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Photo Chandra Masoliver

Wood and Fire

Wood and Fire, a short story by HOT’s Chandra Masoliver and one of the stories included in Earlyworks Press new anthology of competition winners, Sorcery of Smog



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Wood and Fire

I am Silvio. I am to marry Fuoca. We are wood and fire, Silvio and Fuoca. She comes from the other side of the mountain. Our families are not happy about the marriage; it is approved tradition for us mountain folk to marry people from the valley below. It is generally agreed that is best. We are hardy and strong, we people from the mountains, we have the chestnut forests that give us wood and chestnuts, castagne, for bread and cakes, for flour and for sale; and we have goats for milk and cheese, wool and leather. The valley people have cattle and sheep, they are soft and warm. So the marriage is sensible, and is expected of us.

But Fuoca and I met at the chestnut festival, and that was it, no argument, no discussion. Her red hair, my dark hair. She wraps her long wavy red hair round my neck and over my face and behind my ears, and laughs. She has small sharp teeth and a quick smile. I am slow, I am long, and I love her. She teases, but she will be mine. We will marry in her church after the next chestnut harvest, in the church of Sant’Egidio, and then we will walk round the mountain to my village. Her family will bring the goats and the chattels the next day. She will be mine and I will love her forever. I will cherish her. We will make love all night. I will touch her red bush with my long fingers and make her wilder than she has ever been. I have never done it before, but I will know. Every night. Then asleep in my arms. And children.

I am building our house. It is of wood, chestnut wood of course, and of stone. Usually brothers help, but my brothers will not help, because I am to marry Fuoca, and they say she is the wrong girl. But she is the one for me, so I build alone. I dig the foundations; they watch but do not help. I go deep, as is necessary for a strong house. I build the ground floor, spaces for windows and door. I put the beams across, long chestnut beams, and make three bedrooms upstairs, for us, for our boy children, and for the little girl child we will have, our little Fuochina. I make the
windows, the door, the floors. I plaster the walls. All this I do alone. I do not like this, I do not like my brothers’ silence, but Fuoca will be mine. I paint the house blue-green outside, and inside all the walls are white. I paint red round the fireplace; this is not usual, they did not have the right paint in our shop, so I went to the town in the valley and bought just the red paint that is for my Fuoca.

My sister and my brother-in-law will come with me round the mountain. She is my oldest sister, who washed me and dressed me ready for school. She will not leave me in disgrace to marry alone. She, Lucia, and Guido, her husband, will come with me. I will have Light and Guidance, so who cares if the rest do not come?

I care.

The day comes when we are to marry. We walk round the mountain, on the rough path, Lucia and Guido and me, in our best clothes. My dark suit is stretched tight over my body, my collar is stiff, and my black hair is smoothed down. I will go into the church, the priest will be in the vestry, putting on his cross and polishing his glasses. Then Fuoca will come in, on her father’s arm. He will surely finally agree to walk his daughter to the altar and give her to me. It is all arranged.

We arrive at the church, Lucia and Guido and me, but the door is fast shut. All the windows and doors of the village are closed and no curtains move. I hammer at the church door. Let me in. Sant’Egidio… Let me in. I crash my fists against Fuoca’s door. Let me in. Nothing. Sant’Edgidio…Let me in. Nothing. I call to Fuoca, but I hear no sound of weeping. At sunset they take me back, Lucia and Guido. They are sad, but they say nothing. They leave me at the door of my empty house. No Fuoca. No Fuoca for me.

I take cans of petrol from the outhouse. I pour it everywhere, more than anywhere over my Fuoca’s red fireplace and our strong bed with white covers. I will light a match. I wonder if I will stay in the house and burn. But no, I make a fuse and I light it, and I sit quite near and I watch the house catch fire and burn. And the whole village and all my family, they come out and watch it burn. And in the morning I am taken away.

I am in the big house, in the town far beyond the mountain and the valley. We sleep twelve men in a room. They feed us. We smoke and sleep and smoke and sleep. Sometimes we walk round our big house, slowly. And one day each week, on Tuesday, when we are well, some of us are taken to a big room full of light, and there is a man there to guide us, Lucia and Guido again. He is even taller than me and he has blue eyes that know the truth. Amongst ourselves we call him Il Lungo, and to his face we call him Signor Mike. We are told he is a sculptor from Scotland,
but he lives in Italy and his given name is Michael Noble.

