Marcello opens his eyes when the morning is leaving, the April sun rays surfing through the bay window and bathing the bedroom of a lone man. Marcello, his hand groping for another hand between the sheets, only finds a cold 400-thread-count emptiness. Marcello, struggling to get off the bed, drags his feet into the kitchen. A Post-it note held by a magnet on the fridge reads, "I refuse to be the body you use to cram your ghosts in." It is so poetic, thinks Marcello. A woman dumps him with a literary touch. Rather sooner than later they all leave, but none of them takes the time and effort to be creative in the farewell.
Memories of Bonnie take Marcello by assault now. "Bonnie, why did you leave me, I was in love with you," Marcello thinks to himself. If somebody asked him, do you remember the very minute you saw Bonnie for the first time? Absolutely, he'd say. It was last December, a day before Christmas Eve. Marcello was browsing books at the Borders that's three blocks from his condo, lost in indecision, not sure about what to look for both in the bookstore and his writing life. He was feeling so disjointed, disoriented, discombobulated, when out of the blue this woman rushed by him, leaving a cool breeze that whiffed of orange flowers, soft sweet spices, violet and mimosa, and walked down to the bargain books section. She stood there, flashing in a purple drawstring top and knee-torn Abercrombie jeans. She stood there, Marcello experiencing a rare delight while looking at her flip-flop-wrapped feet, those feet that seemed to have been sculpted by the chisel of God. She stood there, giving a nonchalant glance at the bargains, her petite figure resembling a short model, not the Kate Moss waifish-type of model but Laetitia Casta, whose curvaceousness has been a subject of discussion in the world of fashion. She stood there, her honey-blonde wavy hair going down just past her shoulders. When he approached to her, intent on striking up a conversation, Marcello realized that there was something odd about her right hand --one third of her pinky finger was missing.
"What happened to your pinky finger?"
She turned to him and smiled. It felt as if they had been acquaintances for some time now, her emerald eyes piercing him with curiosity.
"I was in a car accident in Miami two years ago," she said, her lower lip quivering. "It was a miracle I survived the crash, the car was wadded up like an accordion. That's how I lost part of my digitus minimus."
Right after softly speaking those Latin words, the word lover Marcello fell for her. It was so predictable, inevitable, unforgettable. Bonnie could be the woman for all seasons, a college girl whose motto was, "I set the rules, which are morally relative and shift according to my mental whims and physical needs." A happy-go-lucky urban lady fond of smart casual looks with an emphasis on changing shades of yellow hair on a monthly basis. A spry, postmodern nymph capable of rambling for hours about coffee, Coke, chocolate, the New Imperialism and the latest work from Gianni Vattimo, her favorite thinker --never a blonde moment.
Marcello, his eyes opening wider, goes on a second reading of the note --"I refuse to be the body you use to cram your ghosts in." Marcello, a lone man standing, clutches the note. "It's just a misunderstanding," he says to the fridge, as if he had to apologize to someone, anybody, for a minor blunder. Marcello, his hand twitching, reaches for the cordless telephone kitchen and dials the number that he had once jotted down on a to-do list that is now sitting on the countertop. Marcello, struck by disappointment, only gets a recorded message. "I am sorry this has happened," he whispers on the phone and clicks it off. The fridge starts emitting its quiet, humming purr.
Bonnie loved cats, so much so that she had a Persian cat whom she named, not surprisingly, Fellini. Bonnie enjoyed writing long poems filled with melancholy over long lost loves. Bonnie, at 25, was worried about aging, and had Guerlain anti-aging cream in her bathroom cabinet --he noticed it on the night they first slept together at her flat, one week after they had met. Bonnie and Marcello rang in the New Year having wild sex in his King size bed, thus making a long fantasy of his come true at last.
Five days later they went for brunch at Bonnie's favorite bistro. Bonnie, chowing down her eggs Benedict (with tomato, not Canadian bacon), looked at Marcello.
"Are you worried about the age difference between us?"
"Not really," Marcello said.
"Say, if we were going to get serious, what would be more important to you, your career or our relationship?"
"Does one have to exclude the other?"
"Eventually, I want to have a baby," Bonnie said.
"I have a daughter who's a freshman in college."
