Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Order of Things - Story III - Conculsion

“Your name means slave in Italian, you must know that?” she said, and although Servi knew full well what his last name meant, he allowed her to believe he was hearing it for the first time.   
What was the harm?  Listening to the cadences of her accented English brought Servi back to his Rome.  Of course he could speak Italian to her, and she would respond, but mostly she wanted to practice English.  But with Servi, she kept sliding into her Italian with ease and suddenly Servi was back in Italy.  She spoke with that peculiar and enchanting trilling of the R’s of a life long resident of Trastervere.  That was enough to stamp, in Servi’s mind, this woman as something far more than a mere female.   
But there was more: it was her very posture, the stance of her body, the imprint of the expressions on her mobile, lively face… she learned it all in a thousand subtle ways from birth in a three thousand year old city, and now expressed them all fluidly, automatically, as a spring oozes water from an ancient hillside.  Even the way she played with the shiny black hair which fell over her forehead evoked, for Servi, an ancestral urge within him akin to a salmon swimming upstream.
            “Slave,” he asked, and she nodded.  “Well, that seems about right,”
            “Yes,” she explained in her overly precise English, as if she was translating word for word in her head.  “Are you Jewish?”  Servi shook his head.  “Well, you have Jewish ancestors somewhere back there.  Servi is an Italian-Jewish name.  The, how do you say,” she snapped her fingers to conjure up the English work, and when that failed, switched to Italian, “legend is that when Titus brought Jewish captives back to Rome from the Jerusalem campaign, he enslaved most of them.  Some of them were forced to take the last name Servus in Latin, Servi in Italian.  You know, Aaron the Slave.  There are a huddle of little Jewish slaves somewhere back in your past.  This explains a great deal.”
            “In what way,” Servi answered in Italian.
            “Well,” she continued, taking her little brown hand out of the sand, where it had just burrowed, “that book you are reading, by Marcus Auerlius, that would be the Italianate portion of your heritage.  Your Stoic ancestors are calling you back to their fold… little grim Romans controlling every facial tick.  Even that beard you sport,” and here she reached out and playfully tugged it. “You look like you should be striding toward the viewer in The School of Athens.  Then there is the Jew in you… or the Hebrew.  Your sense of absolute morality … that is the Jew in you, praying and wailing on the banks of the Tiber, crying for your poor destroyed Temple.”
            “You would be the person to find out,” Servi said in English, and then finished in Italian. “But you paint too exotic a picture of me.  There is not that much here.”
            “Even the humility of the philosopher…” she said in English, and then switched to Italian.  Servi found the back and forth flow of the languages narcotically lulling.  Her voice, and the distant, pounding surf, made him suspect that this was really a dream.  For this kind of graceful ease had not been part of Servi’s life in many months.  
            He had returned to New York from Italy after a year and a half of delusory study.  His father had, during the first six months of his stay, sent half-pleading letters to him to return, after it was apparent to Servi and his father that his journey to Italy had been a mistake.  But Servi would not give up the Latin ghost.  His father prodded him to take a job in a bank in Manhattan, but this prospect only made Servi more intent to remain in Rome, were he could at least stay busy with idleness  There followed six months of icy silence between father and son.  Then, another six months of renewed offensive, of blatant threats from across the Atlantic.  Weakened by poverty, slackened by loneliness, Servi ate his own version of Italian crow when he had to ask his father to wire money for his return flight. 
            As he sat on the Al Italia red eye to JFK, Servi felt very much like his surname: the slave to his father, the slave to his native city, the slave to the tangled destiny which always led him back to New York.  The slave to destiny.  He lived with his father for an unbearable month, and then the couch of his best friend Jack, matriculated at NYU’s law school.  Servi had no real plans for his future.  He felt so hollowed out by the present that it seemed unwise to place hope on such a thin abstraction as the future.  So he began to read the Stoics again, Epictetus, Seneca, but especially Marcus Auerlieus, and depleted time with Jack’s new girlfriend, Francesca, who was, felicitously enough, a native of the city, which had just ejected Servi like Jonah from the belly of the whale. 
            During Jack’s long hours of study, the idle Servi took Francesca to cheap restaurants, a Fellini film festival in the Village, long talks in Washington Square Park.  A friendship developed between them, which, in two single people, is often a presage of love.  But Francesca was smitten by Jack, apparently, even as she was drawn to Servi; even as she spent more time with Servi than Jack, and drew him into her irresistible orbit.   
           If love had not seemed to Servi an entanglement of the basest form, he would have fought to get her.  But why should he want more from her when he had so little to give?  She was right here, after all, spending all her free time with him.  If she spent the night in Jack’s bed, what did Servi care?  He didn’t even own a bed.  Servi would love her with pure love, detached from the body.  He would do Plato proud.
            They had been resting in the sand, which Francesca found endlessly fascinating.  She ran it through her little brown clenched fist, and it fell in a thin stream as in an hour glass. But soon they picked up their bicycles and pointed east.
            “Were do we go?” she asked, her fine brown face illuminated in the bright sun.  Her black hair, with artificial blond highlights, blew about her face and neck, like a black and white pin-wheel. 
            “Oh, let’s go to Kismet.  It is the next town over.  I’ve never been there.  Nothing special there, I suppose.  I think there is a little restaurant with good crab cakes near a marina.”  On hearing this, Francesa waved her hand in a typical Roman gesture of good natured indifference.  Servi knew her experience of America was bracketed between Washington Square Park and the Battery.
