The Mountain

She’s crossed over from Switzerland to Northern Italy and is hot and tired and bus-sick. Geneva was so much fun; she and her friends went to a botanical garden and a petting zoo and a science museum with a strange exhibit of antique gynecological instruments. They went to a play and watched the news and she understood eighty percent of the French; she bought grapefruit and bread and cheese at the market near their hotel, a hundred feet on the other side of the border, and the vendors all complimented her accent, saying it was good “pour une Americaine.” It was hard to say goodbye to her friends and her knitting got big holes in it while she was on the train through the mountains and the bus driver drove along the lake road smoking and talking over his shoulder and her bag was too big to smash overhead so she had to carry it on her sweaty lap. She is having a hard time making the switch to Italian from French and bought a dictionary at the train station on the way to Menaggio.

The hostel has a veranda that looks out over the busy road to a glimpse of the lake beyond. It’s a resort town. It’s a resort town that’s been a resort town literally for a thousand years; her father used to come around here for vacation when he was a kid in Milan. She’d planned and planned the trip for months beforehand and thought she might as well stay in one place for the last five days on her own. It was wonderful to be with her mom in Paris and with her friends in Grenoble and Geneva, of course, but there is a certain feeling about being by herself…at least there was in Tours, last week. It was sort of thrilling to figure things out on her own and have to depend on herself and answer to no one. She doesn’t know if Italy will be like that. She wonders if she might be bored or lonely or both.

Mostly she feels tired. She’s waiting for the dinner served by the hostel and is writing in her journal, hunched and frowning over in a corner table, wondering how soon she can go upstairs with her book. The other tables are filled with what seems like eight hundred blond juniors from the University of Oklahoma or something, giggling and playing cards. She rolls her eyes. She hates the American stereotype and hates herself for hating the American stereotype. She wishes she was the only English-speaker there, that she’d be forced to use her rusty Italian. “I have no idea what I’m going to do with myself for the next couple of days,” she writes. “I hope tomorrow will bring something a little more interesting.” She thinks about the first time she went to Lake Como, seven years ago now, with her Botticelli-blonde friend. They went up a funicular in town. Maybe I’ll do that tomorrow or the day after, she thinks, looking at the clock and feeling hungry. See how it’s changed.

She listens to the girls playing cards at the table next to her and wishes she could talk to them a little. Tons of people here and I’m sulking in a corner, she thinks. Real great. She hears a voice: “Mind if I watch your game?” It’s spoken with an English accent. Buck up, girl, she thinks. If he can do it so can you, you who never stops talking, ever. “Can I join you too?” she asks.

They go around the table and give names. There are about six American girls, an American guy, the owner of the English accent, and even an actual Italian. When it’s her turn to say her name, after the Lexies and Jens and Kims, the Italian looks at her gratefully and says (in Italian!) “Oh, thank God. A name that’s a little easier to remember,” and she feels for some reason instantly vindicated in her choice to come to this hostel, to this table, to Italy.

She shares a big platter of chicken and vegetables with the British guy. “England,” he says, when she asks where he’s from. “The whole island?” she says. They’re all eating and talking and drinking wine together, talking about a motorcycle belonging to the American guy: apparently it’s stuck in customs and will require a bribe. The Italian guy suggests they walk to a bar in the resort town and have a “typical Italian drink,” a negroni. She has been in a bar about four times in her life but decides that while she’s in Italy she does everything, including going to bars with people she has just met an hour ago.

When they get there it turns out a negroni is a huge glass full almost to the top with gin (she thinks), then what looks like a gangsta forty-ounce, then bitters. It smells like paint thinner and she refuses to taste it. The Italian guy teaches everyone a toast: “Che torniamo a casa insieme stasera a quattro piedi!” Something like “May we all crawl home together tonight on all fours.” The twenty-year old girls manage to finish about half their drinks, while she sits with the guys and finds herself apologizing on behalf of the United States for the Italians killed in Iraq, several of whom, it seems, the Italian guy knew personally. After his second negroni he begins to weep aloud and clutch his St. Christopher’s medal, while she repeats “E molto triste, mi dispiace, sono contro la guerra, sono contro Bush. Anche qualche Americani si sentono come tu, e vero.” She has no idea if he even understands her, her Italian is so bad and he is so drunk. The other American is still blatting about his motorcycle and how he has all sorts of connections in the seedy underbelly of the Estonian mob, and she raises her eyebrows at the British guy. He raises his eyebrows back. The girls are pretty much asleep on the tables by the time they get up to go and when they finally get back and she goes to bed in her squeaky top bunk, she uses her headlamp to write “I have definitely changed my mind about this hostel!” in her journal before falling asleep.

