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There's a flash of anger behind her calm smile. I know the taste of this woman's skin, the texture of her private parts, the smell of her hair when the sweat plasters it onto her neck and forehead, even the exact pitch of her moans of pleasure, and yet I can't make out anything in her expression but anger. And I can barely remember her name. At this point, admitting defeat, she stands up. We aren't alone at the table. We're a well-matched group, men on a loose rein looking for fun, plus this girl and her companion in adventure, who seems to be getting on like a house on fire with the Deputy and doesn't appear to have any intention of letting go.
She walks away without answering, casting a final glance of disapproval at me before she disappears among the crowd. She was a dark one.
That's what my friends and I call one-night stands who fade into the shadows by the light of day. I know he's right. The fact is, I'm at that time of life when everything starts to turn stale. You must know what I mean. As soon as women feel comfortable with my routine, I start getting restless. It's flattering at first, the way they look at me. I think they see me as a dominant male, the kind who'll protect the nest.
It's all a question of nature, it's written in the DNA of our species. Then, gradually, the excitement gives way to impatience, and none of it seems to matter any more: the colour of their hair, the smell of their skin, their perfect smiles, their well-toned thighs and arses. After a while, their gorgeous, Botoxed faces become redundant, superfluous, and that's when, as my best friend says, I turn nasty.
Happy Hour continues, and I'm pretty sure some other dark one will jump on our merry-go-round sooner or later, but for the moment it's enough to know there's someone sitting with the Deputy, pending the pleasant evening I've laid on for him. We're in a bar in a square in Rome, a place where You have a long memory, and there opposite us, imposing and golden, is the Temple of Hadrian, but nobody seems to be paying any attention to its mute presence, nobody's succumbing to its charms, everybody's busy with seductive games of another kind entirely.
Amid all the pleasantries, I glimpse a group of young girls who look as if they're out for a good time: the bright lipstick, the high heels, their newly matured attractions, the mobile phones that never stop ringing.
They stay close to their older friends, chattering, laughing, playing with their hair. They may only just have come of age, they probably think the NASDAQ is a neurological disease and Bush a brand of detergent, and yet they excite me.
Their skin, their hair, the delicacy of their curves, the first coat of polish on their thin nails: there's something indescribable about their charm, the nonchalant way they move, unaware of the fact that they'll never be as beautiful as this again and that they'll soon be torturing themselves with pointless plastic surgery in an attempt to preserve that advantage. Suddenly I have the impression the temple is looking at me, reading my thoughts.
Its beauty is timeless: You've been eating into its majestic columns for centuries, but You haven't succeeded in tarnishing its charm, which actually grows out of all proportion every time You take a bite out of it. The evening is just getting started, we have dinner booked at a terrace restaurant in central Rome.
The usual round of introductions, all those people it's useful to say hello to. With some people you just have to know the right button to push, and I pride myself that I was born knowing that.
Sometimes all it takes is a compliment, a well-timed joke, anything to put them at their ease, make them believe you have the solution to their problems in your pockets.
The sly, merry expression on the face of my friend the Deputy, as he emerges from the toilet wiping his nostrils, confirms to me I've got it right again, and tomorrow, at the office, we may well receive the phone call we've been waiting for.
If we get those building permits, the director will owe me a few favours. Amid the monosyllables and the laughter, a stunning woman appears. She glides past us, with a male acquaintance I've never bothered with before, but who's now suddenly turned into a dear friend. There's not a line on her face, not the smallest defect. Whoever designed her made sure all the optional extras were built in, just as you'd expect of a limited edition. She's almost fifteen years younger than me, and as I stare at her I'm thinking of the quickest way to get into her knickers, though I know that's a fairly despicable attitude.
I realize I made a big mistake, thinking she was shy, when the evening ends up with her standing almost naked in front of my bed. An olive complexion, the kind I like, and an indecent quantity of brown curly hair tumbling over breasts so perfect she must have had them done. Did she? I'll find out soon enough. She's wearing what I think are real lace knickers, quite tasteful really, and she doesn't seem to have any intention of taking off her stiletto-heeled boots for the moment.
I suppose she thinks they're some kind of armour. From the way she purses those petrol-pink lips she seems ready for battle. I like studying every detail, every centimetre of her body, as if she were a valuable object I was contemplating buying.
My only overt reaction is to smile, to show I'm pleased, and she blushes. I suppose she feels like Botticelli's Venus: I'm transforming her, my eyes are the most delicate brushes that have ever caressed her body I know this lingering scrutiny is starting to drive her crazy, but I'm curious to see how far she'll go, how long it'll take before she at last yields to my gaze and feels obliged to make the first move. Instead of which, she surprises me: still smiling, she slowly gets dressed again, leaving me like that, lying on the bed.
She's like a jeweller closing the casket after revealing the price of the gems. Unfortunately for her, I have no intention of yielding, or of reaching for my wallet, and as she dresses, I equally slowly undress. She can't help it, she finds the whole thing amusing, but not enough to get her to join me between the sheets, she prefers to sit down in the leather armchair facing the bed. She starts playing distractedly with the remote that controls the blinds over the windows, and when she inadvertently raises them, she's met by the view from my apartment.
She's enchanted by the lights of central Rome, so much so that she completely forgets about me lying there naked on the bed. After a few moments of total silence, she turns and says, "Thank you.
