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Breakfast in Milano
Like most restaurants along the Corso Magenta, Gobbo's was noisy and filled with
animated men who seemed to know each other. They all smoked and talked while
they ate. The air was filled with a babel of French and Italian, punctuated with
wild hand gestures. At the same time, tight vested German business types shook
their heads from side to side in disagreement. You could tell no one paid
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.
There was a woman sitting alone at a table for two near the glass fronted pastry
window. He could sit with her if she didn't mind, it would be quieter there. She
was looking out the window at the crowds passing in the street outside -- not
waiting for anyone, just looking. Neither young nor old. Somewhere between the
ages of thirty-five and fifty-five he guessed. Dark, heavy hair hanging loosely.
From experience, Hadley knew she must have given it fifty brushes this morning.
"You don't roll 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, and if he spoke to her what language would 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 seat at her table. In turn, she looked
at him and shrugged. "So far," he thought, "we understand each other."
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 arm but finding no space on the
table, put them on his lap. All this was done with the peculiar lack of grace
Americans seem to have 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.
With his vision 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. If he didn't have an appointment at the Building
Commission at nine ... but he did and this would probably be the last time he
would ever see her. "Besides," he thought. "I must look like a lost tourist,
sitting in Gobbo's at 8:30 in the morning."
The moment he came in, Carlotta knew he would sit with her. He looked American.
"Although," she reminded herself, "how can you say someone 'looks' American?"
There is no such thing as an American. They come from here -- but they change in
America. Arrested Development, that's it. It must be their water -- or maybe
their women. One or the other.
"He's bothered by the noise. The smoke -- and the languages. He can't make up
his mind at the pastry counter, and he can't understand the chef. I'll bet he
wants to know the ingredients in each bun."
"Well put together, though," she thought. "Must put in hours at the spa." Then
he straightened and looked around for a place to sit down, holding his tray out
as if it were an offering to the gods. The arguments 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 elsewhere.
But the Frenchman sealed the deal. His eyes shifted to her and the empty chair
at her quiet table. "Well," she thought. "I'm almost finished -- 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, and nothing he did escaped her. She noticed his coffee
was black and he had chosen a small brioche and he buttered it like a Frenchman
does - adding a dab after every bite.
Two degrees to the left of Carlotta's head, Hadley could see people 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 within her. Her almond colored
face turned whiter at the neck-line of her dress. 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 closed it 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
"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
the legs! Ah, yes, the legs ...
©Harry Buschman 2003
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