Set in Florence during the summer of 1961, Inside the Ancient Circle tells the
story of a love affair between an American writer and an English painter. Against the
backdrop of a tourist-crowded Tuscan city and beach life at the Lido in Venice, the young
lovers, Jason and Lynn, isolated equally from friends and countries of origin, struggle to
confront the secret that threatens to come between them. Rich in descriptions of
Florentine street life, the British and American expatriate colony, and the city's ancient
churches, palaces and storied works of art, the novel brings to life again a time and a
place, the world of post-war Italy, that, in the words of Douglas Preston, "has utterly
We sat on the public beach at the Lido in rented
canvas chairs. Her hair covered by a wide Greek straw hat,
Lynn lay back in the sun, Spanish sun glasses making a
narrow black strip over her eyes. She was nearly white
except for the two purple stripes of her bikini. As I held
my arm close to hers, I realized I was darker only by
virtue of my Mediterranean genes. And yet I felt naked in
the sun, surrounded by sun burnished Milanese and golden
Venetians, their nimble-footed children and blond Swiss
"From here Thomas Mann watched the sea," I wrote in my
notebook, "conceiving Aschenbach who contemplated his
We had arrived the night before. After a hasty meal, we
found a hotel — or rather Lynn led us to one she knew — and
retired to get an early start the next morning, only to be
attacked by mosquitoes. I volunteered to go out for
Citronella. After a long search I finally located an all-
night chemist's, returning to Lynn who scarcely thanked me,
and then, turning her back to me, slept her usual sleep.
I had opened the Byzantine shutters to look down into the
streets, silent like a bazaar at night, shops jammed
together along crooked, cobblestoned alleys.
"I must read Der Tod here," I thought.
I woke up to find Lynn standing at the foot of the bed in
"Like it?" she asked.
I opened my eyes.
"You're an early bird."
"Let's hurry. We can buy a picnic lunch on the way."
She came over to the bedside table to get her sunglasses.
I could smell her skin next to me, the faint perfume of
suntan oil and pungent sand on her bathing suit. Then she
"Ready?" she shot over her back impatiently.
Aschenbach had set up a writing table, topped by an
umbrella, not far down the strand from this spot. But he
wrote little, directing his attention to the shapes of
people in black fin de siecle bathing costumes
against the Adriatic, cut in the blue distance by a
gleaming sand bar. He had watched the shapes appear and
dissolve in the steaming rays of heat the flashing sun
reflected. Among the waves, the brown bodies, the tan and
white ones — his darling! Tadzio.
I saw no bodies against the sky. Rather, we were hemmed in
by them, lying around us, under umbrellas, on straw mats
and cotton towels, playing cards, listening to transistor
radios, laughing, shouting.
On a boardwalk to our rear two young Venetians sat staring
down at a pair of white-bikinied German girls. The boys
swung their feet, bantering exaggeratedly, injecting words
and expressions in English into their conversation. The
girls did not turn to look, but they exchanged quick
glances and a few words in hurried German.
"You spik English?" the taller and darker of the two boys
asked. The girls giggled, one digging her feet deeper into
the hot sand.
Across from us a couple lay in each other's arms. The girl
wore a wedding band. She was fair, looked English. The
man was obviously Italian.
I sipped my rapidly warming pinot grigio. From
where it had fallen next to me in the sand, the title of my
book appeared boldly: La Morte in Venezia.
Lynn sat up.
"Some wine?" I asked.
"No." As she settled back, I saw pubic hair peeping
between her thighs. I looked quickly around. A third
Venetian had joined the other two, but he looked over at
The sun was hot and I finished my wine. I could smell
Lynn's flesh under the sun. The third Venetian had moved
away, but the first continued to press his suit.
"You swim?" he asked the girls. "You like swim in sea?"
He squatted on the splintery planks of the boardwalk,
smiling down at the German girls.
"Jah, ve swim," said the tall girl, lighting a Muratti.
The couple across from us bolted for the sea. I noticed how
much the girl resembled Lynn with her long legs and firm
buttocks, her small shoulders and the upward tilt of her
belly. They ran into the waves hand and hand, the girl's
mouth open ecstatically, the man's eyes eager and knowing
in his grave self-possession.
"Let's swim," I said to Lynn.
"Not now." As she spoke dryly from under her hat, I felt
a churning in my stomach.
