By: Jessica Pitchford
You’re not tired when you board the Leonardo Express, but your husband is. You had to promise to dope him up on Tylenol P.M. to get him to agree to his first trip abroad, your first trip anywhere, really. He doesn’t understand the concept of traveling—who would ever want to leave home? In honor of retirement, you pleaded. It was this or a cruise. He finally caved.
It’s the middle of the night at home in Arkansas, and right about now you’d be in bed, listening to the barred owl outside your window calling, “Who cooks for you, who cooks for you all,” your husband snoring beside you. You find a seating berth and plop down, your husband by the window where he immediately falls asleep, his cheek grotesquely mashed against the pane. You think to nudge him and hand him a shirt from your carry-on, something he can ball up and put between his head and the window to make himself more comfortable. But you don’t.
A young couple approaches, hand-in-hand despite the tight aisle. The girl, a blonde in a green scarf, asks in timid English with a French-sounding accent if they can sit across from you. Of course, you nod, and they slide in. The man with her is dark, where she is fair. He’s got a jaw line like a Renaissance sculpture—fitting, you think, on this train from Rome. They should be in the movies.
The girl unwinds her scarf and pulls an Italian language book from her bag. She flips through the book, finds a page she likes. “Voglio il gelato,” she practices. I want gelato (you have been practicing, too). The man squints behind thin, dark-rimmed glasses, taps at the page with a long finger.
“Si!” you chime in, and they both laugh. Like the three of you are family.
The train grinds against the rails and pulls away from the station. Your husband stirs, opens his eyes. “Is that graffiti?” he asks, looking out the window, still drunk on acetaminophen. And when you tell him he’s imagining things even though he’s not, he says, “I’m sorry,” and his head drops.
The girl asks, “Your husband?” The way she says it sounds musical.
“Of thirty-six years,” you say. When you ask if she is married, she tells you no but grins at her boyfriend in a hopeful way. He takes her hand and presses it to his sculpted chest.
Don’t, you want to say. It won’t always be like this. You’ll grow old and your children will move away and you’ll find yourself on a train in a foreign place alone with a stranger beside you. You feel shame at this instinct, which you tell yourself is sudden. You know you should be grateful for the life you’ve had with this man, your trials small. Still, looking past his gray, sleeping head, at the ancient apartment buildings with laundry hung out to dry on tiny balconies, all you feel is a heaviness for the years beyond and the years ahead and this first and last trip to Italy. You know the splendors of it won’t change a thing.
Originally from Arkansas, Jessica Pitchford graduated from the PhD Creative Writing Program at Florida State University, where she also served as editor-in-chief of The Southeast Review and completed her first novel. Recent fiction appears in Gris-Gris, Extract(s), Lunch Ticket, the Arkansas Review, New Delta Review, and storySouth. Currently, she teaches creative writing at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke and edits Pembroke Magazine.