top of page

San Montano

Marisa Massaro orders a Fleur de Lis. This is all she’ll have and she revels in ordering it. Obviously, we’re told to rave about how the whisky is infused with Beignet doughnuts, how there are only 500 cases of Angel’s Envy rye left on the planet, and how the Remy Martin is aged over 50 years. But it’s just bourbon, cognac, and bitters, shaken up and served in an Old-Fashioned glass. She loves it all the same.

When she comes in, around 8:30, people move from her space on the veranda. By the time she’s walked through the sheer curtains, glass in hand, all the tables empty. She drinks until dark, and then leaves.

A man behind me coughs.

“Yes sir, what can I get for you?” He’s wearing a blue sports jacket and white linen trousers. “Sir? Is there something I can get you?”

Stupido ragazzo Inglese. Why you are even here?” He storms off. This sort of thing happens all the time. I just hope he doesn’t complain to my manager that I’m not some pretty Italian boy.

A younger man down the bar pipes up. “Don’t mind that idiot. He’s just upset that you still have all your hair. When he was your age he was almost bald.” The younger man laughs. “I’ll have the same again, when you’re ready.”

As I pour his drink I see Marisa return, still wearing the same red dress as earlier.

“Did you want to pay for that now or start a tab? I can put it on your room if you let me know which Suite you’re staying in.”

He watches me over his glass, as I pull up the details for payment. “Now is fine. I don’t have as much as some of these monst -

“What is it you’re saying about us, Davide?” Marisa Massaro pushes her hair to one side and smiles.

Davide motions for the tablet, waves his wrist over the screen to pay, grabs his drink, and leaves. I busy myself on the tablet.

“Aren’t you going to ask if I want something to drink, darling?”

“I’m sorry, Miss Massaro, ma’am, another - ”

“Stop it. I’m playing with you.” She itches the paypoint in her wrist. “No,” she says. “I want you to do something for me.”

“What is it? I don’t finish until 12, and I’ve got to be in Naples for a - ”

“5000C if you come with me right now.”

I only make 25C a night.

“What? What do you want me for?”

Marisa Massaro drives a Ferrari 275 Spyder. When we were kids, Dad had a book of the world’s most iconic cars and he’d tell me about the cars he’d drive one day. We’re bumping down little Ischia roads to the other side of the island. The big story behind this car is that there are only ten of them. Luigi Chinetti won Le Mans in one and asked Enzo Ferrari for twenty-five Spyders as a reward. Twenty-five soon became ten. Nine he sold to Americans, and one left behind for Enzo. But that was like 80 years ago.

It’s a beautiful car, driven well by a beautiful woman. I wince every time she rounds a corner. I can just about see Naples across the bay, city lights in the distance. Before I started working at the San Montano Resort I got offered a job on Capri, but they were only paying 21C each night. I don’t know what I’ll do with the money from Marisa.

It’s still warm, even with the wind roaring past as we speed towards Cretaio. Marisa throws the wheel hard left, pulling the hand break up. I swear it feels like the car is leaving the ground as the back drifts out, and then she’s slamming the clutch back, and we’re racing through a private estate towards a vast white house. I can smell the sea.

She leads me to a balcony that looks out over the bay. She offers me a drink, but I’m not thirsty. She says something about payment and I put out my hand. She grips my arm, our wrists touching, and turns my hand towards me. I let out a long controlled breath. 5343C and I don’t feel any different. A little giddy. I itch my wrist.

She pulls me into the house, past familiar paintings, through the living area, to the marble atrium and a door between two staircases. I let her guide me down the spiral staircase. As we go down a surprising smell hits me. But I’ve served Marisa Massaro drinks for a few weeks now, and the thought of the money keeps me going.

At the bottom of the stairs, Marisa lets go of my arm and walks off to one side of the room. Naked bulbs hang in a row down the centre of the room, pitching it in a yellow gloom. On the side closest to the stairs is a bar, made of wood and stone. On the other side are wooden sun loungers, all empty except one. An old man is sat watching me, skin a dirty copper colour. He’s wearing nothing but a pair of swim shorts – his belly pouring over the waistband. Marisa is standing with her hand on his shoulder. He mutters something to her and points at me. She laughs quietly, motions to me, and then to the centre of the room.

