She lived in a small town. The kind that dreams are built on but that can never come true for those specific inhabitants. But still, it is what is sold to them on the television. They still watch television, every last one of them. And through the airwaves each night comes Monica Bellucci, offering herself as proof that if a girl from Città di Castello can make it, so can you, little Ornella. Except that Ornella wasn’t little. Not anymore. She was approaching forty-three years old, had recently been divorced (the scandal!) and had never moved out of her parents’ house, not even when she was married.
Despite all of this, the Bellucci commercial spoke to her from the second it arrived on the screen in that fall of 2010. It spoke of sparkling elixirs that shined through as gold in a world of black and white (it was, after all, a Martini Gold commercial), of a woman who could hold the power to captivate men and invoke the jealousy of women. She wanted that. For herself. Which is why she searched every liquor-carrying store high and low to try to find it. But to no avail. Her nameless, faceless town was not being sold this particular dream tangibly. It was only as a concept on TV. This enraged Ornella, who decided to use the last of her money for the month to buy a black lace dress that could imitate the look of Bellucci’s Dolce & Gabbana frock in the commercial (for some reason, Dolce & Gabbana had designed the bottle, and, because Bellucci had posed for them first early on in her career, of course they were happy to reunite).
The dress was from a cinese store, the catch-all term that could best be likened to a 99-cent store in America. As a result, the fabric was already starting to pill as she put it on, letting it hang off her shoulders a little bit as she ran a brush through her black hair, ever so slightly populated with grays that seemed to defy her to attempt feeling young and accordingly having any “youthful” dreams, like moving to Rome and walking down the street with the same level of confidence as Bellucci. But she would defy it. Defy them all. Defy everything about her small Italian existence that told her she was nothing, never could be, never would be. If Americans could elect a black president, anything was possible. This was the beginning of the 10s. Gli anni 10. No one, not her father, her mother, her ex-husband who had moved on to a younger wife, her sister or her brother could tell her that she wasn’t capable of escape. Of glamor. Of allure.
It was June by the time she found the courage to slip on her black heels, no tights (the summer was already insufferably hot enough without having to wear black because Monica Bellucci did), and rouge her lips with the brightest red she could find.
As she walked through the streets, people snickered and whispered. Ornella adored it. It meant that she was somebody worth talking about, worth noticing. Plus, she knew that when she got to Rome, no one would think twice about her ensemble, would embrace it as though it was the most natural thing in the world. Because it was. Ornella was destined to be someone, the TV had not lied to her with its promises of fortune and being sought after. She just knew that it was all speaking directly to her and not those other ignoranti that she had been jinxed with being born among. It was up to her now to fully receive the message. And being that she couldn’t find the Martini Gold in her own territory, she knew it had to mean she was destined to leave to seek it elsewhere, in that promised land where the commercial was shot.
Though she had no money left over after buying that black dress, she knew she would be able to finagle the kindness of the right stranger once she made her presence known in Rome. There was no way she could fail, as far as she was concerned, once she sat down at that table with a glass of the golden liquid and attracted the attention of the right suitor (for she knew that, certainly, no woman was going to be able to help her). Mercifully, she wasn’t expected to pay for her Martini Gold (an order the waiter visibly rolled his eyes at) until after its consumption. She knew, by then, she would have an offer from the most wonderful man to not only pay for her drink, but take her away from her misery. Strange, how a woman’s ambitions always inevitably turn to a man to help fulfill them. Or maybe that’s just in Italy.
Ornella sipped the liquid slowly, letting it pervade her insides and course through her veins. She wanted to feel confidently tipsy. It had been a long time since she’d flirted with anyone, wasn’t sure if she even knew how to proceed anymore. What social cues might make her appear even older than she was.
As she was getting toward the end of the glass, she could feel the waves of panic come over her. She couldn’t pay for this. She was so damned sure someone would join her and offer her another. She looked down at her dress and suddenly became aware of just how tattered it was. She glanced over to see a young, attractive blond woman simpering at her as her older male companion smoked. She felt utterly foolish, and all of the actions she had taken in the past twenty-four hours hit her at once as the decisions of a woman unhinged. She hadn’t even told anyone in her family her whereabouts, her intentions. How could she? They were so preposterous. Too preposterous to be said out loud.
Right when she could feel the tears start to well up, the unthinkable happened: a not so hideous-looking man sat down next to her and smiled. “May I offer you another drink?” It was all she could do not to swoon. Sure, his hair was graying and his paunch was rather visible through the bursting buttons of his wrinkled white shirt, but what did it matter? She was wearing scuffed heels, a pilling dress and had silver bristles protruding from her hair like an unruly broom. She was in no position to mentally refer to how much better the men had been in the commercial. She was in no position to have any sort of fantasy at all, she quickly realized as he blew his nose while ordering two more Martini Golds. She felt cheap and trashy for the order, that she had fallen for the ad that had specifically pandered to dimwitted country folk like herself.
Everything was black and white again. And she was horrified at the level she so readily wanted to be conned by Bellucci and her ilk. Her ilk. Not Ornella’s. Ornella’s ilk was this man, Gofredo, who also wanted to be someone special, and who felt that Martini Gold was the yellow brick road to that Emerald City. The one that was only open to beautiful Umbrians, not middle-aged, poverty-stricken Calabrians.
She finished her drink and let Gofredo have his delusion that he was important and desirable, that he was wooing her. If she couldn’t have it, at least somebody should. She excused herself to go to the bathroom and then ducked out of sight. The only trace of her left when Gofredo went to look for her being those ratty threads that came apart as she went crawling back to Calabria, where every night for the foreseeable future she would be faced with that pubblicità, the one she didn’t have the will to tell anyone else in town was a lie.