It’s late, and they
are drunk. Her hand rests lightly on his forearm, her eyes stare at the bridge
of his nose. She’s a film student who tells him that her name is Roxanne. She
loves Fellini, she loves
She wears a denim skirt just above the knee, that rides up on the barstool, and open toed shoes with thick black soles. He spends much of the time staring at the thin blue vein that runs from the top of her foot down to the arch, branching off delicately in tiny rivulets that makes him remember what it feels like to touch the bottom of a leaf. Her skin is pale and smooth and he loves her fingers, fingers that are both feminine and strong. He stares at them as she holds her Margherita glass and he becomes aroused at the webbing between her forefinger and thumb as she licks the salt from that spot after their third shot of Blue Agave Respasado.
Then the conversation drifts to 8 ½, Fellini’s surrealistic masterpiece. She is the film student, but here he is on much firmer ground. Here he is in another realm entirely. He has seen the film no less than twenty times but lets her do most of the talking. The gleam in her eye tells him that this will be no one-night foray into the pants of an art chick. This girl feels Mastriani. She weeps at the mention of Claudia Cardinale. When he tells her that he just purchased the film on DVD she takes him by the hand and drags him out into the night.
Where’s your apartment?
They curl up on the sofa. The room flickers. They don’t speak at all. They are very drunk now and soon her head begins to bob. She falls asleep during the scene on the beach where the Mastriani character, Guido Anselimo, is remembering Saraghina, the Rubenesque, rumpled and garishly made-up Sardinian whore. She dances ludely for the young Catholic schoolboys. She dances to a hypnotically addictive rumba that he winds up humming for days. In the flickering light of the television he can see Roxanne’s thighs and the muscles of her lower legs with the long shadows in the rifts of her calves. She breathes heavily. One of her hands dangles from the sofa, palm up, fingers splayed. The television set strobes. He stares at her lips. They are dry and partly open. Someone onscreen is speaking melodious Italian, a priest, a room full of priests. He looks for a moment and sees a boy being forced to kneel on gravel as penance for watching the dancing whore. He turns back to Roxanne as she moves her leg. He can see straight up to where a thin strip of fabric lies sunken between two swollen folds of flesh. He lets his hand drop to her leg, his eyes closed, feigning sleep. She does not stir.
In 8 ½ there are extended periods of silence in which there is no music, no sound, nobody speaking at all. This is one of those moments. He can see her lower back - smooth, amber, aglow in the soft light. She has a birthmark there that looks like a star, near the ridge of her backbone, her spine, its ridges pulsing in the bright glow of Fellini’s stark dream In the background someone is crying. A woman, a mother, whispering now.
Guido, Guido, Veriggonia, Veriggonia.
The subtitles translate this as shame, shame.
The television flashes wildly and his hand moves further. With his eyes closed he runs the pads of his fingers over her thigh, feeling the light hairs too high for her to shave. There’s a warmth emanating from between her legs that he can feel; though he’s still some distance away. After several minutes he opens his eyes, and turns to see his hand, trembling now, so close to the warmth. She does not move. He inches closer, his heart now a spasm, and slides to the floor in front of her, her fingers inches from his mouth. He fumbles with the buttons of his pants and finds himself ready for this moment, no lubrication is necessary, his foreskin is on fire. He trembles and groans as he lowers his mouth to the little cup of skin beside her thumb where he can still taste the salt and the lemon. It only takes a moment. He pushes himself hard onto his own palm and orgasms there between his fingers. He lies trembling on the floor, his pants down, one hand cupped to his crotch, the other still holding hers as if in some profane proposal of marriage. Suddenly the television roars. It’s Wagner, from The Ring. That music from Apocalypse Now, Cry of the Valhalla, Call of the Valhalla, something of the Valhalla, with all the violins and French horns and tympanis, it’s the music of Wotan - it’s as if all warriors of Norse mythology are being simultaneously unleashed. He pulls his pants up quickly and sits back on the sofa as she wakes. He pretends to be asleep. She pulls her skirt down and smoothes herself. She looks at him, confused, suspicious, but 8 ½ saves him, for there is Claudia Cardinale in extreme close up, behind the wheel of a Porsche Spider, the car that killed James Dean. She’s speaking so beautifully, and with such passion. Roxanne is mesmerized by her. She sits back on the sofa, staring at her beautiful eyes, her mascara so thick, her skin blazing white. He feels Roxanne’s hand on his knee, inching upward, slowly scratching the seam of his jeans with her nail. He closes his eyes and wonders if she’ll believe that he’s really asleep.