“Risotto al radicchio e un’insalata mista.”
“Va bene,” Aldo nods.
He knows us, what we usually order, what we like. I know what I like. I like Camille. Couldn’t wait to finish family affairs in London. To get back to Rome. To her. To pick up where we left off. I’m dead tired. But first we have to get through this dinner with her American friends.
Camille teases her fingers under my palm and strokes with her middle finger—I miss you too—on her way to interlocking hands in an arm-wrestling grip that ends in a draw at her lips. Not one to hide her affection under the table, my Camille. Everything above board in plain view.
My, she’s beautiful. You wouldn’t know she’s American. She looks so patrician—high forehead, dark hair and fair, china-cup skin. I could get very serious about her. My Roman aristocrat.
“So, this is your first time back, in what… twenty-five years, Frank?” Camille asks her guest.
The tourist in his teal and blue, back-packing jacket, early fifties, trim, nods, glancing at his wife and daughter, “Yeah. We’re way overdue. I guess I wanted to share the places I’ve been talking about all these years, to convince them—me too for that matter—that it was all real.”
Or maybe Camille is a blushing medieval princess in that wine-colored velvet dress she loves to button right up to her throat. But then she stands up and her gown turns into a mini-skirt, and her elegant legs unfold and her fingers drag along the back of my neck. I want to get out of here. With her.
“…so there we were in St. Peter’s,” Frank is saying, “and I pointed out the place where I was ordained.”
“I was there. I remember that,” Camille says. “I was six…no, seven.”
After a moment she addresses the fourteen-year old daughter with the large brown eyes. “So, what did you think of all that, Lucia?”
But the girl has just bitten into a bread stick and can only point at her mouth as she hurriedly chews. Frank pats her hand and speaks for her, “She asked me, ‘why did you want to become a priest dad?’”
“Good question,” Camille remarks, “I’d be interested in your answer. Seems like you and your classmates were forever agonizing over that.”
“Well, back then, it was so hard to realize…”
Boring. Boring. Look at his wife, she can’t stand it either. How many times has she listened to him stir this hash? Just stuff it, why don’t you? Nobody cares.
“Well, I was glad you were there,” Camille purrs as she untangles her fingers from mine and smiles at Frank. “All you guys meant a lot to me. I had a whole seminary full of uncles to take me places and do fun things.” Then she gets a look on her face that I have never seen before. She’s a child biting into a favorite treat. Her eyes roll sideways and up a bit. Her lips part. “Remember that time you guys did a Chinese fire drill right in the middle of Piazza Venezia?”
Frank laughs, “And you sat in the middle of the back seat with your hands folded on your lap and said, ‘I don’t think that was very funny’.”
“Well,” Camille demurs, “I was very proper in those days.”
“I can still see that child in you.”
Camille glows, pleased to be discovered.
Hey, you old fart, leave off with your bloody memories of my Camille. She isn’t a little girl. Not my Camille. Mind your own child.
Oh no, here come the musicians. He’s not going to request a song, is he? Santa Lucia for his daughter Lucia. Spare us. Poor girl looks mortified. Let me get Aldo over here with the bill and maybe we can get out of here.
“No, no, niente cafe.”
“Per me si,” Camille says, “e tre tiramisu.” She turns to her guests. “You’ll want to try this dessert. It’s a favorite in Rome. Every trattoria has its own version. It literally means, ‘pick me up’. You’ll love it.”
Will this never end? Now he’s got Camille talking about her job. Yes, yes. We know all that.
“So, I have to catalogue and arrange the thousands of documents that have been stored in the archives over the centuries. It’s so frustrating sometimes…”
You’re frustrated? I want you and I don’t want to be sharing you with all these people. You and me. My Camille.
Finally, we are outside, saying good-byes.
Yes, Yes, good bye. Good riddance. Now, what is the duffer on about?
“You should consider yourself lucky,” he says to me.
“Yes? How so?”
“You don’t have to be afraid of growing older.”
“A man who marries an archivist will always be cherished as he ages.”
“Nice thought,” I answer politely.
Finally, they’re gone and we’re walking back to her flat off Piazza Farnese. We pause under a street light. She caresses my hand and smiles invitingly but all I can see is a little girl in her eyes and an old woman in the creases around her eyes. I stare for a long moment. “Let’s stop for a coffee, shall we?”