My unpublished manuscript ‘Knowing When You’re Too Young to Grow Up’ chronicles Andrew Brown’s struggle to reconnect with his best friend Pete Goodman as a lurid secret Andrew has never told threatens to break them apart for good.
As I mentioned in “A Reintroduction: The Prologue,” I intend to post edited chapters every few weeks. Here’s a sample from Chapter 13. As always, feedback is STRONGLY encouraged via the contact tab or comments section.
Florence is like a bunch of tiny quaint streets, not busy intersections and zipping SMART coffin cars going out of their way to run us down. It’s just calmer here. So are the people. I’m not positive if they’re more patient or indifferent, but they’re definitely more willing to accept us as their American cultural refugees. Three thousand miles from the Island, I don’t feel out of place here. Actually, I feel more accepted than I do in my own house.
Figures, since we’re leaving tomorrow, I think standing in front of another church – so many I’ve lost track. This one’s the Duomo, Becky calls it. The nearly translucent girl who has more dignity than anyone I’ve ever met not named Antoinette Gallo is showing Glenn her sketches that chronicle our trip in charcoal and pencil and Balaam crests. Glenn’s gushing with goshes when Becky gives her one to keep, which she files into her beaten leather over-the-shoulder messenger bag.
It’s the most enthusiasm I’ve seen from Glenn in days. She’s pretty much given up trying to impress anything on us, but she’s still going through the routine, probably for about another hour-or-so and that’ll be it, asking, “Did you all know this is the second church to stand here?” even though Becky and Ms. Benevo are the only ones paying attention.
“It looks like a candy ribbon Christmas house, in my opinion,” Lilly says.
“Man, wish I had a joint.”
“For any of you all who are interested, Santa Reparata was the name of the church that stood here before, and, let me tell you, theorists say the original cathedral was built in 300 A.D., but…”
“It kind of reminds me of a wedding cake,” Ant says.
“Yeah?” I don’t see it.
Glenn’s still on the Reparata, and Becky’s asking her who the dome’s architect was. “Brunelleschi,” Ms. Benevo answers, engaged and completely unaffected – detached, really. Becky gives her a sideways glance while Glenn commends “Julie,” she calls her, saying her name like she has a lollipop in her mouth. It’s really only the three of them.
“I’m thinking more like dominoes,” I say. Ant tilts her head, trying to picture it. One flick and the pearl-colored shingles will cascade across, clicking and ticking from side to side, gaining, gaining, up A-shaped arches and down A-shaped arches and around the windows that seem to yawn heartily, clicking and ticking from side to side.
“By 1296, construction on a new church had begun, what would eventually become the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore or, the Duomo,” Glenn begins before Mrs. Weary slaps at her watch.
“Well, before we go inside, if you look at the church’s appendage…Giotto’s Bell Tower. It was designed by Giotto di Bondone and was completed in 1359, more than 20 years after Giotto’s death…”
“Man, you know what you guys sound like, right?” – Tommy holds up a finger in the shape of an L – “Losers, man, losers.” He doesn’t see Lilly waving him off because he’s giving Candace’s headlights the eyes.
“You just have to swat him away, kind of like a gnat,” Lilly says to Ant. She smiles wide, happy to be included.
“Girls! Let’s go!” Ms. Benevo barks. “Keep up!”
Lilly rolls her eyes and whispers something to Marie – a torpid, yet incendiary jealousy in her eyes – and we’re moving towards the doors, caught in the crush of human bodies. I’m trying to hold onto Ant, smashed up against Wolfman’s back that feels like a wall of ivy it’s so hairy. I apologize. Michelle calls out for “Lord Jesus!” Next to her, Dilbert picks his nose and eats it. Mrs. Weary’s in her husband’s ear, probably about him breathing the wrong way. Someone gives me a flat tire but doesn’t apologize. I wonder if Becky’s underneath my feet somewhere.
Then, we’re not in the vice anymore, not 30 people up each other’s asses harder than the hardest gangbang anymore, and I can breathe, walking with my normal gait past the leather-clad door that’s soft but hardened from every oily, unassuming hand that has ever groped it. Inside the church, it’s so dark I think I might as well have grandma’s cataracts because all I can see at first are the shadows and the flickering candles.
The air rushes through like the wind over the water. Ant braces herself against my chest. I nudge her, quipping, “Place definitely saves a fortune on its electricity.” She giggles silently.
