Wednesday, January 21, 2009


Here is an unrevised short story that I just wrote today. Tell me what you think!

“Home is where the cat is,” he’d say to me through his russet brown teeth. He needed to stop drinking all of that coffee. I told him so many times, but he’d never listen to a child. Not only did the stuff turn his “pearly whites” into what looked like enameled blocks of wood, but it made his breath smell like a humid compost pile. I enjoyed his company more than anyone else in our travel group, but I must say I resisted any reason he might have to whisper something to me. If I had a question in a loud or confined place, I’d save it to ask him later. His smile was pleasant though, despite the teeth and the breath. When he smiled his eyes would squint and fizzle with spirit, crow’s feet would spread at the sides of them like someone had cracked him. It was like cracking him if you got him to laugh, but you’d feel like a child being made fun of every time. I knew with a certainty, that in the back of his mind, that was what he considered me. To him, every idea I had, every action of mine was balancing on naivety. It might have had something to do with the fact that he was twelve years older than me.

“Nick. I can’t believe you just said that. Cats are probably the most horrid creatures on the planet. I believe home is where the heart is,” There I went again with my clichés and naivety. I was only nineteen, but my confidence grew from the tiny seeds planted by so many people who’d tell me how mature I was for my age. I knew where my life was headed, what I wanted, and what I was talking about. I dug myself deeper. “And my heart is here. I’m going to live here someday, you watch.”

Visitors from the United States, Morocco and China, were most distinguishable from the native crowd of Tuscans. My Italian heritage gave me some sense of legitimacy as I sat, with my red circle dress and delicate black strapped sandals, in the Piazza della Signoria. I stared at large people wearing spicy, lightweight tourist shirts, billowing cargo shorts and outdated sneakers, sunscreen on their noses and big straw hats—those were the Americans. They didn’t know that Italians dressed to make their best first impression every day. “Way to represent, U.S.” I thought. These people only dressed up at night, I bet. The Moroccans had black skin, so dark I struggled sometimes to see them at night in front of my apartment. They’d set up their faux purse sales in the middle of any busy street at their leisure. This was against the law, but in this part of Italy one could not be charged of crime without the crime witnessed by a collection of police. So, unless the transaction had been seen, these peddlers and their culprits were safe. I’d never thought to participate in any such exchange and was careful to obey the law in my month’s stay at the school. Plus, I knew my mother would probably die of a heart attack if she heard I was doing time in a foreign country at the expense of a knock of Gucci purse. The Chinese talked fast and loud, stayed in large groups and wore matching shirts. They’d try to talk the market salesmen down in price for a tacky snow-globed Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore and any time I’d see the interaction from a distance, I’d wonder to myself how good their Italian could possibly be. They got by.

Nick got by too, with his Spanish. His perpetually tanned Mexican skin, I think, deemed him respectable—until he spoke of course. Once we walked into a Tabacchiera looking for bus tickets and he boomed “Hey! You speak English?” to the old, and obviously native, Italian owner, who by the look on his face was through putting up with obnoxious Americans. I was scared for my life, actually. The old man said something in hot, accelerated Italian. A vein pulsed from his sinewy neck, and he pointed to the door in frenzy.

“You can’t talk to them like that, Nick. This is their home. We’re the intruders.” I said, my eyebrows raised and my breathing almost back to normal. I looked to him for some irresponsible response.

“Home is where the cat is,” he said. At thirty-one years old he still refused to be serious.

“What does that even mean? Cats are lame. Use your Italian.” It was an idea of mine that the War in Iraq, especially at this point, distanced any loud, light skinned person from their chance at gaining respect from a native. I was careful to blend in. I listened to and mimicked how the natives ordered their bread and gelato. Unlike the rest of the study group who spent their money on posh Chianti and spirits, I spent about half of the money I brought with me on gelato. And every time I ordered, the native behind the counter would continue on in some anecdote, thinking I’d understand. I’d smile and nod back.

I think Nick finally realized what it meant to be home when he met her. Sinem Cansu wore a mod sixties style dress to the banquet, mid-calf with baby doll sleeves and a subtle blue checkered print. The pale design looked great against her gentle mocha skin and displayed to her spectators an aura of innocence. She had many spectators—all admirers. Her long, dark hair reminded me of the Burnt Sienna oil paint I had lying in my art bag back at the apartment—it was down and tussled from her hurried trip to the Strozzi building. She was late.

“I’m sorry to be late,” she said to our group in her sweet and slow Turkish hum. There were about six of us gathered around a complimentary seven course meal, the plates piled—tomatoes garnished in fresh basil, olive oil, and mozzarella; cured ham and melone, or cantaloupe; pasta with tomato sauce and ricotta cheese; rolled meats, roasted rib, tendered pork, and tiramisu. Nobody looked at the food. Her small pink lips drew everyone in so intensely. They moved leisurely and she tried with great effort to choose her words wisely and enunciate them correctly. Her face was smooth and exotic.

“What’s that bracelet you’re wearing?” Nick, suddenly involving himself, “accidentally” touched her well-lotion-ed skin as he reached for the bracelet. She cracked him. The crows feet on the sides of his eyes grew chiseled and his smile, though yellow-brown, had something bright about it. He didn’t look at her like a child, though she was just a little younger than I. Sinem shrugged her small frame, flashed her eyes at him, and explained. I knew it then.

The next three weeks, I sat in piazzas sketching buildings and passersby. I walked down Via dei Calzaiuoli, housing the real Gucci, Prada, Fendi, and Armani. I ate authentic gelato once or twice a day at least—cioccolato, pistacchio, or bacio. The flavors to my tongue were like vibrant colors on a plain canvas, only these colors I’d never seen before. I admired the natives and their simplicity. Their hearts were apparent in all things: the food, the friendships, the preservation of their culture and architecture, the music I’d hear from the accordion in the street every night before bed. The natives were always home.

The only places I ever saw Nick throughout those weeks was with Sinem. I knew he’d found something. His crows feet were always present now, his yellow smile beaming and it was over a large slab of undercooked salmon in Brussels, Belgium on our way back to the states that I found out for sure.

“So, are you ready to go home?” I slurped my orange juice from the Looza cup our suited waiter brought to me on the patio. We joked moments before about how the branding of the cup was not coincidence. I was a Looza. Yes, very funny, Nick. The colors of Brussels blasted loudly from each neon venue sign, intensely contrasting the ancient buildings they shone from. Background murmurings of Danish and French justified what I had heard about the division of Belgium on Travel Channel. I awaited his response with my quizzical face.

“You know, Aly, I’ve been thinking.” He looked at me for the first time as though I were an adult, leaned toward me over the undercooked salmon, and whispered in that horrifying coffee breath of his. “Home is where the heart is.” He paused and sat back in his chair. “I might visit Turkey soon.”


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