Quite a few years ago I went on a writing jag and kicked out several short stories that followed a theme, most of which have never seen more than the pages of a Word file. Well, I'm dusting them off. And guess what. I'm subjecting you to a few of them.
The first one, "For Now, the Tourist", has in fact been published. Where, I cannot remember. I hope you find it, and the ones that may occasionally follow, entertaining.
For Now, The Tourist
"A man who cannot model a perfect statue may yet erect a lamppost and place thereon a light which shall save many a wayfarer from stumbling."
Rev. E.P. Roe, 1876
"A broken shoelace cannot heal."
Alfonzo Rem, 1976
The people of the small Italian village grew more concerned with each new day's discovery of hundreds of fish heads floating along the lake shore. All kinds of fish: pike, sunfish, catfish, carp and the other indigenous and introduced. Many had guts still trailing behind, the way a professional cleaner, paid by the fish cleaves the head from the meat quickly with little more regard for the fish's nervous system. Who or what was leaving such waste? Not that the heads could not have been used by the more enterprising: perhaps in soup for the beneficiaries of the Casa del Mutilato or by poor villagers, if indeed there were any poor villagers to be found in this popular tourist area.
Then it was discovered from a tourist's dream that two of the hotel's maids had been using fish bones to reconstruct the bodies of worn out Barbie dolls. They claimed the bones used were from the hotel's trash, picking them out on Friday nights, and that they would never have need for the great number available from the large fish kills. They were almost believed until a search of the hotel gardener's shed turned up the variety of large, hand-casting fish nets that had been used in the Mediterranean and Mideast since biblical times. This was certainly not what you'd call a fishing village. The lake was big, but not that big. Also, upon a bit more investigation it was found the two women had already asked the government for a small business loan to start an academy centered around their special reconstructive craft.
It was the talk of the village the next market day, a Wednesday. The men grouped in threes, fours and fives in the piazza, the women in transient-twos in front of the vendors' pop-open, product-laden trailers. The discussion was of the law and whether it was clear any infractions, if there were any at all, merited incarceration, except perhaps for illegal dumping; and it was pointed out that dumping would have had to take place somewhere else than the place where the fish were retrieved for it to be accurately called dumping. And although all seemed to agree it was a great waste of fish, no one, it seems, ever thought to ask what the maids had done with the meat, where they had acquired the Barbies, if they were not their own, or what role the tourist had beyond his dream. If anyone did in fact address these issues, they did not endure to another ear. There was also some concern about the number of fish actually left in the lake.
I had been having gory dreams almost from my first night away from home. A maniacal and murderous hillbilly, missing teeth in his narrow, pointed jaw, chased and finally caught me about my sixth night, both of us doing the other in: him, taking me by surprise, slitting my throat with a long serrated knife; I, before dying, pumped three rounds from a .38 caliber in his torso.
The fish dream followed the next evening. I did not think much of it except as perhaps another installment in the blood and guts scenarios of the preceding nights. Not that it wasn't remarkable, because I did share it with the patroness of the hotel, quite casually, for speaking little Italian and phobic of large bodies of water, I had no idea what was going on at the lake. She quickly excused herself and the authorities fingered the maids shortly thereafter. This was four vacation days out of Florence.
I had been looking forward to this holiday. I had never been to Europe before. And as an awe-junkie, artist and recent inductee to the mysterious joy in the Holy Spirit, I was looking forward to seeing all of the religious art I could get my eyes in front of. I was not disappointed. I was dazzled, and later confused.
In one of the Florentine chapels, there is a painting of what I take to be two saints with a large fish they had pulled in. I stood in front of it, crying; for what reason, I did not particularly know. An impression from a New Testament story that somehow brought validation to the story; brought it to life for me. But enough to make me shed tears? How could a five hundred year old painting bring something into focus? What more did it offer than a two thousand year old story? It is only now that I make a connection between the painting and the incident in the small village.
Only one other painting in Florence had the same effect on me. It was a Madonna and Child, one of the thousands of Madonna and Child, Virgin and Child, Mary and Child paintings in the world, except this Madonna was actually playing with the child on her lap. There was love, joy and gaiety: no staid piety, no concern for the serious nature of future events.
As it was now common knowledge in the village, upon her return, the hotel patroness did not hesitate to share with me the whole story of one of the maids, a life-long resident and daughter of an earlier mayor. She claimed to have had a vision of the Virgin when she was eleven years old. It was said to have happened in the olive grove between the lake and the old castle ruins. The girl was sitting on a concrete bench, sketching one of the more ancient but still fruitful trees. Intent on her drawing, she suddenly caught a peripheral glimpse of a figure standing next to her. She started, but the radiant woman, dressed in what appeared to be rags, comforted her, saying only, "Dear child." The woman then turned away, walked down into the grove towards the lake and quickly disappeared into the squat, scraggly trees.
At first, the girl told no one of this first encounter, and remained quiet until after the fourth encounter at age sixteen. It happened in the lavatory at the seafood restaurant where she waitressed. Although this was not her only vision and despite numerous drawings from previous visions in which Mary had graciously sat as a model, no one in the village believed the Holy Virgin had need of facilities (nor should the Holy Mother sit) and therefore discounted the girl's whole story. The Church also thought it wise to ignore the whole thing; and since the girl made no protest whatsoever, after a lengthy and sometime heated, and certainly factional debate about tourism possibilities (my host was most sympathetic to the then young girl), the whole episode eventually faded from the public arena.
And even though now, years later without incident, the tale re-emerged and did nothing but help secure the notion that the one maid must certainly have a feeble mind. She was allowed to continue working at the hotel but was roundly discouraged from her doll craft.
The other maid, recently from Florence, was summarily fired. She was on the same train I rode back to Florence. I did not see her get off, but perhaps I missed her or she may have gone on. As a tourist, I was pretty much left alone for the rest of my stay, although there were a few times while back in Florence that I thought I was being followed. Yet, by and large, my remaining holiday was quite wonderful, dreamless.