The autumn air was crisp and fog settled on cobbled streets. A lonely figure walked quietly on the empty path under the cover of night. A petite girl dressed in a tight pink dress walked like a shadow. The hem inched above her knees. She looked out unto the river and pulled tightly on her shiny black jacket. The little fake fur collar tickled the nape of her neck.
Normally this river was quite dry especially in the summer where the water bed was quite shallow. No magnificent ships would pass. Not even a paper boat.
On this special autumn night the river bed had filled. The raging current invited the lonely girl to swim. To wet her sandy blond hair and caress her sensual honey colored skin.
She leaned forward firmly gripping the iron railings. Her mascara ruined tears gushed down her cheeks and her feet slipped out of maroon strap slippers. Her freshly manicured nails were highlighted by the open-toe. Plain white filled with little dancing hearts. She was excited when she got them. One moment she was on top of the world the next she felt tired of living. She tiptoed and sighed.
‘You’re in my spot.’ A tall thin man appeared beside her with a glass in his hand. His pale skin glowed under the moonlight. He took small sips from his plastic cup.
The pink dressed girl’s name was Olivia. She twisted her torso to the red haired man and noticed that he wore a white ruffled shirt with flared sleeves. His breath smelled of alcohol.
‘Good party?’ Olivia asked. She continued her fascination with the river.
He leaned his elbow on the railing. ‘You know she flirts with me too.’ The man turned towards the river and pointed with his glass. ‘She calls me every night to dance.’ He took another sip. ‘As I said you are in my spot.’
She looked at him at the corner of her eye.
The man took another sip. He tilted his head and groaned. He pressed the glass against his eye socket. ‘Come out come out wherever you are.’ He turned the glass upside down and shook his hand. He scratched his head and then raised his glass. He spoke with his other hand planted across his chest. ‘My friend the time has come for us to part. But this is not our final farewell. As one moment ends another begins… until we meet again.’
Olivia giggled at the silly red-haired man.
He wound his arm and threw the cup into the river with military like stiffness.
‘Hey! Why did you do that?’ Olivia screamed. Her eyes narrowed at the still saluting man. His figure radiated a comical glow.
‘I gave my friend a parting message. Don’t worry I will see him again soon.’ His grin suggested that his drunken night was not over.
Olivia opened her clutch purse and pulled out three sheets of wet wipes and cleaned the smudged makeup from her face.
‘Are you hungry?’ The man asked.
‘Leave me alone.’ Olivia crumpled the dirty towelettes in her hand and slowly pulled them apart piece by piece.
‘I can’t eat alone.’ The man spoke lyrically.
Olivia bit her lip. She watched as the little pieces fluttered in the wind and dove into the icy cold river. She wished to be those flying bits of paper. But there was this man. An obnoxious, silly, drunk and hungry man. She hung her head and shook it.
‘Come on! I know a great pasticceria.’ The man smacked his lips and gripped her elbow.
The different panna and chocolate covered pastries was the highlight of any night-out in Parma. After a session of binge drinking nothing settled the stomach more than the perfect blend of sugar and freshly baked bread.
To say that Olivia was intrigued by the drunken man was a vast overstatement. However, after witnessing a thirty second mime act of the different sweet pastries she was indeed getting hungry. The river would have to wait.
‘By the way the name is Michael.’ He extended his hand. His long fingers where tinted red.
‘Olivia.’ She replied. ‘After eating can you leave me alone?’ She raised a finger and pushed her long fingernails at the tip of Michael’s nose.
Michael grabbed Olivia’s arm and they walked down Via Piacenza.
Olivia kept a slight distance after she felt Michael reaching for her hand several times. She was quiet while he kept on talking. Olivia thought that he wasn’t from around here. Michael’s fiery red hair was a dead giveaway. She walked slightly behind him as they crossed block after block. The walk seemed to take forever but she didn’t mind. The road was quite leveled and the lack of slopes eased the pain of walking in high heels. Olivia just noticed how tall Michael was as they passed a flickering lamp post. Even with four inch heels she barely touched his shoulders.
Michael pointed out to some café’s across the adjoining street. ‘That is the first place I had coffee here in Italy. I had café correto and it was with grappa.’ He closed his hand with fingertips touching one another and placed it on his mouth. He then simulated an explosion and said. ‘Buono!’
