CARNIVORI DI VENEZIA
The mirror. Two black circles slowly appear in the mirror. I carefully draw them around my eyes, and the makeup is almost done by now – the paint masks my features and distorts my face as much as possible. The only thing that I didn’t change is the color of my eyes. I guess I could’ve done that too but I want them to stay, I want them to be remembered this way.
Another look at myself – it’s me, but only because I know that it is me.
“Ayayay!” and Silvia, she also knows that it’s me. “Looking crazy, Caterina!” She charcoaled her eyes and burgundied her lips, but she is still easily recognizable. She pushes her thigh into the table, inspecting my, how she calls it, paint job, “Are you hiding from your lover? You’ll be wearing a mask, don’t worry, he won’t recognize you!” Using Silvia’s approach to life, everything is either ‘¡crazy!’, ‘¡ayayay!’, or ‘¡nonono!’ .
I’ve only known her for a couple of hours, but I’ve already heard all three of these expressions.
“How much will you last in a mask?” I turn around and look at our tiny hotel room, “I did some roundoffs in the gym and I was fried after a couple.”
“I’ll be fine, I did some cra-a-azy stuff in masks,” her hips try to show me the level of craziness of her past deeds.
“If you say so.”
We get naked, then put our leotards on, then tights. Covered in black and white diamonds, we look like a pair of monochrome harlequins. I braid my hair and twist it into a crown. Silvia has already done hers. She stares at me with her suggestive smile and I’m pretty sure that she’s about to use one of her aforementioned sayings.
“You look like a sexy cat… Cat-erina? See?” she says ‘meow’ twice, “What’s the Italian for ‘cat’? ”
“Just like Spanish! Gatta… gatta sexualle!” she laughs at the word of her own invention – Silvia barely speaks Italian but does it with astonishing confidence. I don’t speak Spanish at all, and that’s why we stick to the third option – we use English.
I try to smile, but a tiny smirk is the only result of my futile attempts.
“Oh, come on, colega, why are you so tense? It’s a nonono on a day like this!” she pushes me down into the chair and starts rubbing my shoulders, “It’s the Carnival. We’re about to do some stunts, drink some drinks, and get the attention of the sexy rich men. Relax!”
“There’s nothing sexy about them.”
“Oh!!!” her hands fly up to the ceiling. “You’re such a cascarrabias… Caterina the grouch!” Silvia’s frustration prevailed, “Help me put the mask on.”
I’m black and white; only the lips of my mask are painted gold. A short black jacket covers the leotard. Silvia joins me in front of the mirror – she spots the aiguillettes on my right shoulder. Her voice is muffled by layers of papier-mâché in front of her face and velvet of the hood that covers my ears, “Ooh, these are cool, Caterina… damn, I’m hitting my chin when I’m talking,” she pulls the mask a little bit forward, “Are you going to strangle someone with them?” She touches one of the cords.
I chuckle, “Well, If I’m in a mood.”
“Finally! Nice joke!”
We leave our room and go downstairs. I was expecting to hear comments about our costumes, but the hotel staff is silent – they see the masks way too often to be surprised or even slightly moved. I’m glad that they don’t say anything because I’m as tense as I could be.
“Ready?” Silvia approaches the front door and turns her golden-lipped, permanently static face to look at me.
The outside world floats into the hotel, under my mask, through its eyes. Three steps forward and I’m there, on the streets of Venice. Long ago, she rose from the tides to be rushed by the waves of human beings every year. They pass in front of me, framed by the dark interior of my mask – different, varied, random in their speech and appearance, unified under the light of the street lamps. People, silhouettes, hats, jackets, scarfs; colors dark and muted.
Our palette complements the surroundings as we dive into the crowd. The sheer amount of people is enough to protect us from the winter cold, though the upper part of my legs senses it better than any other region of my bicolor body.
We see people dressed in historic attire from time to time – crinolines and canes shuffle in accordance with tricorns and half-masks. Silvia says something to me, but I don’t understand her – everything around us is noise, everything is loud. The water parade, the main event of the opening night, has already started, and I can hear music from the Grand Canal; it mixes with the voice from the public address system; the commentary is distorted by the twists of streets and alleys and I’m unable to make out a single word.
