Yes, she said, turning to spit, once beneath the hooves of the first horse and then again beneath those of the second, though not in a manner that implied any contempt to either, yes, she said, that was the day the south came northward home. This very day, she clarified. This is that day.
But, then she clarified, turning away from the spit and hooves and from the strange bundles wrapped as if for war and trundling past them, it came home to roost in a very not-bird way. She said distinctly like it was another spitting.
So… not like roosting at all? he asked. There was a small resonant clang on the word not. In his right hand he held a hammer low behind the ledge, stolen from who knows where. He swung lightly, thoughtlessly, but more so when he was having a hard time thinking, so that the hammer marked the words where he was caught.
It was strange days, even without horses showing up on Via Labico where we were told cars were supposed to be. So much was up in the air, even if the horses weren’t – or were, depending on what she meant. Earlier that year there had been the bomb in Brescia up in the north, they put it inside a rubbish bin like something to be thrown away and then it puked up a big gutful of fire, and in the photos after, it really was like the whole piazza had been made into a place for rubbish, with junk all over the ground, and although my parents tried to hide the photos of it on the cover of the Corriere della Sera from and folded the paper tightly away in the trash and even took the time to crumple it further beneath the small pile of waste because they said to each other some things don’t need to be seen by a child, I dug it out later, brushing the coffee grinds and yolk from it and said to myself – and to Lupo who tried to lick the yolk from the paper, his tongue slipping over the word strage as if it were delicious – well, we’ll see about that and then saw that even if it didn’t need to be seen, some of that rubbish was bodies, they had been in the piazza before, raising signs and voices against fascists just like the ones who made them into rubbish to be swept up or thrown out.
That was at the start of the summer and we were now toward the end of it. I had just lost a tooth and two were on the way, I mean another one pushing through the hole and another one on its way to being lost. It should have been hot, because it was Rome and wasn’t even autumn yet when it may or may not be hot depending on the year. No, it was summer, just days after ferragosto and one should be at the beach and which is always hot in Rome, we were too poor to go on vacation, but it was cool somehow so we were all wearing wool if we had it and certainly sleeves all the way down, and just two weeks ago there was another bomb.
This time it was on a train called Italicus, I kept thinking – later, that is, exactly a year later when it was mentioned that it was the anniversary of what was remembered as an event, my thinking wasn’t this in the weeks just after, my thoughts were more about the horses moving up the street like they were stairs – about how when this opened up into fire like a piazza, it was not still and then in sudden motion. It was moving already and before, already roaring ahead in the night and then the fire happened it wasn’t at the start of the train or the end but in the middle, something in the middle of a sentence suddenly wasn’t a word that would keep that sentence chugging ahead but a giant belch, an ugly, unwanted acrid yawn that moved in a different direction from the whole thing passing along in the night and saying the whole entire way the very simple sentence Where we are going is where we have come to rest until it would actually be true as opposed to a ridiculous thing to be saying by trains or men.
The fire was inside the train, right in its middle. But not in its guts, because the guts of a train are where the head of a snake would be, so all the contained fire can be put to very particular use. This fire was also contained but there was no coal for it to burn, only luggage and wide pockets in which partially finished sandwiches remained and of course the bodies, which came apart into legs and stumps and cavities. They weren’t thrown onto the ground like rubbish to be arranged and counted up, that all came later when they dragged the ruined sentence back to a station where it gaped out, it was late too, the timetable betrayed but not because fascists made the sentence explosive. It was supposed to have broke into fire at a different pause in the sentence, right at the word Bologna but as everybody knows trains never run on time. That’s a fact that has always bothered fascists so much they can’t bring themselves to know that it’s true even when they are busy trying to make it seem like this should be a country where they do run like that, metronomes filled with fire of coal, no, it was 26 minutes behind but because the bomb itself was also a fascist and couldn’t be bothered to figure this out the fascist bomb went off right on time but early in space and Bologna never got said.