The Venetians had disappeared with the German girls. Then
my eyes found them at the end of the boardwalk, where,
suddenly, it took on stilts over the sea and dipped to
bridge the gap between it and a float, crowded with bodies,
skin flashing in the sun, sea spray flying — shouts, cries,
"Oh to live this way!" I scribbled in my notebook. "No
thoughts or dreams, just the present, the now — the flesh."
I got up to buy a cold drink. The third Venetian had
returned to gaze languidly at Lynn's thighs, his hand
scratching under the front of a brief white bathing suit.
The various musics of transistors rose and mingled in the
hot air above us: Pretty polka dot bikini . . . Questa
stanza non ha parete. . . Je veux voler. . . And near
the cabanas teen age boys and girls danced to Elvis
Presley, their tanned legs prancing in the sand. Women lay
in rows, smoking and talking in Venetian, Milanese,
Florentine, Roman and Romagnolo dialects, harsh
Bolognese mingling with silky Venetian.
My head was dizzy from the wine, my throat parched.
"Want some Chinotto?" I asked Lynn, hoping she'd
take a walk with me.
"You fetch it, please. Have you got enough money?"
I passed the Venetian, who continued to stare at Lynn as
she resumed her sleep in the sun. The bar was crowded and
there were unruly lines at the food counter.
"Where's the can?"
I opened my eyes to find a skinny blond woman with a little
boy who held his hand between his legs. He began jumping
up and down on tiptoe.
"Are you American?" Her skin was paler than Lynn's,
breasts sagging under a black one-piece bathing suit.
"Go to the gabinetto," I said, "over there."
"Cabin-what?" she squeaked.
"Look," I pointed. "It's right there. And it's written
in English, see?"
I fled the crowd. Dropping my wallet, I bent over to
retrieve it in the sand. As I stepped back on the
boardwalk, I saw the Venetian walking away between two rows
of bath houses.
"It's too busy," I said.
"Why didn't you wait."
"Close your legs," I said. "Everyone can see you."
"I didn't think I was putting on a show."
"You're hair's sticking out," I whispered.
"Oh, that," she said. "I can't help it. It's the bathing
"You could cut it."
"I'll shave it off tonight," she replied. "Will that
"Jesus," I said. "Forget it."
"No, I won't. If it bothers you that much —"
"It doesn't," I said. "I thought I saw someone
staring at you."
"You're impossible," she laughed. "Just let me rest. I'm
exhausted. And get that Chinotto, will you? I'm
She got up slowly and moved over to the beach towel to lie
on her stomach, her bikini bottom wedged between her
At the bar, the two Venetians and the German girls formed a
dripping quartet. The girls looked like sisters in matching
white bikinis, except that one's features were softer than
her taller friend's. They all spoke English together.
"You smoke?" asked one Venetian.
"Yes," replied his girl. "At the blanket is Murattis.
Vait and we get them." The second Venetian smiled, his
finger trailing down the other girl's spine.
I came back with two Chinotti, but Lynn was gone. I
looked for her down at the water's edge and then by the
cabanas before setting the bottles in the sand. I waited
and watched the board walk, my heart pounding.
The couple who had been swimming collapsed wetly behind me
in the sand.
"Oh, that was good," the girl sighed. The brown Italian
laughed, blotting her thighs and stomach with a towel.
"Mmm," she said. "That's nice."
The man chuckled.
"Marco!" she said. "I want you!"
"Ssh," he whispered, "maybe someone they understand
"I don't care," she said. "I love you. Mi ami?"
"Altro che," he replied gravely.
And then I spotted Lynn walking back between the row of
cabanas, her erect carriage, the slow swing of her hips.
Two Italians stopped in their tracks to watch her pass in
her high Greek hat and purple bikini. "Bona!" one
gestured, and the other nodded, as they marched off in
step, burned ochre by the sun, their testicles dropping
lazily into loose bathing trunks.
"They make you wait so long for the toilet," Lynn said,
coming to me. I could smell her tanning flesh. "I had to
stand on a wet concrete floor. Ugh!" She sat down
"You've brought the Chinotto. I hope it's cold."
I pointed to the sweating bottles in the sand under the
shade of our umbrella.
"Now what's the matter," she asked. "You've got that
pouty look again."
"Nothing," I said, handing her the bottle.
"Why didn't you hold it?" she said. "It's got sand on
"For an hour?" I said. "Stand here like the Statue of
"Don't be childish. I wasn't that long."
