He snuck out of the bed and got dressed in the hallway near the bathroom. He left Denise a note telling her he was in the hotel's café. She was still asleep under the comforter, wrapped in her own warmth. He caught himself in the mirror that hung on the back of the room's door. Somehow he thought that he looked like a character from a spy novel caught in the middle of a robbery. His sports coat collar was turned up, and before he fixed it Philip recognized his hair would have to be combed and the black turtleneck changed. He felt casually put together, composed and ready for opportunity, even a clean break. More like a man who had just enjoyed an evening with a woman that wasn't his wife.
Philip and Denise had spent the previous day walking the city seeing the sights; the Vatican, Coliseum, and even a trip out to the Catacombs. Philip convinced Denise that they needed to stay up all day to beat the jet lag. She made it to dinner then started to nod off when the entrées arrived.
That afternoon Philip had felt a wave of oddness roll across his stomach. It came over him as he stood under the hole in the Pantheon's ceiling. Not a sickness, but a kind of mischievous warmth that might come with too much alcohol, a sense that something unpleasant was approaching. In the murky darkness, the other tourists, even his wife, seemed to fade away. He suddenly realized that he would never love Denise, and that this was all a mistake. Before they entered the Pantheon it started to rain. Philip had heard stories about this monument and immediately stood under the hole in the roof, where he waited for the water to hit his face. As it did Philip felt a calm come over him, the strange feeling he just had seemed to melt away. Like walking down a busy avenue in a large crowd, and then turning on a side street where you realize you're no longer surrounded.
With Denise asleep in the hotel room, Philip found his way to the café. He sat down at the bar and looked out over the empty seats to the bay window, which gave him a view of the street outside. He could see an alley that ran between two buildings that neighbored the hotel.
A man in a white smock stood alone tossing empty wine bottles into a dumpster. He threw each bottle carefully and watched it arc through the air and disappear into the dumpster several feet in front of him. The sound of the bottles breaking was distinct. The man disappeared through a doorway and came back moments later with another bin filled with empty wine bottles. It sounded like someone was breaking the windows of parked cars in a multi-level parking garage, stopping to rest for a moment and then going at it again. Each popping sound was the same as the last.
"Good Morning, Sir. What can I get for you?" Everyone here spoke perfect English. As the man moved closer to him he realized he was the bartender; he smelled of aftershave, Old Spice, and looked at Philip with a practiced smile.
"Café American." Philip wriggled in his seat.
"Where is that beautiful wife of yours?" Philip realized this man knew who he was. Although he'd never met him, somehow Philip was sure that everyone at the hotel knew who they were.
"You always sleep better on your honeymoon." The man ran the coffee grinder to punctuate his sentence. Philip reached into his jacket pockets for his cigarettes. The bartender produced an empty ashtray while he waited for Philip's coffee to pour from the machine.
"If I leave now I can get the first flight back to New York City." Philip mumbled as he waved the flame over the end of his cigarette.
"What did you say?" Philip thought he had said that to himself.
"I said this is a lovely hotel." Philip blew a lungful of smoke onto the bar. Then he tried to convince himself that the feeling he had at the Pantheon was real. Which he hoped would make it easier when he eventually told Denise.
Jason Rice lives in New Jersey.
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Copyright (c) 2000, 2004, David Erik Nelson, Fritz Swanson, Morgan Johnson