Wednesday, May 6, 2015

One Pleasure: a story

            Lieutenant Emmanuel Levi had the Austrian guard in his crosshairs, and held his breath, a began the gentle, almost erotic squeezing of the trigger, the suppressed prelude of the shot, when that fat Sicilian Carducci was suddenly in his sights.  That peasant was running a wire in the ditch beyond the rise, blocking the view to the Austrian outpost with his girth.  The sparkling snow blinded Levi as he opened his left eye and removed his right eye from the sight.
            “Fat-jackass-Sicilian-bastard,” Levi muttered.  He slithered down the slope to the dugout.  In the time he had been laying on the hill, gazing through the sights of his rifle, snow had trickled methodically down, coating his shoulders with a fine, dry down.  He took out a dung colored towel and cleaned his uniform and then removed a chamois from his kit bag and gently wiped the sight’s glass lens.
            He then called to the orderly.
            “Tell Carducci to get in here.”
            “Yes Sir,” the orderly answered, saluting crisply, and turning on his heels, sped away.  
               Lieutenant Emmanuel Levi was suddenly chilled.  The wind had been blowing from the south all day, from the direction of Italy, and carried with it a tang of warmth, a hint of more clement weather.  But now the wind had shifted from behind the Austrian lines, and was cold, with a sweet odor like an overripe fruit, hinting at inevitable decay, filled the dugout with its unsettling promise of the destiny of guns and flesh.
            Across the lines an Austrian shell fell with a metallic thud, landing on some rocks at the base of the ridge, making an amplified sound like a divine hammer hitting an Olympian anvil.  Lieutenant Levi waited for another round, his shoulders tense with the expectation of a barrage, but it was just a stray round.  All was quiet.  Instead of a bombardment Private Carducci was standing before him.  The Sicilian did not salute.
            “Carducci, you idiot, I almost shot your ass out there.”
            “Don’t you salute, Private Carducci?”  Lieutenant Levi's body was as taut as a wire, his voice quivering with contempt.  The Sicilian raised his hand limply.  Levi shook his head.  “Oh, put that down, you half-wit, it looks like you have palsy.  Who gave you an order to go and run a line along that ridge?”  
            Carducci, who spoke High Italian improperly, with many words and expressions from Sicilian dialect, shrugged his shoulders.
            “A Captain say so, Lieutenant Levi,” he drawled.  “Butta I didn’t catchya the man’s name.  As we say in Giuliana, Accatta caru e vinni mircatu, Every dog barks atta poor man.”
            “Don’t talk gibberish, Cardducci.  No officer in the Army of His Majesty Victor Emmanuel would send a man on that ridge.  You didn’t understand what was being said to you because you can’t speak properly… one day your lack of comprehension will kill men.”  Carducci, on hearing this, shrugged once more, but with greater inflection.  Then he added:
            “Ammunccia lu latinu ‘gnuranza di parrinu, as we say, Latin hides the stupidity of the priest.
            “Sir…” Lieutenant Levi cried.
            “SIR!”   Lieutenant Levi roared. “When you are done saying your so-called sentences to me, you say Sir, damn your bones!”
            “Ah, excuse me, Sir…”
            “And what do you mean, Latin hides the stupidity of the priest?  Are you saying that an officer in the Italian Amry, any officer, is stupid?”
            “No Sir,” Carducci stammered.  “All I meant… you see… well maybe being a Jew you don't understand oura priests… howa cruel they cann be…”
            “Never call me a Jew, Carducci.  I’m an Italian.  My family has lived in Piedmonte for over a thousand years…”
            “I meanta no disrespect… ah, Sir.   Asa we say: Cui scerri cerca, scerri trova, He would looks for a quarrel, finds a quarrel.  I’m not look for a quarrel.”
            “Ah, Sir… excuse,” Carducci said, smiling benightedly.
            “Well, you’ve found a quarrel, Carducci.  You’re off the wire and scrubbing pots and pans for a week…
            “Di guerra, caccia e amuri, pri un gusta milli dulrri…”
            “What?” Lieutenant Levi sputtered, his eyes bugling with ire.  “What are you spewing now?”
            “Ina war, hunting, anda love, you suffer a thousand pains for one pleasure.

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