My Twenty-Four-Hour Boyfriend

heart leaves
By Gina Easley

By Zachary Zane

I don’t typically go out to bars alone. In fact, I never do. But I’m in Provincetown; I’m cute, tall, and twenty-three. I should have no problems making friends. Or at least that’s what I’ve been told.

After spending some time with my uncles at the P’town Theater, I head directly over to A-House. I walk in and immediately beeline it to the bar. Head on a swivel, I look around, hoping that my smile will be enough to bring people over to me. It does not. I stand next to the bar, only to notice how salient my sobriety feels. I order a Jack and Diet. I notice no one. No one notices me. Chug my drink. Order another. I notice him.

Cut jaw, blue eyes, big lips, scruff. Tight dark jeans cuffed at the bottom. Perfect bubble butt. Black low-laced boots. Light blue button down shirt. Untucked. Top three buttons undone. Humble chest hair. Tattoos everywhere. Backwards hat. Short blond hair underneath. Feather earring. Necklace. Rings. Bracelets.

He’s alone at the other side of the bar. I see him laugh as he talks to the bartender. The music is blaring, but somehow I can still hear him. He opens his mouth wide as he laughs. A real heartfelt laugh. His teeth are white and straight. His tongue, pierced.

I stare. I stare for a long time. He does not notice. I finish my drink and order another. Liquid courage begins pulsing through my veins. He moves to the dance floor. So do I.

I walk up to him.

I love your earring.


We introduce ourselves.

Wanna step outside to talk? I smile and nod. That is exactly what I want.

Do you smoke?

No, I don’t.

Good you shouldn’t. He takes out a cigarette and lights up.

We talk. About places. Where we have lived. Where we will live. Why we’re here. Me, visiting my uncles for the long weekend. Him, for the summer, but moving to Crown Heights shortly.

He’s confident and honest. Comfortable in his own skin. Maybe that’s the difference between being twenty-three and twenty-seven. The difference between my age and his.

His honesty is not abrasive. Not too soon. With anyone else it would be. He grew up in foster homes and left home when he was fifteen. He is the first person in his family to go to college. He created his own major there. Social Entrepreneurism. He was in India for work, helping impoverished children with cancer. Related to a startup he headed. Almost too clichéd. Almost. He comes home to find his husband of four years gone. Picked up and left. It led to a downward spiral of alcohol, drug use, and sex. Mistrust. With himself and others. I can’t blame him.

You’re cute.

Thank you. I would return the compliment, but he is much more than cute. Calling him cute would be insulting.

He recognizes a friend and calls him over. He starts talking to him and introduces us. His friend has a friend. That friend starts flirting with me, while his friend talks to him. The friend of a friend is drunk but kind. I don’t listen to him as he speaks. I eavesdrop. He acts the same with his friend. Confident. Charismatic. The four of us reconvene.

You two are too cute. Do you guys plan on having sex tonight?

He looks at me and smiles. Well, I hope… if—

I look at him. I really hope so.

We smile at each other. Naughty smiles.

A-House is closing. I grab my jacket and take a leak.

I can’t find him when I come out of the bathroom. Minutes go by. God damn it.

He comes up behind me and grabs my hand.

I’ve been looking for you.

I’ve been looking for you, too.

I stare into his blue eyes. They’re intoxicating. His whole face, intoxicating. High cheekbones. Full lips. A subtle rosy completion. We head back to his place. On the way he whips out a pair of prescriptionless hipster glasses and a slingshot.

Please tell me you’ve been carrying around this slingshot with you for the past ten years.

I wish. I got it today at a yard sale.

Why did you ruin the illusion?

Here, look how much fun it is.

He helps me grip the base.

I shoot at a sign.

See! Isn’t it fun?

I smile. Yeah. It really is.

He pulls back the slingshot and cuts his lip. It bleeds. Good. I was beginning to suspect he wasn’t real.

He pulls down the bottom of his lip to show me.

How did you do that?

I don’t even know.

I lean in to kiss it. He pushes me away. I start to worry and stop myself. He’s just waiting. This isn’t the moment. We head back to his place. It’s nice. Really nice. He made friends with a rich man who doesn’t charge him rent. He offers me a beer. I take one. He does too.


He’s looking into my eyes. I meet his gaze. No blinking. No smile. He breaks eye contact first to blush.

Sorry, you’re just really cute, and I get awkward.

If anyone else had said that to me, I would have known he was playing me. A game. I trust him. I believe him. He’s nervous. Human. Real.

Don’t be. His eyes lock with mine again. We stare. At the same time we both lean in to kiss. A slow, soft kiss. His lips are slightly chapped, but I don’t mind—again, reminding me that he’s human. I inhale deeply as I close my eyes. He smells of man. No deodorant. It’s a short kiss. Little tongue. He breaks away first.

Wanna head to my bedroom?

I do.

I use the bathroom before heading in. His pants are already off. He wears boxer briefs. Hanes. Nothing flashy. But they fit in all the right places. I take off my boots and jeans. Boxer briefs. Champion. Nothing flashy. He offers me a bedtime shirt. I decline. I know I’m going to take it off shortly.

He keeps the lights on. I like that. We begin kissing. Slowly. I open my eyes to see his closed. To see him losing himself. Losing himself in me. I close my eyes and feel him. Toned. All hair and muscle. Six-foot-one and one-hundred-eighty-five pounds of man.

We get naked, but don’t have sex. We don’t need to. It’s incredible to be with someone my size. His weight on me. His body against me. Holding one another. He falls asleep in my arms. Snoring. I don’t mind. I like hearing him.

The next morning we wake up. Naked. We make out. Cuddle. Feel one another. We lounge around. Still naked. Talking. About work. Family. Friends. Provincetown. Lovers. Past and present.

