Suzanne Rindell

There were two of them: Nora, an American, and Josette, from France. It was the American girl’s idea that they go traveling in Italy, and she had written out their summer itinerary. She didn’t know much about Italian railworkers and their strikes. All week long posters announcing the sciopero had been right under the girls’ noses, but neither of them spoke Italian, so that word had no meaning until they were passing through a small-but-touristy fishing village and then the word sciopero meant they could not leave.

During the day they hiked the goat paths that were cut into the cliffs high over the Mediterranean and when it got hot they clamored down to the rocky, shale-filled beaches to swim naked in the clear clear water. Nora called this “skinny dipping” and Josette liked this new-to-her Americanism so much she repeated it over and over, singing it in time as she swam, the way some little kids might act out the hokey-pokey. The girls were careful to pick isolated spots and never ran into anybody else during their swims. They were not the first tourists to come to town and the villagers almost surely knew what the girls were up to anyway.

There was only one bar in the village that stayed open in the evenings. It was cave-like and cozy, with saltwater perspiring from the granite walls. There were exactly five people in the village close in age to the girls, all of them boys. The boys drifted in and out of the bar and sat around taking turns basking in the bluish glow of an old Macintosh computer as it chugged and churned in the effort to pull up different internet websites like so many waves of foam. Communally, the boys shared one copy of Italian Maxim among them.

On the fourth night, the American girl brought out her sketch pad there and a few of the village boys came over and asked her to draw them. She drew them, but drew them so that they looked handsomer in the portraits than they did in real life. The boys had the barista bring over a bottle of grappa and a bottle of limoncello. The American girl and the French girl wanted to like the grappa and the limoncello but they had to water it heavily. The region was covered in terraced grapevines and so the American girl asked did they have any local wine. One of the boys, Antonio, got the idea that they should take the girls up to one of the vineyards to taste the grapes.

They followed the boys up the village street, along a stream and to the foot of a steep hill. There was no moon; it was pitch black. The stream was small but in the blackness it sounded like water was rushing all around them. Nora had a 10-pak of Bic lighters in her backpack and she passed them around. She joked that she had never been a Girl Scout but she had always been told to pack like one.

Antonio said they would have to cross over the stream to get to the grapevines and he went to turn a giant wheel that controlled a small concrete dam. Nora and Josette looked at each other warily. They didn’t know these boys. They wanted to speak privately but all the Italian boys knew English, and Nora did not know French. Nora and Josette both spoke a little Spanish, but they didn’t think of this, and the Italian boys probably would’ve understood that more or less anyway. Anyway, they walked across the now-dry stream-bed, and when they got to the other side Antonio turned another wheel so the water began rushing again.

The hike was straight up after that, and it was very difficult to get a good foothold and keep the lighters lit. Several times, Nora and Josette had to lean as far forward as they could and use their hands to climb up the path. There was a little motorized cart on rails that the vintners used to ascend the hill, but Antonio said it was loud and rickety and that they would all get in trouble if anybody knew they were up there, eating the grapes. Suddenly, at the top of the terraces, one of the boys, Danilo, called down to Antonio, "Tutti č raccolto!" He came back with a few yellowy shrunken grapes in the palm of his hand. He gave them to Josette to try. She tasted them, knowing full well wine grapes weren’t good to eat anyway, let alone as raisins.

After that, everyone just stood around, lighters flicking on and off as their thumbs tired. Nobody moved or said anything. The boys knew all about tourist-girls on holiday in Italy, but at the same time they were still small-town boys. With all the grapes already "harvested", the girls seemed to be still waiting for something, but it was as if they didn’t know what. After several minutes, Antonio began leading the group back down the hill, the night sky a bottomless, hungry thing. The grapes were gone, and nobody knew what they wanted.

Suzanne Rindell is originally from Northern California, but is currently at work on her PhD at Rice University. Previous publications include Crab Orchard, Conjunctions, Nimrod, StorySouth, and others.

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