Amanda poured herself a third glass of wine and sat down by the window. The worn wooden shutters swayed gently in the evening breeze, knocking on the wall of the hotel like fingers tapping impatiently on a table. The sun, a ball of fire falling steadily towards earth, seemed to divide itself into the lightbulbs of the surrounding buildings, which popped on in cannon as Florence eased gently into darkness.
When Matthew got out of the shower he would say that he didn’t want a beer, that he was tired and wanted to go to sleep, that she shouldn’t stay up too late because they had a busy day ahead of them tomorrow, lots of sights to see, little time to do it in, the Uffizi, the Gucci Museum, and a cool little sandwich shop not too far away that had a five-star rating on trip advisor and named their sandwiches after Dante, and Michelangelo, and Da Vinci –
‘Don’t stay up too late,’ Matthew said, leaving a trail of foam behind him as he left the bathroom, ‘we’ve got to be up and out by nine tomorrow.’
Strands of Amanda’s hair blew across her face, she tilted her head forward and let the breeze brush past her neck.
‘Come to bed?’ Matthew said.
‘Nothing, I just want to stay up for a bit.’
‘You were moaning that you were tired earlier.’
The sky was the pastel purple shade of Parma Violet flavoured gelato, fading out into the deep indigo blue of fountain-pen calligraphy, and there was a band of orange on the horizon like a dimmed light in a restaurant, that made it seem as though Florence was trying to stay awake, so that she could be witness to its beauty in all its entirety.
‘I could put some tele on, and you could come and give me a cuddle instead of sitting all the way over there?’ Matthew said, with wide eyes that were trying to avoid confrontation.
‘I’m going to stay up, but you can go to sleep.’
‘No, I’ll stay up with you.’
‘You’re struggling to keep your eyes open, just go to sleep.’
The tower of the Palazzo Vecchio, illuminated at night, stood proudly in the distance. Amanda could see the white circle of the clock-face but not the hands and not the time. There is something strange in the way that everyone adheres to the guidelines of time, awake in the day, asleep at night, working eight-hour shifts, having eight-hour sleeps, worrying about taking five minutes extra on their lunch-break.
‘I’m just going to close my eyes for half an hour, and then I’m going to sit up with you, alright?’
They had gotten on an early train this morning from Bologna to Florence. Matthew had planned it all perfectly. They had arrived at the station with time to spare, dropped their bags off at the hotel upon arrival, had lunch at twelve, and were in the queue for the Duomo by three. They had navigated around the city with a tourist map, saw the attractions recommended to them by posters and pamphlets, looked at renaissance art through a camera lens, and ate at the places that looked the most popular. Amanda stared at Matthew, already snoring into his pillow, finished the last few drops of her wine, and put on her shoes.
Be back soon
The bumbling hotel receptionist stood filing paper behind the desk at the bottom of the stairs. He looked up as she past him, and then down at his watch.
‘Arrivederci,’ he said, as she reached the doorway.
‘Arrivederci,’ she replied.
The air was cooler now, as if its job had been to maintain heat throughout the day, and now it was off-duty and relaxed. The dulcet scuffing and scraping of suitcases being pulled by a family up ahead accompanied her as she walked. She let her arms dangle freely by her sides. There was a weightlessness that came with being out in a foreign city with no map, phone, or company.
Soon, Amanda reached the Galleria dell ’Accademia, the home of Michelangelo’s David. She stood in the middle of the square and tried to take herself back five hundred years, to when an artist would have stood not far from here, and carved the multitudinous beauties of a body into marble, with such dedication and delicacy.
A bundle of laughter came from an al fresco restaurant up ahead, and Amanda headed towards it. A group of men in white shirts and loosened ties, raised a toast to friendship and the long days of August. She could see the tip of the Duomo’s dome now, in between the shops that lined the slender streets before her. It was like edging towards an old oil painting in a gallery, with the texture of the terracotta tiles gradually coming into focus, and the detail of its gothic exterior unappreciated until up close.
The Duomo looked bigger, somehow, without the crowds of tourists swarming at its ankles. Amanda followed it around to the Baptistery, delicate and striking, like the hexagonal trinket box her mother used to keep on a dressing table. J. J.’s, the Irish cathedral bar opposite, was still open and lively, broadcasting the sport unavailable on hotel televisions, and the muffled chants and cheers of excitement spilled out onto the street as she passed it, down an avenue adjacent to the square.
In the middle of the avenue stood a child, red-faced and snotty, who yanked his hand away from his mother, and pulled at the ringlets in his hair.
‘Voglio andare su di esso,’ he screamed, rand refused to move.
‘Non si può. Stiamo andando a casa,’ his mother said, in a calm authoritative tone.
The child turned away with an exaggerated despondency, gesturing backwards with agitated hands. Amanda, driven by intrigue, hastened forwards, and through the archway of a fancy restaurant, she saw an antique carousel, painted red and gold, with an olive-green tent roof, and thick curtains held back with crimson ties. Its cylinder centre was a wall of mirrors, reflecting the feathery plumes of twenty horses, dressed in reigns and ready to prance.
A group of young people, the type that couldn’t be walked past without noticing, were loitering around its edge. A pretty girl, in dungarees and red lipstick, was being held back by her friend as she tried to climb over the rails. Her determination and unaffected expression made Amanda involuntarily smile.
