"Call me by your name, and I'll call you by mine."
I remembered giving Elio those words so long ago; years and years ago, more years ago than he'd spent in this world at the time.
And here we were, walking down the street towards San Giacomo, as we had started away so many times all those years before. I saw it in his gaze, when I told him I remembered the way, that I was like him and remembered everything. It drew thoughts of that phrase, that moment of complete understanding even though neither of us knew the meaning of our words.
I knew it because, almost ten years after I'd first left him, ten years before now, I'd called, asked Elio? and he had answered, calling me by his name, and I-- foolish, I pretended to forget. But God, if I'd just answered with my name the way I had that day, after our first night together, when he'd rushed after me to town because he wanted to see me and whispered for my ears only, Fuck me, Elio, and I'd replied in kind, Oliver, Oliver, Oliver.
But I knew we'd have to save those thoughts and feelings. I knew it better than he did, I know, I hope. When I'd called, I was convinced we'd talk as friends instead of former lovers, because I had a wife and sons and he needed to know that there was more than me. I'm sure he would be drawn to others and it made me glad to know that, here, years later, I could see that he'd grown and changed without my presence.
Though it also made me regretful; I so wanted to be with him through those years.
I supressed my fright at his voice and looked to him, asking silently, Yes?
He saw through my hidden startled response, but didn't comment on it, instead murmuring, "Pensi di me alquanti giorno. Do you remember that?"
Of course I smiled; of course I knew. "Yes. 'Think of me someday.' I still have that postcard, you know."
"I know." He smiled softly as well, and continued, "What about, ammo, ch'a nullo amato amar perdona?"
This left a bittersweet taste on my tongue, like coffe that has too long waited in the pot. But I replied, "From The Inferno; Love, which absolves no one beloved from loving. What makes you think I would know that?"
"Because I know you." He explained lightly, adding fondly, "I know what you know, and I knew you'd remember that. Or, at least, you'd be able to understand it. But do you know what it means?"
"...The day you asked me when I knew about you," I started with a bit of hesitation, thinking this might ruin our carefully constructed pretense of simple friendship and bring the intimate intensity I so longed for, "I told you when you blushed at our conversation of Leopardi. In that moment, with that simple color on your cheeks, knowing how I felt, I suddenly knew you felt the same. That's what it means."
When he didn't answer and I looked to him for a reason why, I was taken aback by the same coloring, albeit a bit hidden in his darkened skin, gracing his cheeks in a way that suggested that, yes, he'd remembered those conversations, but no, he hadn't expected them to be my rationale.
I chuckled, unable to stop myself, then, to make light of our mood, I chided teasingly, "What a goose!"
At first he was surprised, then laughed himself. Of course he would, as I wanted him to.
I loved that laugh.
We were in the piazzetta again, silently eating ice cream. Like we'd done so long ago. How many times have I thought that? So long ago... But there we spoke of ourselves and each other and what happened as though it were a story we'd heard in Rome and knew nothing more than what we'd been told and fabricated ourselves. The way we'd told ourselves we would and knew each other both to hate the idea all the same. But who were are now is so different from those selfs, from ourselves of so long ago...
Ourselves, what a beautiful word, putting himself and myself together as one self. Calling him by my name all over again.
I wanted so much to murmur to him, I've missed you, Ulliva, as Malfada and Mrs. P had contorted my name. To just lean a little closer to him, and remember his scent, to think of the days when I would stare at him while he spoke of music and books and anything else he could think of just to hold a conversation because he was so sure it was the only way he could be with me.
But I didn't.
We didn't go to Monet's Berm, didn't go past it, didn't even mention it. But when we returned to his home, when I went to his room, the book of paintings was waiting on the bedside table, the way it'd been waiting for me by the poolside the day after we'd first kissed. I would always wonder when he grew to understand me more as we grew apart.
Time passed in this way; we avoided remembering while talking of everything. In a way it was like the first weeks that we spent, aloft and terrified that we would discover each other. And then I was leaving all over again.
I wanted to stay. I wanted him to crawl into his bed with me there and murmur my name to welcome him.
But instead, Elio walked me back down the drive to the waiting taxi. I swear I'm going to give up on taxis, they hold nothing but goodbye.
"Do you still say 'later' instead of goodbye?" He asked softly, settling the one suitcase I'd brought in the trunk.
I hadn't expected the question, and asked in reply, "Would it bother you if I did?"
"In a way," He answered. "Later is a way to avoid saying goodbye, isn't it? It's you way, Oliver, of being okay with goodbye."
With the hint of bitter amusement in his voice he slammed the trunk down and turned to face me.
Looking away, I responded, "It's hard to be okay with goodbye with you."
At first he didn't say anything. Then, extending a hand, he finished lightly, "Later, then."
I returned the gesture, murmuring, because I remembered everything, "If not later, when?"
There was the pain I expected to see, edge with humor; like cutting your thumb while showing off culinary skills. And then he smiled, in a way to say if not later, never, and moved to return to his home.
I opened the door, fully intending to leave, and instead calling out, just loud enough for him to hear, the way I said I wouldn't, "I missed you, Ulliva."
Oliver paused, looked back at me incredulously. Yes, I remembered. Then he gave me a grin. A gentle, grateful expression; I'd returned something to him that he never thought he'd see again and without which he wouldn't be the same.
"And I, you, Elio."