Somehow the next day the group ends up sitting in the town piazza. “Fancy a coffee?” says the British guy, and she orders an espresso even though she doesn’t normally drink coffee. I do everything I don’t normally do when I’m in Italy, she thinks, pouring in sugar. The girls get there and they are all talking about boys: boys they went to Spring Formal with, boys they hooked up with in Madrid, boys that are waiting for them at home but whom they are not sure they like anymore now that they have been to Europe. “What about you,” they ask her, “are you dating anyone?” “Yup,” she says, stretching in the Italian sun, the whole day in front of her. “We met in college and have been together for about five years. Actually I spent our fifth anniversary alone in France.” “Wow, five years. Are you guys going to get married?” one of the girls asks.

She doesn’t tell them that she’d asked her boyfriend to come with her to Europe, and that he’d refused, saying he had to work. She doesn’t say that when she and her friends called him from Geneva he immediately started talking about what a hard time he was having with work, the same work that is keeping him from being here today. “Switzerland’s great,” she’d said before they hung up. “We wish you were here with us.” She doesn’t tell the girls that she is feeling more and more separate from him but is also trying desperately to stay with him, to stay in love. She can’t let him go, can’t imagine being without him. “What do you want the boundaries on our relationship to be while I’m gone?” she’d asked. “Do whatever you want,” he’d replied.
At one point, about a month before she left, he’d talked about coming to Italy to meet her on the second week of her trip. “You know that if you flew to meet me in Italy…Italy! without an engagement ring, no jury in the world would convict me of your murder, right?” she’d said. She knew he wouldn’t come. He hasn’t. He won’t. She can’t imagine him here on this bright Tuesday in the Menaggio piazza, sitting for an hour and a half over one cup of coffee. This isn’t his place, he doesn’t belong here. This is her place, though. She does belong here.

“Yeah, thinking about it,” she says. She turns to the British guy, who’s remained rather quiet throughout these conversations, smoking. “What about you?” she says. “You’ve been very good about listening to all this girly stuff. You should tell us something about your love life.”

“I sort of feel like an anthropologist…you know, with a pith helmet,” he says, blowing smoke. “Anyway, you don’t want to hear about all that. My life is pretty boring, really.” Everyone protests; surely not, they say. “Everyone has a story,” she says. “Tell us about the love of your life.”

“I was dating this depressed Catholic gilder…you know, she put gold on things.” This explanation is probably for the benefit of the college girls. “Anyway, things were great, we were really in love. We were going to move in together and everything, but first she had to go to Germany to work on a project…you know, gilding things, a gilding project.” His voice: coffee and sugar. He blows out smoke. “She was writing me all these letters, you know, about how much she bloody hated the bloody awful Germans and how she couldn’t wait to come home to me. So there I was, waiting out in front of my flat for the taxi to take me to hers, with my suitcase and everything, when a cab comes screaming up and she leaps out. ‘Darling,’ she said. ‘I’ve been fucking one of the Germans. You can’t move in with me.’ And then she sped off and I had to find another place to live.”

The jaws of the twenty-year-old girls drop. He blows out smoke. She raises her eyebrows. “You’re right,” she says. “That is pretty boring.” He raises his eyebrows back.

They disperse after lunch. Some people want to go horseback riding and other people want to go visit a nearby villa. She had her fill of chateaux in Tours and doesn’t quite know what to do with herself. It’s unclear if she asks him or he asks her but she and the British guy are suddenly in the line for the ferry to Varenna, across the wide bright lake. Is it only one o’clock? she thinks. I love vacation. I love this day.

Varenna is pink and gold and green and they wander around the lake paths, on the actual cobblestones, talking and talking and talking. She’s rarely heard such a vocabulary and she’s unused to being with someone else who likes allusions and metaphor and verbal speculation. There are arched walls with ivy, there are little piazzas with empty tables, there is a small stone jetty where swans float and peck at bread. He talks about writing a novel, about art school, about places he’s traveled. He’s just spent a month in Rome and is on his way to Prague to teach English. She’s always wanted to do something like that. She tells him about bellydancing, about Burning Man, about her father’s old apartment in Milan she’d like to find, maybe on Thursday. She tells him about her online journal. They talk about being English and American and Italian and being a tourist, and she does her best English accent for him, which he says is pretty good, for an American. He’s never been to the States. A big wave comes up and soaks the leg of her jeans and they scramble with their day packs to some higher ground. She lays back in the sun to let her legs dry. He’s taken a picture of her with a disposable camera.