The couple looked at us.
"Inglese?" the man asked.
"She is," the girl remarked. "He's American."
They lay together, arms and legs entwined.
Closing her eyes, Lynn settled back in her chair. I heard
a transistor behind us and discovered the Venetian boys
sharing the Germans' blanket.
"That is beautiful radio," said one.
"You like dance?" said the other. "Tonight we go
Again I noticed the third Venetian. Leaning against a
cabana, he looked over at us, seemed to smile ironically,
then he disappeared.
Lynn was combing her hair out in the cabana, her back to
me. She had slipped a shift on over her bikini. I dropped
my bathing suit in the steaming heat.
"Oh," she turned to look at me. "It's so hard!"
I leaned back against the wall and lifted her skirt,
letting my penis touch her stomach.
"Wait," she said, "till we get back to the hotel."
"Just for a second, let me?"
I started to pull her bikini bottom down, her belly curving
gently out toward me.
"Not now," she said, pulling away from me. "Be good!"
"Okay," I said. "When we get back?"
"Yes," she said, turning away. As I pulled on my pants,
my head throbbed from the heat.
"I'll be out here," Lynn said, closing the door. And I
was alone, the hot cabana like a steam bath.
Back at the hotel Lynn came fully dressed from her shower.
"I'm so tired," she said. "Let me rest before dinner."
She brushed past me kissing my cheek.
"Take a shower," she said. "It will do you a lot of
After dinner we went to a Toto movie, which we left after
fifteen minutes because Lynn said she couldn't sit still.
The cafes were full, crowds jostling us in the narrow
streets. We walked along unlighted canals back to our
hotel, the Albergo Paradiso.
I came out of the bathroom to find Lynn in bed, reading her
horoscope magazine, her breasts falling over the single
sheet she sat wrapped in.
"Remember this afternoon?" I approached the bed.
Lynn's lips formed a half-smile as she put the magazine
down on the bed table. Urging her down beside me, I kissed
her on the mouth. Tentatively her lips held mine. As I
placed my hand between her warm thighs, she parted them.
Then she lay back. I pulled the sheet away and knelt
between her legs, kissing her ear, the side of her face,
her throat. She moaned as I slid my fingers in and out of
"Is it okay?" I asked
She winced as I entered her.
"Look, I'm alright," I said elated. "Can you feel it?"
"Yes," she said flatly. "Go ahead. Come if you want."
She lay looking abstractly at the ceiling, her hands beside
her, her mouth closed.
"Oh, God!" I said, rolling off her. "What's wrong? It
Her lips made a thin gash on her face.
"You didn't want me, did you?"
"Yes," she said. "I was just thinking."
"No, you didn't," I said. "Tell me. You didn't"
"Not particularly," she answered tonelessly.
"What about this afternoon at the Lido? Did you then?
"I guess so."
"You said 'Wait till we get back.' And when we got back
you went to sleep."
"I was tired," she sighed. "Haven't I got a right to be
"Tired, my foot!" I shouted. "You just don't want to!"
"I suppose I don't. It's not much good between us, is
"It's not my fault," I said.
"Nor is it mine," she replied, picking up her horoscope
"What does it tell you in there? Inauspicious to make
love? No screwing tonight!"
"Don't be crude, Jason. Turn the light off. Let's try and
sleep. We won't get anywhere arguing all night."
She reached for the lamp.
"Wait," I said. "Were you two here?"
"What do you mean?"
"You and Vittorio. Here. In Venice."
She exhaled heavily.
"Yes," she sighed. "We were."
"Where did you stay?"
"It doesn't matter. Some hotel. I don't remember."
"In this one? Was it here, in this room?"
"No, it wasn't. Not in this room."
"But it was in this hotel."
"Yes," she said. "Why are you hurling these questions
"Why did you bring us to this hotel?"
"It seemed close to things." She pulled on her hair.
"I just happened to think of it."
"With all the hotels in this city, we have to stay here
where you two —
"What?" she said.
Sitting up on the edge of the bed, Lynn kneaded her thighs.
"Yes, it was in this hotel." She turned to look almost
tenderly at me.
"It's my fault, Jason. I brought you here. Please forgive
I lay my hand on her cold shoulder.
"I'm an idiot," I said.
"No, it's me," she said quietly. "I thought we could
cover up the memory, that maybe we could obliterate it here
"Have you been thinking much about it?"
