My wedding ring was constricting around my finger. With my other hand I gave it a gentle tug and felt resistance. That was how I usually determined whether or not I was hydrated properly, but I had drank as much water as my body would allow. It was just too hot.
My suit jacket was tucked under my arm, my tie all the way loosened, but it gave me no relief. Even as I strolled through the shade covered alleyways, I was barely able to keep from melting into a puddle and oozing out of what was left of my suit.
I stepped into the semi cooled lobby of my hotel—a bellhop holding the door open for me.
“Grazie,” I said to him with a pathetic smile.
I pressed the button the laughably small elevator—it had been built into a very old building and could only fit one person, waiting patiently as it ascended centrally through a spiraled staircase. The elevator wasn’t quite as cool as the lobby had been, and the air was perfectly still except for what was going in and coming out of me. After a slow minute the elevator creaked to a stop, on the fourth floor, and I opened the two layers of doors to step out, making sure they both clicked shut behind me to ensure that the next person was able to call for it.
My shoes clicked and clopped on the granite floor, as I walked down the hall past a couple of doors before reaching my room. I swiped the plastic card and the door clicked and unlocked. When I stepped in, I could hear the air conditioning going, but it didn’t seem to have made a major impact. Although the room was much more comfortable than the street outside.
I quickly took off my damp suit, and hung each piece individually in the closet, giving them room to hopefully dry overnight. My bathing suit felt dry and cool as I pulled it up my legs, and then grabbed a towel from the bathroom. I gave another tug at my wedding ring, and had to work it back and forth a little bit in order to get it off. I put it in a glass that was sitting on the counter in the bathroom. My finger stung from where it had been pressing against the ring.
I grabbed my keycard, and walked back down the hall to the elevator, and took it to the sixth floor. I got off, and walked down to the end of the hall, where there was an exit to the rooftop pool.
I laid my towel down on one of the lounge chairs, and walked towards the shallow end of the pool. There was a middle aged couple reading on lounge chairs, and a young woman on the opposite side of the pool with big black sunglasses who was tanning. I looked at the sun beginning to sink in the sky as I waded gently into the pool. They would all probably leave within the next hour by the time the sky had become to dark to be effective for them.
As I waded further in, I took in the view. The sun hadn’t changed they sky’s color, hadn’t turned it pink or purple. It was still blue, but there was plenty of sunfaded pink in the builidings, sprinkled in with the pastel yellow ones. I could see a good distance across the city, and the young woman happened to be in my line of sight. She had nearly black hair, and dark skin, but not in a leathery tanned kind of way. She was too young for that—twenty five maybe. I couldn’t tell if her eyes were even open with those giant sunglasses, so I attempted to look like I was focused on the city and the impending sunset, but her dark skin shining under her bikini was certainly as beautiful.
After a moment the cold of the water lost its icy sting, and I decided to go under and let my body completely cool. I dove under and swam to the far end of the pool. When I came up, I looked out, but was too low to see much of the skyline, and while her eyes wouldn’t have been able to see me leering as much, I also didn’t want to be the creep who was clearly only looking at her. If she had sat up, it would have been obvious from my current height, that I couldn’t see anything but her legs. So I tried to focus on the water.
The gentle chlorination of the water ate at the sweat, and I began to feel not only cooler, but a little less filthy than I had a few minutes earlier. I dunked under again, and when I came back up, I ran my fingers back through my hair vigorously.
I swam a couple of lazy laps, letting the water rush through me, as I moved through it. I eventually stopped and sat on the steps, with the water up to about my waist. The air was warm enough that my exposed skin began to dry nearly immediately, and my hair didn’t take much longer. I would sleep better because of this swim I knew, but much of its effect would be lost when I got out of the pool.
I looked, and realized that the couple had left. The young woman was now playing on a phone quietly, her sunglasses up in her hair now. I tried to pretend as if I was looking out at the city, but she evidently was not fooled.
“Ciao.” She said in an unexcited but friendly voice.
I smiled back and said “Ciao, bona sera.”
“Americano?” She asked, sitting up and giving a little more attention.
“Si.” My face turning red in embarrassment of my poor pronunciation.
“How do you like it here?” Her English was impeccable but there was still an accent.
“I love it. It’s my second time here. My company sent me to talk to a possible customer. I sell parts to car manufacturers.”
“It’s a beautiful city. I’m from up north, but I love coming down whenever I get a chance.”
I smile, and nod not knowing what to say. After a minute she comes out with “I been to America when I was twelve. I went to New York with my family, and then we went to Disney World.”
“Oh yeah, my kids love Disney. We went a couple of years ago. I don’t go into New York too much though. My company doesn’t do much there, and my wife isn’t a fan of all the hustle and bustle.” She gives me a confused frown and I explain, “um… it’s too busy.”
By now the sun is about half behind the horizon of buildings, and the sky is a bright pink. I smile at her again, nervously, and say “Well, I should be going. I have to be at the airport bright and early to fly home tomorrow.” I stand up out of the pool, and everything but my bathing suit dries up in as I walk by her. “I’m Kevin, it was nice to meet you.”
She sits up and extends her hand too me, “Catalina. Good luck with your flight tomorrow.”
As I inhale, I can smell a combination of fading perfume, light sweat, and sunscreen. It is intoxicating. I finish shaking her hand and go grab my towel, I give myself a quick wipe to make sure I don’t drip at all inside.
At the door I turn to her and say “Buona notte.” She laughs at my pronunciation, but not in a cruel way and says it back perfectly.
As I lay in the hotel bed, I think about her, and how perfect she seemed. I think about how if I had been single, and her age what I would have done. How I would have brought her back to this room. I don’t know when my conscious fantasy transitioned to a dream, but it did. I could still smell her.
My alarm woke me up, and I smiled still half in the dream. I put the different pieces of my suit back into their hanging case, and hung them from my suitcase handle. I looked around and saw that I had everything. I walked down the hall to the elevator, and took it down to the first floor. It was slightly cooler than it had been the night before, but it was still early. I definitely wouldn’t miss the heat.
I had the front desk call a cab for me, and stepped next door for a cappuccino and a chocolate croissant. I stood outside under the hotel’s awning eating my croissant when the cab pulled up. The driver loaded my suitcase into the trunk, and I got in the back seat. Just as the cab pulled away, Catalina stepped out in a sundress, with the same sunglasses on, and very elaborate sandals. She smiled to me and waved, I waved back, with a little bit of croissant left in my hand. Once she couldn’t see me, I sighed loudly.
“You know her?” The cab driver asks with a thick accent.
“I met her at the pool last night.”
“And you two?” He is clearly looking for gossip.
“Oh no, she was very nice, but she’s like my daughter’s age.”
He nods, and I can see in the mirror a little bit of disappointment in his eye.
The rest of the drive passes with little questions about what I was able to see, and if I would come back. I told him I certainly hoped so.
A couple of hours later, finally on the plane, and relaxing as we ascended to fly over the alps, I took my right hand to play with my wedding ring as I often did, and realized it wasn’t there. My heart sank into my chest, and I realized it was probably still sitting in the glass at the hotel. I knew my wife wouldn’t be mad, after all she knew that my fingers often swelled in the heat, or with dehydration, but not having it on my finger felt bizarre regardless.
I used the little phone on the chair in front of me, to call the hotel. They told me they would be able to send it. I should have it back within a week. There was a little relief, but I still felt a cold clammy sweat on my forehead, and wracked with guilt.