CIAO, TRIESTE by Christine Kwon

The piazza below my apartment is sunny, small, and lonely. I like to lean out the window, looking down when nothing is going on and the sun stares up at me, having lit up the square. But once in a while, I am not alone. A couple will have found privacy in my piazza to scream at one another and then to kiss. As we are in Italy, the screaming and kissing are better than their American counterparts. The screaming and kissing seem to come straight from the id, from the desire to suck out a man’s soul and leave him a desiccated shell. 

Once, I tried to beat a man the way I saw a girl hit her boyfriend here, flying at his face and chest. But as an American, I was worried about who was watching, and conscious of how it would appear on a security camera.

I could tell that the fighting Italian couple—young and beautiful, though not particularly beautiful (their beauty stemmed purely from their youth and banality)—was fighting because the woman was jealous. This I knew from the way her hands became sharp blurs, like birds—I recognized the feeling. The man was laughing. 

Sometimes a lone mother briskly struts through the piazza, a stroller jutting in front of her. Her fingertips graze the bar as if she could let go at any moment. 

Otherwise, the piazza is undisturbed. There is no café with its heavy iron tables and bright umbrellas, and there is no little cheese shop or bar. It doesn’t even seem to rain in my piazza, as if the buildings are all leaning their heads together, or the sky has chosen to forfeit this one square. The only sign of rain is the wet stone, which looks purified and clean, like a woman’s face shining with tears. But that’s it; I never notice the rain even falling.  

The only distinguishing feature of my piazza is a small, grey fountain. A stone boy pees with his hands on his hips and his round belly poking out. A single, marvelous arc splashes into the grey water. The fountain is so small, so obviously lighthearted and relatively modern-looking, that I wouldn’t have mentioned it if I didn’t have to.

A couple of months ago, after it rained, I saw a little girl run up to the fountain, her little feet paddling the frothy residue of tears. She solemnly stood at the boy’s feet as if paying vigil. She had her back to me. She was wearing a yellow raincoat. I can’t recall the color of her hair—whether it was dampened by the rain or if she had her hood up. She made a few small movements and I craned my head out the window to see better. She lifted her arm, and I thought I saw a dull, bronze coin intercept the boy’s arc of piss. The coin landed at his feet, missing the water entirely. And then the boy—the stone boy—picked up the coin and put it into his mouth.

The clouds cleared. I looked up at the sky to confirm it. When I looked back down the girl was gone, the boy was stone, and the ground was dry.

I thought, it doesn’t rain in my piazza. And, I had better get some sleep.

Just yesterday, I was drinking a chocolate in another piazza, a much grander one, where all the tourists congregate before reboarding their cruise ships, when the owner of my cheese shop noticed me and talked to me.

It was the first time in all these months that an Italian had struck up a conversation that was not merely transactional. He asked me if he’d seen me before, in his store perhaps. I told him I came in often. 

“Almost every day,” he corrected me. 

Then we got to what I did, and what I was doing in Italy for so long, and if I made any money fixing photos in Photoshop for companies that outsourced such things. I made fine money, I told him, for the kind of life I wanted. He looked at me skeptically, even glancing down at my shoes. Then he asked me where I was staying. 

“In the piazza Barbacan,” I told him. 

He fell silent for a moment. He felt in the pockets of his shirt, as if for cigarettes, and then sighed a melancholy, satisfied sigh, as if remembering that he had quit long ago. He attended to his bowl of potato chips and aperol spritz. 

Once he finished, licking his fingers, he turned to me again with renewed energy and friendliness.

“Do you know the fountain there? The grey fountain with the little boy?” he asked.

I nodded vigorously. My Italian was okay but embarrassment hampered it. 

“Do you know the story about the boy and girl? The story behind the fountain?” 

The cheese man looked away from me, thoughtfully gazing at the blue line of sea in the distance.  

“There was a little girl who fell in love with the boy—the boy in the statue—when it was built in the 70s or 80s. Some say the boy’s parents built it themselves after the boy died in some way or another. I do not remember how: in the way little children die…” 

The cheese man leaned over his table to the one beside it and spoke gently to the man inhabiting it. This man reached out his pack of cigarettes and the cheese man took one. He lit it and blew his smoke towards me. He puffed a few more times before returning to his story.

“There was a little girl, they say, who loved the statue so much she tried to feed it and clothe it… She loved it so much and so unnaturally that her family was forced to move to Rome. You see, she wanted to sleep with it, she would run away from school and they would find her at the statue, hugging it, and kissing it. And they say, this little girl’s heart turned to stone and broke into a million pieces. Taken away kissing and screaming, she died in Rome. Some people see this girl, even now, especially when it rains. My wife’s mother, for instance—”

But at his own mention of his mother-in-law, the man fell into a sullen silence. 

I could not remember the past tense quickly enough to tell him that I too had seen the girl. And that I knew even as it was happening that no one really came to that piazza.


Christine Kwon is a poet and fiction writer living in New Orleans. She reads for Tilted House Press. Her work appears in Joyland Magazine, Sweet Mammalian, and The Yale Review. More pieces are forthcoming in The Recluse, blush lit, Recliner Mag, The Columbia Review, and Hot Pink Mag. Trieste, the city in this story, is what she imagines heaven to be like.

Art by Bob Schofield @anothertower

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