jump to navigation

Part 4 July 31, 2012

Posted by Sobek in News.


Shortly before the earthquake, a young nun with a pretty face finished her shift and left the hospital.  Her name was Chiara, and as she is important to this story, now would be a good time to introduce her more fully.

[Part 3 is here]

Chiara has actually appeared in these pages already, but the reader can be forgiven for not remembering.  When Peter was rushed into the emergency room, late at night, delerious from pain, surrounded by a chaotic swell of strangers, his fever brain briefly registered a young nun with a pretty face sitting behind a counter, but he never remembered seeing her afterwards.  That was Chiara.  If you don’t remember, you can’t be blamed for that, because at the time she was nothing more than a figure in the background, a set of features with no name or personality.  That’s probably how the human brain deals with the vast majority of the people during a normal lifetime.  There simply isn’t the time or need to remember everyone, so if you’re in a hurry, or thinking about something else, or if you’re sick in a hospital, it won’t matter that each person you disregard is an individual, with a real past, a real identity, real hopes and dreams and life.

Chiara’s hopes had seemingly focused on a young man named Franco, a politically active idealist from a very prominent family.  But three years ago, Franco broke off their engagement without an explanation.  Chiara’s parents were worried about how their nineteen-year-old daughter would react to her first real heartbreak, but it seemed there was no reaction at all.  No one ever saw Chiara crying, or throwing out her mementos, or talking about the four years they had been together.

No, it’s not quite right to say there was no reaction: within a few months, Chiara took orders as a nun and learned to be a nurse.  That may seem a drastic reaction, and in most cases it probably is.  But everyone who knew Chiara thought she behaved more like it was a career move.  Didn’t that indicate something was wrong with her?  How could such a young girl, who had been dating the boy she planned to marry for four years, simply shrug her shoulders and become a nun?  Or did that indicate some kind of maturity, that she would seek to heal her pain through service to others, and dedication to Christ through the Holy Church?  But she had never seemed like the religious type before, and in her new role, she didn’t speak like she had a new missionary zeal.

Whatever was going on inside her head, her shift was over, so she stepped out into the warm night air of a Chieti summer and felt the thick atmosphere fill her lungs.  The pizzerias and street vendors had closed down hours ago, but the smells lingered on and drifted through the snaking city streets.  To the east, the hill of Chieti Alto plunged quickly into the broad, dark plain that, somewhere in the distance, ended into the sea.  There were no more than a dozen pale yellow lights out there in an ocean of nothingness.  Off to the northeast, she could barely see the dim glow of Pescara, the largest city around.  All around her, the houses were dark and slumbering.  The streetlights glowed quietly down, and turned the infinite sky into a starless slate.  The warm oxygen wrapped around her like a blanket and made everything feel small, contained, confined.

The streets were not empty, even at this dark hour.  A few miles away, the busy Corso still had some pairs of friends or lovers arm in arm, endlessly walking back and forth, or else small groups of young boys whose parents didn’t know or care what they did on these short summer nights, or (rarely) some lone walker who couldn’t or hadn’t found a friend to join the endless circumambulation.

This is a scene you can find pretty much anywhere in Italy, with greater or lesser throngs of people depending on the local population.  What is much more unusual is to see a crowd of people at a hospital, yet that is what Chiara saw.  Now she would not have remarked the hospital workers – the bored ambulance drivers waiting for a call, the tired nurses and angry janitors who had stepped outside to smoke – because no one notices people who are where they are supposed to be.  But there was a small crowd here, maybe forty people, with no obvious connection to the hospital and no other reason to be milling about on this narrow street, far from Corso and the city center and the shops (which were all closed in any event).  Chiara looked until she saw two pup tents on the hard sidewalk across from the hospital, with five or six people around each, looking alert but not obviously engaged in anything specific.

She saw Franco at the same time Franco saw her.

“Ciao Chiara, are you just finishing your shift?”


“Good.  It’s late.  You should go home.”  Franco kept looking around, then back at his former fiancee.

“That’s what I was about to do.”

“Good.  It’s late,” he repeated.  Chiara studied his face, wondering what drove the odd mix of agitation and defiance she saw in his attitude.  “It’s best if you aren’t around,” he added, and then reversed himself: “you are going to want to see this.”

