2nd Place – Flash 405, June 2020: “International Travel”
I order a cappuccino on a hot morning, in seaside Bari. My air-conditioned café has its own opinionated barista and a nattily dressed, Italian Elton John lookalike, who he complains to with fervor. I am curious, but my Italian is such that usually I catch words and tones, but not complete sentences. When my cappuccino arrives, thick with foam, Elton John leaves and the barista cleans up. At my table I read Il Messaggero (Putin visits Rome, Pope Francis visits Bari, Trash overtakes Rome). A trio of men arrive, convivial, in need of a quick espresso. I like the energy of these men, and I like the air conditioning, so I approach the bar for a second cappuccino and “un ciambella piccola come esa,” I say, pointing to the tiny donut that one of the men has in his fingers, in a paper napkin, ready to eat. It is the last tiny ciambella, the barista tells me. Would I like a large ciambella?
“Solo una piccola?” I say. With no hesitation, the man offers me his ciambella. I refuse at least twice, and he insists, further insisting to the doubtful barista that “ella es mia sorella! My sister!” and convinces the barista to give him a different donut. Since I am now Sorella, I accept the tiny donut. No one else in the bar has much English, except for “my sister!” which percolates in pleasant, comical tones, and I suspect they are testing my Italian. I raise my cappuccino to toast the man, as he and his colleagues leave. He tries to pay for my ciambella, but the barista doesn’t let him. Or, he does pay for me and then the barista charges me as well, when I pay a few minutes later. As I step out onto the sweltering corso, the three men stand in the street, waiting on a taxi near the old city gate. I holler, “ecco! é mio fratello!” And he whoops happily and waves, and I continue on my way to the Basilica di St. Nicolas, patron saint of children, bakers, and sailors, and offer along the way a few coins to an old man who plays his accordion in tense, minor chords as I scrape the bottom of my backpack to find them. My brother! I think, as they plunk into his tiny paper cup.
Ciambella for Sorella epitomizes international travel. Reading it was like visiting a foreign land, right down to the need for Google Translate. In this story a woman shares an intimate moment with a stranger, during a completely mundane transaction. At the same time as she discovers kinship through one person’s simple gesture, someone else likely takes advantage of her ignorance. In about four-hundred words, this piece delivered as much impact as a stopover in Bari, southern Italy.
Erica Plouffe Lazure is the author of a flash fiction chapbook, Heard Around Town, and a fiction chapbook, Dry Dock. Sugar Mountain, a flash fiction chapbook, is forthcoming by Ad Hoc Press (UK) in Fall 2020. Her fiction is published in McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, Carve, Greensboro Review, Meridian, American Short Fiction, The Journal of Micro Literature, The Southeast Review, Phoebe, Fiction Southeast, Flash: the International Short-Short Story Magazine (UK), Litro (UK), and elsewhere. She lives and teaches in Exeter, NH and can be found online at ericaplouffelazure.com.
Photo credit: Luisa Denu