by Emilio Iasiello

“There’s nothing more to say, Richard,” she says, flicking the end of her ash onto the tablecloth. “I’ve thought about it and I think it’s better this way.”

The man sits back in his chair. His face remains impassive, as if cut from a piece of marble and glossed to a smooth finish. He doesn’t say a word.

She inhales again. Behind her, the light from the street lamps beam off the glaze of the river in a blurred pattern of fireflies. She blows a long scarf of smoke from her lips into the space between them.

“Aren’t you going to say something? Anything?”

She rattles the bracelets on her wrist in a nervous exhibition of frustration. Richard smiles inwardly though his eyes hold a steady, sanded stare. He doesn’t think so much of her words as how she pouts under the moonlight.

“This is the problem with us. I never know what you’re thinking. It shouldn’t be this way between people, between couples.”

She interrupts herself with a mouthful of champagne and closes her eyes as she swallows. Her throat bobs up and down like a tiny sparrow.

“And the parties! Was there a night in August you didn’t flirt with a woman? It’s too much for one person to bear. When we were in Paris last month…”

Her voice tapers off, draining quickly into a whisper.

He reaches across the table and touches her arm. She yanks her wrist back quickly, as if bitten by a mosquito.

“It’s too late for that now. You can’t make up for everything with that anymore. This isn’t the old days, Richard. Things can’t be fixed with a kiss or touch.”

Her words hang in the air then drift soundlessly away like falling leaves. She smokes one cigarette after another. He searches the other tables. It’s the end of summer in Rome, and the only people left are the ones like his wife who feel compelled to exhaust a place before moving on.

“You realize I can’t take anymore, can’t you? I’m all used up inside.”

Her eyes brim with tears. The effect of sleepless nights is beginning to show through the eyeshadow.

“You understand that, don’t you?”

Richard’s hand disappears beneath the lapel of his coat. When it surfaces, he twists the black velvet of a narrow box in his fingers. He opens the case and pushes it over to the woman.

“Why Richard,” she exclaims, her voice rising. “They’re breathtaking!”

She fastens the diamond necklace around her neck.

“Do I look beautiful?”

Richard refills both glasses. She sips the champagne and giggles when the bubbles pop and tickle her nose.

“I knew you’d get them for me. I just knew it.”

Richard, silent, falls back into his seat and thinks of Nice and his wife, and contemplates what’s worth preserving, and what can be lost.