The shop had been open for a solid five years until she came along. Was doing perfectly fine. Just like him. It didn’t take but an instant for Maurizio to feel a palpable seismic shift when she moved into the building across the street from his pizza operation. Not alone, but with what appeared to be a much older gentleman. Suspiciously older. Old enough to be her dad, but you knew he wasn’t. It was the old man who would usually come in to order the pizza. He hobbled right over on that first night, with Élisabeth in tow. She seemed like a skittish animal who didn’t really want to be there, and Maurizio wondered if maybe she was being held captive by this codger. Trying his best not to stare in awe at her (the last thing he wanted was to get her in trouble with the old man, who might take out his jealousy on her back in the apartment), he asked Philippe what he wanted.
Philippe was sure to introduce himself and Élisabeth before saying they wanted a margarita. Maurizio would later learn that Élisabeth actually hated margaritas. Or rather, what the French interpreted to be a margarita. As usual, they put their own fucking spin on other cultures’ cuisines. Which is why she was surprised to open the box back inside and actually see a bona fide Italian version of how such a pizza should really be. It was then that she started to love margaritas again…too much, a suspicious man might posit, for she started going across the street to the pizza shop every day. But it wasn’t for pizza, and it often wasn’t during the business’ open hours.
Getting fucked against a pizza oven was something that had been beyond Élisabeth’s wildest dreams. The stuff of erotic novels where a girl falls in love with a sweating and muscular pizzaiolo. Maurizio wasn’t particularly sweaty or muscular, but he was attractive. Especially in contrast to what she had grown accustomed to having sex with over the past three years. She had met Philippe when she was down and out on her luck in Paris (as so many people come to find themselves, not Orwell alone). She was practically on the street, as they say, except she often finagled a steady stream of couches to stay on. That is, until the pandemic hit, and people started being a lot less receptive to her part-time homeless “shtick.” It was good fortune (or “manifesting an intention”), she supposed, that had brought Philippe to her that day. The day before all the stores were going to close. She wanted to make the most of things still being open by panhandling in the poshest possible part of the city, Champs-Élysées. Visibly bedraggled, it was outside of some luxury horloge store that she stood, trying to look both obvious and discreet about her need for money. She didn’t want to be “hurried along” by la police, after all, and they were so quick to “dispose of” riffraff in affluent neighborhoods.
Philippe could immediately detect her desperation as he walked out of the store with a brand new watch (one he decided to wear, rather than put in a bag. He would later choose to engrave it with the date as part of his sentimentality about that being the day he met Élisabeth). He didn’t want to be outright rude and ask her if she was “okay” or “needed something,” so he stumbled over the words, saying something incomprehensible like, “Nice day… did you have lunch or… breakfast?” She glared at him. He wasn’t the best, but he would do. From that moment forward, she milked him for all he was worth. Taking him up on his offer to move in. When she found that the accommodations were rather lacking, she eventually made him leave, and that’s how they found themselves, three years later, at this new abode, in a more expensive part of town with just a slightly more noticeable amount of square footage.
Élisabeth knew she should be happy. Grateful for everything Philippe had done. Yet she was not. She started to feel a sense of shame about being seen with him in public, feeling everyone could tell that she was only with him for whatever it was he was able to give her. She didn’t want to be that girl. Not for much longer anyway. During this entire time, she tried her best to find work that was consistent and paid at least somewhat adequately. But everything was utterly erratic and compensated what amounted to shells and beads. Certainly not enough for her to break out on her own. To free herself of this dependency upon Philippe.
When Maurizio noticed her that first evening, it had been like a burst of light had finally been let into the dark room of her life. She had forgotten what it could be to actually feel a spark with someone, a physical pull. Maurizio was a quintessentially striking Italian man, with dark curly hair, olive skin and a toned body with just enough hair on it (as opposed to too much or not enough). And while he might have believed she didn’t see him gazing at her, she did. It was the next afternoon that she went to further “feel out” the situation. She arrived about twenty minutes before the shop was going to open to the public, but he still let her in. That in and of itself was an overt sign that her instincts had been correct. It didn’t take long for them to start writhing on the floor with one another right in front of the pizza oven that he had just “fired up.” But she still wondered if that’s what was truly making things so hot, or if the sex was just that good.
Their tryst continued like that every day, while Philippe was away at work and couldn’t “oversee” her the way he always was. It was the weekends Élisabeth hated the most, for that was when Philippe was home. Constantly there. Constantly trying to touch her and have sex with her when she didn’t want him. And whenever he got on top of her, eventually breaking her spirit long enough to get what he wanted, she would only think of Maurizio. She had to escape this life. She had to unbind herself from the shackles of Philippe’s power. Maybe she ought to just consider going back to the homeless rigmarole. Or trying the couch method again. People were so sick of paying attention to “corona rules” that business had essentially returned to “usual” by now. While she pondered if Maurizio might let her stay at his place, she didn’t want to fall into the same trap she had with Philippe by jumping into something right away out of desperation. Yet surely this was different. She actually liked Maurizio. Dare she think it, even loved him. Or was that just the pheromones talking?
She had no time to wonder as he shoved her up against the oven and fucked her with the steaminess of a thousand freshly made pizzas. In fact, before she was gut-punched as she walked across the street to see that Philippe was standing outside of their building waiting for her, she briefly had to ask if that was perhaps their best fuck session yet. If that was the case, it was for the best, because it was to be their last. Philippe, somehow, some way, knew everything. And she was aware that it could’ve been something he had been “researching” for a while or something he merely discovered that day by the sheer happenstance of coming home early.
Élisabeth followed him sheepishly into the apartment, not knowing what was to come next. And honestly, even she, fully cognizant of his jealous streak, could not have imagined that it would play out like this as he grabbed her by the hair and started to bash her head against the wall. There’s a reason why you see graffiti all over Paris about the rate of femicide in France.
He killed her. And no one could prove it. Maurizio had been complicit in the disposal of her body in the pizza oven, not wanting Philippe to call on his friends within the government to point out that Maurizio had been living in France illegally on an expired visa for the past year. Yet after he did it, he realized that staying in Paris would have been a fate worse than death for him anyway. For all he could see was her face, her naked body–and how he had helped to get rid of it in the very pizza oven upon which he had made love to her. How could he do such a thing? For what? He was better off returning to his homeland, where he would spend his days pining for her, refusing to ever make another pizza again.
And so he did it. One day, he simply vanished, and it looked as though the locusts had descended upon the shop. Now just a vacant storefront as empty as the chasm in Maurizio’s coeur. Which was a shame for Philippe, who was disappointed that he would now have to walk several more blocks if he ever wanted to get pizza.