VAULT BESIDE THE TOWER Short Fiction

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SHE thought she would better apply for the office of a paranymph as she had previously known the princess in her journey in the gondola.The infanta had a warm smirk, hazel eyes and dainty stoop towards the left side. She has just reached from La Coruna that day. While giggling, she stretched her facial muscles at random but Zucchi did not feel it uncomely but pretty suited to her carriage. The dame took a chair next to her throughout the ride and various spirited exchanges ensued. Had she met her earlier? Possibly not.The princess was on an education travel into those Romanesque, the sturdy pillars and groin vaults and she was earnest about not only that but virtually everything in general. The two gentlewomen later gathered at a luncheon hosted for academicians and by accident further in the vaporetto. It is to be reported to the advantage of the princess that she was no mean person. On the other hand, she had a bountiful nature, the sort of character that is the upshot of careful upbringing. While leaving they shared each other’s address and also swapped some pictures and the infanta invited Zucchi to her region that was only a night’s drive from Venice.

It was her second year on the continent. Zucchi selected Venice for her stay as it suited the project she was into. This Mundus alter of Petrarch fascinated her in ebbs and elations. She had many anxieties. She aspired to be an avant-garde writer but did not apprehend how. Still one of her experiments was to write without semicolons emulating an American author. Her thesis on Marco Polo was progressing in a tardy way and her guide had already warned that she was composing romance rather than a well-formed scholarly paper. Why these ‘caverns measureless to man’ and all those strange stuff? Her guide did not suppress irritation. She was mixing Marco Polo, Kublai Khan and the English poet in an unwholesome way. She has not licensed to fashion academic exposition as an Arabian tale. Moreover, her grammar and punctuation are terrible. And her father pens that his gout is getting graver and he seemed lonely as her sibling was away and the handlers of the estates are dawdling. Adding to these, here she is in one of the chilliest moons in Venice.Finally, it came to a cognizance that all baroque and beauty is not an indisputable way to tranquillity.

Her roommate was a Croatian, a divorcee and a Dostoevsky scholar in her early forties on a lecture tour in Europe.This fine lady adjusted her trips in such a fashion that she got ample access to universities and the humble lodging places that she preferred in her Raskalnikov style.She thought like the author of Raskalnikov that suffering is essential for the maturity of the human psyche.Unlike Zucchi, she planned everything from top to bottom and the only thing that fell through seemed to be her marriage.This, she attributed to her lack of familiarity with male pneuma as she was brought up in a household of girls and nannies.She never had an intimate male company before marriage.
But what troubled Zucchi was not these.It was the glance her roommate made after large meals on her mid portion that bloated unusually. Her friend, on the other hand, had a handsome physique[whose bag contained Oregon grape and turmeric] and she maintained it by regular walks and flexibility exercises in the Eastern style. This probably lessened her bouts of depression and kinks of moods.

During last year they toured the continent extensively, mostly by train in order to get the glimpse into life at grassroots. This thrilled her roommate who also had similar humor. They went to Milan, F and to La Scala and then to Turin and Verona but mostly stayed at Dijon enjoying Burgandy and staying under fashionable roofs. She sent all the photographs to her father except the one her friend took at coastal Cantabrian in an unusual apparel.Perhaps he may not bother much, but Zucchi did not want to take the risk of making him further uneasy in his old age.

Basted to an array of thoughts, she went to sleep. There she saw her father sauntering on the sands of Tigris with his grandfather and great grandfathers. They walked to a dome of Taurus marble that was lit by a special light day and night.They entered the center room and checked their collections of urns of wine, loaves of bread and garments they got as funerary honors. There was a battle cry somewhere in near distance and the soldiers announced the arrival of Ur Nina coming victoriously from Lagash.

2

She woke up next morning after the phone call from her guide. He said that he is leaving the continent for a week. He opted that she make the changes in her paper. Zucchi was partially relieved..
The thought of man made her think of mortality in general and the presumption of something beyond.On similar occasions, a vagueness filled her. Men are like cultures, cultures as different as Amazon and Paris. Some are nice, some are enigmatic and some are tedious. She had postponed many states of intimacy till she was in Madrid. And finally.. What if life but a mountain of hope crumbling in a single day. Then we would be aliens to ourselves unless there is redemption at close quarters. That was the day she enjoyed the deep thrill and further appalled by the news of his missing. The corps took the hint and met her in the hotel room from where they got further photographs.Hers was the last entry in his special diary.They let her scot-free on the condition she could be summoned for further unraveling of the case.

