tablecloths and tanned skin

By Nidžara Pečenković

I woke up before Daniel, in a rush.  I planned it all the night before, unhooking the dark wood door, leaving it open, anticipating the morning sun over the steep cliffs rising out of the Tyrrhenian Sea.  I was itchy and hot and sweaty, but he slept.  There was my image in the frosted mirror.  There was the figurine of the Virgin we had taken down the night before.  There was the slapping of my sandals’ heels across the hallway’s tiled floor. 

The door of our room is left wide open, because I don’t have the key.  Crossing the street takes exactly five steps - on the sixth one both of my feet are in the hotel’s lobby.  Esmeralda.  The green, loopy letters mounted under the roof where pigeons congregate and shit.  This hotel, behind a curve, that we almost missed the night before, carved into the very side of the cliff.  The car stopped quickly and my knees hit the back of the driver’s seat.  Hours before with his head in my lap, somewhere between Ravello and Positano, he rubbed my knees with a cupped hand.  Said they were round.  Then imitated his Jewish grandmother.  I laughed. 

I don’t know where they parked the car.  I burst into the hotel lobby, a yellow balloon tied to my wrist.  Al Bagno!  The owner’s wife escorted me to a thick green door. 

This morning she stood behind the counter, arranging packets of soft baked biscotti and diabetic jam.  I sat down in the corner, behind the balcony door, in the shade and hidden.  Orange loungers.  Orange umbrellas.  An old man on a blow up raft.  Below me, a clothesline full of wet black hung stiffly.  On this island of mourning women, I ate stale sweets and drank bitter coffee.

The day before, somewhere after Salerno, stopping for Fanta and American chips, I desired the yellow balloon.  We nudged each other up the back staircase, ignoring the store, the chapel, and the bar.  Visions of the color inside my closed eye lids.  Canary yellow.  Lemons.  My polka dot dress.  There, upstairs, inside - a hallway lined with doors.  The first opened up into a grand room set up for a band.  On the left, pastel balloons huddled like a bowl of popped corn.  From the middle we could see that all the doors opened up to the room.  Behind us, a floor board creaked and we ran into the bathroom across the hall.  There, between two rows of urinals, grabbing onto his elbows, I did not want to hear him breathe.

In the late afternoon light the balloon was rounder, bigger, and more yellow.

The hotel owner’s wife set down a glass of orange juice in front of the chair next to me.  Daniel stood in the doorway, carelessly waiting for her hunched frame to busy itself elsewhere.  He asked for the time and smiled.  I told him I had woken up much earlier than I had.  It was crowded and hot and stuffy on that balcony and the floating markers in the sea seemed so far away.  I wanted to push our embarrassment over the rail and down the cliff.  I wanted to tell him that I knew he slept on his back, large and naked and unafraid, yelling for his mother in a foreign tongue, his screams muffled by the heat, lost in translation.  I felt my skin peeling but it was just the sun rising up my back.  I scratched the mosquito bite on the inside of my thigh and told him about the old man on the orange raft. 


Nidžara Pečenković’s work has appeared in Enormous Room, The Blue Earth Review, and The Litter Box.  She has also presented at the & NOW Festival of Innovative Writing and the John Fowles Reading Series.  Born in Bihac, Bosnia, she currently writes and teaches in Southern California.  

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