Clouds

By ANTONIO TABUCCHI

Translated by MARTHA COOLEY and ANTONIO ROMANI

 

— You stay here in the shade all day, said the young girl, don’t you like going in the water?

The man gave a vague nod that could have meant yes or no, but said nothing.

—Can I use tu with you?, asked the girl.

—If I’m not mistaken, you just did, the man said and smiled.

—In my class we also use tu with adults, said the girl, some teachers allow it, but my parents won’t let me, they say it’s impolite, and lei, sir, what do you think?

—I think they’re right, responded the man, but you can use tu with me, I won’t tell anybody.

—Don’t you like going in the water?, she asked, I think it’s special.

—Special?, the man repeated.

—My teacher told us we can’t use awesome for everything, that sometimes we might say special, I was about to say awesome, for me going in the water at this beach is special.

—Ah, said the man, I agree, it seems awesome to me too, even special.

— Sunbathing’s awesome too, the young girl went on, in the first few days I had to use the SPF 40 cream, then I went to 20, and now I can use the golden bronzing cream, the one that makes your skin sparkle like it had little gold specks all over it, see?, but, sir, why are you so white?, you came here a week ago and you’re always under the beach umbrella, don’t you like the sun at all?

—I think it’s awesome, said the man, I swear, to me sunbathing is awesome.

—Are you afraid of getting sunburned, sir?, asked the young girl.

—And what do you think?, answered the man.

—I think you’re afraid of burning, sir, though if a person doesn’t start out slowly, he’ll never get tan.

—That’s true, the man confirmed, it seems logical to me, though do you think it’s mandatory to get tan?

The girl mulled this over.

—Not entirely mandatory, nothing is mandatory except for mandatory things, but if someone comes to the beach, doesn’t go in the water, and doesn’t get tan, then why is he coming to the beach?

—You know what?, said the man, you’re a logical girl, you have a gift for logic, and that’s awesome, to me the world today has lost its logic, it’s a real pleasure to meet a logical girl, may I have the pleasure of making your acquaintance?, what’s your name?

—My name is Isabella, though my close friends call me Isabèl, but with the accent on the e, not like the Italians who say Ìsabel, with the accent on the ‘i’.

—Why’s that, you’re not Italian?, asked the man.

—Of course I’m Italian, she objected, totally Italian, but I care about the name my friends give me, because on television they always say Mànuel or Sebàstian, I am totally Italian like you and maybe even more than you, sir, but I like languages and I also know the Mameli anthem by heart, this year the president of the republic came to visit our school and talked with us about the importance of the Mameli anthem, which is our Italian identity, it took so long to unify our country, for instance that political guy who wants to abolish the Mameli anthem, I don’t like him.

The man didn’t say anything, he was squinting, the light was intense and the blue of the sea and the sky merged, swallowing the horizon line.

—Perhaps, sir, you didn’t get who I’m referring to, said the girl, breaking the silence.

The man didn’t speak, he kept his eyelids half-closed, the young girl seemed to hesitate, drawing squiggles in the sand with her finger.

—I hope you’re not in his party, sir, she went on as though encouraging herself, at home I was taught that one must always respect others’ opinions, but that guy’s opinion, I don’t like it, am I being clear?

—Perfectly, said the man, one must respect others’ opinions yet not disrespect one’s own, above all not disrespect one’s own, and why don’t you like this guy?

—Oh, well . . . Isabella seemed to hesitate. Apart from the fact that when he talks on television, he gets some white foam at the corners of his mouth, but this I could forget, the main thing is he swears a lot, I heard him with my own ears, and if he swears I wonder why they yell at me when I swear, but luckily the president of the republic is more important than him, otherwise he wouldn’t be president of the republic, and he explained to us that we ought to respect the Mameli anthem and sing it like the national team does at the world championship, with our hands on our hearts, at school we sang it together with the president, we read the copies our teacher gave us, but he didn’t read, he knew it by heart, I think that’s awesome, don’t you agree, sir?

—Pretty special, confirmed the man.  He dug into the bag he kept next to his beach chair, took out a glass bottle, and put a white pill in his mouth.

—Am I talking too much?, she asked, at home they say I talk too much and might annoy people, am I annoying you, sir?

—Not at all, answered the man, what you’re saying is even special, please go on.

