September 2017 Contest Winner
Winner of The Writers' Union of Canada's 2016 short prose contest for developing writers, Susan Wadds' award-winning short fiction and poetry have been featured in several literary journals and anthologies, including Room and carte blanche magazines. The first two chapters of her novel, What the Living Do, won Lazuli Literary Group's writing contest, and was published in Azure’s winter 2017 issue. A graduate of the Humber School for Writers, Susan is certified in the Amherst Writers and Artists (AWA) method of writing workshop facilitation. She is past president of the Writers' Community of Simcoe County (WCSC).
Susan E Wadds
From behind, he looks nothing like Marco.
When he turns, one hand in a salute against the morning sun, the other hand holding a guidebook at arm's length, she sees a resemblance. All the other candidates had either rushed by clutching polished briefcases or were consumed by family constellations at the edges of the piazza. Not one bore enough resemblance to Marco. This one appears to be alone. Hopefully he's from Milano or Bologna. Even Napoli will do. Just not someone who might one day call her name on the street or, passing her in a café, give a sly smile that Marco could notice.
Leaving a five euro note on the café's small round table, Giulia rises and approaches the stranger.
"Do you need directions?" she asks in Italian.
The man's eyes narrow, a crease forming between his eyes just like Marco when he's at a loss. She glances at his guidebook. English. "May I please to help you?"
His eyes are blue-green – very pale like her own – not all like her husband’s espresso brown ones with their flecks of light. The shape of the jaw, the deep-set hairline, the arch of his eyebrows – not identical, but close enough. The broad fingers are long with strong healthy fingernails – they could be Marco's hands at the end of those American arms.
Smoothing her heavy hair from her forehead, Giulia leans into one hip and lifts her chin. The man's hand grasps the guidebook's fluttering pages, his smile bursting wide. He has very American teeth.
"I am trying to find the palace," he says as if speaking to a child.
"The Palazzo dei Priori?" Giulia again slides a hand through her hair, glancing away and then back again, all the while fighting a sick turn in her belly.
She makes sure to graze his hand as she reaches for the guidebook, and observes the charge zip up his arm like heat lightning, fire through his chest and land in the groin.
Two pigeons ringed with pink and green shimmer into the air.
"I am Maria," Giulia says.
This morning, watching Marco crunch his egg with the flat of his palm, Giulia had given her own egg a swift tap with the edge of her spoon, pulled apart the two halves, and neatly removed its meat. She shot Marco a glance, but he was absorbed in the pick, picking of each tiny flake of shell, dropping the bits like useless rock. As his smooth brown hands worked, her breasts remembered last night's caress, felt its sweet residue on the tips of her nipples. The responding pulse between her legs made her clear her throat.
Marco had looked up from his task, smiled at his wife. "You look even prettier than usual." He pointed his broken egg in her direction. "Important client today?"
She swallowed. "Yes."
"Here, in Assisi? Shall I drive you?"
"No," she answered quickly. "Gubbio. I'll take my car."
Giulia had waited for him to finish peeling his egg, waited for him to spread butter and fig preserve, waited for him to clear his plate, give it a little scrub under the tap and place it in the rack, then she waited under the door's stone arch to press her lips to his, kiss both his smooth cheeks, and then draw him close.
"Cara. Are you all right?" Marco said into her hair.
"Yes," she said. "Last night was beautiful."
He'd taken her face in his hands. "It was." Behind the amber flecks in his eyes lay a dark deep pond that never dried and never spilled over. Not in laughter and not in the rare bursts where the side of his palm met the stone countertop or the edge of his taxi's steering wheel.
At the turnoff for Gubbio, Giulia had checked her rear-view mirror, left and right, left and right again, then let out the clutch and rode the first curve that would take her to Perugia, a city large and busy enough for anonymity.
When the stranger says, "I'm Mark," Giulia puts a hand to her throat.
She coughs, swallows, and then gives the bottom edge of her jacket a little tug. "I take you to the palazzo." Giulia slips her hand into the crook of Mark's arm.
"Wow. My own personal tour guide," he says, letting himself be led up the curved cobbled street.
"You are alone here in Italy?"
"Nah. I'm here with my buddy, but we had a little too much vino last night, so I'm on my own for the morning."
"'Buddy' is how you say 'wife' in American?"
The man named Mark opens his mouth very wide and makes an abrasive sound, similar to a laugh, but louder. "Nah, I'm Canadian." Dipping his left shoulder to indicate a small red and white flag stitched on his jacket, he adds, "I'm not married. ‘Buddy’ means friend. He's getting married next month, so we thought we'd sow a few wild oats before he gets himself tied down, if you know what I mean."
Giulia doesn't entirely understand, but what she does understand is enough.
"You are…" Giulia hesitates, tugging to make him face her. "We say in Italian, bello." With one finger she touches his cheek. "Hamsome?"
"Handsome," he corrects and then flushes. "Nah. I'm not."
One church bell chimes, a deep resonant knell, followed by a second, slightly higher pitched, and then a third, light, musical ting.
Mark shifts on the uneven pavement. "You are, though."
This time he doesn't laugh. "No, beautiful."
Inside, Giulia is dry and cold. She tosses her hair and half-closes her eyes.
"Very beautiful," Mark says, his face close.
"In Italy, for this, we say, bacio." Her mouth readies itself.
Mark accepts her invitation and they kiss briefly before Giulia draws back. "My hotel is not far," she says in a thick voice.
"Seriously?" His pale eyes open wide as whole yolks. "Let's go, then."
She feels the dig of his fingers through her jacket and hopes her shudder is taken for excitement.
"They are lazy, like me," Marco had said when the test results came back. "It's my fault."
Giulia had rubbed her cheek against his, nudging him a little. "We're not giving up, Caro."
Gripping the iron posts of the headboard, Giulia turns her back to Mark so she doesn't have to look at him or see her reflection in his eyes.
When he finishes, she says, "Now you go."
"Baby," Mark says, taking her narrow shoulders in his hot hands. "We're just getting started." He places a kiss at the base of her neck.
Giulia shrugs away from him. "No touch me."
Two gray and green pigeons with clattering wings land outside the tall narrow window and begin to coo.
"Jesuz, Maria. First you're so hot for me you can't wait 'til I put on a rubber. Now you're like fucking ice."
The moment the hotel door slams shut, Giulia shuffles to the wall where she sends up her legs, and stays balanced on her shoulders until she is sure.
The small room compresses with heat and sun.
When Giulia opens the tall window, the two pigeons lift in a flurry, leaving one gray feather like a smudge on the ledge.
People close to you in life - family or friends - will always tell you that they will be there if they need help, but when the time comes, they’re not around, or they’re too wrapped up in themselves and their own grief to be of any help to you at all. Sometimes you have to heal alone, sometimes you heal together. Sometimes all you need is a bit of catharsis. I suppose that’s what Whittling, Man was about, and that’s what it was for me as well.
Growing up without roots, you never fully bloom. You may find the sun, rain, or wind on your face, but it only burns, wets, and batters. Nothing takes hold, burrows into a community, blossoms out of purpose. That's how I came to be here. I'm no more than a dandelion seed, standing in the middle of the road in a small town in South Dakota, ready to blow away on the next breeze. It doesn't matter. Not a bit. One town looks the same as another after a while.