IV – THE MAGIC CASHBOX

IV

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.

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.

PRINCE CHARMING

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The little girls, four to eight years old, form a line backstage, demanding a kiss from Prince Charming. Prince Charming, a gay guy, texts his fellow – “How did I get talked into this? Got to kiss all these girls! I’m an actor, for god’s sake!” Pay is good, though. Before the show, the little girls were restless already, fidgeting in anticipation, no idea Prince Charming is not who he is, no suspension of disbelief. PC hides his phone, flips back his golden locks, and his charming smile opens the door to his dressing room. The little girls fire up.

In response to: https://carrotranch.com/2019/04/18/april-18-flash-fiction-challenge/

FLAKING OFF THE WALLS

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A gust of warm wind rushed in with the man from the foyer. The chandeliers rattled; dust whirled down onto the carpeted floors.

“Lily and Becky?” he asked.

“My sister couldn’t…”

“Yes, it’s you and your sister. The gig’s outside the castle. 6am to 8pm.”

Lily nodded.

In the abandoned megaphone-shaped auditorium, ghosts of opera-goers gazed at their own paint flaking off the walls. Mr. Reynolds excused himself with his best beggars-can’t-be-choosers look; rushed backstage echoing orders. Now a car horn reached Lily’s ears from outside. Becky, of course, double-parked! By the entrée des artistes – the Irony of it.

In response to: https://carrotranch.com/2019/04/11/april-11-flash-fiction-challenge/

AS THE FLAMES FLING HIGH

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In the smoky gray courtyard, the firing squad is lined up, awaiting those to be shot. The former smoke while the latter lit candles in the night on their windowsills. But a section of the confiscated buildings is on fire and firefighters are trying to tame the ever-spreading flames – those who live in the area are out firing questions at officers ill-equipped at this fired-up injustice. The morning sun rises firing the tops of burned-out trees. “Fire! Fire!” a second of hesitation too many, “Fire, fire!” And all, at present, is gone up in tiny little bits of smoke.

In response to: https://carrotranch.com/2019/04/04/april-4-flash-fiction-challenge/

WHAT YOU DON’T TALK ABOUT DOESN’T EXIST

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He took a milk carton from a kitchen cabinet, then put it back there even though it was now open – it should have gone into the refrigerator. He took a sip of water. The smell of oranges about to go bad wafted from the fruit bowl on the table (made of wood ever so slightly darker than that of the fruit bowl.) The party at His Eminence swirled in his hangover – its theme: “What You Don’t Talk About Doesn’t Exist” – they called him His Eminence after his ascetic countenance by day, and his “torrent of bizarre gaieties” by night.

In response to: https://carrotranch.com/2019/03/28/march-28-flash-fiction-challenge/

THREE PLASTIC BUCKETS

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They must both work downtown, but downtown is big. So the suburban rail carries them both in, briefcases and all. They must see a bit of the country in between the dark tunnels, which is “quite something” now that the sun rises early. Once off the train at the Northern Junction they go their separate ways. A have-a-good-day kiss never seemed so week-daily real amidst the morning rush, dusty litter swirling in the breeze and the three (red, blue and green) plastic buckets where the dripping water off the humid station walls sets a rhythm nobody pays attention to.

In response to: https://carrotranch.com/2019/03/21/march-21-flash-fiction-challenge/

DUMBFOUNDED DUPLICATION

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“It’s in that drawer.” He marched to it confidently. “Found it?” He opened the drawer but found various types of tools, of which, let’s see… pliers, a kind of screwdriver… this looks like a hammer with a double blade at one end, it has to have a name, and, hold on, two more. So one is a chisel, the other is not. They do look similar, though. Small chisel and big chisel? “I didn’t know which size you preferred.” She grabbed the small one. “You do know that’s not really a chisel?” “You mean the big one?” “Yes.” “Yes.”

In response to: https://carrotranch.com/2019/03/14/march-14-flash-fiction-challenge/

BACK TO THE COUNTRY – THE GOLDEN CITY

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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.)