Naps and dinner. Naps and dinner. It seems to Elijah that every family vacation revolves around naps and dinner. This vacation does not appear to be an exception. As soon as Danny has unpacked, he kicks off his shoes and tears off the bedspread, thrusting it aside in a vanquished heap. They have just arrived — they have just been sitting for countless hours — and still Danny feels the need to lie down and close his eyes. Elijah is mystified. Danny’s behavior is perfectly predictable, and perfectly beyond understanding.
“I’m going for a walk,” Elijah says.
“Be back for dinner.” Danny nods for emphasis, then nods off.
Because the sky is gray and the time zones are shifty, Elijah finds it hard to gauge the hour. He never wears a watch (his own rebellion against time, against watching). He must rely on the concierge to supply him with a frame of reference. It is four in the afternoon. Two hours until dinner.
Upon leaving the Gritti, Elijah is presented with one of the most exquisite things about Venice — there is no obvious way to go. Although St. Mark’s Square pulses in the background, and the canals hold notions in sway, there is no grand promenade to lead Elijah forward. There is no ready stream of pedestrians to subsume him into its mass. Instead, he is presented with corners — genuine corners, at which each direction makes the same amount of sense.
Elijah walks left, and then right. And then left, and then right. He is amazed by the narrowness of the streets. He is amazed by the footbridges and the curving of paths. He sees people from his flight and nods hello. They smile in return. They are still caught in the welcomeness rapture; they’ve deposited their baggage, and now they wander.
We are like freshmen, Elijah thinks. The incoming class of tourists. The upperclassmen look at them knowingly, remembering that initial rush, when every moment seems picture perfect and the tiredness distorts the hours into something approaching surreality.
Elijah feels giddiness and delight — although he is now in Venice, he is still high on the anticipation of Venice. The trip has not settled yet. It hasn’t officially begun. Instead, Elijah is staking out the territory — sometimes circling the same block three times from different directions — somehow missing the major squares and the more famous statues. Instead, he finds a small shop that sells shelves of miniature books. The shopkeeper comes over and shows Elijah a magazine the size of a postage stamp. Elijah wants to buy it for Cal, but he’s forgotten to bring money. He wants to come back tomorrow, but doesn’t know if he will ever be able to find the store again. He could ask for the address, but he doesn’t want to travel in such a way. He wants encounters instead of plans — the magic of appearance rather than the architecture of destination.
Seconds pass with every door. Minutes pass with every street. Elijah never realizes that he’s lost, so he has no trouble finding his way back. Three hours have gone by, but he doesn’t know this. Night has fallen, but that seems only a matter of light and air. When Elijah returns to the hotel, he doesn’t ask the concierge for the time. Instead, he asks for a postcard. He draws a smile on the back and sends it to Cal. He cannot describe the afternoon any other way. He knows she’ll understand.
Danny is still asleep when Elijah returns to the room. But only for a moment.
“What took you so long?” he asks, stretching out, reaching for his watch.
“Are you ready to go?” Elijah replies. Danny grunts and puts on his shoes.
Map in hand, Danny leads the way to St. Mark’s Square. His movement is propulsive, unchecked by awe or curiosity. He knows where he wants to go, and he wants to get there soon. Elijah struggles to keep up.
(“What is taking you so long?” Danny is on his way to the arcade and supposed to be watching his ten-year-old brother. Danny has agreed to drive Elijah and his friends to the movies and waits impatiently by the car. Danny is walking ten feet ahead to the bus stop and wants to get to his friends. Elijah is holding him back. That is the clear implication in each word of the question. It is Elijah’s fault. Elijah is left behind because he’s too slow.)
As they approach St. Mark’s, the streets become more crowded. Danny weaves and bobs through the fray, dodging the men and women who walk at a more leisurely pace. Elijah follows in Danny’s wake, without enough time to wonder if these couples are lovers, or if the children are playing games. Finally — too soon — they arrive at the Caffe Floria. Danny barks out their name and says, “Reservation, table for two.” The maitre d’ smiles and Elijah can sense him thinking to himself, American.
The restaurant unfolds like a house of mirrors — room after room, with Danny and Elijah stumbling through. Menus are procured and the Silver brothers are shown to their table. Before he has been seated, Danny orders wine and asks for some bread. Elijah studies his menu and wishes he knew more Italian.
The waiter is gorgeous — the kind of man, Elijah thinks, who would sweep Cal off her feet. It isn’t just that he’s beautiful, but that his movements are beautiful. If all men looked like this waiter, there wouldn’t be any need for color — just white shirts and black pants, black shoes and black ties.
Danny is more interested in the waiter’s grasp of the English language (mercifully adequate.) Even though Elijah is a vegetarian, Danny does not hesitate to order a rack of lamb. Elijah tries not to notice and orders penne. When it is pointed out to him that the pasta course is an appetizer, he assents to a grilled vegetable plate. The waiter seems pleased, and Elijah is pleased to have pleased him.
“So what are we going to do?” Danny asks, breaking off a piece of bread and searching for the butter.
Elijah is not sure how big this question is. He assumes it is a matter of itinerary, not relations.
“I’d like to go to the Basilica,” he answers, “and the Academy.”
“Well, of course. Those are givens. But what else? And where’s the butter?”
