The young man lead Jesse through the crowd of festival goers on Charles Street, past Never on a Sunday, and then down Cathedral Street. He pushed open and iron gate which required the use of his shoe and motioned for Jesse to follow. “It’s not haunted,” he said. Jesse is no longer mesmerized by the idea of seeing the artist’s studio. She just now realized that what she is doing was potentially stupid. Ghosts are the least of my worries, she thought. She didn’t’ follow him up the stairs. “Listen, I’ve actually got to be somewhere.” Paul, smiling as politely as he had been ten minutes before while watching Jesse tie fabric around her waist stopped to face Jesse. He knew this was an uncomfortable proposition when he proposed it but he genuinely wanted to share his vision with her. “I completely understand,” he said. Jesse looked down at her shoes, hoping to avoid any confrontation. But there was something else. “I do want to see your work; just not today,” she said. Paul stepped down and walked closer to Jesse. He studied her face. For what seemed a long period of time to Jesse, he stared at her. He was memorizing it. “And I should like to show it to you; perhaps another time.” Paul dug into the rear pocket of his jeans and pulled out a business card. The card itself was a work of art, filled with cubes that formed a three-dimensional path which appeared to go on infinitely. Jesse looked at the card, smiled and shoved it in her pocket. She’d never call some guy she just met on the street. “Here, let me give you my cell number just in case.”
“Just in case of what?” Paul knew he was making the situation more uncomfortable. His gaze remained on Jesse. Jesse folded her arms. She felt somehow exposed. “Never mind,” she said. “I’ll see ya.” Paul, perhaps a little wounded watched as Jesse exited through the iron gate. “Jesse!” Paul walked across his courtyard, out the iron gate and caught up with her. “I’m going to have a private showing at Pitturé a week from Friday. You should definitely call me if you want to come. I could put your name on the list.” Jesse smiled. She did want to go.
Jesse reached home just in time to catch the last half hour of Judge Judy. As the gavel went down on the last case, Jesse started to doze off. Her cell was buzzing. Jim was texting her.
J-sorry, I’m just getting your text. Let’s talk next week. NSW. Jesse stared at the text until the backlight dimmed. A familiar phrase Jesse had taught Jim for those times when he was away in the states now affected her in a way quite unfamiliar. Not safe for wife, she thought, was hurtful. Had they been together all day? She was suddenly overcome with emotions she didn’t quite understand. Jesse got bottled water from the kitchen and drank it without stopping. She was invisible. No one cared that she was there in Baltimore. She didn’t have Jim. Her mother was missing in action, and her only sister was planning her wedding to the pawn shop manager. Jesse began crying. This too was unfamiliar.
Jesse went to the small den where she had slept the night before and looked at her belongings. I hardly own anything, she thought. Jesse walked into her mother’s room, stood in front of the floor-length monstrosity of a mirror, and stared at her body and then at her face. Jesse’s hair was dark brown, the color of Coca-Cola, Jim had once told her. She had kept bangs because they made her look ten years younger than she truly was. Her eyes were large and amber. Jesse pulled her hair up and away from her face. She studied the shape of her lips. They were not full like her sister’s. It was the one single thing she envied about Gina. She was no longer twenty-five; she was thirty-one, she thought. “I have nothing and my looks are fading,” she said quietly. Jesse started removing her clothes. She pulled her top over her head and threw it to the floor and then her pants, and then her bra, and then her underwear. She stood looking at the shape of her body, sucking in her tummy every couple of minutes, imagining how flat it had been once. Jesse cupped both breast, lifting them as high as she could push them. They were rounded and still had a fullness that most twenty-five year olds would pay good money for. Jesse turned to her right side and then back to the front. “I’ll have to watch what I eat. God, please don’t make me fat like Gina,” whispered. Jesse examined the small scars that were still noticeable on her wrist. What was once the reminder of a failed suicide attempt was now a reminder of how invisible she truly was.
Jesse had attempted suicide after a fateful Italy; it was a planned reconciliation with Allegro, the banker who had kept her quite comfortably until she got caught with an ounce of cocaine. Of course he welcomed her back; it was grade A dumb teenager; legal and free to screw over as he pleased. And then he was done. Jesse had been in Positano just shy of a moth when Allegro abruptly asked her to leave. “You have to leave here,” he said one evening. When Jesse demanded an explanation, he grabbed her by the arm and threw her and her belongings into the street. Jesse was on her knees, crying and picking her clothes up off of the cobblestone when a girl drove up to Allegro’s house. Jesse watched as the girl knocked on the door and was greeted by Allegro. Jesse finished picking up her belongings but having no place to go, she decided to confront Allegro. She knocked hard on the door, expecting a fight. But Allegro, upon answering the door, didn’t appear upset. “Who is she,” Jesse demanded!”
