You haven’t booked the flight to go back Alistair. She’s waiting to hear from you and you know that. You’ve known all week, but there you are sitting on your terrace in San Milano, sipping Prosecco, leaning back in that old wicker chair. Those battered bits of furniture that you bought together with Saharina last spring. She wanted them because they were old and twigs of wicker were escaping the twine and she thought that charming. You wanted new ones, sculpted and designed especially for you, but you gave in to her this time and that summer you both sat amongst the scent of lemons, drinking cognac, the colour of butterscotch, while you planned the Summer Party. You’re pulling out the kindling from the chair now, while she lays in bed, back in Hampstead.
Your flight to the Balkans is booked though, Alistair. You’ve planned it meticulously. Your contact Petro will meet you from the airport and drive you up into the mountains after dark. It’s dangerous Alistair, but you’ll take the risk to get hold of the painting before anyone else does. You’re confident that the story appearing in the press will say that the war has ravaged the collection and not all the paintings have survived. That Bosnian journalist was easy to bribe, since you made sure he knew you had witnessed his false reporting five years ago. He still remembered you. Then you’ll wait in the hotel until you hear that she is safely on her way to Italy. She captivated you – her rounded naked body, reclining full length on red velvet cushions – oils thickly texturing the contours of her form.
It’s easy to get a flight in the Autumn leaving Pisa for London, Alistair. The tourists have finished their magpie-ing by late October. It’s November and cool for the Italians. In London it’s colder and rain is falling like wet newspaper. She’s still in bed, tired as if her bones were dying. She’s looking at the marks across her – small puckerings of paled, paper skin mottled with the dark brown of her Med-tan seem to pin her skin to her thin bones. Roundedness severed by the surgeon’s knife, to save her life. You haven’t looked at her naked since. You haven’t seen your flat breasted Saharina reclining on your pillows.