I wasn't expecting that. I never thought the view of the Castel Sant'Angelo could cast such a spell on her. I'm about to reply, to start a conversation, but she turns and asks me, "Are you renting, or do you own this gem?
That seems harsh. I tell her I got a good deal on it, get proudly up off the bed and walk to the kitchen stark naked. I'm ready to open the Dom Perignon I keep chilled for difficult cases like her. I come back to the bedroom and uncork it behind her.
She turns, a bit startled, then smiles. I slide my fingers over her silky skin, now wet with champagne, until I get to her breasts. She has had them done, as I guessed, but they're just as exciting as if they were real.
A grin, the grin of someone savouring victory, comes to life on my face. She must wish I was more passionate, she must wish she could measure my desire by the insistent touch of my fingers, but I continue to keep my distance, touching her lightly with only one hand, exploring hesitantly, and I know that very soon, in a very few seconds, she'll be the one to sweep me off my feet, and I'll find myself thrown down on the bed, intoxicated with her scent, panting, beneath a wild riot of curly hair.
I've been living with my mood swings since I was a little boy, since before all the nights spent in clubs and the binges and the after-effects of coke, since before I became successful. Once my testosterone has exploded in orgasm, my mind makes room for accounts and work projects and next day's schedule, and in all this rapid channel-flicking there's no place for a woman's reflections.
She's lit a cigarette and from her sighs I sense she'd really like to chat. Which is what she does, starting with her work, then the fog in Milan. She tells me she'd like to move. Doesn't she know that's the kind of talk that scares a man off? Then she compliments me on my apartment, she says she's never seen so many gadgets in one place. With some women it's actually too easy, a few special effects and you get the same respect from them that you get when you shake someone's hand with a couple of banknotes rolled up in yours.
They open all doors. She loses a few more points when she starts walking naked around the outside of the bed, still holding her cigarette, and peers at my things. My clothes will all be smelling of smoke soon.
The last straw is when she presses a button and activates the shelf under the bedside table, which rises hydraulically to reveal some spirits and a little cocaine. I always keep some there to liven up those evenings that finish in this apartment, and activating that mechanism is something that always strikes them dumb with amazement.
Luckily, she likes playing the role of the obedient child. At last she stops messing about with my things. She lies down again on the bed and lights another cigarette. Again that bit of ash about to fall, which really annoys me. When, between one drag and another, she asks me to tell her something about my life, I pretend I've fallen asleep and reply with an irritated mutter.
Finding ways to avoid conversation is a trick I inherited from my father, and all at once, in the half-light of the room, his image appears in front of me like a faded slide. His unmistakable sulk reminds me of our dinners together, when I would nod wearily as I looked at the worn-out kitchen utensils, the untidy dining table, where he kept his papers, and the dismal dried flowers in the yellow earthenware vases and thought about the Futurist paintings I was studying at school, the speed of a brand-new sports car, the exalting of pleasure and youth in Oscar Wilde.
I couldn't wait for him to let me go so that I could get back to the stern, irreproachable rhythms of the teachers he'd entrusted me to after throwing in the towel. I much preferred the sanitized corridors during those interminably slow, mind-numbingly boring hours of punishment to the airless atmosphere of home. I wanted to knock down those four walls, turn my life upside down, and I was sure that sooner or later I would: one day I'd leave school, along with all the other wild kids, and find my own path, I'd become master of my own time and invest it in the race to succeed.
These are the thoughts that fill the muffled silence of the room, the conviction that his inability to love me was lucky for me, because if I hadn't taken that course, I wouldn't be the kind of man I am today. I'd probably still be living in Turin, trying to drum up business for his cash-strapped legal practice. We weren't meant to live together. Our relationship has always been precariously balanced, a matter of cautious, moderate gestures, as if our worlds, so remote one from the other, have to be kept at a distance, under strict control, to avoid collapse.
I'm still convinced that the key to everything is control, control of every moment, even the most unpredictable, and that it was control that stopped me going mad, stopped me being swallowed up by the emptiness that swallowed up my father in the end. Order is the basis of my work. Order is mathematics, and numbers never let you down, it's not in their nature.
You just have to see me to understand: I'm at the top of an investment company, calculations and opportunities are inextricably entwined if you want to be part of that narrow circle of people who hold the right cards in their hands. I can't help being pleased with the aces I've been dealt lately, and the gorgeous girl who's now asleep beside me is a consequence of them. When the desire for sex returns, I don't have to do anything but start kissing her again, allowing myself to get excited by her ready responses, by the fact that she offers no resistance, and at the same time the thought makes its way inside me that she'll soon be gone, and that in my bedroom, as in my life, order will eventually be restored.
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There's a flash of anger behind her calm smile. I know the taste of this woman's skin, the texture of her private parts, the smell of her hair when the sweat plasters it onto her neck and forehead, even the exact pitch of her moans of pleasure, and yet I can't make out anything in her expression but anger. And I can barely remember her name. At this point, admitting defeat, she stands up. We aren't alone at the table. We're a well-matched group, men on a loose rein looking for fun, plus this girl and her companion in adventure, who seems to be getting on like a house on fire with the Deputy and doesn't appear to have any intention of letting go. She walks away without answering, casting a final glance of disapproval at me before she disappears among the crowd.
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