—And then the president gave us a history lesson, since as you know, sir, we don’t study modern history at school, in the last year of junior high the really good teachers get us up to World War One, otherwise we don’t make it past Garibaldi and the unification of Italy, but we learned a ton of modern things, because our teacher’s been great, great, but the credit should go to the president, because he’s the one who gave the input.

— Who gave the what?, asked the man.

—That’s what they say, explained Isabella, it’s a new word, it means someone starts and drags the others along with him, if you want, sir, I’ll repeat what I’ve learned, really a ton of things that not many people know, d’you want to know them?

The man didn’t answer, kept his eyes closed and was completely still.

—Did you fall asleep, sir? Isabella’s tone was shy, as though disappointed.

—I’m sorry, sir, perhaps I chattered so much I made you fall asleep, it’s also why my parents didn’t want to buy me a cell phone, they claim they’d have to pay an astronomical bill because I talk so much, you know, in our house we can’t afford anything extra, my father is an architect but he works for the municipality, and when you work for the municipality…

—Your father’s a lucky man, said the man, his eyes still closed.

Now he spoke in a low voice, almost a whisper.

—Be that as it may, he continued, the profession of building houses is beautiful, much better than the profession of destroying them.

Isabella gave a little shriek of surprise.

—My god, she exclaimed, there’s a profession of destroying houses? I didn’t know that, they don’t teach that at school.

—Well, said the man, it’s not that it’s really a profession, you can also learn it in theory, like at a military academy, but then moments arrive when a certain knowledge has to be put into practice, and when all’s said and done that’s the goal, to destroy buildings.

—And you, sir, how do you know this?, asked Isabella.

—I know it because I’m a soldier, answered the man, or rather I was, now I’m retired, let’s put it that way.

—So, you destroyed buildings, sir?

—What happened to tu?, the man replied.

Isabella didn’t answer right away.

—The thing is, I’m naturally shy even if I don’t seem so, because I talk too much, I asked you, sir,if you destroyed houses once too.

—Not personally, no, said the man, and neither did my soldiers, to be honest, mine was a war mission for peacekeeping, it’s kind of complicated to explain, especially on a day like this, but Isabèl, I’d like to tell you one thing that maybe they didn’t tell you at school, in the end the story can be summed up like this: there are men like your father whose profession is to build houses, and men of my profession who destroy them, and things go on like this for centuries, some build houses and others destroy them, build, destroy, build, destroy, it’s a little boring, don’t you think?

—Very boring, answered Isabella, really very boring, imagine if there weren’t ideals, fortunately there are ideals.

—Sure, confirmed the man, fortunately in history there are ideals, who told you this?, the president or your teacher?

Isabella seemed to mull this over.

—Now I’m not sure who told me.

—Perhaps the president gave the input, said the man, and what can you tell me about ideals?

—They are all respectable if one believes in them, answered Isabella, for example the patriotic ideal, then maybe someone makes a mistake because he’s young, but if his intentions are good the ideal is valid.

—Ah, said the man, this is something I need to think about, but it doesn’t seem the right day for it, today is so hot and the sea looks so inviting.

—Then get in the water, she prodded.

—I don’t really feel like it, responded the man.

—That’s because you aren’t motivated, I think your problem is stress, you can’t imagine the negative effect of stress on our spirit, I read it in a book my mother keeps on her bedside table, would you like me to get you something at the hotel bar, something for stress?, as long as it’s not a Coke, that I wouldn’t get.

—This you have to explain, you really must, said the man.

—Because Coke and McDonalds are the ruin of mankind, said Isabella, everybody knows it, at my school even the janitors know it.

The man dug into his bag and took another pill.

—You sure take a lot of stuff, exclaimed Isabella.

—I have an hourly schedule, said the man, my prescription calls for it.

—All these pills can’t be good for you, she stated with conviction, Italians take a ton of pills, they said that on television too, what we should be doing instead is tuning our spirit to the positive forces in the universe, that’s why we should avoid certain foods and drinks, because they carry negative energy, they aren’t natural, am I being clear?

—Isabèl, can I tell you something in confidence?

The man wiped his forehead with a handkerchief. He was sweating.

—Coke and McDonalds never took anybody to Auschwitz, to those extermination camps you must have learned about at school, but ideals did, have you ever thought of that, Isabèl?

—But those were Nazis, objected Isabella, horrible people.

— I totally agree, said the man, the Nazis were truly horrible people, but they too had an ideal and went to war to impose it, from our point of view it was a perverted ideal, though for them it wasn’t, they had great faith in that ideal, you have to be careful with ideals, isn’t that true, Isabèl?