The vault stood beside a tower.With him, she went there.He had a narrow forehead and a wide jaw.He was kind. It was in the vault that he and his other visually challenged friends met. The Tower was a Middle Ages marvel and a rendezvous for pilgrims and tourists and a flea market rose nearby.It was thronged by crowds and businesses and brokers of all shades. On her visit to the vault, a middle-aged man who looked like a war – ex-stood at the entrance and saluted him and addressed him in a respective tone. He eventually introduced her to other companions who were in many ways similar to him. At the corner of the vault was a bookshelf of the special script and also drawers of files, porcelain vessels, and candles.There was a janitor who had external eyes and an expression of somebody at the victory stand to wait for the trophy. In the main hall, there was a mahogany table where the guests kept the flowers they brought with them. Roses, dahlia, daffodils, carnations, marigold, campion- Zucchi felt finally safe with not many sifting eyes to harrow her as if she walked in a self-guarded forest with the least concern to grieve.

The police traced the hint and came to her room for further evidence. She was the one with whom he was seen last. There was a photograph they took together in a studio.what if life, a mountain of hope melting in a single day.That strange feeling to accommodate the rocambolesco, an unwavering reality that has solidified inside. Outside the window, a small forest of maple trees dims in the evening sky and underneath a couple of creatures like bearded dragons moving.

3

That was a usual sort of day and other than the slow murmur of wind there was nothing noticeable. Some people assembled in the other balconies were viewing the scene.A new crowd was coming from the west side and it melted into far off.
That day she got three letters. One from her father in his cuneiforms like the script and many parts were unintelligible due to tremor of hand. He, a Draco in his youth has mellowed. She kissed the letter.He writes that his arthritis is getting worse, still, he finds occasion to go to his office in the old Porsche with his aide.As a recent development, he had met his schoolmate and the latter and his wife, both retired from service, meet him often and they have stories to share. The second was from his brother.He has written in his activist tone that Zucchi is wasting her life on dead projects that have no relevance today. Her ivory tower existence will hardly answer the colossal questions of our time. He augurs that she would regret and requests to join him.She paused and was immured into an applique of ruminations which made her further sense that she had not yet spawned any whopping resolutions in life, not even her marriage.The third epistle was from the princess. The paper and even the glue were fragrant. Her husband is busy with the administration and her on many occasions had to escort him. Her only son needs an honest and educated lady to guide him into good tastes of reading and behavior. Of the many applicants, she had selected Zucchi even though she had known her only for a short time. She wants to bring her son to an ideal prince who will have the qualities of equanimity and balance. She beseeches Zucchi to accept the post and promises that her office will be as informal as possible and she can pursue her research at the dukedom’s ancient library that houses rare manuscripts.

Zucchi was rather exhausted after reading the letters. She wanted a hiatus and kept them in the drawer. She stood up, her chin up and looked into the vast sky that appeared in many layers of lapis lazuli. A cat, not easily chastised by threats looked into the room from the opposite window that had grills of geometric shapes.It reminded her of another time at another place as a wind rushed through the open panes.
It was a crowd of white, green, and falcon red, two men were visibly moving, gladly discussing something and eating and proceeding. They were tremendously happy and were immersed in their story. The follower was in his sailor uniforms and had a gruff that could be heard from a distance.

Zucchi slid her hands into the wallet and felt the quincunx of stars her friend had presented her.She touched its surface as she always had done on occasions like this. Outside the window lay a garden where nuthatches have sought entry. She counted.five .seven. nine. they were more. A squirrel hesitated and went into the fold and after gaining confidence, remained.Her glance drifted to the burly men who were identical and were followed by two girls who were struggling to reach them.

When her gaze fell on the leader, a cold ripple passed through her spine, seeing something like the great Tuscan with a book as in Michelino’s fresco. He had a prominent nose as the prow of a gondola and he touched his friend’s protruded belly as if to remind him the aftermath of excessive love or gluttony.The follower, his eyes covered in a pair of perosal, seemingly not disturbed, was looking down. A big rush was setting the pace of the crowd to another direction.There she saw rivers of faces- Sepik, Zambezi, Ganges, Colorado, Orinoco, Volga, Nile, Euphrates, Salween-
The rivers were gushing faster amidst an ensemble of liveries-
Danube, Madeira, Brahmaputra, Irtish, Sungari, Purus, Viking, Japura, Saskatchewan. Among the crowd, she saw the sorrowful faces some mothers who have missed the mark by overemphasized responsibility. The two girls walking as the hind portion of the gang and holding Alpine zithers sang in solemn ‘in exitu’ in a chorus that could lull a baby to sleep.The whole retinue vanished in the final crescent of the path when a wind blew suddenly and closed the window. Everything merged in the knell of Santa Marco.

She opened the box and took the looking glass she bought at the Carnival.On the rim had a few grains of sand, the last remains of the Adriatic in a happy day.She wiped the grains off and looked into the mirror as if she was seeing another object. There she went after a line of grey above her left ear, drifting humbly into the posterior with a sort of amazement. Was she too engrossed in studies to notice that? Magari. She thought about the Madrid man who was free from such reproofs. He had passed that stage where grey hairs are not phantoms. But who would not barter all the attributes for a little kindness at the final roll call? She realized that this will answer most of the guide’s questions if not all. With such thoughts by her side, she knew tomorrow will be a new day for her in Venice.

………………………………………………

 

 

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