We should never cry because it’s over but smile because it happened.
She’d forgotten how good it felt to smile. The whole bar was giggling and helping Heather dry off. The bartenders were giving her random clothes. Her cheeks hurt and she couldn’t stop crying from the laughter. Each patron had a new quip to throw at Heather turning the giggles into a snowball of raucous cheering. Surely, they’d be telling this story for years to come and many more people would laugh again and again and again. Free priceless joy just from a little bit of silly splashing around. Most people would have freaked out from falling in the canal, been embarrassed by the fall and the see-through clothes but Heather just wore her smile like a crown. Now both of them had the bartender shirts on. This was the common ground to start the foundation of their friendship, like war veterans or school buddies that bond after an emotional event. Also, she realized that watching the bartender jump in to save her and watching his arms pull her out had ruined her.
“We’re off, wanna come?” Heather said casually. Still unfazed by her near-death experience.
She had to go before her heart fell out of her chest from beating so hard. They skipped up Ponte dei Pugni, making diving gestures and creasing over laughing again. The girls wandered through the maze as if it were preprogrammed into their brains. She felt if she didn’t pay attention she could lose them on any corner. They dipped down a hidden underpass and patted the brick wall which was bulging out.
Calle della Pancia. Belly street.
“Gelato!” Leslie announced as if she were some type of dessert's encyclopedia. She was in a square surrounded by majestic structures with elaborate facades. To her left was Scuola San Rocco and to her right Frari. The girls started nattering about the school and the church and which works of art were where, as if it were a trivia quiz between them. They’d both come to Venice to study art and had ended up staying.
Leslie worked for a charity that funded restoration called “Save Venice” and Heather for the Biennale. The biggest bi-annual art event in Europe. So there she was with two professional tour guides casually bantering about Titian and Canaletto.
“Oooh I have a new one!” Heather winked to Leslie. “Acqua Rubinetto Canaletto” She sang joyfully. “Rhymes help me remember and that’s how you say tap water in Italian” She realized they’d been through what she was going through. A complete lack of Italian and being forced to learn and understand what you can bit by bit.
They strolled up to the Gelato stand. Mille Voglie. The handsome fella behind the bar was flipping his ice cream scoop up and down. He knew he was cute.
“Ciao Francesco!” They yelled in unison. They ordered Stracciatella, essentially Vanilla with chocolate-laced through it, then two classics, vanilla and dark chocolate.
“It has to be dairy flavours as fruits don’t work for this”
Work for what? They went next door with their ice cream to Adagio. Go Slowly in Italian. A tiny girl with huge blue eyes jumped behind the bar when they walked in.
“Ladies!” She ran around the bar and hugged them.
“Caffe Affogato time?” She giggled. Literally translated means drowned coffee and is espresso poured over your favourite ice cream. Blue eyes were tiny but all strength. She manoeuvred the coffee machine as if she were assembling an automatic weapon, with precision and efficiency. The bar was tiny with a few tables, marble walls and a beautiful wine rack. The crostini were all beautifully coloured and clearly made with love. She stood in the doorway with her coffee looking out at the dramatic Frari church. How many hands had made it, how many had been married there, been monks there, chased their demons from within, found peace, found forgiveness or sometimes just silence and refuge? At that moment the bells started ringing. A crowd ran around the corner surrounding a bride in a blue dress. The wind blew through the brides long dark hair and confetti circled in the air. The crowd were popping prosecco and stumbling over the bridge.
“Oh, there’s Claire!” Heather screamed and they ran out while blowing goodbye kisses to blue eyes. They pulled her along to the crowd who were now congregated outside the Archives, drinking. Claire wore a long red dress and had roses in her hair. She was proud of the flowers in her hair and being able to appropriately dress for a wedding. She was French and her accent was so melodic that it felt like a song. Another artistic, drinking and chirpy mademoiselle. At this point, she took a small moment to appreciate the mass beauty around her and the unbelievable company she’d randomly found herself in. She felt happy yet humbled. Heather continued to explain her fall which did not shock Claire as she’d done the same two weeks prior, also in the afternoon, also a few Proseccos in. When she got to the part about the bartender dragging her out Claire rolled her eyes.
“Ugh, Yes…Michele is always there to pick women up. If you know what I mean” She turned to her and raised her eyebrow.
“You should be a careful new girl. He likes the foreigners as it takes them longer to figure out he’s not just a pretty face but also a, hmmmm, the word only comes to me in French” They laughed and sighed at a clearly mutual disappointment in men. Well, that disheartened her. Maybe they were wrong. Maybe what she’d felt was real.
She wouldn’t let it negate what her heart had felt. It could be the start of a story that she’d cry about when it was over but it wouldn’t stop what was making her smile now.