I moved in with Drew, the Texan dominatrix, and the satanic cat because I didn’t want to sleep on dogshit in the park anymore. I can’t recall the Texan’s name, Ashley or Bridget, or Lacy. She was a plus-size model and always dressed to the nines, and she always made me feel happy by proxy. A real beauty queen, with gin & tonic breath. Her accent shone when excited, and she got excited whenever she talked about sex, and thank goodness she always talked about sex. Always telling me kinky things she could get her boyfriend to do, stuff that involved safe words and lingerie and adult toys and blushing on my part. I imagined an obedient husband in her future or a swingers commune. I often wished I could be the swinging husband of her future, and I sometimes wondered if she’d initiate a fellow expat like myself into the mysteries of her sex, but the hash made me not care as much as I might have with a clearer mind.
And anyway, Drew was a poet. I loved artsy fartsy, especially when high. Purple prose and cool cats and sad songs. He was quiet like I was quiet until the drugs set in. Then we’d set off on a collision course with kitsch. Talking the ancients out of graves. Books. Books. Books. The way the light floated from the see-through walkway above us, our conflicting emotions about soggy leaves, how there was no place for us or art back home in the California grind. Mumble. Mumble. Mumble. In other words, we talked of love.
I was waging war with the damned satanic cat the rest of the time.
I think it was a rescue, the cat. And it was technically the cat’s domain into which I had moved. It would hide in my bedsheets and wait for me to get all loosey-goosey with the nighttime hash happiness, wait for me to get all ready to dream about peace on earth and goodwill toward only some Italians, and then launch an attack upon my person. It would claw at me with demonic rage, seeking out my toes in particular, and then after expletives and molestation, it would cuddle up and nap like I’d invited it to sleep there in the first place. Or I’d come out of a shower, slightly or entirely buzzed, and I’d open a cabinet for a towel and get cat. The damned thing would jump out and scare me nine ways to hell.
I admit I was rather sad to see the cat leave when the Texan dominatrix returned to the states and her strapping boyfriend. I walked with her in the rain to a dark bar where we had my favorite drink, gin & tonic, and shared my French cigarettes before she left. I told her I’d miss her and the cat. But I don’t think my soul could have taken another month of that cat, reminding me which of us was the superior animal.
Then there was just Drew and me. And a drawer full of mac & cheese that some relative had sent to Drew. I was poor, aside from somehow having money for booze, unsalted bread, and dark chocolate, and Drew told me to help myself to the boxed macaroni. To anything I wanted, really. It was one of the happiest times of my life. Free food and good hash and a place to put my head. A shower with a skylight I always left open so that leaves always fell onto my body as I bathed. I called it an earthy baptism and washed each of my sins off with leaves.
I never wanted it to end, which is probably why it did.
One of Drew’s stateside buddies blew through town. A reminder of home. High school substitute teacher or something. We all went out one night, drank cheap red wine, shared a joint or two, and talked about literature and trying to make ends meet. Then we snuck up through the brush in a place we weren’t meant to be and ended up at Piazzale Michelangelo, where we solemnly watched the weathered city below us throb in unsound sleep. Earlier, we’d snuck into the school Drew and I had attended, and we three kings looked upon the beauty of old frescoes. Maybe angels with pale penises looking down on us, pretending their shit didn’t stink. Flora with the fauna, the sad lingering of so many faded things.
And then one day there was only me. By this time I’d really shuffled. I’d slept on a park bench near the Arno, where I awoke one morning to a man stretching right near me in a red speedo. I’d shared a many-roomed apartment with a ghost, where a neighbor opposite would eat breakfast on the balcony in his tightie-whities. I’d slept in a phone booth and woke up without feeling in any part of me. I’d dozed on the steps of Santissima Annunziata, dodging pigeon shit and tourists. I was tired of the grind. It was time to return to the other grind. To the U.S. of A.
I bought pastries in the witching hours on my last night and hash from the North Africans on the steps of Santa Croce. Then I biked to Piazza Signorina, where a man wanted to pay me for sex. He was desperate, but I was drunk and high, and the pastries were warm, and, anyway, he didn’t have gin & tonic breath. I said no, and the police spooked him away. Later, I snuck up to Piazzale Michelangelo. I sat on the wall and watched my last sunrise in the City of Flowers. I thought about the Texan, her whips and chains, and Drew and his surplus macaroni. The malevolent cat and my shroud of soggy leaves. I thought, jump. I opened up. I worried about my future, and I cried.
Lincoln McElwee hails from Southern California. His poetry has appeared in various journals and anthologies, including DASH Literary Journal, Open Minds Quarterly, Crosswinds Poetry Journal, and Lullaby of Teeth: An Anthology of Southern California Poetry. He is the author of This Place Could Be Haunted If I Didn’t Believe in Love (Moon Tide Press).
MUSEPAPER ESSAY PRIZE #74
MARCH 22, 2023 / MUSEPAPER ESSAY PRIZE #74 / "NIGHT FLOWERS" © 2022 LINCOLN MCELWEE