Again, I Do, Redux.
by Jason Rice
The sound of breaking glass got Philip out of bed, and he realized he was no longer in love with his wife. The feeling spun around his stomach and gripped his throat; as he looked down at her, he knew that there was nothing he could do to fix how he felt. No matter how hard he tried it would only get worse. Checking his watch on the nightstand, a wedding gift from her, he set it down like it was hot. It had only been two hours since they’d gone to bed.
Olivia was afraid of being robbed by gypsies. When they got to the Pantheon a group of young kids surrounded her and worked their magic. They distracted her, used their hands, and snatched her seven-pound purse. It happened so quickly, like a mini-tornado, and when she turned to where Philip was standing, he was almost out of reach. He took two large steps toward her, grabbed the nearest child by the hair and round-house punched him in the face. The small boy collapsed to the ground and Philip kicked the child twice with rabbit thrusts of his foot. He gave one more stomp of his heel to the boy’s face and paused to catch his breath. There was a smear of blood on the hand he had hit the child with. Philip rested on his knees and searched for his breath. Then he spat on the boy’s motionless body.
“Philip, stop,” she said.
“Where’s your purse?”
“The other kids took it,” she said. “I had three hundred dollars in there.”
“Beating him won’t bring my purse back.”
“But it made me feel good.”
A crowd has assembled around them. Philip stood up and looked around for some kind of recognition, notoriety that he had done good. His bravery evaporated, and bystanders shook their heads and turned away.
She grabbed him, “I saw a girl selling pearls at the Fountain of the Four Rivers. Let’s go.” She pulled his arm and led him away. Olivia stared at him for a long time as they walked, and she looked like a cold glass of water had just been poured down her back.
As they disappeared into the crowd, “I don’t want to waste my money on junk jewelry,” he said. Tourists wandered around like hungry squirrels.
Slipping on his pants, shirt, socks and shoes, Philip moved like a ghost. His sports jacket dropped on his shoulders with practiced snugness. He caught a blur in the mirror on the bathroom door and didn’t recognize the man standing there. He looked drunk, fuzzy, and then he focused. He knew the man in the mirror very well. He let his mouth fall open and exhaled long breaths, and slowly lifted each foot off the carpet painstakingly. The room was dim, a white band of moonlight leaking in through the windows. He edged back to the bed and pocketed his passport and wallet. He was reminded of what the bellhop said to them when they arrived at the hotel.
“Here we are, the honeymoon suite, room one-twenty four. One thing you must remember: always take your passport. Never go anywhere without it,” the bellhop advised. He was a large man, like a stack of sheet rock with legs. The very moment the wisdom sprung from that man’s mouth, the phone in their room rang. Everyone turned to see where the sound was coming from. They hadn’t been there thirty seconds. Philip answered and listened to a woman speak like her life depended on it.
Words flew out of the receiver at him, “You meet brother Baldwin at the reception gate outside St. Peters near the post office, on Wednesday. You will have tickets under the name Romero. No one will give you a hard time; it’s not unusual for Americans to see the Pope. Good day.” She hung up.
“So. We’re seeing the Pope?” Philip said and set the receiver down.
“That must’ve been Sister Mary. Oh! My father will spit nails.” Olivia chimed, and almost clicked her feet together, but clapped her hands rapidly instead. Sister Mary and Olivia talked for eight hours straight on the flight over. Their voices took over his dreams as he slept in the seat next to them. He would hear them talking as he drifted in and out of sleep. It made him wish he were deaf. Even on the flight Philip was still getting used to looking at his wife. Olivia’s long blonde hair had been cut for the weeding. She wanted a modern look. Philip came home to find her standing in the bathroom with a large pile of her own hair around her feet. She had sheared off ten inches, and he wondered if she had used a mixing bowl for a trim line. That night he drove her to a salon where they begged the woman who was just about to close up shop to fix it. The hairdresser gave a pained look, which said something like, “it will grow back.” But she didn’t say that, she just charged seventy-five dollar’s to wash, and trim a half-inch. It was all something Philip could have done himself for free.
At the door of their room Philip took one look back to her sleeping body, the lump under the covers and held his hand over his mouth. He tried to see what he had missed and only smelled Chanel #9, her scent, everywhere.
Standing in front of the elevator he listened for the bell as it rose slowly inside the car and up the shaft. The last ring was loud, and the doors opened, he hot stepped it inside. He let out a slow sigh of air that he no longer needed because it was worn out, bored and rotten.
The day after they arrived in Rome they woke from a fifteen-hour sleep. She had gotten into bed the previous night and after telling him she wasn’t ready for sex, he decided to roll over and try to sleep. After an hour she began to weep softly. He tried to comfort her, slipped his hand around her waist, like a giant boa constrictor trying to find a juicy spot to start squeezing. Her body was thick, some would say athletic, and Philip liked it because he knew that other men would never want her, under any circumstance.