“I wish,” she says, eyes closed. “I could draw. I wish I could draw this day, that I could draw what being here feels like.” She feels his eyes on her, the sun, the stones and the water.

They decide to take a later ferry back to the hostel, to walk up to an old monastery garden. They pass a pink house on a steep hill, pillars and arches. “Could you live there?” he asks. “Oh yes,” she says. “I wouldn’t even need the whole house, just a room. Just that room with the open windows, right there.”

“I could live up there in the attic,” he says, smiling at her. His voice: the lapping of the wave that soaked her jeans. “With a single candle. I’d want an underground dock, though, with a trail of unsavoury characters coming in at midnight. A single candle in the window, you know, and all that. And I’d want to wrap myself in a very large and imposing cape. Only come out at dark.”

“I’d stay up there all the time and see only strapping Italian youths,” she says, smiling back. Her whole body feels like a smile. “And once a week I’d come down, in very high heels and a scarf wrapped around my head and neck. And very big sunglasses. And a very small dog. And I’d cause a scene at the market every week, throw the tomatoes on the cobblestones for not being fresh enough. I’d have a reputation for being very unstable, but I hope at least the strapping Italian youths would like me.”

The gardens are, literally, breathtaking. They climb up to what looks like a Greek temple, with wavery marble columns. I guess this is why, she thinks, people have been coming here for centuries. I think I have stendhalismo. He’s taking pictures. She sits up against a stone column with her feet straight out and smiles at him, and he uses her crappy digital camera to take a picture of her unmixed joy at being there. He takes another one with his own camera. “That way,” he says, “if your snaps don’t turn out I can send you one.”

“Thanks for a wonderful day,” she says, looking down through the trees and trellises. “This is a lot of fun.”

“So are you,” he says. His voice: the rough stone bench, the purple vines twining overhead.

Back in Menaggio, they buy cheese and bread and prosciutto and rejoin the rest of the kids. Everyone shares their food…they all talk about the jar of Nutella at the store, bigger than their heads…and there are fifteen or sixteen bottles of wine on the table. She has half a glass and it stains her teeth. I drink wine in Italy, she thinks, wrinkling her nose at the taste. Everyone is screaming and talking and laughing and she is right there in the center, laughing at the American guy’s motorcycle woes, talking about politics and sex and traveling and then sex again. Occasionally she catches the British guy’s eye over the table…he’s lent her his sweater…and raises her eyebrows. His eyes are always looking in her direction when she glances at him. The stars shine and the lake road roars and she drinks wine and hides her hands in the sleeves of the sweater (it’s cold, they are very near the Alps, it’s the end of May) and wishes to be nowhere else, doing nothing else. It’s power, she thinks. What I feel is power. And happiness. And freedom.

“He isn’t my type,” she writes that night by headlamp. “33, smokes, scraggly beard. It’s really fun and nice. I haven’t thought of my boyfriend much today, except to be aware of the fact that I wasn’t thinking about him. “

The next day they sit together on the bus to Como. She can feel every molecule of air between them. “Sorry!” he says when their arms brush. They’ve agreed to go to Milan tomorrow to find her dad’s old apartment building; he’ll be leaving for Prague on the night train and she’ll see him to the station before coming back to the hostel for another night and another day. She goes home on Saturday, her boyfriend will be there at the airport to pick her up. She’s bus sick again and when she sways almost all the way off the seat as they round a particularly hairpin turn, he catches her arm. She feels every whorl of his fingerprints with the skin of her elbow. “Sorry,” he says.

They walk Como, trying to find the funicular she went on with her beautiful blond friend seven years ago. They stop for coffee, stop for lunch. Today the talk is darker and more personal. “I betrayed her,” she says. “It was the only thing I knew to do at the time,” he says, “and I’ve always regretted it.” She thinks he’s really listening to her. What will he do with this information? What will it mean, tomorrow when they go to Milan, when he gets on the train, when she gets on her plane? What will he remember about her? Yesterday lasted for seven hundred hours, she thinks. Let today last for a thousand.

