I lose time—my watch stops and my phone dies as I’m hiking the trail across Cinque Terre, the cluster of scenic seaside villages in Italy. Tired and sun-burnt, I rest in an air-conditioned restaurant. When the waiter approaches, handsome in a crisp white shirt and black vest, I ask him the time,
“Time is good, Signora. I meet you,” he winks before looking at his watch. “Four pm.”
I’m not annoyed at his blatant flirting. Instead, I’m buoyed that a handsome man with his foreign accent, aquiline nose, angular face, and piercing black eyes, is hitting on me, an average middle-aged woman.
“American?” he asks.
“Si,” I say, and tuck stray hair behind my ear.
I order lemonade and a tomato-basil Panini. He leaves a whiff of his woody cologne before heading to the kitchen.
This country, with couples kissing and necking in every nook and alley, is cruel to someone like me who hasn’t dated anyone in more than a year. Not since the divorce.
Claudio, I read the waiter’s nametag when he returns with my food. Some gray in his beard peeks out when he bends down to set the tray— he isn’t as young as I first thought. I ask him if he knows a place where I could get my watch repaired.
He laughs and the sound of his laughter makes my blood dance, my pulse quicken. A full-hearted laugh, the kind I haven’t heard in a long time.
“You, lucky, Signora. You find me,” he says, bending his knees in a little bow. “I repair and make watches.”
He invites me to come with him to his place after his shift to get the watch mended. I say yes instantly, my tongue an automaton. What’s wrong with me? I’m not looking for a fleeting fling in Italy. But, I do need the watch fixed to track time in this foreign place.
Claudio’s place is a tiny studio on the second floor of a quaint pink-and-yellow house. Once inside, he takes off his shirt, without asking for permission or pardon. Black hair carpets his chest. I can’t imagine how it would feel—coarse like wire or soft like corn silk—under my fingers.
He pours us Chianti and starts looking at my opened-up watch through a loupe lens. I watch him, and he knows very well that I am watching.
After scouring through his many boxes and canisters, he declares he doesn’t have the part my watch needs but could arrange to have it in a day. I agree to return the next day, and he walks me to the train station.
As I am about to board the train to Rome, where my hotel is, he grabs my shoulder and kisses me, slowly then hungrily. I love his long nose resting on mine.
As it turns out, my watch can’t be fixed the next evening—the part isn’t available after all—but he pulls out, from a velvet pouch, a beautiful, white-dialed pocket watch with filigreed hands. He says he assembled this one himself while learning the trade from his father.
“It is, I think, the last of its kind,” he says, curling my fingers around it. “You, keep it.”
I kiss his hands, the hands that have given me the gift of time I’d lost. I sleep in his bed that night, the night after, and the one after, my fingers caressing the hairs on his chest—softer than wire, harder than corn-silk.
“Stay in Italy,” he says, on the tenth night, kissing my cheek. I’m scheduled to depart for Boston the day after.
“You come with me,” I whisper in his ear, and nibble at his lobe.
Claudio invites a bunch of his friends for drinks the evening before we plan to fly out. “Farewell, amici,” he raises his glass and tilts it towards mine. “I leave for America.”
“This Signora, with green eyes,” one of the men winks at me. “Your green card to the USA.”
“Lucky bastardo!” All his friends whoop and cheer.
I dunk the pocket watch into Claudio’s wine glass, and flounce out of the house.