I’m still thinking about how Nick died when the woman seats us in the restaurant, which is empty except for a couple seated across the room. Lauren speaks Italian to the server, a teenage girl, probably the youngest daughter; I point at the menu. We receive, in return, a fresh anchovy appetizer, squid ink pasta alla chitarra—guitar strings!—with seafood, bright pink rosato wine. I’ve never seen wine that color. The anchovies are fresh and cold, the pasta full of shrimp, all of it tasting miraculously of the sea. For a while I forget. “Strap yourself in,” says Lauren, who lived in Italy for a while, once. The food will get even better, she says.
We walk back to the hotel through the narrow streets. Lauren dumps her purse in her room and comes to mine to sit on the balcony and chat. We drink more wine. I think about throwing myself over the balcony and decide against it, but later I barricade the balcony doors shut with chairs so I won’t do anything impulsive during the night. In the morning I tell Lauren what I’ve been thinking. The thoughts go away once I talk about them.
We skip the early morning conference sessions and instead walk along the Pescara beach promenade, watching the local bicyclists and runners, looking at the rows and rows of empty striped beach umbrellas. It’s June, too early for most tourists. I think about how my husband, who has to stay home for work, would enjoy this place. The last time he and I traveled together, in Austria, Nick called us from home every night. One evening Nick and I Skyped, and I showed him the inside of our hotel room and the outside scene, of the Tyrolean Alps. He was lonely and scared, and I blamed myself for being away on vacation though my therapist had encouraged me to go because, he said, I couldn’t watch Nick all the time. After we got home Nick gradually got lonelier and more scared, until one morning the police were at our house, and the medical examiner, and the chaplain. And Nick was gone.
It’s bright and hot in the sun along the promenade, which seems to stretch for at least a mile in both directions. I stop walking at one point, explaining to Lauren that I need to cry. “Of course,” she says. She knows it’s only been a few months. So I head by myself to a bench facing the ocean and squint at the waves while blinking back tears. For lunch we find another restaurant, fancier than the previous night’s, pristine white cloths on the tables, the tables exposed to the high-noon light. We order food I don’t really remember.
That evening, though, we go to another neighborhood restaurant with two American women we met at the afternoon conference sessions. This one, like the first, is a family operation, this time in the dark and cozy basement of a hard-to-find building nestled among shops, apartments, a gelateria. One of the women asks me about the tattoo on my left arm, the red-tipped yellow rose I’ve gotten for Nick; I tell her about him and Lauren is right, it gets better, for a while. We drink—compliments of the house—a pomegranate liqueur carrying a hint of cloves and order more pasta that tastes, again, of the dark, wide sea.
Rita Malenczyk is a writer, painter, English professor, and occasional printmaker living and working in eastern Connecticut. Her essays, poetry, and visual art have appeared in JMWW, Brevity‘s nonfiction blog, Cathexis Northwest Press, Beyond Words, HeartWood, and elsewhere.