1. It was too deep into the summer to be here. It was too hot to sleep, even in these terse sheets they had in these other countries. This was not a city which allowed you to walk through it, it demanded that you hiked, stretching you across the broad fissures kneaded through the city’s rock. It was not a built place, rather everything that it was not had been worn away, revealed by the sun’s slow, insistent heat. She looked over and saw that he had turned from her. His back gave no sign of recrimination, it was set only in the likeness of itself, the waxen pallor of an unpeeled fruit’s skin. She felt calm. Even though the room was on fire, even though it was filled with air that would be the end of them both, she felt pacific.
—Why would you book a hostel next to a train station?
They had unpacked hours ago but the room was resisting them; it refused to be made theirs.
—Why would a hostel next to a train station be anywhere but the kind of place where the
shops are clearly, quite clearly, fronts for drug dealers? This is exactly the kind of mistake that you
would make. What is happening to us right now, this whole thing, is you all over.
His odium was not for her, but for the things around her. These were words that he was
always capable of saying, that he might always have been saying. She could realise as he spoke, that
arguments are affairs of tonal difference, and that love is never who you are, but rather where you
are, where you once stood in a room relative to the door. Realisations came to her in moments such
as these, when she had decided not to listen to him, and began to think instead of older rooms and
He was awake, but neither of them wanted to give the silence up. They could still be
sleeping for now. They might not be ignoring each other for now.
2. She could like the walls of the villa, which rose from knots of tiny walkways, all that
history from below, suddenly rupturing the surface. This is where the capital should have been, not
where it had left its main roads, its graveyards, where street signs became wordless and iconic things.
He made some comment about roads to airports, how every one of them had the same blandly
apocalyptic visage, the vacancy of tarmac on its way to the sky. He did not agree with them.
—With what? The roads?
She looked at the arches for a while, and proclaimed them to be, ‘Byzantine’. Which was not what she expected. She had been anticipating more demarcation here, more structure, not these arcs, or half-thought out piazzas that would appear suddenly behind corners, sitting at the bottom of an intersection that you were not allowed to be on because people could own roads here.
—I like them, she said.
But there was something unimpressive about the villa, perched on top of a hillside, looking
squat. She watched the rise of its brickwork, noticed the interruption of the iron grates at their
midpoints, behind which green branchlets of plantain, florets of moss, were beginning to break out
through the gaps in the bars, and over the lips of the ledges. She wondered if it was built this way, or
if this was something that happened to walls in their dotage.
—What are you thinking about?
—I was wondering, would it be possible to sleep for the rest of the week.
—In this heat?
—To lie in bed, to sleep for six days.
—You couldn’t do it. It’s not possible.
—I would sleep tonight, tomorrow, the day after that and the day after that.
The pillars of the folly were decked with trellises. Fruiting branches, sickle-leaves and petals
of maryam, had woven themselves over and through the lattices like a tapestry. She wanted to show
him the silences the light cast over them, not the grey reservoir of damp at their base, but the
quietnesses between, restful in the moments before they were breached. She wanted to ask him, why
couldn’t he be a bit more like them, a bit quieter, more dignified?
—You’d need to eat.
—I’d buy food first. I’d buy food on the way back today, and I’d keep it next to my bed so that I could wake up, and I could eat, and then I’d go back to sleep.
—What would you buy?
—I would buy, grapes. I would buy grapes and ice cream.
—Would you mix the two?
—Salted caramel ice cream.
—Would you mix them together though?
—I would definitely think about it.
They were the first flowers she had seen here, this place was so completely without greenery.
Rome had been given over to the stones, and tall, thin grasses, dyed the colour of hay in raw
sunlight. Was this what she had come for? New plants in new light? She was from a country where
the sun always failed to break the cover of the clouds, where nothing could ever be seen clearly. But
now she was here, and there was too much of it. It was all too lucid, like polished glass, for her to
—Well I checked the flights and they’re one ninety four so I won’t be flying home early anyway.
There was, and then was not, the rolling tick-tick-tick-tick-tick of the cicadas. Their words felt
small, in its roar.
—What? I said I wouldn’t go home.
—Well why don’t you? Why don’t you just go home?
—Because I couldn’t leave you here by yourself. Leave you behind I mean.
—Well thanks a lot.
—If I was here by myself I would be fine, without you. I might even be better off, I might
even prefer it. So if you want to get one of those flights home, go ahead, don’t let me stop you.
3. She had a degree that made her explanatory in galleries, but she did not want to talk
about the sculptures, about the difference in marble’s texture when it was a cushion, or a couch, or
Napoleon sister’s body. She did not want to, but she did. She glossed each painting, in the tone one
used when the explanation one was giving was not the point. A young man with a sour expression
looked over his shoulder at them from the canvas. Her forefinger traced the line his body made in
the air, from the skin that did not bunch, but rather sagged at his elbow, to his greying lips just
beyond the centre of the frame. His body had the look of one the artist had spent a bit too long
trying to get right.
—It’s probably a self-portrait. You wouldn’t represent anyone as that buff otherwise. It’s about vanity.
—I prefer works of art to speak for themselves.
She started to complain about the price of audio guides, it made the whole thing into a
racket, didn’t it? Profiting off people’s ignorance, their fear of being found out. It was when he
began to move, rather quickly, away from her and towards the other Bernini, that she realised that
this was the moment, the chance to break them from the unaired furrow that their conversations
worked within, and she broke into a run, lines spilling from her mouth as if on a reel, vix prechay
fineeta graves occupat art-us, and her body with each step fanned itself outwards, her feet shot past the
tiles and through the earth, her torso beginning to lengthen and to roil, pulling itself at once in two
different directions until its curvature became hers, and she had dwarfed him beneath her long,
black boughs. He would place his hands on the thick oily bark, and would feel no reverberation, no
heart’s beat beneath the girding.
She had stayed in one place, regretting that she had not the lines memorised and that by the
time she could have brought them up on her phone, it would have been too late, and the moment
would have passed.
She hated looking at paintings alone, hated the mute dance of hovering for an acceptable
amount of time, adopting the correct expression of passionate disinterest, tilting your head that little
bit to the left, or to the right. She eavesdropped on a tour group and then left through an exit off a
stairwell, that warned her in three languages that it was for emergency use only.
4. He assumed she went in the direction of the road which led up to the park, the one with a
slope, enough to make you sweat, enough to have you notice that you were suddenly exerting
yourself. It was the first ‘nice’ part of the city they had found, the first that looked sufficiently like the
nondescript European city they were expecting, restaurants with names they did not recognise,
restaurants with names they did recognise.
—Where are you going?
—Grapes. I am going to buy grapes.
He couldn’t run after her like this, not in this weather and not with these shoes on. It would
have been a kind of capitulation, one he wasn’t dressed for. He walked quicker than usual,
oppressed by an image of himself running down a street he didn’t know, shouting his girlfriend’s
name to the amusement of strangers. He swore, and looked for the back of her head.
She had gotten a head start on him and it was not on the road that he found her. By the time
he caught up with her, she was already well beyond it, some way back into the city. She was way out.