I wrote tonight. More in my Venice piece – 542 words ain’t nothing to turn your nose up to. Here’s what I have so far:
When you find a body in your net, it takes a moment for the panic to set in. First, there’s that fascination, curiosity, that makes you consider poking around, seeing if you know the person. If you’re smart, you don’t touch anything, leaving your net as it is, secured, and fetch the authorities. If you can hold onto that, the panic never comes and you do all the right things, perhaps earning a coin for the trouble. If you can’t hold onto it, you might dissolve into tears like my partner, Davide. He’s been working this shift with me for two years and we’ve found all sorts of fascinating things, even a silver pocket watch, but never a body. I feel the shiver of excitement flutter through my chest, giving me the energy to jump up and down, perhaps start laughing like a loon, but I hold the grin from my lips, the bubbling excitement from my voice. It wouldn’t do to be seen as a lunatic, any more than as a child. I rub Davide’s shuddering back comfortingly, and grip my woolen cap too tightly in my fist. I try to see anything, but there is nothing in sight yet.
I’d kept myself together long enough to summon the authorities, to allow them to look in the net first, identify the body, check for wounds. I wondered what it might have been – a robbery, perhaps? A feuding family finally come to bloodshed? Nothing exciting happened on my little island, where everyone knew everyone back for generations. I thought of my father, of his disapproving look when I failed to keep the excitement from my voice, but I longed to hear his thoughts on the matter. He knew everything, my father did – he would know why this person was murdered, what feud it may have resolved (or more likely fueled) and would give me warnings about watching my back, as well as ordering me to make up a dish to take to the grieving family.
That thought made me hungry, of course; normally by now I’d have finished netting the canal with Davide and would be enjoying a bowl of soup left on the hearth before father went to sleep. Although tonight I would have been enjoying my evening meal at Davide’s home anyway, as father was having company over and had asked me to stay out. It was someone from off the island with which he was conducting business, he’d vaguely provided at my asking. We’d cleaned the home earlier that day, and I’d made up my little bed for the visitors. This body in the canal meant that I was burning with curiosity about two persons now, but it wouldn’t be professional for me to badger father’s visitor with questions while father was trying to get the best price for his goods.
I craned my neck to see again, knowing I would soon have a neck as long as Patrizia Caruso’s at this rate, but it looked as though the authorities were finishing up. They were coming up the slippery steps, holding the mossy wall for balance. They looked grim. Feud for sure. I gripped my cap more tightly and tried to make sure the look on my face was appropriately somber.
The guard tonight was Viola Romano and backing her was Antonello Giordano. I knew them both; had been in school with them both as small children. I had entertained a week-long crush on Viola until I realized that she could kill me as easily as a bug, and then I managed a healthy fear of her until we shared our first kiss in level six. The crush was a playful and lingering thing, the fear was not entirely dismissed, but mostly she was a close friend. Antonello was sturdy, a welcome acquaintance in hard times, but we did not share a close friendship. He was busy with three children and a sick mother at home and had no time for socializing.
Antonello glanced at me from under his damp cap as he went to tell the small late-night and early-morning crowd to disburse. A light rain had started, and everyone was covered in droplets of water, but no one wanted to leave. Everyone was used to being in the rain here; it rained most days. My eyes followed Antonello until Viola appeared in front of me. I was startled that she was so close without my having seen her but tried to hide it with a carefree grin. And then I remembered I was supposed to be somber. I frowned quickly, but she quirked an eyebrow at me and I knew I’d been caught. I grinned again.
She did not. Instead, she looked down and said, “Davide, you should get home.”
“I can’t,” my partner argued, wiping the back of his wrist across his nose. “We have to finish the canal.” He shuddered violently.
“I’ll talk to Federico; you can skip the canal tonight. It’s almost morning anyway and the boats will manage.”
“Come on, Davide,” I said, helping lift him to standing. “I’ll get him home,” I assured Viola with a confident smirk. Lifting Davide, I knew my biceps would be impressive, even in the dim lighting. Canal nets were not light-weight and I’d been hoisting them for years now. She was sure to notice.
“You should stay, Pietro,” she said quickly, putting a hand on my shoulder. There, I knew she’d noticed.
