In Rome, it had been the restaurant she chose, where his vitello tonnato wasn’t hot enough. He stabbed his fork in the air. His lips moved, but the words were just a furious rise and fall. In Cefalù, the bed was too soft, so he shoved her out. She yelped as her elbow hit the tiles. But it was in Palermo that things really devolved. The air between them like cement, the words landing and bending in half, before clattering to the ground. Love’s arrows deformed and broken.
Ally returned from the piazza with a loaf of olive bread and found her husband of thirty years with his hand up the skirt of a hotel maid. Her underpants were purple lace, cut to reveal the ample curve of her buttocks.
An odd calm spread within her, a relief. The girl batted away his hand, eyes wide. Leon dismissed her with a small nod, as if he had bought fruit from her, rather than savoured the feel of her upper thigh under his papery fingers.
As he opened his mouth to speak she held up her palm and went to the wardrobe. She slid her dresses from hangers, folded them and placed them in the suitcase. In the bathroom, she zipped up her cosmetics bag and examined her face in the mirror. Oval, the skin unblemished. A defensive cast in her blue-grey eyes. Hair neither blond nor brown hung lank to her shoulders.
Leon stood behind her. ‘I’m sorry about that. Something came over me.’
Ally turned to face him and met his eyes, her lips pursed. His muscled frame blocked the door and she felt a jolt of panic.
‘Can you please move?’
‘Ally, what are you doing?’
She stood at his armpit. He towered over her. Once it had been a comfort, a protective wall between her and the rest of the world. Now it was no more than an inconvenient barrier.
‘Let me past.’ Her voice quiet but determined.
He stepped sideways and she barrelled forward. Next she emptied the drawers. She folded the garments with the absent ease of someone who had sorted laundry for decades.
‘Just say something. You’re behaving very strangely.’
Ally rummaged in her handbag for her mobile phone and found the number. Kristie answered, her voice hoarse with sleep.
‘Terribly sorry to wake you. I told you, didn’t I, that this trip might turn on a dime? My husband and I have decided to take separate itineraries. Can you please book me on the ferry to Capri? My husband will stay here in Palermo. He can fondle the maid as much as he likes.’
On the bed, Leon sat with his head in his hands.
‘Thanks so much, Kristie. You’re an angel. Twelve o’clock departure is it? Porto di Palermo? All the best. Oh, and you’ll need to organize separate flights home. I’ll go business, but Leon will be fine in economy. Bye now.’
Leon stood, hands in fists by his sides, a muscle in his jaw twitched.
Ally stared out the window at the blue and white boats rocking at the port, the giant date palms and the striped awnings of the shops below.
‘I do have something to say, Leon. For years you’ve humiliated me, berated me and treated me like a packhorse. As soon as I reach Capri I’ll be calling our lawyer and asking for divorce papers to be drawn up. Rest assured, there won’t be a cent unaccounted for. I will be reimbursed for my forbearance.’
And with that, she pulled the handle of her suitcase and left the room, not bothering to glance at him for another second.
New beginnings, she thought with a flutter of joy, new beginnings.