Flash Fiction Challenge: Mozzarella Season

There’s no more virtuous way to procrastinate than with stuff you also should be doing. I’m supposed to be writing a Kimmy Schmidt spec and of course am failing miserably, so I decided to spend the night finishing my first effort at the flash fiction challenge I set for myself… The prompt being, of course, “mozzarella season.”

Y’all, it’s not great, and I know that, but part of My Process (or My Journey or My Growth Trajectory or whatever) is putting it out there and sharing it anyway, although it’s pretty raw. If you do read this, just remember… fiction is hard.

* * * * * *

“Buongiorno, bitches!” Kristin flings her arms over her head and shouts as Paolo deftly snakes the convertible around a Fiat. He adjusts the wheel loosely with one hand as he rests the other confidently across Kristin’s tanned shoulders. Her hair streams behind her like a gleaming gold flag.

Reflexively, Rose pats at her own hair and wishes she hadn’t– the top-down ride has transformed it into a frizzy tumbleweed. When they get to the vineyard she’ll have to try to un-snarl in the bathroom. Kristin flashes her most incorrigible smile at Rose in the rearview mirror. “Aren’t you glad you came on vacation?”

In the backseat, Marco meets Rose’s eyes and smiles. Behind his fringe of overlong dark hair, his eyes are kind. Rose smiles back and hopes he doesn’t notice that her chinos are currently giving her major cameltoe. As casually as she can, she tries to tug the fabric down her thighs without drawing attention to her crotch situation. The contrast with Kristin’s flirty coral sundress with its delicate straps is not lost on Rose.

To be fair, Rose did not know when got dressed this morning that two shamelessly flirty Italian men would invite them to spend the afternoon wine tasting in the Tuscan countryside. But though their adventure is unexpected, Rose isn’t surprised. She has seen men trip over themselves (sometimes literally) to woo Kristin since freshman year of college. She simultaneously loves her fiercely radiant friend and wishes she could Freaky Friday herself into Kristin’s body for just one day.

Over the car’s revving engine Rose shouts, “It’s beautiful here!” But Marco has already turned away and doesn’t hear her. Justin Timberlake’s new single blasts from the stereo and Kristin and Paolo are shout-singing the chorus. Rose joins in for the few words she knows, her voice lost in the rev of the engine.

No wonder Italians don’t seem to worry about anything. It’s too hot to think, too hot to do anything but just be. The Mediterranean sun bakes her shoulders and fries her brain. Rose is too stunned to even get worked up when Paolo turns completely in his seat to shout a joke in Italian at Marco, still driving one-handed, and leans over to repeat the joke for Kristin.

Kind, thoughtful Marco leans over to clue Rose in. “Paolo says it is mozzarella season,” he explains.

Rose blinks slowly, a lizard on a rock. “Huh?”

Marco points at a family bicycling along the road’s narrow shoulder. Rose can tell that they aren’t Italian. German, she’d guess, from how ramrod-straight they are sitting. They pedal stoically like they have pistons for legs, despite the sweat drenching their crew socks. She winces sympathetically at the angry pink strike on the back of the father’s neck, above his collar. If she didn’t need it so badly herself Rose would toss him her tube of SPF 50.

“We say, is mozzarella season,” Marco repeats, pointing again at the valiant family. “Do you understand?” Kristin peals with laughter in the front seat. Rose thinks about the effort it would take to lean towards Marco, how many questions she would have to ask to get the joke, and smiles instead, turning gently away.

The green-gold countryside flies by like a dream. Rose leans back and trails her hand over the car door, letting wind rush over her fingers like water, and knows.

This is what it is to be young.

Rose grabs hold of this moment, jewel bright and sharp as knives. She holds tight as it pierces right through her skin and muscle, sparking every nerve, slicing down to the marrow of her bones and overfilling them with painful sweetness. Rose tips her head back and whoops, overflowing with the right-now that is gone before she can even catch hold.

*****

ETA – in case you’re wondering what Mozzarella Season actually is… I have been told it’s what Italians call the summer months when pasty German tourists whose skin is roughly the same shade as mozzarella come to the countryside to catch some sun…..

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