Lawrence closed his eyes, listening to the quiet lap lap of water against the old buildings, the drip drip from the gondolier’s oar. Somewhere in the distance a baby was crying, but it was almost silent on the narrowest of narrow canals down which they now proceeded.
There’d been no problem getting a gondola ride. For the second day, a thick white mist hung in the air over the city, and at the gondola station at San Moisè the vessels had loomed out of the fog like Viking ships. A man in a pink T-shirt with horizontal red stripes, and a body-warmer had appeared from nowhere. “You wanna ride, signor e signora? Is foggy. I give you special price of sixty euros!”
Lawrence was surprised when Melissa had showed enthusiasm. She couldn’t swim and had a fear of going on or near water. He felt tempted to barter the price down to forty euros. No one wants to see Venice in the fog. But it was the last time she would see the city, perhaps the last time she would take a holiday.
As the gondola glided along, the gondolier, Enrico, had at first been chatty, saying how unusual the fog was, talking about the gondola and the eight different woods used in 280 pieces to construct it, as if Lawrence could care less. Now, as the mist enveloped them, enclosing them in its silent fingers to create their own private space, just himself, Mel and Enrico, Lawrence thought back to an incident at their guest house the previous evening.
They’d gone to their room after a fine dinner – Osso buco alla Milanese – and were sitting, discussing Melissa’s upcoming chemotherapy, when they’d both been startled by a crash. “Oh, my God, did you see that?” Melissa exclaimed. “A bird just hit the window!”
He’d seen a flash of black and now there was a crack in the glass. He opened the window and looked down onto a small garden, illuminated by lights from the guest house but mysterious in the thick mist. Sure enough, on a path directly below, he could make out a large black bird, unmoving. It looked like a crow.
“It’s an omen,” Melissa began pacing up and down the room, “someone’s going to die.”
Here she goes again, thought Lawrence. “Get a grip, it was just a bird hitting a window, these things happen.”
“First there’s this bloody fog, now this, it’s an omen I tell you!”
“Look, we’re on holiday. Can’t you forget all this paranormal nonsense for once?”
Melissa began to sob.
Lawrence held her, stroking her hair, trying to sense the cancer inside. “Calm down, darling, take one of your pills. I’m sorry, let’s call the signora for some more drinks, perhaps a brandy?”
Now, a smell like musty linen rose from the water as Enrique rowed them between buildings just a few yards apart. Lawrence gazed at silent barred and shuttered windows, peeling paint and shabby plaster-work, revealed by gaps in the mist. A world away from the gilded domes of the Basilica di San Marco, he thought.
Soon, through the fog he saw the looming shapes of gondolas secured to a mooring and realised they were back at San Moisè. Enrico jumped off and tied the boat up, helping Melissa off with a friendly “Grazie” and a gold-toothed smile. “Enjoy the rest of your ‘oliday. Arrivederci.”
–The sun began to penetrate the mist as they walked across the square, sunlight playing on Melissa’s auburn hair. Lawrence laughed. “Well, no one’s died yet!”
Melissa was silent. Then she turned to him. “Lawrence, through one of those windows, in that tiny little canal, I thought … I thought I saw … something.”
“You’ll think me mad, but somebody … hanging from a ceiling on … on a rope. Should we tell someone?”
Lawrence grimaced. “Come on, sweetheart, let’s get some coffee.”
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