On Sundays, once a month, we go to his home, to the pink house, for tea, five of us, when we are well. I go, and Carlo, who paints four of everything, even tiny figures and birds: he is quite mad, he stuffs bees up his nostrils but they do not sting him. It is said he is the best at painting of all of us. He is given four sandwiches for tea. And Bianchi, he gets up my nose: he offers everyone a peppermint, a “mente”, saying it is a gift from a “malato di mente”, someone sick in the mind. And Dario, who is very
handsome: he steals and he paints fizzy patterns of bright colours and black spots. That is because he is epileptic. And little Severino: Il Lungo took him to Milan one day, and all he saw were the trams and the tram lines, that is what he always paints. It seems we all have our habits.

We have tea on the lawn. We meet his wife; she is a countess, Contessa Borletti, from an important family. We call her Signore Ida. And there is their daughter Chandra, I like to tell her about my painting, she is pretty, but she’s not my Fuoca. She has a pretty little sister, Tanith; and there are lots of people, and dogs, and a monkey called Filippo, who I do not like. He jumps on people and pisses on them, even shits. I am afraid he will bite me.

Some of the people from our big house live there in small houses in the grounds. Like my friend Luigi, who they say is like a poem, always talking of stars and planets and the moon and leaves and trees. He works in the garden. I would like to live there with them too, but I am told it would not be suitable. So in the evening at sunset we all go home, back to the big house. We leave the beautiful strong stone pink house that looks over the lake, over Lake Garda, and take our little bus along the shore, back to Verona, back home to the big house.

One Tuesday Signore Mike didn’t come any more. He went away. We were not told why, but we heard stories. The pink house was closed down, and everyone was sent away. Our people who had been living there came back. They were sad. I asked Luigi, my friend, what had happened. He knew, but he was off in his head again, away with the stars and planets.

However, we still paint. Each Tuesday we go to the big light room, and we remember what Il Lungo said: he said we do not need to be taught, we can just paint how we like. There are water-colours, and tempera and pencils of varying leads, and charcoal and oils. I choose oils. I like the thick way they spread, and I like to mix the colours so they match what is in my head and heart. There are big and small sheets of paper of different textures. I ask for a piece of wood, not paper, I want a wooden board, of chestnut. I will paint only on wood, because I am Silvio.

I paint Fuoca and me. We stand together; it is the chestnut festival. The next week the paint is dry and I paint over it. I paint Fuoca and me, as she wraps her long red hair round my neck and over my face and behind my ears. She is laughing, and I am long and dark. Next week, and the paint grows thicker; I paint the house I built, the windows and door and walls all blue-green. That is enough for this week. Then, over the top of the outside of the house I paint the inside of our house, the walls are
white, and I paint the fireplace red, red for my Fuoca. They ask me if I want another board. I say no. This is my story, this is my life, it all goes on one board. This is Silvio. I do not paint our bedroom; that is private. I paint Lucia and Guido and me all dressed up, walking round the mountain. And then I paint the church: the door is open, everyone from each of our villages is there. The church is full. The next week I paint Fuoca and me. She is in her wedding dress. It is white and long, but I see her body through its soft close folds. I wear my dark suit stretched tight across my body, my collar is stiff, my black hair is smoothed down, and my black shoes shiny, not dusty. We stand at the altar, I paint this over all the other paintings. And then I give it to Signore Marini, the nurse who stays with us now Il Lungo has gone, and I ask him to burn it in the big furnace in the cellar. They will not give me petrol here, but I ask him to burn it. Silvio and his Fuoca. And then next week I will start again.


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‘Wood and Fire’ © 2017 Chandra Masoliver

Michael Noble with Carlo at the Psychiatric Hospital in Verona, 1960.

Michael Noble with Carlo at the Psychiatric Hospital in Verona, 1960. Photo John Phillips.

Extract from ‘Sorcery of Smog’, 24 unforgettable stories. Published by Earlyworks Press, 2018, ISBN 9781910841471.

Read the HOT article on the Earlyworks Press anthology of competition winning short stories, Sorcery of Smog here.

Posted 06:05 Wednesday, Mar 28, 2018 In: Literature

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