingway short story, or dressed in a red vinyl coat like a Venice-haunting dwarf in the movies?

And again, ask yourself, isn’t it right that she should be a sumptuous long-legged blonde, with tousled hair, emerald-green eyes, pale skin, and cheekbones to kill for? The saving grace of fate, or mere coincidence?

*

“What now?” Jonathan asks.

Through the open curtains of the hotel room, he can see the evening darkness take hold of the sky and, beyond the Villa Stella’s shrubbery, descend on the Lido. If he closes his eyes, he can imagine the pinpoint myriad lights across the lagoon illuminating the floating city. The thought occurs to him that he’s never been to Venice at acqua alta when the water surges across Piazza San Marco.

There are so many things he’s never seen or done.

“Do you want to keep the light on or should we switch it off,” Emma asks, a note of tender concern in her voice.

Jonathan deliberates with himself just one brief moment.

“I think I’d like to keep the light on,” he replies. “It would be nice to see everything. Clearly.”

“Good choice,” she says.

Once again he finds himself sitting on the corner of the bed while Emma stands just a few feet away, watching him, a halo of dying light circling her hair as the day retreats in the distance.

Jonathan sighs. Takes a deep breath. The room is relatively small. There are few hotel rooms he can remember passing through in his travels that were truly large, for reason of budget. He’d feel lost in a large room. It also made him feel closer to them. The women. Cathleen in the Radisson at Heathrow; Claudia in the Hotel de l’Odéon in Paris; Ingeborg at the Prince Conti in New Orleans; Marilena in the Holiday Inn Towers in Chicago, or Nicole in that Seattle skyscraper of a joint whose name has now faded back into the abyss of memory; and New York, New York, Lisa in the Algonquin—the smallest room of all—and Giulietta at the Washington Square Hotel. And Giulietta again at the Condal in Barcelona, and the Pensione Dezi in Rome, and the rented one-story villa by the lake, and here and there and everywhere, he can’t even recall the full catalog of places they visited together after the initial encounter here at the Villa Stella. All the rooms of his life.

Emma stands motionless. He can smell her perfume. An ever so fleeting touch of Anais Anais tempered with a darker note that softens the floral peaks of the fragrance, no doubt the intrinsic odor of her skin, a smell unique to her. An obscene thought flashes across his mind, speculation on the way her cunt might smell, a subtlety of juices and heat and ardor. Or taste.

Emma moves.

Toward him.

Slowly, on a carpet of air.

Her fingers graze his cheek and he can feel the coldness. She extends her other arm and her palm cups his chin and the dull toothache he’s been living with for the past fortnight fades away under her touch.

She unbuttons his shirt.

Jonathan rises from the bed and now faces her as she calmly, and deliberately, continues to help him out of his shirt one button at a time.

Close to her, he can feel the tiny tremor of her breath. He looks deep into Emma’s eyes. They are mirrors and bottomless abysses. Her lips part. He moves nearer. Their mouths meet. Her tongue unfolds and shyly pierces his willing barrier. A slight taste of sugar, but far from unpleasant, unlike women who munch gum or smoke, which he’s always found disagreeable.

Jonathan’s tongue in turn ventures forward, inching barely inside her, and meets her teeth. Instinctively, his hands leave his sides and he hesitantly touches her, one hand in the small of her back, the other cradling her neck. Emma doesn’t protest.

His exploratory movements become bolder. The practiced habits of a lifetime.

He reverently lifts her top. Her skin has an unbearable softness with the ability to turn all his senses into mush. His hand descends and tiptoes across her rump. Pliant but firm, tight oval cheeks shuddering slightly under his tactile examination.

Porcelain horizons of pale white skin are unveiled, layer by layer, dimension by dimension.

In this very room where Giulietta’s flesh had also been revealed to him, similarly pale but with a different, less milky variation in shade, just the hint of an olive tone, the texture of her sexual geography one more variation in the infinite palette of women’s nudity. He knows he shouldn’t be comparing, but it is difficult not to do so. Like a photographer or a filmmaker dissecting every image, every single sensation as it unfolds, a topographer of desire on a quest for the absolute.

His eyes are drawn to the back of Emma’s calf. Unblemished, where Giulietta displayed a pale brown birthmark in the shape of an island, an inch or so across. His gaze lingers along the utterly smooth desert of her mons, where Giulietta sported a terribly exquisite jungle of jet-black curls.

They are now both naked.

He is rock hard.

Where, comparing again—damnit—in the final months of the affair with Giulietta he’d all too often required pharmaceutical blue assistance to maintain his hard-on, not for lack of desire but because of the passage of time and its effects on his body. A fact he’d always carefully hidden from her, with furtive trips to the bathroom to get the pill from his shaving kit, or the pretext of a sudden headache and the need for the relief of an aspirin.

