Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Language Barriers

Today I'm whisking you away to Italy, where you will learn the language of love. Or... well, not really. More like the opposite of love, but an important language nonetheless!

Writer S.E. Sinkhorn is sharing a piece of flash fiction with us today, so I'll let her explain what I mean. S.E. is a writer of contemporary and speculative YA. She also writes a number of short stories and flash fiction pieces, one of which was a runner-up for the 2010 Katherine Patterson Prize, which was selected by author Holly Black. Currently she's working on a YA steampunk novel set in Edwardian-era Chicago.

Language Barriers
By S.E. Sinkhorn 

There’s something easy and thrilling about making out with someone who doesn’t speak your language. Literally, I mean. Not in some metaphorical “we don’t operate on the same wavelength” way, but in a “he speaks Italian and I can only understand about every third word he says” way.

But he’s hot and his mouth is sweet. We’re two people smelling of oil paint caught in a piazza full of Roman rain. He tastes like rosewater gelato. It’s good. Other painters are throwing tarps over their easels and running around us, out of the downpour. I imagine we're rocks in a stream, the water pushing and caressing but never moving us. The image makes me giggle against his lips and I feel him smile in return. I catch a glimpse of his canvas and watch my face melt and puddle on the ground.

I didn’t used to be this ballsy. Not even close. I once stared at the back of a guy’s head in class for an entire school year and never said more than three words to him. Weird how a change of scenery can reinvent you. You come to a new place and it makes you a new person. Back home, I was all slick ponytails and downcast eyes. In Rome, I’m sopping-wet waves and artistic inspiration.

“Vieni, vieni,” he laughs, pulling me behind him as he joins the scattering artists. My feet don’t move right away. I’m tempted to stand here by the little fountain and the dripping paint and twirl in place like some scene from a movie. But he’s a really good kisser. I wonder if Kissing 101 is required in Italian secondary schools. I let him lead me by the hand and we run, run, run.

The shop and café workers have been unraveling the overhead tarps to cover the storefronts and customers. We stop beneath one, panting. He buries his face in my neck and I let out one of those awkward screech-laughs. Some patrons glare at us and others just shrug to their coffees and one another. We’re just another pair of lovers, giddy with youth and hormones.

“Qual è il tuo nome, la musa? Non hai detto.” He tilts his head. I only laugh and shake mine.

“I have no idea what you just said.”

“Il tuo nome?” He points to his chest and says, “Nico.”

“Oh, my name!” I point to my chest. “Alison.”

“Alison,” he repeats, grinning. He pronounces it “Ahl-EE-son.” His eyes follow my finger, still pointing at my chest, and he unapologetically scopes my boobs. The inclination to shrug forward and cross my arms comes over me and passes. That’s what the old me would have done. It doesn’t help my resolve when I realize my nipples are standing at attention due to the cold rain. I privately curse my roommate for convincing me going bra-less would be freeing. She also pushed me to go down to the piazza and find someone to paint me, though, so I can’t feel too annoyed.

Nico (NEE-koh) pulls me further down into the open alleyway next to the café and gets back to business. He has me backed into a wall. The rain is running in rivulets over my shoulders and his entire body is pressed up against the length of mine and I can feel his heat on my chest and my belly and my...

I break our kiss. “Woah,” I say. “Woah.” I swallow and saliva slides down my throat like lead.

“Che cosa è?” he mumbles into my hair.

The constant rain is making it difficult to breathe. “Too fast. I mean, I just met you. You’re smoking hot, don’t get me wrong, and I’m totally down with the kissing, but, uh. Yeah.”

He blinks confusedly at me.

I try again. “Uh. Rapido? Mas rapido?”

Laughter scatters between the rain drops. “Perché?”

Time to try a different approach. I raise my hands above my head, point both index fingers directly at my face, and say, “Virgin.”

That word must be similar in Italian because he cracks up. When he calms down, he brushes my cheek with the back of his hand. “Nizza vergine Americana, non preoccupatevi.” He takes me by the hand, more gently this time, and leads me back to the café. It feels like all the heat that was boiling over in my middle just a second ago has migrated to my face.

We find a seat and he orders two coffees as I stare at the green-checkered table, avoiding his eyes. Smooth, Alison. So smooth. Tell the sexy Italian you’re a virgin so he takes you out for a nice platonic coffee. A love story for the ages.

A stiff-lipped waiter brings us two little white cups and a disapproving glare. Don’t mind us, I want to say. There won’t be any more kissing. I'm still the same meek little spaz from Madison.

“Drink,” Nico says, pointing at my cup. My eyes snap onto his.

“You speak English?”

He smiles. “Only very little.”

“What else can you say?”

“Hm. I say days of week. Today is rain. Pretty American girl.” He winks at me and my blush comes back. “Maybe you try next to see il Vaticano?”

“Oh, that’s perfect. Send the virgin doofus to Vatican City. Thanks.”

“You think much. Do not think so much. We have fun, yes? Is what you look for? Fun? Good day with me?”

"Yes, but I wanted to be different, you know? Someone new."

"You are different. I see. You cannot kiss me and stay the same," he laughs.

He’s right. I take a sip of my espresso. It’s thick and black and flavorful, so much different from the over-sweetened messes they serve back in the States. Still, part of me misses being able to find a Starbucks on every corner and knowing I’ll get the exact same frothy toothache no matter which one I choose. Maybe a touch of the familiar isn’t so tragically bad. Maybe I don’t have to change completely.

“Yeah,” I say, grinning at him. “It was a good day, huh?”

“Very good,” he nods. “Come, finish. I walk with you home, yes?”

The rain stopped while we were talking. Sunlight filters through the silver clouds, hitting the cobblestones and making them steam. Red and yellow buildings wink at me with their windows when the light hits them just right. And I’m still sitting here, drinking Italian coffee with an Italian hottie under an Italian sky. When I tell this story, maybe I’ll leave out the part where I acted like a dork.

Or maybe I won’t.


  1. Yay! Thanks so much for posting my story :)

  2. Oh wow, this is steaming hot --- aaand, makes me want to pick up my italian books again. So glad I could understand what Nico said!

    Love it, Steph. :)

  3. I studied abroad in Italy and I could definitely see this happening.

    Great story.

  4. Wow, my very first flash fiction...and I loved it! Not Italian, never kissed one (in the rain or otherwise), but this was so well written I could picture all of it. Great job, Ms. Sinkhorn :) and thanks Sarah for sharing.

    Ninja Girl

  5. Hoo boy, I'm just glad my Italian was serviceable, lol. Thank you all for reading!

  6. So many little details that I really loved. Him tasting of rosewater gelato. Sopping wet waves and artistic inspiration. Frothy toothache.

  7. I love flash, and so hard to find good stuff. This was brilliant -- so evocative. Thanks for sharing with us, Steph :)

  8. Che bello!! The Italian minor's definitely useful here. And such a lovely little story!! You really packed a ton into such a short space, it works brilliantly. Fantastic job! :)

  9. Excuse me. I now have to buy a plane ticket to Italy.

    So hot! And very well written which made it hotter! I love all the little details.

  10. I've decided to blow off work and head straight for the airport instead.

  11. Great story.

    But "nizza" actually means the town of Nice, in Southern France (which is a nice town but it's not why it's called Nice) - I think your character meant to say "gentile" or "carina".