River of Running Lava
Jane wears her lucky bra, the one with white lace; I wear Roman Holiday Red lipstick, the color that makes boys look twice. We leave the hostel teetering on the cliff’s edge. The day is behind us: the ruins unearthed from ash, the looming double-humped volcano, the man on the train back to Naples rubbing himself through tailored pants. After pizza quattro stagioni – Too salty, Jane grimaces – we go to the disco the Lonely Planet recommends even though the sun just set and there’s only a few Australians there. Their faces are ruddy, their shoulders mottled with sunburn. Jane says, We can do better. The disco ball throws shards of light like shrapnel over the empty dance floor. After two beers I tell Jane a fact I’ve made up: This city is built over a river of running lava. She says, That’s not going to help you meet someone.
The air grows humid as people flood in and I shout in Jane’s ear Let’s dance. We move through the crowd to the edge of the dance floor. Two guys in tight t-shirts shimmy toward us, slicked-back hair, sweat staining their collars. One dances before me and I look at Jane but she’s no help, eye-to-eye with her Italian, her hips circling in rhythm with his. My Italian gyrates closer, his hands on my waist. He shouts his name (Matteo) and then Ti piace? It takes me a second to understand what he’s saying –two years of college Italian and I can’t speak any real-life Italian – Do I please you? – and I panic, don’t want to commit, my heart syncopates with the music, and say, I like this place! He shakes his head and smiles. One of his canines is chipped. I close my eyes and the bass pulsates around me. I imagine lava flowing, burying the disco: what will future anthropologists think? Jane tugs my sleeve. Let’s get out of here.
And we’re out of the disco with the two boys, the light from the full moon pooling on the cracked sidewalk. Jane’s Italian (Nino) says, Giro? And I know this word too, a tour. I say No but Jane’s already taking off with Nino and Matteo grabs my hand and we’re following them so I guess I’ve got to go. We’re not far from the harbor, with its dank smell of old fish and salt water. The thick warm air slows my steps as if I’m walking through sweet syrup. We reach the road that curves around the bay: if we make a right we’d return to the hostel but we take a left and walk along Via Francesco Caracciolo, where yesterday we saw a fisherman pull an octopus out of the bay and beat it against the rocks. The boys guide us down to the water, climbing down boulders. Matteo helps me, lifting me down, clammy palms slipping up the hem of my shirt. Nino presses Jane against a boulder. Her hands tangle in his hair, her leg curves around his. Matteo’s tongue slithers down my neck like a slug and I wonder if he’s leaving a bright trail. His thumbs hook under the waistband of my skirt and I push him away._ Ti piace?_ he says and I shake my head. He leans against a boulder and lights a Marlboro and hands it to me, then lights one for himself. Although I don’t smoke it’s something to do with my hands and my mouth. The smoke corkscrews from the glowing tips, clouds from our lips.
Two silent cigarettes later, Jane smooths her dress down, Let’s go. Nino’s eyes track her as we climb back to the road. The shops facing the bay are shuttered, tables from the sidewalk restaurants stacked behind metal grates. Jane giggles. He tasted salty like the food. And there’s laughing behind us, a group of boys, in tight shirts unbuttoned halfway, clones of Matteo and Nino. One says something harsh and grating, words I wouldn’t have learned in class. They move toward us. Like the pack of dogs that confronted me in a park at home, teeth barred, languid and dangerous. They emit cloying cologne like exhaust. I grab Jane’s hand and we run in the strappy sandals we bought on Capri to wear with sundresses and bikinis. The boys hooting and giving chase. They smell the other boys on us, they want to place their lips where the other boys’ lips have been. The soles of our artisan sandals slap against concrete, jump buckles in the sidewalk made when the volcano awakened. The boys a few paces behind. The rasp of our breaths. Lava rises in my throat.
I turn around and they stop, still laughing, but a little wary, nudging each other with their shoulders. Jane hisses but I ignore her. Want a piece of this? I say, my hands following the outline of my body. What about it boys? I don’t know if they understand English but one boy giggles and looks away, another slicks back his hair. I stand there with my hands on my hips and meet their dark eyes until they turn from me, swaggering like alley cats. Jane will not talk to me until the next day, silent as we walk along the bay until we reach the bottom of the hill with the lit windows of the hostel above like hooded eyes, where she had said about the guy checking us in, He’s so dreamy.