“Why are you crying?”
“I miss my Mom,” she whispered wetly. Eventually they both went to sleep.
They found a small bar that looked like a nightclub that served breakfast. The doors of the place were covered with signs for local bands, and rock music played over the speakers. There was one table inside, and a bar along the back of the room. Racks of booze hung like a sunset painting on the wall. The boy behind the food counter smiled and spoke Italian, the words rolling off his tongue with such ease that Philip could only watch his lips move. He smiled and asked for two coffees, and pointed to two chocolate croissants. His Italian was terrible, so everywhere he went he used English. It was easier and Italians gave in, mostly. The pastries were scattered on a large platter on top of the display case, flies hovering over them in a protective dogfight. Wedged inside the case were tubs of gelato, which seemed to glisten with sweat. At the register there was a box of candy bars and assorted chocolate coins.
Running the length of the street opposite the bar was a row of apartments. The one nearest, they could see into the front room on the first floor, where a young light-haired boy sat at a piano and played “Chopsticks.” He banged on the ivory keys with woodpecker subtly. A gray haired woman stood next to him, “No, no, no,” she shouted. She motioned for him to move his hands, and then she sat down and played the same notes. The music flowed; it was simple and soft.
“Di nuovo, di nuovo!” She yelled. He played it again.
“No, no, no!” She yelled. “Di nuovo!”
He played it again.
They ate their breakfast, and “Chopsticks” continued. The sequence repeated itself over and over. Olivia stared at the woman who, along with the boy, was close enough to throw silverware at. A motorcycle roared down the street, its wheels bouncing on the cobblestones. Olivia jumped up in her seat as it whipped by. They gulped their coffee and devoured their breakfast; both sensed that it would only improve things if they left.
At the counter Philip paid for their meal, and he turned quickly to see Olivia standing at the window speaking to the boy and the old woman. The music in the bar drowned everything out. Olivia abruptly walked away, and the old woman laughed. The boy went to work at the sink and started to wash dishes. Before Philip walked away he pocketed two of the candy bars and grabbed a handful of chocolate gold coins from a bowl marked in English, Five Coins for Three Lira. The spelling on the sign gave Philip a smile.
Outside he caught up to Olivia, “what was that?”
“I told her to teach him something else,” she said.
“What made her laugh?”
Philip burst into a fit of laughter himself and didn’t stop until they were on a bus to St. Peter’s.
The waiter saw Philip exit the elevator and approach the bar.
“Sir,” the waiter said.
“I want this much whiskey,” Philip said and held his forefinger and thumb four inches apart.
The waiter walked behind the bar and poured the drink. The room was dark except for the light over the cash register. A streetlight poured in from a set of large windows that ran along the wall to the left of the bar. Outside in the alley behind the hotel was a dumpster, and after a moment of sitting Philip’s eye was caught by the sight of a bottle as it flew through the air into the dumpster. The sound of breaking glass gained a definition.
Two men with white smocks around their waists and cigarettes tucked in-between in their lips stood some distance away from a dumpster. With every toss each men stepped further away and threw wine bottles with pin point percision. Philip watched them, and each bottle broke unevenly, their sounds unique, like a confused leaky faucet. There was a large wheelbarrow filled with wine bottles that the men drew from. Suddenly the panic was back, it rose in his stomach like a hot wind. Would the sound wake Olivia?
The waiter stood behind the bar and smoked a cigarette. “Hey guy, can I get one?” Philip asked. He held two fingers to his mouth and mimicked smoking.
The waiter brought over his pack and shook one loose. Philip licked his fingers and pulled it free. The waiter wiggled a flame over the tip and Philip blew smoke into the air.
“I think I married the wrong girl,” Philip said and took a gulp of his drink.
“How do you say, I no good with English,” the waiter shot back with a smile.
When they got the tickets to see the Pope Philip noticed that Olivia was wearing a summer dress. There were people everywhere, and he could see other women had something covering their shoulders. They climbed the steps of St. Peters and a guard approached Olivia and pointed to her bare skin. His authority was absolute, and he blocked her path, it was obvious he wouldn’t let them in.
A short and wafer-thin woman much older than Philip raised her voice. “You need to cover up sweetie, you can’t go in showing that much skin.”
After frantically looking for a sweater to buy, they settled on a large sweatshirt that had a picture of the statue of David on the front. Olivia’s dress stuck out from the bottom of the sweatshirt.
Inside they found seats at the back of the auditorium, and Philip stared at the massive room. The high ceiling and the throngs of people perched on the edge of their stadiums seats had his head spinning.
