From the sky over Rome, all day the rain fell. Large globs of water splashed down upon the streets, the roofs, the people.
On the fifth floor of 12 Via Venetto, in the apartment with arched windows facing the courtyard, two people had been making love. This was so—because Agata had gone to the market to buy pickles.
“Is that you?” Stefano’s wife, Giovanna, had asked upon seeing her out.
“Yes, off to the market. We’ve run out of pickles,” Agata replied. And everyone knew what that meant.
Seldom did it occur in early summer that residents of 12 Via Venetto could be heard making love, and, out of consideration for Agata, least of all when it rained. Yet it was the middle of May and the serendipitous couple were foreigners.
“Stupid Americans! They’re at it again!” Stefano, the building’s caretaker, called to his aged wife, Giovanna, from the TV room of their first-floor palazzo. “This will be the fifth day Agata has to go out in the rain for pickles!”
It was not so much this unexpected love-making, though, which bothered Stefano as much as his aged wife’s bickering, especially when he was watching a football match.
“How do you know they’re Americans?” his wife called back.
“Of course they’re Americans,” Stefano replied in his confident way. “Only Americans would leave their windows open. Besides, can’t you hear the noises she’s making? And him so silent? If they were Spanish or Italian, they’d both be singing away. If they were Russian, there’d be no noise at all. If they were German, it would be the man crying out for help. Of course they’re Americans!”
Stefano himself didn’t really believe in these generalizations. But he enjoyed testing out his skewed hypotheses on his wife. “There’s no doubt: they’re Americans,” he concluded. On TV, the football match had encountered a rain-delay. “Then again, he may be Polish and she Brazilian,” he added, mostly under his breath. But those languages are so different, he started thinking—could they ever really understand each other?
As if what had come down in the five days before were not enough, the rain intensified that afternoon over 12 Via Venetto. A darker cloud descended and the water from the gutters overflowed the concave metal grids of the courtyard drains.
A sad voice could be heard singing in “pre-Italian” out from the 4th floor:
The voice continued to chant woefully, as the singer roamed about the apartment, moving furniture.
“Melania is at it again,” Pietro said to his friend Franco from the sofa of his 3rd floor palazzo apartment. Franco had come over to play internet poker and have a beer.
“Every time they make love upstairs, she sings and rearranges her furniture,” Pietro added.
Franco smiled at the computer screen.
“You hear that?” demanded Pietro. “That’s Melania moving the piano!”
Pietro stood up and went to the window.
“Someone’s got to tell them to stop,” Pietro declared. “It’s going to make Melania go insane. For five days now, Lord help us!”
Pietro removed from his mouth some cinnamon gum, lit a cigarette and spit out the window into the falling rain a ball of bright red saliva. He inhaled deeply and watched as the smoke curled upwards through the rain. It was odd that smoke could rise that way so freely through rain, he thought, as if the two substances existed in separate dimensions. Just then the sound of a loud crashing noise, like that of a vase falling to the floor, startled them. Pietro crushed the cigarette onto the windowsill and went to the front door. “I’m going upstairs to have a word with the honeymooners,” he called back to Franco.
Several minutes later, on the ground floor of 12 Via Venetto, something truly strange was happening. By now the water was so high in the courtyard drain that it had flooded the cobblestone interior. The runoff wasn’t exiting fast enough, however, and the courtyard had taken on six inches of water.
After peering up at the windows where the foreigners were making love, Giovanna retreated into her apartment’s open door to find that in the hallway to the kitchen a dirty, five-legged crab was making its way towards the bedroom where Stefano was watching TV. Giovanna, not accustomed to this sort of thing, immediately thought it was a street-rat and screamed for help. Stefano came running.
“What is it?” he said, eyeing the crab. “Did it bite you?” and then, after a long moment of silence, he added, “Why did you buy such a dirty crab from the market? Do you really think I will eat such a thing?”
His wife, not understanding such questions, approached, and slapped him on the face. “If this is another one of your pranks, Stefano Gregoriano, it’ll be the last football match you’ll ever watch under this roof!”
“But why, Vana!” Stefano answered desperately. “How did the crab get here on the floor if you did not bring it from the market?”
For some time after, the raised voice of Giovanna could be heard from the courtyard windows of 12 Via Venetto, echoing out across the sky overhead. Inside the fifth-floor apartment, however, the thick drapes had been drawn, and, like some electronic amplifier, this apartment served to emit the sound from within at a great volume while muffling the exterior noise. The couple was deep in the act. It had been going on for hours, and no surface was left untouched. The kitchen table, the closet, the bathroom sink and even the shoe rack by the entrance—any place was a good place for making love.