            Servi watched her cycle.  Her posture on the bike was casual, but he could sense that pedaling was an exertion.  A small stain of sweat formed on the back of her shirt and he watched her slim hand pull her it away from her skin --- for she detested the plebeian experience of perspiration.  A hint, a mere rumor of a tremble developed in her brown legs.  Her arms had difficulty keeping the bike steady on the sand.  Servi doubted they would reach Kismet.
            She suddenly stopped and got off the bicycle.  Servi pulled alongside and looked at her.  She frowned
“I’m sorry Servi,” she said through down turned lips.  “I haven’t ridden a bicycle since I was a tiny girl,” and then, in Italian, “and this God damned sand.  It’s no good for anything but making glass.”  Servi laughed, and placed a reassuring hand on her shoulder.  This gesture was enough to trip the wire:  she pushed her lips against his; they were moist and warm.  She grasped him and pulled him forward, almost toppling him from his bike.  For such a petite girl, she was surprisingly fierce in a clinch.  She gripped Servi and kissed him fiercely, more from anger than affection, as if he whole attraction to Servi repelled her, and she wished to concentrate it in a single kiss.  Then she pulled away and cast a hot, liquid gaze at Servi.  Servi got off the bike, striding away.
Servi kept walking, although he could hear her behind him, saying things in rapid fire Italian, mostly in the Roman dialect, as she always did when angry.  She pelted Servi with a mix of sentiments, some loving, but most hurtful and filled with malice, even scorn, for not kissing her back.   
She seemed both affronted by her rash act and hurt that Servi did not fall with her, brazenly, into an abyss.  Servi let her catch up to him.  Where could he go?  They were on an island half a mile at its widest point.  She grasped his arm and was suddenly in front of him.  The fusillade of Roman dialect continued.  She was forming some sort of theory on love which he had heard her, in various versions, formulate before.  He had thought nothing of it, believing it some Latin erotic preoccupation, but now she plugged Jack and Servi into those abstract equations, and it all made sense.  She spoke of gradations of love, and how it was possible to love two men, even three men, in different shades.  There should be more than one word for love.  They should be twenty, to catch the nuances. 
“That’s funny,” Servi answered in Italian. “You seem to think love is something that just litters the streets.  In my experience, most people have problems loving just one person.”
“Maybe you, Servi,” she spat, angry again, her D’s gone in a hail of dialect, “with your cold philosopher’s heart.  You love the form of a woman, but can’t love her body.  It’s sick,” and then her dispensation turned toward the psychological, and she began to speculate on Servi’s psycho-sexual ailments.  Servi listened, enraptured by this version of himself being conjured up before him, like the witch raising Samuel’s reluctant ghost.   
But then she stopped.  They both heard a rustling in a swale of beach grass around the bend.  They took a few tentative steps toward it, and quickly saw a small deer tangled in a bale of wire.  It fought a valiant battle to free itself, but Servi could see that the wire had twisted itself hopelessly around a bud of its antlers.
“What in God’s name is that, Servi?” Francesca asked, drawing near him.
“A deer,” Servi laughed. “Haven’t you ever seen a deer before?”
“It’s the size of a feral dog.  In the Alps, they get as big as bulls.”
“They’re small on this island,” Servi explained.  “There isn’t much food or fresh water.  But people feed them, and now they get into all sorts of mischief, like this.”
“Let’s go back to the car and go back to the city,” Francesca yawned. “This country air is exhausting.”
“We can’t just leave it here.”
“Why not?” she explained wearily.  “Someone else will come along and help.”
“You’re in New York for less than a year and already you are ignoring Kitty Genovese?”
“Who is she?  Your secret girlfriend?  One of those Italian-American bitches from Bayside in their tanks tops and cut off jeans?” she said angrily, but then laughed. “But it can’t be.  As far as I can tell, you don’t even have any friends but Jack.  How do you say, you are a loser.”
“A loner,” Servi corrected, he hoped. “Come on, help,” Servi moved toward the beast, but Francesca stood still.
“I don’t touch animals, Servi,” she explained casually.  “You’ll get, how do you say it in English,” and finding the word lost, found ‘rabies’ in Italian.
Servi began to wrestle with the diminutive deer.  He tried every configuration to free it, turning its head, its body, even lifting it briefly off the ground.   
And this did the trick: the wire snapped, and the deer was free.  Servi continued to hold the animal aloft for a moment, and it seemed to find the hold appealing, as if faced with the possibility of immobility in the wire or in Servi’s arms, it chose the latter.  But Servi let go, and when its feet landed on the sand, the lever of its instincts clicked into place, and it began to leap and bound away, its ass springing forward at strange angles, to thwart some pursuing predator.  Francesca clapped her hands with vigor.
“Bravo! Bravo!” she intoned, and walked up to Servi.  “My American hero.  A true American, a man of action, at home with, how do you say, Mother Nature,” and she pulled Servi up to her, and he did not resist.  She was smaller then him, her head reaching his shoulders, so he lowered his jaw and their lips met.  He felt her tongue, soft and humid, enter his mouth.  The points of her conical breasts, bra-less beneath the sun dress, pressed against his chest like two twin muzzles of some piece of ordinance, ready to discharge.   Servi felt a liquid warmth settle over him, like a molten wave cresting his body. 
When Francesca pulled away, she smiled at him slyly.
“Come on hero,” she smiled, and tugged at his beard.  “Take me back to New York.  You had your chance.”

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