Do you have boyfriend?

No. I don’t. Do you?

No. There is this guy I talk to in D.C. But no, I don’t. You’d be surprised how many times I ask that and the answer is yes. Why don’t you have a boyfriend?

I’m not sure what to say. I just don’t. Men are new to me. At least dating men. I tell him the truth.

I was faux-dating this guy for many months. I broke things off with him recently. I knew he was perfect for me. I just wasn’t attracted to him physically. I hate myself for it. I know physical attraction is important, but I can’t help but feel shallow when that’s the only reason. I tried forcing it for a while, but that didn’t work.

Yeah, you can never force something like that.

I know that now. The whole thing was so frustrating.

I’ve been there, too. We all have. Doesn’t make you a bad person. You just know what you need now.

I do.

He looks into my eyes again. How do I feel so vulnerable and yet so comfortable? He smiles and gives me a big kiss.

When do you leave?

I’m not sure. I need to head back to my uncles later today, and I’m leaving in the afternoon.

It’s a shame. This always happens. Where I meet someone right before I am leaving for some place new. I like you. I could see myself really liking you and enjoying the process of getting to know you.

I know. I have nothing more to say. I agree.

Well I can be your twenty-four-hour boyfriend.

I would like that.

He kisses me, and we cuddle in various positions. Still naked.

He shows me cute pictures of himself in drag. I try on jeans he throws at me. They fit surprisingly well.

I think I’m gonna steal these.

Don’t you dare! We’ll grab you a pair today in town.

We hop in the shower together. Kiss. Scrub each other. We hop out. I put on my clothing from last night. He puts on something new. Cute. Hip. Tight shirt. Short sleeves. Jeans. Faux boat shoes.

We get brunch. He knows the owner and the waitress by name. It’s incredible seeing him interact. You would think that he’s best friends with everyone. He invites both of them over later to help him make applesauce with all the fallen apples in his yard. He had invited me earlier, but I told him I wouldn’t be around for it. It’s clear he’s never hung out with them before. But he’s happy to invite them over. To meet new people. Experience new friendships.

Eggs Benedict and gluten-free peach and pineapple pancakes.

Do you like ketchup?


Do you like pepper?

Yeah. I like everything.

That’s good. You’re a yes guy. I like that. I could never be with anyone who isn’t a yes guy.

He leans over the table and grabs my arms. I look into his eyes. He kisses me, moving his hand slowly down my jaw. He puts his leg on me as we eat. I pet it throughout brunch.

We split the bill and walk into town.

So you have the one tattoo?


Why just the one?

I got it with my best friend in college. I know it’s silly, but I like it. I’d be happy to get another one; I just don’t know what it would be. I wouldn’t want it to be a joke tattoo like this one. I would want it to mean something. At this point in my life, I don’t think I’ve accomplished anything, or simply lived enough to get another tattoo that means something.

That’s not true at all. Of course you have lived. Just in the short time I have spent with you and from the little you’ve told me. Of course you have lived. Don’t put yourself down like that.

I don’t mean to put myself down, I just … I don’t know.

You’re twenty-four?


I know you’re probably thinking that you should have your masters and be able to suck fifty dicks at the same time, but—

Well, I mean, I can.

He laughs. I know you can, but in all honesty, think about it like this. Think about all the things you can teach people. Every little thing from the very small to the very big. I bet you would have a really long list.

Yeah, I guess I would.

A professor once told me that. I like to think about it from time to time.

Yeah. I like that. It’s trite. It’s cliché. It’s something that can be put on an inspirational poster. I know all this. But when he says it, it means something. When he says it, I feel better. I believe him.

We walk into a boutique. He asks the owner, a friend who he lived with previously, if they have jeans my size. They do, but not in a cut he thinks will fit me well. We shop together. Try on hats and glasses. He buys a cute sweater.

We walk down Commercial together. Holding hands. He picks his long board up from a friend’s house.

Have you ever ridden one?


Do you wanna try?


He steadies me as I hop on the board. His hands on my waist. He’s got me. I know I won’t fall. He helps me kick off, and I ride a little bit. He pulls my hand so I can actually pick up some speed. I hop off.

The walk back to my uncles is about two miles. We talk more. We hold hands. We stop in the street to kiss periodically. He tells me how he got expelled from high school. He beat up a kid who called him a faggot. I like hearing stories like these. People who stand up for themselves.

I don’t know what it is. If it’s just that I know you’re leaving, and I won’t ever see you again, or see you again like this, or if it’s really something more. But I can see myself with you.

I know. I feel the same way. And honestly, I don’t know. It might be both. I shouldn’t have said it—admitting that it may not be real, but I did.


We reach my uncles’ place. He gives me a kiss. A long, real kiss.

Text me. Or don’t.

I know how he means it.

I will.

I’m really glad you came up to me at the bar.

Yeah, and to think I was about to leave right before meeting you.

I’m glad you didn’t.

Me too.

I kiss him again. I don’t want him to go.



He hops on his long board and rides away. I want to cry. Not tears of joy. Not tears of sadness. Tears of emotion. Raw emotion. What just happened?

Provincetown is already a surreal fantasyland where time stops. Where I feel far away from the city. Where everyone is friendly and queer. In my fantasyland, I met my dream boy.

I didn’t love him. I know that. But it was more than lust. What happened was ineffable. I felt connected, as if I had known him for years. I let myself go to him. I didn’t hold back, knowing there was nothing to lose.

Maybe I’m just a sucker for blue eyes and a pretty smile. Even though this was the first time something like this happened to me, I know it wasn’t the first time it happened to him. His personality, his whole being, lends himself to love and be loved. To real connections. And I’m sure he’s had real connections, just like this one, before. But that doesn’t matter. For twenty-four hours, I was his, and he was mine. All mine.