—I need to think about it, answered the girl, maybe I’ll do it at lunch, it’s 12:30, before long they’ll serve lunch, you’re not coming?

—Maybe not, said the man, today I don’t have much of an appetite.

—Excuse me for repeating this, but in my opinion you take too much medicine, you’re doing the same as all the Italians who take too many pills.

—So are you Italian or not? the man repeated.

—You already asked me that and I already answered, replied Isabella, irritated, I’m totally Italian, maybe even more than you, anyway if you don’t come to lunch you’ll be missing out, today there’s a buffet lunch at the hotel and after that Croatian stuff they’ve been giving us, they’re finally going to serve fettuccine all’arrabbiata, actually on the menu it says fetucine all’arrabbiatta, anyway it should be ours, sometimes when you’re abroad you have to forgive spelling mistakes, but sorry, why do you take so many pills, you aren’t a deviant like those guys who go to discotheques, are you?

The man didn’t answer.

—Come on, tell me, insisted Isabella, I won’t tell anybody.

—I’ll be sincere, said the man, I’m not a discotheque deviant, a doctor prescribed them to me, they are legal pills, they just make me less hungry, is all.

—They make you throw up too, said Isabella, I realized that, yesterday you came for lunch and at a certain point you got up and ran to the bathroom and when you came back you were white as a corpse, I bet you went to throw up.

—You’re right on target, said the man, I really did go and throw up, that’s the pills.

—So why take them?, don’t take them, she concluded.

—That would be logical, the thing is, on the one hand they’re good for me, but on the other they’re bad, maybe pills are a bit like ideals, it depends who you force to swallow them, I don’t push them on anyone else, I’m not hurting anybody.

The girl kept making squiggles in the sand.

—I don’t understand, she said, sometimes it’s hard to understand you adults.

—We adults are stupid, said the man, we’re often stupid, however sometimes you wind up having to take pills regardless of whether you’re Italian or not, but you, Isabèl, since you say you’re totally Italian, will you tell me where you were born?, look, it’s not fundamental, I for instance was born in a country that’s no longer on any maps since they call it something else now, but I’m Italian, to the point where I am, or rather I was, a captain in the Italian army, and to be a captain in the Italian army you can’t be a foreigner, does that seem logical to you?

Isabel nodded.

—And where were you born?, she asked.

—In a district that was just invented now, have you heard of Walt Disney?

Isabella’s eyes shone.

—When I was little, I saw all the Disney movies.

—Right, it’s a place like that, a wonder-world, all made of crystal, a crystal that’s actually ordinary glass, from a realistic point of view it’s in northern Italy, in the same way Tuscany is in central Italy and Sicily is in southern Italy, but at this point geography has become secondary and so has history, better not to talk about culture, what counts today is the fable, but since adults aren’t just stupid, they’re also complicated, I don’t want to complicate things any more, let’s get to the point, the question I first asked you, where were you born?

—In a little town in Peru, said Isabella, but I became Italian really soon, as soon as my parents adopted me, that’s why I feel Italian like you.

—Isabèl, said the man, to be perfectly honest, I did realize you weren’t Aryan like me – anyway I’m white as a corpse, you said so yourself – whereas you’re a little bit darker, you’re not pure Aryan.

—Which means?

—It’s a nonexistent race, answered the man, some fake scientists invented it, but you know, if the people with these kinds of ideals had won the war, you wouldn’t be here now, or rather, maybe you wouldn’t be at all.

—Why?, asked Isabella.

—Because non-Aryan people wouldn’t have had the right to exist, dear Isabèl, and people with skin that’s a little dark, like yours, which actually has a very beautiful color, especially now with the bronzing cream, would’ve been…

—Would’ve been what?, she asked.

—Never mind, said the man, it’s a complicated matter and on a day like this it’s not worth complicating our life, why don’t you take a good swim before lunch?

—I can maybe take one later, answered Isabella, right now I don’t feel like it, but then, sorry, when I saw you last week, always here reading under the beach umbrella, I thought you were someone who could explain things I didn’t understand, I thought I would have an interesting conversation with you like it’s hard to have with grownups, but now it’s even worse, we’ve been talking for half an hour, and to be perfectly honest you seem a little out of it, all the nonexistent countries and people destroying houses and you making war that was really peace, in my view there’s a lot of confusion in your head, and I don’t get what your so-called profession was, either.