From the walls, up to the edge of my shoes, the floor is loose stones. In the centre of the room, light blue tiles line the edge of a swimming pool. The pool is filled with a black liquid.

“What do you want me to do?”

The fat man nods to the pool. “Swim.”

His voice is raspy and the w sounds like a v when he says it.

“I don’t…” I look down. “Isn’t that toxic?”

Marisa folds her arms. “You’ll be fine. Just don’t swallow.”

The old man snorts.

“Should I…” I motion to my clothes.

“Take it all off. Leave them on the bar.”

She moves to sit down on a lounger.

I undress and put my clothes on the bar.

The liquid’s not sloshing about, it’s just a silent, flat black mass. There’s an electric whining from the light bulbs. I can’t decide if I’m supposed to dive in, or just climb down the ladder. I back onto the first rung, eyes fixed on my feet. Deep breath. It clings to my feet as I step down. It’s lapping around my thighs now. I feel for the next rung and slip, but instead of splashing down I just slide deeper into it.

It oozes around me, gripping to me and moving away from me as I push through it. I don’t know if I should be walking or swimming or disappearing under it. I wretch, the smell clawing its way into my nose and mouth. As I look back at them, watching, the man motions. Swim. My whole body feels heavy with it, black lapping over my pale chest. I feel for the slick tiled wall and push off, fighting to stay afloat with my head above the liquid.

It splashes against the sides, spraying up over the tiles. It’s creeping up over my chin, into my mouth with each stroke. My throat is burning. I gag as I reach the end and turn back. Marisa stands on the poolside, arms folded. She looks away, disinterested. I struggle from end to end. The man’s eyes are lit up, lips parted. My eyes are watering.

After just a few lengths I’m exhausted. My body is being dragged down. Oil is in my mouth. My nose is slick with it. I can feel it squeezing past my fingers, like there’s something in here with me. It’s grabbing me, tugging me down. And then letting me go, to escape to the edge. I grab at the edge, eyes squeezed shut. There’s nothing but black here. And then it’s over me.

The next breath I take is on the oil-splashed tiles at the side of the pool. The man is knelt over me, arm in the air ready to slap me. He lowers it and hauls himself up. I lay there for a second and then water is splashing down all over my face and body. I cough and roll away, taking huge heaving breaths. I push myself up, away from the oil. The man is behind the bar, fixing himself a drink. Marisa hands me my clothes. I don’t bother to dry myself, I pull them on damp. Marisa leads me to the stairs, but the man calls after her in Russian. The only word I understand is money. I shiver and wipe the oil from my eyes.

Marisa Massaro walks towards the edge of her estate. The path is gravel. The Ferrari is parked outside the house next to two or three other cars. She’s walking steadily in front of me. When she gets to the black metal gate at the end of the gravel, she turns and waits. She licks her thumb and wipes a smear of black off my forehead. I stare at her.

“So, what will you do now?”

“I don’t know. Maybe go back home.”

“Where is that?”

“York. In England.” I scuff my shoe on the floor.

She smiles. “I grew up here, you know? My father would go away for months at a time, but in the summers, he bought us here, to Ischia. I used to play in the gardens, and watch the German girls swim in the sea.” She takes a shaky breath and smooths down her dress. “It’s not anything like it was when I was a girl, you know?”

I can hear the waves crashing against the cliff.

“Thank you for coming this evening.”

“No problem.” I look away.

“Sorry that it turned out the way it did. Perhaps I’ll see you at San Montano again?”

She offers her hand.

I turn and walk away. Out the gate, and back up the street that earlier we raced down. Away from the white house on the cliffs. I will go away. From Ischia, from San Montano, from Marisa Massaro.

My nose starts to throb and I sneeze into my hands. There are thin trails of blood and oil across my palms. I wipe them on my trousers and keep walking. The sun is starting to rise.


bottom of page