Traveling Through Sicily
First chapter, where a poet meets a red headed siren and the murky, treacherous journey begins.
NASHVILLE, MAY 1993
1. A Woman Walks Into A Bar…
The long silent descent to the club entrance with its unlit tunnel of stone walls and broken steps always made Peter feel like something dangerous was about to happen. His rapid pulse and the familiar pretense of not acting nervous heightened the experience of pushing through the black metal door, emerging safely into the communal blare. It woke him up. He could be having a terrible day, a drowning kind of day where his thoughts got stuck in the same anxious groove, but then he would lace up his sneakers, run a comb through his hair, put on a clean shirt and pair of jeans and ask himself, What Would Jagger Do? Thrusting out his chest in the mirror, elbows out, wrists tucked in at his hips, he’d do Mick’s rooster strut while pursing his thick lips, cranking his head left, then right, his mouth opening into that power ‘Oh’ that made the girls scream. Peter looked like Jagger. He would say an ugly version, except Jagger was already ugly. It didn’t matter; it gave him hope. His power dance, performed as a goof, made him secretly believe that he looked sexy.
Inside the Ace of Clubs, Peter’s shirt was already sticking to his back. There were no windows in here, inadequate AC, and only one large fan blew the humid air across the small dance floor in front of the stage. Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was pounding from the speakers. The mingled aromas of smoke and hot bodies, occasionally pierced by the heated sweetness of a woman’s perfume, went perfectly with his iced cold beer. At twenty-nine, he was just on the edge of being too old for this place. But it was a refuge from country music and tourists. These were his people.
He peeled off from his friends at the bar and went to secure an empty table up close for Jonell Mosser’s performance. She was a Nashville treasure, and the female vocalist he most fantasized about. His lusting male friends were also here. So was his friend Samantha, who had a spectacular crush on the singer. But Jonell wasn’t the only reason for coming tonight. Sicily might show.
The buzz at the party last Friday night had been all about this woman.
“Who the hell is Sicily?” he’d asked Samantha, plopping down next to her on the couch. She’d offered him a joint, which he’d refused, then took a hit herself.
“She’s just someone we all knew, who used to live here and then moved away. Now she’s back.”
She’d taken another hit. He waited while she held it and exhaled.
“Whatever you do, don’t fall in love with her.”
“What?!" Boy had she been stoned.
“She never sticks around.”
“Okay.” That might have been a good thing.
“She’s had a troubled past.” Who hasn’t?
“Why are you so sure I'll be attracted to her?” he’d asked.
“Because everyone is.”
“Everyone? That’s impossible. Nobody’s that beautiful.”
“She is, and it’s not about her looks.”
“She makes you want her. She makes you feel things that you can’t help.”
“That’s ridiculous,” he’d said.
Samantha had moved closer to him on the couch and whispered in his ear, “She’s just someone we’re all attracted to, she’s very charming, but she’s not for you.”
"I was just thinking about you,” Peter said as Samantha sat down at his table in the club.
She sighed. “Why is it the wrong people are always the ones thinking about me?” She wasn’t looking at him; she was scanning the room. “But I’ll bite. What were you thinking?”
Before Peter could answer, Samantha jumped to her feet. “There she is!”
"There who is?" But Samantha was already making her way through the crowd.
People streamed by, obscuring his view. Then he glimpsed Samantha standing on her tip-toes in her cowboy boots hugging a tall, red-haired woman wearing a transparent white blouse. Samantha turned and pointed at their table, then walked off toward the bar, presumably to get the others.
He strained to keep the woman in sight.
Shit. Gone. He bent sideways and twisted in his seat, then sat up tall, peering.
The redhead reappeared, gliding through the crowd, winking in and out of his field of vision, her blouse billowing like a sail, her small breasts cupped in a scarlet bra. She was monolithic, a figurehead on a ship’s prow, moving towards him, parting the human sea.
