Venice, 1906

He is fat and old and ugly. She is slim and pretty and young.

They sit side by side in the slender-prowed gondola as it cuts through the silken swaths of the enchanted waterways. A limpid silver moon floats in the bowl of onyx-black water. The crescent moon above, as ethereal as the one below, skims across the liquid-black night sky and rests its pale cheek on the edge of a fleece-soft cloud.

She has little hands, tiny little hands. Her fingers are thin and appear thinner because they are so very long. She lets them trail through the cool water and sighs softly, dreamily as she looks around her, at the queenly city of pink and pearl, immortalized in verses of exquisite grace and beauty.

"So you're off to Venice then, my girl? Well, that husband of yours has done well for you I see – trips like that don't weigh lightly on the purse."

She is more than pretty – in the moonlight, in the gondola she is beautiful. Her lips, poinsettia-pink are sonnets by themselves; the lines of her languorous form, the melancholy in her great, heavy-lashed eyes, set off by the silver haze of kind moonlight, lend a touching poignancy to her own brand of ethereal loveliness. Pearls weave about her long, creamy white throat.

She looks like she has a story to tell, so slim, so pretty, so young as she is. A romance, a fairytale, exotic, vivid – a passionate lover, passionately loved back, a wealthy suitor scorned, the wrath of the paterfamilias and inevitably, the thrust of a jeweled dagger… yes it all seems quite possible, looking at her. She has a face that seems made for romances.

The gondola, its gauzy drapes swaying in the light breeze, glides slowly underneath a bridge. A plain bridge, common enough, in daylight with prosaic cobblestone streets paved with dung, carters' curses and wenches' gossip ringing down it by day… but the moonlight has transformed it into something else. It is a fey spot, made for lovers, the woman thinks, tucking a strand of hair behind the pearly beads of her net. Silver lines its glimmering frame and moonstones weave about it.

"You're a pretty picture, I'm sure. All silk and diamonds – I suppose you think you're a lady, my dear?"

"Naturally, Grandmamma."

"Well, what an age we've come to! Clothes maketh the woman, I see – tripe. Simply tripe. All his gold won't gilt your soul, lass, remember."

"Quite a pretty place isn't it?" The man is fat. Garbed as he is in his hideous bourgeois complacency – the beauty around him affects him not a jot, the woman thinks with righteous indignation – he is uglier than ever. Even the slender, dark gondolier, his fingers languid on the rèmo of the gondola, thinks of a rose by the side of a coarse, common gardener when he looks at the couple.

"Yes," the woman says slowly, darting a resentful glance at him, for spoiling the moment, the mood. She purses her lips and the fragile iris loveliness of her profile hardens into something more… prosaic. More suited for daylight. She tilts her head away from him, mute disgust radiating. He doesn't notice.

There are roses, white as woven mist in her hair, and the ghost of rose-breath in the breeze. The moon wavers, silver spilling onto black, as they thread their through the waterways. Impulsively, she pulls her hand back up from the water and lets the clear liquid – she is half surprised that it is water, it looked rather too beautiful to be – sieve through her fingers. The tips of her nails, burnished by moonlight, glow pinkly, like the mother-of-pearl scissors in her embroidery box. Another lovers' bridge is ahead and for a moment, the woman thinks that she is sad, truly and genuinely sad, not merely unhappy. She has no lover.

"May's roses will wither soon under December frost. You'll regret marrying Mr Solvay for all he's so rich, mark my words, lass, mark my words."

"Don't be ridiculous, Grandmamma. What do I care about him? He's rich and that's all I need to know."

Her slim figure, languid as a hothouse plant, reminds one of a delicate marble figurine, tenderly made, lavished upon by all the art and experience and passion, yes, magical passion, of a maestro. A chisel handled with a velvet touch, unmarred by rough, unmindful fingers. Surely lovelight must have glimmered once in those beautiful eyes?

"Don't Grandmamma me, young lady! I fancy I know a touch more about life and love than you – man shall not live on bread alone."

"No – I mean to be a good little girl and live on gold. What do I care for love?"

She pretends to aristocracy, refinement, airs and graces that in her world may be bought for gold. She is anything but what she seems to be.

The man sits at the back of the gondola, in the felze with its painted satin cushions and green-gold gauze. Half in shadow as he is, there is no mistaking the singular commonness of his face and features. The forgettableness. He doesn't seem made for this enchanted dusk, for exquisite city of light, Serenissima, floating on lapping green waters.

"What an extraordinary couple Mr and Mrs Solvay make – prose and poetry, side by side!"

He really is terribly bourgeois – he is certainly not a one who could ever be acquainted with the beauty of art, still less that of love. The mad, sweet passion and the curious pain, attendant even on the fiercest joy. The looks and the smiles. The tears and the aches. No, of course he couldn't know of that.

Could he?

"You two will make a perfectly ghastly pair at the altar – you're a perfect narcissus of a girl and he… well, homely would be stretching it."

"Don't run homely people down, Grandmamma. I suppose he is dreadfully plain, but there I'll get used to it in time. He does have nice eyes though – not the shape or color, but the expression in them. They're very sweet when he smiles."

"He smiles only for you."

"It's beautiful, I'm sure but don't you think it's rather chilly?"

"You should not have come at all." The woman answers him for the first time and her dreamy violet eyes are cold. You can almost see the woman she'll turn into in twenty years, when her fragile ethereal beauty begins to harden. Like her heart.

"Ah, I came to keep you company."

"I would be better off without your company."

She turns resolutely away from him and the gondolier nods slowly, in time to the song he murmurs under his breath.

The world dissolves into a frost-colored silver haze and the gondola is now a shallop of moonbeams, floating gently on star-strewn black silk. Seamless perfection. There is no sky, there is no water. There is not even a pretty young woman and an ugly old man. There is only a song floating on the breath of a rose-scented breeze and the glitter of moonshine over the pearls that lace about a slender, creamy white throat.

"I know you won't be happy, but I've said my say. But remember, lass, all that glitters isn't gold."

A/N: Random to say the least… I had a dream about this and I was just forced to write it.