I don’t know if I’ll see him again. Of course, I could. I’m in New York once every few months anyway, but there is a part of me that wants to keep this a fantasy. To keep this perfect. The moment I see him again, outside of Provincetown, he becomes real. Our relationship, or whatever it was, will be real. Not this perfect dreamlike fantasy. And I won’t be able to think of him as fondly as I do right now.

Still, I have to see him again. Even if it ruins it. Normalizes it. Realizes it. If he made me feel so much in twenty-four hours, imagine what more he can make me feel. Odds are it won’t work out, but it’s a risk I have to take.


ZACHARY ZANE is a Los Angeles native who got lost and somehow ended up living in Boston. He’s a freelance writer and contributor at PRIDE. When he’s not trying to get his book published, he spends his time pondering about relationships and sexuality. You can follow him on Twitter @ ZacharyZane_

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Somewhere Under the Florentine Moon

catchthesun096 copy
By Beth Hannon Fuller

By Pamela Wright

I wasn’t overly concerned when I heard the shouting start in the apartment next door. I’d neglected to learn more than a few pleasantries in Italian before leaving Atlanta for Florence, so I was unable to decipher so much as the rudiments of the argument. I stopped unpacking my overstuffed suitcase and listened for a moment.

There were two combatants, one male and one female. His voice was gravelly and unsteady, hers crackled and shuddered. I smiled and imagined two adorable Florentine pensioners engaged in a harmless spat over the evening meal or whose turn it was to take out the trash, the sort of benign bickering that occurs occasionally but inevitably after many decades of an otherwise happy marriage.

As I continued sorting through piles of clothing and cosmetics, the voices became louder and more urgent. I could not understand the sum and substance of the argument, but the increasingly heated tone was universal: Aged or not, these people were pissed.

“Basta!” shouted the woman.

The old man responded with a lengthy barrage of unintelligible Italian, punctuated by something that sounded like puttana. That particular word sounded vaguely familiar, with a rather unsavory connotation. I thought it might have meant whore, or perhaps even the c-word, an epithet so vile that not even a hell-bent heathen like myself could be sufficiently enraged to utter it. I tried to imagine anyone daring to speak to my tiny but total-Southern-belle-badass grandmother in such a fashion and a shudder ran down my spine.

A loud crash erupted behind the bed. One of them had hurled what sounded like a very large piece of crockery against their side of the shared brick wall with sufficient force to launch flurries of red and umber dust into the late afternoon sunlight streaming in from the balcony. While I might have been unfamiliar with Italian culture and customs, in the rural South of my childhood, when folks got this het up, odds were pretty good that someone was going for a gun. Even my grandmother, always a practical woman, kept a pistol in her patent-leather pocketbook for quick and easy access. When compelled to brandish the weapon, she looked like the love child of Queen Elizabeth and Clint Eastwood.

Another stream of what I could only assume were expletives followed, and I stood dead still over my suitcase, a curling iron in one hand and a bottle of hairspray in the other. Neither would provide much defense unless the dispute next door was the result of an ill-considered home permanent. I heard the scraping of wood against wood, but before I could deduce its source, a  crash stilled my breath and jolted the bed a good three inches away from its original position against the wall.

Jesus Christ, I thought. This isn’t an argument, it’s a mob hit!

My parents’ twenty-year marriage had ended badly, but even amidst the escalating anger and recrimination of its wretched, waning months I never heard anything remotely like this.

I dropped to the floor and scrambled beneath the bed for cover, my heart pounding in my throat. This was not at all what I had envisioned a few weeks before when I first hatched my somewhat impulsive plan for a solo vacation to Europe.


Unlike all of my female friends and relatives, I was both single and childless. Both were entirely my choice, and I was generally content with the life I had built for myself. A solitary creature by nature, the prospect of marriage loomed like a self-imposed prison sentence, and I had never been very comfortable with children. Little kids don’t drink wine and rarely follow politics, so after establishing what they hope Santa Claus will bring them for Christmas, I’m pretty much at loss for conversation.

By my early thirties, I was not merely resigned to la vita da single, I had come to revel in my self-imposed spinsterhood. I enjoyed the solitude and the independence to pursue my own interests, and I’d even developed an impressive set of landscaping and home improvement skills along the way.

Still, I did experience an occasional twinge of domestic existential angst. I sometimes watched young couples in a restaurant near my home as they fussed over cooing babies and leaned their heads close together in intimate conversation. I never wished I had that life, but every now and again I found myself wishing I wanted that life. As much as I relished my autonomy, there were moments when I wondered if the companionship and support of a life partner would be a worthy tradeoff for my independence. Granted, these moments were fleeting and almost always occasioned by such crises as the discovery of a roof leak in the wee hours of a stormy night or a dead possum in the basement, but it did cross my mind.

Men had drifted in and out of my life over the years, good men for the most part, some of whom had offered a lifetime of security in exchange for my last name. Marriage to any one of these men would have been a safe bet, and my refusals to accept boggled the minds of my married and desperate-to-be-married girlfriends. But I could not bring myself to gamble decades of my life and a kind man’s happiness against the off chance that the marital/maternal instincts would just kick in once I strapped on a wedding gown and said, “I do.” Worst case scenario, at least I have a spacious home. Eleven rooms will hold a lot of cats.

As the Big Four-Oh-My-God approached, I felt restless; I was happy but a bit unsettled. I suppose it was, at least in some small part, the realization that the life choices I had made so cavalierly during my twenties and thirties were becoming more limited. In ten years time, when the last of whatever good looks I was born with had faded and the Good Ship Fertility had sailed, what if I realized I had made a mistake?