The chaos around me pushes my heavy thoughts away. A ten-minute stroll to our destination to get lost and hide away from my own decisions.
Silvia grabs me by the elbow, as we pass a small square with an old fountain in the middle, “Let’s do cartwheels, Caterina!”
“Right now?” my steel eyes meet her hazel stare.
She finds a big enough gap in the crowd and lunges forward, raising her arms, leading with her left foot; I lead with the right one and mirror her movements – my gloves feel the unmerciful density of the cobblestones as I go for the first rotation. Now my sole-less suede boots feel it too: the landing on the hard surface gives no bounce, but I do the second and the third cartwheel.
The crowd spots our antics and gives us a round of applause. We bow to all four sides and rush forward as if we were leaving a crime scene. Silvia starts to run, and I follow her without any thinking. She lunges again, goes for a roundoff, and finishes her movement with a back walkover – the crowd reacts again – Silvia runs faster. We cross a small bridge and fly into a tiny alleyway, barely missing people’s legs and shoulders. I’m building up sweat and puffing out steam through the eyes of my mask. Finally, Silvia stops and presses her back against an old limestone wall. She lifts up her mask and I do the same thing. We’re gasping for air – it’s cold and burns our throats and lungs.
“Almost. There,” she breathes in and out. She smiles at me; she smiles at the beggar on the other side of the street.
“Why. Running?” my painted face smiles too, as I’m trying to find any kind of oxygen around me.
We turn into a tiny gap between two lines of buildings – it’s barely wide to fit one person, there are just two streetlights to illuminate the whole length of the alley, and we are the only people here.
“This one?” I look at the old big door.
“I guess so,” Silvia grabs the handle.
In a hall behind the chipped black wood stands a line of people. They're dressed in all sorts of clothing, but all of those sorts are unaffordable to the majority of the country’s population. They talk to each other, waiting for the security guard to let them in. Now we are the last in line.
It’s a dark gloomy evening outside, but it seems that it’s not much brighter inside, and I can barely see any detail of the interior, apart from the checkered stone floor.
Five minutes, and it’s our turn. I pass the metal detector and it goes off. The security guard takes the hand-held detector and starts his scrupulous search. The buttons on my jacket and aiguillettes create a symphony of monotone sounds. I’m asked to show the inside of my jacket, but there’s no metal inside, and if he is looking for a weapon, it’s in plain sight.
As soon as I’m allowed to proceed, we stroll into the next room only to find that there’s another line of people.
“Oh, mierda!” Silvia shakes her head, “What are they looking for now?”
“Probably for an ID.” I reach in my inner pocket and get out a paper card.
I hear muffled music from the depths of the building and loud slaps on the pockets of the double-breasted jacket; they start to resemble a well-rehearsed rhythmical pattern to my ears. I can’t see Silvia’s facial expression, but I would guess that it’s somewhat worried.
“Nonono, Caterina, I think I lost it,” slap. “So much for the street performance!” slap, slap. She continues to look for any sort of document, as we approach the men in black suits.
“A paper card?”
My eyes look at the inquiring stare hidden behind the sunglasses, “I’m old-fashioned.”
The security guard stares at the picture on my ID, “Please, remove your mask.”
I do as I was told.
It’s poorly lit and separated from the world by dark lenses, but I can sense the confusion in the man’s gaze – the mask makes me more human than the makeup does. He tries to find the correlation between the picture on the pink piece of paper in his hands and the spectacle of colors on my face.
A hoarse female voice penetrates the room with a barrage of Italian swear words, “Cut this nonsense and let our guests in already!”
Silvia steps closer to me and takes me by the arm. The high heels crack the stone floor, as the woman approaches – her black satin skirt and blouse flicker with every step. She screams at the security guard and makes a giant man feel small. She calls him ‘stupido’, he calls her Signora Potenza. I use my chance to study her face – if there ever was a natural beauty, there was nothing left of it by now – her features are the result of multiple cosmetic procedures: the sad finale of the lost battle with the fear of aging.
Her words become a constant white noise, as I drift into my own thoughts – could my mother have been in her place? Would she have turned into the same tight-skin puppet if she were still alive? My eyes widen, my sense of place slips away until the face of Signora Potenza turns to look at me and Silvia, who still holds on to my arm.
