The Song of The Gondolier

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Happy Valentine’s Day!

Even if you don’t buy into the commercial pressure to conform to textbook definitions of romance, and even if you’re one of those who says “I don’t need a day to love my [fella] / [gal] / [parrot], I can love them every day” – you can’t deny it’s fun to get bubbled up in a froth of giddiness! And if you’re single – go out and flirt for goodness’ sake!

Here is a short story I wrote about a disenchanted couple trying to stir some romance back into their lives. If romance can’t be ignited by stinking canals, overabundance of tourists and a dog licking its own penis, then it can’t be ignited by anything. Enjoy.

The Song of the Gondolier

by E. A. A. Wilson

Ah, Venezia bella. Imagine the labyrinth of architecture enveloping the charming little island city cut by crystalline canals. Narrow cobbled streets frame the gondoliers who paddle serene and winding canals. Listen! The gondolier serenades. His tones are soft, and the sound of the water at his oar as he glides a forward stroke is at once soothing and evocative.

This is where Mr. and Mrs. Grubfeldt were to rekindle the flames of their courting days, rediscover each other’s coital mysteries and once again embrace one another in the naked, fleshy inferno that is the true romance invariably strangled by marriage. For, after smelling her swollen husband’s body gases for nearing thirty-five years, Mrs. Grubfeldt finally snapped and demanded that he prove that his passions extended further than watching UFC and eating chicken wings dipped in butter. And to his unexpected credit, he got off his enormous behind and booked them a trip to Venice.

Within months (for spontaneous romance of this nature ought to be carefully prepared, outfits ought to be coordinated with shoes and exclamations such as “mi scusi, il cane sta leccando il suo pene”, ought to be perfected), Marty and Gail had checked into their hotel and dropped off the Louis Vuitton luggage Gail had bought for this purpose. On Gail’s insistence they were now seeking the pinnacle of bona fide Italian romance: The Gondola Ride. Gail’s bleached hair was newly permed, the camera was charged, and Mrs. Wazenski and Mrs. Cabot at the golf club would be most jealous upon viewing the photographic evidence of the Grubfeldts’ fiery new marriage.

They were carried along by the multicolored stream of tourists. A sea of T-shirts, baseball caps, backpacks, glow sticks and iPhones dipped and bobbed across the cobbles, and Gail and Marty fought their way through the mass, enduring other people’s elbows in their armpits. Bedraggled, they arrived at the line for the gondolas that the concierge at the hotel had pointed out on a map they had extracted from a vending machine.

“What’s that smell?” Gail screwed up her nose. “Sort of eggy mushrooms?” She made the same face she had made twenty minutes earlier on the other side of Piazzo San Marco when she had spotted a filthy Italian dog licking its tiny lipstick penis. “Oh God, Marty! It’s the canals!”

“What did you expect?” said Marty, a belch rolling out of his gullet as he spoke. “They’re toilets for Pete’s sakes. Pure piss.” He scrunched up the map and dropped it in the offending canal. It landed on a solid film of pollution.

“Please Marty, don’t be revolting. Oh dear, the magazine said the canals were crystalline. I wanted to see ‘the silhouettes of tiny fish playing in the wake of the gondola’.”

“There’s something floating over there, that could be a fish.”

Gail pressed a hand against her mouth to stem the rising nausea. She had a delicate frame and a fragile constitution. This was not romantic. She tried slipping her hand into Marty’s but he only grunted and stuffed his hands in his pockets.

“I hate tourists, Marty,” said Gail, dabbing her handkerchief against her cheeks. “Why do they have to ruin every romantic experience?”

“Damn foreigners,” grumbled Marty.

When they arrived at the front of the line and were about to board the one-way water journey to romance, Gail’s heart sank. He was, granted, wearing the red and white striped T-shirt as per Gail’s magazine, but she could see his nipple piercings through the material and she simply couldn’t forgive the jeans with a worn patch by the pocket where he clearly kept his keys. It was supposed to be romantic, not ordinary. Keys implied that the handsome gondolier had a house and maybe a fridge that he cleaned rotting vegetable juice out of from time to time, with other mundane needs of everyday life that certainly didn’t meet her vision. She pressed her lips together tightly.

