By K D Grace
I’d watched him watching me all day as I explored the Forum and the Paletine while the South American band on the sidewalk beyond the gates, its members all dressed like Santa Clause, played an endless mindless brassy version of Jingle Bells -- several weeks premature, in my opinion. But even their brassy, slightly out of tune, homage to the season became background noise in the quiet of the Forum and the Paletine. I could have been on a different planet, in a different time, as I plugged this mystery man into a half a dozen story scenarios unfolding in my fertile imagination, all involving filthy sex in the ancient site.
He was younger than I. God, wasn’t everyone these days, and I was always more aware of the march of time at the end of the year with my next birthday looming in the wings. Still, I wasn’t so old that I didn’t recognize lust when I saw it. I gave a quick glance over my shoulder expecting to see the object of that lusty look in his eyes standing just behind me; someone young and beautiful, someone for whom the birthday looming in the wings meant only lovely, expensive gifts from secret admirers, someone more used to receiving that look, but the little nod and the Mona-Lisa-on-porn smile he gave me assured me that yes, I was the one. The look belonged to me!
I don’t know why I wasn’t afraid. I probably should have been. Sitting here now on the plane back to London and thinking about it, all I can say is there was something extraordinary about him, and I couldn’t help feeling that he was as much a stranger to Rome as I was, or perhaps it was more that Rome, at least the way it is now, was a stranger to him.
You see, there was something about him that made him stand out in the crowd, as though he were somehow more luminous, as though there was, perhaps, another dimension to him. And yet no one seemed to notice as he moved among the scuttle and press of tourist jostling no one, drawing no attention, not even the surreptitious glances of the young women hoping for a whirlwind Roman romance on their holiday to titillate their friends with upon their return home. He carried nothing. He wore no jacket, only a dark green sweater and jeans, warm enough for the late November sunshine.
Wherever I went, he was always there, a few steps behind me, a few steps in front, always lingering when I did, hurrying on when I did, taking in the views when I did. In the Hall of the Vestal Virgins, I couldn’t keep from admiring his height and his dark good looks mimicked against the blue of the sky in the reflecting pool. In the shadows of the senate building, I could just catch the crook of his smile in a sliver of light filtering in through the open door. On the wall overlooking the Circus Maximus, he left me a perfect red rose, his shoulder just brushing mine as he slid past me in the push of a group of Chinese tourists. I might have given a startled little gasp at the warmth of him, the electric brush of flesh against flesh separated only by a few millimeters of cloth. His breath against my ear was the dry sky and earth scent of cedar and rosemary, and I instinctually opened my mouth to take it in with my own breath. And then he passed and was gone, and I looked down with a start to find that I had pricked my finger on one of the thorns, and found the physicality of sucking the bright droplet of my blood from my finger somehow arousing.
All day it was like that, and I had lingered far longer than I intended, enjoying our little game of cat and mouse, of hide and seek, of furtive glances, of half shy smiles. Before I realized it, the shadows were long; the docents would be herding everyone out of the Forum and Paletine for the night soon. It was in the now deserted underground passage near the House of Livia that he approached me at last. Consent was unspoken, but it was there as surely as if I had worn a big red YES across my forehead. That big red YES had had all day to evolve from consent to a desperate plea as he took my face in his hands and kissed me. For a second the world tilted around me and then shimmered like a mirage. The kiss deepened, his tongue caressing mine, his lips bruising; mine bruising back, his teeth nipping, and me opening to the bite of him clinging to him, fists curled in dark, soft hair, breasts pressed against hard muscles that rose and fell reflecting my own struggle for breath.
“If I take you here like this, in this place, you’ll belong to me,” he said, pulling away to slide his hand up under my blouse and cup my breasts in turn. “And when I call you, you’ll come back to me, no matter where in the world you are. You know this?”
“I know.” I replied already shamelessly fumbling with his fly. And I did know. It occurred to me that I had known from the moment I saw him and, heaven help me, I was completely okay with that.