I snap out of my own head and put the mask back on. The old woman smiles at us – her lips move, but the upper part of her face stays still. She utilizes a very high-paced version of Italian, the one that challenges my abilities to understand my mother tongue, and I’m not sure if Silvia gets anything at all.
“Hi, girls! Are you the acrobatics team?”
“Your bodies are pure magic! I wish I had my youth back, I was a dancer when I was your age, oh my God, if only I knew that I would become an old woman one day, but at least I kept my figure intact,” she points at her tiny waist, “too bad the boobs are my surgeon’s creation, he’s an artist, of course, but I’m starting to feel like I’m a walking cupboard full of medical achievements by now, and my face scares me when I look in the mirror.” As soon as she ceases to speak, she turns around and starts speaking again, “Follow me, girls. Eat, drink, enjoy your evening, there will be a little time slot for you to perform between nine and ten, but Giò is so grumpy today, and he drinks a lot when he’s like that, so don’t mind him if he asks you to stop, he is so moody, he always was, but it’s his birthday, so I want him to feel happy, and if he doesn’t want to see or hear anything, then I’m just his wife, I won’t say a thing, you know.”
She leads us into a big hall – now the lights are fully lit and we are able to witness five centuries of usage, aging, and restoration around us.
“These are the stairs – there are two more floors to see, the bathroom is on the second floor, treat yourself to a tour, isn’t that place marvelous? I told Giò, ‘Why don’t we celebrate in Venice, there’ll be a Carnival,’ and he only grunted, but then agreed. We stay under the roof, he likes to escape into his room from time to time, you know, he’s so irritable, I don’t even know if he wants this party, but I wanted to throw him a great party, I gathered all of his friends and relatives, you know, we have an orchestra, have singers,” that describes the music that just became even louder, “have dancers, have you, but I don’t know, he just sits with his gun from time to time… but you don’t need to know that, alright.”
We’re led through the dining hall with tables – some of them are already occupied by the guests: they are a mixture of all ages, and if they are his relatives, then some of them are mine also. A young cook runs to Signora Potenza to inform her about a problem with the cacciucco, only to be screamed at. It’s, probably, his non-dancer’s physique, or something else, but he doesn’t get the same friendly treatment as we get. Our short trip ends at the adjacent room – it’s full of buffet tables, cushioned seats, wooden beams, curtains, landscape paintings, mirrors, candlesticks, and humans. Many of them wear the same masks as we do and they are here to perform, just like me and Silvia.
“So, we’ll have fireworks closer to midnight, that would be the end of the event, I guess. Enjoy your evening!”
The high heels crack back in the direction of our arrival.
“What did she say?” my harlequin twin leans closer to me.
“I’ll tell you later.”
I’m in the corner of the room. I tried to find the darkest one but they all are pretty well lit by electric chandeliers, which are certainly a late addition to the Renaissance interior. I think there are more mirrors on the walls than people in the room. Silvia’s prancing figure reflects in all of them, as she makes her way from table to table, filling her silver plate with something. The yellow light creates an illusion of mist in the room, or maybe it’s smoke from candlesticks. Maybe I should drop them down, set the place on fire, and lock the doors behind me. What a stupid idea. What an idiot. I am an idiot.
“Ayayay, have something to eat, tía, it’s a long wait till nine,” it’s Silvia and her food.
“I’m not hungry, Silvia.”
She slides her mask up and I can see how the green grapes disappear in her red, lipsticked mouth, “Damn, those are crazy good.”
“You should’ve worn a Bauta. “ It’s not that I don’t want to eat. I can’t eat.
“What’s that?” I can see her eyes from under the mask as she raises her head to look at me.
“Have you seen those masks with a… chin-ram instead of a mouth?” I try to show her what I mean using my hands and my own mask.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah! Ours are sexy!” she pouts at me. “Those are scary as shit!”
“Well, that’s the reality of Bauta. But you can chomp on anything you want in it. And have a conversation without hitting your chin.”
“Caterina, you’re, like, crazy smart, knowing all those things!” she rolls her eyes. “What’s the name of our masks?” She knocks on hers.
