07 December 2011

Protestant Cemetery

One of the on-sites for my Writing Rome class (a class dedicated to writing short fiction set in Rome in which we travel around Rome for class credit...) was the Protestant Cemetery*. Keeping in mind that I have melancholic tendencies (I am a Capricorn** after all), I kinda fell in love with this place.

Photo courtesy of Petanque & Patis
I mean, it's gorgeous - and a lot of famous people are buried there. Keats, Shelley, Gregory Corso, the Bulgaris, Antonio Gramsci...just to name a few.

Below is a micro-fiction*** I wrote prompted by the visit. Please feel free to leave any comments and most importantly, enjoy!

*Which goes by a myriad of other names: Cimitero Accatolico, the English Cemetery, the Non-Catholic Cemetery, that cemetery by the Pyramid...

**I don't actually put much into the signs of the Zodiac. I just think they're fun[ny].

***There's a gypsy cat sanctuary inside the Pyramid area. This note will make sense if you read on.


Lying on her freshly made bed, Audrey stared out into the Piazza della Rotanda. Inside the ancient temple the rain would be pouring through the oculus and smattering the marble floor. Audrey thought that might be how God sounded when he exhaled. Meanwhile, all across the piazza umbrellas were running with determination to various destinations unknown. The typically blackish gray paving stones were now hidden beneath the plethora of colors that were the umbrellas.
Audrey wanted nothing more than to join them, the many constituents of Roma. Residents, tourists, expatriates, immigrants, stray cats…But she was confined to her bed for the next three months. At that time she would make her way to Isola Tiburtina and Ospedale Fatebenefratelli to give birth to a daughter. Until then though, she was more or less confined to her bed and view of the piazza. Though the view was definitely pleasing, she didn’t know how long she would be able to handle the monotony.
“Finisco, Signora – posso uscire?”
“Si, Maria, grazie per la tua assistenza.” The maid left. Audrey wasn’t about to get up to check things out. Her room had been tidied and the bed linens changed. Since she was spending so much time in it, she had insisted on having the linens changed twice a week. She heard the front door open and an exchange occur. Roberto, il uomo della casa, was back.
Outside the window Audrey noticed two birds fighting. They were rather loud – the seagull and pigeon were barking and cooing respectively. Not something you see – or hear – every day, she thought. But she had seen two birds like these fighting before –
When she was little her parents used to go to the Cimitero Accatolico to read and what not – they were both professors, one of literature the other of political science and so there was something for both of them there. Audrey would play with herself and her imaginary friends among the headstones. Beneath the cypresses and flowering trees and among the grave markers and stray cats Audrey would find herself in the depths of an African jungle with tigers and bonobos surrounding her. Other times she would be marooned at sea, the crew of her illustrious pirate ship having mutinied. Still other times she was a witch, haunting the cemetery and collecting mushrooms, bone dust, and exotic flowers for spells and potions. The cemetery had become her playground, bringing life into the cramped quarters of the dead.
Now Audrey recalled one day in particular. It had been cloudy and the ground was soft from recent rain. Audrey’s mother had bundled her up to protect her from the cold and they had walked from their apartment in Testaccio to the graveyard. There Audrey had immediately immersed herself amongst the Bulgaris, Shelly, and Gramsci. Today she was a big game hunter in an African forest. To her right and left were tigers and other dangerous creatures. The rare dodo (which looked suspiciously like a fat pigeon) and the glorious albatross (which looked more like a sea gull) were engaged in an aerial battle. But there! Ahead! The rare calico tiger, standing about a foot tall, about a foot and a half long if you include the tail, and oh beware of its claws…
She stalked the cat from one end of the cemetery to the other. She had spotted it near Gramsci, traced it up to the Aurelian wall, down past Shelley and Corso, around the Angel of Grief and into the area beside the pyramid. There her mother and father were arguing again – but she was focused on il gatto.
“I know you were with her.” Audrey’s mother’s voice was hushed and forced. Audrey stalked the cat along the pyramid fence.
“Elena, you’re paranoid. You want there to be something wrong.” Audrey pounced! But missed, the cat’s tail just slipping out of her hands. She fell and landed in a mud puddle.
“No, Marco, I’m not. I don’t have red hair and I don’t smell like that!” Audrey stood up, looked at her parents and was relieved to find they weren’t looking at her. She’d be in a lot of trouble for falling in the mud. Now, to find that cat again…
“Elena, please, don’t do this now. We have it so well!”
“Yes, you get to sleep with your students while I take care of our daughter and work myself! It’s a great life!”
“Elena, for the last time, stop accusing me of things!”
“So you don’t sleep with them? Tell me once and for all – have you slept with one of your students?”
Audrey spotted the cat cleaning itself of the mud near her mother’s favorite grave, Keats. As she rounded the wall he stopped and looked up at her.
As she and the cat made eye contact she heard the music from the American Westerns in her head, the part that came right before the show down…
“Elena, you’ll never believe me no matter – “
“Audrey! We’re leaving!” Audrey pounced! This time she was successful! As the cat clawed, squirmed, and hissed she thought it was more like wrestling an alligator than catching a tiger. She brought the writhing creature with her.
“Can I keep it?” Audrey’s mother rolled her eyes and opened her mouth for what Audrey knew would be a negative – but then her mother smiled.
“Of course you can keep it – what shall we call it?” At this she turned and looked Marco in the eye and began steering Audrey – and the soon to be tamed tiger – out of the cemetery.
Roberto knocked on the door frame.
“How are you doing, Audrey? How’s the baby?” He came over and kissed her forehead.
“She’s been very active today. Did you see Maria leaving?”
“Yes, on my way in. She said her brother is feeling much better.” Audrey smiled.
“That’s wonderful. Did she mention her fiancĂ©?”
“No, she didn’t say when he was returning – I should go get started grading papers.”
“Of course.” He kissed her again and left the room, gently closing the door behind him. Audrey turned again towards the window. She had named the cat Salute because all her dad had done was sneeze the week before he moved out.
She really missed having a cat. But unfortunately Roberto, like her father, was severely allergic to them. 

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