I’m a romantic. I can’t help it. Right now, I’m sitting out on my 5th floor balcony in the dark, wearing a black slip and a bun, because the heat wave that just hit makes it too hot to stay inside. I’m watching the glow of lantern-lit rooftops and listening to the gentle rumble of the bars beneath me. For some, living in a city where you can’t understand anyone might feel like isolation; for me, it’s all the comfort of company without any of the distraction. My simplest pleasures this summer have been open windows, billowing curtains, and long mornings drinking cappuccinos at the counter.
It’s in my nature as a writer to strategically place myself in settings that promise the most conflict, romance, and adventure. Thomas bought a plane ticket here and I thought, “This is the development my plot arc has been waiting for!” which was not a euphemism for anything. The day his plane landed, I brushed out my hair and set myself down in the shade of a cobblestone alleyway. I was there for the better part of an hour. He must have seen me before I saw him, because when I turned my head he was running straight toward me.
Sometimes Thomas claims to forget our signature pose, the “You Look at Me I Look at the Camera,” and has to be gently coaxed back into the frame.
I was eager to show him around Rome. We got pizza at a place where we sat elbow to elbow with a Chinese family that had ordered french fries. I took him to meet my ‘gelato guy’ who is actually a girl that I am a little too well acquainted with due to a twice-a-day habit. When she told us that we were a “very beautiful coop-ul,” I momentarily lost consciousness. Once they revived me, we decided to take our cones down by the river.
I hadn’t even staged this scene but it was working out perfectly: pistachio scoops on handmade cones, a beautiful river bank, and a setting sun that made Rome look like it had been painted onto a backdrop and unrolled just for us. The two of us sat on a ledge and let our feet dangle over the water, alternatively gazing into one another’s eyes and chomping down on our gelato like hunger-ravaged animals. I was just about to go in for the kill on the last inch of my waffle cone when Thomas leapt into my arms Scooby Doo-style.
“A RAT,” he hollered. “IT’S A HUGE RAT!”
I dumped him out of my arms and surveyed the reeds below us, but I didn’t see anything. Convinced that the threat was gone, Thomas returned to gazing lovingly at me while I gazed lovingly at my gelato. Then we heard a shuffling.
“REMAIN CALM,” I shouted. “IT’S PROBABLY JUST AFRAID OF US.”
The rat darted out of the bushes. My first instinct was to sacrifice Thomas but I figured I might be better off using his body as a shield. I had to admit, from my position huddled behind Thomas, it looked vicious. If you’ve ever read George Orwell’s 1984, when he describes rats so big they ate small dogs and medium-sized children for middays snacks, then you have a pretty accurate image of what we were looking at. For a moment, the three of us were frozen there: the rat looking at me, Thomas looking at the rat, and me looking at the camera.
Then—I kid you not, folks— the rat turned and RAN across the water’s surface.
Eyewitnesses agree that there was a series of high-pitched screams, but none of them can agree on who exactly they came from: me, Thomas, or the rat.