The music in the dining hall dies and an ear-shattering noise of the microphone feedback takes its place. Silvia stops eating and puts her mask back on. It’s the hoarse voice of Signora Potenza again, but it’s coming from the loudspeakers this time, “My dear… our dear friends. We’re so glad that you all came here today. It’s our Giò’s birthday and I want to wish him to see all of you next year, and the year after that… and it’s forty years of our marriage…”
There’s a lump in my throat and I’m thinking about my mother again. She was just an event in someone’s life and nothing more: dead at the age of twenty-seven. This marriage lasted longer than her whole existence. But it ends today.
“The hell is ‘cin-cin’? “ Sivlia’s whispering.
“It’s like… ‘cheers’… kind of.”
All we can hear is a choir of ‘cin-cins’ and something unintelligible. The musicians return with their violins and violas – the cello enters last – but someone calls them back and they go back; then somebody else raises his voice and the poor men and women turn around and go to our room. The dancers were not that much of entertainment and were quickly dismissed. The singers sang a couple of arias from the operas and also returned. The guests call for musicians again, a little bit later, and the whole process repeats.
“I asked the orchestra to provide the accompaniment for our performance,” Silvia returns after another tour around the buffet. “But, I have to say, that musical ‘movement’ is hilarious,” she points at the tired musicians.
“I bet that the guy with the cello doesn’t feel this way.”
“It’s a part of the job. They knew what they were going for, hustling at the mafia birthday party.” She cuts her panna cotta with a spoon, “Dios mio! You should taste this one.”
“Thanks, I’m good.”
Her white gloves grab my arm, “Caterina, what’s the matter with you? It’s just a job. We’re getting paid. Distance yourself from this whole… family event. We are two little gymnasts, why would those people care about us? No one will hurt you! And if someone acts like a drunken idiot, then he's just a drunken idiot. You want some wine, maybe?”
“No, no. No alcohol before gymnastics.”
Silvia presses herself against my jacket and wraps her hands around me. I rest my head on her shoulder and feel the warmest hug on this planet.
Our time is nigh, so we move closer to the doors and start stretching on the carpet – it must be an antique piece but it’s the only soft surface in this room. I can hear the microphone screeching again, but this time it’s not Signora Potenza, it’s him. The voice that I’ve only heard once; the one that I forgot, but now, hearing it again after eighteen years, I remember it vividly.
“Alright, if you want me to say something, I’ll say something.” A cough. “You came here to show me respect and not because you like me. I know that you don’t. And I respect that.”
Someone shouts, “We love you, Giò!!!”
“Alright, alright, some of you, maybe. I’m glad to see some of you too. Like my kids, for example. Today, finally, I can see all of them, my sons and daughters, at this beautiful Palazzo.” I squeeze my own thigh till the pain becomes unbearable. “I’m glad to see my old friends, those who are not dead yet. I want to thank my wife, who I’m not glad to see” – everybody starts laughing, but I’m not sure if that was a joke – “ ‘cause I see her way too often. What else… you know, I heard a little, tiny whisper somewhere that someone wants me to get killed.”
The hall exploded with “Oh, no’s!” and other expressions of utter disbelief.
“Please, please. I know that many of you would rather come to my funeral. But let me tell you one thing: there’s only one man in Italy, who can decide when Giovanni Potenza dies. And that man is me!” the drunken speech ends with a flurry of applause.
I feel how my skin becomes pale, even though I can’t see it. I’m in a stupor and I’m not sure that I can move.
“Gymnasts?” a face that I haven’t seen before looks at me and Silvia; she answers with “yes”; I can’t answer anything. “It’s your call.” The face disappears behind the doors.
The hand in my hand, it wants me to stand up.
“Caterina, come on, it’s time.”
I’m standing up.
I see hazel pupils on the whites of eyes in the cosmos of black shadows, “Come on, we’ll be fine. Just repeat after me. Nothing new, we’ve done it all since we were kids.” Silvia puts her hand on the door, “Ready?”
We spread our shoulders and enter the room. Their eyes are looking at us; they’re clapping. Some men are whistling and commenting on our bodies. We stand in front of the doors, two meters apart.
