Living and Dying in Venice
by Romana Guillotte
It was “war eternal” she saw scribbled on the decaying walls, just before more explosions had Serafin run for cover in the unholy darkness. Her wings were scathed and she folded them close before she tightened the rope that held her toga in place, which shimmered in the firelight.
Her attempt to dart to safety was stopped by two horned foot soldiers. “Please let me go.” Her wings cowered with her.
“We cannot.” No remorse in their seizing of her.
A piercing white light began. Would it save her? Serafin could not take it any longer and had to close her eyes.
Bright light faded as Brian opened his eyes. The English girl, now safely on the ground, stared over him with some of the nearby Italian children. They weren’t in that horrid place, but sprawled on the hard stones of a piazza–still in Venice after all.
“I’m sorry,” the English girl said as she smoothed her long white shift-like dress. “I didn’t think you were going to help me down from the fence like that.”
Brian felt the back of his head; luckily, he had managed to fall on his bunched jacket, instead of the stone. This comforted him, though this girl’s damsel game seemed outdated. “Yeah, I should have thought it through. Guess my mind was elsewhere.”
“On your cancelled wedding?” she asked as the children scattered.
Brian ignored the question and sat up slowly, while his head protested the whole way. “Just had the weirdest dream though…”
“You weren’t out for very long.”
Brian watched this new woman carefully. “I know.”
She noticed his gaze. “It’s okay, Brian, everything will work itself out.”
“How do you know my name?”
She blinked. “What?”
“Oh.” She blinked again. “I don’t know. I’m Violet though. And don’t forget your jacket.”
He looked around and saw it on a tiny Italian child as he played a version of tag with others. “Come on, give it here…” Brian demanded, but the children assumed he joined their game. He grabbed at the air, twice in fact, to their giggles. Violet, however, Violet went to the child with the coat, and whispered something to him. They snickered together and the child returned the dirty coat, his singsong Italian sounded apologetic.
“Grazie,” Brian said to the child who ran off before he reached the letter ‘r’. Violet giggled again. “Well, Violet it was nice to meet you. I’m going now…”
“May I join you?”
“Sure…though I’m really looking to get lost.”
“Understandable. I think I can help you with that.” Her eyes sparkled mischievously.
Brian couldn’t look at her suddenly. He caught the words in his throat. “I’m sure you can.”
“Where should we lose ourselves first?”
Something about her was reminding him of her. The name he wanted to forget hit him like a dart – Sera. He supposed that was her in his dream. Yes, he remembered because she always had to correct people when they would call it out. ‘Like Sara, but with an ‘e’,’ she would say. She was a Taurus, an earth sign that was stubborn but stable. She also loved violets.
“Can I ask you something?” Her expression was blank, so it could have been anything.
His reflective gaze broke with several blinks as they walked from the piazza. “What? I don’t have any extra cash for you to get home.”
“No thank you. I was wondering why your wedding was cancelled? It seems an awfully long way for an American to come and not get married.”
“She’s in love with the best man, and he’s in love with her. Seemed the right thing to do, since I realized I’m not really in love with her either.” He didn’t like saying that, but the truth suddenly felt important.
Violet shrugged and changed the subject for him. “Did you know there was an accident earlier? It’s why I climbed the fence.”
“No, I didn’t know about the accident.” Brian watched her gracefully position her feet before she walked, like a ballerina. Sera was a dancer too.
“You know where we’re going?”
Brian thought a moment as they passed a fragrant flower shop. “I don’t know. Perhaps a bar?”
“A bar? You would waste this beautiful day holed up in a bar?” She stopped at the flowers arranged on the sidewalk; giving a squeal of excitement at the violets.
“I don’t see you doing anything exciting.”
“I’m just escaping some family.”
“Something like that.”
“Then bar it is. If you can tell me where one is that would be great.” His acerbic tone seemed to startle her. “Sorry, it’s been quite a day…”
“How do you know?” Brian snapped.
She paused and stared at him. “Your tone is unbecoming.”
“What is this, 1840?”
“What?” Like a painful memory, her intonation mimicked Sera’s perfectly.
