It was their second day in Split on the Adriatic Sea, having driven from Belgrade after the conference ended. They intended only three days before going to Slovenia but jettisoned the latter idea because they enjoyed the weather, which was unseasonably hot.
As Sasa leaned over the promenade railing, Katerina slapped her on the ass.
Sasa jerked up and swatted playfully at Katerina. “Moj bog! Don’t do that!”
Katerina leaned to kiss her shoulder. “Haha. Here, I brought you a soda.”
Sasa took the bottle from her, taking a swig.
They also loved the nightclubs and spent the previous night at a casino where a large contingent of British scooter punk neo-mods congregated and danced all night to Northern Soul and 1960s English freakbeat.
They slept until noon and were now walking the promenade, looking for a café for a light lunch and coffee—lots and lots of coffee.
They dressed as what Katerina described as Italian vacation poster babes in vintage cat’s eye sunglasses, long flowered beach dresses, and stylish strappy sandals purchased at Belgrade’s New City boutique.
Both looked out of place with the other youth strolling by. Therefore, they played a game of counting Madonnas. In the half-hour since leaving the hotel, they counted nine, along with three Cyndi Laupers, a dozen Morrisseys, three pairs of Strawberry Switchblades, six Michael Jacksons, and ten members of The Cure. By their ever-changing rules, they doubled up as Jesus and Mary Chain, along with an adorable Siouxie Sue, assorted Bowies from every epoch except Ziggy Stardust because mullets were generic and did not count. Even a neo-mod, Katerina swore a dead ringer for Ian Curtis from Joy Division.
Katerina stopped to take a picture of him looking sad and handsome, leaning against the railing with hands in his pockets. To their amazement, no girls looked like Everything but the Girl, but they watched Kate Bush gliding by on roller skates.
Katerina heard familiar music from a café and said, “They’re playing Young Marble Giants! Let’s go!” Grabbing Sasa by the wrist, she pulled her along, skipping, slipping across the pavement in their sandals. They quickly found the table they wanted in the shade of the bent, paint-scraped awning.
The café catered to Europeans, but the girls ordered American-style ham and egg breakfasts. However, Katerina insisted Worcestershire sauce was good on anything.
Sasa groaned, though good-naturedly, watching Katerina dollop her plate with the stuff, swirling her scrambled eggs with the muddy sauce.
“How can anyone look so fetching eating such shit?” she said, shaking her head.
“Oh, sweetheart, you have it so easy. In university in the States, we students tend to live on macaroni and cheese and hamburger helper with just the helper. Ramen noodles. Innumerable cans of tomato soup, or we run to fast food joints. Only the ones with money eat well but generally choose not to unless it’s going out to eat.”
“Texas has tons of places to go out to eat. The best is the barbeque shacks out in the country, usually found on the roadside, where picnic tables with knives chained to the wood tabletops.
You step up to the counter and order beef brisket, German sausage, pork and beef ribs, and chicken, and they serve you a pile of meat on greasy butcher paper with saltine crackers and slabs of white bread. You can choose two sides, usually baked beans and potato salad. The only green thing you find at those places is the face you make when you overeat, or the meat is terrible. Then there is Mexican food. Enchiladas, burritos, chimichangas, breakfast tacos slathered with a green, red, or brown mole with refried beans and a huge helping of rice. Mmm-mmm, yummy.”
“And McDonald’s everywhere.”
“Yeech, I prefer Wendy’s. The burgers are made to order and square. I also love pizza.”
“You see, we have pizza here.”
Sasa reached out with her napkin, lovingly wiping a stain of Worcestershire from Katerina’s cheek, and returned to her over-easy eggs and sausage. The American girl—Texas girl—was all pink and pretty with her mop of rusty hair and curving angles, graceful shapes framing her. Roman toes like hers, pressing palms, fingers similar length, one inch apart.
Katerina had a fascination with her hair. Sasa would pretend to sleep and peek with a half-lidded single eye at Katerina, taking locks of her curly hair and holding them in the palm of her hand.
