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“Quanti anni hai?” Camilla asks, her voice softened.
“Quindici.” Fifteen. The mother-to-be is fifteen. The girl stares at her belly.
“Uffah!” Horrid! Camilla turns to Merilee, begins another lecture. Merilee recognizes nouns and verbs, gets the gist. Traditionally motherhood was an honoured status of a married woman. The state helped and so did family. Children were raised on la bella figura, to have manners, be good citizens. But now a fifteen year old...The cola can rolls back and forth in response to the shifting terrain.
“Ripulire la spazzatura!” Camilla interrupts her monologue and points to the garbage can. The twigs scramble, scoop up their trash, jam it in the bin as Camilla directs. Their discarded clothing, and well-handled magazines, they stuff it all into the common backpack.
“Bene.” Camilla nods her approval.
“Camogli.” Samuel reads aloud the village sign as the Regionale whizzes past it. He taps his watch. A signal to get ready. Camilla shakes her head and instructs him, “Rilassati, c’e tempo.” Merilee translates that there’s still time. She doesn’t tell Samuel that Camilla told him to relax. Samuel likes to be first. In theatre queues, at the all-you-can-eat buffet, even in their lovemaking. He’ll be early for his own funeral. Merilee’s private joke.
The rotund girl scrambles back over Samuel’s legs to rejoin her friends. The train heads round a curve sending her off balance and into his lap.
“Hey, get off me you skank.” He shoves her hips away. Merilee reaches to catch the Sicilian, but the child is agile and used to rough behaviour. She returns to her friends. The twigs give Samuel a cold-eyed stare. Not that he notices. Her husband is brushing unseen microbes from his person. Merilee won’t meet Samuel’s gaze. Embarrassed, she hopes the blonde doesn’t know the meaning of “skank.” She sighs as Samuel flicks a final speck from his trousers. Merilee is beginning to understand that the globe from the future didn’t show her everything.
The train reduces speed. Camilla makes her way past husband and wife. She offers Merilee her hand, ignores Samuel and heads down the aisle. He’s on his feet next. Merilee follows her husband, then pauses to pat the pregnant girl’s mottled arm. The child peers up at her, but, traveller’s Italian falling short, Merilee turns away.
An aquamarine sign, Santa Margherita Ligure, comes into view as the Regionale jolts to a standstill. Urgency builds among the passengers, they push forward, eager to disembark. Regionale stops are famously brief. Samuel, already on the platform, offers Merilee his hand and then wraps his arm around her waist as she navigates the metal stairs. On the narrow patch of pavement between the tracks and the station, they’re plunged into the rush of travellers. The twigs are up ahead, keeping pace with the crowd, their mouths wide with laughter. Where’s the pregnant girl? Merilee turns. The fifteen-year-old Madonna has lost sight of her companions. She’s whimpering, her face wet, but no one pays any attention. Italians and tourists alike course by her cumbersome body. Blinded by the mass of people, she doesn’t realize that if she follows them, her friends will be up ahead.
Merilee lets go of Samuel’s hand, edges towards the girl. She wants to explain that an alternate universe exists, one where the Sicilian will be a good mama and her baby will thrive, only the girl must visualize it, manifest it into the present. But Merilee doesn’t have the words for this frightened child. The crowd presses in. A Birkenstock lands on Merilee’s foot, there’s no polite mi dispiace, no ‘sorry’ spoken. A wiry man intent on moving ahead shoves Merilee’s elbow, the bad one, out of his way. A streak of burning. She stumbles, tips forward and then Samuel grasps her wrist and pulls her to safety. Merilee’s desire made real, wraps his arm around her and they negotiate the uneven cobbles along Via Fiume. Love, he whispers in her ear, look up ahead. Merilee peers in the direction of Samuel’s words. Feels the breeze on her skin, smells the brine of the sea. This afternoon in Santa Margherita Ligure they will dine on the gamberoni the fishers delivered that morning. Samuel will order that delicious Vermentino, a white wine with a crisp after-taste. Merilee’s future desires have once again manifest in her present world. In travellers’ Italian, she whispers, Paradiso.