—It involved watching those who destroyed each other’s houses, responded the man, this was the war mission for peacekeeping, and it was happening right here.

—On this beach?, asked Isabella, excuse me, but that doesn’t seem possible, no offense.

The man didn’t answer. Isabella stood up, she had her hands on her hips and was looking at the sea, she was thin and her slender figure was outlined against the strong noon light.

—In my view you say these things because you don’t eat, she said in a slightly altered voice, not eating makes you say strange things, you’re not thinking straight, excuse me for saying this  but we have a first-class hotel here, it’s super-expensive because I’ve seen the prices, you can’t say these things just off the top of your head, you don’t eat, don’t sunbathe, don’t go into the water, I think you have some problems, perhaps you need to get some food in you or drink a good fruit shake, would you like me to get you one?

—If you’d really like to be kind, I’d rather have a Coke, said the man, it quenches my thirst.

—I want to be kind, declared Isabella, but you’re the one who isn’t kind, first you have to explain to me why you came right here for vacation if there was a war and houses were destroyed and you stood here watching, can that be true?

—That’s how it was, it’s just that nobody wanted to know it, and even now, you know, people don’t like to know that there was a war where they spend their vacation, because if they think about it their vacation gets ruined, you follow the logic?

—So why’d you come here too? It’s a logical question, if you don’t mind my asking.

—Let’s say it’s for the rest of the warrior, said the man, even if the warrior wasn’t fighting, in the end he was a warrior, and he must find rest where the war once was. That’s classic.

Isabella seemed to be mulling this over. She was kneeling in the sand, half in the sun half in the shade, she was wearing a bikini on her slender, childish body, but the top wasn’t necessary, her thin shoulders began shaking as though she were weeping, but she wasn’t, she seemed cold, she kept her hands buried deep in the sand and her head was bent over her knees.

—Don’t worry, she murmured, when I get like this every one worries, but, it’s only a little developmental crisis, the thing is, I have developmental problems, that’s what the psychologist said, I don’t know if you understand.

—Perhaps if you raise your head I’ll understand better, said the man, I can’t hear you very well.

The girl looked up, her face was red and her eyes damp.

—Do you like war?, she murmured.

—No, he said, I don’t like it, do you?

—So then why’d you do it?, asked Isabella.

—Like I told you, I didn’t, I was there to watch, but I also asked you a question, do you like war?

—I hate it, exclaimed Isabella, I hate it but you talk like all grownup people and you’re making me have a developmental crisis, because last year I didn’t have any developmental crises, then at school they taught us about the various kinds of war, the bad ones and the good ones, and we wrote three essays about it, and it was only after that when I started having these developmental crises.

—Take your time explaining yourself, said the man, tell me calmly, in any case the fettuccine all’arrabbiata is being kept warm under the halogen lamps, I didn’t even ask you what grade you’re in.

—I just finished seventh grade, but after ninth grade I’ll go to ginnasio so I’ll also be studying Greek.

—Wonderful, but what does that have to do with your crisis?

—Maybe nothing, said Isabella, the thing is that throughout the year we studied Caesar and also a bit of Herodotus, but most of all whether war can serve peace, that was the theme in history class, am I being clear?

—Not quite.

—In the sense that sometimes war is necessary, unfortunately, she said, war sometimes is useful for bringing justice to countries where there isn’t any, but then one day two kids came from that country where they’re bringing justice and the kids were hospitalized in our city, and it was my class that brought them candy and fruit, that is, me and Simone and Samantha, the best students, am I being clear?

—Go on, said the man.

—Mohamed is right around my age, and his little sister is younger, but her name I don’t remember, though when we entered the little room in the hospital, the thing is that Mohamed didn’t have any arms and his little sister…

Isabella broke off.

—His little sister’s face… she murmured.  I’m afraid if I tell you about it, I’ll have another developmental crisis, their grandmother was with them, keeping them company because their mother and father died from the bomb that destroyed their house, and so I dropped the tray with the kiwis and tiramisu, I started crying and then I had a developmental crisis.

The man didn’t say anything.

—Why aren’t you saying anything?, you’re like the psychologist who keeps listening to me and never says anything, say something to me.

—In my opinion you don’t really have to worry, said the man, we all have developmental crises, each person in his own way.

—You too?

—I can guarantee you, he said, despite what the doctors think, I believe I’m right in the middle of a developmental crisis.

Isabella looked at him. Sitting cross-legged now, she seemed calmer and no longer had her hands buried in the sand.

