Pasta in Paradise

The ocean rushed up under my skirts, softening that line of pink between my skin and the cooling, grey stones. The sun was receding fast, the water still holding some lingering warmth. I pulled off the damp fabric of my dress and checked back to see Luca and his papa feeding veggie chips to a fat brown bulldog, before diving into the salted clear. I swam out past the line of rocks and wondered how the day had surged out from under us, vanishing in a spray of sweat and foam. We had to be on the ferry in twenty minutes. My eyes looked directly up at the outline of the island following the lemon slicked walls and the lush green above the cliffs where we had sped hours before on a blue bus that had seemed to wobble right over that deep space of nothing before finding tracks on the bitumen and rushing forward back onto solid land, the passengers’ collective stomachs somersaulting as we made peace with early deaths.

Off the bus a young man had seen Luca trying with those inelegant fat fists to reach for a shiny pink pomegranate high above both our heads and had climbed up to gift it to him. Every day a hundred kindnesses from strangers. Did I miss these moments back home, or were people less pleasant? Less mellowed out by the insistent carbs and house wines to smile at the mother with food in her teeth, wrestling a dimpled bald baby.

When I was fourteen my uncle who had traveled the world many times over had told me of this cavern you could swim off the coast in southern Italy. The blue grotto. How the water was a colour you couldn’t imagine.

His recollection of this magic propelled us today to wait in the sweaty queues and skip the beaches to trek down the far side of the island where we read we would be met with unceasing lines and unforeseen expenses. But it had been all but empty when we’d arrived with a sleeping toddler pressed into Jordan’s chest, just waking as we descended the rough stone steps, the Mediterranean slapping the steep rock walls that surrounded us. A wooden row boat waited at the bottom catching our weight as first I, then Luca, then Jordan wobbled aboard. All we could see was a dark, yawning mouth in the wet stone that looked impossibly small to row through. A big sign declared that it was illegal to swim in the grotto and if it wasn’t for a dripping lady in a passing boat we wouldn’t have known what an extra ten euros could buy. Jordan slipped the note into the sun-browned hands of our guide and he tucked it into the pocket of his blue jeans and began to sing in a deep growl that echoed around as we disappeared into the mouth. The tunnel opened up into a large cavern lit only by the sapphire below. The sea gently lapped at the sides of the boat and we continued in suspended silence to the far side of the cave in awe of this blue unlike anything we had ever seen. Nothing but blue in my eyes and an Italian folk song in my ears. The deep, bright blue of an iris pooling around us and buoying us in its cool luminosity. Our guide paused mid-melody, breaking the silent spell even Luca had fallen under, to ask Jordan, “You swim? Yes?”

He dove in seamlessly, only a small splash disturbing the water around us, but couldn’t resist a small woop of delight. I grinned over the edge at him, his wet fingers touching my cheek. He swam deep, his white frame cutting through the rich blueberry of the water, before softly slipping back onto the seat behind Luca and I. Thin rivulets of water coursing onto my back and arms.

We lunched on mounds of linguine piled high with a fat fresh crab. The little restaurant sat out over the blue ocean just around the headland from the little white boats and their chorusing oarsmen. Jordan’s face still hadn’t receded from it’s wide-split grin and we inexpertly cracked the shell from the meat, interrupted only by Luca tossing his dinosaurs onto the deck by our feet and demanding more calamari.

We found a suitable place for me to dive in too, just beneath the restaurant, Luca climbing the rocks with his papa’s help and I floated like a starfish out into the golden sunlight.

Our journey back to the harbor was slow and filled with circumstances that somewhere else would have been termed frustrating. But we crunched on sour citrus granita and had our hair swept around us in the salty breath of wind, leaning back in our convertible taxi imagining this was our home on the steep cliffs of Capri. It couldn’t have been more perfect.

And now emerging into the sunset I held my warm son against my breasts, prickling with the cool. The horn from the ferry calling us home.

Published by chloeroselilly

Samples of my poetry, fiction and personal essays in amongst real life

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