He straightened up in his chair and ran his hand through his hair, brushing his shaggy bangs from his forehead. As she approached, her eyes never left his, forcing him to look away or stare back. Challenged, he met her gaze. She stuck out her hand, and he stood up.
“You must be Peter.” She smiled a crooked half-smile. He noticed the dimple in only one cheek. “I’ve heard so much about you.”
"Really?" Peter asked, shaking her hand, amused by the formal gesture. "Did they warn you against me?"
She laughed, dropped his hand and gracefully slipped her arm through his, completely surprising and disarming him. She winked. Nobody winks, he thought. He’d never had a woman wink at him before.
He stared at her, at her extremely pale skin dusted with freckles on the bridge of her nose and on the tops of her cheeks just below her eyes. She had an oval face and high forehead. There was something tender about her mouth. Maybe it was because her lips had a swollen quality, a fullness he imagined from being bruised by long, hard, kisses.
While he stared at her, she stared back. It was as though the two of them were free to be as brazen and as appraising as they wanted to be. This was unique to his experience, particularly when meeting a woman for the first time. He wondered what it was that she was seeing.
As if on cue, she gave him a compliment, "You have very expressive blue eyes, Peter."
"Yes, I get that all the time,” he said, “expressive eyes." He faked a confidence he didn't feel, but that's how it always was. He performed his way into relationships until, at some point, he, they, became real. That's usually when panic set in.
“Did your friends warn you about me?” she asked.
"Good," Sicily said. "You should be warned."
"Are you so very dangerous?"
Her response was to laugh again, throwing her head back, exposing her slender throat. For some reason, this exposure, like an offering, seemed very vulnerable and animal-like. He could imagine any number of responses: protective, savage, erotic.
They walked arm-in-arm to the bar, but he steered them away from his friends. He could feel the looks, the judgments being made. He was sure they were being discussed. As Samantha quickly walked by, he heard, “Really, Peter?” followed by, “I think we just lost the table, dick head.”
He ordered a martini for himself, hoping to impress her with his sophistication. Part of him commented on what a posturing idiot he was, and the other part told him to shut up.
"What would you like?" he asked.
She was being a little coy, mildly irritating him.
"Well, you don't strike me as the white wine spritzer type. Hmm. I'd say, Wild Turkey, or perhaps Rolling Rock."
She turned to the bartender. "I'll have a Courvoisier, neat."
After the bartender disappeared, he asked, "And the point of the guessing game was?"
"Just a test. A tiny one. I was curious about how you had sized me up."
"How'd I do?"
"You nailed me." Her big smile revealed small, even teeth. But what really got his attention were her eyes: pale green with flecks of gold, almond shaped, feline, deep lidded, the very opposite of cool.
He leaned backwards on the bar, his elbows supported by its ample wooden lip. He swooshed his martini in his glass between sips and smiled at her. He could hardly stop smiling.
She was sitting on the bar stool facing him, the folds of her skirt falling between her open legs, the tops of her small breasts pushed up by the lacy red bra, visible through the sheer blouse. He tried not to look.
She was sipping from her drink, looking up at him from under her fine, barely visible brows. Her lashes were strawberry blond. She wore no make up. She didn't need any. Her lips, hair, and eyes stood out as wildly colorful against her pallor.
He sighed, and then realized he had sighed.
"That sounded so resigned."
Peter thought for a moment. "No. Not resigned. Wistful maybe. Perhaps defeated."
"Are you so easy?"
"I suppose so." He grinned. "I'm silly putty in the hands of a woman with red hair and green eyes."
"And what if I had brown hair and brown eyes?"
"Then I'd be silly putty in the hands of a woman with brown hair and brown eyes."
She smiled again, not at him, but to herself, looking into the drink in her hand. "Then it's not my looks. You must be attracted to the real me," she said.
"Right. The real you. It always takes me a mere fifteen minutes, certainly no more than thirty, to know ‘the real you’ of any person."
She laughed. "Ok. What then?"
