by Michael Davidson
Honeyed Cat, savoring her tail, ignores the transfer of my feet from ottoman to floor, an insinuation of my itch to silence the telephone, which sounds again from the room used as a music studio. It is here that Rufus, a baritone, layers soundscapes of guitar and bass, synthesizer and drum machine, trumpet and vocals, to let people hear the music that pursues him. Sorry, I say, and place the cat on the ottoman. By the second ring I am beside the cradle and, with the sweep of a pelican, lift and replace the receiver on the connect button. Why are you calling, I think, Rufus is in Italy with De Sica and Moravia and Bellucci. He passes the market outside Vatican City, I think, and his vision switches to black and white as he remembers Antonio scouring the plaza for his stolen bicycle, a mode of transportation that is prerequisite for his new line of work placing Rita Hayworth posters on the city walls. Rufus, I think, unaware of his reason why, decides to stop and scan the area from a vantage that feels familiar even though he cannot determine what is gripping about the spot until a precocious boy bullets forth from a shadowy arcade. Then, I think, he slaps his forehead with the cushion of his palm, a gesture that intends to say, That’s right, idiot, and remembers Antonio disgraced before his son, Bruno the mechanic, after becoming a bicycle thief near the end of the film and being unfit to out peddle the mob that chases him on foot. Rufus, I think, urged into movement by the impact of De Sica, hastens into the shade of the arcade and, perhaps infused with the spirit of youth, decides to make his way through the stretch walking backwards. From toe to heel, I think, he hears the sound of an airplane as the tunnel makes a soft curve and the light where he entered eclipses black. His confusion remains unresolved until an airplane with propellers appears and flies in the direction of the eclipse, creating the illusion of blanketing the sky. His eyes shrink into gimlets as he delves into the dusty archives of his memory. Where, he says aloud, his baritone voice over felt as opposed to overheard, where in the devil is this scene from. Again he finds it appropriate to punish his forehead with the cushion of his palm when the voice of a mother calls for her Marcello. That’s right, idiot, he says to himself at the thought of Moravia and his novel set during fascist rule in Italy, the title of which he cannot recall even though the conclusion plays in his head whenever he happens to catch an airplane dragging a perforated advertisement over beaches. De Sica and Moravia very much alive in Rufus, I think, the postwar director and writer showing timeless generosity in accompanying him and helping construct an informed impression of their country, he is nevertheless frustrated without Bellucci as a third guide. Where is the red-carpet starlet, he thinks, whose Remedios beauty invariably puts her at the mercy of insecure men and women. Rufus, I commiserate, you will rummage Rome for Bellucci, maybe even go so far as to ransack Rome for Bellucci, but at night you will undoubtedly backtrack without her to your lodgings at the hostel and unwind with a tot before sitting by the open window, bedroom lights extinguished, and composing a piece of music in the space between your ears, never humming the progression of notes, never tapping the beat against the side of your tumbler, just listening to the sounds Italy makes outside your window and jazzing a knee to keep focus until the completion of your work. Come morning, I say, you will hear a silence that throbs, and to walk off the night of music you will scrub your cropped hair more than usual in the shower and return to the plaza, to the arcade, to again comb the corridors for Bellucci. De Sica and Moravia – their generosity much more than timeless at this point – will be there, I say, but not the woman who is cursed for instilling so much envy into her fellowmen. She has learned her lesson, you will say, she knows that in this benighted country no good will come to her if she leaves her sanctuary, only incriminations and lashings and brutal swings of the baseball bat, all with the intention of demoting her to mortality. That night, in between rinsing the tumbler with a splash of scalding water and pouring the precious tot, you will become pregnant with a piece that is unfair to her. Point and counterpoint will unroll in the bars that extend from one ear to the other with the purpose of seducing Bellucci out of hiding, a dulcet tune that is grounded, kept from ascension, by the ultra low register of your voice. Although she will not take the chance of joining you in your lodgings to express her gratitude for your composition, I say, nor will she risk being the target of Rome’s scorn by revealing herself come tomorrow, be assured Rufus that she will listen to your efforts, and they will mend her wounds. But you will not know the relief your music lends, I say, you will return every night convinced that a more evocative piece will beckon Bellucci to your window and, in this way, you will leave Rome with a set of arrangements that are of increasing success yet damaging to your self-esteem, for you will, at least in your estimation, have become a musician manqué. At the sight of Rufus despondent in Italy the phone sounds. Not home, please leave a message. Dial tone composes its dirge like the resolution to my fiction.
::for a similar read, check out Memories of Rome::