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The Floating BookA Novel of Venice
By Lovric, Michelle
distilled upon my lover via Venus and Cupid
that when you smell it
you'll be on your knees,
begging the Gods to make you
In certain light-suffused mists, Venice deconstructs herself. One sees faint smears of silhouettes, and in these the architect's early sketches: the skeletons of the palazzi as he saw them on paper when they were only dreams. When the haze lifts, those buildings swell again with substance, as if freshly built. But until that happens the Venetians nose their way around their city.
In the thickened air every stink and every fragrance is unbearably intensified. The canals smell of billy goat and grass clippings, the ever-present steam of sea-louse soup smells of dark sea caves, the babies smell of mouse holes, and the women smell of what they desire.
When the sea vapor blanked the town in those days, the streets were dark; only the cesendoli, little shrines to the Madonna, remained perpetually lit, and a few lamps under the arcades until the fourth hour of the night. The unpaved streets lurched rutted and holed; the wooden bridges were prone to collapse unexpectedly, rendering the mist, already churning with possibilities of dangerous and wonderful encounters, more threatening and more exciting.
The fog swallowed noises,belching soft echoes of them. Rocking like a sleeping crib on the water, the city cocked a blind ear, sniffed like a mole. On days like that, men and women shuffled through their town like sleepwalkers, their nostrils flared, their toes splayed and all their animal senses acutely alert.
The fog created intimate pockets, making impromptu couples of people who merely passed in the street, uniting for brief moments lantern sellers, fried food hawkers, wool beaters, mask makers, fabric stretchers, caulkers. It parted to reveal instantaneous tableaux that soon disappeared again in the vapor -- a fat flute player who looked like a constipated but hopeful baby puckering up his lips for the spoon; scuole of battuti -- flagellants who, veiled and bare-backed, per-ambulated the city scourging themselves with iron chains and birch branches; a cat and her husband in the business of procreation.
Or, out of the mist might loom the face of a large, grinning pig. It was not long since the Senate had outlawed the vagrant Tantony boars that still caused havoc in the streets. The pigs, supposed to be fed by the charity of the faithful, were but loosely tended by the monks of San Antonio. The beasts had grown fat and fierce by merely helping themselves to whatever food they wanted. When the mist soused their bristles, they grew skittish, knocking unsuspecting passersby into the freezing canals.
On days like that, the men who loved Sosia Simeon wondered what she was about, because they knew her. They knew that on a whim, she would betray them all without a thought. And so she was doing, in the first thick autumn mist of 1467, with a middle-aged nobleman she had just passed in the fogbound ghost of a back street in the Misericordia.
She had seen a needy cast in his green eyes and the telltale hollow of his breast as he wove out of the fog: he himself might not know it, but Nicolò Malipiero, it was plain to Sosia, was in need of a woman. Instantly, she had opened her cloak just a little so that her warm and somewhat feral smell could visit his nose. Her scent traveled through the soft white vapor, tangible as a prodding finger.
Sosia's nobleman was bulky as a boar himself and awkward with his weight. As Sosia approached him, he gasped. She slowed her pace, lingering on her left foot, looking into his eyes. The nobleman made a whimpering noise, then an unaccustomed swift move, turning around to pull at her wrist. His red senatorial robe spun round them like a wave of blood.
"Who are you?"
"I am Sosia."
"Are you ...? Do you ...?"
"Are you Venetian?"
She said nothing, but drew him into an alleyway, and parted her cloak. The mist isolated them in an instant. He shuddered between her legs, staring into her eyes, which she then closed briefly, twisting on his stalk as if trying to pinch a wildflower from its grasses. He cried out, biting his tongue, but it was the most pleasure he had ever experienced. Tears transpired on his cheeks.
He felt no relief, having had her. Nicolò Malipiero was still asking, again, When? How much? as the liquid cooled on her thighs and they stood breath-close together in the doorway, cocooned in the mist.
Sosia said: "Decide what I'm worth, you do that."
"I cannot do this. I must know you. This is ... important." The tone of his voice rose in an uncertain shameful whine.
Silently, she moved to go, restless as a squirrel in his arms. She was as foreign a woman as he had seen or heard. The Venetian courtesans were many and various in their styles, but he had not been with such a one before. Her accent disturbed him; she disturbed him. She had no grace or tenderness to her, none of the motherly kindness of some whores, not even an eye on the commercial possibilities of another encounter.
"When will I see you again?"
"How can I know that?"
"Come to my studiolo tomorrow. It will be empty."
He fastened his hand on her wrist and whispered the directions in her ear.
"Here's the key." She reached out for it, revealing the yellow badge fastened to her elbow. He gasped but she had slipped the key under a wing of her cloak without looking at it, and was gone.
Of course she did not arrive the next day, when Nicolò Malipiero lay shivering under the blankets of ermine and bear that he had bought to examine and love her upon ... Continues...
Excerpted from The Floating Book by Lovric, Michelle Excerpted by permission.
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