Thursday, May 7, 2015

One Pleasure: a story II


           That evening an Austrian bi-plane flew low and growling over the Italian lines.  Carducci was out cleaning the pots and pans using the  snow which lay about the exposed rocks in random clumps, like dirty cotton which had fallen from a bag suspended in the gray sky, to scour.  He boiled snow in a cauldron to rinse the pots, pans, cups, folks and knives from the mess. 
            From somewhere below him, along a string of fortifications at least fifty feet beneath the scrubbing Sicilian, men popped their heads out of dugouts to catch a glimpse of the Teutonic bird and then quickly pulled their heads back into the shelter of the rock.  Only Carducci remained out in the open, scouring his pots.  A few moments before the plane arrived, a man in the dugouts began to sing a Neapolitan song, about love lost and found only, sadly, to be lost again. Cardducci was so enraptured by the tune’s bittersweet words, its elongated, almost Arabic cadences, that he failed to see or hear the plane.  He sang the song of the girl with skin like ivory and lips far redder than the reddest of roses.
            A reconnaissance plane was a rare occasion in this part of the Italian front lines, and the plane, coated a dull metallic green, kept swaying and looping over the Italian front, following the contours of the trenches, wires, pillboxes, sentry posts, and supply lines which descended into the valley like frayed edges of a worn out garment.  Then it gradually made the ascent up the foothills of the Julian Alps to the peaks.  The plane appeared as a creature from another world, its methodical and painstaking progression a tacit acknowledgement of the wonders of man:  here, in 1917, these creatures had devised ingenious stratagems to kill each other on the very summit of Europe, nearly 10,000 feet in the sky, at the very lowest arch of the skipping alpine clouds.
            “Carducci, you Sicilian bastard, get down here!”  A voice called out above the drone of the plane.  This was Lieutenant Levi, now pulling Carducci’s fat ankle where his puttee met his shoe in an irregular crease.  The touch woke Carducci from his Neapolitan revelry, as if the voice came from that infernal machine swooping and buzzing over his head like a witch’s elfin minion.
             This all happened quickly:  Lieutenant Emmanuel Levi, enraged at Carducci, emerged from the dugout and stood on the ridge, his blue Alpini uniform silhouetted against the gray, fading light, like a cardboard target of a man.  Carducci gazed up from a pot.  The plane, seeing the cockled hat of an officer exposed on a peak, made a turn to strafe:  a sharp, angular banking motion, pointing toward the Lieutenant like a scowling bird of prey.
            “LIEUTENANT!” Carducci lunged forward and screamed, grasping Levi by the waist.  The Sicilian pivoted and twisted the Piedmontese Jew backward so in the span of a second Lieutenant Emmanuel Levi was riding the Sicilian Carducci down the steep, snow blanketed embankment at such a rapid speed that all the men heard was the snow swirling passed their ears, and not the violent splintering of rock as the plane staffed an empty peak.

            When Carducci came to a sliding halt against a rock at the floor of the ravine, he did not move.  Lieutenant Levi rolled off the Sicilian.  He held his fingers under the man’s prodigious moustaches to feel for breath but it was not necessary.   Levi knew Carducci was alive from the deep inhalation of his barrel shaped chest, as if the long ride with Lieutenant Emmanuel Levi had lulled him into a sleep only enjoyed by infants on a carriage ride.  Then Levi turned the Sicilians head:  a gash turned the snow a deep crimson.  

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