MidReal Story

Whispers of Italian Inspiration

May 11
Scenario: A tired writer travels across Italy on train looking for inspirations
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A tired writer travels across Italy on train looking for inspirations
I’m on a train to Venice, and I’m not sure why.
I mean, I know I bought the ticket.
I know I packed my suitcase and left my apartment in Milan.
But I’m not sure why I did any of it.
I’m not sure why I’m going to Venice.
I’m not sure why I ever thought this was a good idea.
I’m not sure why I ever thought anything was a good idea.
The train is crowded, and the air conditioning is broken, and the guy sitting across from me is manspreading so wide that his knees are practically in my lap, and he smells like he hasn’t showered in a week.
Also, he’s eating a tuna sandwich, which is just about the most disgusting thing you could eat on a crowded train with no air conditioning.
I have no idea how long it’s been since I slept or showered or ate anything that wasn’t delivered to my door by a guy on a scooter.
I have no idea how long it’s been since I thought about anything that wasn’t the fact that I haven’t written anything that wasn’t complete garbage.
I have no idea how long it’s been since I was happy.
But I’m pretty sure this train trip is a metaphor for my life at the moment.
It’s hot and sticky and loud and uncomfortable and it smells, and there’s nothing I can do to fix any of it.
The train isn’t moving, so I can’t even distract myself with the passing countryside.
Which is fine, because the view from the platform is just as ugly as the view from the tracks.
And it’s not like I have any reason to be in a hurry to get to Venice anyway.
It’s not like I have any reason to be in a hurry to get anywhere.
I’m not sure why I bothered with a ticket at all.
The PA system crackles to life again, but it’s the same message as half an hour ago.
There are no new updates on when the train will be departing for Venice.
I don’t know why they even bother making an announcement if they have nothing new to tell us.
I lean my head against the window again, trying to find one tiny spot of cool glass that isn’t covered in fingerprints or dried spit.
The glass is hot, and my head is sweating, and my hair keeps getting caught in my lip gloss when I try to blow it out of my face.
I haven’t had my hair done in months, so it’s halfway grown out of the last cut, and it doesn’t even look like a style anymore.
It just looks like a mess.
My hair looks like the inside of this train car feels.
My hair looks like my life feels.
“Scusami.” The conductor taps my shoulder and points at his ticket machine.
I dig through my bag until I find my ticket and hand it over without saying anything.
The conductor punches a hole in it and hands it back to me.
“Scusami,” he says again, pointing at the empty seat next to me.
A woman standing in the aisle shuffles over to let him pass, then takes her seat again once he’s gone.
She doesn’t say anything either.
She doesn’t say thank you for letting me sit here.
She doesn’t say thank you for moving out of my way.
She doesn’t say thank you for punching a hole in your ticket so we know you didn’t steal your seat.
She doesn’t say anything at all.
I check her out of the corner of my eye, trying not to be obvious about it.
She’s wearing a navy blue blazer with gold buttons over a white T-shirt and jeans.
Her hair is pulled back into a sleek ponytail, and she’s wearing gold hoops in her ears, but no other jewelry at all, not even a watch.
She has perfect skin, with pale blue veins visible beneath the surface, like little rivers on a map.
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I shift my bag to my other shoulder and try to find a cooler spot against the window, but there isn’t one.
The glass is too hot, and my head is too hot, and my hair is sticking to my face now too, and I’m about ready to go bang on the conductor’s door and demand to know when we’re going to get moving, because this is ridiculous, and I have things to do, and I can’t be expected to sit here like a sardine in a can any longer—
Someone clears his throat next to me, very loudly and very obnoxiously, like he’s been doing it for a while now, and he’s about ready to start tapping on my shoulder if I don’t acknowledge him soon.
I sigh and turn my head to see who it is, and my eyes go wide when I see Luca Moretti sitting next to me with his arms crossed over his chest, looking very bored and very annoyed indeed.
