THE FALL OF ROMANCE • by MFC Feeley

Watching her husband disappear into the expensive view with his empty briefcase, Janice rolled her lips between her teeth, pulled off her high heels, and uncorked the half empty bottle of wine. It was Europe after all. Europeans drank on European time. Giada did. Giada who looked twenty-five but was probably nineteen. Giada who would look fifty by sundown if she kept going. Or maybe Giada’d use Ronald’s money, Janice’s money, to stay young.

Janice downed the wine in one swallow. She had expected Ronald to cancel his assignation in the presence of his wife, but he’d been so thrilled when Giada called that he’d run out of the Madonna dell’Orto. Desperate to believe it was a business call, Janice followed him to the courtyard without lighting the four-euro candle for her aunt. When Janice saw Ronald curled over his phone and whispering she’d clutched the prayer candle so hard it bent in on itself. She’d slipped it, unpaid for, into her pocket. What was the word she heard Ronald whispering into the phone? Suffi? No, that was a kind of Muslim. What was it? Janice reached for the Italian/English dictionary. She didn’t have to look hard. There was Ronald’s passport marking the page.

Sfugente. Elusive.

Janice guffawed like she used to in high school when her softball teammates made fun of the competition. She poured more wine. We want a pitcher, not a belly-itcher. As elusive as hot gum on a sidewalk when you walk in open-toe shoes.

Janice rubbed her eyes and flipped through Ronald’s passport. Stamp after Italian stamp. She’d known since April, but she never thought Ronald would abandon her in Venice. Janice felt the wine take hold. Probably Giada lived in some scummy part of Italy and wanted to see Venice too. Giada probably chose this hotel with its large bed and claustrophobic view. Ronald’s email told the girl not to come, Janice read it, but Sfugente came anyway. Where was Giada staying? Who was paying for that room?

Maybe, Janice thought, it was a good sign that Ronald was seeing them both. Maybe his interest in Giada had waned and needed to be spiced with danger. Maybe, in a weird way, Ronald was trying not to hurt Janice; if he didn’t go to at least one “meeting” he’d have to drop the pretense of a business trip and admit his affair.

It wasn’t that Janice wanted to keep Ronald (although she did) so much as she wanted to beat Giada. She wanted to look out at a view, Colorado, Chicago, and not share it with anyone but her husband. It couldn’t matter to the girl. Giada would land on her feet. And if she didn’t?

Janice leaned out the window and pictured Giada, posthumous, floating in the canal, wrinkle cream and passport clutched in her rotting fist. Probably Giada’s mother had engineered the whole affair, raised her own daughter to be a whore. Probably the mother was younger than Janice and came from a long line of infested whores stinking up the place since 421.

Janice shut the window and poured the last of the wine. She used the cheese knife to cut through the gilt edging of Ronald’s passport.

Janice would not help Giada. She would not augment the thrill of deception with the danger of her presence. She would not cut their meetings short like one teasing spoonful of gelato on a hot tongue. She would make them consume gallons of gelato until their bellies ached.

The cheese knife was meant for something softer, but Janice was on European time. She peeled the gilt rind off the blue pages and sawed Ronald’s passport into one-inch blue squares. Ronald would need Giada’s help at the embassy. He would need Miss Manolo to stand in long lines, to translate, to exist, not in the silky-legged European wine-time, but in ill lit swollen-ankled bureaucratic government agency time.

Janice lit the prayer candle and dripped wax over the torn pages, kneading them into a fine Asiago. She scrawled a note explaining that Aunt Carol had grown worse and how sorry she was to rush home. It was a risky play, but if Ronald and Giada’s love could survive the crush of bureaucracy, all bets were off anyway.

Closing the dictionary, Janice noticed a second definition. Sfugentemento: receding. She put on her heels and swayed a little as she molded her special cheese into a perfect American softball. Janice pitched Ronald’s identity over third base and into the canal.

Janice usually carried so much in her handbag that her shoulder ached, but she wanted Giada to see her things strewn about in the room, and she liked the idea of weightlessness, so she tucked her passport, her ticket, her toothbrush, and an extra pair of underwear in her purse and left. If this was a mistake, if the belly-itcher won, at least Janice would have one drunk and beautiful day wandering Venice, admiring relics Ronald didn’t care to see.


MFC Feeley lives in Tuxedo, NY and attended UC Berkeley and NYU. She has published in The Tishman Review, Mainstreet Rag, Northern New England Review, Ghost Parachute, Parks and Points and others. She was a 2016 fellow at the Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing and received a scholarship to the 2015 Wesleyan Writers Conference. She has been nominated for Best Small Fictions 2016 and was a 2013 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Quarterfinalist. She has judged for Mash Stories and Scholastic. More at MFC Feeley/Facebook.


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