It struck me that a change of scenery might soothe the soul, and I became intrigued with taking my first solo vacation abroad as a fortieth birthday present to myself. I spent weeks poring over a stack of guidebooks, practically drooling over the picturesque scenes of rolling Tuscan hills and quaint medieval villages. I envisioned myself, confident and self-assured, frolicking through the achingly beautiful Italian countryside on a bicycle. A long, gossamer scarf would stream behind me from my swanlike throat, a la Grace Kelly opposite Cary Grant in one of those old movies I spent entirely too much time watching.

It would be altogether perfect.

I bought a plane ticket to Florence and rented an apartment right off the Ponte Vecchio, all paid in full and non-refundable in case I tried to chicken out. It was meant to be an adventure, the trip of a lifetime, a paean to my independence. I wanted to become the sort of woman who went to Italy alone.

And there I was. In Italy. Stuck under a bed.

Perhaps I had made a mistake. I could barely ride a bicycle on the sidewalk in front of my house, let alone through the Tuscan hillside. With my luck, coupled with an inherent clumsiness, I would undoubtedly get my Grace Kelly scarf caught in the spokes and throttle myself by the short, squatty neck. Suddenly the prospect of spending every Saturday night in a greasy barbeque joint with a squalling, red-faced baby and a NASCAR-obsessed, potbellied husband who would probably sleep through the storm and pretend he didn’t see the dead possum seemed more appealing.

As the battle continued unabated next door, I cautiously snaked one hand out from under the bed and felt blindly along the edge of the coverlet until I located my guidebook. More crockery shattered beyond the brick wall. The old man unleashed yet another litany of invectives at his companion. The old woman responded in kind.

Basta! BASTAAA!!!” she spat.

I burrowed deeper beneath the bed and paged through the guidebook to the “Helpful Words and Phrases” section until I found the B’s.

Basta {interjection}: enough; “that’ll do!”

Enough? From my perspective under the bed it sounded more like “May God have mercy on your soul, you rat bastard!!!”

By the time the last dapples of sunlight had slipped into shadows, my neighbors had mercifully retreated to their respective corners. Rich, spicy aromas wafted in through the open balcony window and I was overcome with hunger. Encouraged by the fact that the armistice next door had lasted a full and unabated five minutes, I pulled myself from under the bed and headed out the door in search of dinner. Hunger always bested fear in the end.


When I mentioned to people I was going to spend a week in Florence, Italy, alone, the invariable reaction (particularly from single women) was something along the lines of “Oooohh, maybe you’ll meet somebody! It’ll be just like that movie Under the Tuscan Sun!

I seriously doubted that this would be the case. I saw that movie. I liked that movie. But let me say, without a drop of false modesty, Diane Lane I most assuredly am not. Still, I could not deny the smallest, most fleeting of romantic musings in the weeks before I left Atlanta for Italy.

I had imagined spending the first night of my vacation in some lovely, out-of-the-way Florentine café, where I would while away the evening breathing in the same intoxicating air that had inspired Michelangelo and Botticelli, whilst a mustachioed waiter with impeccable old-world manners poured my wine and called me signorina with a twinkle in his eye. The music of Pavarotti would play softly in the background as a warm breeze lifted perfect waves of auburn hair from my creamy porcelain shoulders.

Somehow in this fantasy, my hair had grown about twelve inches into long, perfect waves.  I had also become ten years younger, twenty pounds thinner, and grown creamy porcelain shoulders worthy of display, as if I would somehow morph into a red-headed version of Veronica Lake as I passed through customs.

In reality, I had stumbled (quite literally, thanks to sleep deprivation and a misplaced cobblestone) into a café a few blocks from my apartment on the far side of the ancient Ponte Vecchio Bridge. The unsmiling waiter, mustachioed but with eyes more bloodshot than twinkly, barely spoke as he took my order and quickly disappeared into the kitchen. It was a lovely, late September evening, but there was not another soul to be found on the restaurant patio. For a moment I wondered what the crowds of people spilling out of the trattoria next door knew that I didn’t, and if I had just wandered into the Florentine equivalent of Denny’s.

As I dined on mediocre bruschetta and overcooked ravioli in cream sauce washed down with copious amounts of Prosecco, a nice breeze began to blow. Alas, it did not lift long auburn waves from my (modestly covered) shoulders because I was in the process of growing out a horrifically bad haircut that had left me bearing a disturbing resemblance to my fourth grade school picture. If Pavarotti were playing softly in the background, I could not hear him over the tubercular-sounding cough emanating from somewhere deep inside the empty restaurant. I elected to take it on faith that the unfortunate consumptive had not prepared my food, but I nevertheless abandoned the remnants of pasta left on my plate. I didn’t want to carpe diem myself into a bad case of food poisoning on the very first night.

I felt a bit unsteady on my feet as I stood and made my way to the street. Perhaps I had exercised poor judgment in knocking back three glasses of wine in rapid succession after being awake for thirty-six hours straight. I took my time walking back to the apartment, peeking through shuttered windows into shops I might visit the next day and stopping to admire the moonlight as it danced across the surface of the Arno River.

One of my favorite aspects of travel is discovering the distinct smell that every city or country possesses. Every place I have ever visited lives in my memory according to its unique fragrance: the clean damp of Ireland, with notes of peat and wood smoke; the way the seventh arrondissement of Paris smells like butter and gruyere cheese melting into fresh, crusty bread; the metallic, energizing scent of New York City in December. Florence had a warm, ancient bouquet and a pleasant dustiness that was like breathing in the Renaissance itself.

As I stood by the river sucking up the essence of Italy, I detected a hint of musky cologne. I turned and found a man standing a few feet behind me, speaking Italian in my general direction. I looked over my shoulder. I assumed he was addressing someone else, but I was the only one there.