Elijah points to the dish of olive oil. Danny is not pleased.
“I’ll never understand why people do that — olive oil is so far removed from butter. It’s a totally different sensory experience, you know? It’s like substituting salt for cheese. Doesn’t make any sense.” Danny puts down the bread. “I’d like to go to the old Jewish ghetto tomorrow morning, if that’s okay with you.”
Elijah is surprised. He had expected less of his brother — a search for the nearest Hard Rock Café, perhaps.
“We can go to the Academy when it opens,” Danny continues, “and then take a vaporetto to the ghetto. The whole Sunday thing shouldn’t be a problem there.”
Elijah agrees, and is glad when the food comes — no need for further conversation. Which isn’t to say the brothers don’t talk. They do. But it’s hardly conversation. Instead, it’s filling the time with idle words — Danny returns to the topic of their parents’ deception, and Elijah shifts gears by mentioning movies, one of the only things they can talk about easily. Even if Danny feels it’s his masculine duty to disparage Merchant Ivory, at least it’s something to talk about. Elijah realizes this now, and Danny has the same thought, a few minutes later. But there is no way for the two of them to know that they have this feeling in common. It doesn’t come up at the dinner table, and instead the brothers teeter in their consciousness of being together, and apart. Danny takes out his Palm Pilot and shows Elijah all of the things it can do, most of them work-related. There is something about this that strikes Elijah as familiar – Danny always loved having the latest toys. But if his enthusiasm is almost childlike, its uses don’t seem to be childlike at all. Elijah tries to share in the marvel. The meal arrives and he tries to avoid the sight of Danny gnawing at the bones.
They do not stay for dessert. By the end of the night, all they can say is how tired they’ve become.
On the walk back to the hotel, Elijah realizes this is his first real adult trip. Even though he considers himself far from an adult, he can see that the trip marks some change. No parents. No teen tour counselors. No teachers chaperoning. This is what adults do. They book tickets and they travel.
If Elijah is reluctant to see himself as an adult, or even as a potential adult, seeing Danny as an adult comes easily enough. In Elijah’s eyes, Danny has always been a grown up. Less of a grown up than their parents, but still much more of a grown up than Elijah’s friends.
Danny was always so far ahead. None of Elijah’s friends had a brother who was that much older. They would gather at the Silvers’ house and become Danny’s congregation, Elijah included. When they played basketball in the driveway, Danny always counted as four people, so the games were six on three, five on two, four on one. He always knew how to use the right curse words at the right time. If he wanted to change the channel, they would let him. Because he thought their shows were childish, and they didn’t want to be childish. They wanted to know how to solve the secret puzzles the next few years would bring.
And then there was the armpit hair. Elijah spotted it one day when Danny was wrapped in a towel, finished with the shower. He raised his arm to deodorize – and there it was. Elijah told his friends, and the next time there was a pool party, Danny was the main attraction. He had no idea why the kids kept throwing the beach ball just over his head. Armpit hair was fascinating and scary and, more than anything, grown up. Danny’s voice was beginning to sound like he was chewing ice cubes. His body grew taller and taller, like celery shooting.
He was thirteen then, Elijah seven. Now, ten years later, Elijah realizes he’s older than Danny was. That all of those changes have happened to him, too. The changes that nobody has any say over. The biology – “growing” and “up” as a physical matter. The changes after – Elijah has to believe they’re a matter of choice. Looking at Danny used to be like looking at the future. Now looking at Danny is like looking at a future he doesn’t want.
His thoughts turn to Cal, to his friends, to home. He wishes that time was a matter of choice. That you could live your life controlling the metronome – speed it up sometimes, but mostly slow it down. Stay at the party for as long as you like. Prolong the conversation until everything is known.
To feel such a longing for his own life, even as he’s living it – he wonders what that means.
Elijah falls asleep as soon as he returns to the hotel. In fact, he falls asleep a few turns from the hotel, but some mental and physical anomaly conspires to keep him upright until the door of the room closes. Danny is a little more fastidious before his own collapse. He hangs up all of his clothing and studiously brushes his teeth. Then he stands for a minute in front of the window. He opens it wide, so the sounds of the canal and the laughter from the bar downstairs can segue into sleep.
Danny dreams of soldiers, and Elijah dreams of wings. They wake numerous times during the night, but never at the same time. Elijah thinks he hears Danny get up to shut the window, but when he wakes up, the window is still open.
“You fool,” Elijah says, glancing at the menu.
“What?” Danny grunts.
“I said, ‘you fool.’”
Danny looks at the menu, and understands.
“No,” he says, “I won’t quiche you.”
“Quiche me, you fool! Please!”
“If you say that any louder, you’re toast.”
“Quiche me and marry me in a church, since we cantaloupe!” Elijah is giddy with the old routine.
“Orange juice kidding?” Danny gasps.
“I will milk this for all it’s worth.”
“You can’t be cereal.”
“I can sense you’re waffling . . .”
Danny looks up triumphantly. “There aren’t any waffles on the menu! You lose!”
Elijah is surprised by how abruptly disappointed he is. That’s not the point, he thinks. He turns away. Danny pauses for a second, watching him, not knowing what he’s done. Then he shrugs, picks up an International Herald-Tribune, and begins to read.