Breakfast in Milan
Breakfast in Milan
by Harry Buschman
Gobbo’s is a noisy coffee house midway down the Corso Magenta. This morning It was filled with well dressed animated men who seemed to know each other intimately. They smoked and talked as they ate. The air was filled with a babel of French and Italian, punctuated with wild hand gestures. At the same time, tight vested and stiff German business types wagged their heads violently and said no to everything.
You could tell no one paid retail on the Corso Magenta.
Hadley was looking for a quiet place to sit with his coffee and brioche. He had a folded Herald under one arm and his brief case under the other. It was his first morning in Milan.
He saw a woman sitting alone at a table for two near the glass pastry display window. She was looking out the window at the morning crowd passing in the street outside – not waiting for anyone, just looking.
It was quieter there, he could sit with her if she didn’t mind. She was neither young nor old. In that magic age of thirty-five to fifty-five he guessed. Dark, heavy hair hanging loosely. From experience, Hadley knew she had brushed it at least fifty times this morning, she couldn’t have rolled out of bed with hair like that.
She was drinking black coffee and holding the cup with two hands like a chalice. It made him think of magic and potions and fantasy stories he read as a child. Was she Italian? If he spoke to her, what language should he use? If she was Italian he knew he would make a fool of himself; instead, he raised his eyebrows and nodded in the direction of the empty chair at her table. In turn, she looked at him and shrugged. “So far,” he thought, “we understand each other perfectly.”
Hadley pushed the chair back with his foot and put his breakfast on the small table. He sat and looked at the woman with an apologetic smile. He dislodged his briefcase and the morning paper from under his arms, but finding no space on the table, put them on his lap. He did all this with the peculiar lack of grace Americans seem to fall back on when they are acutely embarrassed.
Now, sitting across from her, he was struck by her elegance and his own lack of it. Hers was a comfortable fitness of herself in a place she knew well, while he felt like a man wearing brown shoes with a tuxedo.
Looking past her, with his vision sightly averted, he checked out her earrings – small pearls. Her suit – tailored and flared at the hip. He couldn’t see her legs, but he knew she’d be wearing black patent leather shoes. If he didn’t have an appointment at the Building Commission at nine ... but he did ... and this would probably be the first and last time he would ever see her. “Besides,” he thought. “I must look like the tourist who missed the bus, sitting in Gobbo’s at 8:30 in the morning.”
The moment he came in, Carlotta knew he was American. She knew he would sit with her. “Although,” she reminded herself, “how can you say someone is American? There are no Americans in America. There is no such thing as an American. Some even come from here – but they are changed in America. Arrested Development, that’s it. It could be the water – or their women. One or the other.”
“He’s bothered by the noise. The smoke – and the languages. He couldn’t make up his mind at the pastry counter, and he couldn’t understand the chef. I’ll bet he wants to know the ingredients in every bun.”
“Well put together, though,” she thought. “Must spend time at the spa.” Then he straightened and looked around for a place to sit, holding his tray out as if it were an offering to the gods. The arguments at the other tables grew louder – one of the Frenchmen was shouting, his voice rising like a tenor above the chorus, it was something about the price of silk, and wouldn’t shantung do just as well.
If it hadn’t been for that she thought he might still choose to sit anywhere. But the Frenchman’s babble sealed the deal. His eyes shifted to her and the empty chair at her quiet table. “Well,” she thought. “I’m almost through – what harm can it do?” The body language took over and Hadley sat down.
She sat there watching the Frenchman’s performance. It was only a degree or two to the left of Hadley, so nothing the American did escaped her. She noticed his coffee was black and he had chosen a small brioche. He buttered it like a Frenchman does – adding a dab after every bite.
Two degrees to the left of Carlotta’s left ear, Hadley could see people outside walking on the Corso Magenta. His attention, however, was concentrated on Carlotta. He was close enough now to catch her scent; a bouquet – it reminded him of Fichter’s Flower Shop back home – or walking through the perfume department of Bloomingdale’s. He noticed her lipstick. “How do they do that?” It looked as though it had been painted on with a fine brush. It left no mark on the rim of her coffee cup. Her hands were older than her face and the index finger of her left hand tapped out a rhythm that was beating inside her. Her almond colored face turned whiter at the neck-line of her blouse. Her eyes were a work of art, they looked impossibly far apart, impossibly deep and improbably green.
She opened her purse, fished out a few lira, then snapped it closed securely. For a split second she looked directly at Hadley and smiled. Then she stood. Hadley, still chewing on his last bite of brioche, stood as well, and his forgotten briefcase and Tribune fell to the floor. They both smiled – she, at him. He, at himself.
“Arrivaderci, madame,” he said.
“Have a nice day,” she replied.
He watched her as she walked away. Yes, the shoes were black patent leather, and of course he noticed her legs, the legs! Ah, yes, the legs ...