“Pardon?” I asked.

“You are American, yes?” he asked.

I thought it remarkable that he could place my accent based upon the utterance of only one word, but I quickly realized that as a nearly six-foot redhead I couldn’t exactly pass as a native.

“Yes, I am,” I offered hesitantly. I recalled a passage in my guidebook that warned of pickpockets and thieving bands of gypsy children who preyed upon American tourists. This guy certainly didn’t look menacing, in his well-tailored linen trousers and argyle sweater, but I was alone in a foreign country on a dark and largely deserted street.

The man quickly fell into step beside me as I began walking in the direction that my Prosecco-addled brain estimated would lead me to the safety of my fourth floor apartment. He said his name was Marco (of course it was!). I stole a glance at him as we passed beneath a street lamp. He was about my height and appeared to be somewhere in his thirties. And he was handsome … really handsome, with thick brown hair that fell in layers over a high forehead and an aquiline nose that could have been carved by an Italian master.

He attempted to make small talk as we walked, asking where I was from, how long I was staying in Florence, if I’d visited any of the surrounding towns. It took a few attempts for him to understand my name, but otherwise his English was very good, much better than my virtually nonexistent Italian. It all seemed innocent enough, but Marco was just far too good looking for this to be a pick-up. In Atlanta, a guy like this would be up to his spectacularly firm ass in co-eds and pageant girls, not scamming for a one-off with a bedraggled American tourist staring down the barrel of middle age. The only way I could conceivably draw his attention back home would be to spontaneously combust in the middle of the street.

As Marco continued to describe the wonders of Tuscany, I worked my tongue against my front teeth in a fruitless attempt to dislodge the errant fennel seed that had wedged itself there during dinner. I was suddenly painfully aware of the death grip my Spanx had around my waist, and I could practically feel the gravity pulling on my face. I certainly didn’t feel glamorous like Grace Kelly, or sultry like Veronica Lake. I felt sturdy and matronly, like Eleanor Roosevelt. The mugging scenario was starting to seem like the more likely objective.

“Well, I’ve enjoyed talking with you, but it’s been a long day and I should get back…” I said and quickened my step.

“But wait, please!” Marco grabbed my hand and pulled me to a stop beneath a streetlamp.

I didn’t know if I should be flattered or kick him in the balls and run like hell.

“You are so beautiful, you cannot leave yet. Please, come and have a beer with me. I will take you to the most beautiful place in Florence.”

Please, dear God, don’t let it be the trunk of his car!

I offered further protestations of exhaustion and jet lag, but Marco continued in his attempts to persuade me to accept his hospitality. I’ll admit, they were beginning to wear me down. I had no husband to account to; I was a free agent on the loose in one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. There were no children waiting at home, only cats, and they pass no judgments. Cats are good that way.

Twenty years ago, I wouldn’t have hesitated; hell, I probably would have tried to pick him up. Recapturing a moment of the reckless glory of my misspent youth was tempting, indeed. At the very least, it would make for a saucy story to share with all of the other old maids in the state-run nursing home where I would undoubtedly spend my twilight years.

Or it could end with my god-awful passport photo flashed across CNN as Anderson Cooper, grave of voice and furrowed of brow, warned against the dangers of American women traveling alone and succumbing to the devious and dangerous charms of foreign men.

Or maybe he was a perfectly nice, well-intentioned guy who had a thing for slightly older women in need of restrictive shapewear. I had heard that European men appreciated maturity in a woman as in a good wine or delicately nuanced artisanal cheese. I had always assumed it was bullshit, but who knew, maybe there was some truth to it. I scanned Marco’s face again, trying to work out exactly how far into his thirties he might be, and wondered how well the term “cougar” translated from English to Italian.

“Well, maybe just one beer, but only if it’s not far…” I began. Maybe it was the wine, but a second wind of energy began to course through my veins. Then I turned my gaze downward where it settled on my feet.

There exists, I am certain, an unwritten but inviolable international law mandating that all women over the age of twenty-five attempting entry to any European country must be in possession of the sturdy, low-heeled, oh-so-sensible but altogether-butt-ugly walking shoe. Said footwear must be worn at all times, as evidenced by the untold thousands of pairs that carry female travelers bunion-and-blister free from the banks of the Seine to the back alleys of Barcelona every year. And there I stood, fully compliant in my size nine-narrow, round-toed, hand-stitched Clark’s.

They were about as sexy as a colostomy bag.

I found it categorically impossible to entertain even the notion of playing the femme fatale, even the Eleanor Roosevelt version, while shod in what my mother had previously described as clodhoppers that she herself would not deign to wear to a rat killing. I nearly laughed out loud as I attempted to envision myself seated on a barstool beside Marco, legs crossed, hair tossed, as I loosened one shoe and let it dangle seductively from my perfectly manicured toes. Whereupon, its full and considerable weight would most assuredly fall to the floor with a crash so loud and resounding that all conversations would cease in its echo.

“Why are you smiling? Will you come with me or not?” Marco asked and tugged at my hand again … just a little too hard.

My smile faded as I again imagined my formidable black shoe dangling from the end of my foot. But this time it was dangling out of the open trunk of a late-model sports car as Anderson Cooper sighed and shook his lovely silver head. My burgeoning second wind blew itself out somewhere over the Arno River.

The giddy effects of the wine had abandoned me with a headache, and I was suddenly so exhausted I nearly swooned. I wasn’t a reckless kid anymore. I was a grown-up woman in sensible shoes.


I took back my hand, then I took my leave.

