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Authors: John Domini

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Earthquake I.D.

Earthquake ID

John Domini

Dzanc Books
1334 Woodbourne Street
Westland, MI 48186
www.dzancbooks.org

Copyright © 2007 Earthquake ID by John Domini

All rights reserved, except for brief quotations in critical articles or reviews. No part of this book may be reproduced in any manner without prior written permission from the publisher.

Published 2013 by Dzanc Books
A Dzanc Books r
E
print Series Selection

eBooks ISBN-13: 978-1-936873-62-3
eBook Cover Designed by Awarding Book Covers

Published in the United States of America

The characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author
.

Acknowledgements

No amount of thanks can begin to express how much the support of Kate Gale, Mark Cull, and Red Hen Press have meant to this book.

Lettie Prell, likewise—though I must mention her crucial late reading.

Mark Shepherd, thanks for another bracing splash of a book cover. Rick Lovett, Valerie Grey, Reg Gibbons, Faye Bender, Connie Fischbein, Alexander Hemon, Lex Runciman, and Roxanna Khosravi, thanks for early readings.

Financial support came from the Northwestern University Center for the Writing Arts, Drake University, and the Metropolitan Arts Commission of Portland, OR.

To write about Naples is to inscribe on a palimpsest. That very image is an older one, from Peter Gunn, a British lover of the city. My cityscape was scratched across his, and across other renderings by Shirley Hazzard and Frances Steegmuller, by John Horne Burns and Gustav Herling, by William Morris and Thomas Belmonte…and Goethe, and Shelley…. really, no book can complete the list, not even the heartrending
Naples: 44
, by Norman Lewis. To all I say
grazie
, and
bravo
.

Among my Naples friends, the essential connection was Ognissanti, a visionary in terracotta. Also see the dedication, and spare a thought as well for my late father, born Vincenzo Vicedomini by the Piazza della Borsa, also called Piazza Bovio.

 

Sorella, fratello,
e tutti i cugini

 

Earthquake I.D
.

O heavens, that they were living both in Naples, The King and Queen there!

—The Tempest     

Chapter One

One good look at Naples on a map and Barbara began to wonder. This was weeks before the family got on a plane. Barb was still running the kids to springtime activities, and her husband, Jay, was tying up loose ends with Viccieco & Sons. One Friday her husband called from midtown to say he'd catch the later Bridgeport local, and when he did get home, Jay pulled from his ever-emptier briefcase a map big enough, unfolded, to cover the entire dining-room table. German make, the thing was four or five maps in one. You had inserts for the island of Capri and the excavations at Pompeii, for the inner city of first Greeks then Romans then, God knows, another ten ruling orders up through NATO. It was all Barbara could do to get her mind around the greater metropolitan semi-circle, the urban sprawl that curved around the Bay between volcanoes north and south. To the south was the more serious trouble, Vesuvius. The towns destroyed in the latest earthquake all lay near Vesuvius.

“We'll never be lost,” the father announced over the gathered bent heads. “Hey. I mean, never.”

But Barb had to wonder. For starters the thing was largely illegible, the distance key in kilometers and the indexes set up according to some obscure Teutonic notion of what a traveler needed to know. The only words she recognized were Italian. This confusion extended even to the coloring, since each of the maps-within-maps had a border on the Bay. The water was a brilliant ceramic blue, a color that attracted the twin eight-year-olds. The two girls had to touch, cooing, but meantime the mother's bewilderment gave way to worse. Against the ubiquitous sea the city center was always depicted in yellow, whether shown from a distance or in close up, and either way, to Barb it started to look like a gaping maw the color of pus. The few highways that threaded the area were blood red, and the metropolis itself presented lips spread wide for a love-bite. There was a bit of tongue, the peninsula on which stood the Castel Del'Ovo. Barbara stood faced with a soul kiss full of disease.

And who was expected to return the kiss? The mother thought of her church work. Who was playing Jesus to this leper? She and the rest of her family, that's who. The husband she'd stood by for nearly twenty years and their five Lulucita children.

There at the dining-room table, tugging at the armpit and belt of a perfectly good spring dress, she managed eventually to wrestle down her worries. She convinced herself, by the time the map was put away, that the family wasn't in fact throwing itself into something grotesque and beyond diagnosis. What she just thought she'd seen must've had more to do, rather, with all the sore spots that preceded the move. Some of those spots weren't entirely free of infection themselves, yet. Barbara was still troubled by their failed attempt at adoption over the winter.

And anyone had to wonder, didn't they, about a longtime solid provider like her Jaybird abruptly quitting his vice-president's chair? About him accepting, instead, a position in the quake-relief effort, very much not-for-profit? Barb had agreed to the move, granted. Nonetheless she and Jay had hashed out their reasoning in yet another foreign language. They'd exchanged vague talk, vague and abortive, about how “a fresh perspective” might be good for them. This when, over in Naples, Jay would be working with the most volatile of the region's many quasi-legal populations. He'd been stationed at a facility for the people who were homeless before the quake. The boat people, most of them not long out of Africa.

Anyone would feel concerned. Anyone might see a horror show coming. And when Jay was hit and robbed their first day in the Mediterranean city—a quick mugging for such a big man, and a clean sweep of the family's contracts and credit cards and passports—Barb could only think: I
knew it
. The family could never survive such confusion. There in Naples, they'd come to the end of everything.