Beneath the hooves of the second horse her spit still huddled. The second horse was the one who didn’t have a rider, even if all the objects of a rider heading out to the mountains or the borgate to endure a long campaign were still strapped to it. I sat on the ledge, it was a broken see-saw and in the chest of that second horse, I could even see the heart beating in its cage as the haunches moved up and up. Beneath, the spit it passed without caring one bit was just starting to congeal in its dust. When drool or blood hits the dust of Rome it takes the dust around itself like gauzy fabric and skitters that way, no longer leaving any trace of its wetness other than inside its dry shrouded self. And then it slowly consumes its liquid but it never shows it to the outside world, because Rome is not Milan and our spit, brown and acid and tempered with the iron blood of offal, knows that it is not fog. Yes, this was a lightless little bundle behind those hooves, like ants burned with a lens or drowned in a precise pile. The fascists had talked like this about blood and brown and drowned, later I started to worry if my childhood metaphors were also fascist in some way, but I didn’t worry at this then, then I only recalled hearing the name Ordine nero, which was suspiciously close to Ordine nuovo, as it should have been because, as I learned later, the idea to stop the train’s sentence mid-breath came from that name that was not so different, just a slight widening of the mouth as in a belch itself, I heard the name and someone on the news said what the Ordine nero or nuovo, I don’t recall which, had said about the placing of the bomb, that We will drown democracy under a mountain of dead as though ants were democratic or democracy was something capable of drowning.
She spat once more. No, exactly like roosting. Leading itself home to roost. Beneath her was not spit but a hammer resting in the dust. Its head had a nick, where she had used it to hit something harder than metal, its temper now undone. She kicked vaguely at it without rhythm, and it didn’t clang, it rustled in the dirt against the on which she leaned.
He was still confused. Worse than before. He didn’t say anything, but his hammer made small sounds in place of words. Behind him the second horse took a big dump, clopping wet and potato-heavy behind its footfall. So big, he thought or at least I did, that someone could have hid a bomb inside the steamy heap and no one would have been the wiser.
The dead had been not been underneath a mountain of other dead, even if they littered the ground like shit.
When I picked the paper from the trash in our kitchen, I saw only dead and rubbish, sharing the same space as things that are the same type of objects do, but then it was a hot day, as it should be then, I was on the tram off Nomentana near where they had busted through Porta Pia all those years ago, I being smaller stood at the eye level of sweating bellies and sweating crotches, all damp sag with hands held at that very height to hold crotch-like purses or other hands or to cup at the faint bulges in the pants to make sure that they were still there, whether there were wallets or cocks making the confused bulges. Half of them smiled down at me past breasts and guts and the other half scowled like if I was a filthy little pickpocket and to make things equal I decided to pick the damp pockets of everyone regardless of how they looked at me. The tram was wet with crowds of us, it made my work harder because fabric will cling to skin needfully, I was sidling up to a man with black wool pants loose enough to not cling to his thigh, the pocket yawned a bit and I bet it was slippery enough even in the heat to not seek comfort from my small fingers, he was reading a paper and I leaned just under its crease, even the paper was sweating, on his fingers the cheap ink was coming free and years later I would tell my son a story about the newspaper that erases itself across the course of the day until there are enough things that have happened in the world to cover it again, not then, I was just glad for it to bugger my attempt and I glancing at it as I moved the fingers in the depth I was staring at a corpse.
That was how I saw it, there, jammed into the corner of distraction from what I was doing and in the side column of a newspaper and so that is the only way that I will reproduce it now because it wasn’t just a corpse or a corpse plus an extra leg, it was a corpse covered from sight and camera by a banner that had been raised aloft to protest precisely the kind of thing that made it necessary for that banner to come down to earth and sop up both prying eyes and the blood of a body opened like the earth to the sky and the paper moved, the banner with its supports now like brooms to sweep away trash and the tears of the man who crouched over the body in its red winding sheet, these disappeared and there was just the face of the man I was robbing, he had been reading the article that continued on the other side of the crease. There was sweat patterned lightly with the black dust of Rome in the folds of his thick face. Looking at the photo he took off his glasses as if to wipe a tear or like he had something in his eye but he did neither in a Pugliese tongue thick as the face he said to me or to anyone well, apparently not everything in those parts and then he spat on the floor of the tram and I knew precisely what he meant.
Not that this is north, she said. We’re stuck in the middle. Rome is where beginnings and endings came to die. There was no way, simply no way, she had made this up herself, but her parents were poets, both of them, and they were always saying such things to anyone who would listen.
On the tram floor the spit was white as milk and equally furious. When the doors opened we poured forth, also like spittle. Everything was spit those days. Guns spat. Bullets spat. Streets spat. Trash spat. Trains spat. Schools spat. Docks spat. Piazzas spat. Mothers spat at cops and cops spat at mothers. The south spat at the north and the north spat at the south. Rome spat at itself.