"Do you need to be told?"
"Yes." She looked him in the eye.
He reached across her for some bar peanuts, buying time, bending close, turning his head in profile so as not to meet her at eye level and risk being too close to her mouth. She smelled sensual, like a jungle fruit. Not that he had ever smelled a jungle fruit. He wanted to plant his nose against her neck and just breathe for an hour or two.
"I wouldn't have pegged you as insecure," he said.
"Perhaps that's because you don't know the real me."
"Okay. Let's cut the crap. Give me your hand."
Obviously surprised, but willing, she held her left hand out to him. He liked that he’d surprised her—that he could do that—but he was aware that she didn't miss a beat. She cocked an eyebrow at him skeptically and gave him her hand like a grown-up indulging a small boy who had a crush on her, whom she was flirting with.
He noticed how small her wrist was and how long and thin her ring-less fingers were. He turned her hand over so that her palm faced upward.
"You’re a lefty," he said.
"I'm a righty. I gave you my left hand to trick you."
"You're a liar."
"That's true." She smiled. "Go on."
"You’re unmarried." He looked from her palm into her eyes. He saw her blink and look away for just a second before she said, "Perhaps."
Perhaps? What does perhaps mean? He didn't feel he could ask at this moment. Besides, would it matter?
"You will fall deeply in love with a complete stranger with sandy colored hair, expressive blue eyes, and no money. He’ll be a poet with an uncanny talent for palm reading and seeing the future."
"No money?" she repeated, staring into her palm.
"No money," he nodded.
"Then the man shall be like a piece of clay that I will mold until he is rich and famous."
"Ahh, the old, little woman behind the man, idea."
"No," she corrected, "the tall woman behind the little man."
"Ouch." He dropped her hand.
"And he will learn to say the three little words that will secure his future."
"Wait a minute. Who's the palm reader here?"
"And what do you think those three little words are?" She gave him a sly look, glancing at him from the corner of her eyes, her body turned back toward the bar, her index finger circling the rim of her glass.
She can't really expect me to say, I love you, he thought. He squirmed uncomfortably on the hook, not replying. She seemed amused by his discomfort. He felt a stab of irritation for the second time this evening, deflating his endorphin high.
"Yes, my queen," she said, rescuing him and challenging him at the same time.
Relieved, he started to breathe again, realizing that he'd apparently stopped. "Yes, my queen," he said, grinning, his good mood restored. He could do this, he thought—play the game. She needn't know that he hadn't surrendered. "Yes, my queen," he repeated, grinning once more like a besotted idiot. Then it was her turn to surprise him. She picked up his hand and kissed the back of it, then held it for a second to her cheek.
Recovering, but only just barely, he said, "Now you've done it."
"What?" She looked at him with a naked intensity that made him feel…what? Jolted? Elated? Was there anything casual or normal about this woman?
"I needed that hand," he said, trying to lighten things up. "That’s the hand I eat with, and now I'll never be able to wash it again." A clichéd response, he thought, but the best he could do in the moment.
"I promise if you wash it, I'll give it more kisses. But right now give it back to me." She withdrew a pen from her purse and then turned his hand over, and wrote her phone number on his palm. "There, consider yourself tattooed. A marked man." She slid off the stool. "I have to go,"
"Why?" he protested, caught up short. "It's early; the music hasn't even started yet."
"I know. I have to go home because of Bert." She turned and walked away, saying over her shoulder, "Call me."
"Who's Bert?" he shouted after her, but she was gone, swallowed up in the crowd.
He didn't hear the bartender at first, repeating, “That will be fifteen dollars for you and the lady, unless you'd like me to run you a tab, sir.”
“No, no.” He reached for his wallet, having the ungenerous thought, Of course, the poor boy pays for the drinks. Her voice was already in his head…No; the gentleman pays for the drinks. He shrugged and gave the bartender a twenty. “Keep the change.” What the hell, I'll make her pay next time. Yeah. Fat chance.