When they arrived at the front of the line and were about to board the one-way water journey to romance, Gail’s heart sank. The gondolier was, granted, wearing the red and white striped T-shirt as per Gail’s magazine, but she could see his nipple piercings through the material and she simply couldn’t forgive the jeans with a worn patch by the pocket where he clearly kept his keys. It was supposed to be romantic, not ordinary. Keys implied that the handsome gondolier had a house and maybe a fridge that he cleaned rotting vegetable juice out of from time to time, with other mundane needs of everyday life that certainly didn’t meet her vision. She pressed her lips together tightly.
“Buongiorno!” he sang, and opened his arms. Marty shouted something in return that was neither Italian nor English, and with a thud he stepped in to the narrow river boat, making it wobble and splashing eggy mushroom water into the hull. Gail covered her mouth with her handkerchief and held out her hand for Marty to help her in, but he was too busy settling his mass into the wooden pew to notice. He shuffled his weight around and released a vibrato of bodily gases.
Just as Gail prepared to scold her husband, a warm hand closed round her frail fingers. The gondolier helped her in with a smile.
“My name is Pio,” he said.
Gail sighed. Why couldn’t he have been called Giovanni, or Salvatore, or even Raffaelo?
Pio continued, still grinning. “You like cruise? We call this Italian cruise, no? Hah!”
“Now you look here, Luigi,” bellowed Marty. “We ain’t happy about payin’ you a hundred Euros for a boat ride, but we’ve been in that line for an hour. You better make this good.” And then with another burp, he added, “My marriage is on the line here.”
“Hah!” laughed Pio. “You want better price? For good price you go to Camp Sant Angelo, you find gondoliere sitting on stone steps that lead to San Stefano. He give you better price.” He put his hand on his heart and continued, “I, sadly, am regulated. But my friend, he charge whatever he wants!”
“Why in the hell would you tell us to go to your competitors?” asked Marty, his voice an octave higher than before. Gail settled in next to him and tried to snuggle up. He shrugged her off.
Pio just smiled, and soon Mr. and Mrs. Grubfeldt were gliding along the Grand Canal, with Pio navigating the heavy traffic of vaporetti, work barges, rubbish boats and all the every day traffic that made the pinnacle of bona fide Italian romance seem like the highway interchange back home in Dallas.
Pio didn’t serenade as he rowed. And neither did Marty. A hot dog wrapper floated past, and Gail watched as it bobbed and dipped in the gentle wake of the gondola. Then a droplet of water from Pio’s oar landed on it and it sank into the murky depths.
Pio’s muscles flexed as he manipulated the oar. A forward stroke and then a compensating backward stroke brought the gondola to a halt by the entrance of a brick house. Steps were leading from a door directly into the water. There was no rogue gondolier sitting on the steps, but there was a puddle of what looked like porridge and smelled like goat. Gail shrieked and grabbed her husband’s arm.
Next episode out soon!
*Featured Image: Gondolier, by Ekaterina Frolova