“Buongiorno!” he sang, and opened his arms. Marty shouted something in return that was neither Italian nor English, and with a thud he stepped in to the narrow river boat, making it wobble and splashing eggy mushroom water into the hull. Gail covered her mouth with her handkerchief and held out her hand for Marty to help her in, but he was too busy settling his mass into the wooden pew to notice. He shuffled his weight around and released a vibrato of bodily gases.

Just as Gail prepared to scold her husband, a warm hand closed round her frail fingers. The gondolier helped her in with a smile.

“My name is Pio,” he said.

Gail sighed. Why couldn’t he have been called Giovanni, or Salvatore, or even Raffaelo?

Pio continued, still grinning. “You like cruise? We call this Italian cruise, no? Hah!”

“Now you look here, Luigi,” bellowed Marty. “We ain’t happy about payin’ you a hundred Euros for a boat ride, but we’ve been in that line for an hour. You better make this good.” And then with another burp, he added, “My marriage is on the line here.”

“Hah!” laughed Pio. “You want better price? For good price you go to Camp Sant Angelo, you find gondoliere sitting on stone steps that lead to San Stefano. He give you better price.” He put his hand on his heart and continued, “I, sadly, am regulated. But my friend, he charge whatever he wants!”

“Why in the hell would you tell us to go to your competitors?” asked Marty, his voice an octave higher than before. Gail settled in next to him and tried to snuggle up. He shrugged her off.

Pio just smiled, and soon Mr. and Mrs. Grubfeldt were gliding along the Grand Canal, with Pio navigating the heavy traffic of vaporetti, work barges, rubbish boats and all the every day traffic that made the pinnacle of bona fide Italian romance seem like the highway interchange back home in Dallas.

Pio didn’t serenade as he rowed. And neither did Marty. A hot dog wrapper floated past, and Gail watched as it bobbed and dipped in the gentle wake of the gondola. Then a droplet of water from Pio’s oar landed on it and it sank into the murky depths.

Pio’s muscles flexed as he manipulated the oar. A forward stroke and then a compensating backward stroke brought the gondola to a halt by the entrance of a brick house. Steps were leading from a door directly into the water. There was no rogue gondolier sitting on the steps, but there was a puddle of what looked like porridge and smelled like goat. Gail shrieked and grabbed her husband’s arm.

“What the hell are you stopping here for?” barked Marty. “You trying to rape us? You think I’m gay, you Ah-talian faggot?”

“No, no!” Pio laughed, holding his hands out in a gesture of gentility. “I bring you to Camp Sant Angelo like you say so you can get good price. You want to get out here? Nice architecture, molto bello! You get out here you pay me only twenty Euro, you wait for my friend Fico, he take you on his gondola. No? I keep going? Ok, I keep going.”

Soon after the Grubfeldts were almost raped by Pio at Camp Sant Angelo, they found themselves gliding along the canals described in Mrs. Grubfeldt’s magazine. Apartment blocks rose, with washing lines suspended between buildings and hosiery that was more colorful than necessary fluttered like the flags of European promiscuity. Gail shuddered. Though, if this trip succeeded in defrosting her marriage, she would perhaps invest in something silky, she decided.

“Ah, Ponte de Sospiri!” announced Pio. “The Bridge of the Sighs.”

An arch of carved white stone traversed the water between two giant billboards. “Ok, so you cannot see much of the bridge because of the billboards, but look, we have the picture of David Beckham!” Pio saluted David, who just pouted in return.

“We Italiano, we love football!” laughed Pio with a twinkle. “My team, Venezia, maybe one day we buy David Beckham, no?”

Marty grunted. “If by football you mean soccer, then it’s a sport for faggots and pussies.”

“Ah, the American faggots and pussies have good taste in sport.”

The gondola glided under the bridge, and Pio stopped rowing. He turned to his passengers, beaming.