“What will you be like when you’re fifty?” he asks. “I don’t know,” she says. “I haven’t thought about it much. I hope I’m really great, though, whatever I’m doing. I hope I’m a lot smarter.” It’s hard to imagine herself any way but exactly as she is now. What will being fifty feel like? She thinks of herself covering her thinning hair with a scarf, applying lipstick (surely she will start to wear makeup by the time she’s fifty?). She imagines walking next to him on the cobblestones of Varenna in twenty years, if they found a way to meet up again somehow, a long time from now. Will she ever get older than she is now? She is not completely sure this day will end, she can’t think any farther into the future than the next five minutes.

The funicular is crowded; it’s become quite hot and she takes off the sweater her lent her. At the top there’s only a restaurant and a postcard shop. After the garden at Varenna yesterday they are in no mood, and set off walking in an uphill fashion. They are on a mountain, they reason. There has to be a good view somewhere.

They walk around and around, up and up, and see a cemetery. He jokes about Morrissey and she thinks how her boyfriend wouldn’t get it. There are a couple of workers there and one of them, a small old man, rushes up to them and asks them if they’re seeking a panoramic view. He gives her directions in an Italian she can hardly understand and they go off in the direction he indicates. The trees join overhead and they follow a dark and twisty path past what look like modern villas. She wonders when the last funicular leaves, wonders if this might soon be pertinent information, wonders if they’ll find what they’re looking for, if they’ll be able to sit down.

The trees clear, the world opens up and they are suddenly, improbably…did she understand the old man’s directions after all?..on the side of the mountain. There is a bench, a telescope, a railing. “I think maybe this is it,” she says. Far below them is the lake. Birds circle, the sun shines, and they can see into Switzerland. They sit on the bench, five feet apart.

She has decided…at lunch? On the funicular? In the cemetery?…not to tell him about this little crush she’s developed. It’s the accent, she tells herself. It’s that he’s been so many places and that he’s writing a book. It doesn’t mean anything, it’s ridiculous, he’s leaving tomorrow, why ruin going to Milan? This has been so fun and happy, she thinks, I don’t want to wreck it. It’s been a long time since she felt this kind of buzz. They go to the railing and look out, sit back down. It’s hot and she’s wearing all black. He lights a cigarette.

“Tell me a story,” she says. She’s been saying this to him all day.

“No, you tell me one,” he says, from his part of the bench, eyes closed. “It doesn’t have to be real.”

Now, she hears, somewhere in her heart. Now. She closes her eyes and opens her mouth and what comes out is fully formed and spoken in a low tone, without hesitation. It’s what’s there is to be spoken, so she speaks it.

“Once upon a time,” she says. “There were a boy and a girl who found themselves by the side of a beautiful lake. They decided to go up a mountain one day…with a little help from a funicular…and went along a dark and twisty path until they came out to a place where they could see all the way into another country. They sat down on a bench together and felt their hearts yearn toward one another, a little bit.”

He exhales. The sun is warm on her face, her eyes are still closed. “Mmm hmmmm,” he says. “And then what happened?” His voice: the wind.

“So they stood up,” she says, the words dropping softly, whole, to the ground where they gather at her feet, “and they climbed onto the railing and clasped hands, and then they flew off into the air, there in a moment where time stopped, and floated all the way down into that other country. And after a while time began again.”

He takes her hand. He pulls her to him and puts his arms around her and kisses her. She kisses back. The world feels so far away.

His face shines in the shade beneath the trees as they walk back down to the funicular. “You must have known,” he says, smiling at her, tender and glad. “You must have known that I was so attracted to you from the moment I saw you, when you were sitting at the table writing in your journal. I thought you were Italian or Hungarian or something and I wanted to whisk you away and chat in broken English all night long.” He holds her hand, stops to brush her hair away from the nape of her neck and kiss her there. “You’re gorgeous,” he says, “you’re perfect. You’re so beautiful. You’re perfect.”

She holds his hand and breathes deep. She finds she has two hearts. The one that is letting her smile and bend her head to his kiss, is thrilling to his confessions, to the pressure of his fingers in hers, to the look on his face when they stood up from the bench and he led her to the railing and kissed her some more. This can’t be me he’s talking about, she thinks with that heart. Can this be really true? He didn’t push me away, she thinks. He wanted me too. This, of course, is a first for her.