The male inhabitant embraced his delicate counterpart’s hips as he entered her.
“Touch my face,” he said in a flash of desire, feeling as if somehow that would bring them closer. “I want to feel your hands on my eyes.”
She voicelessly consented, red-cheeked in love, running her tender fingers over his mouth, his ears, his eyes. They moved on together in that eternally-cooperative motion as her breasts swelled and she yielded to the experience of intense physical pleasure.
Her wetness encircled them in waves. It fell from the ceiling in tiny droplets. A puddle was collecting on the floor around the man’s left foot and over by the bedroom-shelves another, larger, pool had formed where drops hiccupped to the wooden floor. Down the walls as well, streams of sweat and tears flowed. The plaster was coming off in certain areas, exposing wood latticework. In the living room, the ceiling had so greatly eroded that the red tiles of the roof could be espied along with patches of dark gray sky. The inhabitants of Apartment 5 were becoming submerged.
Down below, Stefano and Giovanna had just figured out the mystery of the mystery crab.
“It came up through the drain,” Stefano said emphatically. “It swam up into the drain like a fish and then climbed out.”
Stefano splashed around in the water, a foot deep now, imitating to his best ability the movements of an eel. Just as Giovanna was about to approach and slap him again, a flash of something swimming in the murky water caught her eye.
“Stefano, run!” she screamed, pointing at it.
Stefano, having caught his wife’s fright, jumped up and down in a mad dash for the staircase leading out of the sunken courtyard.
“What was it?” he cried frantically.
“Something large, and long, and narrow,” Giovanna wailed. “A water python!”
Stefano gasped, peering out at the rising mass of dark water. He also thought he saw something moving down below. “There!” he cried and pointed. But by the time his wife turned to look, there was... nothing. “It was a baby swordfish!” he said. “I saw its beak, jagged with teeth. It was like a pterodactyl, but swimming underwater.”
His wife looked at him as if she was going to slap him again, but chose to frown instead.
Seated on Melania’s divan on the fourth floor, unbeknownst to everyone, Pietro watched as the shapely woman moved about. Overhead, the thumps and moans of lovemaking could be distinctly discerned, like the sound of two stones colliding in a pool of water. Melania couldn’t have been more than forty, Pietro thought, and in her spandex workout pants and tank top, little was left to the imagination. He wondered what she was thinking about as she bent forward to move a plant from one table to another. Pietro’s eyes inspected, long and slow.
“What about the floor mat, Melania?” Pietro ventured without offering any assistance. “Wouldn’t it do better by the windowsill?”
“You think so?” she asked, dropping the plant and moving towards the rug.
“Say, who is this carpet made by?” asked Pietro. “I think my uncle has one very similar to it.”
Melania bent over to check for a tag. Not finding one, she got on her hands and knees to peer closer.
On the verge of arousal, Pietro stood up. “Here, let me help you,” he said, standing over her. “Here, let me see.”
Melania dove head-first underneath the rug. Pietro took another long, hard look. He wondered what she might do if suddenly his strong hands were on her hips holding her there in place.
“Can you see anything, Pietro?” a muffled voice called out from beneath the rug—yet just as Pietro’s hand moved towards the damp crevice between her thighs, he caught sight of himself in the mirror on an adjacent wall, hunched and contorted. He looked like another man, like an image of some forgotten father, perhaps his own.
Taking sudden hold of himself, Pietro straightened up, placed his hands in his pockets, and sat down on the divan. “You know, you must stop all this moving about sooner or later, Melania,” he declared. “How much longer do you plan to keep going?”
Melania emerged from under the rug. “What do you mean?” she asked, bits of rug lint in her hair.
“I mean, what keeps you going like this, moving furniture and singing away?” Pietro continued. “What do you get out of competing with the wind and rain? You’ve been at it for days. Do you expect to outlast the storm?”
One floor below, Franco himself had been in a frenzy for the last thirty minutes. It had been over an hour since Pietro said he was going up to the fifth floor to ask the couple to stop making love. Meanwhile, Melania could still be heard singing and moving furniture. Franco made his way down to the ground floor to see if Stefano had perhaps seen Pietro go out. When he arrived at the spiral staircase overlooking the courtyard he was in for a surprise. The water level had risen to several feet now, and there appeared to be a dolphin swimming in the depths.
