Sunday, March 18, 2012

A Cat in Florence

Chapter 15
[Go to beginning]
I’d like to say that I spent the next several days scouring the back alleys of Florence for Jenny, but the truth is, after I spent the afternoon in a desultory sort of meander down to the Ponte Vecchio and back, I went to a trattoria. Was it Mama Gina’s? I don’t remember. I drank too much  wine, and then I staggered through one alley after another trying to find the alley that led to the courtyard behind my hotel; the courtyard where the woman lived.
I don’t know how she knew I was coming, but there she was in her doorway, as before, only this time, as I approached, she uncovered her breast, and as I staggered towards her, mouth open, panting, she cupped her hand under it and offered it up to me.
I woke several times during the night, and each time the woman embraced me, her hot breath on my neck, her kisses covering my face and mouth, her body pressed hard to mine. At times I felt as if she sucked the life from me, and by morning I lay collapsed on her rumpled sheets, too exhausted to move.
Finally, I struggled up and stood looking around the dark, cramped room. The only furnishings were the the narrow bed -- no wonder the woman had been all over me -- a single, wooden chair, and a small dresser, with a wash basin on it. There were no windows. I picked up my pants and shirt from the floor and put them on.
My shoes were no where in sight. I shuffled around the small room looking in corners, and finally got down on my hands and knees, lifted the overhanging bed sheet, and looked under the bed. A jet black cat lifted it’s head and yellow eyes flashing, hissed at me with bared fangs. I jumped back, but too late. Lightening fast, it swiped its clawed paw across my face, just missing my eyes. “Jesus!”
I reared back and, holding my stinging face, staggered to the wash basin and dipped water into my hand and on to my face. Then, avoiding the bed, walked out of the room into the front room. I spotted one my shoes just inside the front door. I pushed my foot into it, and then straightened up and looked around. The room was dimly lit by its one window. An old iron potbellied stove stood in one corner, next to it a rough wooden table and chair. An ancient-looking Persian carpet lay on the floor. Otherwise, the room was bare.
I plodded to the door in my one shoe, the other one was probably under the bed being guarded by the damned cat, and took one last look into the house, then walked out. The late morning sun was flooding the courtyard with a white hot light.

Everything was still; the leaves on the trees didn’t rustle, the clothes on the lines didn’t sway, the birds didn’t sing, the Italians didn’t holler. It was as if time had been suspended.
Before I went in the hotel, I threw my orphaned shoe in the trash. I kept my head down and turned away from the desk as I entered the hotel. For some reason, I didn’t want the receptionist to see the scratch across my face. When I got to the room, I checked it in the mirror. The scratch started at my right ear and fell down across my cheek to my chin. There were three scratch lines, one far deeper and redder than the others. It was an angry, ugly wound, that washing and smearing with Neosporin did little to resolve.
After showering, I packed my things. I was going to make one last circuit of the inner city to look for Jenny, and then head to Santa Maria Novella Stazione. But I was dead tired. Maybe a little nap before I went out?
When I woke, the light was fading. My watch told me I had to hustle to catch the night train to Vienna. I had no hope of finding Jenny, anyway, I thought.
I put on my sneakers, grabbed my bags, went down stairs, and walked up to the reception desk. There was no one there. I rang the bell on the counter, and an old man, rubbing his eyes, appeared from the office. He mumbled something, hardly looking at me. I told him I was checking out, passed my room key across to him, and waited for him to process the information and settle the bill.
He pulled my room charges, studied them as if the document were a math proof, and then looked up at me. “Boun Dio! Il tuo volto.”
After a brief exchange, during which I’m afraid I was less than patient, I settled my bill, climbed in a taxi, and headed off at breakneck speed, not at my request, I might add, to the train station.

The taxi driver, a guy who looked as if he might have been in a few knife fights himself, kept glancing at me in the rear view mirror. Finally he raised his hand to his cheek and said, “You girlfriend, she get mad?”  

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