On the road to Chiavenna, Alison, who’d been watching the Alps from the back seat through a small child’s handprint on the window, had to put her hand flat against the glass when Lazzero threw the ancient Fiat 500 into the roundabout. Next to her, Martina, also bare legged, leaned toward the center of the car, toward her. Their brown and olive thighs were warm, touching now. Martina balanced a present on her lap, its pale scalloped ribbon jumping in the wind. In the front seat, Norman, Alison’s boyfriend, interrupted his own staccato stream of vacation Italian to grip the car’s A-pillar. The tires, slashed right, said nothing. They took the second exit and continued on, Lazzero shifting up without taking his foot off the gas by the sound of it.
“Mi chiedo seci sarà una torta?” said Norman over the car. Alison rolled her eyes in the direction of the alps tracking along the side of the car again. She knew what he was doing even if their hosts didn’t. Norman was trying to sound like a character in a Hemingway story.
Lazzero adjusted his mirrored sunglasses. In them, momentarily, the road didn’t go to Chiavenna.
“I think yes,” said Martina, shifting her bottom. Her cotton dress hiked an inch up her thigh showing more of a tattoo, a tree shedding paisley leaves toward her inner thigh, carved on its trunk the initials CNX. Alison knew from the lake that she had another. She’d seen it as soon as Martina pulled a sleeveless Joy Division shirt over her head and ran down to where the water met the pebbles, Il seminatore lavora per la padronanza girando la ruota running up her well-tanned side in dark black script. A petrol station passed at their left. Alison looked up at the sign. A six-legged dog breathed fire in the direction he’d come. He stood on a golden bar, what Alison imagined was a shorn field of wheat.
“Well…grazie mille per l’invito di nuovo. Thank you, kindly,” said Norman, leaning back to catch Martina’s eye. His people were from the Midwest and he often employed their simple charm when it was most likely to make him stand out in the room. They were on the way to Giulia’s birthday. Giulia, a sculptress and waitress from Milan, was a friend of Martina’s. She has made thirty years, said Martina. The party was being hosted at Giulia’s father’s small cabin in the mountains. Alison knew Norman and she were invited along only to secure Martina’s father’s B&B, where they’d been staying for three nights, a good review on the booking site. Alison had read the tea leaves: a threadbare towel here, a loose faucet handle there. Money was short. At breakfast, Alison used as little Nutella as possible.
“Preeego,” sang Martina, brushing away a few stray hairs whipping her face. A lot of air was moving through the car now. Alison smiled, wondered if Martina knew how many greys she had on the back of her head before her eyes moved on to a stand of cypresses on the hill. She didn’t know why, but she thought of the word cimitero.
The sun, arcing across the sky, made time on her living face. Strada Statale 36 continued to snake under them. Within the confines of Alison’s window, black and white kites flashed between trees or lit out into the nearly cloudless sky. Norman patted the outside of the door bump-bump.
“What’s this?” he said, pointing to a cardboard card slipped into a hazy plastic sleeve on the windshield. The card had a wheel printed with military time at the outer edge and could spin on a tiny brass grommet like a revolver’s cylinder. Norman saw some of the numbers backwards in the coming sunshine.
“Disco orario,” said Lazzero to the windshield.
“What’s it for?” said Norman, trying to figure out what to do with his hands in his lap.
“Is for parking,” said Lazzero, almost cutting himself off to spit out the window.
“Wheel. Of. Fortune,” said Norman as he spun the cardboard wheel a full rotation backward.
The town had given way to sagging two-story stucco homes the color of buttermilk. Many had olive trees in the yard. Recognizing them, Norman’s heart swelled with pride. Yes, sir. I’m a long way from Montana.