By Dennis McFarland
March 6, 2017
The crooks at the opere pubbliche were sponsoring some new excavation close to our barracks—14 hours a day, rusty orange machines chomped at the paving stones so loud it rattled your skull—and snaggletooth ditches notched practically every calle, fondamenta, campo, and sotoportego. According to my bunkmate Putney, they were salvaging long-abandoned gas pipes, which had suddenly become a big thing on the commodities market. Of course, this made me think of my father’s tragic addiction to futures trading, how he’d eventually blown his brains out, sparing my mother the continued torment of living with him, but how, as fate would have it, she caught a vicious case of the Sky virus and spent six of her last seven years at the business end of a Magic-bed. Recalling my parents’ demise always put me in a funk, and the nonstop din of excavators, seagulls, and church bells was making me even edgier than normal. Aside from Five Card Flint marathons at the barracks and trying not to get eaten alive by a piece of heavy equipment, the local canteens were our only distraction—the candlelit ballrooms in decaying palazzos where, 24/7, channa-heads grinded to Detroit techno.
One raw, drizzly afternoon, I happened to be killing some time at a San Polo club known as Le Chaperon; cold sober as ever (in my humble opinion, the only way to go when you suffer certain mood disorders and have a SIG-P strapped to your chest), I went to open a door I’d never noticed before, thinking it might lead to a toilet, when a stunningly tall girl accosted me and shouted, “Don’t open that!”
I asked her why not.
“Because it stinks,” she said, as if I should have known already. “Stairs to a nasty old canal.”
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Dennis McFarland is the author of several novels, most recently, Nostalgia. His short stories have appeared in such publications as the Scholar, The New Yorker, and Best American Short Stories.