What happens near Rome
By Cooper King
On Sunday I went to a wedding. It was lovely, by a beautiful Italian lake. The food was magnificent, so much of it, and great wine, and then many many many shots and dancing. I was there with my Brazilian colleague, who is a friend but basically turns into some sort of snorting horny Tasmanian Devil when drunk. It had been quite hard work. We were sharing a small cabin on a campsite overlooking the lake a short drive away, where I had already spent a lot of the time that weekend hearing the many noises that came out of him as he lay hungover or drunk or asleep with only a curtain separating us. Towards the end of the night I was having a great time a long way away from him dancing in the moonlight to Dancing in the Moonlight and other Euro-friendly hits. It was 1.30ish when I saw him talking to the two very attractive perfectly dressed Italian women who all the men had been lasciviously lusting over/ creeping out all night. He beckoned me. I walked over.
'The girls are coming back to our cabin for a swim and some wine' he said.
'Oh. But the wedding.' I said. I really did not want to leave yet.
'It's over, man. Come on. We have to go.' he said with a genuine madness in his eyes, like there was something deeply wrong with me.
I looked around and it did seem to be wrapping up, so I agreed. I had not spoken to these women all night. I couldn't. They hardly spoke English. He was getting by in Spanish just about.
'How are we getting there?' I asked
'I am a very good driver' said the tattooed one, as though I had questioned this.
'But... you're drunk?' I said
'The English. So funny' one of them probably replied.
So she drove us, absolutely hammered, back to our campsite. Even Colleague was freaked out. I later found out the driver owns a chain of successful bakeries in Rome and is quite famous. Her name was, I think, Sofia?
I went inside and put my swimming shorts on and came outside. And then all of a sudden they were both naked on the shore. And then we were all splashing into the lake. Oh, I thought. This is.
It was all too much for Colleague as he went into overdrive and was all over Sofia, and they were suddenly kissing. And I was left with a woman I had literally never spoken to before, completely naked in front of me. She looked at me.
'I... can't swim' she said.
'It's very shallow,' I said. 'Don't worry... what's your name?'
'Elena' said Elena.
'John' I said.
I turned and saw Colleague dragging the other one towards the cabin (she seemed to be ok with it).
'He has two kids' I said to Elena. 'His wife has an OBE.'
She didn't seem to understand. But then: 'I don't think she care'
We splashed about in the water a bit more. Conversation was difficult.
'I have a boyfriend.' she said. 'I don't want to...'
'Oh that's fine!' I said. 'I have a girlfriend. Shall we swim?'
'I can't' she said.
'I promise it's very shallow' I said. 'I've got you.'
I took her hands and walked backwards as she kicked wildly. It was very shallow to a point, but the thing I forgot was that it then drops off a kind of underwater cliff edge and I suddenly fell off it and my head went under. I kicked up to hear her shriek and then in a panic put her hands on my shoulders and push me under again. I kicked up and got my head out.
'Sorry!' I spluttered, 'Joke!' I managed to swim us back to shore. I wish I hadn't pretended it was a joke.
We moved back to the shallows and sat there. She lay back, resting her elbows on the bottom. Long pauses, separated by pauses. Yes. She was still definitely naked, I thought, but I refused to acknowledge it. Don't acknowledge it.
When thinking of things to say to a naked woman who you've only just met and don't speak the language of, thoughts can turn frantic.
I thought of how from high enough above we must look like those pond insects that scoot along the surface. What are they called? Don't ask that.
I thought about how terrible it would be to be discussing Italy and say the word nipples instead of Naples and how that was definitely going to happen now, if I even acknowledged we were in Italy.
I thought of saying how her nipples looked like two tiny Jacques Cousteau hats, poking out of the water. Do. Not. Say. That.
I thought of saying how, you know, maybe the lake is a metaphor in some way. How we're just here in the shallows where our conversation has to remain because if we go deep we'll drown.
I thought about how I must not acknowledge the perfectly trimmed black triangle under the surface, haunting my peripheral vision, lit by the moonlight off her skin. How it was like an arrow, pointing back towards the cabin. Don't think about what might be happening in the cabin.
I did say: 'So... how old are you?'
Me: 'You look really incredible.'
Hearing myself say it, I felt as though I was cringing so hard that my brain was shrinking in my head.
Don't be a sleaze, I told myself. What would your mother think. Jesus Christ, don't think of your mother. Don't, whatever, you do, accidentally call her mother.
'Let's go in?' I said. I was starting to shiver.
'I need... towel?'
I ran out of the lake and toward the cabin, just as Colleague and Sofia were leaving. Really not much time had passed since they went in. Things seemed fine between them, although he looked puzzled.
'Ciao!' I said. Wow. I've managed Ciao.
'Hi.' Then: 'Let's go!' Sofia said to Elena, or what I assume was the Italian equivalent, and suddenly they were dressed and 'arrive derci' cheek kisses and they were gone, driving drunkenly at speed back to Rome. They both had work in the morning.
'What happened?' I asked.
'Nothing.' I swear, said Colleague. 'I wanted it to but she kept saying about her friend'.
'They left fast' I said.
'I don't know why!' he said. 'Really! It's weird'.
I went to bed and passed out. The next morning I found Elena had left her jewelry, like some sort of modern day Cinderella. I found her on Facebook and messaged to say I'd send it to her.
'I enjoyed my bath under the moonlight' she said, with a smiley face, but with that new kind of smiley face where only one side of the cheek is raised. It's a complex smiley face.
'Ha.' I replied. Smiley face. Big, simple, very clear smiley face. 'That's a good way of putting it.' Pause. And the awkward silence continues.