I know that he sits right in front of me, but I don’t want to look at him. He’s a blur in the corner of my view, a shadow, a presence that I don’t need to feel.
Gymnastics on a hard surface, be it a wooden or marble floor, turn the whole ordeal into a balance beam exercise, only that the beam now occupies the whole room, thus reducing your chance to break any of your vertebrae… and increasing the chance of breaking everything else, including your skull.
Silvia leads the way: all I have to do is mimic her movements: split leaps, scissor leaps, jumps. There are no group exercises in artistic gymnastics, so the key is to start your movement right before your partner stops, to let the motion flow. I’m not sure if I know what the orchestra is playing and how our actions correspond to it, but I’m so locked in that I don’t think – I only feel and react. We drop our gloves and go for the handsprings, then somersaults, piked and tucked jumps – my fingers and palms feel the pain, every landing is hard and, every landing is a chance to fall, a test of my limits.
The world around me tumbles and turns, but the rotations are so fast that I only spot the moments of balance. The back of my head is tickling, but I’m used to all of this.
We let each other rest and perform thirty seconds of excerpts from our own programs, the ones with which we were competing back in the day. Every little thing we do gets an enthusiastic round of applause. It’s been no more than three minutes since the music started but I’m out of breath and I’m sweating.
“Cartwheel, three back handsprings,” I hear Silvia’s voice – this signifies the end of our show, as we lunge and roll to the opposite sides of the hall.
We take mirrored stances and bow; the orchestra finishes the music off.
“Bravo!!!” the screams from every side of the room.
For a moment, I forget where I’m present, why I’m here, and what I should execute until the date changes – I’m smiling under my mask.
The shadow in the corner of my view rises from its chair, clapping its hands. It says ‘bravo’, it calls for me and Silvia to come closer to it. I’m standing still, but I feel a touch of the hand that leads me forward. I’m in front of the table – here’s Signora Potenza, smiling with her plump artificial lips, unable to wrinkle any part of her face.
I don’t smile anymore. This is the moment I waited for, the one I was afraid of, but the one that was inevitable. I raise my eyes and look at the murderer of my mother, an all-powerful crime lord – his name is Giovanni Potenza. He is my father.
“You are amazing, girls, bravo.”
I give him a glance – my eyes are steel, my eyes are wrath; there’s hate and flaming need to avenge. His are calm and drunk, but I see that he tries to see through me – he knows something or wants to know something that I’m trying to hide.
His hands extend and take our wrists, “Just amazing. Thank you.”
I look down at the table and see a big knife near the birthday cake.
“You have beautiful eyes,” me, he talks to me, he talks about me.
I nod and try to free my arm. I want to run away and hide. Another hand takes me and frees me from the choking hold on my wrist – it’s Silvia, my merciful savior.
The mirror. I look at my painted face in the mirror of the bathroom. It’s been about three or four hours since we arrived at this Palazzo, and I’m feeling trapped between its walls. All I need to do is to leave – this place, this city, and this country. I can live my life as I want if I forget about the past and let it be. It’s all in my mind.
“Is everything fine?” Silvia waits for me by the door, “You’ve been there for twenty minutes.”
We sit in a giant hall on the second floor – the street lamps draw lines on the ceiling; the lights are turned off and there’s no one else but us on the entire floor.
“I don’t know,” I stare at the golden lips, as I slowly turn the mask in my hands, “I’ll tell you later.”
“You don’t need to stay here anymore. Do you want to watch the fireworks? I want to watch the fireworks.”
A shadow appears on the wall in front of us. It changes its size, and it’s not an abstract blur anymore – it’s a silhouette of a man. He goes up to the third floor, and I know who it is. I hide behind my mask.
“I’ll go for a tour… around the house.”
“I can go with you,” Silvia puts her hand on my lap.
“I need to be alone… for a little while.”
My shadow graces the wall.
Four arched windows disperse the darkness of the third floor. I touch my right shoulder and unfasten one of the aiguillettes. I wrap the braided cord around my gloves and move further towards the strip of light under the bedroom door.
“I told you that I want to rest. Why are you so stupid, Livia?” an answer to the door’s squeaking.
I see his back; he sits on a bed; I only need to take five steps to get to his neck. I take the first one and hesitate. He doesn’t.
