A 23-year-old girl concludes writing in her diary words to a man who occupies a quadrant of her heart. She intends to brush passed artworks admiring the gallery’s exhibitions. She purchases a ticket, but a corridor entices her. A loud speaker pierces the sullen noise and announces the showing of a film. She knows nothing of its nature. She descends three levels, following an intuitive trail. A woman hands her a brochure and informs her the film will be three hours in length. Her stomach is empty; her mind’s curiosity seeks nourishment for them both.
‘La Dolce Vita’
Starring Hannah McDougall
Black and white, the film is Italian. It’s 1960s Rome and the camera stalks Marcello as he journeys in a fruitless search for love and happiness. An hour or more passes quickly, her mind victim to the abyss of foreign dialogue. She resonates with the female protagonist ‘Maddalena’.
A ten-minute interval arises and so does she from the darkness of the theatre. Dim lights and a trail of shuffling bodies lead her through the double doors. She steps out into the bright walls and marble floors of the gallery, reminded of reality. She considers moving onto another scene, she wonders of her close friend, she writes to him…
He responds instantly, “Are you coming?”
“What time and where?” She inquires.
He doesn’t respond as quickly as she’d hoped. She passes again through the double doors. The theatre lights dim once more, she’s floating in the darkness of limbo. Her phone vibrates, the male protagonist moves from the screen of the cinema to that of her mobile phone. She cancels the call and stands immediately. Reaching her fingertips out lightly, she beacons her fedora hat that occupies the seat beside her to join in her departure. She returns the cancelled call; his voice closes the space between them.
“Where are you?”
“The gallery”, she responds.
“Walk out onto the front steps, we’ll collect you.”
“What are you wearing?” “Actually it doesn’t matter, I’m sure you look as graceful as usual.”
She hesitates, but accepts, swallowing her doubts as she moves through the gallery towards the entrance. The large wooden door frame surrounds her briefly, a bordered moment in time. She steps out of one Italian film and into another. She leans upon one of the four, tall sandstone pillars, her gaze cast outwards into the neighbouring park. She hears a shutter blink, she turns, her eyes meet with those of a man, but his words capture her first.
“You’re as beautiful as my daughter”, he takes a breath “I had to take a photo of you.”
She wonders of the photograph that resides inside the metal casing as she exchanges small words with the man. She considers asking to see, yet resists so. She gifts the stranger her own reflection. She moves, trying to settle the ounce of anxiety swimming through her veins. ‘Are they actually coming’, she ponders. ‘How long will they be?’ she wonders. She plucks her shoulder from the pillar and perches on the handrail of the stairs, her feet dangling in the heated breeze. Two women immersed in a rainbow puff of flowing material waft passed her. They appear as two characters from a play.
“You look like a sculpture yourself sitting there. You look beautiful.”
Their words settle her. She thanks them and smiles. They’re gone from the setting when a familiar voice calls her name. An arm coated by a maroon, silk sleeve waves in the air. She follows its command. They embrace.
“You look beautiful”, he assures her.
“I’m in scuffed converse shoes, I need a tie!” She exclaims.
Another man opens the door of the car, penetrating their banter. She slides onto the leather seat; his suit jacket and Ferrari cap greet her. The men strap their seat belts across their chests and resume their conversation. He looks at her in the rear view mirror; she’s suddenly apart of their universe.
The car becomes still beside the pavement, all thee characters ascend from their doors. The younger male fixes a yellow tie for the older male while she watches in fascination from afar. She wonders of the day she will adorn her neck with such. An air of conversation follows them down the street as they wave to fellow guests who drive by. The older gentleman explains to the younger characters the profiles of each guest – a fast tracked education in social elitism. They bypass the women crossing names off a list and proceed up the sandstone stairs and into an obscure scene boarded by faces reflected by gold-rimmed mirrors, shards of chandeliers and a constant flow of champagne. She peers at her feet floating on a sea of antique carpet. Waves of human energy sway passed her gently. He stands beside her, an island of familiarity within an unfamiliar sea. Conversation and introductions proceed; topics of art are muffled by opinions on politics, overlaid with insights into property development and inquiries into genealogy.
“You look too exotic to be Australian”, a jury of three Asian women announce to her.
She drags herself out of her own thoughts, lost in questions beyond theirs. He brings her back to the surface with his statement.
“Let's go outside, I need a cigarette.”
They ascend the multilayered, manicured garden. A tennis court boarder to their left, a hedge to the right secures their isolation from others eyes. He lights up, she reclines on her elbows; their outlook is bright, a harbour of dreams lies just beyond sight.
All are seated on their return; they await the male performers arrival. She applies pressure with a brush of her fingers on the keys beneath, the piano responds. His mouth is ajar, Italian opera fills the room. They sit content, legs cross than uncross, their heart full, wide smiles breech their faces. The clock behind dimes in rhythm, she taps her foot, a man turns his head revealing his right profile. She brings her foot to a halt. The music sews in and out of the humans, binding them together in the fabric of existence.
The night continues on wards, locations change. Rain falls gently as the wander passed bars, pausing occasionally at traffic lights. Like a stage set created for a film, they explore each corner and every light and every shadow before moving on wards. She eventually slides back off the leather seat, bidding goodnight to the suit jacket and Ferrari cap. She lays a single kiss on each cheek of the gentlemen before closing the car door on her goodbye. The credits of the film begin to roll as she takes her final evening stroll and lays her head down to rest.