Synaesthesia Magazine Cities - Page 94

She glared at me and pushed past.

“No I mean it. Could do with a cuppa. This heat.”

She sat by the window and I fetched the teas and biscuits.

“I’m Tom,” I said. “What’s your name?”

She put all the biscuits on her saucer and hunched over like she hadn’t eaten in ages. She flicked her cigarette lighter on and off, just like her eyes. Her hair was a brown stew of curls, a bit greasy, jeans, dirty plimsolls, trodden down at the backs, too small and her fingernails were bitten back to the skin. But all that means nothing here. With artists you can’t tell success by appearance. I went back to work and didn’t see her leave but when we closed at six, there she was by the gate, arms folded, curved like a reed. She stood up when she saw me.

“I thought maybe I’d come with you,” she said.

In Venice, it’s different to London. You can turn a lettuce into party, masks and all, anything can happen, a puff of smoke becomes a palace. So I didn’t run a mile. I just smiled and carried on walking at my pace.

“You like that I come with you, I think.”

I shrugged. “I don’t have plans.”

She threaded her arm into mine. “I like you,” she said. “You’re a calm sea, far out, deep like the Atlantic not the lagoon. Deep is safe, you know that?”

“Thanks.” I sniggered, nerves, a bloody weir more like but it was probably meant as a compliment.

“And I’m the canal.”

Sour water gleaming, always shifting, causing havoc.

“Volare, oh oh,” I sang. “What would Venice be without the canals?”

“Cantare, uh,uh oh oh,” She sang back. “Now you are the gondolier earning big

money.” We laughed. “Penso che un sogno così non ritorni mai più.”

“I painted my hands and my face blue, then suddenly I was ravished by the wind and started to fly in the infinite sky.”

She bared her crooked teeth at me and handed me a peach from her bag and bit into another so juice dribbled down her chin and I saw more than lettuce - clouds on a mattress, a feast of seashells, pan-fried diamond forget-me-nots. She wiped the juice with the shoulder of her t-shirt.

We walked along the broad stone promenade. Launches were moored at the quayside, a few tourists ambled lethargically, a man tugged his dog. Across the other side of the water, in the distance, you could see the Campanile and Basilica San Marco with its vast hoards of people cramming the square, barely space to breathe.

“Too busy,” I said. “I don’t ever go there.”

She spat her peach stone so it hit the launch and tumbled like lottery numbers into the gutter. A crewmember yelled. She spouted an aerosol of sparks and the guy wafted his hand at us.

“In Piazza San Marco, I’m a cat in a fire,” she said.

“Like I said, too busy.”

“Yeah, maybe.”

I led us my usual route home, crossing the bridge at Arsenale, winding through the narrow streets until we arrived at the square with the bar where I usually stop off

We sat in the shade in front of a group of tourists who asked me to take their picture with a fancy Nikon SLR, and when the beers came she drank straight from the bottle draining half.

A funeral boat drew up; modern, grey with a remote control trolley. Three guys in baseball caps wheeled the coffin across the cobbles. Lilia lit a cigarette and curled her lip as she watched. I took a photo with my phone as the coffin swivelled with a hum of electronics and sank into the bowels of the boat.

“Death in Venice,” I laughed.

“Now we are even allowed to spread our ashes on the lagoon or keep them on our mantelpieces.” She shook her head. “Since Napoleon, the dead must leave Venice. They create an unhealthy atmosphere.” She blew a stream of smoke and laughed. “But we see the gates of cimitero across the lagoon. Reminding us Death is waiting, eh? But no rest, we exhume our bones after twelve years and line the ossiary. I come from doges and cardinals. All my family is in San Michele. My family ruled Venice and we walked the bridge of sighs with our heads held high.”

“I heard Byron invented that.”

“You English.” She spat a strand of tobacco from her lip. “You think you know everything.”

“And now?”

“Now? What’s the matter with you? I tell you this so you know you are meeting a real Venetian. Now is not important. Is history.” She lit a cigarette. Eyes binking. I’ve never seen anyone more alone than Lilia.