Welcome to Flash Fiction Friday and the fifty-fourth piece of flash fiction in this series. This week’s is a 831-worder by non-fiction author Marlene Caroselli. which will be podcasted in episode 19 (Sunday 30th December).
Does it matter that I come into that classroom every day smelling of linseed oil? Is it not more important that I, like my heavenly namesake, can herald important information to them? After all, I have been to Rome. I know how a lecture at the university can festoon the soul, how giddiness can follow the scanning of a perfectly metered poem. I have, if the truth be known, been praised by the professors at the university. And, were it not for my ailing mother, I would be far away from his town with its tepid appetite for knowledge.
They snicker, the little ones do–but they dare not say a word. I see the slight wrinkling of those tiny freckled noses as they come into my presence. But no matter–one day they, too, will understand the inexorable chains that pull a child back to his mother’s bedside. They will come to know the meaning of responsibility to family. They may not have to rub linseed oil on limbs gnawed by arthritis, but they will have to do something.
Perhaps then they will think of their old maestro and remember his devotion to his ailing mother. Each morning, I stop by her house with its clean dirt floor. I wonder if she is still breathing in that bed with its spumes of lace, a bed that dominates her one-room inheritance. I approach the bed cautiously, trying to discern the rise and fall of her chest and inevitably, the croaked request comes, “Gabriele, the oil. Could you rub it on my shoulder?”
But today, my anger with these boys causes all thoughts of my mother to fly away. Just a few minutes late so I could bathe her and look how they are misbehaving. The laughter, the noise, the antics–it all assaults me before I even open the door. One look at me standing in the doorway, though, is enough to drive icicles into their veins. A solemn silence descends. They are afraid to look anywhere but down at their small hands, smooth as the skin on olives. I am gratified to see a few of them trembling.
How shall I punish them, these children in whose arteries the legacy of Dante flows so carelessly, these profligates whose ancestors painted chapel ceilings and explored terra incognita? How can I make their backbones straighter so they can continue to carve out the landscape that marks this glorious land? These unthinking ruffians are more inclined to view life as a fortuitous hazard, a masquerada at which they alone are entitled to unmask men, women, and mystery. They think of Italy as a place that is sweet for the body instead of an elixir that is sweet for the mind.
What will make them remember their heritage, incite them to learn, comprehend the reason why they are here? This is the land that Shakespeare extolled, that British poets sing about so lovingly, that wealthy Americans come to see. This is the land that produced the man who defied wisdom and gravity alike to sail off the supposed edge of the earth. This is the land that spewed forth scientists and artists and musicians and writers, saints and military strategists, explorers and poets too numerous to tabulate. But these children are content to enjoy the glory of the terrain without contributing anything to it.
I decide on a simple retaliation for their lapse into joy, a time-honored means of forcing them to confront their own ignorance: I will test them on next week’s lesson. One by one, I call upon them. Naturally, none of these poor excuses for students know what I am talking about–which is exactly how I planned it. Taking each one in turn, I have the opportunity to slap the perfect roundness of their wastrel cheeks. Not hard, but hard enough for the thunder in my voice and the anger in my palms to leave imprints on their bliss. For variety, I slap their hands with a steel-edged ruler, chosen specifically for this purpose.
A few of them try to help their comrades. They pull out the text and surreptitiously find next week’s lessons. They try to show the ones about to be slapped. This gives me another opportunity to go back and hit them again for their foolishness.
Only one escapes my enormous capacity for punitive strokes. Only one. I call on him and he knows the answers. A sudden pastel silence fills the room. The bumblebees can be heard outside the window. The other boys slowly swivel their heads toward me, fearing, perhaps, that I will decide the recitation is wrong after all. They are frozen in that golden sunshine, their pencils poised above their desktops–as if this show of dutiful obedience to the god of learning could make me forget their transgressions. They wait to see how far my rage will go. But I am a fair man. Renato knows the lesson. He must remain untouched.
“tepid appetite for knowledge” I loved that. Thank you, Marlene.
Dr. Marlene Caroselli (www.saatchionline.com/LainaCelano), is an author, keynoter, and corporate trainer.
She has published over 60 books, including Jesus, Jonas, and Janus: The Leadership Triumvirate, and Principled Persuasion, named a Director’s Choice by Doubleday Book Club.
If you’d like to submit your 1,000-word max. stories for consideration for Flash Fiction Friday take a look here.
The blog interviews will return as normal tomorrow with romance author Sheri Fredricks – the five hundred and fifth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, biographers, agents, publishers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too!) and / or email me.
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Unfortunately, as I post an interview a day (amongst other things) I can’t review books but I have a feature called ‘Short Story Saturdays’ where I review stories of up to 2,500 words. Alternatively if you have a short story or self-contained novel extract / short chapter (ideally up to 1000 words) that you’d like critiqued and don’t mind me reading it / talking about and critiquing it (I send you the transcription afterwards so you can use the comments or ignore them) on my ‘Bailey’s Writing Tips’ podcast, then do email me. They are fortnightly episodes, usually released on Sundays, interweaving the recordings between the red pen sessions with the hints & tips episodes. I am now also looking for poetry for Post-weekend Poetry.