Florentine Rainbows

I see you there, waves lapping at your feet, eyes downcast, hand outstretched. A rainbow kisses the sky, light dances across your features. It mocks me. Like a joke, just between that rainbow and I. Sand slides awkwardly beneath my feet as I run to you, the space between us insurmountable, grief grips my throat…

The grating sound of the alarm fills my ears. My arm, nestled under the pillow, unwilling to move. The false comfort of these springs someone thought to call a mattress draws me in. Found it, silenced. That dream again, tearing me away, unable to breach the waves. The distance between us, pushing me back, despite hoping to find you in the turmoil. You are lost to me here.  

Whack! Oh, there it is. Hand on my forehead, I duck out from beneath the bunk, the sore spot pulsating beneath my fingers.

“You ok?”  

“All good, just making sure I’m really awake.”

Yvette scoffs, and I smile to myself. She’ll get used to me. Come on, body, you can do this. Andiamo. Feet out into the cold, floorboards, rough with wear.

The room is a sliver of the building: two bedrooms, a kitchen, perched on top of each other. Everything just a little bit gritty, cliché terracotta tiles, walls rendered, radiators for heat.

“You know, setting a start time of 7am would be considered torture in some countries?” Yvette’s British twang spilled into her cup; tea with enough milk that I question its validity.

“Apparently not this country, for me, this is a sleep in,” I wait for Yvette’s scoff – there it is – even an eye-roll this time, “I can’t wait to get out there. I’ve never left Australia before, never thought I would until the kids moved out.”

Grinning Yvette says, “You’ll love it, Mum and Dad brought me here last year, Florence is Dad’s favourite city.”

The youthful innocence of Yvette, it was endearing, I remember that girl.

A train to Florence at peak hour and not a seat to be had. I struggle against its pull; balance was never my forte. Palms clammy, blood rushing in my ears. The scent of expensive cologne tickles my nostrils: my gut wrenches, a tightening my throat.  

“Firenze Santa Maria Novella!” Breathe Zara, you’re almost there… Clambering off the train, bodies crush against me. I can’t find the horizon in here, no view to the exit. The air hangs heavy trapped and circulating under platform rooves. There it is mocking me, that rainbow looming above, confined in this sticky humid air, suffocating.

I filter through the crowd, finding familiar faces. Final headcount and we leave the station behind us. Outside, cold hits my face like a spray of needles.

Marching together, I concentrate on the integrity of my ankles, the cobblestones fighting me at every step. Suddenly there it is, the Duomo. The enormity of it, sun peaking behind its uppermost curves, illuminating the pearlescent white marble of its exterior walls. Its terracotta roof glows majestically, touching the sky. It dwarfs every building, every person, a marvel of engineering, 722 years old. In its shadow, everything else loses significance.

“Impressive, isn’t it!” I almost jumped out of my skin, Yvette


“It makes me feel like I could do anything if I wanted. If this could be built hundreds of years in the past, I can do anything here in the future.”

I let that statement sit with me for a while. Trapped in my rainbow prison, doing anything seemed far beyond my grasp.

We skirt around the Duomo’s vastness and find the professors’ favourite café; the sweet scent of Nutella and coffee fills the air.

“I adore the renaissance, historically, the way humanity’s perception of itself changed during that time fascinates me.” A half-truth. “At least here we can leave the problems of home behind us.”

“I’m lucky like that, I have no problems at home, just life stuff.”

“There is growth in adversity.” Zara, how pretentious. “At least I keep telling myself that,” I say, letting out an awkward chuckle and stepping out onto the street.

Even here, the Duomo dominates the sky. All things slip away beneath it. Its magnificence—built in a time when people expected their creations to last, and its legacy, a memory.

I remember that rainbow, how hard I fought for the rights of all who stand beneath it, how I would fight for them still. I remember her, that girl, treading a well-worn path, certainty ahead, turmoil in her wake, my Yvette. A memory, resonating, imperceptibly. You made your choice; I won’t ever reach you beyond the waves.

© Sarah Arber 2020