My short story, The Romance of Ruins, was published last week at the smart and stylish literary magazine, Typishly.
Images of the Colosseum from The Walters Art Museum (above-art.thewalters.org) & The-Colosseum.net_en (see below).
Here’s the beginning of the story:
One stormy Friday morning in a still wintry Milan, while Tony grated his rusty Alfa Romeo into first gear and pulled away from the curb, Clelia bit her lip. Why had she agreed to go to the park with this virtual stranger? It was sure to be deserted.
“So, you really liked my blog posts?” she asked. She studied his profile with its stately nose, receding brow, and prickly white beard. He looked exactly like his Facebook photo but with less hair and shinier skin. He wasn’t unattractive in an unctuous sort of way. But she wasn’t that desperate to make it as a writer, was she? He had at least thirty years on her. He had to be pushing seventy.
“That I did,” said Tony, giving her a fast smile that revealed too perfect teeth—dentures no doubt—that were bleached to an unnatural white. “But I have some suggestions. Some, quite daring even. And while I entertain you with them I do so aspire to us becoming good friends.” He peered at her through his steamed-up glasses, his eyebrows piled above the lenses like snow on window sashes.
Clelia’s stomach lurched. But she masked her panic with a laugh and shifted her knees away from him, toward the passenger door.
“You’re so gallant,” she said, responding to his antiquated language in kind. His flowery phrases would suggest he was a gentleman and a chivalrous one at that. “Honorable and true. Sterling even. A veritable knight.” She hesitated. The words she was spewing were over the top, not like her at all, but Tony was smiling; a positive response to her encouragement to behave?
She bent over to hide her confusion and fondled Scamp, her Jack Russell puppy, nestled between her feet. The blood rushed in her ears like water boiling linguini. Outside, the windshield wipers scraped, flinging rain from side to side. The car screeched forward through puddles and over potholes on the way to their coffee klatch at the park.
Sometimes you have to give first in order to receive later, she told herself while fidgeting with her silver bracelet. It was inscribed with the word ‘BITCHIN.’ She’d bought it soon after her ex, Rodolfo, left her for a younger man.
Shaking her head to clear it, she suddenly pictured the Roman Colosseum. She’d recently seen an exhibition of 18th-century drawings in which the arena had been heavily featured. Even though it had seen better days, the Colosseum with its remaining tiers of gorgeous arches, its measured bays and solemn corridors, still shone with the erudition of ancient architects. Martyrdom had occurred there, but so had sophisticated theatrical plays. Maybe Tony was like its nobler side. Old, but not so far gone that he didn’t have important artistic truths to disclose. She hoped so, at any rate.
Tony had contacted her on Facebook—asked to be her friend—after her spate of depressed January tweets and random messages to the world at large. “I’m sick of rejection,” she’d declared first. “Love&the written word, who needs them?” She tweeted next. “I won’t trust men from the Veneto ever again #effinglagoonslime.” Rodolfo had been from the Veneto; specifically, Mestre across the water from Venice. “Corriere&Mondadori don’t recognize talent,” she added shortly thereafter. “Not even when it hits them square between their eyes, #wakeupcall #mystuffsgood.”
And that’s when Tony popped up in her feed, first following her on Twitter and Instagram, and then asking to be her Facebook friend. She hadn’t expected a response to her ramblings. After all, she had practically no social media followers or friends. Soon though, Tony sent her a personal message after she’d added him to her Facebook roster. Introducing himself, he explained he’d been a journalist at the Corriere della Sera newspaper where he had worked with luminaries like Indro Montanelli, Eugenio Montale and Dino Buzzati. Later, he’d moved to Mondadori where he confabulated with the in-crowd who ran the place, including the executive director. He said both establishments championed excellent writing and he was sorry she’d been unlucky. An oversight, no doubt: a heavy-handed intern with no taste, skimming the slush pile. He knew it was hard to break in when you were unknown. Maybe he could give her a hand.
Clelia was flattered when he asked if he could read her writing. While she deliberated about what to send, he began leaving comments on her all-but-abandoned blog with its three-year-old posts.
“I adore this piece on Venice,” he enthused on one. “These photographs of Como are absolutely fantastic!” he wrote on another. “They capture the essence of the city as all fine art should!”
After a few days of pleasant commentary, Tony revealed he was a neighbor. He lived in the building across the street on the very top floor. In the penthouse. Over the past few months, before he’d asked her to become his Facebook friend, he’d seen her walking Scamp. “You looked sad,” he wrote. “But I couldn’t presume to intrude much as I wanted to. You didn’t know me. It would have been much too forward.”
“Yes, perhaps so,” she responded. When Rodolfo ran off with his personal trainer, she’d rescued Scamp from a shelter and had taken to therapeutic walks during which she’d ruminated, talked to herself and even cried, working on getting her angst out. She supposed that Tony had noticed her sidewalk rants, discovered who she was, and then looked her up on the internet. She shrugged, not at all miffed that he had pursued her this way. He was a neighbor and an important one too.
A couple of days later, Tony wrote to say he had bought a book she had to see about Venice. “It’s just the ticket. You could do something along the same lines. Develop your blog post further. Into a travel essay, perhaps? We could pitch it, you know. I’ve got people in my pocket!”
“Sounds fantastic,” she responded, her stomach queasy. She wasn’t interested in developing her Venice post further. Venice conjured up Mestre. Mestre conjured up Rodolfo. She wanted to forget Rodolfo. But she had a novel she was hoping to publish. She’d love to pick Tony’s brain about that.
“Fabulous. Let’s get some coffee, talk shop.”
“When?” she responded, giddy with thoughts of finally being discovered. She’d steer the talk away from Venice to her book and bring a digital copy to give him. She’d get his expert opinion and stellar contacts. If she were lucky, maybe even the executive director’s email.
He suggested Friday, March 13th, at the corner of Manzoni and Ungaretti. That was fine with her. Then he showed up in his corroded car and insisted she get in. Instinct said she shouldn’t. Past experience concurred. But then her manners—she didn’t want to make a scene—and her desire for his help took over.
To read the rest, head over to typishly.com.