“You.” The gun barrel stares at me. “Have a seat.” It points at one of the chairs by the fireplace.
I sit down and study the canopy bed. I look at the door that leads to another room, then at the cord around my hands –my impromptu garrotte just turned into handcuffs.
“Won’t even show your face to your own father?”
“You are not my father,” I mutter through clenched teeth.
“Oh, Virgin Mary in heaven! I can barely hear you in this stupid mask. You think I don’t know who you are?” He stands up and then sits down on the corner of the bed to face me, “I don’t know what was the purpose of your little trick with the fake name and fake ID, but it didn’t work. I can get any information I want about any man in this country. I am the only reason why you are here. I chose you as my entertainment from a number of applicants. I know who you are, I know where you’re staying. I know everything about you.”
I shake my head in denial – that’s the only thing I could do.
“You got kicked out of the gymnastics team at nineteen; dropped out of the University two years ago. Studied some bullshit… communications, public relations? What’s next,” he leans forward, “cleaned houses in Switzerland for a year and a half. And now you are here. And the only thing I don’t understand is,” he spreads his hands, “why?”
The words burn through my throat, “I want to kill you.”
“You? You are the assassin?” I hear a short click coming from the safety lever of the gun and another one from the hammer, “Who hired you? My wife? I know the bitch wants me dead.”
Those last words turn my despair into desperate rage. I scowl at the man, “No one hired me. I came on my own.”
Another click – the pistol is decocked now, “Well, well, well. That’s interesting.” He spots a metallic cord wrapped around my hands, “I see. Eighteen years passed and you finally decided to avenge your mother.” He coughs and clears his throat, ”Let me tell you one thing, girl. Your mother made a mistake – she went to the police. And she paid for it. She was a mistake, to begin with, but the flesh is weak, what can I say.” He shows me his open palms, one with the pistol in it, “You are a mistake too. And, to tell you the truth, if you were a boy, you would’ve followed your mother to heaven much sooner. Looking at you now, I understand that I needed to be more open-minded.” Two clicks again, “You know, I respect you for what you tried to do today. But, coming here, this whole masquerade,” he makes a twisting motion with both hands, “this is your mistake. I’m going to fix all of them today – yours and mine.”
Giovanni Potenza stands up. He takes three steps and aims his gun at me. I know that I can’t do anything, and if there is life after death – I’ll meet my mother soon. But I know that there’s nothing after death, not even a void. Your existence ends, but so does the pain and the heartbreak. At the last moment of my life, I will not let the fear reign over me. I glare at my death with my head held high.
“You have your mother’s eyes.” He sits down on the bed and shows me to the door with his free hand, “Get up. Get out. And if I ever see you again, you will be dead before you see me. Never cross my path again, you little fuck.”
The orange tiles of the roof look colorless at night. The light flickers on the distant island, or maybe it’s the big land; the cold winter air surrounds me and freezes my sorrow. Maybe I am a mistake that should’ve never happened. And if one man gives himself a right to decide the fate of the others, then I’m already dead, only my death was delayed by eighteen years.
A rocket wheezes to the night clouds and explodes, lighting up the sky, making Venetian roofs appear green. The crowd on the street cheers and follows the second rocket with their gaze. For a moment the whole city turns white. The third explosion paints the world red. Blood red.
I jump to my feet and make my way to the hatch in the roof. It’s time to fix my mistake. Another explosion blasts through the city skies, as I run through the corridor lit by the yellow light of fireworks to the room where I was held at gunpoint fifteen minutes ago. I’m not scared, for a dead man has no fear. I don’t need a garrotte anymore – I’ll kill him with my bare hands.
Ten more steps, one turn around the corner. A black and white figure leaves my father’s bedroom. I know her way too well by now – it’s my harlequin twin.
“Oh, mierda! You scared the shit out of me!” Silvia jumps and shows with her hands that I really, but not literally, scared the shit out of her.
My eyes are as large as the silver plates from the first-floor buffet.
“Have a look,” she whispers and points inside the bedroom.
“He kills us if he finds out that we were here,” I move as stealthy as I possibly can.
“Well, no. He won’t kill anyone anymore.”