"Yes," she said. "All morning."
"You really weren't sleeping on the beach then?"
"All I could think of was being here with Vittorio, the
time we came down from Vienna. I'd never been here before
and he said he'd show me Venice. But when we arrived he
admitted he'd never been here either. It was difficult
"It just was."
Pulling the sheet up to cover her breasts, Lynn turned to
lean her head against the bed board.
"You see, we had never made love-roperly, I mean. I was
still a virgin. And in Vienna we had separate rooms. But
one night in mine he tried to enter me. It hurt and I
couldn't have him. He got furious and told me, 'Either you
come to Venice and we make love or you go home and I go
back to Milan.' I cried all night and in the morning we
left for Venice."
"You went with him," I said, "after that?"
"Yes," she said. "I loved him. I'd have died if he had
"He must have known that."
"He did. I left with him and we came here."
"We did what you and I have done. We walked, we took the
vaporetto to the Lido—we ate in little trattorie.
And we made love. We made love a lot, sometimes all day.
We just stayed in bed. For five days we made love. We
hardly ate. Then we had to leave. He said he didn't have
any more money. We took a bus to Milan. It was when my
mother came and caused all that trouble. So you see it was
only here that we were together happily. You do understand,
don't you, Jason?"
"Yes," I said. "It's alright. Do you want to go back to
"I think it will be better now," she said. "Let's
sleep." She turned the lights off.
"Open the shutters, please Jason?" She snuggled under the
sheet on her side of the bed.
I opened the shutters and walked about the room before
returning to sit on the edge of the bed. My head teemed
with her words, the images she had evoked, their
lovemaking, walking, eating by the side of the canal:
For five days we made love. We hardly ate, we made love
all the time. . .
My feet hit the cold tile floor. In the dark bathroom I
could barely see my face in the mirror. I leaned against
the sink, the door half-closed. I was sweating, shaking, my
head full of the light of the beach, the flashing bodies,
the legs and breasts of the dancing teenage girls, the thin
German girl in her white bikini, Lynn's hard breasts, she
and Vittorio, she on top of him, sitting over him; again
the beach, the English girl so much like Lynn — 'Oh, I want
you,' she had said to her grave Italian; the dripping
German girls on the boardwalk, their black hair and long
legs, and Lynn in the sand, her loose purple top and
exquisite belly, her legs so strong and Vittorio between
them, dark and powerful —
"Jason. What are you doing here? Are you alright?"
I turned, startled.
"I couldn't find you. What are you . . . Oh, Jason!"
She held herself to me.
"My poor Jason." Her nipples were hard on my back.
"Gosh, let me."
She took me in her left hand, caressing my stomach gently
with her right.
"Relax," she said. "I'll do it. Ssh. Just relax."
She leaned heavily against me, her right hand caressing my
stomach, my testicles, her left hand lightly fondling me
until suddenly it was done and I burst into the sink, and
she kept brushing me and rubbing.
"Yes," I said. "Thank you, thank you."
Kissing my check, she led me back to bed. We held hands
The next morning at the Lido Lynn scribbled in her
"Just you wait and see these paintings," she said
excitedly. "They'll be wonderful. I'm going to use Venice —
but what a Venice! Old doors, just their textures and
colors, tiny pieces of them."
The sun was high and hot and the beach sparsely populated.
I saw the English girl alone in a white one-piece suit.
And the German girls sat in black bikinis munching
paniniand drinking beer with their Italians.
I turned to find Lynn sleeping, her notebook face up in the
sand, her quick sketches and color notes like a map of an
unknown land. As I replaced the book under her chair, I
read her mother's name and current address, which Lynn had
written on the inside cover. That she was still in Spain I
gathered from the address. Up to our departure for Venice
Lynn had received infrequent letters on hotel stationery
embossed with their names: Hotel Cristobal, Pension
Whenever one of those letters arrived, Lynn would retire to
a corner of the bed and sit silently with it.
"Oh bugger it!" she'd shout. "Why doesn't she leave me
Over lunch she would begin to describe the letter, or she'd
hand it to me, a hastily typewritten stream of prose, which
might be spelled out in upper case lettering, often devoid
of punctuation, grammatically wild, a confusion of tenses.
"She's Irish, you know," Lynn would explain.
"Joyce could have learned from her," I laughed.
