Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Lazarus Society XIII

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…

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Lazarus Society XII

12.       Servi drank the wine with difficulty.  His head was reeling.  Tony was sitting opposite him, telling tales of past deflowering.  Servi laughed and even slapped the table.  He hoped that LaOmbra’s bladder would finally brim.  But the big man kept drinking.  Finally, Tony pronounced “Gotta take a piss,” and solemnly rose from the table, as if a great threshold had been breached.  Servi checked his pockets for the two things that would make the scenario work: the bottle of powder, and the packet of Tony LaOmbra’s letters to Maria.  Servi looked about.  Carlo the waiter was inside watching a football match, his back turned to Servi.  Servi opened the bottle into Tony’s full glass and stirred it with a trembling finger.  When the big man returned he immediately took a swig of the wine.
            “Ahh,” LaOmbra twisted his face. “Dis stuff tastes like piss.”  But to Servi’s satisfaction, he drank down to the dregs.  LaOmbra looked at the clock on the cathedral tower.  “Jesus H. Chirst, is dat da time?  Shit, I’m gonna be late for my, ahh, date!” and he laughed, and Servi joined, performing his best semblance of a chuckle.  Standing up, LaOmbra swayed a bit.   
            “Jesus,” he said, “I musta drank more of dis shit dan I thought.

Dear Aaron, his mother wrote, we just received a letter from you.  Thank God.  But the date is so old.  Can’t the Italians send a letter on time? All the good Italians came here to America.  We get future letters and then a letter with a date that is two months old…

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Lazarus Society XI

11.       “She’s a pieca ass, I’ll tell ya dat.  I’m gonna screw her brains out tonight, right before the festa. Bring it in wid a bang!”  Another voice said in Servi’s ear, its origins emanating from somewhere in a world cloaked by mist.  Yet the voice was familiar, from his recent past.  Pure Brooklynese.  For a moment, Servi thought he was back in New York, stuck in eastbound traffic on the Long Island Expressway, waiting for the next exit, ANY exit, merely to get off, but it never arrived.  Then he remembered he was lying in a lumpy bed in Rome, sick with an ailment without a surname.
            “Whaddya tawking about?”  Servi asked, sitting up in the bed, the wheels of his mind formulating an arrangement, laying it in front of him like a newly minted coin ready for circulation.
            “Fuckin’ A,” Tony squawked.  “I knew you wasn’t from no fuckin’ Canada.  I knows a paison from my parts when I seez one.  Jesus Christ!  You slippery fuck!”
            “Let’s have a drink to celebrate,” Servi said, sitting up in bed.
            “Ya sure? Ya look like shit all warmed up.”
            “I’m OK,” Servi answered, springing out of bed, striding to the bathroom.  “Just let me get my shit together, and we’ll drink a shit loada wine.”
            In the bathroom Servi methodically emptied into an empty pill bottle the fine white powder of the red pills, which always inclined him into a Rip Van Winkle stage of slumber.  Then with hands quaking like two leaves still unlucky enough to be on a branch in winter, he pulled on his clothes.  

Dear Aaron, his mother wrote, I write this with tears, thinking my youngest son is dead or worse, hurt and unable to contact us…

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Lazarus Society X

10.       “Have you ever been in love?” a small voice asked Servi, and he snapped awake.  Maria was sitting by his bedside.  Since he had fallen ill, she kept appearing and disappearing like LaOmbra and Doctor Tedesco, banking in and out of Servi’s personal depository of fog.
            “Yes,” Servi answered, but then, “No… well, maybe…”
            “How can you not know?” Maria asked with untrammeled wonder.  “When you are in love, don’t you know?  You must have never been in love.”
            “I suppose that is true,” Servi answered, rising his head from the bed, astounded to be propped on one arm.  “I suppose when you know you know.”
            “Look at these,” Maria said, and handed Servi a bundle of letters.  Servi tried to read them.  They were from LaOmbra to Maria in stilted and misspelled Italian.   When LaOmbra could not find the Italian word, he substituted an English approximation, and half the time the grammar or spelling was mangled beyond repair.
            “He’s far too old for you, Maria,” Servi mumbled, trying to let his voice rise from the mist.  “How old are you, anyway?”  When she told him, Servi groaned.
            “He said he’ll wait till I’m eighteen and then we’ll marry.  That is not that long from now.”
            “Maria, he is training to become a priest.  He is going to marry God.”
            “He’s doing that to please his mother,” she said dismissively.  “He isn’t going to go through with it.”
            “Maria, he doesn’t kiss or touch you, does he?”
            “Only like a gentleman…”
            “Maria, stay away from him,” and then Servi had a quick, lucid thought, like a bolt of lightening in a murky, featureless sky. “May I keep these letters for a bit… read them in greater detail?  I want to see what true love is…”  Maria agreed, pleased that Servi had recognized her ardent emotion.  Then Servi felt a surge of pain down near his groin which moved like a choppy wave up to his chest.  Then the red pill he had taken no more than five minutes ago began to spread a beneficial balm, and he wafted into a deep, black sleep which felt to him as if he was being pitched about in a gently rocking boat.

Dear Aaron, his father wrote, are you even alive?  The American Consulate does not know your whereabouts.  If they can’t find you in two weeks, we can list you as a missing person on Interpol…

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Lazarus Society IX

9.         Servi awoke to a clinical probing of his abdomen.  Doctor Tedesco was leaning over him, tapping about his torso.  When the doctor saw Servi’s eyes, he smiled reassuringly.
            “I am still working on getting you those tests, Senore Servi.  I am pulling every string in the national health system.  But some of them are a little threadbare, if you get my meaning.”
            “Why should I be tested?” Servi asked with a noticeable slur, as if his sluggish tongue had been dipped in tar.  “What is wrong with me?”
            “That’s just it,” the doctor answered, pulling Servi’s shirt down and paternally patting his head.  “I can’t find anything wrong with you.”
            “I don’t have money for tests, or for these drugs.”
            “Courtesy of the Italian government,” the doctor smiled.  “I’ve made you an Italian citizen in our paperwork.  A little formal lie is all, for with the name Servi, it’s easy.”
            Servi considered: one day he was American, the next Canadian, and today, Italian.  In the grand sweep of his short life, Servi had drawn the low card of identity.  He did not belong anywhere.
            “Doctor,” Servi asked, his slur more pronounced. “What is the Lazarus Society?”
            “What?” the doctor asked, and Servi asked it again, elongating the syllables until they strained to snap.
            “Oh,” the doctor answered, nodding. “That is the organization that the American, LaOmbra, works with… they are part of a religious order.  They send people to work in poor neighborhoods, with the sick or dying, in preparation to become priests.”
            “Priests?” Servi asked, trying to raise his head.  “Tony LaOmbra is studying to become a priest?”
            “Yes,” the doctor answered, but seeing Servi’s agitated state, he ordered him to be silent.  But they were wasted words, for Servi’s eyes sealed like twin doors on a tomb, and he fell into a sleep so black it was death’s fraternal twin.

Dear Aaron, Father Francisco wrote, perhaps you don’t remember me.  I taught you at CCD.  Your mother has been coming to Mass and we have become reacquainted.  I remember you as the young man who was interested in Saint Augustine’s Confessions, and she asked me to write to you…