THE CONSCIENTIOUS WAITER AND THE NASTY CUSTOMERS

paper shots 2 - 51

“Are you two together?” the waiter asked, determined to screen Him from Her with his portable transparent plastic wall.

“We’ll see after tonight.” She winked.

Impassive, the waiter inserted the freshly sanitized wall to split the table in two, then joked, “Everybody has the right to date. Still, I’m thinking this plastic wall won’t be the only thing separating the two of you tonight.”

He reacted, but then sat down. She pulled down her mask to get a sip of wine. They had nothing in common, true; except for the unpleasant remarks they left on the portable plastic wall.

In response to: https://carrotranch.com/2020/04/23/april-23-flash-fiction-challenge-2/

THE LAUGHING SEAGULL

paper shots 2 - 102

You could have gone out and breathed pure(r) air for the first (and probably last) time in your life, yet they told you that the air was contaminated by the virus and locked you up inside your house. You let them. You could have looked at the numbers and think using your own brain, yet they bombarded you with lists and percentages on TV and the internet to blow it all out of proportion. You let them. Once by the sea, I saw a gull flying over the whole stretch of beach available while I had to pay if I wanted to go to certain areas. Free beach, paying beach. The gull wasn’t surveying the land for food – he was laughing at us.

IN WHICH A CHARACTER TAKES CHARGE

15491739_10210539877200705_1132238608_o

Ministry of Health. Under25 Secretary slips into an office, “People are gargling with bleach.” What? “They’re afraid of the virus.” What? (Jokes have been going round because of the pandemic.) Some laugh, flabbergasted. “We need an official communiqué.” Now they all laugh. No one’s sure what’s going on. Typing, calling, “put me through, I said!” Under112 Secretary Never-take-charge-but-follow-orders takes it seriously, though; at her computer she designs a fake news bulletin warning people about gargling with bleach. It goes viral. The crazy are saved. The price of bleach goes back down. Stocks normalize. The world is a better place.

In response to: https://carrotranch.com/2020/03/27/march-26-flash-fiction-challenge-2/

STUFF YOU WOULDN’T FIND ON NETFLIX

paper shots 153

They saw a movie last night. First they discussed which movie; he’s been downloading movies all week – stuff you wouldn’t find on Netflix. Then they talked about the movie for a while before switching everything off for the night. The building across the street: the same; so in the apartments below, above. They appreciate the dialogues of the movies they see, they find the plots credible, they spot holes and admire the cinematography. “Would they like mine?” His eyes go red, he twitches his little-white-rabbit nose, and on the roof he says, “Yes, I’m happy I started this pandemic!”

In response to: https://carrotranch.com/2020/03/19/march-19-flash-fiction-challenge-3/#comment-67117

BRECHT, TOKYO AND MT. VESUVIUS

paper shots 154

In 1956 Bertolt Brecht sent his written contribution to a debate about the theatre taking place in the city of Darmstadt, Germany. In his clear-cut style and well-defined images, he warned the listening congregation (we are assuming somebody else read his words) that if they wanted to talk to today’s people they needed to present today’s problems in relation to their solutions, the world as a world that can be changed. “Years ago,” the voice (not his) continued, “in a newspaper I saw a photograph of the city of Tokyo destroyed by an earthquake. Most of the houses had collapsed, but a few modern buildings were standing, unscathed. ‘Steel stood’ was written over the image.” The voice then invited them to compare this description with Pliny’s description of the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, concluding that it seemed obvious which one “our modern playwrights should avoid.” (Alas, we can only imagine the reaction of the passionately debating congregation. In 1956.) “We can no longer present man to man as a victim, as the passive object of an unknown and immutable environment.” The voice finally spoke in stone, “If we put ourselves in the position of the ball, the laws of motion become inconceivable.” (In 1956, of course.)

SEPARATING

paper shots 144

I don’t have a mask. Should I have a mask? There are no masks left at the local pharmacy. A friend has posted a video explaining how to make your own mask, at home: parchment paper, two rubber bands, and scissors. She saw it on national TV. Then a journalist signed in live from a hospital in the north, stood right in front of the two sliding doors separating the virus ward from the rest of the hospital and said, “This is the line separating Life from Death.” Then folks from the more affected north tried to escape to the less affected center and south of the country, returning home, while a horde of outraged folks on social media poured their higher-than-god anathemas “Your mother is going to die because of you!” against them. And while the train is darting through the country, they hear the chants of bored home-forced revelers as if the hills are alive with the sound of sirens and orgiastic mourners, the loudspeakers blasting the death toll for the day gone by, with no explanation – only the sheer numbers.