The seas rose in all this spitting. The winds came up. The seas spat. The winds spat.
But whoever believes that democracy drowned under a mountain of dead is mistaken in the belief that democracy meant more than that spit-slicked mountain and how the living squabble bitter and cunning over their share.
He gave up on trying to follow her, just kept thinking of horses that came home to roost, about how they got there.
He decided he didn’t buy the non-avian part of what she said. Just didn’t buy it. Because if the horses came from the south, it meant they came from the past. At least from what people said, it seemed that south and past must have meant the same thing, they said that they lived like older centuries “down there,” yet these horses could manage to cover both that terrain and all those years to land here in Rome, which wasn’t even the north but the middle, although he would later learn that the Romans were proud of this fact, because, according to them, the Italians in the south and the north weren’t even Italian. In the north, they were backwards terroni grubbing away in the dirt and in the north they were Swiss assholes who talked just like the Swiss assholes they were. (And Rome, he was told, also by Romans, was not Italy either, because Rome is Rome, and no, they said, just because it is the capital of Italy doesn’t mean it deserves to get lumped in with all the rest. It wasn’t until years later, when he left Rome that he learned how the other Italians, north and south alike, had similar judgments of Rome, though for different reasons and with much more spitting on the ground.) Whatever Rome was, it wasn’t the roost of the north and he knew that if these horses had come from the south on their way toward the zone of factories and fog, it meant they had leaped mountains and centuries alike, and there is no way to do that that is not like birds.
He thought of the sky thick with horses.
And his hammer rapped, faster now, once for each who didn’t belong in the sky but darkened it in their wingless, straining flight, high over what he heard the friends of his parents with more facial hair call the modern state.
Sitting as I sat as if on a see-saw, I just wondered what these horses were doing here in our part of the city. We had supposedly moved on to cars. It was the years of cars, not horses. Even in the hippodromes, there were shanties, filled with families of the hungry, except perhaps for the ghost of horses who tore weightless and unnoticed around and around the collapsing shacks. Later, I changed my memory of this ledge and these horses and the decade in which the memory belonged and who it belonged to, it had just come unstuck in the flow of years and borne aloft for three decades and then rained down sudden on the three of us and the man and the horses, because I knew that they were walking just like horses to be used in an older war against other fascists, where the horses were saddled with grenades and bread and hammers and the Mitra Variara, made only and ever by the partisans, a gun that was not itself but many guns, Sten and Beretta and FNAB, the steam rose from their flanks and grendade-sized shit as they moved through winter and summer and all between. Inside my pocket the watch I stole from the pocket of the man on the train who spat on the floor ticked along dumbly, unbelieving that horses could come untethered from time, but I did not have to turn my head far to see how even if the horses moved through Rome like Rome was mountains, the war had changed, and two weeks later, in San Basilio, the cops came and tried to drag people from their homes because it was said that they did not own these buildings that otherwise were empty, the mothers clawed at the eyes of the cops that were hidden behind plastic because they knew that mothers have claws and will tear out the eyes of those who drag them from their homes and the air was full of metal bolts and other bottles of flame, on the third day of fighting the cops shot Fabrizio Ceruso with a pistol , he was only 19 although it should not change a thing if he was 91, they shot him with a pistol and people didn’t stop, they fought even harder and the sky was full of objects that didn’t belong in the air but were there anyway and came down on the shielded faces and shielded faces of the men who dragged bodies out of spaces of wood and cement and to stop them, those who lived there the cars of the cops and trucks and motofurgone to make roads stop working and to insist that these were in fact still the years of horses and that these too were mountains and wars. On the ground, the spit was red in the dust.
But that was two weeks later than this day when something came home to roost, even though no one noticed. They were at the beach and we the poor just watched them clop by like it was no big deal. Still, the next day, after the night had passed and something had come back to whatever it was called that it wanted to do, whether or not it was a roosting, there was no one – and I mean no one – who was surprised to find that every Fiat in the neighborhood had been well and thoroughly destroyed.
Glass littered upholstery and ground alike. The metal of the cars, poured and stamped and bolted into smooth ubiquity 640 kilometers to the north, was bent and huddled now, an aged thing, covered with small dimpling concussions and ripples, because it had been trampled or beaten clanging by something unfamiliar with being up in the air, and, unsure of how it was supposed to land or end, got busy instead worrying away at the middle.