“See what?”

“It’s going to be something great.  You should definitely go home.”

“Who are these people?”

Franco looked around, suddenly aware that there was a group of people congregating in front of the hospital.  “Them?  Listen, Chiara, something important is going to happen.  If you stick around you’ll see it.”

“What is it?”

Franco was twenty-one, two years older than Chiara, and he proudly sported the faint beginnings of what might one day bloom into a goatee.  (Compared to his schoolmates, he was practically one of the guys from ZZ Top.  He knew it, and he made sure they knew it.)  He was skinny and of medium height, and his pale face looked paler under his buzzed black hair.  Chiara knew he probably had a Che Guevara shirt on under his light jacket.

In his dress, Franco looked like he always did, but in his agitated state and darting eyes, Chiara saw something new.  This was a young man who had never looked anything less than completely self-assured, in control of every situation, the smartest kid in the room and probably in the building, and suffering the fools around him either because they were useful to him or else too stupid to really reckon with them.  He spoke often and enthusiastically about the future, but vaguely and sometimes in open contradiction.  When he wasn’t looking at Chiara, he stared at the hospital workers, and seemed confused by their existence.  He looked back at Chiara, saw her expressionless face and her lovely black eyes, knew the hair tucked under her habit was long and black and thick, and that it bounced hypnotically when she put it in a ponytail.  The ambulance drivers were smoking and looking across the street with only the slightest interest.  Chiara looked like she expected an answer to a question he had forgotten.  One of the janitors stubbed out a cigarette, wiped his hands on his filthy jumpsuit, thought for a bit, and fished out another smoke.  Chiara was still standing there, looking at him without emotion.

“Listen, Chiara, you know how I’m always…” but he trailed off again, for the first time in his life unable to finish a thought.  “Listen …”

Franco was not the only one who appeared confounded by the perfectly ordinary presence of ambulance drivers, nurses and janitors at a hospital.  The other members of the group, if they were members of a group at all, murmured to one another in their groups of two or three and gestured towards the hospital entrance or the workers outside.

“You should go home.  This isn’t the kind of place for someone like you.”

If anyone had asked Franco what he meant by “someone like you,” he would not have been able to answer the question.  But as it happened, Chiara did not ask, and there was no one else around to hear.

Then an earthquake rumbled down the valley of Chieti Scalo from somewhere in the north, shook the hill beneath the street and hospital, and knocked open a wire rat cage somewhere deep underground. Peter was asleep inside, so he didn’t feel it, but everyone standing outside did.  This was an ominous portent, indeed, and Franco wanted to make sure everyone around him knew it.

“Do you feel that?” he cried, both to the unexplained assembly and to the bewildered hospital workers.  “Do you feel that earthquake?  The time is coming to shake this whole city, and everyone will feel it!”  He thrust his fist in the air, which is what he assumed he was supposed to do after saying something so profound.  The group behind him knew they were supposed to react somehow, but didn’t know how, so some of them clapped, or pretended to cough, or tried not to look at anyone else.  “There’s a different sort of earthquake coming!” he called out.

Then he looked around for Chiara, maybe to tell her she should go home.  He saw that she was walking off into the warm summer night and disappearing into the winding streets.


1. BrewFan - July 31, 2012

By chapter 4 you’d think there would be some love making. It is Italy after all.

2. Michael - July 31, 2012

I read that entire thing without learning anything about the Chiara’s breasts and butt.

Sobek, you gotta up your game a little.

3. daveintexas - July 31, 2012

Chiara. Chieti?

When does Charro make an appearance? GOOTCHIE GOOTCHIE!

4. lauraw - July 31, 2012

the reader can be forgiven for not remembering…

…If you don’t remember, you can’t be blamed for that,

Just wanted to write and assure you that I am okay and wasn’t beating myself up over this.

5. Michael - July 31, 2012

Is there a way that you could work “Rolling In The Deep” into this story?

6. OBF - August 1, 2012

“Circumambulation” – Is that circumcision on steroids? An ambulence for Barnum and Bailey? I’d like to see someone work that word into a new verse of RitD.

7. Pupster - August 2, 2012

I only read the comments.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: