13. Rome was cast in obscurity. All around them, the city was plunged into infernal night, like a well-lit stage whose floods are suddenly extinguished. Or perhaps Servi only thought so, his ideas propelled by all the drugs he had taken just to walk around, or by Tony LaOmbra’s increasingly inchoate observations about the nature of reality. As they walked down the street yet another fog rolled in from the marsh beneath their feet, the miasma under the crust of this soggy corner of Rome. By the time they reached the dig of the baths, LaOmbra was complaining of weakness in his knees.
“Here, rest on this,” Servi said, and guided LaOmbra’s wilting body to the lip of an empty wheelbarrow. LaOmbra even helped shift his weight when Servi made the suggestion. By the time LaOmbra was in the wheelbarrow he was asleep, snoring with zest, but with a pause between each pump of his diaphragm, as if he would not take the next breath.
On the way to the steps of the cathedral Servi saw the box of donkey heads laid aside for the festa. He scooped one up and placed it gently on LaOmbra’s head, careful not to block his nose or mouth. Servi had difficultly pushing the big man. But momentum kept the wheelbarrow moving and it was only when he stopped that Tony LaOmbra fell, spilling out onto the steps in a posture of mock crucifixion: his arms extended, palms up, his feet crossed, his toes pointed downward. The ass’s mask capped his head like a crown. Servi placed Tony’s letters to Maria on the very summit of his tremendous belly.
Servi stepped back to admire the work. Alexamenos worships his god, Servi whispered like a prayer. For a moment, all the pills’ masking properties subsided, and he was squeezed in a vice of blazing pain. But it was only for a moment. Then the numbness slid back into place like a great door slamming shut.
Servi crouched down in the alcove across the street to wait for the saint’s society to open the church. The festa began in two hours with a midnight mass, and he knew that the members arrived at ten to festoon the statue of their patron with flowers and streamers.
Finally, at 10:15, about a dozen old men lost in their overcoats, talking loudly and raucously, rounded the corner. When they saw Tony LaOmbra on the steps, they laughed and cursed in the clipped and pungent Roman dialect. There were many jokes, and Servi feared they would not see the letters. But one finally picked them up and in the light of the street lamp began to read them out loud. Then the men grew silent and Servi slipped away.
Dear Aaron, his father wrote, we have listed you as missing on Interpol…we can only hope that you are alive and well and we will lay eyes on you soon…