An Excerpt from “Labyrinth Two”

Lily Tuck

Tuck-Photo

In the photograph, they are not looking at the camera. They seem unaware that their picture is being taken. Left to right, they are Franco, Eliane, Sergio, and Daphne. The four are sitting around a small, round table in the Piazzetta on Capri having drinks—probably drinks before dinner at Gemma’s. At Gemma’s, they will run into Graham Greene and his companion and great love, Catherine Walston, who often have dinner there. Sergio, who knows everyone, will walk over to their table to say hello; he will also introduce Franco, Eliane, and Daphne to Graham Greene and Catherine Walston, and Eliane will summon up the courage to tell Graham Greene how much she likes his work—especially, she will say, The Quiet American. She might even confess to him how she, too, wants to be a writer. “Good luck then,” Graham Greene tells Eliane, giving her a hard, blue-eyed look and a smile that might be both ironic and dismissive. Then turning to Catherine Walston, he says a bit too loudly, “I find that the spaghetti alle vongole is reliably good here.”

Franco is turned away from the camera and looking at Eliane. One can see only the back of his dark, closely cropped head—except for a small light patch on it that is either a flaw in the photograph or a bald spot. One of Franco’s arms is raised, and he is touching his chin in what looks to be an almost feminine gesture; the other arm is resting on his leg, which is crossed. Franco is dressed all in white—white slacks, white shirt—and he gives the impression of being both well-groomed and rich. On the arm that is raised, he is wearing a watch. Even if one cannot see Franco’s face, his stocky frame gives off an air of solidity and conventionality, although it is, of course, hard to tell what he is thinking as he listens to Eliane speak. And is he really listening to her as he appears to be, or might he instead be trying to imagine what Eliane’s breasts look like under her silk blouse since he has noticed that she is not wearing a bra?

Elegantly and sleekly dressed in the silk blouse with a long string of pearls around her neck, Eliane has a cigarette in one hand at the same time that, with the other, she is either opening or shutting the gold mesh evening purse on her lap. Her hair is dark and smooth and she looks very pretty. From the way her mouth is open, it is clear that she is speaking, and from the way Sergio is looking at her, it would appear that she is saying something of interest. What could that be? What could a young girl of eighteen or nineteen in Italy in the mid ’50s be saying that would command such attention? Something about how Italy was a founding member of the European Economic Community? Or something about Alberto Moravia’s latest novel, La ciociara, and how it movingly portrays the experience of two women during World War II? Or, more likely, Eliane is telling a story she heard from her father’s Jamaican mistress, Francine, about how Orson Welles was giving Prince Dado Ruspoli a lesson in hypnotism while the two men were sitting in a café—a café like this one—and Orson Welles, to show off his occult powers, asked Dado what he would like to see happen next and Dado said that he would like for the beautiful girl at the next table to spill her drink, a Bloody Mary, down the front of her dress, and guess what? Eliane asks. Right then and there, the girl spilled her Bloody Mary all over the front of her dress. However, as Eliane tells this story, she is not looking at either Franco or Sergio but at something or someone else in the café.

. . .

Read the rest of this story in the Kenyon Review July/Aug 2015 issue, on sale now!

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