He shoved my hand away and I heard the scrape of his zipper as he maneuvered himself free, as he shoved up my skirt
“It won’t take long,” he said, opening me with two fingers, finding me more than ready. He held my gaze with urgency, with focus, with secrets about to be revealed, fingering me until I squirmed and shivered and ached. “It won’t take long,” he repeated, “but I promise you, it will last an eternity.” Before I could question his meaning, he lifted me, hands cupping my bottom, until my back was pressed hard against the ancient brick wall and, with a quick thrust of his hips, buried himself deep, holding still for a moment, holding me still for a moment, sighing against my neck, catching his breath as though he were inhaling me. And when I began to thrash, desperate for relief, he held me tighter and whispered against my ear. “Make it last. Soon enough you’ll wish we could have lingered.” And then he began to thrust and undulate and move deeper inside me.
At some point he bared my breasts, managing the bra with the same slight of hand he had my panties. He suckled from me as though from my breasts he could drink from the fountain of life itself. My nipples, wet with his saliva, chilled in the dry Mediterranean evening, peaked beyond painful, existed only for his mouth. My body was slick with the need of him, gripping and grasping and urging him deeper into me over and over until I dissolved around him, falling to pieces, crumbling to dust, disappearing on the breath of a breeze as had all those who had lived in this place before me. And at the very point at which there was nothing left but an essence almost as old as the very bedrock of the Paletine, he filled me. Again and again he filled me until he had replaced the very blood in my veins with his lust, with his passion, with himself. And when he was finished, when we were both finished and the world settled back into place and time began to move again, I came back to myself in little spasms and gasps, receding shudders and softening heartbeats leaning against the wall, trembling breathing in the scent of cedar and rosemary and sex.
“Are you all right, Signora?” I started at the voice of the docent standing at the end of the passage. “I am sorry but the Forum is closed now. You must leave.”
I nodded, still not trusting myself to speak, and followed her on unsteady legs out of the passage, down the steps past the House of Livia and to the exit gate where the South American Santas were still playing Jingle Bells and the traffic of the Eternal City still buzzed and honked its way down the busy thoroughfares as the sky darkened to midnight blue with evening’s approach. But there was no further sign of him. I hadn’t expected there to be. We writers live in our imaginations so much of the time that sometimes our imaginations are alive within us. We’re used to it. We expect it. It was only after I got back to the St. Regis Hotel and settled in to reflect on the events of the day over a nice glass of primitive that I found the remains of a crushed red rose in my jacket pocket and the prick on the tip of my finger stung with muscle memory.
I never sleep on planes, especially not on a flight as short as one from Rome to Heathrow. But today I did, or I thought I did. But maybe I wasn’t really asleep, and I certainly wasn’t on a flight heading back to London either. I was in the House of the Vestal Virgins lying on the grass looking up at the night sky. There were people moving around me, but not close enough that their presence mattered. I could hear the chatter of women’s voices, and strange music wafted on the night air. Everything felt different, smelled different. Nothing was ruined. Everything was made new and yet still old enough that history was lost in myth.
He came to me in a toga. It was white and so was he, bathed in moonlight as he was. He knelt in front of me and lifted his
“You’re mine now,” he whispered when he came, “and time and circumstances no longer matter. You’re mine and,” he bent his dark head to lay a kiss on the place between my breasts where my heart hammered the rhythm of my own release, “and I have always, always been yours.”
I woke up with a little jerk in the World Traveler Plus section of the flight bound for Heathrow. Only a few moments had passed, but I had not been present for those few moments. I’d been back in Rome, back with him. For a moment I sat disoriented, astounded at how clearly I’d heard his call and how quickly and easily I had gone to him. It had taken no time, no space, no effort. I had been penetrated deeper than flesh, and it’s for me like it is with all writers. When that happens, the story that comes has to be written.