She had grown tired of dressing up. Somewhere — maybe in Pisa? — it had stopped being for her and started to be for an imaginary audience she couldn’t name. Was it an expectation that hung in the air? An expectation or was it loneliness? She felt sad as she roiled in her own self-doubt, suddenly aware of how far she had journeyed out into the world alone with no lifeboat to take her back to a familiar dock. Gone. She was at sea in a makeshift identity that was taking on water fast.
She slipped on simple cotton flats instead of heels and pulled an A-line shift over her head that she had found in a market in Rome. It was a little tighter now through her ribcage but no matter–she wasn’t going out to impress anyone. She was going out to eat.
Italy had been good to her. She had left Eze and taken the Corail Lunéa night train to Nice then traveled Ventimiglia and on to Rome. Rome had been overwhelming and she had chosen the safe but predictable tours to explore the city: the Uffizi, Coliseum, Spanish Steps, and the Vatican. Tours that most people save a lifetime for had made her feel like a garish advertisement in her own life. “Look! Middle-aged woman in freshly-bought Italian shoes admires art!”. She had become a cliche in her own story.
With no plan other than to escape her tourist persona, she traveled to Puglia, landing in Bari and realizing at once she’d made a mistake. After the spectacle of Rome, Bari seemed like a working man in overalls. That wasn’t entirely fair; her stay at the Palace Hotel had been quite lovely and the staff, through a lot of gesticulation and broken english, were able to make one of her dreams come true: Drive a vintage MG. When she was a girl, her grandmother had a friend–they all knew it was a lover but no one was crass enough to name it as such–who would sometimes come by her school to pick her up in an old MG. On rainy days the snaps would drip down soaking the sides of the car and leaching into the ratty carpet that smelled of mould. She had loved it. She would ask him to drive past her house and circle the block before dropping her off. The smell of gas, old leather, and burning oil was one that comforted her. She had always dreamed of owning an MG but Edward had crinkled his nose in disdain whenever she had approached him about the idea. “Why would you want to own a piece of shit when you can drive a car worth more than most people’s houses?” Always the pragmatist Edward, she said out loud and shook her head, remembering his sharp, condescending tone.
In an act of defiance against her old limitations, she’d rented a 1960 MG Midget and driven out of the mad traffic of Bari towards the Cilento Coast.
She had driven in abject terror of being run over by trucks and aggressive drivers that honked at her, alternately gesturing for her to pull over or some absurd sexual reference. She had questioned her course of action up until she entered the Campania region, where the whir of Cyprus trees, smell of crisp, salt air and empty roads welcomed her road-weary little MG and rattled nerves. She drove down Route 267, a two-lane road that follows the Cilento coast, a far cry from the glamour and glitz of the south of France but it offered her a chance to slip into a new self she was yearning to become.
She stopped wearing makeup and simply wrapped a scarf around her head as she drove. She would pull over and look out at the fisherman dotting the shore beside centuries-old crumbling vestiges of history and buy a simple lunch of artichokes, mozzarella, tomato and olives. Something was cracking open inside her and she felt her calls with Edward were less Mr. and Mrs. Everett and more what? Prue and Edward, a thread of humanness emerging she hoped would grow back between them, though not into the rope that had once been their shared marital noose.
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By the time she had reached the Amalfi Coast, she’d desperately needed to stop driving and take stock of what was next in her travel plans. Edward’s sister Peg had invited her down to Australia and she had to respond and consider what that might mean to her, to Edward, and for Peg whose relationship with Edward could be called a truce at best. Which is how she ended up at the Hotel Caruso in Ravello. She’d received some raised eyebrows as she pulled up in her now dust-covered little road warrior, headdress of matted hair and windblown scarf, olive-stained shorts and flip-flops. But it was an Orient-Express hotel and one thing she could count on was a refreshing welcome that was curious but not judgemental. It likely helped she’d paid up front for a week’s stay in cash.
Her room felt like a safe cave nestled into the side of the mountain. Similar to Eze, there was a strong Moorish influence everywhere: high pointed arches throughout her room and faded fresco painting on the ceiling and exposed stone gave her the feeling she was in a five-star museum. Until she lay on the bed. After a week of hard beds and utilitarian amenities, she luxuriated in the comfort of an Orient Express bed story. She longed to fall into sleep but knew she couldn’t until she found something to eat.
She didn’t feel like dressing up to out to dine; it was true, her days on the road had given her freedom from her years of a pristine couture uniform. Her Valentino heels now felt painful and awkward her feet. She wriggled her toes and flexed them against her simple cotton flats bought at a roadside stand and decided take a walk and explore the hotel in her, what Edward would likely call it, ‘hippie chic’ attire.
She could hear music coming from the restaurant as she walked towards the terrace. The sun was cuddling up to the ocean and everything seemed to have a softly blurred layer over it; even the white wrought-iron fence that lined the terrace seemed to dissolve into the blue of the ocean below and beyond. She could smell lemon and fresh-cut rosemary and realized she ached for a long, complicated meal to take her through the night. Blue twilight gave the tablecloths a graphic look, as they’d only now been illustrated and were waiting for characters. Dinner was clearly over she noticed with a tinge of panic. She felt her stomach lurch with hunger and wondered if she would get a conciliatory offer of what was still available from the chef. That was when she saw Ludano.