“We’re going home together,” I pointed out to her. “If Davide is leaving, I should go, too.” I subtly gestured with my chin. “He shouldn’t be alone tonight.”
“Pietro,” she paused, glancing at Davide.
“What is it?” I asked when she didn’t continue. Her concern was worrying me. “Who was it? In the canal?” I asked. Maybe the death was someone close to her. Maybe she needed my help.
Viola looked at the slick stone beneath our feet, as though to ask for its strength. Her hand was still on my shoulder.
Even Davide noticed something was wrong with her. “Viola,” he said, through chattering teeth. “You’re white as a dove; what is it? Who- who is it?”
“It’s…” She looked up and met my eyes firmly. I saw my friend Viola disappear into the depths of her professional mask. She found her strength enough to say, “Pietro, it’s your father.”
I did not understand. I frowned at her in confusion and asked, “My father?” I turned to scan the faces of the crowd, but of course he would not be so crass as to stand in the rain looking for rumors. Had he come to help untangle the body from the net?
Then I understood.
The body in the net.
Viola was saying
the body in the net
I laughed in her face. It was impossible. I had spoken to him only hours ago. He sent me to work tonight with a kiss on my face and a piece of candy in my pocket, as though I were a little boy still.
When she did not smile and her professional eyes turned sad, filled with pity, I stopped laughing. I looked at Davide, who was even whiter than he had been, ghostlike. His wide eyes were staring at me as though I was the ghost, the dead haunting him.
My father was dead.
My father was dead in the canal, and I had netted him like trash.
I had little warning before my bile rose and I vomited on the stones. Now it was Davide rubbing my back, and Viola was still holding my shoulder, as though if she let go I might fall. I might. I couldn’t see, and it took me a moment to realize I had tears in my eyes. I blinked them away, but they continued to fall, mixing with the rain on my cheeks.
I was sitting. Davide had put me in his seat and I could only stare at my hands. My partner was asking, “What happened? How did this happen?”
I heard Viola’s reply, “We aren’t sure yet. He was stabbed with a knife or sword.”
“Who could have done this?”
“It’s impossible to know, Davide.”
“No one would have killed him; everyone loves him. Are you sure it’s him?”
“Yes, Davide, we’re sure.”
“I want to see him.” Viola and Davide were looking at me, suddenly standing.
“That’s not a good idea, Pietro,” she told me. “Let the doctor take him and examine him. She’ll have more answers for you in time.”
“I need to see him.” I started forward, toward the canal steps, but Viola’s arm stopped me like a bar of iron against my chest.
“You need rest, Pietro. Davide, can you get him home?”
Davide was nodding, tugging at my arm, but I didn’t want to go with him. I wanted to see my father.
“Go with Davide, Pietro,” Viola urged me. “I promise I will fetch you as soon as the doctor has any news.”
My will faltered at the thought of what I might see, and I felt ill again. I swallowed and nodded, let Davide pull me away with an arm wrapped protectively around my waist, my arm across his shoulder. I gripped his shirt sleeve. We walked in step down the street. Antonello had cleared the crowd, and I was grateful. I looked at the shops on our left, the glass picking up the first vestiges of light in the raindrops that dotted their surfaces. Sunrise already.
My step faltered and Davide hurried to take my weight until I could stand again, panting like I’d just run the spring marathon.
“Pietro,” he said again and again, “Pietro, just breathe. We are almost home, just breathe.”
Home. Not my home. Not my bed.
I stood suddenly again, and Davide startled back two steps from me, shock on his features. “What is it?” he asked nervously.
“My home,” I told him. The thought struck my mind like a stone and I leapt into a sprint. Davide ran behind me, begging me to slow down, to stop, but I couldn’t. My feet knew the way; my heart was the guide.
My home was small, like everyone’s on this island. Squeezed between two others, the stones were red then white then gold bottom to top, and my door was painted blue. My father painted it himself the day he’d brought us to live here when I was but a few days old. He told me the paint had cost him more than a week of food, but he wanted a blue door. He always got what he wanted, my father. He knew how the game of life was played.
And now the game of death. An hysterical giggle bubbled past my lips. I stared at the door until Davide skidded to a halt behind me, panting for breath. He grabbed my wrist in a clammy grip.