“What the hell is that?” he called down to Stefano.
“Alas, stay where you are!” Stefano answered. “It’s a swordfish, it swam up through the drain. The whole sewer system is backed up.”
“But that’s impossible!” Franco replied. “How could such a large fish swim through such a small drain?”
“In God’s name, I don’t know!” Stefano answered, the color draining from his face.
Just a few feet away, the sobs of Giovanna could be heard from inside the ground-floor apartment. The water had flooded their home, and from bathroom to living room to kitchen a uniform, glassy layer of dark liquid, two feet and rising, covered the place. A sock-drawer had opened somewhere, and floating about in the water were some of the aged couple’s possessions: a few yellowed and sinking books, and an old rubber duck—a remnant of their grown son’s childhood, no doubt—and a hairbrush. Giovanna sat cross-legged on the kitchen countertop, weeping.
“Now is not the time to cry, Giovanna,” Stefano said as he entered the waist-high water with Franco. “Pietro’s gone missing. He went to the fifth floor half an hour ago and has not returned—the Americans are holding him hostage.”
“Hostage? Don’t be stupid, Stefano,” Giovanna rebuked him. “Besides, who cares about that now? Look at our home, it’s ruined!”
Before Stefano could respond to this, Giovanna’s voice cut through the humid air like a scythe. “Stefano, watch out! The snake!” she screamed, “Get out of the water!”
Without taking time to look back, Stefano ran with Franco in tow; they flung themselves atop the counter where Giovanna was.
“Where is it?” Franco asked, also from the counter-top, “I don’t see it.”
“I can’t make it out any longer.” Giovanna replied. She began sobbing again.
“Oh, what does it matter now,” Stefano said. “We’re stuck on this counter-top for good!”
On the fifth floor of 12 Via Venetto the gods had gone to war. The windows rattled in their frames, paintings and picture frames crashed to the floor. Dust from the joists overhead fell down with each thrust of love. In Melania’s bedroom below, the water came. Seeping through the plaster, it splashed down in large, milky orbs onto the bed and the dresser, collecting in clouds in the middle of the room. Finally, during one masterful shudder more powerful than the rest, the chandelier in her kitchen fell from the ceiling and came smashing down on the table.
And still the couple above continued. She, swollen with delight, caressed her counterpart’s mane and pulled him towards her. The legs of the dining table, on which they were lying, gave out and they came crashing to the floor. He threw the table towards the far wall, hugged her by the waist, and carried her on to the library. With each step the floorboards gave out beneath them, the joists creaked, his feet left imprints on the plaster ceilings below. It was a miracle they didn’t fall through to the fourth.
By the bookcase, he placed himself in her wetness again. The north wall of the building was beginning to give way, and if either one had looked carefully, the Coliseum could be glimpsed through a gap in the bricks. The sky outside had turned to night and what was once rain was now a blanket of liquid. The water-line had risen above the ground floor of the building and it was no longer possible for old Agata to enter or exit the courtyard without a diving tank, pickles or no pickles.
On the fifth floor, the rain poured in through the windows and walls. Lightning flashed, illuminating the two lovers’ faces. Hers was a flushed one, a single tear brimming in her left eye—she was becoming increasingly tender and aware. Yet with each new embrace, his movements stiffened. He began to feel like he was taking on all the water of the city to give to her. Drop after drop, buckets and drains had been filled with her delight to the point where they could take no more. He clung desperately to her, as the repetition of their movements disoriented him further. The heaviness in his loins increased. With each new caress, each breath seemed to him as if it might be his last, as if time itself were reaching its ecstatic end. A bolt of lightning flashed, and his eyes opened before her in a brilliant beam of light; everything was lit up for one drawn-out, silent, perfect moment, and then the light passed. When he opened his mouth to speak to her, no sound emerged. His lips quivered and shrunk. His face became dull and unremarkable. As the thunder swept in one final wave over the city of Rome she grabbed his neck, tasted the sweat from his forehead and eyes, and then gave herself over to sleep.
In the morning, Stefano walked throughout the building with a mop. To everyone’s surprise, the foreigners had vanished overnight and the storm had done less damage to their apartment than expected—a few tiles needed to be replaced, some patching would have to be done to the walls and moldings—nothing that a few pounds of stucco couldn’t fix.
Stefano made his way through the now-empty place, assessing its possibilities; with some fresh paint, it wouldn’t be too hard to re-rent.
fiction poetry "fact" photography