"Finnegan's Wake has nothing on these letters!"
Once, after Lynn had written her mother about us, she had
answered her daughter's candid letter with a completely
"I should hope you'd be living together. Think of all the
money to be saved!"
Lynn stirred in the beach chair and rubbed her eyes, poking
a finger behind the dark Spanish lenses.
"What's your mother look like?" I asked.
She stared quizzically at me.
"What in heaven's name makes you ask that?"
"I was just thinking about her."
"It's bad luck," she said. "How would you like her to
"I don't know."
"Take it from me." She struck the arm of her chair. "It
would ruin everything."
Then she spoke almost benignly about the woman.
"She's well preserved, even beautiful. At least that's how
her gentleman friends find her. She has long auburn hair
and a gift of the blarney."
"What did Vittorio think of her?" I asked.
"'Quant' 'e pazza, quella li!"' he'd say, pointing
to his head.
"Did they talk much?"
"Yes, but they were always at loggerheads. When mother
gets flustered, she begins to shout and scream. She's a
"Scorpio, like you. She was born in November. Don't you
remember I told you we'd never get along."
"What was Vittorio?"
"Aquarius. It's an airy sign, a perfect compliment to
Leo, that's me, born in August."
"Do you really believe in astrology?"
"Lawrence did, you know."
"He had a mystical side," I said.
"It's not entirely mystical. There are things we can't
know conventionally, like the workings of the stars and
planets, their effects on our lives. Jung once said we were
like wines and our vintage depended upon the season of our
birth. What do you think of that?"
"It's a beautiful metaphor," I said. "But look how
poorly written those magazines are."
"They're American," she smiled, sticking the garish cover
in my face. Then she put it down and took off her glasses
to rub her eyes.
"Actually, Jason," she began. "Once I found an old book
on astrology. I copied out my horoscope and Vittorio's.
Our signs were compatible. Then I wrote to an astrologer in
London who'd placed an advert in a magazine. I sent him our
dates and times and places of birth. He wrote back that
we'd probably have a good marriage, that it might begin
difficultly because of cultural adjustments, but that
eventually it would be the best marriage we could make."
"Maybe you should have taken his advice."
"It didn't happen," she sighed. "It just didn't come
about. I tried, believe me, Jason. I tried." She lay back
in her chair.
"Suddenly it washes over me again," she said, her voice
shaken. "It's been lurking around all morning, this half-
hidden thing in my head that says, 'It's your fault. You
should have stayed by him. You shouldn't have left him."'
Lynn looked squarely at me, her eyes wide, hands gripping
the arms of the chaise.
"What could I have done?" she cried.
"Nothing," I said. "Sometimes it's impossible. It's
fate. How do you like that?"
"But don't you see," she continued. "I never knew
whether or not to believe my mother's story about
I dug my feet into the hot sand.
"It might have been true," I said. "She might have
uncovered something in Sicily."
"She sent someone, a bank clerk — she's always making
friends of these little men anxious to please her. She
sent him, or so she claims, to Vittorio's house in Palermo
to look the family over. He went to the door. And
Vittorio's mother came and said, 'What do you want? What's
my son done now? He's thirty years old. He can take care
"That's what I said. But Vittorio would never come
out and tell me anything. He always said, 'I haven't done
anything. I'm just an artist. I try to get by. What else
can I do?' And I kept asking him, even if it were some
little thing, done in a moment of need. If he'd only tell
me, I wouldn't care. I'd try to help him. My mother might
have been daft sometimes, but I never knew her to lie."
"There's always a first time," I said. "She might have
opposed your relationship strongly enough to lie."
I stood up, stretching my legs. The English girl was gone
and the German girls slept in the sand in the arms of their
"It's hard to say what Vittorio might have done," I
offered. "So many Sicilians have grown up with poverty.
Maybe in the end he was just looking for someone to support
him while he got established as a print maker."
"But he said he loved me."
"Necessity can create love," I said.
"A woman feels it when a man loves her," Lynn insisted.
"We know it instinctively."
"Do we? Or is that conditioned by necessity as well?"
"I was certain he loved me!"
"Maybe he loved both you and your money."
"That sounds like a movie!"
The English girl appeared in front of us.