The Pope arrived on a moving cart. He was leaning to one side, his hand waved over his head, like a prom queen on a float during a Fourth of July parade. Philip watched Olivia as she was glued to the image of the man, her mouth dropped open like she had just seen a miracle. Philip sat down while everyone stood up and waved hello. The cart was powered by an electric motor, and Philip could hear the whir of it as it crawled away. The Pope blessed the people in attendance in eleven languages. He then took a moment to speak to the attendees in the front row who were to be husbands and wives, there to get the Pope’s blessing for their big day. He spoke of how their married lives would be forever set on the right path now that the Pope had given his blessing to the brides in their gowns and the grooms sharp in their tuxedos.
The glass continued to break, and Philip looked around the bar. He finished the cigarette and ran his finger along his throat, like he was cutting his own skin. The bartender came over to him, a look of concern on his face.
“I’m done. Charge this to room two-twenty four. Okay?” Philip said. Suddenly the waiter pulled out a pad of paper, paused and looked at Philip. But quickly smiled and wrote down what Philip said.
At the front desk there was a huge clock on the wall behind a beautiful woman dressed in a hotel uniform. She talked on the phone, and Philip could see it was just after three in the morning.
At the entrance to the hotel the marble steps that lead to the street were slick with a light rain. That night they had eaten dinner on the roof, and Olivia foamed on and on about the Pope. Not yet raining but cool, Olivia had brought her sweatshirt and tied it around her shoulders.
“He’s so magnetic. Didn’t you feel it, Philip? My goodness, I am just so taken by his presence. It’s magical,” Olivia said. They worked their way through their entrees, thick steaks and two bottles of wine. That night she wanted to make love, and she slid under the covers to get him aroused. When he finally got ahold of her short hair and pulled her up to face him she smelled of crotch sweat and come.
“I’m too full, I’m sorry,” he said.
“You’re kinda half mast anyway, you know?” She dropped her head on his chest and fell asleep so quickly that he worried she might have died.
Philip got in a cab and looked at the driver.
“Take me to the airport.”
In the back of the cab Philip rolled down the window and let the cool wet airbrush his face. The car speed up and the wind deafened him, and cleared away what he was thinking. For the first time in several hours he started to feel better. Inside the terminal he discovered that the first flight out was at eight a.m. He paid for a first class ticket and found the gate and fell asleep. When he woke, he realized that the money he spent gave him priority. Inside the plane Philip found his seat, buckled in and promptly fell back to sleep.
At some point he woke up and started drinking again, three glasses of vodka and then he watched a Danny Devito movie twice. Philip slept more, and woke up when the plane started to circle Kennedy Airport. He thought about the moment on the altar when he recognized regret. The priest spoke to him, asked if he would take Olivia to be his wife, and Philip paused. The path to finding her wasn’t easy. He’d been alone for years, and typically tried too hard with other women, or not at all. Then he met Olivia and she welcomed him, drunk, sober, mad or sad. She loved all things Philip.
They had gotten a room at the airport because the reception went late the night before. In bed and barely newlyweds, she wore a halter and panty combo that she got at her bridal shower. It was supposed to be a joke gift that her mother gave her, but she took it seriously and wore it anyway. Philip wanted to have sex with her, and she argued that it would be better to wait until they got to Rome.
Back in America, as he stood in line at customs he thought that if she’d had more hair, and he could relive his wedding night again, he would have grabbed it and forced himself inside her mouth, at least. In that moment he remembered Olivia’s father, a man with a vise-grip handshake. The reception was a grand affair: three hundred people invited, and two-fifty showed. The gift table nearly collapsed. The envelopes looked like an overwhelmed mailman had dumped his bag on the table. Her father’s cologne had faded and was replaced by Cutty Shark; it wafted off him like day old garlic.
“She’s my favorite. You fuck this up, you owe me twenty grand,” Olivia’s father said. Then he squeezed Philip’s hand so hard Philip nearly dropped to one knee. His new father-in-law smiled down at a crouching Philip, then walked away.
The sea of people waiting at the arrival gate overwhelmed him. Their eager faces, waving hands, and the litter of children holding hands of the nearest adult. Philip found a bathroom and washed up. He took a good look at himself. His shirt was wrinkled and stubble appeared on his face. He stared in the mirror and smiled. On the other side of the world Olivia would have already gotten up, and torn the place apart looking for him. He knew that she would figure it out. If not right away then when she finally got back home and he wasn’t there either. He had several hours to collect the money, his things and then disappear. Walking out to long-term parking he ran a hand along his stomach and smiled.
Jason Rice has worked in the film business in New York City, and for the past fifteen years in different sales jobs in the book business. His fiction was published in the collection, ‘Hint Fiction: An Anthology of Stories in 25 Words or Fewer’ (W.W. Norton). He is one of the founding editors of Three Guys One Book.