The other heart thinks about her boyfriend, thinks about him waiting at home for her (is he thinking of her now? Is he working?), thinks about the gentle, hopeful letter he wrote her to read on the plane over there. Thinks about being monogamous, thinks that she hasn’t even had eyes to see another guy for five years. He’s the love of her life and she didn’t even call him to let him know she’d arrived in Italy. He’s the love of her life and she is saying, to a man she hardly knows, “No, I didn’t know. I had no idea. I wasn’t going to say anything, I thought it was just me.” She is dizzy all the way down the path back to the funicular; she doesn’t have enough blood in her body for two hearts.

He wants to hug her at the bus station, puts his hand on her thigh on the bus. She smiles at him with one heart and pushes the concerns of the other down, for the time being. He’s leaving tomorrow, she thinks. I will think about it later. This isn’t the real world, this is a dream, this isn’t my real life, she thinks. It’s going to be over soon. He kisses the back of her neck, holds her hand.

They separate for a while at the hostel and she tells the whole story to two girls from New Jersey who have just arrived in her room. “Oh moy gawd,” they say. “That is the mowst romantic thing I have ever huhd.” She pushes down the guilt and goes downstairs to the veranda, where the wine bottles have already come out. A bunch of people go down to the piazza and the two of them manage to splinter off and go to dinner. She says she isn’t hungry but eats half his pizza anyway. She pushes away a dear memory she has, of the time she and her boyfriend ordered pizza al quattro stagione, years ago in San Diego.

“Why are you doing this?” she asks him. “What do you think is going to happen?”

“Well,” he says, looking at her seriously over the remains of the pizza. “There’s what I think is going to happen and there’s what I want to happen. What’s going to happen is that I’m going to go to Prague tomorrow afternoon and you’ll go to Seattle, back to your boyfriend, and that will be that.”

Very sensible, she thinks. That makes sense. She feels relief for a moment. “But what do you want to happen?” she asks. Just to see.

“I want a life with you,” he says. He is still looking at her seriously. “I’d like to marry you.” She chokes on her fizzy water and tells him he’s crazy, asks him why he’s saying such a thing, but they go back to the hostel and kiss in the stairwell anyway. She writes him a letter that night, drunk with shame and longing. I can’t go to Milan with you tomorrow, it says. (Is this loyalty?) This isn’t the real me, says the letter, in handwriting that looks nothing like hers. I want to stay in this dream forever. I want one more day with you.

She gives him the letter the next day at breakfast and he tells her, as she’s going up the stairs to get her knitting, that he’ll stay in Menaggio for the day and catch the bus to Como and a train to Milan that afternoon. She puts on a dress and they go to the piazza, the café, the lake. Everyone else at the hostel has given them a wide berth since they came back from Como yesterday. Do they know, can they tell, she wonders. Five hours left.

He tells her about his family. She tells him about her friends in California. They hold hands and walk slowly, talking about when they were kids, what they are reading right now, what his grad program will be like, what Prague will be like. He pulls her off the path and into the shade of a tree and holds her tight. “I have seldom desired,” he says, “anyone the way I do you, right now.” No one has ever said anything like this before to her, not even her boyfriend of five years. Yesterday he said he wished he could kidnap her and take her with him on the train. Yesterday she asked if he couldn’t stay just one more day. Yesterday he said he wished they could go back to Como and get a hotel room, and yesterday she said he really doesn’t know her very well at all if he thinks she would actually do that, much as she might want to. She shows him her knitting and he tries a couple of stitches. “Surely they must need therapists in England,” he says. “Ha,” she says. “I couldn’t even work there.” “We’d have to get married then, wouldn’t we,” he replies. Three hours left.

They sit in a porch swing above the hostel’s veranda and she puts her head on his chest and listens to his voice layered with his heartbeat. They talk about the differences between English English and American English, the confusion between pants and trousers, how in the States you go to the hospital and in England you just go to hospital. She can’t stop laughing. The girls from New Jersey come through a side door and see them sitting together, and she immediately straightens up and moves away from him. The girls wave and smile. She puts her head back on his chest and takes his hand again. How can he be leaving in two hours? Why isn’t she the kind of person that would just go with him to Prague, sit with him on the train for fifteen hours, share lunch with him and laugh at the Czech language? If I’d just met him last week, she thinks. I could have gone to Prague and then gone home on Saturday as planned. She thinks about trains, about changing her tickets. She’d have to take some more vacation days from work.

