Monday, May 11, 2015

One Pleasure: a story, iv


              When Levi awoke he was being lifted by a round, squat man with a loosely wrapped bandage about his head which formed a conical crest at the crown of his scalp. Levi thought the man looked not unlike the pictures of the Levites in the Temple he had seen as a boy in the Illustrated History of the Jews, written by his famous uncle Aarone Levi.  Then Lieutenant Levi realized he was at an aid station, and the priest hauling him over his shoulder was that Sicilian Carducci.        
            “What is it?” Lieutenant Levi gasped.  “Stop doing that, it hurts…”
            “They’ve abroken through,” Carducci stammered.  “We’rea heading south.”
            “Who?  Who broke through?  Stop, you are killing me!”
            “The Austrians, and they say theya say Germans too,” Carducci panted, carrying the Lieutenant down a steep embankment to a road clogged with gray, wet figures, like some queue of souls in limbo. 
            “You’ll kill me!” Lieutenant Levi moaned.  “I’m wounded.”
            “Sorry Lieutenant!  It is either thisa or you die…” and Carducci found a spot on his shoulder where the Piedomentese Jew was more or less balanced, where his center of gravity pooled about his waist, and began the retreat which became a rout at Caporetto, the nearest town.  Carducci and Levy were two among the scores of thousands of ragged men scuffling listlessly south; most had discarded their weapons.  Officers had removed their insignia in disgrace.
            All that time moving south, out of the mountains and into the Veneto Plain, Carducci whispered in Levi’s ear.  He regaled him with all the stories he had heard of Jews as a boy in Giuliana, a land which had not seen a Jew in four-hundred years.  He told tales of the Jew who refused Christ a drink on the road to Calvary and was forced to forever wander the earth, never to die.  He told the tale of the Jew who defiled a Christian girl, and when she gave birth, the infant had horns and cloven hooves.  He told the tale the rabbis who lured the Christian boys into their chamber on Good Friday, with candy and endearments, only to butcher them in a parody of the crucifixion, and render their flesh into Passover bread.  He told these stories in a monotone, as if repeating a catechism, as numb and devoid of meaning as the muttering of the rosary.
            Immanuel Levi tried to speak, to refute, to order the Sicilian to put him down in the mud to die, but no voice formed in his throat.  Words lodged in his lips and then fell still born into the world, not spoken.
            Only when Carducci put Levi down on the banks of the Piave River, where the Italians had finally halted the rout and turned to make a stand, did Levi’s words congeal to make a sentence:
            “I should have shot you on that ridge… Sicilian bastard…”
            “It was my pleasure to save the Lieutenant, a respectable son of Italy,” Carducci answered unsteadily.  His face was gray.  His eyes were dull and glossy.  Yet a smile crossed his ashen lips.  “This was my one pleasure, Sir… asa we say, ina war, hunting, and a…”

            And Carducci fell down and died.

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