At that moment it did not register to Olivia about what seemed to be Michael’s obsession with alcohol. Instead she stared at the closed café. Olivia remembered her father sitting outside the balcony of their house every morning. A plate of pastries was always accompanied by a cup of café. He would always take a slice of lemon cake and a café espresso with one sugar. Olivia’s father would then diligently read the news before she came running down the stairs with her bright pink bag hanging loosely off her shoulders. He would then pick her up, kiss her on the cheeks and then whisk her off to school. She was eight when her mother had passed and then ten years later her father followed.
Olivia and Michael walked around a cooperative supermarket and into an empty parking lot. The dimly lit isolation played on her mind. She wondered why she was walking at the dead of night with a man she just met. Her family would disapprove… especially Martina.
‘This is my car.’ The lot was fenced from the main road. It was makeshift parking lot for residents and party-goers who did not want to get a ticket but willing enough to walk the distance to their party.
‘This is your car?’ Olivia asked mockingly. The vehicle was a Smart. It was designed for small Italian streets especially Parma. A two-seater vehicle that was tiny and squat. Not wide at all… perfect for parking in tight spaces. ‘You know.’ Olivia left her darkened suspicion for a second and revealed a slanted grin. ‘A man’s car is a reflection of his equipment.’
Michael stuttered and then scratched the small patch of hair above his temple. ‘Uhmm…shall we go?’
Olivia giggled and nodded her head.
They slid in their seats and drove out of Via Piacenza past the Ipercoop and down Via Emilia Ovest. They detoured around Parco Ducale, the backstreet parallel to Via D’Azeglio. They turned to the main road and entered Via Emilia Est. Driving straight onward the car slowed down in front of the famous pasticceria.
A group of young men and women lined up at the small counter repeatedly ordering sweet delicacies. Nutella-filled brioche topped with panna and fragola, chocolate dipped doughnuts, and square slices of thick pizza for more savory taste buds.
Olivia examined her make-up with the sun-visor mirror while Michael ducked the car in a nearby slot. She pried her purse open with her fingers and pulled out a small array of plastic casings and moist towelettes. In just a few moments she transformed herself from a glam-rockstar to a beautiful princess.
Olivia pursed her lips together and evenly spread the deep scarlet lipstick. She fixed her purse and turned to Michael. ‘Michael?’ Olivia asked worriedly. Michael’s face was frozen and his mouth was puckered. She shook his arm ‘Michael?’
His eyes unglazed and he wiped the bubble at the corner of his mouth. He blinked his eyes and unbuckled his seatbelt ‘Let’s go. I’m craving for some brioche…are you excited?’
Olivia nodded and stepped out. She closed the door behind her and glanced at her reflection from the car window. She turned slightly and straightened her dress. ‘What was he day-dreaming about?’ She twirled her blonde curls and giggled. Olivia took one last look and unbuttoned the top of her jacket allowing the lower button to lift her now exposed cleavage.
Olivia heard a loud slap and turned quickly on her heels. She watched Michael shaking his head. ‘What happened?’ Olivia asked.
‘Oh… Uhm nothing.’ Michael shook his head and rubbed the handprint on his face.
Olivia mumbled to herself. ‘I still got it.’
Michael’s Smart was a black car. It had small wheels with silver vinyl streaked across the sides. The car was neatly parked in the empty street behind another Smart. This one was painted royal blue. Michael commented at the replica of his beloved car. ‘See! I am not the only one with this car.’
Olivia leaned on one side and noticed a little decoration positioned at the rear windshield. It was a pink stuffed bear with a big red heart embroidered across its chest. Olivia smiled playfully and pointed the cute toy to Michael.
He groaned and walked ahead to the pasticceria. Olivia quietly followed and gently held his hand.
Olivia ordered a lemon custard brioche. The brioche was freshly baked and the pastry warmed her hands as she shivered in the chilly air. She took a bite and the creamy custard exploded out of the soft bread.
Michael wiped the custard off Olivia’s chin.
Her tongue touched his finger and she blushed.
Olivia caught a glimpse of a dark haired woman with green eyes. Her features were very familiar to Olivia’s. ‘Martina?’ Olivia whispered. In a moment the image disappeared. The face of Martina danced in Olivia’s head as she stood in the crowded corner with Michael. Olivia could hear Martina’s disapproval echoing in her head.