Emma’s body is perfection incarnate.

As if every woman he has ever known has come together, a female version of Frankenstein’s monster dedicated to beauty, a magical cocktail of features, highlights, and idiosyncrasies. A perfection full of imperfections, but tailored to his unwritten preferences.

The way her eyebrows curve, the distance between her eyes, the height of her delicate, small breasts and the size and indefinable color of her nipples, the puckered depth of her belly button, the circumference of her long thighs and the alignment of her toes, the alluring angle of the empty space between her legs, beneath her love delta, and when she turns briefly, as if displaying herself fully to his voyeuristic gaze, the barely there, almost invisible shimmering blond down in the small of her back illuminated by end-of-day shards of light streaming through the window pane.

“Come closer,” Emma says.

They collide in slow motion.

Jonathan holds his breath as once more their lips touch and a growing tremor begins to course through every synapse in his body. One of the young woman’s hands slithers with utter delicacy down his back as he feels the nubs of hardness of her nipples digging gently into his own chest. The mast of his penis cradling against the velvet skin of her cunt. Like a perfect fit.

She pulls him down with one quiet and simple gesture and they fall, tangled, on the bed.

They make love.

Her grip below is domineering but expert, her mouth sucks the breath out of his lungs as they kiss with desperation, and then, just as he is gasping, she exhales again and the come-and-go of the tide that binds them continues. They fuck, they tumble, they squirm with pleasure, they fight for mutual domination.

He feels himself thrusting deeper and deeper inside her until there is no way forward as he expands within her walls, occupies her fully, her damp innards roughly caressing every square inch of his stem.

Jonathan closes his eyes. Abandons himself to the power of desire. Throughout she is silent, almost as if she is observing his thrashing, his animal reactions to her body, encouraging him, steadying him, mounting him. The faces of others he has known flash like lightning in a storm in front of his eyes. The tornado rises. Higher and higher.

Soon, the pleasure becomes so intense it is almost like pain. His breath is short, his heart is pumping out of control like a runaway train, his skin feels on fire.

“Yes, yes, yes . . .”

He explodes.

Inside her.

Inside.

He feels all the tiredness, the final ounces of energy fade away, like a bird taking elegant flight. His body relaxes.

His chest hurts now, but his slowing heart both roars and is at peace.

The young woman disengages from him at last, now a harbor for his seed.

He opens his eyes and looks at her.

Nude.

Pale.

Hypnotic.

He wants to say something but the words don’t come. His left arm feels numb.

His eyes flutter. Trying to communicate.

“There, there,” she says.

And the sound of her voice is as soothing as silk.

“Peace,” she says.

Beyond her head, he catches a final glimpse of the window that overlooks the Villa Stella gardens.

It’s dark.

It’s night on the Lido.

His vision blurs.

All is peace. All is dark.

She rises from the bed, looks down at him, observes the sheen of sweat that covers his sprawled-out body, his fast-shrinking cock. She bends down, her small hard breasts grazing his damp chest hair, and, with absurd generosity, closes his eyes.

In the rising gloom of the room, she looks at Jonathan one last time. “Venice was a good choice, my love,” she whispers softly.

She dresses.

Leaves the room. The hotel. The island.

*

It’s early morning before the first vaporetto of the day on line one arrives at the departure pier. The sky is gray and desolate still as she boards, the sole passenger.

She sits at the back, now dressed in black.

Soon, she will be moving up the Grand Canal, past the Doge’s Palace and San Marco and the stately procession of bridges, oblivious to all the beauty of the ethereal morning light falling on the waters.

Venice, she knows, has two islands for the dead embraced within the compass of its lagoon: San Michele, where locals and celebrities are buried; but also Poveglia, where the forgotten lie, a shore of ashes that began with the bubonic plague centuries ago, white bones and dust washed over by the waters, a place of charred remains which the fishermen studiously avoid.

For a brief moment she wonders whether Jonathan would feel at home there.

But another collection beckons. A man called Conrad who lives in London, and is on a visit to Aosta.

Time doesn’t even wait for angels of death.

The vaporetto turns the bend.

***

Maxim JakubowskiMAXIM JAKUBOWSKI is a British editor and writer. Following a long career in book publishing, during which he was responsible for several major crime imprints, he opened London’s mystery bookshop Murder One. He reviews crime fiction for the Guardian, runs London’s Crime Scene Festival, and is an advisor to Italy’s annual Courmayeur Noir in Festival. His latest crime novel is Ekaterina and the Night, and he edits the annual Best British Mysteries series. He is editor of Venice Noir and was coeditor, with Chiara Stangalino, of Rome Noir.

Posted: May 16, 2013

Category: Short Story Month | Tags: , , , , , , ,



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