—You’re kidding, she said.

—Not at all, he answered.

—Wait, how old are you?

—Forty-five, answered the man.

—Like my father, that’s late for having a developmental crisis.

—Absolutely not, objected the man, the developmental period never ends, in life we don’t do anything other than evolutionize.

—The verb evolutionize doesn’t exist, said Isabella, we say evolve.

—Right, though in biology it exists, and it means each one of us evolutionizinghas his own crisis, your parents have theirs too.

—And you, how do you know that?

—Yesterday, said the man, I heard your mother talking with your father on her cell phone, and it was easy to understand that they’re right in the middle of a developmental crisis.

—You are such a spy, exclaimed Isabella, you shouldn’t listen to other people’s conversations.

—Sorry, said the man, your umbrella is three meters from mine and your mother was talking as if she were at home, what should I do, plug my ears?

Isabella’s shoulders shivered again.

—The thing is they aren’t together any more, she said, and so I was left in my mom’s custody and Francesco in my dad’s, one for each is just, said the judge, Francesco was born after they’d stopped waiting, but I love him like I love no one else and at night I feel like crying, but my mom cries at night too, I’ve heard her, and you know why?, because she and my dad have existential disagreements, that’s what they call them, does that mean anything to you?

—Sure, said the man, it’s a normal thing, everybody has existential disagreements, there’s no need to get worked up about it.

Isabella had her hands in the sand again, but now she seemed almost jaunty, and she giggled a little.

—You’re clever, she said, you haven’t told me yet why you spend your days under the umbrella, you know everything about me and you don’t talk about yourself, but why did you come to the beach if you spend your days in a beach chair taking pills, what are you doing?

—Well, murmured the man, to put it simply, I’m waiting for the effects of the depleted uranium, but that takes patience.

—What do you mean?

—It’s too long to explain, effects are effects and to understand the results there’s nothing to do but wait for them.

—Do you have to wait for long?

—Not so long now, I think, about a month, maybe less.

—And meanwhile what do you do all day long, here under the umbrella, don’t you get bored?

—Not at all, said the man, I practice the art of nefelomanzia.

The girl opened her eyes wide, made a face and then smiled. It was the first time she’d really smiled, showing little white teeth crossed by a metal thread.

—Is that a new invention?

—Oh no, he said, it’s a very ancient thing, imagine, Strabo talks about it, it has to do with geography, but you won’t study Strabo ’til ginnasio, in junior high you only study a bit of Herodotus as you did this year with your geography teacher, geography is a very ancient thing, dear Isabèl, it’s existed forever.

Isabella was watching him, doubtful.

—And what would this stuff consist of, what’s it called?

—Nefelomanzia, said the man, it’s a Greek word, nefele means cloud and manzia, to foretell, nefelomanzia is the art of predicting the future by observing the clouds, or rather, the form of the clouds, because in this art, form is substance, and that’s why I’ve come on vacation to this beach, because a friend from the air force who deals with meteorology assured me that in the Mediterranean there’s no other coast like this one where clouds form on the horizon in an instant. And as quickly as they take shape they dissolve again, and it’s right in that instant that a real nefelomant must practice his art, to understand what the shape of a certain cloud foretells before the formation dissolves in the wind, before it transforms into transparent air and turns to sky.

Isabella had gotten to her feet, mechanically shaking the sand from her thin legs. She combed back her hair and threw a skeptical glance at the man, but her gaze was also full of curiosity.

I’ll give you an example, said the man, sit in the chair next to mine, to study the clouds on the horizon before they vanish you need to sit and focus carefully.

He pointed toward the sea.

—Can you see that white little cloud, down there?, follow my finger, more to the right, near the promontory.

—I see it, said Isabella.

It was a little puff rolling in the air, very far away, in the lacquered sky.

—Watch carefully, said the man, and consider it, in nefelomanziayou need quick intuition but consideration is indispensable, don’t lose sight of it.

Isabella shaded her eyes with her hand. The man lit a cigarette.

—Smoking isn’t good for your health, said Isabella.

Don’t worry about what I’m doing, think about the cloud, in this world there are lots of things that aren’t good for your health.

—It’s opened at the sides, exclaimed Isabella, as if it’s taken on wings.

—Butterfly, said the man confidently, and the butterfly has only one meaning, there’s no doubt.

—Which is?, asked Isabella.