‘What are you doing?’ or ‘You are a disgrace!’ Martina would say. She thought about this over and over. Olivia stared at Michael. A piece of cream dripped on his shirt. ‘Such a stupid fool.’ She muttered.
Michael offered his strawberry and cream pastry to Olivia.
Olivia shook her head and screened the thousand images that ran through her head. She had been in and out of depression since that incident. The image of her father screaming and shoving her away as his life slipped through her fingers. Olivia was helpless to do anything about it. She hadn’t felt this serene since then. For a while now she had been ice-cold.
‘Why were you at the bridge?’ Olivia asked Michael.
Michael took a big bite of his brioche and pounded his chest as he choked on a strawberry. ‘Cough.’ He pounded some more. ‘Cough…uhm…cough.’ He held his hand up and then swallowed. ‘I…uhm…I was walking to my car and I…uhm saw you.’
‘I was alone in a lonely street. I did not see you anywhere.’ Olivia took a small bite on her lemon custard pastry.
‘I…’ Michael laughed nervously. ‘I was kinda following you.’
‘Following me?’ Olivia took a step back. ‘You were stalking me?’
‘Uhmm…no.’ Michael searched through his pockets and handed Olivia a shiny silver necklace with a round locket. ‘You dropped this.’
Olivia took the necklace and opened the locket. Inside were two small photographs. One of a small blond haired girl and the other of a wrinkly gray haired man. ‘Papa?’ Olivia searched her neck and realized it was bare. ‘Michael where did you get this?’
‘It was on the street. After picking it up, I looked around and saw you walking.’ He took the last bite of his brioche.
‘Why didn’t you give it to me earlier?’ Olivia asked.
‘I’m thirsty do you want anything?’
‘Well when I got to you I heard you crying…so I thought that I should cheer you up with something sweet.’ Michael smiled. ‘This place always cheers me up.’
Olivia smiled. ‘Thank you.’
‘I’m getting something to drink.’ Michael walked to the counter. ‘Un birra perfavore.’
Olivia frowned and asked Michael. ‘Why do you drink a lot?’ Not so much of a question rather a statement indicating her displeasure.
‘I drink because I’m happy.’ He winked.
‘Please don’t drink.’ Olivia pleaded.
‘It’s just a beer.’ Michael shrugged his shoulders.
‘Please.’ Olivia held Michael’s hand tightly and pierced him with her deep eyes.
‘Ok…do you want another brioche?’
‘Maybe we can share one?’ Olivia leaned close against Michael’s arm and tilted her head backward. She looked up at him with a wide smile.
‘Sure do you want that Nutella pastry over there?’
Olivia nodded her head and wrapped herself around Michael’s arm.
The baker reached up and started pulling the shutter down. Michael charmlessly attempted to convince the baker for one last order. The baker refused to listen and told Michael to go home.
Olivia nestled up against Michael and her voice let out a slight whimper. ‘Well I guess you have to leave me alone now.’
‘I know of another place.’ He brushed a stray hair from Olivia’s face.
Olivia locked her elbow with Michael’s and they walked back to the car. ‘You should go home.’ A low voice spoke over Olivia’s shoulder. She felt a slight tingle at the back of her neck and looked around. There was no one around her except for a man in a pink shirt and green pants.
The man was a few steps ahead of them and approached his royal blue Smart as they entered theirs. Olivia stared out through the window. ‘Whispers in the wind?’ She buckled her seatbelt and smiled at Michael.
The black Smart shifted its course back to Via Emilia Ovest near the same place they met. This time they did not turn into Via Piacenza. They went straight ahead past a Fiat dealership and an abandoned gas station. The car slowed down approaching a narrow driveway. Automatic gates swung slowly as Michael pressed his magnetic key against a wall-mounted sensor. The car expertly turned into place and parked right between a Lamborghini and a massive Range Rover.
Olivia looked at the cobbled driveway and the large sunburst yellow building in front of her. The door was locked and beside it was a small gold plated panel with buttons and a speaker. The ground floor was well lit and across the lobby was a small vending machine but there was no pasticeria. More than that it was completely empty.
Michael turned off the car. ‘We don’t have to go in if you don’t want.’
Olivia did not know what to say. She had this uneasy feeling that someone was following her. She did not want to be alone tonight. Once she crossed the line then there was no turning back. ‘Michael…It’s not.’
Michael cupped her face in his hands and pressed his lips against hers.
