“Goodbye My Love” =
When: On a trip I took with my husband to Southern Italy after renting a house outside of Lucca with a bunch of New York writer friends.
Where: We stayed in Naples for about a week. It’s unusual that I would set a story in a place where I’d spent so little time, but I knew even while we were there that it might happen — Naples was so grandly moribund, and the paradox of its former sumptuousness juxtaposed with its present-day debasement was keen. I actually did see a red-haired girl buying Marlboros from a basket lowered from a window, and wondered who she might be, and what she was doing there. At another point, my husband and I were walking through a quiet part of the city when an old woman leaned out her window and shooed us away from the street we were just entering. She said something we didn’t understand at first, but soon realized was “Ladrones, ladrones.” Thieves. Needless to say, we went a different direction.
Why: The real occasion for this story was an issue of The New Yorker entitled “The Future of American Fiction,” that everyone knew was in the works (it was 1999 by then, and a commemorative, predictive spirit had taken hold). Of course, I wanted to be included; I mean, who wouldn’t want to be part of such a lofty project? More to the point, who wouldn’t react with misery to the notion of being excluded from it? I finished the story, submitted it…and was rejected. One of those blows that feels insurmountable.
When Ted Hollander first agreed to travel to Naples in search of his missing niece, he drew up for his brother-in-law, who was footing the bill, a plan for finding her that involved cruising the places where aimless, strung-out youths tended to congregate-the train station, for example — and asking if they knew her. “Sasha. American. Capelli Rossi” — red hair — he’d planned to say, had even practiced his pronunciation until he could roll the r in front of rossi to perfection. But since arriving in Naples a week ago, he hadn’t said it once.
Today, he ignored his resolve to begin looking for Sasha and visited the ruins of Pompeii, observing early Roman wall paintings and small, prone bodies scattered like Easter eggs among the columned courtyards. He ate a can of tuna under an olive tree and listened to the crazy, empty silence. In the early evening he returned to his hotel room, heaved his aching body onto the king-sized bed, and phoned his sister, Beth, Sasha’s mother, to report that another day’s efforts had been unsuccessful.
“Okay,” Beth sighed from Los Angeles, as she did at the end of each day.
“I’m sorry,” he said. A drop of poison filled his heart. He would look for Sasha tomorrow. Yet even as he made this vow, he was reaffirming a contradictory plan to visit the Museo Nazionale, home of an Orpheus and Eurydice he’d admired for years: a Roman marble relief copied from a Greek original. He had always wanted to see it.