Plinio had fallen in love with a statue, and it wasn’t even a pretty one. She, the statue, stood in what had been part of a small piazza but was now a funny, abrupt little alley where a warehouse and the back of a girl’s school touched roofs. She was in corner between the two buildings, where for hours after every rain, water drizzled onto her upraised forehead.
She was no historical figure, just an anonymous seller in the fish market, holding eels in one hand and looking up with an expression of wonder as though the sun had just come out after a storm. She was not a young woman, although she still looked young enough to bear children.
Plinio taught Latin at the girl’s school to girls who didn’t like Latin and weren’t good at it, and he had been driven nearly crazy seeing the statue at the end of the alley every morning and evening, often with old rainwater drizzling onto her face. So he had gotten in the habit of going to her before going home and standing there beside her for a while. It was peaceful to watch the shadows climb the rough gray walls of the warehouse, to listen to the distance-garbled laughter of the girls, sometimes to feel a gentle evening rain gradually weigh down his clothes.
The girl’s school closed during the war, but after a few decades it was thought a good idea to start it up again. The new school did not teach Latin, but did teach sex education, which the girls didn’t like any better.
Sometimes, when they were let out to play in the afternoons, a group of the girls would gather to sit and talk and chew gum by the statues in the little alley behind the school. The statues always made them think of romance, and boys, and how far apart those two things were. It wasn’t that the figures were beautiful, or that they were kissing or anything. It was just that the skinny gentleman was holding his book out over the eel woman’s head so that when it rained and water dripped down from the roofs, she was kept dry. And she, for her part, looked up at him with an expression of wonder.
One of the girls, Antonia, said she thought she was falling in love with him. The other girls laughed with embarrassment and delight.
As he died, Albert’s only regret was that he would soon be the subject of this ridiculous story.
Raven-haired from the womb, Anan Muss was a swimmer, circling the same lane eleven months out of twelve for a dozen years. The pool chlorine bleached his hair. After high school, he quit. The hair on his head went back to its natural color while his eyebrows remained a bleached sandy blonde. His classmates asked why he dyed his hair, or had he received gene therapy to look more like Lizard Breath? His brothers thought his eyebrows were turning gray.
Was it Anan’s imagination, or were his eyes now covered in scales? Perhaps the increased number of Lizard Breath spottings made him nervous. What at first seemed simple petty arson was now looking more complicated and sinister.
Anan Muss jogged long distances, slowly. He plodded through quiet, unpopulated industrial districts to soothe his mind. In case thieves happened by, Anan left his wallet at home, giving no one any reason to molest him. One night, after three years of jogging the same route, Anan was arrested. The cops escorted him around town, to an officer who didn’t think Anan was the suspect since the suspect wore different clothes and was of a different species—if not phylum. The friend of the suspect did not recognize Anan (nor did Anan recognize the friend). However, since Anan did not have a wallet on him, ergo, he must be the arch-criminal, Lizard Breath, who exhaled methane gas and set it ablaze with his cigarette lighter. When DNA samples came back negative, the cops let Anan go, with reluctance. As Anan waved goodbye, he found two pits where his ears had been. Where had he last seen his ears, the cops wanted to know.
From vending machines, Anan picked up a newspaper at a café and, like everyone perversely fascinated by the criminal element, bought a cigarette lighter. Idly, he flicked the flint lighting mechanism. It took more dexterity than he had supposed. He spread the newspaper before at one of the tables under the glare of the sun. The misdeeds of Lizard Breath were now ubiquitous as well as notorious. Entire buildings had gone up in flames. Criminal profilers suspected a syndicate. Anan raised his head from the newspaper accounts of Lizard Breath to contemplate why someone would do such a thing. A woman slapped him for scoping her out. He belched and lit his breath on fire.
So I found this sword out back behind that abandoned building on Third Street where I shouldn’t have been playing, my mother says. I’m always going where I shouldn’t go, and it’s my own fault, she says. I told you someday you’d get yourself in a bunch of trouble, she says, and there you are.
But it was right there, lodged in concrete all the way up to the hilt. And you know, I know what that means. I didn’t want it. But it shook when I touched it, and then it came loose when I pulled. Just a tiny tug and there was this sword in my hand, and it wasn’t even shiny. I had to drag it home behind me. I left a groove in the sidewalk, all the way up to our front door. I split the stairs in two.
My mother came out and she said, “Where did you get that? You put that back where you found it!” I lifted the sword, and her words fell right down between us on the old braided rug. My brothers said, “No fair! Give it!” and they tried to take it from me, but I couldn’t let go. It was my sword, even though I didn’t want it. It’s my sword, and I can’t give it back.
I left it at the bus stop, but it was on my bed when I got home. I tried to put it back in the rock, but the building is gone. I tried to give it to a homeless guy, but he told me he didn’t believe in violence and did I have any change? Ravens follow me. They hang like black moss from the tops of street lights and the chimneys of the apartment building across the street.
An old man came out at me from behind a mailbox yesterday. He had a beard down to his belt and wild eyes. I didn’t mean to—he came at me so fast, and the sword is easier to lift the more I lift it, and I forgot to get milk. I just ran all the way home. I hid the sword under my bed. I did my homework. I wish I knew what he wanted. The sword isn’t even shiny. My brothers say, “You think you’re so fancy, Eileen, with your destiny,” but I’d like to see them try it.