The sky was blanketed with stars as I walked slowly toward my apartment, admiring the architecture and reflecting on the events of my first day in Italy. I wondered what my friends were doing back at home as I tried to compute the time difference. It would be daylight soon in Atlanta, time for the early morning rush of which-child-would-eat-what for breakfast and frantic searches for car keys and briefcases.

I began to consider that perhaps I had made a mistake in declining Marco’s offer of a drink and whatever else the invitation may or may not have implied. I was guilty of over-analyzing things on occasion. Would this prove to be another experience I might someday come to regret having not embraced? Sometimes a drink was just a drink, and after all, I had become the sort of woman who went to Italy alone … carpe diem.

I stopped and looked back over my shoulder to see if Marco was still standing beneath the streetlamp, but he had disappeared, somewhere under the Florentine moon.


PAMELA WRIGHT is a freelance writer from Atlanta, Georgia. She is currently working on a collection of essays titled High Hair and Low Expectations.


The Pull of the Moon

By Gina Kelly

By Meredith Fein Lichtenberg

I’m watching the water roll in, walking quickly along the shore while there’s still land to walk on. I know I could make it around the whole tidal island, back to the wooden stairs set into the rock face, and then up to the summer cottage, before the tide stops me. But I was delayed setting out—by what, I don’t remember now: an unexpected load of laundry, a lost Pokémon card, a creeping Daddy Long Legs that spooked my daughter out of her nap.

I walk briskly, but I can’t make up the time: I’m three-quarters of the way around, but the beach gets shorter and shorter. Now I’m walking right up next to the rocks. Now I’m tying my sneakers around my neck and water splashes over my feet.

I’m walking faster, grinning as I try to outrun it although I know I can’t—it’s much more powerful than I am. Now I’m hiking my skirt up to keep it dry, and finally I have to swim. As I ease into the water, I’m laughing that it beat me, and I’m more than a bit exhilarated, hooked. I was ripe for the taking, ready to be swept away by it or by something else.


When we first arrived here, we’d driven slowly, the way you do when you don’t know the roads yet, where each turn in the road or unusually shaped tree might be the landmark that you’ll imprint on your memory. We worried, driving beneath the canopy of old pine and oak trees, that we’d missed a turn—wasn’t there supposed to be a bridge?—then the road dropped off abruptly, and a wide salt marsh spread out endlessly left and right: long, waving grass, divided by a gray wooden bridge. Across it, the narrow road climbed steeply into the pine forest, winding across the island to cliffs facing Cape Cod Bay. Only it wasn’t an island, just then, because the tide was low.

After we found the cottage, the rest of my family ran to climb down the cliff to the vast, shell-strewn beach, but I stayed to explore the inside. I found that the owners had left us a calendar. It showed the phases of the moon and the height of each day’s tides, drawn as parabolic curves along the calendar page. Each day, I saw, as the moon waned to a crescent, the high tide water would surge higher. It would cover the beach to the rocks. It would fill the creek below the bridge we’d crossed. It would overflow whole salt marsh, cover the tall grass, spill onto the pavement, make the road impassable, at first for minutes, but then longer and longer each day. By the new moon—they called it the “astronomical high tide”—the road would flood for hours, cutting us off from the bridge, the rest of the Cape, and the world.

Courtesy Meredith Fein Lichtenberg


Vacation is always lulling and maybe a beach vacation even more so, but this cut-off place that’s drowned twice daily makes me feel almost drunk. Since the road floods at inconvenient times, and I’m not a planner, we rarely get off the island. I never get away from it long enough to come down, so I keep feeling all I want is more. It is enjoyable in a way that feels a little naughty, like a cocktail hour that goes on for weeks.

In the hall, there’s an aerial photo of the island. I can make out the pitched roof of our cottage, a speck of reddish shingle visible through the knot of pine branches and scrub oak. The Bay water swirls around like a Van Gogh, but the colors are blurred, so you can’t tell whether you’re looking at water or sand or marsh. I pore over the photo, and the tide calendar, and my maps, obsessively. I don’t want to think about anything else.

I take down the photo, and soon I’m carrying it with me from room to room. Each time I look at it, hungrily, it’s like I’m taking another hit. This was how I was when my kids were infants: they cried, or even just peeped, and I became dopey with the strength of the call, impelled to respond to it. I was obsessed with their rhythms, disinclined to get far enough away from them to sober up and see it more clearly. This didn’t happen the instant they were born, of course; at first there was the shock at what I’d lost.

But when that subsided, it was obvious: my babies’ needs were clear, irrefutable. When they needed, simply, my breast, all I had to be was the breast they needed. It made me docile. Every time I looked at them, I was drunk with it again. It wasn’t just that I was broken, or that my instincts rose up and I saw I was perfect for the role just by being a mammal. It wasn’t even that, as the weeks passed, I did it for the sake of the love growing between us. Yes, it was those things, but more than that, living so completely constrained by them, living utterly in their minutes, there was so much about me that I did not have to decide. It was heady. For a while, I could be simply a mother with her young, fecund, legitimate, uncomplicated.


When the tide comes in, we walk down to the bridge and see teenagers who gather there to jump into the cold Bay water. A handful of skinny boys with farmer tans goggle at the curves that half a dozen sunburned girls are trying to camouflage under shorts; their play-acted confidence is punctuated by giggling. When the intensity peaks, they all jump off the bridge to cool off. Wading in the marsh, collecting green crabs with my kids, I’m aware that I have all the freedom the teenagers imagine they want, and even access to adventures they haven’t dreamt of yet.

