The Everlasting by Katy Simpson Smith

The Everlasting by Katy Simpson Smith

Author:Katy Simpson Smith
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: HarperCollins
Published: 2020-03-24T00:00:00+00:00

Aldo the lab assistant was eating a bag of chips in the corner. He’d been helping with the mammalian subjects, i ratti, but was weak-stomached; they shifted him to the environmental sciences room, where it was believed nothing untoward happened. He mostly sat on a tall stool in the corner, snacking and taking notes. There was a suspicion he was working on a novel.

“Vai in vacanza?” he asked, one cheek pouched with chips.

Tom switched off the lights above a batch of small aquaria. “Cosa?”

Aldo repeated himself, then mimed swimming underwater. “You are preoccupato. I think maybe vacation.”

“You think I should go on vacation?”

“I can do this.” The young man gestured at the rows of tanks. “È facile.”

Tom laughed. The kid just wanted a raise. No, he assured him, he could perform his own duties.

Aldo shrugged, resumed his snack. Lazy bites.

And wasn’t Rome his vacation? [Rome is a dream; its cobbles are slick with sweat and lust, the stuff of sleep. You cannot move forward here, only up or down. Down: the Hadrian-built Aelian Bridge went tumbling in 1450, when the weight of jubilant Jubileers exceeded its architect’s wildest prophecies—the Tiber pulled under 172 souls. Up: above the Domus Aurea rose Trajan’s baths, and above that a neo-fascist club, and soon a 22nd-century Museo di Migrazione, paid for by the profits from genetically modified seeds. Or is it down: twenty-five feet below the building where the opera stores their sets, a Mithraeum abutted the Circus Maximus, so bulls bought at market could be slaughtered over grates, the blood dripping down onto nervous ancient heads. Or is it up: from the Castel Sant’Angelo, for centuries, fireworks dizzied over feast days, papal elections, pilgrimages—handprints in the night over the Tiber, over the 172 drowned souls. You cannot vacation in a phantasm.]

He finished shutting off the lights, giving one last swirl to the ostracods in their domains. Aldo was filling out the checklist left behind by the department chair. Tom lifted his satchel from a lab table and said, half jokingly, “Now, vado in vacanza!”

“Prova la Sardegna.”

Outside, a greenfinch rustled in the stone pine above him. He sat on a bench near an overgrown oleander and pulled the fishhook from his satchel. A young woman was guiding a group of visitors along the diagonal path that cut across the cortile. He hadn’t thought they’d give the same kind of admissions tours as American universities, but there she was, walking backward while speaking with great animation. A woman in the group was writing in a small notebook and wearing a green skirt, and this combination caused an unexpected ache in his heart—no, his hand—and when he looked down he saw that he’d clenched his fingers around the hook. Blessed literalized feeling.

It had only left a red groove in his palm, but he took the barbed end and began stroking the heel of his hand, lightly at first, then hard enough to be ashamed of what he was doing, then harder. The skin was thicker here, but he couldn’t abandon the pressure.


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