“The way you’re talking!” He remembered the fires from that dream and loosened his collar.
Exasperated, he threw his hands up and left her with the flowers. Down the row of shops a small sign with American block lettering read ‘Bar’. Brian dodged a Hawaiian-shirt-clad couple with matching fanny packs to get to it. Inside, the smoky air was lit in an unhealthy neon glow, an overworked jukebox blared a Willie Nelson song. The bartender looked most definitely of Irish descent and here he looked to spit on anyone who crossed him. “What’ll ya have?” Came his Bostonian accent, sounding foreign to Brian’s flat Californian one.
“Whiskey, straight up. Leave the bottle.”
“So you’re having a good day?”
The bartender snorted and put down a dirty glass. He poured the scotch slowly, as if it were sand in an hourglass.
“You sound like one of them rude east coasters.”
“You sound like one of those dumbass west coasters.”
Brian smiled and stuck out his hand. “Brian.”
“Dave.” They shook hands.
“I’d say it’s a pleasure, but I don’t know you to well yet.”
Dave raised a glass to Brian’s. “Touché, my new friend.” The bar door swung open hesitantly and a familiar silhouette appeared. “Can I help you?”
Violet looked very calm and docile carried a bouquet of her namesake. Eventually she reached the bar and stepped into the yellowed light, much to the disgust of Dave.
“Oh, it’s you. Were you bothering my customer?”
She looked at Brian, and then back to Dave. “He might think so. But he helped me down from a fence, so I am….”
“Don’t do that damsel-in-distress thing. I have an idea to call the polizia.”
Distress and confusion crossed her Sera-like face. “It’s okay. She broke up my bad day…sorta.” Brian pulled out the chair next to him as Dave shook his head—pretending to find something to clean at the other end of the bar.
Violet sat and was silent for a time. “I’m sorry about everything that’s happened. I was passing the hotel where you were getting married. I heard all the commotion.”
“Sorry for being so rude earlier…you look like someone I used to know.”
She blinked, and in that second, Brian had a hundred memories of Sera: In the park, on a roller coaster, in the kitchen, dancing at a club. All memories of his ex-fiancée Rita vanished. “I’m sorry if it causes you pain.”
He snorted. “There you go again with all that proper talk.” he pulled out a cigarette and lit it. Again she said nothing and stared at him. “Why do you do that?”
“What?” she touched a flower with the tips of her finger as the song changed to a Tom Waits tune.
“Stare at me like a deer in headlights. Kinda makes me sick.”
Violet coughed on cue. Brian smiled, and Violet started to chuckle. He leaned forward for a sip of whiskey, attempting to laugh, but misjudging the integrity of his stool instead. Suddenly, he was on the ground after he hit his head on the bar.
“Are you all right?”
“Yeah, that’s just the second time today.” He retrieved the cigarette from the floor and stamped it in a nearby ashtray.
She helped him up, and dusted off his shoulder. A quick glance at the clock on the wall as a few petals fell caused her to say, “Uh, oh.”
The door split and cracked open like thunder. Brian saw an old man in the doorframe, a very lovely young woman on his arm. The wrinkled man looked poised for debate, confident in his slick black suit and red shirt—despite the cowboy hat that sat on his mess of salt and pepper hair. His arm-ornament, a Jean Harlow look-alike, wore a dress similar to Violet’s. Brian could feel Violet tense next to him as the couple sashayed inside.
Dave’s own excitement was palpable. “No, no. Uh eh. You guys have got to leave my people alone.”
“What could you mean?” the man said with an American drawl.
“The scheme you have all cooked up. Violet here spots ‘em and then you come to collect. Don’t think I don’t know about the racket you guys have going on.”
The new woman grinned and looked at her partner, a squeaky good Brooklyn accent appeared. “Can you believe it Bobbie? He thinks we got a racket!”
“And just because we are being systematic about tea time.” Bobbie’s tone was playful and he looked to Violet who was trying to be invisible. “My Violet, you are looking lovely. Who is your friend?”
Violet didn’t want to say, so Brian did for her. “I’m Brian.”