“Don’t, Pietro. Viola will come to find you at my home when the doctor has news. Come home with me.” I ignored him, stared at that blue door and, with one finger, pushed it open.
It was not latched.
Davide stopped babbling behind me, staring as I was. The door was not latched. No one locked their doors on the island, of course, but who wouldn’t latch it? Any stray cat or drunk would invite themselves in and help themselves to your dishes. You only leave the door open when you are home and want company, and father… was not home.
I took a step forward, toes just outside the threshold.
“Pietro, if there are ghosts…”
I shook my head but did not answer. Even from here, I could see that my home was destroyed. The shelf of books, my father’s prized possessions, were torn from their beds and strewn across the room. His chair and mine were broken into kindling.
I stepped inside. My boot crunched across broken glass from the mirror father kept by the door, now shattered. He would always adjust his mustache before setting foot outside. I took another crunching step, and another until I could peer into the kitchen. Dishes were shattered and the table was overturned. Our chairs here, too, were broken into pieces. I could see a ceramic shard of our water pitcher in the doorway. I recognized the pattern at once but could not comprehend its presence. It was as out of place as… nothing in my world had ever been as out of place as that shard of pitcher. I could not imagine it.
Hesitant footfalls behind me interrupted my thoughtless gaze and I knew Davide was crunching his way inside, staring as I was staring. I turned my eyes toward the staircase in the hall, twisting around in its closet to the second floor father and I shared.
Davide was speaking again, but I couldn’t make out the words. I imagined he was praying but could not bring myself to do the same. I placed a foot on the first step, and stared at my wet boot. A droplet of liquid on the wall captured my gaze. Blood. Of course. My hands turned to fists at my sides and I was shaking. Of course it was blood. They killed my father and threw his body into the canal and they destroyed our home.
I followed the drop to another and another, each winding its way up the stairs. The drops quickly turned to splashes, and I wondered how they had contained the spills so poorly. Or so well. I wondered, should there be less blood, or more?
At the top of the stairs, I turned first to my father’s room. The door was left open again, and I could see from my place in the hall that his room had been as thoroughly destroyed as our living spaces below. The bed was split down the middle, the stuffing thrown like winter confetti. The mirror here, too, was shattered, and his ancient trunk was on its side, the lid at a twisted angle where a hinge was broken. The map was torn from the wall and left hanging. His dresser, his clothes, everything was discarded and destroyed. Part of me wanted to fix it, correct it, clean it before father saw what had happened, as though it was a cruel school-child trick my classmates had thought to hurt me with, but I knew they would never be so daring and cruel as this.
I went to my own room, the twin to my father’s, and saw the same wreckage. My box of treasures was upturned and thrown so that it shattered against the wall. My bedframe was broken in two and my dresser was on its side, the contents falling out like the intestines of a mortally injured creature. I imagined it staring at me with my father’s eyes demanding explanation for my absence.
I heard a low, breathless moan and stepped backward into Davide. He grabbed my shoulders and stared past me, whispering his prayers in my ear. I held up a hand to silence him, but the sound didn’t come again. Positive I’d heard something, I stepped into the room, eyes darting this way and that. Seeing more clearly now, I saw what I should have seen from the beginning – blood. There were splashes of blood on the floor, on the broken bedframe, and on the dresser. Again the sound: like a breathless cough, a failed attempt at silence.
Davide must have heard it because he grabbed my shoulder in a vice-like grip and whispered, urgently, “Pietro, we have to leave. Let’s get Antonello, and Viola, and Alessia, and Angelo and anyone who will come, but please let us leave now!”
I pried his fingers out of my muscle and moved forward to where the dresser did not meet the wall. A boot on the side of the drawers, I leaned over the side to see a man staring back at me. My blood went cold and I felt my heart flutter in my throat.
He coughed again, blood and spittle dotting his lips. I realized he was trying to speak to me, but I dared not lean too close.
“Did you do this?” I asked softly.
He nodded with a stiff neck, only once, but that was enough to light the fire of my rage, only barely dimmed with fear and disbelief until now.
“Who are you?” I demanded, my lip curling with contempt.