And, yet, I am spending my vacation at the one shelly beach near the cottage, snacking on stale bunny-shaped cheese crackers because we’re out of peaches and the tide too high right now for me to cross the bridge and drive off-island to the farm stand. I’m not restless. If I stay here, in sync with spring tide and neap tide, it will shape the day for me. And that feels, at the moment, perfect. People talk about freedom like it’s only a good thing, an ideal, the ideal, but it’s also so damn demanding. This feeling of containment—we can’t leave because the tide’s in—takes the pain of decisions away; it’s easy to surrender to it.

Surrender is so unlike regular life. It’s not maybe we should stop using plastic wrap is it worthwhile to buy Ad Words for my website do you think we should talk to your parents about getting long-term-care insurance I wonder if that conference is a good networking opportunity or a waste of time, and by the way who might I be in this life I’m making? Only, simply, yes, now, for you. Regular life has freedom. But there’s a different liberation in being defined, for a while, by something bigger than you—the ocean, the infant’s hungry mouth. It made me happy for a long time.

This summer, for the first time since I last looked, Henry and Jane are not babies. Being fundamental to their hourly survival has, I realize, long since given way to lovable, fungible parenting. There is time now to attend to questions of plastic wrap, Ad Words, long-term care insurance, networking, other things. But I’m soft and used to surrender. There’s a vacuum where babies’ rhythms once defined me. In the vacuum, I reach for something else to contain me, to numb me, to let it stay simple a little longer, and in flows the tide, also gigantic, demanding, beautiful, and simple. It carries me along, willingly.

I walk around thinking “water.” Water. Water and water and water and water and water and what more would I want and I’ll be the island and let it suffuse me, shape me, create me. I feel I am helpless for it, that sparkling feeling that takes over, makes me feel something-like-happy, and a little dumb. I just want to think about it again and again, to be near it and let it command me and keep out all the other big stuff. I feel I am in love with the rhythm of the tide. And is that so weird, really? I was also, twice, in love with babies who were, then, little more than mouths, lungs, and assholes. They were my flood and ebb, and I loved them, and I love this.


Somehow, though, one day, we venture out to see friends. We return home late in the evening, sleepy, and as the car comes over the hill, I literally gasp to see the marsh, spread-eagled, careless, before us, and island rising up beyond it, awaiting inundation. The bridge is dimly lit by a handful of stars to the east and the last bit of sunset to the west. Water is everywhere, and I’m so instantly pulled back into its magic that it takes me a minute to realize that we misjudged the timing. It’s half an hour before high tide, but already the pavement is wet. A man with binoculars tells us we can’t cross safely till the tide turns and water ebbs away. His shoulders are low and his feet are in waders. He speaks in a slow, authoritative cadence. “The road dips down on the far side of the bridge. Even if it’s still passable here, it’s too dangerous on the island side.”

I blink dumbly, repeatedly. “We have to wait?” I ask.

Greg quietly suggests we leave the car and hike home in the dark, and some tiny fraction of me briefly imagines us wading across and climbing through woods lit only by a merest sliver of moon. It’s what we’d have done before the kids. But Henry worriedly asks what we’ll do, and Jane observes that it’s very dark. I am as slow as a cow, disoriented, but I can see that she would need to be carried and he would complain all the way back. My habit of surrendering doesn’t lend itself to adventuresome thinking.

So we wait. A long, cranky hour passes in the car. I open the windows and look out at the stars and the marsh. Even in darkness, I can see the water moving in; I can hear it, moving towards me, relentless.

The kids respond to long periods of confinement with a kind of hideous duet—each takes solo verses to opine about the injustice of having had to share the one good fishing net all day, or our present lack of snacks and entertainment. Then they come together for a complain-y, bickering chorus that would sober anyone up, their voices joined in harmonious resentment. It is my least favorite sound track.

I think of whole days trapped with them—hundreds of them—with a toddler insatiable for endless rounds of The Erie Canal or a preschooler smelling every dog-piss-fertilized flower on the way to the store. How lovely it had been, at first, to surrender to them each time, to find their helplessness or curiosity thrilling, their appetite for repetition fascinating, clues to the people they’d grow to be. And yet sometimes I spent—I spend—a whole morning waiting for naptime, searching among my feelings for the peaceful surrender that came so naturally at first. Sometimes I find it again. Other times I feel, I want my fucking freedom. But motherhood deadens your impulses. You don’t leave a little one behind. You don’t even fantasize about it. You look at her and she pulls you back in and the restive feelings are all against your will.

The high tide finally rolls in and then begins to recede dreadfully slow. I am itching to get moving but I’m so tired. The sea’s undertow pulls some kind of crazy love out of me, undeniably; I don’t wish it away. It is irrational, the way it’s irrational to love being your babies’ bitch. But right now, strung out on the tide we’re tied to, I want to go home.


On the day of the New Moon, we finally join friends off-island, at the ocean. My toes sink in to the loose, white sand dunes there. Compared with the packed, moist Bay beach near our cottage, it’s hard to walk. The sun blazes, reflecting diamonds all around me, so bright that I’m confused; between the glare and the deafening surf, it seems our island is a cave we have hibernated in, and now, away from it, I’m jolted awake by hunger, amazed to reencounter the world—it’s huge and beautiful, and I’ve been asleep for years.

All at once, it’s evening. The idea of folding ourselves into the car, back to the cramped domesticity of the cottage is unbearable. I am suddenly ravenous. I want French fries and onion rings and fried oysters and stuffed quahogs, a baked potato with a little plastic container of sour cream and beer on tap and soft-serve ice cream. I want everything you can’t get at home.

We end up at a local place with a hundred other vacationers in skin tones ranging from sunburnt to roasted. We share a long picnic table with someone else’s bickering family. The kids, restless and whining, draw on paper placemats with broken crayons, and solve the word-find with the improbably misspelled “seafod.” The adults are clutching plastic lobsters that will light up and vibrate, eventually, to let us know our order is up. It’s too bright, too loud, hard to wait. Everyone is cranky, and I don’t feel like trying to make it better. I think, longingly, for a moment, of our tidal island, dark, limited, yes, but also a buffer against these harsh wilds of Tourist Restaurant Hell. It is a nest whose beauty makes me so dopey I call the drudgery of cooking and cleaning and caring for my little ones a “vacation.”