“Nice to meet you, Brian, I am Bob and this is Violet’s sister Tulip.” He spoke formally also, at least formal for his accent. Tulip fingered Violet’s flowers, who grimaced at the closeness of her ‘sister’.
“A pleasure.” Brian fingered the bottle of whiskey.
“You’ve had your introductions, now get lost,” Dave snapped.
“We’ve got to take Violet home, mother is worried.” The way Tulip said it sounded more like lines of a well-rehearsed play.
“I…I’d rather stay here.”
“You will have to come home sometime.” Bob said inspecting her flowers.
“Listen to your father,” Bob chided, causing Brian to frown.
“Bob is not my father,” Violet said finally, not meeting any eyes.
Bob place a hand on her arm. “I insist.”
Violet looked to cry dropping her flowers in the struggle. Petal scattered everywhere. “No.”
“Leave her alone, will ya? I’ll take her home later.”
“This isn’t your business, son.” Bob began pulling Violet with him.
“Hey, lay off her…she doesn’t want to go with you.”
Bob brought a knife to his throat breathlessly. “What did I say, son?”
“Hey!” Dave pulled out a shotgun. Two barrels were in Bob’s face like a Bugs Bunny cartoon. “Leave my customers alone!”
The old man let Brian go and gave a deep demonic chuckle. “Come on Tulip, let’s go.”
Tulip took his arm and they made their way out, though not without hassling Violet. Tulip poked Violet’s sides. Bob stepped on a few flowers; Violet flinched and took the abuse as they disappeared.
When they did, Violet sat on the floor against the bar and hugged her knees close. Brian would have exchanged a look with Dave, but somehow he was no longer behind the bar, but at the door attempting to repair it.
“Sorry,” Violet whispered, her eyes welling up, though more so it seemed at the crushed flowers in her hands and at her feet.
Brian sat with her. “Don’t worry, I guess it’s just one of those days for everyone.”
She nodded. “More like one of those lives.”
“I hear you. Seems to only get worse,” he rubbed his face in exhaustion. “I get kicked out of school for cheating, my dad is in a car accident, my girlfriend dies, and now my fiancée runs off with my best friend. Can’t believe I haven’t offed myself yet.”
“Don’t say that….”
“Last call!” Dave yelled.
Brian’s watch suggested otherwise. “It’s 4:30!”
“I wanna nap before the evening rush.”
“Look, I’m gonna to settle the bill, then do you wanna get out of here?”
“Sure.” She handed him his wallet.
Brian stood up and dug in his pockets before he snatched his wallet from her with an incredulous look.
Dave shook his head. “Nah, no charge. You gave me a show—don’t usually get one at this end of the piazza.”
“Brian? Can you take me home?”
He turned to see the last petal fall off the last flower, coupled with the look of apprehension on her face. “Of course,” Brian said taking off his tie and stuffing it in his pocket. “Let’s go.”
They walked in silence a long time. The nightlife of Venice was beginning as café’s looked extra busy and ‘ristorantes’ had lines outside of them. The sunset neatly over the buildings and Brian wondered about life in Venice. But something bothered him. “What’s his deal? Bob’s I mean, you say he’s not your dad…”
“No, he likes to think he is. He’s really more of a landlord.” She sighed. “Though really, I miss my home. Life in Venice isn’t too exciting at the moment.”
“Your home?” Brian had given up on how she knew his thoughts and such. He just figured she was psychic.
“Yes, but I don’t really remember it too well. I was younger and I think I passed out on the plane. All I remember is waking up here in Venice.”
“Oh? Amnesia, eh?”
“Yes, something like that. All I know is this—wherever it was, was a whole lot better than here. Just over this bridge.” Theatrically, a house that embodied the word ‘menacing’ appeared. A gothic and Venetian façade was over come by dark flowers of all sorts. He even thought he saw a face form with the windows and door, watching him. Part of him wanted to bolt; yet the other part—the part that controlled his legs—stayed to appease Violet’s beckoning call. “And I didn’t think this day could get any worse.”
“C’mon!” Violet grabbed his hand and led him through the door. The red velvets inside were equally demonic. He imagined a brothel to look like this during the Renaissance.