He wants to stay in touch. “People do that, right,” he says. “Exchange emails with people they meet on holiday.” She says no. “This is just here and now. I’m going home to my boyfriend the day after tomorrow.” “It’s just that I can’t bear to think you’re in the world and not know how you’re doing, what’s happening with you,” he says. She writes her email and her site address on the back of a receipt, and he gives her a letter. When did he write it? She leaves the bench and goes to read it on the stone steps leading to the veranda. “I will always remember you the way you were here,” it says, among other things. He watches her from the porch swing, smoking, and then goes in to get his bags ready. She will cry if she reads it again, there’s only an hour left. She puts the letter in her pocket, where it iridesces faintly.

Forty minutes and they’re at the bus stop. “I will see you in the pink house tonight.” she says. “Meet me there. I’ll see you there, all right? We’re going to live there in Varenna and we’re going to have that day, Wednesday, every day. It’s going to be sunny and gorgeous and we’ll just stay there forever. The rooms will have long white linen curtains and we’ll sleep in a big white bed. So I’m going to see you there tonight, all right? When you lie down tonight you’ll be lying down next to me. I’ll be making perfect love to you tonight.” I must really be crazy, she thinks, because I never say things like “Make perfect love.” He nods, closes his eyes. “I’ll be making it right back,” he says. His voice: the tears in her throat.

Now it’s fifteen minutes, now ten. He puts his arms around her waist and leans his head on her shoulder. He can barely speak. She kisses his forehead. She does not altogether believe in his unhappiness right now. She thinks he might forget her when he gets on the train and expects never to hear from him again. His arms are around her and his head is down on her shoulder, so he does not notice when the huge and noisy bus pulls up, at first. “It’s here, it’s here,” she says, and they leap up and he grabs his bag and pulls her to him and kisses her, kisses her, and runs for the bus and gets on and finds his seat and looks out the window for her and she waves and smiles and waves and smiles. She puts her hand on her heart. The bus goes and he looks back at her as long as he’s able. It goes around the corner and is gone and she has another night and another day and another night before she goes home.

She walks back up to the hostel. On the mountain, at Brunate, the birds circle and the wind blows and she can see all the way into another country.

What she doesn’t know as she walks up the path: it will rain off and on the next afternoon and she will sit under a bridge with a forlorn cone of gelato and talk to her boyfriend out loud, apologizing over and over, screaming at him for his decision not come to Italy with her. Baby I am so sorry. We could have had another couple of weeks, another couple of months together, something, anything, she’ll say, ice cream dripping on her hands, if only you’d come with me. I am so sorry. I don’t know what to do. She will tell him in the car on the way home from the airport; his silence at the news will mark the beginning of her going crazy for a while. The British guy will sign an email to her within the week with “Love you. Love you,” but his emails will fade away a month later, leaving her temporarily bruised and hollow. She will feel her heart wither almost completely away with every day that passes, and on Fourth of July weekend she will cry and cry into her now-ex-boyfriend’s chest, begging him to say something that will allow her to stay with him, that will let her not have to move away. “I want you back. Come back,” she will wail, over the sounds of the fireworks outside the big picture window, among her half-packed books. That weekend he will tell her he’s not in love with her, and after he tells her this they will sit on the front porch and eat ice cream sandwiches together and she will feel the world spin around her and her heart get smaller and smaller, more and more afraid. He will say, a month or so later, during her last conversation with him, “Things are easier without you” and she will shred every one of the letters that she’d kept for five years. She will see the British guy in six short months when she goes to visit friends in London, and he will behave nothing like the person who could not stop kissing the back of her neck. She will have a hard time recognizing him at the train station. ”I fear I’ve disappointed you,” he’ll say, several times, and she will wonder at his ability to break up with her when they are not dating. She will almost lose her pink and orange scarf on the train back to London and her dear friend will answer the door in a towel, getting ready to dye her hair, and will open her arms wide at the sight of her pinched and ruined face. Eventually this will seem like a romantic or tragic story about someone else’s life.

What she does know, a year later: that the mountain meant life, that leaving Italy without that kiss and without all the kisses that followed meant death. That she had to leave, and that she couldn’t leave, and that when he told her he was in love with her at the cafe in the piazza in Menaggio, he helped her out and away, helped her free. That she’s decided, after everything’s over and done and after she’s come to a place of slightly crooked and stained but mostly satisfying peace, that if you have a choice between life and death, between love and indifference, you must always, always choose life and love. Once you see that your heart is dying of neglect you have to save yourself, if you can. You have to open your mouth and unbuckle your heart and speak the words that are there to be spoken, there in the sun on the mountain.

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