Vino Vidi Vesuvia
Kristen Caven
After a glorious dinner of tubettoni, frittura all'Italiana, and cariofo alla giudia, Cosima leans back in her chair to take in the evening’s view. Beyond a walled section of the castle keep, boats bob playfully on the dark water. The twinkling yellow lights of Naples merge with the towns around the edges of the bay. The sky behind Mount Vesuvius glows with sunset colors, reminding almost no one of its famous umbrella of death, due millenni before.

When Paola returns to the table, she refills both glasses with the last of their Lacrima Christi. As the golden liquid pours into Cosima’s glass, time slows down. An explosion of fruit, flowers, and minerals hits her pierced nose, blowing images of lemons, orchids, and seashells into her mind. Across the bay, fireworks appear in the twilight and a loud boom startles the other diners. Some rush to the window to view the show, and somewhere else, screams fill the air. The fireworks morph into a geyser of fire against the new stars, washing the landscape with red light. A hot wind blazes through the city, knocking pedestrians into strangers, throwing street signs into traffic, slamming boats into one another along the shore. Ashes fall. 

In the canyonlike historic district, a tall redhead strides down Via San Gregorio Armeno, smoke pouring from her armpits, trailing behind her long skirts. Women cross themselves, finger their rosaries. Men take another gulp. Artisans put down their tools; shopkeepers lift their heads to watch her pass. In the apartments above, voices rise to a hum louder than the wind—families arguing stubbornly about finances, love matches, housekeeping, what’s on TV.

When Cosima re-focuses her eyes, she sees Paola sipping her wine, squinting knowingly. Cosima’s long, wavy hair is sticking to her arm, spread out on the tablecloth. She reaches, shaking, for some ice to hold in her sweating hand, rub on her forehead and neck. Paola leans forward and whispers. “Did you see her?”

“Vesuvia,” mumbles Cosima, agog at the serene restaurant scene behind her. She had learned from Paola and the other Keepers that Vesuvius, reaching the end of an interval, was building energy. Cosima takes a sip of the local wine—named for Christ’s tears as He wept for beautiful Campania, looking down from heaven, where the dark crater gapes even now like a sore, like an eye, like the devil’s maw.

“Yes,” Paola nods, twisting her many rings. “The Kahunas tell us they are dreaming of her now. She is visiting the local saints to coordinate. She will require sacrifices.”

Cosima gasps.

“Let’s help them get creative,” says Paola, draining her glass.

The waiter with the long, dark eyelashes appears with their dessert.

First published: November 2015
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