“Nessuno, lei è una prostitute,” he said. “Vieni dentro; Vieni dentro.” Jesse foolishly went into the flat. Allegro introduced Jesse to the small girl who, in Jesse’s seemed younger than she. The girl didn’t seem at all uncomfortable with the presence of another woman but she was. Allegro fixed drinks for the three of them. The girl talked non-stop about things Jesse couldn’t translate in her mind; she was confused or tipsy, she couldn’t decide. Allegro fixed more drinks. “Bere, bere!” he said and started rubbing Jesse’s thigh while appearing to listen to the girl. The next thing Jesse remembered was Allegro asking her to kiss the girl who was now naked before them. “Most women would do this for their man, she thought as she leaned in to kiss the girl who seemed more than willing.
The following morning, Jesse awoke to the same argument from the day before. Allegro once again asked her to leave. The young women lay next to her in bed. “What about her,” Jesse shouted. Allegro threw both girls out but not before giving the girl four-hundred-twenty-two thousand lira. The girl offered Jesse a ride into the next town. “Si dovrebbe avere almeno ottenuto pagato,” she said as she pulled away from the curb.
Fatigue and an unfamiliar discharge some weeks later prompted Jesse to visit the MedCentro where she was diagnosed with an STD and an unwanted pregnancy. Jesse had no one to support her through her ordeal. The nurse who cared for her immediately after the abortion insisted that she accept a ride back to the motel where she’d been staying. The same nurse would attend to her two days later, following her suicide attempt. Jesse remembered her but the nurse never appeared to remember Jesse or not that she acknowledged. On the night of her return from the clinic, Jesse managed to finish a bottle of cheap whiskey and wrote a suicide letter on her wrist; her pen of choice, a razor.
After that dreadful episode, Jesse interviewed and landed for a position with Canale di Comunicazione. The head of development liked that she could communicate with their American vendors. She lasted there for quite some time before defecting to a rival company and a new man.
As Jesse stood there and watched herself through the mirror, she thought of all she didn’t miss about her time in Italy. Her gaze was interrupted by the doorbell. “Shit,” she said, realizing she was still naked. Jesse quickly scrounged around for her clothes and got dressed. She hurried down the stairs to front hall. Peeking from a side window, she saw a delivery guy looking up at the window as if he was sure someone was there.
“Yes,” Jesse said as she swung open the door. The delivery guy seemed not to want to look Jesse in the eye but he was smiling. He handed her a large package of very light weight. “Wow, what’s this?” The deliver guy didn’t answer but appeared to be checking her out. “You live here,” he said in an accent clearly of southern descent. “Yes. Well, my mother lives here. I’m sort of visiting, I guess.” Jesse signed for the package. “Why?” She was checking him out also. “Oh, no reason; just never s-e-e-n you here before,” he said. He was still smiling. The delivery guy, with his molasses colored skin and perfect teeth almost fell backward as he backed off the porch. Vexed by the interaction, Jesse slowly closed the door.
Jesse checked the mailing label; it was addressed to Kenita Jeffries. Quickly, Jesse attempted to catch the delivery truck before it pulled away but was unsuccessful. Great, she thought. Now I will have to take this back to the post office. She examined the label again, thinking perhaps it was meant for a neighbor. “Nobody with a name like that would live in this neighborhood,” she whispered to herself. The address however, was for her house. Puzzled but not stressed, she kicked the box into a corner and went to dial the phone. She dialed Paul’s number but hung up as soon as the call went through. What if he has caller ID, stupid, she thought as she picked up the phone a second time. Wait, he has no idea this is you calling; you don’t live here, she thought and hung up again. “Now you’re just being rude. Stop hanging up,” she said quietly. She dialed once more. “What!” Paul clearly had attempted to answer the previous two calls. “Hello, may I speak with Paul?” There was a pause. “Did you just call here and hang up?” Paul asked. He sounded annoyed. “No . . ., yes. I mean I called but I didn’t hang up. I thought someone answered so I kept saying hello but then no one said anything so I hung up and tried again.” Paul’s voice softened, “Who is this?”
“It’s Jesse. We met earlier. You said I should call if I want to see your show,” she said, quite sure that he knew she was lying. “Sure, I remember. What’s up?” Paul didn’t want this to be a call about his show. He wanted to know her. “Could you put me on the list?” she asked.
“What is your real name; Jesse has to be short for something. Am I right?” he asked.
“Jessica—what?” He pressed.