He lies face down, in a pool of his own blood, with a gun by his hand and a hole in his temple. The bottom lip of his half-opened mouth touches the floor. His eyes stare at the bottom of the opened door.
“Suicide. Well, looks like suicide.”
“Let’s say I was looking for you, then I heard the gunshot… You know what? I’ll tell you later…” her hand takes mine, “we’d better get out of here.”
Silvia leads me to the stairs. The fireworks on the quay light our way to the first floor and mute our footsteps. Silvia constantly looks around and moves with quiet precision, but it seems that the palazzo is completely abandoned: no guests, no artists, no security. We pass the silent metal detector and make our way outside through the same old door we entered through.
The tiny alley is full of people who were attracted by the display of pyrotechnics. We blend in and move to the bridge over a canal. The crowd thins as we move through the narrow streets of midnight city until we are left alone on a quiet embankment.
“Give me your shoes,” Silvia looks at the pitch-black water.
I take off my boots – if you ever wanted to see harlequins in wool socks, you missed your chance this February. I hear two splashes, then another two; the suede absorbs the water, and our boots now swim with the fishes.
“Now let’s move as casually as if we’ve never seen a dead mafioso… until our feet freeze off.”
We reach the steps of our hotel in ten minutes; the surrounding darkness looks the same, as if we never left, only the human waves look milder.
“Socks,” Silvia commands and I follow.
The door of our room is locked behind us; I take my gloves off and I hear how they join the socks in the toilet: they’re on their way to the septic tank or, maybe, the closest canal.
“Done,” my partner walks out of the bathroom and removes her mask. “The masquerade is over. Finally!”
I’m pressed into the wall, as I start to feel that my whole body is shaking. I fall on the floor – I don’t have anything inside me to stand on the ground; there’s no energy and no will; I’m emotionally drained and dehydrated.
“Nonono, that will not do,” Silvia runs to her bag and takes out a chocolate bar and a bottle of water. She frees me from my motionless face to reveal the faceless one, “There you go.” She holds the bottle while I’m gulping the precious sweet liquid and feeds me tiny pieces of chocolate.
The saving hands help me climb onto my bed, which feels much higher than I remembered it. She covers me with the blanket.
“Silvia…” I look at her warming red smile, “that man was my father… I wanted to kill my father.”
“Tía, you’re not well.”
“No,” I lift myself up and take her by the shoulders. “It’s true! He killed my mother, eighteen years ago, and I wanted my revenge, and this whole thing was a ruse, I wanted to strangle him with my aiguillettes but then he held me at gunpoint and told me to never cross his way again!”
“My poor girl,” she strokes my crown of braided hair.
“No, Silvia, no… they will look for us, they will find us!” I take her face in my hands.
I feel tender kisses on my cheeks and forehead as she gently puts me back on my pillow, “Nobody will look for us. Nobody. And if someone does, we’re just two little gymnasts who went back home when the fireworks started.” She hugs and kisses me again, “Your hands are clean.”
“Silvia…” I cry with dry tears, holding her as close to me as humanly possible.
“Let’s scrap this mask from your face,” she goes to the bathroom and comes back with the makeup remover. The gentle strokes of her hands free me from my disguise with the care of a sister I never had. A few more touches loosen my hair.
“Now you’re just a beautiful Italian girl who doesn’t need to hide from anyone.”
She turns off the light and lies beside me, protecting me with her arms from the whole world.
On the second day of the Carnival, the sun reached Venice and shined through the windows of our hotel room. No one was looking for us. No one was looking for us while I was taking the morning shower, ate my breakfast, and packed my bag. No one was looking for us when we took the last tour around the golden streets of the city, but many people saw me smiling and laughing at the jokes and antics of Silvia.
Her train arrives on time. I give her a hug and a myriad of kisses, and if it was possible to hug someone for the eternity of her existence, I would’ve done that.
“Thank you. Thank you for saving me… tía,” I kiss her again and again.
“I’ve done nothing, nothing at all,” her hazel eyes shine so brightly in the morning sun, “but if someone ever tries to hurt you… send me a message.”
I’m standing alone in the blue, grey, and gold of the railway platform, as the morning sun invites me to float anywhere I want.