—People with existential disagreements stop having them, people separated will be reunited and their life will be gracious like the flight of a butterfly, Strabo, page twenty-six of the main book.

—What book is that?, asked Isabella.

—The main book of Strabo, said the man, that’s the title, unfortunately it was never translated into modern languages, it’s only studied in the last semester of college because you can only read it in ancient Greek.

—Why was it never translated?

—Because modern languages are too hurried, said the man, in the haste to communicate they become synthetic and grow less precise, for instance ancient Greek uses the dual in conjugating verbs, we only have the plural, and when we say we, in this case you and I, we can also mean many people, but for the ancient Greeks, who were quite exact, if only you and I are doing or saying that thing, only a pair of us, the dual was used.  For instance, thenefelomanzia of that cloud is being done only by the two of us, only we know about it, and for this they had the dual.

—Really awesome, said Isabella, and let out a little shriek, putting a hand over her mouth, look at the other side, at the other side!

—It’s a cirrus, the man stated, a beautiful baby cirrus that in a moment will be swallowed by the sky, ordinary people would mistake it for a nimbus, though a cirrus is a cirrus, too bad for them, and the form of a cirrus can’t have any other meaning but its own, which other clouds don’t have.

—Which is?, asked Isabella.

—Depends on the shape, said the man, you have to interpret it, and here’s where I need you, otherwise what kind of nefelomanti are we?

—It seems to be splitting in two, said Isabella, look, it really is split in two, they seem like two little sheep trotting side by side.

—Two cirrinus lambs, without a doubt.

—I just don’t get it.

—It’s easy, said the man, the meek lamb by itself represents the evolutions of humankind, Strabo, page thirty-one of the main book, watch carefully, but when it splits, it becomes two parallel wars, one is just and the other unjust, they’re impossible to distinguish, which ultimately isn’t all that important to us, what matters is to understand how they’ll both end up, what their future holds.

Isabella glanced at him like someone awaiting an urgent response.

—A miserable end, I can assure you, dear Isabèl.

—Are you really sure?, she asked in an anxious voice.

—You tell me, whispered the man, I’m closing my eyes now, you have to interpret them, watch them, be patient, but try to catch just the right moment, because after that you’ll be too late. The man closed his eyes, extended his legs, lowered a cap over his face and remained still, as though falling asleep. Perhaps a minute passed, even more. Over the beach was a great silence, the bathers had gone to the restaurant.

—They’re flaking in a kind of stracciatella soup, said Isabella in a low voice, like when the trail of a jet breaks up, now you can hardly see them, how weird, I can hardly see them, you look too.

The man didn’t move.

—It’s not necessary, he said, Strabo, page twenty-four of the main book, he wasn’t ever wrong, two thousand years ago he prophesied the end of all war, but nobody up to now has fully grasped it and today we’ve finally deciphered it on this beach, the two of us.

—You know you’re an awesome man?, said Isabel.

—I’m perfectly aware of that, answered the man.

—I think it’s time to go to the restaurant, she went on, maybe my mom is already waiting at our table and she gets angry, can we keep talking this afternoon?

—I don’t know, nefelomanzia is a very tiring art, maybe this afternoon I’ll have to sleep, otherwise this evening I won’t even make it to dinner.

—Is this why you take so many pills?, asked Isabella, because of the nefelomanzia?

The man raised the cap from his face and looked at her.

—And what do you think?, he asked.

Isabella had gotten up, she stepped out of the circle of shade, her body shone in the sunlight.

—I’ll tell you tomorrow, she replied.

 

Antonio Tabucchi (1943—2012) wrote prize-winning novels, stories, essays, and translations during his illustrious career, and is regarded as one of Italy’s most important contemporary authors.

Martha Cooley is the author of The Archivist: A Novel, a national bestseller published in eleven foreign markets, and Thirty-three Swoons: A Novel. Her short fiction, essays, and translations of poetry have appeared in such journals as AGNI, A Public Space, West Branch, Consequence, and Bellevue Literary Review. She is associate professor of English at Adelphi University and also teaches fiction in the Bennington Writing Seminars. This year, she is on sabbatical in Castiglione del Terziere, Italy.
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The History of Sound

BEN SHATTUCK
I pushed through the crowd, towards the music. The smell of soap, beer, and smoke filled the room. I leaned against the wall, hip touching the piano’s back beam, watching David play. His eyes were closed. Cigarette wilting from his lips. Smoke crawling up his face. Black hair combed back.