At the center was Bob, flanked by several women including Tulip, and all wearing the same shift-type dress that Violet was. Brian wondered what was going on.
“Violet, you came home. Are you going to see your mother?”
“Yes,” she answered quickly. “Will you wait a moment?”
“Yes.” Brian gave his first reassuring smile of the day. Violet looked worried, but scurried to the back behind the floral curtain. Brian felt trapped suddenly as his only way out blocked by more striking women.
“Like what you see, Brian?”
“Oh, forgive my manners, this is Lily, Ivy, Iris, Tulip, Bluebelle, Irish Belle, Posey, Pansy, Lilac, Daisy, and Orchid.”
“Flowers, how nice.”
“Thank you,” Posey said with a light airy voice.
“Like what you see?” Bobbie smirked through a cloud of cigar smoke. “I always offer refreshments to my guests. Is there anything I can give you?”
“Leave him alone.”
The attention of the room turned to the older woman who appeared with Violet. Brian realized there was a natural draw to this new woman, a classic sort of beauty. And Violet appeared calmer with her; he relaxed some.
“I am Gaia. Please join us Brian.” Gaia’s kind tone was hard to decline. Brian obliged her, despite the huffy snort from Bob as they disappeared behind the curtain.
This room held none of the darkness and sinister nature of the other room. The fading afternoon light clouded the large bay windows over the water of the Venice canals. Brian had to catch his breath.
“Something the matter, Brian?” Gaia asked as Violet put a hand to his shoulder. He noticed Gaia looked much older than before, the creases in her face visible in this light.
“No, not at all.”
Violet motioned for everyone to sit on some well-placed pillows on the floor. In the center was a pristine tea set. Brian saw this as his chance to speak with her. “What’s happening?”
“We’re getting lost, it’s what you wanted isn’t it?” she whispered back.
“Tell me Brian, what do you do?” Gaia asked pouring some tea from the clean and polished set.
“I work at a golf course back in the states. I’m Head Landscaper.”
“You’re quite pale for a job that requires you to be in the sun.”
“I’m in the office now; have been for a while.”
“Since her death?” Violet asked.
“Violet did mention she looked like someone you lost.”
“A girlfriend I had once, her name was Sera. She wasn’t like most girls with that name; she spelled it ‘S-E-R-A’ and every time she moved or made a gesture…it was so much different than any other girl. I was going to live the rest of my life with her. Her, the smirk of her eyes, that popcorn laugh, the careless toss of her hair, her long fingers, her smile…”
“And she died.” Gaia looked genuinely upset by the news and Violet reassured her by taking her hand. “We do so much dying together…it’s a wonder…” She trailed off, Brian’s heartbeat in his ears.
“It’s a wonder we’re living at all.”
Brian took a moment, his eyes becoming heavy. “So you are Violet’s mother?”
“Yes. I suppose I could be called that…”
The world became hazy fast. He could have sworn he saw Bob in the shadows, just watching them. Next to him, Violet was shaking and the sky darkened. She must have seen him too – for she grabbed Brian’s hand. He looked out the window; his head felt like it was about to explode. But he didn’t let go of Violet’s hand. The world went black.
Brian opened his eyes. He was still on the floor of the bar; Violet had a cool cloth on his forehead, Dave standing nearby. The tired jukebox still churned out the same Tom Waits song. Brian sat up, confused. “Wait…”
“You hit your head,” Dave said, “went down like a sack of potatoes.”
“We were worried.” Violet helped him lean against the bar, “Especially since that’s the second time today.”
“Yeah…I just had the weirdest dream though…”
Brian looked over Violet, and how much she looked like Sera: The eyes, the hair, the cheeks. “Are we lost yet?”
The smile. “Not yet.”
“Then let’s go, I’ll tell you about it.” He stood up, threw down some coins, and escorted her out of the bar.
Romana Guillotte is currently a film festival gypsy that received her MFA in Screenwriting last year from UNLV, where she also received a BA in English and a BA in Film Studies. As a ginger that loves dragons, she wants you to know she’s also a terribly average cellist. She’s had work published in Plasma Frequency Magazine, Slink Chunk Press, and The J.J. Outre Review.