"Would you like some British papers?" she asked. "I just
"Please sit down." Lynn motioned for me to move. "Here,
take Jason's seat." Together they looked enough alike to
As I struck out for the bar, I saw bathers emerging from
their cabanas. The beach was beginning to fill up. At the
sound of a scream I turned to see an American blond in a
red plaid bikini. She had slipped into a cabana and an
Italian was trying to open the door.
"Fosco," she cried. "No!"
But he forced the door and began to kiss her, his dark
hands squeezing her buttocks. She returned his kisses with
abandon, her hands cupping his face. Once I realized I'd
been standing glued to the boardwalk watching them, I
rushed ahead to the bar. On my way back I ran into the
Venetian, who stood on the boardwalk observing Lynn who was
"She's from London," said Lynn as I crouched to touch her
"Look," I thought, trying to catch the Venetian's eye,
"she's mine." But Lynn sat stonily and all I saw of him
was his brown back.
"She's very nice. She asked if my husband were American."
"What did you say?"
"I told her we were friends. Her husband's Sicilian. He's
a musician playing here for the summer. They've only been
married a few weeks."
I heard the German girls laughing and turned to watch the
two Venetians carrying them to the sea on their shoulders.
Squealing now, their hips oscillating, the girls rode those
dark shoulders down to the creamy surf.
"Let's get wet," I said.
"You go, Jason. I hate to swim." Lynn picked up her
"I'll treat you to a birthday dinner tonight," I said.
"Champaign and all."
"That will be nice," she said, her eyes scanning a
The American girl in plaid bikini passed me, led by her
Italian. He held his arm tightly around her as she looked
up into his eyes. He walked lightly on his feet, nudging
her forward with his shoulder, his eyes peering down
between her breasts.
"You'll taste the Adriatic," he said. And the girl, ash
blond and tan, walked as if in a dream through the crowd of
It was after dark and we sat in the Piazzetta drinking beer
and watching the passeggiata: Venetian youths in severly
tailored blue suits and black pointed shoes cruising in and
out of the crowds of tourists. Ogling French and Swedish
girls and attempting to start conversations, they were
rebuffed, smiled and set off again on another chase.
"They wouldn't do it to their own girls," said Lynn, her
lips foamy with beer.
"It would be maleducato."
"Vittorio once told me that a woman who was traveling
alone was asking to be picked up, invited it even."
"They've got amazing gall," I said. "I admire their
thick-skinned approach. I could never do it."
I lifted my glass:
"Thanks," she nodded, replacing her glass without
Earlier we had returned from dinner in an out-door
trattoria along the Viale Trieste. We stopped while
Lynn looked at a brightly lit amusement area teeming with
"I can't wait to start painting again," she said, her
eyes taking in the lights and the shouting children.
I squeezed her arm in mine.
"This hasn't been too bad a holiday."
"No," she said. "Not really. I have so many new ideas
The two German girls passed us wearing white sheath
dresses. Arm in arm with their constant companions they
swung by in a burst of English, laughing. I turned and the
taller girl saw me and smiled.
"Who are you looking at?" Lynn asked.
"A couple of German girls from the beach. The Germans love
"So do the Americans."
"We're alike, I suspect. We gravitate toward what we don't
have at home."
"Romance. Venice is the city of romance, isn't it? The
city of love and music and dark canals."
"You sound bitter, Jason."
"They deceive themselves with all this illusion. I think
they're only after one thing —"
"You sound envious. Here, hold my bag."
As Lynn bent to straighten her stockings, two Venetians
nearly fell over each other staring at her.
She stood up.
"You'd think they'd keep their eyes to themselves just
"You've been in Italy long enough to know better. Besides,
I've seen you do it, Jason."
"What did Vittorio say?"
"Nothing. He used to walk with me. I'd take his arm like
this and he'd look straight ahead. He didn't slouch like
you and walk fast."
We sat in the Piazzetta to listen to the music.
Immediately a waiter hovered over us.
"See, he thinks you're Italian," said Lynn after I had
ordered the beer. She laughed: "I did, too, that first day
in Settignano when you came out on the terrace in your
"You didn't mention anything," I said. "I didn't even
think you noticed me."
"I saw you right away."
"And I liked you."
"I liked you, too."
Lynn undressed in the bedroom and I looked at my darkening
face in the bathroom mirror.
"Coming, Jason?" She stood by the open window, her white
back glowing in the dark.
"It's cool tonight," she turned to me. "Will you keep me
warm?" She slipped into my arms.
"Mmm," she whispered. "You're warm."