Luca Moretti is one of my oldest friends and fellow writers, and he’s one of the smartest people I know, not that he’d ever admit to it himself.
I’m also pretty sure he’s the reason why the air conditioning is broken in this car in the first place, because he has the worst luck of anyone I’ve ever met, and the fact that we wound up sitting together in the only two empty seats on this train car is almost certainly a sign of the apocalypse, if you ask me.
He raises an eyebrow when I finally look at him, like he was starting to wonder if I was ever going to acknowledge him at all, and he says, “Long time no see, Elena.”
“It hasn’t been that long,” I say, though now that I think about it, it kind of has been.
It’s been a few months, actually, which is a long time by our standards.
Luca used to be one of my closest friends, but ever since he started dating some supermodel with a trust fund who now lives in New York City, we haven’t seen much of each other at all, except for the occasional text message or email here and there.
He used to be my favorite person in the world, but now he’s just someone I used to know—or someone I used to know better than I do now, at least—and every time I run into him somewhere like this, it makes me miss him a little more than I already do.
“It feels like forever,” Luca says, shifting in his seat and looking around the train car like he’s surprised by how crowded it is too, even though he was already here when I got on board.
“Where are you off to?”
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As I try to steady myself, the man looks up and catches my eye.
He looks annoyed, like he’s been waiting for his turn to sit down and doesn’t appreciate being interrupted, and he raises an eyebrow as if to ask what the hell I think I’m doing.
I raise my hands in apology and try to move away, but the group of tourists is blocking my way, so instead, I grab onto the back of the empty seat in front of me to steady myself.
And that’s when it happens: my hand bumps into the man’s shoulder, and he turns in his seat to look at me, and that’s when I realize that he’s not just any man.
He’s Luca Moretti, and he’s already sitting down in one of the empty seats in this otherwise crowded train car, which means the only empty seat left is the one next to him.
I look around, searching for another place to sit, but there isn’t one—everywhere else is taken, except for this empty seat next to Luca, which is apparently supposed to be mine.
I can feel my cheeks turning red as I take a deep breath and turn back around, my heart pounding in my chest.
I knew this was going to happen.
I knew we were going to end up sitting together on this stupid train ride from Milan to Venice, and yet part of me still held out hope that we wouldn’t.
He looks up when he hears my voice and smiles.
He must have a thing for Italian men in knit caps; it’s pretty much the only thing they have in common.
Luca has messy black hair and wears glasses and always looks like he just rolled out of bed—although he does it on purpose—and his eyes are blue and intense and always stand out against his pale skin and his dimpled cheeks even more than they already do.
This guy’s eyes are dark and warm, the color of honey or caramel or something sweet like that, and they’re almost hidden behind his cap, but when he smiles at me like that, they crinkle at the corners and seem to light up from within.
It doesn’t matter how many times he smiles at me like that; it still makes my heart skip a beat every time.
His smile fades when he sees my expression, and his eyes widen in surprise as he takes in my features and realizes that he knows who I am too.
“Do I know you?”
I can hear the sound of my own voice in my ears as I say it; it sounds so strange and foreign and yet so familiar at the same time.
I don’t know why it took me so long to realize who he is.
The man looks even more surprised when he realizes that I know who he is too, and his smile fades away completely as he looks around the train car like he’s trying to figure out what to do next, and I realize that he was probably hoping to get away with pretending he was just some other Italian man in a knit cap and not the most famous author in all of Italy, and now that I’ve ruined his cover, he doesn’t know what to do with himself.
“I’m sorry,” I say, taking a step back to give him some space, but there isn’t any—this train car is so crowded that we’re practically standing on top of each other, and there isn’t anywhere else for him to go, even if he wanted to run away from me and find somewhere else to sit.
I look around for the group of tourists, which is now the only thing standing between us, and I see that they’ve already moved on and found their seats, which means that there’s nothing keeping me from taking mine too.