Front St. Arts
Hunt for Steel
Man of Earth
Preface & Reader Response
They returned from Venice newfound foes, she strengthened, he contrite – but each free once more.
This feature is chapter three of a series that may have dozens of chapters. There are introductory essays for the series; they are marked with lowercase Roman numerals (e.g., i and ii). All parts of the series are accessible from the menu that appears under the title of each segment.
Phases of Astonishment
RIDING THE TEMPEST
Chapters: i | ii | iii | I | II | III | IV
by Jerry Murley
Gusts of wind bellowed up the ravines of the Apennines with a current that caught up the leaves of grapevines and twisted the branches of pines huddled alongside the slopes. Parallel roads of iron funneled his drawn spirit from halfway between Venice to his home in Florence. Tossed with heaving rhythms, he and the trees were one, unable to resist the temper of the maestro. On the vibrant hills a symphony swayed from limber ease to reckless extremities, reverting to repose only to be pounded by an invisible force again and again. His restless mind was adrift. It was a storm-filled stream swiftly sliding over hidden obstacles, reflecting impressions below the surface, rising and dropping so rapidly that the impetuous onrush overwhelmed the capacity to progress, propelling random particles into hollow atmosphere. His normal glacier-like state was compelled against its nature to conflict and disintegration: a thing comparable to but distinguishable from itself – substance rent by fury – a tempest born of foul mood.
The youth perceived himself a betrayed symbol in a play – or made himself appear so. He had for two days and nights been custodian to a stocky Australian artist. What was meant as an impromptu partnership became a over-long attachment, a clinging weight, a sinking burden. Her outstanding characteristics both charmed and haunted: at first, she had an easy, half-stifled chortle, which turned her upper lip straight back into creases, inflating her nostrils, forcing her eyes to roll back into her brows, revealing every tooth in her head as it bobbed in crazed ecstasy; in short time, it grew to an annoying whinny, slowly broiled by nervous discomfort. During the trying journey, as her laugh degraded, it was supplanted by a fatigued solemnity. She became irritated and sulky, flooded by abject disenchantment with his expanding expressions of skepticism. She had learned too late the tedious facts of her fantasy – her American stripling filled her with loathing rather than an endearment of the magnified "life" of which she was so fond.
Acrimony was the sole gift he could bestow on her. His serenity and understanding were in abeyance: disgruntlement, derived from too much exposure to the reprehensibly cocooned life of his painter, dragged on him like a pack of dogs. Her reward in the venture – it would have to suffice her requirements of him for attention – was the luxury of pure, unrestrained abomination for his affected cynicism. This cast of character, he supposed, would justly remedy any spiritual deficiency on his part by stimulating his abstract, self-righteous companion to do her great deeds out of rebounded inspiration – desperation, detestation, indignation. Her goal, he surmised, was a frantic attempt to convince herself of her own superior goodness, standing brightest in a Titian painting of stark contrasts.
She hurled dispirited glances and dangled sighs, a protest for public consumption exuded through a tissue-thin ardor for "life" – an abraded but circular determination to live to its fullest: circular in that is was tentatively supported by mere vocal belief in inoperable contradictions: man without law – a species of spirituality only attainable by creatures of the most severe commitment to self-abnegation. She lectured abstinence from debate, reason, criticism, daily labor, disgust, crudities and peculiarities. And this, to her, meant only a outwardly exuberant expression of good feeling and peace of mind. "Oh, isn't this the most fantastically beautiful flower? Isn't it? You don't think so, do you? Then why don't you say it if you do?" Was this not a time of extraordinary political upheavel and individual uncertainty?
Her abandoned longing tinted her personality and every thought: it seemed impossible to imagine her as capable of emitting or accepting, or even anticipating, as in love, anything outside her own feelings – the validity of the disagreeable. He concluded that the quick and humane end was to render her vicious with revenge: to make her caterwaul with dislike for him and renewed love of herself. While he, apparently naive to all and admittedly deserving much of this contempt, continued to sustain the appearance of enjoying their venture, displaying all the affable social niceties, except the genuine ones which he could not honestly compel himself to offer. Her audacious philosophical certainty combined with her whipped submission, aroused and goaded his unchecked, latent tyranny. All save superficial kindness wore badly but bowed to the dominant theme: subtle cruelty was the way he had learned and here it reigned discriminately. It wed unpolished wit with dark psychology – a sort of homicidal ignorance, the byproduct of privation, confusion, and selfish suffering.
They returned from Venice newfound foes, she strengthened, he contrite – but each free once more. Never would they cross so close again. Both absorbed thoroughly the abrasive lesson of convenience: a rut dug easily is soon gone cold.
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