Olivia’s felt his tongue dancing with hers. Slowly she closed her eyes and took a deep breath as their lips parted. Olivia looked at Michael. Her eyes trembled…the line was crossed. Olivia placed her fingers over his hands and nodded. This was the first real sign of approval she gave Michael.
There was a buzz and a quick snap of the metal latch as the lobby door unlocked. The sound was common to many residences but to Olivia this just made her heart beat faster. Her heels vibrated loudly against the smooth marbled tiles and her slow shaky steps stopped just before a flight of stairs.
‘I am on the first floor.’ Michael stretched out his arm. ‘Ladies first.’
Olivia held on slanted railings that angled the stairwell. She followed the wooden beam which stopped at a curved window decorated with steel bars. The design reminded her of a spider’s web. Beyond the window the clouds parted revealing the full moon. She took in the cool glow and gathered energy for her next step.
Olivia shrieked. She felt the ground slip from under her and was surprised that she did not fall awkwardly.
She floated on Michael’s arms. Maybe it was the moonlit night but to Olivia Michael reflected a sensual glow in the dim corridor.
Olivia’s head rested on Michael’s chest and she wrapped her arms around his broad shoulders.
‘Don’t worry Olivia.’
Olivia sighed and floated away in Michael’s arms. They come upon a sturdy wooden door with the number. ‘One-zero-one’ carved in a fancy font. The door to the corner apartment pushed open. Olivia looked carefully at a large wall mirror and watched sweat rolled off Michael’s forehead. She had never seen a redder man in her life.
Michael laid Olivia on a double sized bed and stretched his back. He turned around and opened a cabinet.
Olivia sat up straight. She fixed her hair and kicked off her shoes.
The room was a studio. It had no divisions between bed, living and dining area. The kitchen magically appeared behind a giant cupboard. On the shelves was a variety of ready to eat Italian food and a half used bottle of olive oil with dried peppers floating in them. By the sink rested a stack of plates and pots overturned on the dish rack and a bottle of vodka nearly emptied.
Michael picked out a plastic container and unscrewed the top. ‘It’s not as good as the fresh kind but it is still tasty.’ Inside three pieces of brioche filled with albicocca which were now cold and stiff. These were readymade unlike what they had earlier.
‘Michael please sit beside me.’ Olivia patted the empty space on her right.
Michael placed the container aside. He walked across the room to a shut window. He flicked the latch and opened the storm shutters. Michael lifted himself over a guard railing onto the large terrace and extended his hand. ‘We can sit out here.’ His large dimples provided an irresistible temptation
The sight was very relaxing. Maybe it was the way the stars peeked under the darkness or how the streetlamps casted shadows on the cobbled streets. To Olivia it was how Michael’s arms warmed her in the chilly night…that feeling of hot and cold electrified her all over.
‘Why where you at the bridge?’ Michael asked. His voice mumbled by Olivia’s thick hair.
Olivia released herself from Michael’s arms and sat up. She rested her chin on her knees. She wiggled her toes and turned her head towards Michael.
Michael continued. ‘I haven’t seen such sadness in someone’s eyes.’
Olivia saw a flowerbed and observed the many colors that lined up the terrace. Yellow, purple and red. Even in darkness they were vibrant. ‘When I was younger my mother passed away. It was an accident, but everyone blamed me for her death. They said that I was a devil child and no one came near me.’ Olivia paused for a moment to look at the stars. ‘But my father, he believed in me. He protected me.’ She thought of her father dying in her arms and then shook her head. ‘And then my father died…today…today is the third anniversary of his death.’ Olivia felt a lump in her throat. ‘They died because of me!’ Tears rolled down her cheeks. Olivia covered her face and sobbed. ‘I lost everyone…I have no one…I am alone’
Michael embraced Olivia and pulled her close.
Olivia felt his breath on her hair. ‘I was at the bridge because I felt all alone. I have no one in my life…no reason to live.’
Michael wiped off her tears with his thumb. ‘You are not alone.’ He held her hand. ‘I am here with you now.’
Olivia leaned forward and kissed Michael. She traced her hands up his chest and slowly unbuttoned his white ruffled shirt. He was redder underneath. She ran her fingers on his taut abdomen and kissed it. She felt his rough hands run up her thigh and lifted her dress. Olivia sat on Michael and removed her jacket. She guided his hands to her back. ‘Slowly.’ The zipper unclasped as Michael went lower. She felt his excitement rise as the dress revealed more of her skin. She slipped off her dress and revealed her large bosoms to Michael.
