Eleanor lies naked on the bed. No thoughts, she is pale and empty and a little chilly from the air-conditioning. She receives information from her senses but barely processes anything: she imagines how the light that penetrates onto her retina creates minute-by-minute changes in local R-rhodopsin molecules and how this news is captured and flashed along neurons, releasing keyed neurotransmitters along the way only to arrive breathless at the sluggish halls of her brain. New data mixes with the old and just wanders about unrecorded, unremarked until it slips onto the mound of grey memory that’s been building up for…? How long had she been like this, afloat in a pool of empty white time?

She rolls her head on the pillow and there’s the world framed in the floor-to-ceiling window: the resort grounds, astro-turf, pool, rattan bar, Budweiser umbrellas; next, a patch of scrubby wasteland and then, filling all the middle ground nearly up to the ceiling, the desert cliffs blazing in the afternoon light.

‘What do they think…?’ her lover Eric says as he pulls off his shirt and throws it on the floor. Eric had become Italian for this trip. Dressed in seersucker pants and loud shirts he uses words like ‘bella’ and ‘caro’. ‘Tomart.’ He’d said this at the salad bar yesterday: ‘Back in my family’s village, my Nonna used to grow the sweetest largest…tomaart.’

She looks at the shirt on the floor: vivid against the charcoal rug, the arm outstretched like an omen.

‘…They think that we have the strength,’ Eric continues, ‘to pull these’—he huffed—‘damn bedclothes back every day over and over?’ He climbs over to her, nuzzles her neck and takes a nipple into his mouth.

She continues to stare at his shirt, while from afar she receives signals from his teeth at her breast. He pushes her legs apart. Beyond the window is the glory of the desert: rocks burning in forty-degrees, scarlets, salmons and ochres and tumbles of pink boulders down toffee-coloured slopes. ‘Amore bella,’ he says as he moves inside her. She plays with the curls on the back of his neck, idly running a finger back and forth. A bur on her nail catches and she plays it across the thin skin covering his spine and all that vulnerable wiring. She presses a little harder wondering just how much pressure would be needed to…

Being Italian, Eric mistakes this for arousal. ‘Bella ti amo,’ he growls and pulls her harder against him. Her view of the ridgeline shifts and now she can see a curl of grey smoke rising into the sky.


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