My life is that nest. I designed it to fit my peculiarities, to comfort me so I could brood and nurture my young and learn to be their mother. I placed each leaf and feather and twig painstakingly, then filled it with people I love. It limited my world, so I could focus on theirs. I made it so beautiful that living in it seemed like a terrific deal in exchange for my time, my body, my freedom. It was, once.

In the loud restaurant, now, everything seems distorted, pointed the wrong way, poking me; I have no room. This life I’ve so carefully built, loved ferociously, found so much more than satisfying, this nest, which suited us so well, it’s not just a nest, anymore. It’s a cage. And its bars, woven all around me, are the twigs and scraps I chose myself, placed with my own hands and heart, according to my own design, to contain me. The kids are hatched now; it’s only me still hoping to be comforted by containment—grasping at anything else that reminds me that for a brief time there was a role that suited me so perfectly I was willing to enslave myself.

My cheeks are hot with shame. Even birds, with their almond-sized brains, know that after the little ones hatch and fledge, it’s time for the mother to fly, again, too, to go anywhere, alight unsentimentally for sleep on any old twig. Even the most lovingly built and well-used nests are just for a sojourn. Only human mothers try to remain there so long that they go crazy. Only human mothers could try to stay in a cautious, protective role that fits less and less, a little longer, a little longer, to avoid seeing the loss, the heartbreak of being outgrown, the terror at what we might become next.

A while after the plastic lobsters vibrate, I want to get going. The high tide isn’t until late. “But it’s the new moon,” I say, over and over, more to myself than to anyone. But Henry and Jane dawdle with French fries, and on the way to the parking lot there’s No we can’t do mini-golf tonight and Fingers do not belong in your brother’s ear and Let it go, she said she was sorry. I gun the engine restlessly while everyone straps in.

Off the highway, I fly up the road with the pine canopy. I take the hill so fast that my stomach springs up to my throat and down to my groin. As we crest the top, I see alongside the marsh, several cars parked and slow-moving folks wading down to the bridge or standing, hands-on-hips, gazing into darkness. They’re here to see the astronomical high tide.

The water is already creeping up the road, farther than we’ve seen it before. In a wordless, agonized split-second calculation, Greg and I meet eyes and realize we’ll be trapped here till midnight.

I open the car door to see water already inches up the tire. It is closing in. It’s not containing me, holding me, providing me the structure I need. Not anymore.

Our eyes meet again for a moment as I make the decision. Then I drive forward, not testing, tentative, but lurching, foot to the floor. The water is deeper than I had guessed, the steering wheel not so responsive. But my foot is an anvil. The world dwindles to nothing except for my certainty that I must get across immediately. The car is listing to the left as we descend, deeper, towards the bridge, and it occurs to me that I could miss the bridge entirely and go straight into the creek. I think: I must get through this motherfucker! And then: This mother really may be fucked.

I’m loony, I think. But it’s moonless tonight, and I’m the opposite of loony: I’m emerging from a years-long dopey haze, and now getting out of it, I’m newly reusing a muscle I can only barely control. My pacing is wild. All I can think is that I must drive forward.

My aim is decent, and we’re up on the bridge, momentarily on dry ground, and I’m elated. We’re halfway there. We thunder across only to descend with a belly-flop splash to the further side. The causeway here is deeper, and for a moment, I can’t quite feel the pavement; are we floating?

My head is roaring, a chorus telling me to GO! GO! GO! Water is splashing over the hood of the car (GO!! KEEP GOING!). I need to turn on the wipers (GO!). It’s so dark that I can’t see where the road ends and the marsh begins. Are we veering left? If the tires go into the marsh, we are sunk (FASTER!). I can’t see the road at all (DON’T STOP! KEEP GOING!). There is no road (GO! GO GO GO!).

I hear Greg’s voice, as through a tunnel—is he telling me to slow down? I am afraid to listen, afraid that whatever he says will be like the newborn’s cry, like the rising tide, a Siren’s wail, tempting me back to the habit of following, surrendering, but I am in the driver’s seat now. We all need me to jam the pedal down and go forward, with no compass and no way to steer, navigating only by the imagined road ahead.

Then I’m on dry land, heading up the hill onto the island, speeding, now that I’m not dragged down by feet of water. We whip along the sand road, through the trees, the last mile through the steep forest.

Shaking and triumphant, I’ll be sore tomorrow, but for now, I’m laughing uncontrollably, giddy. I feel soaked with tears and sweat; adrenaline races through my arteries. Soon all four of us are whooping and giggling. At home, we put the kids in bed unceremoniously, still covered in beach and dinner, and Greg and I walk back down to the causeway without a flashlight. The pines above look like pulled cotton balls against the black sky, and the moonless night is so dark we navigate purely by memories of where the road curved or bent or rutted. We walk without speaking, dumbfounded, holding hands, and arrive exactly as the tide is high. The marsh is so full it looks like a lake, covering even the tallest grass, deep enough to reflect us, and the trees from the island and even the stars above. The sky and the water go on and on, even farther than I can dream of.


MEREDITH FEIN LICHTENBERG lives in New York City where she is a prenatal and parenting educator and a board-certified lactation consultant. Her writing has appeared in Brain, Child, The Mom Egg, The Huffington Post, and elsewhere, and she can be found online at  Her kids aren’t really called Henry and Jane; she wonders how life would have been different if they were.