Maysom examined the callouses on his fingers as the people shuffled by on the active walkway. He stood back so that there would be room for his case in front of him. The click of a woman’s boots and the click of a camera stood out to him. In between the riotous yelling of the students headed al centro, Maysom heard himself strum an Em chord. He looked down at his guitar and realized that poor Sophia was becoming faded near the soundhole, where he played her the most. He strummed again and played a C chord, followed by a D. He believed in what he was singing, even though he didn’t know if it mattered or not.
We could build a rocket, fly to the moon
Leave Tuesday morning, and be back for noon
There was nothing, nothing that we couldn’t do
Oh, once when I was little
Oh, once when I was little
Maysom always found his throat catching on that part of the song. He believed, as all must when they are young, that the world was truly limitless, in a way that it wasn’t for the adults who had already found the dreary peripheries of life. He played on.
And I could dream more then
And I believed more then
That the world could only get better
He now had a small cult surrounding him on the cobblestone-laden bridge. One child came up the receptacle and threw down a euro coin with a clink. He looked on Maysom with awestruck wonder. He looked at the movement of his fingers around the fretboard of the guitar and mimed his own song to woo the people gathering to hear Maysom sing. Maysom smiled at him. Soon enough, the hand and mouth of some protective mother was pulling him away and apologizing for the disturbance, respectively. Maysom played on.
He could remember the first time that he had heard the James Morrison song on the radio. It had been in a cream-colored Renault, known for its sturdiness of design and dependability. In his memory, he could feel sunrays heat his skin only until the rushing wind from outside had cooled it. The leather in the car had felt warm, and he had felt himself getting sleepy. He shook his head and brought himself back to the present, to the lean crowd before him. The Renault would have to wait. His voice rasped in the same way as James Morrison on the last lines of the song.
So here comes the next one, the next in line
Stay as young as you can, for the longest time
’Cuz those days flew by, like a breeze just passing through
Once when I was little
The crowd gave a polite applause, and at the edge of the crowd, Maysom could make out a girl with a slight figure and impenetrably dark eyes. He got the feeling that he had seen her before – maybe she had seen him peddling his talents on a different night beneath the beacons that lit the river water. She smiled at him and then looked at the ground. He stooped down to his guitar case to pick up the change that people had tossed in his direction throughout the night, and when he looked up from collecting the change, the girl had vanished into the night.
Maysom headed home alone. After zipping his guitar securely in its case, he meandered down the middle of the Ponte Vecchio. He marveled at the cobblestone beneath his feet; it always had the appearance of crumbling, but even centuries after it had been built, the bridge still stood. Ponte Vecchio meant “Old Bridge” in Italian, as if endurance, not beauty, was its most notable quality. Maysom felt his body automatically turning streets and heard the scratching of his sneakers against sidewalks and boulevards, leading him to a pre-determined destination.
He kept moving, passing buildings that had long since surrendered their countenances to casual graffiti. Most stores had closed their metallic fronts by now, figuring that the sorts who were out at this time of night were probably not in the mood to purchase much. The only places that remained open were dusty bars where almost all the stools were up; the doors hung lightly ajar to allow the occasional straggler one last drink before final closing time. They were usually inhabited by a good-natured anziano, who would speak to anyone and try here and there to slip his life story into the conversation.
When Maysom reached his front door, he turned one last time to look at the moon. He pulled a small notebook from his back pocket and began to write:
“Man receives not meaning, but gives it. We are all Adam, all naming the entire garden of which we will partake.” It sounded a bit stodgy, but that was fine with him. It sounded like something a British historian might say, and besides, it didn’t matter what he wrote in the book. He flipped a page backward to find his last entry. Like all the others, it had never been seen by anyone else, but unlike the rest, it probably should have been. The page felt crisp, as if it had been wet before: I love you. The truth is I’ve never been able to love anyone else. Happy Birthday,
He knew who he’d written to, of course. It wasn’t that he wrote specifically to him, but rather to who he was. His mind’s eye roamed around the past, greedy for details that would be swallowed up by a good night’s sleep, but if he focused, just focused, he could keep the image there with him a little longer. As soon as he realized this, he felt it leaving his memory bit by bit, like a dream upon waking. The discarded snapshots flew around his head in small circles and then floated off into the wind, grazing by the tables in the shadowy park. He watched as the wind took them, bearing them back to wherever its home was, to re-create it there. It would take a long time, but he could find it, if he followed the dancing path of small, fluttering pictures. A mouth and eyes that were still with him formed a disembodied specter, taunting him until he could find it again.
Maysom shook his head against the memory and finally decided to climb the stairs to his apartment, located right above a gelateria. Sometimes the smells of the provocative and exploratory flavors seeped through the vents and up to his fifth floor apartment. He noticed that the most perceivable odor seemed to be a mix between a strawberry and a cheesecake. He heard someone above him attacking a grand piano, with sharp staccatos and low, powerful notes. It pounded through the ceiling of Maysom’s apartment, pounding so hard that it seemed like bits of drywall crumbled from the corners.
Maysom jumped as something pressed up against his leg without warning, but it was just the cat, Huey, inspecting him for something to eat. Huey looked at him with predetermined disdain, as if he already knew that Maysom had forgotten something. Vaguely, Maysom’s eye was drawn over to Huey’s empty food bowl in the corner of the apartment.
He had intended to buy some cat food today so that Huey wouldn’t have to spend a night without any, but the stores were all closed now. He especially had no excuse now that his guitar case was full of singles from his exploits. A despondent meow came from behind him, and Maysom was sure that Huey was now just preying on his guilt. He turned and picked up the smoky, gray-colored cat and looked into his eyes.
“I’m sorry, little buddy.” He kissed his forehead. He seemed less judgmental after the apology, but still pockmarked the silence with a woeful meow every few minutes.
“I can only apologize once.”
He shook his coat, the last of the outside clothes he was wearing, and moved toward the couch, a green and red striped creature with a voracious appetite. He surveyed the moon from his fifth floor window. He was reminded that he loved the way that the moon shone over the Tuscan landscape, pushing into this crevice and that, making it all come alive with a fervent splendor.
He looked toward the coffee table that was next to him, in the center of the giant, beige rug. It seemed like the kind of thing people give as wedding gifts. On it stood a mocha-colored picture frame. There was a woman in it, and he immediately recognized her as the one he had seen at Ponte Vecchio. He flinched and looked away from the portrait. When he looked back, he only saw the smiling stock photos the frame had come with, but still, he couldn’t get the dark eyes out of his mind and knew he would dream of them. He gave up and let sleep overtake him without even changing into his nightclothes. Huey, now realizing that his pitiful solicitations were useless, climbed into the curve of his chest and bedded down for the night.