The Italian Decision

Matthew Menary

I walked through the un-air-conditioned car looking for a seat on the train to Naples as it rolled down Italy’s shin like a drop of sweat. At the back of the car, three young Italian men in uniforms of dark pants and light blue shirts with chevrons and bars and badges bent close and listened to a football game hissing out of a small transistor radio, their intensity matching the heat of the air that refused to circulate. In the middle of the car, three American college women sat, or should I say were draped across their seats, each positioning their bare limbs to the best advantage to let any air that might pass have a chance to cool them even the slightest bit. One of the women stared out of the window as if in a trance, letting her forehead rest on the clear pane of glass while watching the hills and the pines and an occasional waterfall drift by. The other two sat opposite each other on the aisle and tried to talk, which seemed hard as the stubborn July air did not want to move even when pushed from such young and healthy lungs. Still, the tall, thin, strawberry blonde facing forward managed to say, “I’m going to do it,” as she pinched a button on the front of her sleeveless white shirt, repeatedly pulling and releasing it to cool herself.

The train slowly rolled along. I continued on in my search for a seat, but not without noticing how young and carefree these women were. That impression was so quickly formed in my mind that I was sure I was wrong. I did not want to manufacture real-world problems for these students as I knew we all have them, but I did not want to jump to a cliché either. I then wondered at the hopeless symmetry of three young women and three young men so close in proximity and yet so far apart in possibility. The chances of any meaningful interaction between these two groups were almost nil.

A goal was scored in the faraway football game, and a cheer rose up from the men by the radio, which so closely followed after the woman’s determined statement of intention that it almost seemed as if the cheering was in response to her declaration. In contrast, her friend across from her, eyes half-open, struggled to show even minimal interest by saying, “Yeah?”

I moved past. I could not loiter no matter how much I wanted to eavesdrop. What had this woman so full of potential decided to do? Was she going to stay in Italy past the school term and possibly try to make a life in this amazing country? Was she simply changing her major after some transformative experience? Was she dumping her dull boyfriend after having her eyes opened to new possibilities in this exotic land? I would never know unless she quickly bared her soul.

“I’m going to do it,” she repeated with determination.

I paused and looked back in spite of myself in anticipation of her revelation.

“I’m going to eat that Snickers.”

I found a seat near the front of the car, sat down, and leaned my head against the window. The passing parade of Italy swayed before my eyes. A drop of sweat rolled down the side of my head to my cheek, where I brushed it off with my finger. I wondered about the next turn my life might take while I thought how nice it would be to eat a Snickers.


About the Author

Matthew Menary lives and writes in Saint Louis County, Missouri. He has lived in France, Hawaii, Missouri, California, and Japan and is still mining his memories of those experiences for essays. He has essays published in Lowestoft Chronicle (issue #35), Months To Years, and in the anthology, I Thought My Father Was God.