“You kiss now. Kiss your lady, si? Give me your camera, I take photo. Kiss her! This is romantic, no?”

He took the camera out of Gail’s outstretched hand and began to poke at the touch screen display. “You kiss under the bridge! Very romantic. All the local Venetians do it, si, I promise.”

“I’m not going to kiss her with you looking at me like that, you faggot!” barked Marty. “You think I’m gay? Give me that!” He snatched the camera back, but the sudden shifting of his three-hundred pound bulk caused the gondola to rock and he flung his arms out to steady himself, sending the camera spinning through the air like a shot put. It smashed into the brick wall and thousands of pieces of shattered equipment rained into the brown water.

“Marty!” shrieked Gail. Tears were already spilling down her cheeks. “Oh, Marty, look what you did.” Protecting her newly permed hairstyle, she leaned over the side of the boat to reach for the camera strap that was floating beside them.

“No, signora! Leave it! It is dangerous to lean out of the gondola!” Pio stepped across and grabbed Gail by the elbow to steady her.

“Get your hands off my wife, faggot!”

“Signor, I try to help!”

“Only person touching my wife is me, you hear?” Marty grabbed hold of Gail and held her tight. “You just stick to sailing this boat, you’ve already lost me my camera and I don’t want you to lose me my wife.” He looked into Gail’s eyes, wet and bloodshot with clumps of mascara smeared into the lids. “I’m sorry,” he whispered, and kissed her on the forehead. “It was insured.”

“Hah!” laughed Pio. “You kiss your woman under Ponte de Sospiri! Very romantic!”

Gail blew her nose and stuffed the tissue back into her sleeve. “Just keep going, Pio.”

The gondola bobbed along until it came to a smooth stop in a water-based traffic jam between walls of damp brickwork. There were gondolas loaded with tourists jammed into the tight space with the Grubfeldts’ little black boat. A garbage boat emitted yellow fumes of rubbish, and a man sitting at the back of a vaporetto was playing an accordion over the sound of a tourist kid screaming.

“Honk, dammit!” demanded Marty. “Hey you! Get out of the way! We’re trying to get through here!”

“This music is beautiful ,” sighed Gail, trying not to smell the garbage boat. “Isn’t it, Marty?” She put her hand on his knee. Sensing something, Marty didn’t swat it away but instead placed his own over hers. “I’m not angry with you about the camera,” she continued, her voice still thick but much softer. “We don’t need it really—romance is about feeling, not seeing.”

“Get moving, Pio,” Marty growled as the gondola traffic jam slowly dispersed. “What are you waiting for?”

“Red light, signor,” smiled Pio. “I wait for it to change.”

Soon the swishing of the oar once again disturbed the sludgy water, and Gail leaned in to Marty and put her head on his shoulder. She closed her eyes.

Pio smiled, and began to hum.

Gail and Marty did not explore each other’s hot and fleshy mysteries in their hotel room that night. Instead they ordered room service and ate it in bed watching Oprah Winfrey. It’s also true that Gail went home with no photos to show Mrs. Wazenski and Mrs. Cabot of her beautiful perm against a backdrop of crystalline canals and Italian architecture. Marty continued to belch and fart for the remainder of their marriage. But ever since their romantic visit Marty and Gail Grubfeldt hold hands a little more often.

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Oops 2: The Critique

fear

 

If you read my last blog post you’ll know I accidentally sent a story about a boy disenchanted with the Catholic church to a Catholic publishing company, asking for a critique. Fearful of the slaughter I would be subject to, my amazing husband agreed to take the brunt of their fury and censor it for me before relaying the content . BUT eight minutes after he dropped me off at the airport my phone buzzed. An email from the Catholic publishing company. I was to spend a week 5000 miles away from my husband without him to protect me from the blazing fires. I had no choice. I had to read it myself. Unabridged. This is how a Catholic publishing house responded to my story:

Critique

God Turned Up Uninvited

I thoroughly enjoyed this memoir. It is original, and full of vivid detail and moving anecdotes. You deal with big questions in a grounded and authentic way. Both the process of disillusionment and that of forgiveness are convincing. Your prose style is attractively lyrical, witty and economical. The title and the first paragraph immediately create intrigue. Detailed critique below:

