The Road to San Vito

The Greek blue is peeling as I lock the back door.

It’s my first thought of the day, or rather, my first memory, after the mindless ritual of standing from the bed and dressing. But this too has been confused, my first thought upon waking, still lured by the sheets, was to take a boat.

Scaffolding is erected against the wall of the apartment across from mine, visual evidence of the unholy clamor that awoke me at half past six this morning. In the time it took me to go back to bed, I was accosted with memories of a varying unsettling sort, memories which seemed in their selection to suggest to me the only slight progress I had made, a progress which when measured over ten years isn’t so much slightly forward but immeasurably backwards, moving like the hands of a clock which corrode under the elements and wilt like the petals of a once promising flower, backwards, until inevitably they break off entirely.

These thoughts trouble me again as I stroll up via Narciso, away from the sea which seems to me today without looking not a ferocious life-force crested with glittering waves but rather a dull, deathly blue mass… unmoving and placid.

An elderly woman, her face well versed in wrinkles below a shock of white hair topping her head like whipped cream atop a withered old cone, leans over to tie a bag of refuse. Rather than walk the fifty meters to the garbage dump, she walks the five to her neighbor’s door, setting it on the side opposite her own before scurrying quickly back inside her own door which, unlike the others staring out into the street uniformly in my own door’s Greek blue, has been painted a dark red.

Next to this abandoned bag sits another, of identical shape and I’d presume similar contents, and beside that yet another, and another, littering via Narciso until its curvature still further down, where the street gives way to another.

The smell of rottenness permeates the air, though it seems not only to come from the packaged waste that I now pass on the right, but rather from above, from below, from inside, and like the refuse that has been left in vainly disguised plastic from one seeking to hide their waste from the world, I know this smell can’t be very well be gotten rid of.

I turn left onto via Sarnelli, the main thru-fare, and observe the lack of activity crowding the streets. A section of newspaper; I can’t, from this distance, tell exactly which; blows across the street before me through the desolate piazza looming ahead on the left.

I step inside the Tabacchi on the corner of these two streets and observe the glossy periodicals. From the covers stare back at me faces I recognize and yet do not know, their eyes simultaneously threatening me, challenging me to action and mocking my returned inaction. The little tabacchi appears to be unoccupied but after calling out, an older man with a graying beard and matching hair ambles up behind the counter. I inquire into a bus ticket for the neighboring town of San Vito but the man merely shrugs and shakes his head at the request. “No buses run today” seems written by his furrowed brow. Very well, I think to myself, the walk can be barely more than three-quarters of an hour and I’m overdue for some exercise. Stepping out onto the corner once again, I resolve to make my way there by foot and continue down via Sarnelli.

From behind me come shouts and I begrudgingly step aside to the stone pavement, my feet planting there at the same moment a storm of cyclists blow past on the street where I had just been. They are several in number and are clad in black uniforms with matching helmets. They lean far over their handlebars as if passing through a dark tunnel, under which they must crouch in order to emerge unscathed. The dark party passes, leaving the street once again in its decay.

The shops are shuttered, strangely unseemly for a Sunday I think, even at the twilight of summer.

A bell twinkles as a remaining cyclist rides up, his black uniform split down the top to reveal a red shirt beneath. His unhelmeted hair falls limply around his face, the hand guiding the handlebars faltering so that his archaic bicycle totters to and fro along the street. His other hand maintains perfect control over a cigarette which, though it appears exhausted, is brought often to his lips to extract still further life from.

He observes me dispassionately, flicking ash in my direction before passing, continuing his careless weaving before disappearing behind an outcropping of shuttered shops ahead.

I continue to follow the road to San Vito, observing the torn political advertisements pasted on the shuttered windows of Café Repubblica as I pass, graffitied profanities plastered over profanely plastic grimaces contending one with the other in a forced appeal to voters under the banner of democracy.

Still further up on my left I see a children’s merry-go-round, but wait, my memory seeks to place there what is not, for if it is indeed a merry-go-round it has been covered with heavy tarp and buried beneath a litany of leaves which could have only fallen from trees that, as I observe them now, appear dead, their limbs long since bereft of leaves.

The doors beneath the purple sign heralding “Bar Gelateria Il Supermago Del Gelo” are bolted shut and no activity is visible through the streaked glass windows. The steps in front of the store, which not so long ago seemed to have been teeming with tourists and locals, are now barren… Barren save for a small boy in red shorts whose attentions are entirely diverted to an ice cream cone in his hand. He licks the cream and as he does so he hums a little ditty, something I’d heard on the radio once but can’t place now. Its cheerful melody seems in contrast to the silence weighing on everything and as such is a welcome sound.

I call to the young boy, my voice merry in the sight of this one so young and beautiful. What I call out seems of little consequence now, a query of some kind as I recall, but it catches him by chance, causing him to drop his little ice cream cone on the step below where he sits.

He stands abruptly, his face red as stares at me with such undue malice that I step back, mumbling apologies as I do, promising to replace the ice cream with another and simultaneously searching the street backwards and forwards for where the promise might be met. That the entire town is shut down doesn’t in the end matter, for the little boy has already in his anger stormed off, and soon can no longer be seen.

Still rattled by the sudden flash of anger from the angelic face I stand for a moment, noting only now that I’ve reached the street’s end. Beyond, the town is connected to via San Vito by a bridge spanning a deep crevice.

I step foot on the bridge but just as I do, church bells ring out from behind me, deep within the old part of the town. They call ominously from somewhere within the bowels of the earth, echoing inside me.

There is a beach beneath the bridge on the right. I lean over the balustrade to try and glimpse it but a strange fog has spread from the water, shrouding it from view.

A sudden drop of rain falls, plopping fatly against my right hand gripping the railing. Another, then another follow in increasing succession, until the clamoring of the church bells are all that can be heard over the cacophony of water against stone.

I stare against the immaterial wall separating us, me from you, awaiting my arrival in that tiny port town not so far off in the distance.

The church bells sound their last and I turn, back into limbo.

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