At the border of the world. A river; barbed wire; trees and birds that look identical but carry different names. A boy – he would be in elementary school somewhere else – looks out onto the other side. He doesn’t know what he’s left was war, they called it that, they said it was that, and one day he’ll feel he actually felt it. He doesn’t know, either, that the world he’s looking out onto feels at war, too. He doesn’t know about this other invisible war now, but one day he’ll feel that those on the other side didn’t live through a war, or his kind of war – it will feel different, and the names won’t feel appropriate. He’ll develop a magic fascination for the names of things. Now he sees a soldier approaching from afar with a smile and a machine gun, which one shines more is hard to tell, it’s that sunny of a winter day in a month that felt like spring but it’s now back to cold. If they have to wade the river, he’ll get for sure icy water up to his waist.
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.)
At the former Royal Castle atop a verdant hill – once Royal Hunting Grounds – once real people are now actors talking through elaborate costumes. Only Pulcinella, the mask, is as unreal as he once was. We linger a bit while, in the big room, King Charles V and his son Philip (not yet King of Spain) look at the scene through the eyes of Titian with what seems little amusement. They must certainly have other concerns with their Empire on which the sun never sets – they look out the big paned windows, at palm trees and magnolias, at the old town down below and the Bay, the mountains, Capri and the Vesuvius (you don’t see it now, you just know it’s there, which is a typically Neapolitan thing you’re told.) In another room a lady-in-waiting of some Crown Princess tells of how good the Kings are (were) and how many good things they do (did) and how much they love (loved) their people. Coy about the romantic escapades of the Queen, excited about the King who likes to mingle with the fishermen at the docks – unwinding, 18th-century style. The court, she says, is assembled in the Royal Palace downtown, facing the docks and the port and the dormant volcano, and looks out its big paned windows shaking its one head at the king’s odd behavior. She likes it, though; she’s one of the people. So kings look out, the court looks out, the city looks out, till the sound of coins tingle in the fancy plumed cap to stipulate a due return for these professional productions of professional actors – even though that does break the illusion and horses’ hoofs in the distance are just tourists being trotted around, not unclogged, smog-free roads and boulevards, on which the sun does set eventually behind acrobatic high-rises on winding paths up and down once lush bountiful hills.
Through the woods, at the end of a track that goes along a stream (mom swears she used to bathe in it as a child with her friends) there’s a mill and the modern-day idea of a quaint cluster of small farmhouses – a B&B proves the point, and so does an old shed, of mossy bricks and rotten beams, untouched by the renovating fury, showing a massive wooden plough, stuck in time and dust and cobwebs. In El Dorado somewhere in the Andes, ploughshares were made of silver, and this gripped the imagination of a farmer who might have heard of the legend. One morning, as he went about his day, he must have stopped and pondered whether it was worthwhile to send at least one of his nine children to check if that was true. (Mom says they would rest under that giant oak after bathing and then run back to the village before sunset, so no one knew where they’d been.)
Warm and cold weather she recognized by the time it took her laundry to dry, although she could never tell exactly when each item of clothing was dry; it had been pointed out to her that something can be humid but not necessarily wet – (“Never trust linen!”) – so she needed another hand to check what her touch told her, which was the light-hearted excuse for the forthcoming marriage, which is how neighbors and passers-by found out her friend had passed, clothes out in the wind for days on end, at the stretch of new balances, just to be sure.
In response to: https://carrotranch.com/2018/12/14/december-13-flash-fiction-challenge/
“This is obviously not art.” “Because they changed Best of Luck with Best of F…?” “Please!” He was making another point. The giggles died down, outside the station, writings everywhere; they thought those fonts were not available in Microsoft Word. It was also the, well, artistic process: at night, on the sly, “how can they see the colors if it’s dark?”, “it’s not legal, you know.” Surely writing that This City is Anti-fascist & Always Will Be was a cliché, but the unassuming flower next to it, thin black stem, red petals starting to wither, welled up an inexplicable tear.
In response to: https://carrotranch.com/2018/12/06/december-6-flash-fiction-challenge/
I am deaf and yet the world listens. I am blind and yet the world sees. I don’t talk and yet there are sounds. What a strange combination of thoughts. If I were any of these things I would think intuitively everybody else was like me, till they told me it wasn’t so. The other side of the little valley is the village, once thriving, now much less, with the willing effort of a so-called repopulation. We never can let go completely, but it does strike the imagination now as the unpretentious bell tower, above the rooftops, has a tuft of something sticking out under the tatty small dome of slate. It’s blades of grass, quite a clump must be, seen so from a distance, and it makes the bell tower a proper ruin in the modern sense – sneaky for a piece of architecture.
“Now, we’ve got to be quick, and silent.” “I want to stay out more.” “The curfew!” (which had, already, tolled the knell of parting day.) No one could be out. He was, in theory, patrolling the streets, dark, tasting the sea close by. Spring breezed through the alleys near the port. The two were heard; He tracked them down, drunk, one intention only. “We’ve got to run faster.” They got home, big wooden door, which he started banging on, ordering to come out. The girl was rushed upstairs, the aunt lingered by the door to bolt it with her own person. He had liked the freshness of the girl and her white flappy skirt. One gun shot, as if straight through the wood he could see, by the periodical beam flashing from the lighthouse. The stars were out. And the aunt fell, the girl saw, gone. He left, young, lurching through the night with a warm gun.
The Nazis and The Pig
“Cemeteries will soon be a thing of the past.” She wasn’t known for making philosophical remarks. But this was interesting. Surrounding eyes encouraged her. “Yes, as more and more people get cremated and have their ashes scattered everywhere…” “You can do that?” – Interruption – “Yes, it’s legal now.” The thought wasn’t resumed. One could have assumed the sentence was too long to be picked up again, but no. That was it. (And they could all conjure in memory trips to some hallowed ground as children, in periodical turns, and the trees and the stones and dragging feet on pebbles and grass.) The question would have been asked: but what’s going to happen to the dead? It wasn’t. And not because nobody cared, but because nobody even thought of it. Of their own situation after… No, only now. Now’s what matters. Now’s the only time.
King Ludwig II of Bavaria drowned young in a lake, under mysterious circumstances “and only 6 weeks afterwards his family began operating public tours of his castles.” The King had devoted most of his life to designing and constructing palaces over the length and breadth of his kingdom. “Granted his family had never liked them, too fairytale-like and opulent.” His brother, who succeeded him, was too weak to reign. His uncle, who took the regency, preferred some quieter middle-class domicile. Once the walking ground of a shy King who spent days alone in his abodes atop the mountains, they were now open to prying eyes and meandering feet. “And look!” Now disguising in part his face is happy-birthday paper hats on all his busts in the majestic rooms – colourful shadows on polished white marble – the memory of his coming into this world thus commemorated.