  • ” and I certainly never caress magical jewelry while uttering incantations” This graphic description shows up this practice very effectively.
  • Your fluent, confident voice convinces me of the impossible!  I love the precise detail of God’s arrival: ” sitting on the fallen trash can I hadn’t picked up in eight months”. The capitalisation of his elaborate title is great.
  • I didn’t understand  “burning cherry” – a joint perhaps?
  • I love how God answers in your own words: ” “Just to warm my divine hands on your fire,””.
  • ” I knew that was a sin, Ma had smacked me upside the head before for not keeping my eyes shut when I prayed.”  I’ve never heard that rule but I like your childish logic and sympathise with your uncertainty.
  • ” soggy cereal. It was like soft pieces of skin in lukewarm milk” – is a suitably disgusting image!
  • ” Father Murkowski new commitment” – should be “Murkowski’s”.
  • At the beginning the focus is on your mother. I thought you had no Dad but later you mention him. I wonder why he did not shovel the snow.
  • ” Even if I had something really funny to tell him, he wouldn’t laugh.”   Jimmy’s seriousness is touching
  • ” the heavy plumes of smoke bellowing”. Bellowing means shouting or roaring. Do you mean smoke billowing? (Author’s Note: Yes I do. Oops.)
  • ” I’m the space between everywhere and everything.”  Ooh that is a good answer!
  • ” which dribbled down my neck and down my collar.” – “under my collar” would save you repeating the word “down” and be more accurate. (Author’s Note: Good observation, I need to pay more attention to that in my writing)
  • ” excited, honored, humbled and unworthy” You capture that peculiar Catholic mix  of privilege and contemptible sinfulness.
  • ” Then, when he wasn’t smirking, he was staring at the service sheet which I knew concealed a smutty magazine.”  This is in stark contrast with the image of the solemn boy who wouldn’t even laugh at your jokes before Mass.
  • ” for bringing Father Murkowski his talismans and paraphernalia at different points of the ceremony.”  Your ability to paraphrase is refreshing!
  • ” picked up from Salvation Army” you need to carefully proofread your text to avoid omitting small but essential words – “the” here.  Reading your text aloud slowly will help you to catch these. (Author’s Note: Oops. Critiques are helpful!)
  • ” “But there are many ways up the mountain, aren’t there? Do you think Ma would be happy if she was as free as you? Thinking you know the best route to the top is a very dangerous philosophy.””  I found God a bit confused and contradictory here. (Author’s Note: Don’t we all?)
  • ” I suddenly realized I had no idea at what point we were at in the service.” this contradicts the earlier claim that you could “stand up and sit down at all the right moments” while daydreaming your way through the service. (Author’s Note: Ah, but Mickey had fallen asleep, and wasn’t in the congregation but at the altar, waiting to pass the cruets.)
  • Even though you had prepared us earlier in the piece, Jimmy’s death comes as a huge shock.
  • ” my eyes pressed so tightly together I could see stars in the hot redness of my mind” is powerful.
  • “standing, sitting, kneeling, crossing ourselves, repeating, mumbling.”  The litany of activities reinforces your feeling of futility about it all.
  • ” and ventured out into the adventures..”  The repetition of sounds doesn’t work. (Author’s Note: Oh yeah. It sounds awful.)
  • ” a routine to protect my Ma from her fear of the unfamiliar” – unfamiliar doesn’t seem to be a strong enough word here. But the list of grievances is convincing.
  • ” Since you are mostly space, then you are mostly Me.” I like God’s logic. The dialogue here is great.
  • The magical orange tree is wonderful.   A tree’s normal growth suddenly seems a miracle and of course there is a nice reference to Jimmy.
  • ” your faith in you is a lot more valuable than your faith in me” makes great sense.
  • I felt the waxy skin of an orange and squeezed the fruit. It squirted a fresh, acid citrus into the outdoor air. It was real, alright.”  I would suggest saving the fruit itself for the very end.
  • galaxies to ignite, eternities to measure” the first works, the second not. Why would he want to measure them?