OVER THE HEDGE

paper shots 150

One thing I Know: I know what happens in the world, I don’t know what happens at the end of my street. Street level, on a hilly road that curves where my building is, a little garden right outside my door, a hedge that lines it on two sides out of three. I can stare at the top of the road, but I can’t see the bottom, and that’s where the buzz is (or might be), the big road intersecting the major thoroughfare further north, the big square, the restaurants (shut), the stores (shut), the bars (shut), the tobacconists (shut? – there was a debate as to whether cigarettes are essential needs in times of confinement, can you walk in the park?, can you walk to relax?, to walk off the tension of living 24/7 with… who had ever been with these folks all this time?) Those who are home alone are spinning monologues to their kitchen curtains, and I wonder if I should see to really know, or whether I really want to know.

MORNING DAY 1

paper shots 148

The birds outside the window must be wondering where we are. They can still fly, observe from above, and the city is empty, those big boxes of metal and plastic, we call them cars, are parked idle on the side of what we use to travel or walk, we call them streets. Bird Two says to Bird One they can finally breathe and the message is relayed. Another bird comes, Bird Three, slightly different chirp, he was at the park earlier, to catch the proverbial worm naturally, and the gates there are closed. Bird One is astounded, but Bird Three, worldly and well-flown, explains the parks are shut because we didn’t understand what it means to stay home. He tells the story of how Big Man in government told all of us to stay home, then urged us, then pleaded, but we all went out anyway. Drastic Measures, National Shutdown, and Bird One has a shiver when he hears the words. Chilly morning, huh? Spring is coming. Spring is here – March 12, can you believe it? Bird Two can maybe count the days, and be astonished. Do they care? Should they? The world is theirs! (this morning) – they fly away.

III – AT THE PORTA CAPUANA

III

Then some will inevitably tell you that what you’ve seen is not the real city. The real city is its outskirts, the rundown, dirty, crime-ridden outskirts – what you’ve seen is the relatively polished, the cleverly cleaned-up version of what this city is or can be, a better phrase, because we don’t want the criminal, we want the charming, (it is so complicated to explain.) In a counter bid to our obsessive encasing of historical ruins, the makeshift basketball court in the shade of the Porta Capuana, youths playing while a bunch of people of many oriental nationalities camped right underneath its bastions, seemed the perfect example of the prejudice of beauty in the face of stones and history – they are revamping the area alright, cleaning the pavement, restoring the old gate (with funds for the peripheries of the European Union) – yet these teenage basketball players, born and bred in the hood, don’t, literally, give a damn; they play there just as they could be playing anywhere else, provided they have a basketball court (The surprise lies in their not playing soccer.) So this is the issue with the broken outskirts, they have nothing, never had nothing, and young folks there have no courts, or fields or pools, nothing, what are they going to do? – you go in and you feel that crime is lurking behind piles of trash – those youths can only go down the wrong road of the bad life, while these kids at the Porta Capuana, right across the street from what was the official Courthouse of the city of Naples for five hundred years, live a life of hardship, you’d imagine, but the easy kind. What does one expect? Crime at every corner? No, but neither does one expect this baroque eccentricity which does exist. No, it doesn’t. People just live normal lives here – that’s all.

II – FACING THE WORLD

II

Areas around train stations don’t usually get much attention. Yet this one, and its large rectangular square, may be the best ordinary gateway into the city in all its ‘splendor and squalor’ (S&S – Naples’ rhyming code to its much maligned beauty and decay?) You’re not really encouraged to walk right, but the hood oozes life of all colors and creeds – in the throbbing heat of summer, too, when the rest of town only seems discernible through the style of dripping laundry hanging dry out of windows and balconies; neither is there a reason to go left, but the air smells salty like seawater, seeping in from behind a few boulevards, some unpleasant buildings and the docks – you don’t see the sea, you smell it; And, finally, why venture to the other end of the square, despite any beautifying revamp, to a statue of Garibaldi, the hotels, and the pulsating beat of avenues leading to other visceral hubs? The image of veins and arteries, often used but seldom with any meaning, comes to mind, pounding beneath your feet. There’s a church dome some way off up to one of the hills, and a former castle and a former charterhouse; the craggy outline of densely populated humanity, and spots of greenery that were once pastures and vineyards, praised by those who saw the city a few hundred years back, or less, when, you’re constantly reminded, this was a capital, and what a capital! – left now to talking buildings and people that look instead of listening.