‘Vedere,’ Amanda heard her say as she edged closer to the carousel, ‘Lei sa! Lei mi permetteva di avere un andare!’
She ran over to Amanda, leaving her friend nonplussed behind her.
‘Ciao,’ she said.
‘Yes,’ Amanda laughed.
‘Do you like the carousel?’ she asked.
‘Yes. It’s incredible.’
‘Would you like to go on the carousel?’
‘Is it open?’
The girl shook her head and tutted at Amanda.
‘No, no, no. Would you like to go on the carousel?’
‘Maybe tomorrow, when it is going around.’
‘Why? Don’t you have immaginazione?’ She said, grabbing Amanda’s hand and heading towards the rails.
‘Si sta andando a farci arrestati,’ her friend shouted.
‘Che palle,’ she replied, and everyone laughed.
The girl stepped daintily onto the raised platform, lifting her leg up and over the horse’s saddle.
‘You’re beautiful aren’t you cavallo.’ she said, draping her arms around its neck.
Her face had a prettiness that made Amanda want to stare, in order to discern what it was about her features that made her so captivating. Matthew had held her attention in the same way the first time they met, with his dark hair slicked back like a Hollywood actor in the fifties. He had probably woken up by now and was panicking about her. A stream of guilt gushed through her body. She didn’t want to make him agonize over her. He always tried so hard to make her happy and here she was repaying him by leaving.
‘Come on,’ the girl smiled, her wide eyes drawing attention to themselves in the moonlight.
Amanda shouldn’t have left the room without waking him, but he wouldn’t have let her go out alone. Besides, she was too far away now to worry, and she had left a note.
‘Get on,’ the girl chanted, and Amanda stepped over the barrier.
The carousel’s platform registered each step with a clink. The horses were higher than she had imagined, and colder. She placed her palm on the neck of the horse and felt a thousand fingerprints beneath her own. It was overwhelming think of all the people of the past who had journeyed around this carousel with bright emphatic smiles.
‘Oi,’ bellowed the sonorous voice of a tubby man who ran around the corner shirtless, and Amanda caught one last glance of the girl’s beaming face as the group scattered.
Amanda ran down the main street until the reckless shouting of the group became an entangled muffled noise. She continued down the street until she came to a cobbled bridge, lined with closed jewellery shops. She had reached the Ponte Vecchio Bridge.
The pillars holding up the bridge cast large shadows across the water, while the buildings running down each side of the river, were a sea of warm tones in the glow of the streetlamps. Tomorrow, in the light of day, she would have to pretend to see this view for the first time, standing hand in hand with Matthew, but she was pleased to see it now for the first time, in darkness and alone, for there were no words to communicate the affection of this image.
As she continued forwards, the trundling sound of Vespa’s ebbed towards her and away again. She passed through an archway in the centre of a towering brick wall, which was littered with moss and had a row of primary coloured bicycles lined up against it. The path began to incline steeply. It was a long and winding road that seemed to pass beyond the sky itself. She had been walking for at least half an hour, and then she spotted a platform jutting out of the hill’s edge before her. She ran around the corner, climbed the steps, and found herself at the edge of a large public square, eerie in its emptiness, looking out on the whole city from above. She stared into the distance and took deep breaths in through her nose, as if the view was a vapour that she could inhale and keep inside of her. She felt that, in her solitary journey across the city, she had earned this image, it belonged to her now, and she closed her eyes, as if trying to store the moment permanently in her memory.
There was an old woman sitting on one of the benches at the edge of the Piazzale, with a wooden cane propped up against the arm, staring out across the city. She was the only person to be seen for miles. Amanda went to sit down beside her. Her wrinkles showed her age like the rings of a great oak tree, a crease between her lips from years of happiness and a line of regret between her brows. Her pupils flickered, almost robotically, as she gazed out into the distance, recalling the journeys she had made through each of the streets. She was a figure of beauty against this backdrop, like a statue carved out of calmness and contentment.
‘Mio marito e morto un anno fa, oggi’ she said, in a coarse and weary voice.
‘I’m sorry,’ Amanda replied, ‘My Italian is poor.’
The lady rustled in her pocket and pulled out a packet of amaretto biscuits. She offered one to Amanda.
She folded over the end of the packet, put it back into her pocket, and chewed a biscuit slowly around her teeth.
‘My husband,’ she began, her forefinger pointed and shaking in front of her. ‘Died, one year, today.’
Amanda didn’t reply, but watched the lady’s sorrowful eyes as they blinked, and nodded encouraging her to continue.
‘Here, I sit.’
‘And there, he sits,’ She said, pointing to the sky, ‘and, maybe, we see the same view.’
A passion rose within Amanda, it soared through her chest and over spilled as tears from her eyes. She put her hand upon the ladies’, and was comforted by their closeness. She wished that Matthew were here beside her, so that she could feel his touch upon her own, and run the tips of her fingers through the hairs on his arm, and sense the longing in his lips as they kissed. She looked over to the tower of the Palazzo Vecchio, which she saw now from its opposite side, it would be a long and lonely journey back to the hotel.
‘Bellissimo,’ Amanda said, letting the lady’s hand slip through hers as she stood up to leave, and the lady bowed her head in affirmation.
‘Bellissimo,’ she said, and her eyes traced Amanda’s path back through the city.
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