Later he was walking down the via d’Portico Octavia and the woman in the micro skirt exited a building and walked beside him for a few moments.
“You’re not Italian?” she asked, just as they reached the Piazza Mazzini. They stopped in front of the Fontana delle Tartarughe, the Fountain of the Turtles, and as they spoke, the demure marble turtles gurgling sluggish water from their down turned beaks and into the brackish detritus of the fountain.
“Is it obvious?” Servi asked with a slight smile.
“Not the face,” she said, pulling out a pack of cigarettes and offering Servi one, which he declined. She frowned at him and lit up. “You have the map of Rome drawn on your face. But you dress like a man that lives in one of those holes in the Claudian Aqueduct. I thought you were Greek. They come to Rome and treat it like a cess pool.” Servi then told her that he was an American. On hearing this, she removed the cigarette, its tip stained with red lipstick, from her mouth and whistled through her teeth.
“When my mother was a girl and American men came to Rome, she tried to date them. Even the poor Americans were wealthy by Italian standards. But now it looks like the tables are turned: American paupers are washing up on our shores. What is the matter, didn’t your mother and father give you enough funds to live in style for your year of Michelangelo and fucking?”
She spoke a rapid Italian, and often switched from standard Italian to the Roman dialect with little transition, using pungent slang that confused Servi. But Servi understood the gist of what she was saying; he could discern the general contours of the life she lived in this ancient city, crouched low and long along the banks of the Tiber.
“What is your name?” she finally asked, and Servi told her. She dropped her cigarette into the fountain. “My God, that is my last name too!” Suddenly her face, which had been sublimely blasé, was animated with excitement. “Do you know how many Servis there are in the Ghetto, in Rome? It’s an old name. As old as these stones,” and her little heels clicked on the cobbles. “Of course, hardly any Jews live in the Ghetto any more. We are spread out all over Rome. Italian Jews have always been well integrated into this city. But when someone gets married or dies, it all happens in the synagogue, and then everyone eats here. Of course, there are some old people still here. I visit my great-Aunt Sylvia every Thursday and bring the poor sick woman some coffee and brioche. She has had a tough life.”
After this meeting, Servi found himself with an unexpected thing in Rome, a friend. The two Servis, as Francesca called them, became inseparable. She came to visit Servi in his room in the Ghetto, but after a few times, no longer had the stomach for the dankness. “This pig who takes your money should be thrown in jail. He should pay you to live here!” So Servi began to visit her in her apartment, a small but neat flat, just off the metro from the Circo Miximo.
She occupied the top apartment of an old villa which had been divided into apartments. The beams of the attic jutted through the whitewashed walls. Her tiny kitchen was a model of European economy, and her small bedroom was nearly stripped of ornamentation.
But the finest feature of the apartment was the balcony. There Francesca had lavished her tastes on wrought iron chairs and tables, over sized terra cotta pots stuffed with miniature palms and overflowing with bougainvillea.
Far below in the street Servi could hear the whine of motor scooters and even catch the hint their exhaust on the breeze, but the canopy of birch trees below shielded them from view, so the scene was pastorally calm, as if Servi was floating above Rome in an envelope of cushioned greenery. And in front of him, all of Rome’s red tiled roofs lay spread like a checked table cloth. In the distance, the dome of the Vatican rose above the unfolded metropolis like a button on top of a small, but nobly proportioned mountain.
It was just on this terrace one night that Francesca took Servi’s hand. At her insistence, they had both gone to a disco, to behave like young people for a change, she explained, and not like pensioners. Francesca dressed in her most dangerous mini skirt, a garment that daringly revealed nearly three-fourths of her upper thigh.
When he glanced at her quickly, before he could consume the details of her features, she looked like one of those women on the via Saleria who he engaged in furtive conversation. Afterward, on the balcony, she sat close to him while they drank red wine; then, uncrossing her legs, as if to invite Servi to caress the sheerness of their length, she held his hand, and then placed them not on her knee, as he expected, but on her pert right breast. She reached over and kissed him, and after a moment, Servi found her tongue in his mouth, exploring its recesses. She sensed Servi’s bland reception, and stood up, trying to pull him from his seat.
“Come on, Aarone,” she said teasingly. “Come to my bed. Our courtship has lasted now nearly two weeks. You’ve been the perfect gentlemen. I’ll take you home to meet my mother. But now it is time for the honeymoon.”
“No, Francesca,” Servi answered softly. She immediately released his hand, and placing her arms akimbo, began to question him, in heavy Roman dialect, about his unwillingness to have sex with her. Was he impotent? Did he have one testicle? Was he really gay? Did he have some disease? Was he married? Did he find sex unappealing? Was he appalled by nudity? Didn’t he enjoy sex? Especially the sex that she was offering him! She did not want a husband, fiancé, or even a boyfriend. She did not want American citizenship. Everything that happened in New York City happened right here in Rome and it was a lot closer, she explained. Are you scared of women? Are you scared of their power? Servi answered no to all her questions, kindly, and only lost his patience when she asked, in her pointed Roman dialect, why couldn’t they just fuck like animals instead of conversing like human beings? One night, as much from pique as from arousal, she came out of her bedroom naked but for tiger skin panties, her white conical breasts swinging back and forth, seeming to revel in their freedom, and sat on Servi’s reluctant lap.
“Don’t you want this, Aarone?” Servi felt his will buckle as her rounded buttocks nestled into his crotch. After a moment of dizzying indecisiveness, he pushed her away from him. Francesca began to scream at him, incomprehensibly at first, but then with more pointed rage, accusing him of being less than a man.
“What twenty-two year old man does not want to fuck? God damn you Aarone! What, are you one of these men who can only fuck whores? I’ve seen you talk to those Serbian cunts! Fine, let’s play: You want a hired pussy, fine, pay me half a million lire and fuck me!”
On hearing this, Servi got out of the chair and left her apartment.