I preferred the coffee.
My eyes were in love the moment the scruffy-haired waitress placed the bellbottomed glass on the table. They took in the condensation beading the glass. They noted the bamboo spear pinning a green olive to the bottom of the the vessel. They saw the bubbles clinging to insides of the goblet. But, they skimmed past all of it to focus on the glorious, unadulterated orange-ness of the drink. At the sight we – my eyes and I – were lost in memories of Lucozade.
Mum reserved the glucose drink – only available in the original unflavoured variety back then – for the gravest of childhood illnesses: chicken pox, mumps, rubella. Illnesses we contracted en-mass “to get them over with”.
We forgave Mum’s cruelty. We forgot our itchy skin and aching throats the moment she produced the bottle encased in a sunrise-coloured mesh bag. There was something ceremonial in the way she broke open the foil seal and poured out thimblefuls of the fizzy ambrosia.
Now, sitting on the sky-blue plastic moulded chairs of a restaurant under the trees of the Biennale Gardens, my eyes and I are already swooning. We are ready to love this drink. It will slip down, sweet and tender as my mother’s love. It will be glorious and sophisticated. I will be transformed into a woman who “knows” Venice. La dolce vita will be mine.
I bring the drink to my lips.
“You promised me the sweet life.” My tastebuds explode in bitter anguish. They have instantly formed an alliance with my lips. Together they prepare to eject the nauseating liquid back into the glass but my double-crossing throat opens. The liquid slips down my gullet. It pauses for one, last, acrid grasp at the back of my tongue.
My brain, ever the arbiter, is too lost in the memory of the dentist chair to intervene.
“I’m sorry about this,” Paul had said. Paul is both my dentist and my neighbour. I’ve never been sure if his apologies stem from professionalism or neighbourly harmony. Either-way the aperitif I’ve just swallowed brings back the crystal-clear memory of medication leaking from an in-progress tooth-capping. Then, I’d lurched out of the chair and reached for a plastic cup of minty relief, ready to rinse and spit. There’s no deliverance on offer in Venice.
“Look at it. It’s the colour of burning suns. Of heat-infused curries. Of oranges and sweets and Fanta.” My eyes are insistent.
And for a moment my mouth capitulates, enraptured by the promise of juicy-sweetness.
I take a second sip.
I pretend to cough to cover my gagging.
“If you’d stopped for a sniff,” my nose interrupts, “I could have saved you from all this.”