Once they adjust, I can see a cavernous, marble corridor that opens like a clearing from a cave. The walls are fleshy and white and reinforced by the darker-grain wood, which furthers the small-town church feel even though the structure is monolithic. Above, stained glass parables one of our sexually frustrated religion teachers might’ve taught us about preach to us, casting rainbows across our unworthy faces. We are. All of us are.
Glenn doesn’t even bother stopping our traveling American circus at a depiction of the Last Supper. We’ve seen so many versions of it, conversely none of which were DaVinci’s according to – who else – Becky, that they’re like billboards along the highway. This one’s your typical church representation with Jesus adorned in a plush, wine-red robe, crowned in a golden ring, and surrounded by his disciples. Still, camera’s click because that’s what tourists do and we’re tourists.
“Don’t know if you heard what Julie – gosh, Ms. Benevo, I’m sorry – said before, but Filippo Brunelleschi is responsible for the ingenious design of the dome. He won the opportunity during an open art competition in 1419 A.D. But, gosh, what he proposed had never been done before: build the dome entirely out of stone…” and absolutely no one cares because we’re ogling the dome’s phosphorescent glow.
That’s why Michelle stops grandstanding to the few underclassmen who don’t know any better. That’s why Candace stops flicking her nose ring and Becky stops sketching and Fr. Bagnani stops drinking his holy water and Stacy stops shadowing Mrs. Weary. Everyone stands in place simply appreciating what even Melissa might be able to grasp; that is, it’s more than just a dome.
With its lustrous, golden rows riding round and round depositing depictions of Bible verses that are realer than our faith that so few of us practice, it could’ve been the pearly gates. From its zenith, rarified light – from heaven, not the sun, I’m convinced – filters in. Heaven, I think, the place I’m not even sure is a place; the place I hope my grandpa is, where my grandma will be. In that light, I feel as unwelcomed as a mosque near Ground Zero.
“And, golly,” Glenn’s still talking, “after Brunelleschi’s dome design was chosen over his lifelong competitor Lorenzo Ghiberti’s in 1418, Brunelleschi got sick in 1423 – although, let me tell you, some believe it was more gamesmanship than actual illness on Brunelleschi’s part. Regardless of why he did it, it proved to be a real test when Ghiberti, who was still involved in the project, couldn’t enact Brunelleschi’s revolutionary design; gosh, he couldn’t even understand the plan–”
“That’s so exciting, Glenn” – Mrs. Weary brazenly snaps her gum – “just so exciting!”
“Miraculously, Brunelleschi was cured,” Glenn continues with more than a hint of sarcasm, ignoring the teacher, “and he returned to Florence to continue constructing his dome, which, gee-whiz–”
“That’s great, Glenn, really it is. Thank you so much,” Mrs. Weary cuts the guide off one last time. “Unfortunately, we have to get back to the hotel. As I’m sure you know, we have an early dinner tonight and well, you know, that’s that.”
“Gee-whiz, well, I guess we’ll–”
But Glenn’s muffled, protesting gee-whizzes are drowned out by the complaints that descend upon us like locusts:
“Please, Mrs. Weary, just another minute!”
“A couple more?”
She’s unfazed, pushing us – Ant and me and Pete, the girls, Tommy and Candace – towards those heavy church doors even though we’re still taking pictures, but of course she stops for a quick shot with her squad because why wouldn’t she ruin everyone else’s to get the best one?
I feel Ant’s fingers reaching for mine. She squeezes my hand and I squeeze it back, our fingers intuiting the hypocrisy of the flaky teacher who plays favorites almost as bad as Ms. Benevo – minus the kid-touching part – until we’re on the street with the sky as gray as the cobblestones under our feet.
“Quiet!” Bags barks into that gangrenous hanky. We’re all so alarmed he said something that everyone shuts up. We’ll meet Alfredo in a half hour, Mrs. Weary reminds us, go back to the hotel, pack our bags, have another one of those group dinners, and then be given the night to ourselves.
“Now, kids, what do we say to Glenn?” Mrs. Weary asks us like we’re a bunch of six years olds at the planetarium.
“Thank you, Glenn,” we say, rehearsed and with less emotion than a funeral home director.
With a lot of goshes and gollys, one more gee-whiz, and still no bra, the browbeaten guide praises us for being an “inquisitive” group, kisses Fr. Bagnani on the cheek, hugs Ms. Benevo for about 10 seconds longer than what’s already uncomfortable, and offers an impersonal hand to the other two chaperons. She gives us one more salute – a halfhearted wave – before she ties a bandana across her head and joins the cast of The Warriors who are walking by.
Copyright (C) 2017 Andrew Chapin