Synaesthesia Magazine Cities - Page 95

“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.

When I was paying the waiter, I saw her hold up the little mirror and examine her face.

“I won’t be a moment.” She picked up her bag.

I guessed she’d left, but minutes later there was a kerfuffle as she knocked into the tourist’s table and spilt their drinks.

The vaporetto was crammed; rush hour. Lilia’s nipples pressed against me, she smelled of salt and cigarettes. I thought of touching the dark hairs on her arm but her face was a fumble of frowns and then I glimpsed Leather Hat halfway down the stairs.

At Fondamenta Nuove I barged through the passengers going on to the islands. I found Lilia looking in the window of a flower shop selling funerary wreaths. She turned to face San Michele a couple of hundred metres away.

“Spooky place,” I laughed.

“Home.” Her eyes spat a spark at me.

“Your family?”

“I sleep there. In the foreigners’ cimitero. Is more private.”

I couldn’t tell if she was lying.

We walked down the narrow alley into the seclusion of Campo dei Gesuiti. She splashed her face and arms at the pump and gathered a few figs that had dropped onto the street from a garden tree.

A cat sidled along the wall and turned along the canal. Water slapped against stone, tongues teasing the sun and an elderly woman tied her topo, with a dark red sail and gleaming varnish, to the steps that led from the canal to her house.

“That’s my place.” I pointed to the shuttered palace. An arched cargo door gaped like a scream. “The top window.” A gull landed on the terracotta roof tiles.

“Bloody gulls,” she said and pointed her finger and shot it.

We crossed the narrow bridge, into the labyrinth, turned into a passage barely broad enough for two people to pass. She leant into the shadows until I’d unlocked the door, heaved it open and pressed the light.

“You coming in?”

With a glance over her shoulder she darted inside.

“Smells like a convent,” she said, checking out the wrought iron staircase, the marble floor, a kid’s scooter propped against the wall. Before locking up, I glimpsed the brim of a leather hat in the shadows of the corner to the next passageway.

My place was at the top, above the palace, a 1950s add-on.

We climbed the four flights, the stairs narrowed at the top. I unlocked the next door.

“Come in.”

I heard footsteps on the stairs like the snap of spaghetti but Lilia was peering into the bedroom, bathroom, the tiny kitchen.

On the terrace, she opened the door to the workshop and stepped in. I never let people in there, but with Lilia it didn’t matter. She walked amongst the draping muslin fluttering in the breeze pressing against the features of the plaster heads suspended from the rafters.

“I’ve been working with shrouds.”

“You heard of the shroud-eater? They found her on Lazzaretto Nuovo, with a brick jammed in her mouth so she would starve to death. You don’t know?”

I smiled.

“The shroud-eater eats its way through the shroud then its own flesh.” She shivered. “It’s an old story.”

That night we cooked the figs with tomatoes and pasta and Lila squashed peaches in a bowl of sugar and mixed it with half a bottle of Prosecco I had in the fridge.

“Bellini? You like? You taste the marble of Istria like in cimitero.”

“A real Venetian cocktail.”

She looked in the little mirror, rubbing her teeth with her finger, turned it and kissed it before slipping it in the back pocket of her jeans