I gripped her forearms, holding her to me.
"You feel so good," I said, my stomach tightening.
"Don't hurt me, Jason." She pulled away. But I held her
tighter, nibbling her lips. Vittorio would have done it
this way, I thought. He would have taken her strongly and
she would have loved it.
Back I pushed her against the side of the bed.
"What are you doing, Jason?" She pulled her face away
Then I pushed her on her back and stood over her.
"No," she said, "Wait. I'm not comfortable."
With my knees I forced her thighs apart. Her resisting was
part of the game, the ritual. Now I understood.
"Just a second," she gasped. "My back hurts. I can't do
it this way!"
I was on top of her, kissing her violently, tearing at her
lips. She squirmed, tried to push me away. This is what
she wants, I thought. Now I'm learning. This is the way
she liked it with Vittorio.
"Oh Jason, no!" she cried, wrenching her mouth from mine,
trying to close her thighs. "It's not like you to force
me. I hate it!"
She sobbed. Pulling her legs up to her stomach, she turned
away from me. I lay on my side, blood pounding in my head.
"I'm sorry," I said. "I didn't mean—"
She inched over to the pillow and with her face buried in
it she lay silently.
I touched her shoulder.
"Forgive me," I said. "I don't know what got into me. I
must have been drunk."
She lay catatonically and I stood, finally, by the
window peering down into the dark alley. Suddenly I wanted
to go out, to feel space around me. I felt imprisoned by
the silence, the closeness of the room. Soundless words
stabbed at my brain as the images replayed themselves in my
head: Lynn's white back at the window, my mouth as she
screamed into it, the rush of air as if she were being
strangled. . . thighs hard against my knees, her unyielding
sex. . . again the German girls, white skin against dark. .
. the American girl in the plaid bikini, her long arching
back, the way she kissed her Venetian, grabbing his face in
her hands. . .
I wanted to rush out into the night, but I dared not
leave Lynn alone. Instead, I sat in the chair at the foot
of the bed, keeping vigil until the sky turned gray. My
eyes were glued together by mucous, my mouth dry and sour.
Lynn stirred, pulling the sheet around her shoulders
in the cold dawn.
"Come to bed," she said in a toneless voice. "You
need to sleep." She turned on her stomach and crawled
deeper under the pall of the gray sheet.
We were at the Lido by noon. I had awakened stiffly
expecting to find myself alone, or to find Lynn packing.
But she slept next to me, her face against my shoulder, her
breath warm on my arm. Now the sun burned down on us while
Lynn dozed. I looked for the German girls, but their place
was taken by two Scottish girls, who were extracting bread,
bottled water and colored towels from their knapsacks.
Scarcely had they settled when the two Venetians arrived.
They positioned themselves directly above the girls, their
legs dangling over the boardwalk.
"Hi!" one said grinning. "You are English?"
The girls giggled as I turned to the last few
sentences of Death in Venice. The sun dazzled off
the white pages and I closed my eyes. I felt tired, as if I
had drunk too much wine. The sound of voices faded, the
smell of mildew on our canvas beach chairs, of pungent
sand, and I fell into a deep sleep.
Lynn slapped my leg.
I opened my eyes.
"You were talking to yourself," she said.
My head spun. I shaded my eyes.
"Silly, Jason," she laughed. "You were dreaming.
Let's eat. Let's go over to the restaurant today and eat on
the terrace." As Lynn stood over me I saw her tanned
thighs, smelled the perfume of sun on skin.
My book had fallen into the sand. I got up to
retrieve it and dropped to my knees.
"Get up!" she cajoled. "You're half asleep."
"I lost you," I said. "I lost you in my dream by
the Academy and I couldn't find you. You had gone off with
Vittorio and I was all alone— "
"Jason," she knelt beside me. "My poor Jason. What
have I done to you? Let's go and eat. Then I'm going to
take you back to Florence."
"My book," I said."
"It's here," she said. "I was looking at it. The
title sounds beautiful in Italian. La Morte . . . "
We packed up our chairs and the umbrella, turning them
in at the gate with the key to our cabana. The attendant
"Bel soggiorno, no?"
"Si," I replied. "Bel soggiorno."
Lynn was already on the avenue when I caught up with
her. She stood next to a stainless steel lamppost that
reflected the blazing sun, her hair gathered under the
Greek hat. She was clutching my book in her left hand.