He did not answer, but his eyes widened, as though he recognized me. Davide was praying again, low and urgent.
“Why did you kill my father? Why did you destroy my home?” I was shaking, and my breath was coming in tight gasps. I felt my throat closing as tears streaked down my cheeks and spattered on my overturned dresser. I grabbed the front of the man’s jacket and hauled him over to the floor. Davide was sobbing in the doorway. I saw an ugly wound in the man’s stomach, drenching his clothes with blood. He was holding it with both hands, as though he could contain his life’s blood. I didn’t bother to tell him he was failing; he clearly knew.
“You- you were supposed t’be home,” the man wheezed.
“Why did you kill my father?” I demanded again.
“Succession,” he coughed, a look of plain incredulity crossing his features. I was a fool not to know. But I didn’t know. The word echoed in my mind, looking for context and finding none. I shook my head, confused.
He suppressed another cough, eyes screwed shut in pain. “We were hired. For th’ kingdom.” His eyes widened and he coughed hard, one last time, spraying my face with blood and clawing at some unseen force above him. I withdrew hastily, smearing my face with my sleeve and stared at his prone and unmoving form. I tried to understand his last words.
I realized I could no longer hear Davide’s prayers. I turned to find him, but he was gone. I looked back at the man’s body and studied his clothes. He was no merchant, to be sure. His boots were scuffed and worn, and his trousers had patches. He wore no jewelry or face paint or sign of his wealth. And his accent was from the northern continent.
I looked again at the wound in his belly – he wasn’t holding his stomach, he was holding a weapon, visible now with his hand removed. I blinked. I recognized the blade, because my father had worn it on his belt every single day.
My father had killed this man. I stood with a shudder and shook my head. The idea was abhorrent and I corrected it immediately: my father’s blade had been used to kill this man.
I hurried out of the room, no longer a space I could claim as mine, in search of Davide. He wasn’t in my father’s destroyed bedroom, so I hurried down the stairs. I found him kneeling by the hearth amongst the torn and abandoned pages of my father’s books. Davide was praying fervently. I wanted to join him, but I couldn’t bring myself to kneel at his side. I glanced over my shoulder, fear coiled in my chest and belly; what if they came back?
What if they did? I looked at our chairs, smashed to pieces, and the books, torn and shredded. Why? Why had they done this? The image of our mattresses came to mind, sliced open and sifted through. They were looking for something, clearly, but I wondered if they had found it. Whatever it was. And whyever they wanted it.
“Pietro!” My head snapped around and I saw Viola hurrying toward me. She stopped sharply in the doorway, leaning in to see what she could. She looked at me, at Davide, at the books. I saw her hands tighten into fists of resolve as she stepped across the boundary. She made a holy sign under her eyes and a warding with her fingers.
“What happened here?” she asked with awe. A gentle finger tracked an angry slash across the hallway boards.
I shook my head, exhaustion suddenly dousing the flame of my anger.
Davide stood and turned suddenly. “Viola! There is a dead man upstairs, everything is destroyed.”
“Why?” she crunched tenderly across the glass.
“Looking for something,” I explained. They both looked at me and I shrugged wearily. “I don’t know what.”
“Davide, get Pietro to your home. Please. My commander is already coming here.”
My friend took me under the arm again and walked me toward the doorway. I put out a hand to catch Viola’s elbow and asked, “Where is my father?”
Viola’s lips thinned and she said, “With Vincenzo and Lorella. They’re cleaning him and giving him his rites.”
“I want to see him.”
Davide tightened his grip on me and I knew he was expecting me to run again, but I couldn’t imagine doing such a thing now. Viola’s eyes softened and she looked at Davide for help.
He said, “If you do not eat and sleep you won’t be able to hold his night-vigil. And then what?” I nodded wearily and Davide helped me outside. It was sunny and the salty breeze was northerly today. A deep inhale helped wake me enough to traverse a couple of streets. Davide helped me undress and tucked me into his bed, kissing my forehead and saying a prayer for my rest. I wet the pillow with tears, but fell asleep before I could even picture my father’s face.
I’d love to know your thoughts. Positive or negative, it’s all helpful to improve my writing. And if you think you know where the story is going, please let me know!!
January 20, 2021