"I don't know," Marcello said. "I don't know if I could afford it, emotionally."
"A serious relationship?"
"To go through the experience of raising a child from birth all over again."
"I love your Italian accent," she said. "Do tell me more about your childhood in Napoli..."
Marcello, stirring up flashbacks of his childhood in Naples, redials the telephone number of his last and frustrated outgoing call only to get the same short recorded message. "Will you please pick up? I've made a mistake and I am sorry, ferchrissake." The kitchen feels so cold now.
Winter had long overtaken the city, but Bonnie, always on the go, used to turn off the heat for the most part of the day. The house got warmed up at night, shortly before Bonnie retired to bed. It was on a chilly Thursday afternoon this January that Bonnie had invited Marcello over to have tea and chocolate with Duchy cookies. Marcello, the flavor of black tea lingering on his palate, noticed that Bonnie was quiet this time, and only giggled and moaned when Fellini mildly bit and sucked the smooth stub of her finger. Bonnie, a lukewarm smile on her face, gave Marcello a scrutinizing look.
"Do you ever feel like you are disappearing?" she said.
"It's the pain, it's growing and I can't stop it."
"I didn't know you were in pain, amore mio," Marcello said.
"Do you know where we are headed in this relationship?"
"Well, it's a bit early to know, isn't it?" Marcello said. "We've been seeing each other for less than a month now."
"I've been expecting for something, anything good to happen, for someone to fix me."
Marcello, popping a piece of cookie into his mouth, held her hand. "Bonnie, amore mio, you are my inspiration. Your love has been driving me to develop great ideas for stories." Marcello, a grin drawn on her face, dug the Moleskine notebook out of his jacket's chest pocket, opened it and read aloud. "I am planning to write about this beautiful woman of Italian descent, she often engages visitors at the tasting room of her family winery, where she cannot talk about the wines without dancing. Isn't it beautiful and hopeful?"
"If you can't fix me in real life, do you think your writing will do?"
"I am my writing," Marcello said.
"Do you love me?
"Yes, but I need more time"
"To find out if we are ready to live together. Love can only succeed if the surrender is mutual," said Marcello, quoting Octavio Paz.
"That's not what I wanted to know," Bonnie said.
"You are confusing me."
"You too," she said, caressing the stump of her finger now that Fellini had walked away. "Marcello, I think we should call for a time-out."
"A time-out, but why?"
"Will you take me to your place tonight?"
Marcello said yes. Bonnie put on a hooded black wind-breaker and walked to the entrance door, Marcello following her, no words spoken. They came outside of the building, it was cold and raining. Pit, pat, pit, pat, pit, pat, Bonnie and Marcello strode up to his Nissan 350Z. Pit, pat, pit, pat, pit, pat, Bonnie and Marcello clambered into the car and sped away into the night.
Bonnie, when entering Marcello's condo, stopped for a minute in the living room, pulled her keys out of her jeans pocket and dropped them on the coffee table. Marcello looked down at the keys, then to Bonnie as she headed to the bedroom and dove in the bed and fell asleep, her wet clothes still on.
Marcello, opening his eyes shortly before the sun broke, found that she was gone.
The coldness of the kitchen doesn't feel unbearable now that his call is answered on the second ring.
"I need to talk to you," Marcello says. "I want to apologize. I was not feeling well when I said what I said. I was a bit drunk."
"It's much worse than that. Did you read my note?"
"Yes, but I think you are overreacting," Marcello says.
"Marcello, this is humiliating. What you've been doing to me is indeed humiliating."
"I never meant to hurt you. I --"
"Shut up, your defense is so pathetic."
"If I hurt you I am sorry," Marcello says. "I accept your condemnation."
"Your soul is fucked up. You expect me to fill in the void of a relationship you are still obsessed about. I won't do that because I am not her, do you hear me? I am fucking-not her."
"Bonnie, let me come over to discuss this in person."
"I am not Bonnie, you stupid prick! My name is Molly, motherfucker!"
Long after she has slammed the phone conversation to an irrevocable end, Marcello stands in the kitchen holding and looking at the receiver. It occurs to him that he should write away the whole experience before he even thinks of going over to the bookstore next week.