The champagne bubbles play hop-scotch against the lining of her lips, jump from her diving board tongue, and dissolve into her pink-lined system where the intoxicated pockets of air jump on her flower-embroidered stomach all night. She sips the cheap champagne from a paper cup and watches Italian television. Her shoulder brushes against the boy as unfamiliar sounds wrestle free from the powdered speakers. She catches Jennifer’s snippet voice, her second traveling companion, say something about waking up early to see the sun rise over the water.
The boy leans over. Says Jennifer is an uptight mother full of time clocks and schedules and clean socks. Bets she irons her underwear. The girl laughs. Jennifer asks what’s so funny and the girl points to the television, pretends to laugh at a commercial where a cartoon sperm wiggles up a woman’s bare leg on a crowded street, secretly horrified at the thought of such reproductive determination. The boy laughs and claps once, pleased to keep the feather insults under a drunken veil.
The boy snaps at the hair tie around the girl’s wrist in terse and muffled beats until her mole- spotted skin is ripe with red dots that resemble precise bites from perfectionist bed bugs. The two bodies scoot closer on the sighing bed, backs pushed against the blemished wall. Jennifer’s disapproving eye-stabs propelling across the room are eclipsed by the champagne bubbles traveling from the girl’s stomach to her head, carrying miniature backpacks full of dirty laundry and borrowed binoculars. The champagne air spots fresh ideas and possibilities ahead and the girl wonders what the bubbles call this journey: backpacking through human?
The jelly pink room spins. Jennifer lies on the top bunk, her body turned to the wall, her breaths building a dome around her frailness. The girl and the boy are two air-drying souls grasping to consciousness for dear, dear life. The boy asks her to go on a walk and she says what about the hostel curfew and he says he doesn’t care.
The moon reveals all; she does not lie and she does not airbrush. The dark city takes off her mask, reveals the lines crouched around her eyes and below her muted lips, the pot holes and mugger allies a rancid yellow tooth behind a veneer. Someone ripped away the coated glamour of the day, tucked the tourists and fanny packs and digital cameras into his pocket, and erased the Italians singing at the end of pointy boats which rock empty and sober, serenading the canal with a melancholy duet performed with the waves, stripped of soiled and singed romances.
The boy and the girl stop on the bridge and he says nothing and she says nothing and this becomes a rhythmic silence. The boy whistles and takes the girl’s hand but he lets go at thesound of Jennifer’s voice rising over the anticipation of something. Jennifer blankets the moment with soot and ash and slime and spit and cartoon sperms that aren’t so funny anymore. The boy softly kisses the girl’s forehead and walks away, the weight of guilt chained around his ankles. The girl is left alone on a bridge in Venice.
She tries to decipher what was said to pull the boy away, something about home, no, something about someone waiting back home, something about regret, she can’t press the words together, and so she stares into the abyss of the empty paper cup and feels those sultry champagne bubbles celebrating in her head and she crushes the paper between her love-laced fingers, and throws it over the edge. The leftover bubbles shout with horror and jump from the paper rim into the moon-streaked water, arms waving, abandoning ship. The white paper drifts along the exhausted and entertaining current, over the slits of water that should present a bucket for tips each day like a homeless street musician. She looks at her wrist covered in pretend love bites and calls the city, without its mask, beautiful, and she doesn’t care that her heart aches because she is the sinking city. The convicted bubbles merge with the sea and celebrate their doom because that’s all they were bred to do or be.
Lisa Aldin lives in Indiana with her husband, two dogs, and two cats.