Write a scene of no more than 250 words in which two people meet for the first time in Venice. Within your scene, we may be given just the smallest, subtlest intimation that, in the future, this meeting may lead to love…or to murder. It could be written, if you prefer, as a scene for a movie or a play, but doesn’t have to be.
The winner is…Christine Coates for her creative take on the challenge and the delicate way she uses small details to show great shifts in a woman’s life.
Our runners-up this month are Ingrid van den Berg, Alma van As and Christine Coates for a second story, all of which show powerful use of detail.
Under the Rialto by Christine Coates
When the dust settled she returned to her favourite chair, the vase with dahlias, the Persian rug worn after forty years, the portrait of her father, the etching she’d bought in Venice in 1972, the brass bowl.
She remembered the day. It had been raining but they’d gone anyhow – Mill’s Auctioneers. Things sold quickly. Then she saw the gleaming brass bowl. He had wanted to leave, but she said no. The opening bid, a maiden for an Indian bowl. She hadn’t looked at it for years, how the legs curved like goat legs, the five-fingered handles, the maker’s plaque impacted with Brasso. She’d not cleaned it in years but it gleamed. She remembered how they’d run back to the car in the drizzle, how he had stumbled, slipped. She remembered the squeal of tyres, the dull thud against the fender.
She’d kept the bowl, for pomegranates. Now it held things that last a day; apples from Woolies. Around her, her life on shelves and the mantelpiece; the furniture of her life. The portraits on the wall; the men who had ruled her – a father, a husband, a son. The etching she’d bought in Venice so long ago, how she’d met Rose there, how they’d sat under the Rialto eating strawberries. She had loved her all these years, still carried her photograph. It was enough – she’d told her son that morning. She was selling the house and the furniture, she was going to eat strawberries under the Rialto in Venice again.
Ingrid van den Berg
The green-slimed plastic packet slopped up against the pockmarked wall and back again, each time more slowly than the last, until the gondola turned a corner and vanished, dragging its wave tail behind it.
Florence remained staring, as the packet slowly sank into the murky dark below. God alone knew what else had sunk into these waters over the centuries. No wonder the city was crumbling.
She looked down at her hands draped over the paint-chipped railing. The mole at the base of her index finger had sprouted a dark hair. Must remember to tweeze that. Since hitting 50, hairs seemed to be popping up in the most unexpected places. Not good if one was still single and seeing ones key assets trending south.
She pushed herself up and turned away from the water… thump! She smelt leather.
“Oh God, so sorry. Just wanted directions … you okay?”
Unmoulding her face from the man’s chest, Florence looked up. Wow, so her dad wasn’t so tall after all. Momentarily blinded by the sun arcing off two spectacle lenses, Florence took in a rather blurred sandy blonde fringe draped across one eye, giving the other the appearance of a nervous actor peering out from the wings.
“No … no problem … I’m fine.” “Where’s it you want to go?”
Five minutes later, Florence stood watching as the Australian wove off down the Calle Gozzi, glancing down every side street, then at his map, and then onwards again.
She sighed. He definitely wasn’t going to get much done in this city without a guide.
Alma van As
Damp skinny jeans cling to my legs. Before I dissolve into a puddle on the cobbles, I allow the stifling air to shove me inside. An iced coffee would go down well but this will have to do. The sweet hint of aged pulp, not quite a cool cloth, soothes my flushed skin until I brush against a man.
“Excuse me,” I mutter as I squeeze past him and he tips his head at me without uttering a word.
Books crammed onto shelves beg to be read. I hope my inquisitive propensity is masked as I bee line for a hardback and tug it out of the clutches of the books that grip it.
A cushioned Morris chair at the end of the aisle beckons me and I flop into it. Under the pretence of paging through the book I’ve chosen, I notice it’s a children’s story.
My companion’s head is buried inside open pages of the novel he holds and I use the time to study him. Beads of sweat are visible on his brow much like those that I’ve just wiped off mine. His hand almost envelopes the entire cover. Only part of the author’s name is visible, Rankin.
An angry abrasion with a smudge of blood links the blood-vessels on the back of his hands. His raised veins remind me of squiggly worms.
He turns his head and focuses his penetrating eyes at me, bridging the gap between us with a few short strides.
Venice Wisteria by Christine Coates
She’d have to venture out of the Palazzo at some stage; so that day she decided to breakfast at a pavement cafe. Later she’d try a vaporetto. The canal smelled salty; she pulled her scarf up. Most cafes were closed so she crossed several streets. Would she find her way back?
It had come to this. She’d waited years for him to change, to take her on holiday. The old slipper thing; Richard set in his ways. She was sure he’d had the odd fling; the conferences. It was getting late in her life; there was a window of hope. When she saw the trip to Venice she’d booked.
Across a bridge, pulled by the aroma of coffee, she tripped. On the cobbles, a napkin in a silver ring. Engraved with Francesca, the napkin embossed with wisteria. She looked up; the windows all shuttered. Further on the coffee that had led her wafted, a man gestured a table. Sipping her coffee, a tall man stopped. “Buongiorno,” he said handing her her scarf. He said he was Giovanni. “I’m Francesca,” she without a beat. Giovanni took a table; never looking up from his paper. She ordered a croissant and, although several more people entered, she hardly noticed. Giovanni was leaving; “Have a good day, Francesca.”
And she knew she’d not be breakfasting at her hotel again. She traced her steps back, the vaporetti scooting across the canals. The smell of the water still salty, but now with a tinge of wisteria.