Freezing panic, appalling loss; I could not breath for a moment. "Wh... What?" and the young American's voice became impatient. "Sorry, that's what she said, it's really nothing to do with me."
I suppose it wasn't, and I can forgive her for that, for she was only a messenger, but I think I understood at that moment the customs of the old Kings of Persia, who would execute the bearer of bad tidings as though he were the originator of them. But... "Well... OK," I said, choking. "Will you ask her to call me when she can?"
She never did call, but I knew she wouldn't. There was a terrible finality in that voice; a tone that said, "Oh hey, here's a loser calling for Michela." I heeded it for a week, desperately hoping that every phone call was her, hurting so bad that I cancelled lessons, staying indoors with drawn shutters, ignoring the New Year, hoping she would tell me everything was fine. And then I had to try again. One cold January night I had to hear her voice, and this time it was Michela who picked up the phone.
"Ciao, Michela, sono Simon. Come stai?"
A pause, a small sigh, "OK," she said.
She didn't offer any more, so I ploughed on the futile furrow. "Did you like the flowers?"
"Michela, what's wrong? What's happened?"
"Nothing is wrong, but I don't want to see you any more."
"But why? What is it? Didn't we love one another? Wasn't it love?" I said, and I could not keep the pleading from my voice; the pleading that has never yet won a cold heart, but only hardens it.
"Per te," she said. "Ma per me no."
What was there to say in my agony? I put the phone down and cried again, this time tears of horrid pain, there alone in my apartment, the darkness smothering misery. The next day I sent her back the note and postcard with a brusque covering letter, a sad shake of a powerless fist. "Michela, these things are meaningless lies now, please take them back."
I never heard her voice again, but perhaps she heard mine. Some months later Roberta called me, as I was sitting with a doppio espresso outside a bar in spring sunshine. She said she was busy, but perhaps we could do some more lessons in the future (we never did). She said she hoped I was all right. I said I was, and by then it was true. She asked how the apartment was, and I said it was fine. Was I busy? Yes, always, and enjoying it. Then, after more drivel, we came to it. I hadn't left Dani for Michela's sake, had I? No, I said, it was over anyway. Then there was a pause, and I knew, as surely as if I could see her, that Michela was also at the other end of the call, listening to every word. And suddenly I was enraged. What filthy game was this? What nasty poison was that baldracca brewing now?
"How do you feel about what happened, are you sad?" said Roberta. Then all the venom spat from the wound. "No," I said, "I am not sad. As for what happened... Veramente, non me ne frega un cazzo, peggio per lei - Really, I don't give a shit, her loss."
Then there was a longer pause. "Oh... yes," said Roberta.
I was all right. I had another girlfriend by then, fifteen years my senior. As the Italians say, the old hen makes good soup. I also saw Dani now and again, as well as one or two others; offers came swiftly that Spring. One morning I had the terrifying experience of being in flagrante in my apartment while another girl was banging on the front door. Sketches, as I was just a sketch to Michela. I knew I was bad but so what? Thus we spread our hurts around, visiting them on those who do not deserve them, taking them out on people who care.
Roberta and I had discussed it once, in one of our last lessons. She stopped coming at the end of January, and she could not, or would not, tell me much. There was talk of the ex-boyfriend, a doctor, who may have reappeared. She said that Michela was angry because I came to her apartment to surprise her. Perhaps there was some other flannel too. But I never knew the truth, the real reason. "Because," said Roberta, "Michela is not someone who thinks she needs to explain or apologise. That's the way she is."
Perhaps she was. Perhaps that is the way Michela was. But I caught no glimpse of it, and I believe there was something else, something that Changed. And I have thought of finding Michela, sometimes I have wanted to find her to ask why; to discover one of those hidden parts of life that you know exist only from their shadow.
But I never shall, because sometimes it is better not to know. Sometimes it is better to leave the question on the foam of memory's evershifting sea. For how could any answer make it better than it was that day? How could it be more perfect than what we had? Pasta and wine, gentle music, holding hands, and a billion bright bursts of beauty as the rain came down outside.
© Simon M Hunter 2010
© Simon M Hunter 2010