7 July 2019 in Writing

She arrived in Rome in June in an all-white sundress and fancy strappy sandals that her mother had said were impractical for a tour of Italy. She was 24. She’d worn them anyway.

After squeezing her Samsonite into the hotel room that would be hers for a week, she threw a scarf over her shoulders and set out to wander the streets.

At the end of the first block, a strap on her sandal broke. The shoe rapped against the stone like a teacher’s cane against the blackboard. She reached down, trying to adjust it and make it serviceable. The sky cracked like an egg, pouring forth rain.

Determined not to return to her hotel room, she navigated the buildings’ rain shadows, pausing under doorway arches when she had the chance. Elderly Italian ladies, always in pairs, asserted their authority on the sidewalk, even though they were the prepared ones. Their plastic hair kerchiefs were already expertly knotted under their chins, and their chic rain capes swirled protectively around their even more chic handbags. She thought she caught them smiling at her folly, or her youth, or her foreignness.

She broke into a run, her one shoe flapping madly against the uneven sidewalk, the other starting to contract around her toes. She didn’t know Rome. She’d planned to wander and let serendipity guide her through the neighborhood. Serendipity doesn’t run. To run means having a destination, which she, decidedly, did not. She ran, turning left, turning right, following streets that turned left and right even without reaching an intersection.

She noticed the pointed archway of a church at the end of a thin alleyway. She sprinted towards its half-open doors, noticing the wet banner against the façade announcing something about Hildegard and Mozart. Stumbling into the vestibule, she realized the concert was underway.

The few people standing at the back of the church turned and stared. Water dripped from her dress, which plastered her every curve and rendered her made of Grecian marble. She looked down at her feet, one bloody, the other with sandal askew. The red paisley pattern from her scarf had seeped throughout the white cotton dress, suggesting the blood had begun from above. Her foot was an afterthought. She took a breath. The smell of incense overwhelmed her and she held back a cough.

This was Rome.