My quibbles are mostly minor matters of word usage.  This is an accomplished and imaginative piece of writing. Well done and good luck in the next round of the competition.

Needless to say this constructive critique was a weight off my shoulders. And it made me wonder: what else is fear preventing me from doing?

Oops!

mistake2

I just made a pretty big mistake, and I reckon the Pope is going to be jolly pissed off.

And funnily enough it comes the day after I recently read Neil Gaiman’s advice for graduates. “Make mistakes,” he advises. “Make lots of mistakes. Because if you’re making mistakes, it means you’re out there doing something.”

I wonder if his advice to me would be the same if he heard what I just did.

If I could have anything in the world, it would be a career writing compelling fiction (and buckets of cash!) so naturally I’m doing all sorts of things trying to make that happen. Mostly misguided and confused things, but while I’m fumbling around blindly in this murky industry I’m at least giving it a jolly good punt!

My most recent endeavor is called The Foible (oh God, I just realized the irony!), which consists of a collection of short stories and parables aimed at reflecting the key message of the Bible; love a lot, be true, have faith, keep donkeys, etc. Of course, my stories take place in wildly more relevant settings (in my opinion, which qualifies as at least partly valid because I’m the writer).

I just wrote a piece called “God Turned Up Uninvited”. Anyone who has read it knows it’s not very Catholic Church friendly. Through the mind of Mickey, a young boy disenchanted with the futility of church practice, we explore the foibles of faith and belief. “I never caress magical jewelry while uttering incantations,” Mickey tells the reader. “I’m a terrible Christian.”

When God turns up Mickey is less than thrilled. “What do you want?” he snaps.

The story goes on to relate embarrassing and uncomfortable anecdotes from Mickey’s childhood at the clutch of the church, with his devout mother’s constant disappointment every bit as predictable as the ticking of a metronome.

When I finished writing the story, I gave it to three friends who I knew would be honest. The agnostic hippie said it totally rocks. The Jew said, in very few words, that it’s awesome.

The Catholic hated it.

This is a phenomenon known in this industry as foreshadowing.

Because when they had finished with it, I entered it into a memoir competition I had noted a few months earlier, before I even knew I was going to write this story down.

I clicked submit.

Feeling very pleased with myself and taking great pleasure in the ball of pride swelling in my abdomen, I poured myself a glass of cheap white plonk and sat back, grinning at the glare of the computer screen.

Then I spotted something. The website for the publishing house hosting the competition was still up. What had suddenly captured my confused attention was the company logo.

It was a fish. Not a scaly, slippery fish with glassy eyes and miserable gaping mouth, but one of those simple stick figure Jesus fish you see on bumper stickers all up and down the American Bible belt. Ah. Christians, then. But perhaps I was in luck, maybe they were the tolerant, open-minded liberal Anglican type.

With a stirring sense of unease, I looked up the location of this particular publishing house—and dropped my glass of plonk. They’re based in Ireland.

Jesus fish + Ireland = …

Oh Holy Blasphemous Christ, they’re Catholics! And as if that wasn’t enough, I remembered with sudden horror that just before clicking submit I’d checked the option for a full critique of the piece! What was I thinking? I never do that! What in God’s name had possessed me to pay extra for a critique now?

I couldn’t have just made the mistake of sending an anti-church story to a Catholic publishing house, I had to force them to really read it, and demand that they tell me, in the harsh and brutally honest style publishing companies adopt, exactly what they thought of it. They aren’t going to just reject it, I’ve given them the option to thoroughly murder it! Needless to say, for the foreseeable future I won’t be carrying umbrellas or brass keys attached to a kite string, or any other objects that can conduct massive bolts of electromagnetic charge.

So, Neil Gaiman, you who hope I make many mistakes this year – looks like I won’t be disappointing you! I think this giant blooper counts a whole lot towards my track record of terrible mistakes, and my reward will be plenty of teeth gnashing and tense wailing while I wait for the Catholic publishing house to tell me just what they think of my true story about how a young boy was failed by his church.

