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Across a Crowded Room

Monday, June 25, 2018

He knows his love for Simonetta is forbidden, but that just makes it that much more enticing. For one thing her husband is Marco Vespucci, who—like the wasps that provide his family name—could be expected to fly into a rage at the mere thought of a rival. For another, she’d been dead for over five hundred years.
Still, from the first moment he laid eyes upon her, in the tourist-filled rooms in the Ufizzi, he knew he could never love another. Every year he eschewed all other pleasures, in order to save enough money for just one more flight from Philadelphia to Florence. It was worth any sacrifice, just to get the briefest glimpse of her, either floating demurely on her scallop shell, or wandering through the enchanted forest that had become, for both of them, eternal Spring.
His love was pure—not like the brief fling he’d had with Myrna Loy. That was a mere flirtation, nothing like the reverence he feels for his Simonetta. Even in dreams, where she often appears naked, she chastely covers most of her body. He never sees more than one of her tiny, perfectly-formed breasts—and that inspires not lust but adoration.
No, his other romances—with sparkling Myrna, sultry Clara Bow, sweet Lillian Gish, and even the divine Audrey Hepburn—were as nothing to him now. He had once been smitten with a photo of the dark-eyed twenty-year-old Alice Liddell, taken by Lewis Carroll, but—in time—that, too, faded before the luminous Simonetta Vespucci.
Thoughts of her occupy his every waking thought. He knows that he is not alone in loving her. Sandro Botticelli and Giuliano d’ Medici loved her too, but he rejoices in the fact that they’re both safely dead. It does trouble him to think that other men’s eyes, livingeyes, can linger over her fair features. Especially vexing are the leers of Italian men, men who—as everyone knows—are over-sexed and rudely insensitive to the finer feelings of the women they ogle.
Her eyes haunt him. Their heavy lids suggest that she has just risen from her bed, as if to meet her lover, the lover he longs to be. Her focus is somewhere in the distance, not at him, to a place where a particularly delicious memory lingers, like a whiff of not-quite forgotten perfume. The sweet tangle of her strawberry-colored hair holds him more securely than any chain.
No living beauty—let alone his former imaginary sweethearts—can hold a candle to her radiance. It’s been years since an actual—live—woman appealed to him. They’re all so physical, with smells, and opinions, and needs. They come and—more frequently—go, leaving no evidence of their passing. But his Simonetta is eternal; she never fails to beguile him with her calm elegance.

Note: This story is part of a collection of stories-in-progress. It's a sort of theme-and-variations on a single subject, tentatively titled The Inheritance of Loss.


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