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She wanted to look sad, but didn’t have the thoughts for it. She used a heavy mask of make-up to achieve the desired effect.
By noon she would have to stop at a cafe to reapply her paint. With every drop of sweat the heat from the sun had slid her cheeks and chin lower and lower. Her kerchief now looking like a mad painter’s disregarded canvas.
The cafe was very old and not near anything of interest. For the most part it was usually empty. Bottles of apéritifs grown gray with dust, crackling records trying to crawl across the room unnoticed.
I liked it because I could sit there unrushed for hours. The waiter was the owner’s son. As soon as his father died he would sell the place and go on a vacation. He pretended not to notice when I took little pieces of stale bread from my coat, letting my coffee soften them as I sat day-dreaming.
It was during the spring we met. She sat at the corner table, cracked mirror in hand, spitting a gold circle onto her forehead as she pursed her lips in scarlet. I was going to pretend not to see her, but forgot.
I could tell we were in similar circumstances by the way she nursed her coffee. She didn’t expect me to buy her a drink and didn’t find it odd that I hadn’t offered up my name. We were in similar circumstances.
With a nod I sat down beside her. It looked like it might rain. We didn’t formally part, we just sort of slipped away from each other. Her first. I noticed her cup had a smudged cupid’s bow where it had touched her lips.
After running into each other several times, usually at the cheaper cafes, we started spending time together. If two people do nothing, together, then it doesn’t look as bad. When the weather was good we’d walk through the park. I’d walk a little ahead of her so that I could stop and read the plaques on the statues, Antonella laughing at my accent each and every time.
The sun would slip from the sky, and I’d walk her home. Antonella lived above a florist shop whose door was boarded up, windows long ago smashed. She never asked me up. I was glad, because I knew I couldn’t afford it.
There was an old man who stood in front of her building playing a violin. When no one gave him any change he would resort to banging his tin cup on the sidewalk until he was paid to move down the street.
Sometimes when we approached her building I would see someone hiding behind the curtains, watching us. I always meant to ask Antonella about it. As I walked home I’d pass the time by making up answers for her until I reached home or forgot about it.
After spending so much time together I had accidentally let my guard down. We sat, glasses half empty. I watched as the wind blew a crumpled piece of paper in slow circles. The thrill of the hunt is gone. I go over Kitten’s just to lay on the couch and tell her secrets. There is nothing here for me anymore. Without thinking I mention that I’d like to move. Antonella’s ears perk up.
“How much money do you think that would take? Do you have any saved up?”
My blush told her what she needed to know.
“If you could hold off on leaving, I could show you something, it wouldn’t use all your money...”
The walk back to Antonella’s was done in silence. When we got to her building she took my hand in hers.
“Think about it.”
I get home and fall onto my bed, being extra quiet so I could listen to the woman downstairs radio.
Trouble follows me around like a stray dog I once fed. From under my mattress I take my money, leaving enough for a last meal. I stuff the money into my left shoe and head to Antonella’s.
I walk there slowly, as if in a dream. On the corner the old man banged his tin cup on the curb. Normally I would find this funny, but tonight I wanted to hear music. I gave him some money and nodded with my chin towards the doorway to Antonella’s building. He smiled and did several small bows. As I began climbing the stairs I heard him start to play.
Walking down a dimly lit hall I find the right door and knock. There’s the sound of something heavy being dragged across the floor, then silence. I knock again. The door opens a crack. For a moment Antonella looks at me with surprise, then she regains her composure and opens the door.
I step into a room whose walls dance from the flickering flames of several misshaped candles. Antonella asked me to sit down. A small couch covered in black cloth. She sat down next to me, leaning back, staring at the ceiling.
“We were making wine.”
Her voice trailed off. There was a silence in which I could hear my heart beat, if I didn’t think. She turned her head towards me.
“So you agree with what I had been saying earlier?”
She sat up now, refocused. My cheeks felt hot.
She smiled as she got up from the couch. In a moment she was back, holding two glasses. As she sat back down she handed one to me.
Our glasses were almost empty. In the other room I heard someone moving around, a light being turned off.
I emptied the rest of my glass in one swallow. She stood in the doorway, a red silk dress with a gold dragon crawling down the front of it. I half rose as we were introduced.
She sat across from me in a little wicker chair I hadn’t noticed earlier.
“So, you’re a writer...What type of stuff do you write?”
I was having trouble concentrating. I felt warm, too warm.
“It’s a new type of writing, like the bible but with less god and more booze.”
The old man must have moved directly under the window because now the spaces in between our words were filled with the music. Anise’s eyes seemed huge. The music was making her crazy. There were less and less words for it to hide behind. A low moan came from the back of her throat. She began tearing at her clothes. It would be better if I left, but I couldn’t move. I wanted to tell her to stop, but couldn’t speak.
The room spun round and round driven on by that music. Her skin was a dark purple, hands, head and feet. Some of the berries, now crushed, still clung to her hair.
Soon my lips too would be stained to a purple.
By morning, swollen and bruised, everything being done in time to the music.
I look over at Antonella, her lips and hands are also purple.
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