Oops.

Unpublished but still grinning

rejected

I woke up this morning, and, as I always do, immediately checked my email for good news that I have been offered a six-figure book deal. Preferably one that includes all marketing and maybe a movie option. At least worth enough that I can drop everything else and just write for the rest of my life.

But, as it always does, my inbox disappointed. A reminder from my mum that when I next go shopping I should keep in mind that some pesticides might cause Alzheimer’s, and a very promising email from a descendent of African royalty who needs to move millions of dollars into a secure account and would be happy to share his fortune with me as soon as I give him my bank account details.

6 months after I finished my novel “Something Rotten”, and still no publishing house has bought it. Even though it’s a cracker! It really is! It’s got all the ingredients: death, a chase scene involving pigs, a dissident counter-culture that has decided to settle in purgatory and refuses to ascend to the heavens, and a very funny scene with a naked publican and a darts board. At least, those are the sorts of things I like to read about. Turns out I’m not mass market material.

“We need to be sure we can sell the property, and while we love the concept, this is potentially too controversial,” said one house.

What’s controversial about an afterlife world set in purgatory where bureaucracy is clogging up the ascension system? How can drunk guardian angels setting out to quit their jobs be considered a source of contention?

But at least my writing isn’t horrible. So there might be hope. This is what some top NY publishing houses recently wrote:

Thomas Dunne/SMP

…really loved the idea for this project… talented writer – the pages just fly by!

HarperCollins

…a fun concept that lots of people will connect with—and a theme that’s a definitely be a draw for readers. I enjoyed the sample chapters and thought the writing was great…

S&S

This is a great concept…but because it doesn’t align with our current portfolio, I am going to pass.

Pocket

This is really terrific, but unfortunately we’re publishing only craft-based cozies at this time.

(Ah…really not looking for what I do, then…)

So, as I do every morning, I vowed to plod on. Research more publishing houses, keep writing short stories and whoring them out to the literary world, and hope that someone, someday, might like one. And when that perfect someone likes a short story, they might like to read my novel. And then a mega book deal is just round the corner. Right? Publishing is that easy, isn’t it?

http://www.thefoible.com

BREAKING NEWS

Breaking news!

Living scientists on Earth have discovered irrefutable evidence pointing to the existence of a Life After Death. It is yet unclear how the discovery will affect residents of purgatory, and whether or not we will need to prepare for an increase or decrease of new arrivals.

First Minister Philip Twist at the Office of Transition, said: “It is too early to predict how the living will receive this shocking discovery. Of course, one of the main reasons the afterlife had been kept so elusive and hard to prove was, in accordance with mankind’s divinely appointed free will, to better allow people to make genuine choices about how to lead their lives.”

Captain Charon, of HMS Psychopomp (known amongst the living as “The Ferryman”) said: “We have current capacity to transport in the region of 155,000 people a day from the murky shores of death. If this number should significantly decrease, I would need to discuss compensation. If it increases, who knows, there might be room for some competition out there on the wide open Styx Ocean!”

Of course, it is common knowledge amongst us dead that what the living call “paranormal” is in fact normal and subject to the laws of science at a subatomic level. Although even we are unable to completely define the soul, it is certainly clear that the consciousness that the living use to define life is not restricted to matter, and that the sum of the pocket of energy contained in the consciousness of a thing is easily transported via Jacob’s Ladder (known as “Quantum Entanglement” to the living).

Yet, despite millennia of religious dogma and more recent basic discoveries in quantum physics over the last century, both the Office of Transition and the Arch Angels on the Aeonic Board have hoped that human knowledge would not quite make it as far as figuring out our existence.

Enlightenment Today News has been able to secure a very rarely granted inter-planal travel pass from the Arch-Angelic administrators at the Aeonic Board. We are very excited to announce that the publication will be sending a delegation of dead reporters to the world of the living to investigate how he shocking discovery is being received.

Follow our investigation on The Foible.
http://www.thefoible.com