VAULT BESIDE THE TOWER Short Fiction

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SHE thought she would better apply for the post of a paranymph as she had already known the princess in her trip in gondola.The princess had a warm smile,  hazel eyes and  slight stoop towards the left side. She has just arrived from La Coruna that day. While laughing, she stretched her facial muscles at random but Zucchi did not feel it  uncomely but quite appropriate to her style. The lady took a seat next to her throughout the ride and many lively exchanges followed. Had she met her earlier? May be not.The princess was on a learning tour into those Romanesque, the sturdy pillars and groin vaults  and she was serious about not only that but everything in general. The two ladies  later met at a luncheon hosted for academicians and by accident further in the vaporetto . It is to be told to the advantage of the princess that she was no mean person. On the other hand, she had a generous nature, the type of character that is the upshoot of careful upbringing. While parting they shared each other’s address and also exchanged some photographs and the princess invited Zucchi to her territory that was only a night’s journey from there.

It was her second year in 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 concerns. She wanted to be an avant-garde writer but did not know how. Still one of her experiments was to write without semi- colons imitating an American writer. Her thesis on Marco Polo was progressing in a tardy way and her guide had already warned that she was writing fiction rather than a well formed academic paper. Why these ‘caverns measureless to man’ and all those strange stuff? Her guide did not hide irritation. She was mixing Marco Polo, Kublai Khan and the English poet in an unwholesome way. She is not licensed to fashion academic paper as Arabian tale. Moreover her grammar and punctuation is horrible. And her father writes that his arthritis is getting worse and he felt lonely as her brother was away and the managers of the estates are dallying.  Adding to  these, here she is in one of the coldest months in Venice.Finally it came to a realization that all baroque and beauty is not sure road for peace.

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 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 glimpse into life at grass roots. This thrilled her roommate who also had similar humours. 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 grand father 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  scene in the railway compartment. 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 as ‘Sire’.A sort of species recognition or a meeting where hierarchies formed undercurrent. He eventually introduced her to other companions who were in many ways similar to him. At the corner of the vault was a book shelf of 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 waiting for 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 of the culprit. Hers was the last en.try in his diary. There was also 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.She opened the box and took the looking glass and saw her face. suddenly she noticed a portion above her left ear where a thin line of grey hair spreading farther. Outside the window, a small forest of maple trees dim in the evening sky and underneath a couple of creatures like bearded dragon 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 cuneiform like script and many parts were unintelligible due to tremor of hand. He, a Draco in his youth had mellowed. She kissed the letter.He writes that his arthritis is getting worse, still he finds occasion to 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 warns that she would regret later and exhorts her to join him .She paused and thought that she had not made any major decisions in life, not even her marriage .The third  letter was from the princess.   The paper and even the glue were fragrant. Her husband is busy with administration. She on many occasions had to accompany him. Her only son wants a very honest and educated lady to guide him and to 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 from 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 in 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 persol,  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 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 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.

THE END

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