The muggers on the other hand had used the local scarring for camouflage. Their bike roared out of an alleyway, out from under the scaffolding of reconstruction, clearing a shot through the downtown crowd. Weekday crowd, early June, broad daylight. Somehow the thieves knew the exact moment and corner at which the family would present the easiest pickings. A number of streets in lower Naples remained walkable, if a person was willing to share space with jackhammers and power coils. This particular
vicolo
got a lot of foot traffic, and the intersection had forced Barbara's family to walk single file, with Jay and his refilled briefcase at the rear. You could swear the attackers knew precisely where and when.

They cleared a shot, the
motorino's
two riders, jammed together like lovers. Their closing in and gunning away might've been a single inhale and exhale.

No one saw what the crooks used to whack the man. There were two blows, the first with the full momentum of the bike behind it. But this was explained later, by doctors astounded at Jay's condition. At the time, Barb only heard a sound like clapping your hands around a soggy washcloth. What turned her to look was a stranger noise out of Jay's throat, a strangled shout and whimper the likes of which she hadn't heard since their first lovemaking.

She turned and took a blow herself, a hit to one breast. An elbow caught her, and as the cycle roared away the pain flared in her mind's eye in the shape of one attacker's kite-like blue bandanna—the lone bit of evidence the family would have for weeks to come. Barbara whirled in the eddy of the blow, that breast jarred out of its bra, so that her flag-bright pain was threaded with the shaming tickle of the nipple against her summer shirt, a shaming exposure; she saw the entire family half-naked and staggering here in the middle of a downtown crowd, under close-crowding palazzi. Then there was Jay, changing shape. Her husband shrank as if to fit the out-of-date street, as if finally and suddenly he'd lost the wide American back built up during varsity football and summer jobs on the highways. The hand that had held the briefcase began to purple, waggling, helpless, another bandanna aflutter above the thronging Smartcars and three-wheeled trucks, and all the other bikes, roaring but harmless.

“Mother of God!” she screamed.
“Mother
of God!”

Then: “No more. I can't. No way.”

Meaning, no way things should have come to this, no way she could live with this—this had to be the end of everything. A shocking thought, far removed from the person she'd believed herself to be. Yet the idea took over even as Barb moved towards the shrinking male heap in its bright summer-weight clothes. The two of them could no longer share a life. They had to divorce.

She came close enough to glimpse the damage alongside Jay's ear, the blood down one twitching cheek. But she couldn't bring herself to touch him. She knelt as if protecting herself, bracing her hands on her legs, easing into the cobblestone grit. Every move gave shape to her cold new certainty: for years now she'd preferred the family over the marriage. For years she'd found it hard labor, harder every day, sorting out a household with this highhanded money-maker. In these recognitions, too, Barbara suffered a horror at what she needed to do next. A shame as bad as the scratching at her nipple, for this undeniable future set her apart from the good woman she'd been. A loving mother and a solid citizen, one of the faithful who put in hour after volunteer hour down at the Holy Name Samaritan Center—that person too was toppled and stripped.

On her knees, on the stones, Barbara sought her kids. She rediscovered her youngest first, the twins Dora and Sylvia. Before the attack she'd been warning the girls to stay close, and now in no time she had her fingers in their hair again. Wonderful, that elementary-school hair. As for Barb's two oldest, to find those she needed only look over her shoulder. John Junior, seventeen, had started elbowing through the sudden knot of onlookers after the thugs (but the boy was kidding himself, the thieves were gone for good: the bandanna had kited off, the briefcase was gone, and this was the end), while behind JJ trailed Chris. Her second-born was fifteen, less of a force at moving people out of his way but determined nonetheless. Like his big brother, though, Chris hadn't bothered to run.

So that was the youngest hugging her belly, the oldest not going far. Between these two pairs, Paul at first went overlooked. Didn't he always? Paul was the middle child, in middle years, eleven. Barb and Jay had fallen into nervous joking about how they'd done with him. “Guess we got Worst Parents of The Year on that one.” “Worst Parents of the Millennium, I'd say.” Now while the family fell apart, the end of the world on the first day of their new lives, Paul was the only child who'd kept his place. He remained on the sidewalk, the raised step that passed for a sidewalk, a block of stone that had once allowed a plebe to stand out of the way of a passing chariot. Maybe Barb had missed Paul because he stood against one of those parish posters that ask prayers for the recent dead. The poster colors matched the slim boy's perpetual outfit: white dress shirt, black permanent-press pants.

He was staring past Barb at his fallen father. Later the mother would ask herself if she'd noticed anything in Paul's face. The best she could recall, he looked the way he always did—barely with it. But it was after checking on the middle child that Barb at last took a moment for the man laid out before her. She got her hands on him.

The first shudder through her was the same chill of conviction she'd suffered the moment Jay was hit. She had to be rid of him. She'd been kidding herself, and so had he; by the time they'd boarded the flight to Naples, yesterday, they'd been dead and finished as a family for months at least. But then a different kind of trembling came over her. Barbara discovered her husband, her soon-to-be-ex-husband, was twitching under her hands. For the first time she saw how badly he'd been hurt.

Beside one ear blood was seeping so thickly that it had flowed uphill, into that eye-socket, as well as down across Jay's face and onto the hand-hacked stone. Barb might even have smelled the blood, through the pervading volcanic dust. Might've been the blood, might've been an unfamiliar sweat, dung-like, involuntary as the spasms that racked the man. Some serious head-bone had been broken, some connection in the motor control. At the center of the temple, where the muggers had hit first, a wedge of interior membrane bulged up, gray, blue-gray, not quite drowned in blood.

Jay twitched and Barbara too, another prickle through her unslung breast. Her husband's mouth was working, puckering, but Barb hadn't heard him make a sound since that first impossible, orgasmic cry.

“Mama?” asked one of the girls clinging to her. “Is Papa all right?”

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