‘You are beautiful.’ Michael removed his shirt and touched her waist.
Olivia covered herself with her hands.
Michael grinned and kissed her neck.
Olivia felt their naked chests touch and that electricity surged through her body once more. She unbuckled his belt and pulled his tight slacks down. She was pleasantly surprised to massage his large manhood. Olivia stroked it with her hand and rubbed the tip with her forefinger and thumb.
Michael threw their clothes on the side and laid Olivia on them. He then alternated kisses and light bites down her body.
Olivia gasped as she felt Michael bury his head between her legs. She dug her fingers through his fiery red hair and arched her back. ‘Oh Michael.’
‘Olivia.’ Michael’s stare penetrated her soul.
‘Michael do you have protection?’ Olivia asked.
‘Yes I do.’ Michael kissed her and Olivia savored the sweet taste of his lips.
Michael continued to caress Olivia’s body. In the chilly night their sweaty bodies shone. For the first time since her father called her the devil child in his death bed Olivia felt truly happy and safe.
‘Good morning my beloved.’ A coarse whisper awakened Olivia. ‘Hmmm…’ Olivia yawned. She stretched her arms as the sun kissed her skin. ‘Michael?’ She reached out behind her. No Michael. Not a sign except for the dent on the bed. She sat up. The satin sheet clung on her bosom and her sandy blond hair fell across her back. The apartment was empty. She felt alone except for an uneasy tingle that frightened her. Olivia scanned the room. There was a small tray by her feet.
It was a floral plastic with a Plateful of biscotti, brioche and some jam coupled with a cup of espresso. Across the centre of the tray were some freshly picked flowers. Yellow, purple and red. The same flowers that were on the terrace. ‘How did I get here?’ Olivia picked a biscotti and peered out the terrace window.
Olivia saw a pile of clothes on the terrace floor. ‘That I remember.’ The sun smiled at Olivia and she quietly smiled back with half-closed eyes. She got off the bed and called for Michael once more but got no response. She took another bite of the biscotti. Olivia reached for the espresso and noticed a little note sticking out under the tray.
‘In the shower.’ The note read. Olivia tapped the smooth piece of parchment against the back of her hand. She grinned and dropped the satin sheet exposing her naked body. Olivia walked to the smoked-glass door next to the couch and quickly turned the handle. The room was misty with hot steam rising up. There was an unusual rotten scent. Somehow this scent was familiar and it excited Olivia.
‘What do you think you’re doing?’ Olivia stopped. It was the same low voice that she heard earlier, the same voice last night. It was coarse but feminine. ‘Olivia! Answer the question.’
Olivia shivered. ‘I… I.’
The voice continued. ‘You never listen to me! You’re never grateful to me!’
Olivia’s knees shook as if they where shattered glass. ‘Who are you? Where are you?’ Olivia asked under her breath.
‘Tsk… tsk… tsk. You forgot me my beloved?’
Olivia swallowed and her throat burned. She remembered the voices that she had been hearing and images that she saw. It was the same image that stood at the foot of the stairwell as Olivia watched her mother fall to her death. It was the same voice that told her to poison her father’s café. Olivia responded with a crackle in her voice. ‘Ma… Martina?’
Martina cackled. ‘So you do remember! Open the shower door my love.’
Olivia screamed. ‘Martina what did you do?!?’
Martina laughed. It was very deep and very sinister, not any more feminine. ‘I saved you my love. I saved you from that beast!’
Olivia saw her reflection in the mirror and took a step back. Her golden hair had turned black and her eyes became a deep green.
‘Go join your beloved Michael.’ Martina spoke.
Olivia turned to the cubicle. The water overflowed and touched her feet. She walked forward and pushed the door open. The floor of the cubicle was flooded and a red tinge swirled around. Michael was slumped up against the far wall. His body was limp and the defined tone across his abdomen was relaxed. Michael’s hands were clasped together. On it was something round. It had fiery red hair and lined with freckles. Not anymore red-tinged but pale. Olivia ran her hands through the patch of hair. There was still that mellow expression on Michael’s severed head. Fear turned to anger, anger turned to sadness and sadness to tears. ‘Not again Martina!’ Olivia dropped on her knees and wept. ‘Why Martina? Why?’
There was no response only a sinister chuckle echoed in her head.