Once upon a time there was a demon, invisible to human eyes, he roamed about the streets of Naples. He could assume human shape and substance – and sometimes did – but his power, such as it was, lay more in the events he could influence. And he could hold discourse with animals.
The demon kept to places he liked, mostly the small dark streets off Via dei Tribunali. He preferred shadow to sunlight. The sun was too bright, blinding in its strength and glimmer. The sun, thought our demon, professed to reveal truth when in fact it obscured it. Shade, however never might have something to teach one. It was in the obscurity of the streets that wove through the Historic Center of Naples that he learned about love.
On a rainy Saturday in November, just after All Soul’s Day, the demon Raimondo watched as a young woman hung out her laundry under the overhang of a balcony on Vico Limoncelo. She was still in pajamas and had just finished her weekly housecleaning. Raimondo understood this. He had been observing Chiara all the past week as she escorted her two little boys to school and then went to her job as a clerk in the pharmacy on Via dei Tribunali. Seeing her thus, Raimondo learned which apartment in the grand building with lion statues guarding the entrance was the one in which Chiara lived.
On Sundays Raimondo did not move about. He preferred to lurk in the shadows of the old Roman arches on Via Sapienza. He did not like the bustle in the streets of people going to church or going into pastry shops and coming out with great boxes full of dolci for Sunday lunch at home. He did not like the swarming restaurants buzzing with cheer of Sunday lunch out. On Sunday Raimondo kept to himself. But, on Monday morning, he found himself sitting invisibly on one of the lion statues guarding the palazzo on Vico Limoncello.
“Remember me,” Giuseppe said to Chiara as she left with their sons for work that morning.
“Impossible to forget you,” Chiara answered.
She placed a cup of steamy cappuccino and two biscottini on Giuseppe’s carving tray. He stood up to kiss her good-by, awkwardly placing the lump of something he was working on under his blanket. He took her arm and escorted her to the door and kissed her again – a lover’s kiss on the lips and told her he would make dinner, “a nice pasta Genovese.”
When he got back to his chair, Giuseppe felt drained. He pulled out from under his blanket the wooden pendant he had been carving for Chiara and set to work again. “It will be finished soon,” he thought. “Maybe even today.”
“He’s getting better,” thought Chiara as she walked down Vico Limoncello. She dropped the boys at school and made her way to the pharmacy on Via dei Tribunali. As she went on her way, she thought about Giuseppe’s color. It was deeper, less pale, and he smelled different. The familiar robust smell of him had returned – deep red wine and freshly carved wood. That was what Chiara had always imagined Giuseppe had smelled of. The tired scent of illness was gone.
After Chiara and the boys had passed by, Raimondo floated up the four stories. To enter the apartment, he transformed himself into a breeze and entered her apartment through a window that had been left the slightest bit open on the side facing the street so that some fresh air might enter.
The demon Raimondo had a look around. It was well-kept and welcoming. The floor in the kitchen was blue and yellow tile, clean with no cracks or chips. No dishes were piled waiting to be washed, but were arranged, still dripping, in the draining rack above the sink ready to be used for the evening meal.
He floated from the kitchen into the salon. Someone was there and that someone sensed Raimondo’s presence. An old man sat by the window carving a piece of wood with delicate movement of his fingers. He stopped working and looked up when Raimondo entered.
The demon wafted around the room, looking more closely at the old man. No, he was a youngish man – very ill. Raimondo could smell how near to death the young man was. Giuseppe smiled and returned to the wooden pendant he was carving. Raimondo knew it was his gift of addio that Giuseppe was making for Chiara.
Chiara had begun her day feeling lighter of heart; nevertheless, a sense of something ending had crept in. There was a niche in a palazzo on Via Sapienza where a family she knew maintained lit votive candles in memory of their oldest son who had died in a motorcycle accident – rare in this city of skilled drivers, but it did happen. A new candle was in the niche that morning. Its flame floating in the melting wax on the top of the red glass told her that it had only just been lit. There was a single red rose – red to convey the fact that his mother was still alive – in the vase in front of Lucca’s photograph.
“It’s been a year,” thought Chiara. “I will drop by this evening and drink a glass of amaro with Lucca’s mother.”
When the pharmacy closed during the long pause for lunch, Chiara went to the enoteca on Piazza Dante to buy the amaro, a fitting drink for the occasion. It was bitter, yet there was also a sense of sweetness. “Like life,” Chiara thought.
She decided she would also get a liter of primitivo to share with Giuseppe for dinner, but the demon Raimondo had followed her and whispered to her so subtly that she believed his words to be a thought that suddenly came into her mind. “No,” she said to herself, “he won’t need it.”
Antoinette Carone holds BA in Romance Languages and an MA in Cinema Studies. Upon retirement she spent a year in Naples which resulted in a book, Ciao Napoli. She is an active participant in the New York Writers’ Coalition. She maintains a blog , Italian Scrapbook.