Sasa watched her study the strands, pressing her index finger to caress and bringing her lips down to her palm to kiss it before carefully placing it back and lying down next to her, closing her eyes until sleep came down.
They thought romantically, the good ones did, like Katerina--finding what was so important to her was not what most men, boys, or other women would consider vital.
Little things. Hair, shoulders, behind her knees, ankles, neck nape, and eyelids. Katerina kissed Sasa when they closed.
In most of the world, two people of the same sex can hold hands publicly.
Katerina had never held her boyfriend’s hands either. They weren’t like that; they reminded Katerina of the old boy’s game of girl germs. Yes, I have girl germs. I am holding Sasa’s hand, walking under the blue skies and sea breezes, our dresses billowing, legs curved, feet clicking, shaded by sunglasses.
In her mind, her girlfriend was a girlfriend, but in the outward sense, they were friends and perfectly acceptable. In Texas, it was a gauntlet and not worth trying unless in the safety of the gay haven. Elsewhere, Katerina shuddered and instinctively broke away from Sasa’s grasp before realizing what she had done and wrapped her hand around her fingers tighter.
They found a bookstall with mostly English paperbacks. Katerina felt nostalgic and picked up Clark Ashton Smith’s Lost Worlds Volume II to read. His writing was poetic, imaginative pulp fiction of imagination written ornately and obscurely. Sasa found an old Dino Buzzati collection titled Catastrophe.
Katerina smiled. She liked his novel The Tartar Steppe and had all three American translations of his short stories. He excelled at dreamscape irony and brevity. She looked forward to borrowing it later.
The pair decided to go into the old city and tour the ruins of Diocletian’s Palace, walking by at first, staring up at the hand-carved limestone and marble blocks rising behind a neat row of palms.
They traded the camera to take photographs of each other and got a German tourist to take several shots of them together, posed by a palm tree.
Katerina never had a photo of herself with a lover and felt jealous that Sasa did with her boyfriend, David. Nevertheless, she made the most of the moment, moving closer, finally resting her head against Sasa’s before taking the camera back and walking toward the entrance to the peristyle. They toured the Cathedral of St. Domnius, the crumbling Temple of the Aesculapius, and toured the basement. In the Dark Ages, the original inhabitants of Split fled there during the numerous pirate raids and remained for centuries as the city expanded from the walls of the old palace.
After buying sausage wrapped in a pita from a vendor, they sat on the steps of the peristyle, stretching their legs and taking off their sandals. A sea breeze blew in, working through the marble columns as they ate, sipping iced coffee from blue paper cups.
These were the first Roman ruins Katerina had toured. The family canceled the post-graduation vacation because of her Dad’s death. She thought about how she had finally made it after all these years—not to Rome, but close enough.
Katerina felt the centuries surrounding her, calling, words echoing, wondering if the Emperor who retired, the only one who willingly took off his laurels and informed the Senate he had so that Diocletian could tend to the garden personally created with his own hands, had ever sat at this spot, to look, contemplate, stare at what he commanded to build.
Alone probably, and knowing likely, his efforts had failed. Katerina imagined him waiting amid the grandeur that was his Rome comprehending with clarity the end of the West would come. Then, after him, the fall.
Katerina stretched her legs, her bare feet bent gracefully straight. She admired the red nail polish and stretched her toes. History, too much history for me right now, she thought.
Then, turning to Sasa, she said, “After this, do you want to return to the hotel?” She leaned over and gave her a look. Sasa nodded.
Katerina pressed her lips against her shoulders, unmindful of their surroundings and the distant and near wanderings of the tourists strolling by, taking photos, touching the marble and limestone columns and walls, standing sentential, mute witness to obscure generations past and for those in the future.
There is no eternity, even that which decayed unto dust. Katerina didn’t remember who originated the quote, but perhaps it was universal. There was always an ending, she knew, but the stones remained. Water and stone are continuous, life in stages, and this is one.
Yes, my love, I know that this, too, shall end. Be with me until then. Be with me until when we part. Ljubim te. Jaz sem za vedno. Vedno translated to three weeks, two days. We leave in a minute, a second.
Vedno is a drop in the bucket--infinite.