Wednesday, March 24, 2010


© 2010 Apostrophe Productions, Riccardo Berra

I have not slept. Not well. Not in a fortnight. Ever since I completed the translation I’ve been plagued by dreams of death and loss. There are other even darker insinuations in these dreams—images and emotions I have no words for.  As to the manuscript itself; I am only its translator. I have no other stake in it. I wish for no other stake. I found it cleaning in the attic of my grandmother, who lived to an incredible old age. As her last surviving heir, it fell to me to settle her strange estate when she passed. It was not a task I asked for or willingly accepted, but when I first discovered the manuscript, I was excited. Now, its mere presence unsettles me in ways I cannot explain. It belongs in a museum or in the hands of a private collector. Somebody else will need to take possession and to determine its authenticity. I wouldn’t know where to begin.  I only know that the sooner it leaves my sight, the happier I’ll be. Then, perhaps I will be able to sleep again.

If you are reading this, you have come to an accursed place and I pity you. By the grace of God, Almighty, whose succor I desire but have scant hopes of obtaining in this world or the next, I deliver unto you this exhortation. Desist you investigations now, carefully rewrap this journal in the oilskin you extracted it from and secure it as you found it, as warning to the next poor soul. Then, by all you find holy, flee this accursed cave by any means you can. For surely if you do not or can not, you will come to a most unspeakable and damnable end.

... This post continues!

Monday, March 22, 2010

It’s So Much Easier When You’re Away

by Riccardo Berra/Apostrophe © 2010 

A mental snapshot. 

My 10-year-old Callie, shrieking, jumps into my arms, bony fawn legs locked above my waist.

"Daddy, daddeee, I missed you so much. Did you miss me?" Her arch little smile, so sure of her feminine wiles, even at this tender age.

"I missed you so much my princess; I missed the air around you." I make vacuum cleaner sucking sounds. She squeals in delight, then wriggles from my grasp as towhead monster Mark Jr., my 5 year old brick house swaggers in. The action toy he clutches mimics his gait. He ignores my open arms.

"I got the new red Power Rangers." He waves it in his sister’s face; she swats it from his grasp. It sails onto the couch. They run upstairs shrieking at each other.

"A little help!"

Next shot.

Reflexive scowl stamped on her features, Ellen, my 42-year-old wife, pushes a suitcase through the door as if it contains lead ingots. A practiced martyr, she insinuates with inflection and body language alone how much of a total shit I am for not attending to the car as soon as she pulled up. I’m judged and found wanting oh, maybe a thousand times a day. Lately for good cause. My faults cling like wet leaves to the marital headstone.

Ellen, Callie and Mark, have been away long enough that I’m completely out of their orbit, the wobbly hyperkinetic trajectories of Mom and kids and Dad and kids and kid and kid. Let's not neglect Mom and Dad. We’re right back to circling each other like wary, battle-bruised sharks sniffing the water for blood. My family's return has sucked all the serenity from this place that was so quiet just three minutes ago. I am disquieted and out of my zone.

I'm the senior science writer for a magazine that graces dentists' offices, coffee tables and nightstands across America. The bulk of the research for my latest feature column was completed in the family's absence. I’m now at the part I love, the fugue state of shuffling and sifting to find the story that hasn’t been told, because I haven’t told it yet. All the heady-thready stuff, the scribbled cocktail napkins, OneNote tabs, taped interviews, outlines, insights, late night inspirations, Post-its tacked to my monitor have been sucked up, all aswirl like autumn leaves, making and breaking sparky new connections. I roughed out a first draft which I'm suddenly desperate to get back to.

This part is all mine. This is the black box shit they don’t or can’t teach in `how to write like a writer` schools. What’s mine is mine until I write it. Even then it’s still mine, unless in some blockheaded, uber-genitive huff I decide not to write it. Then it would stay mine forever. But Dr. Johnson got it right of course; I wouldn’t get my fee and I would get desperate, angry calls from my editor and his boss, the senior executive editor and his boss, even the new publisher, with whom I swapped cocktail stories last weekend on the balcony of his Midtown penthouse.  We were all at a summers-end soirée for magazine brass to celebrate the mantle's passing to the young publisher from his father, son of the magazine's legendary founder. China cup pretty, a very young British heiress soon to be his second wife, clung unhappily to his arm.  My new boss told his intended I am the magazine’s best writer. Not the best science writer, but the best writer. He told me we would become great friends.

Nobody’s calling about missed deliveries. There’s no need and never has been. I and my work are utterly reliable. Like all its predecessors, this article will go out a little shy of the deadline as an attachment to a short, cordial email. Then in a process akin to bovine digestion, Editorial will edit and fact-check and kick it upstairs. Somebody else will chew it over again like cud and kick it higher. It gets vetted by Legal, kicked back downstairs to Production and somebody else stripes in photos, charts, callouts, ads and headlines. The point is that by the time you read "my article" with my byline; it’s long since stopped being mine. It's theirs and then yours. The secret of good writing is possession. The secret of making a good living writing is dispossession. People wonder that we’re so fucked up.

Add to which, my lover of three years is royally peeved at me.  ... This post continues!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Molte Corse, Molti Mondi (Many Travels, Many Worlds) Part 1

copyright 2010 Riccardo Berra/Apostrophe

The apartment was empty. It would feel no less empty with her in it. Violetta knew it and knew the empty echoing click of her key in the lock would bring a lump to her throat. She’d been fighting tears since the early morning call during which Riccardo claimed he wouldn’t have time for her before his trip. They’d argued; the argument so silly and pointless that she can’t remember what she’d said, only that it was biting and cruel without cause and that there was now only rawness left in the battle’s wake. In the dread little insecure part of her soul that she despised, she endured another withering barrage of envy for Sofi, who so much more than her, never left his side, having become his constant companion in business and love. Little Miss Familiar, little miss anal protégé, with her stunning beauty and technical prodigy, such boundless youthful energy, absorbing, at such an astonishing rate, every aspect of his business and pleasure. Best, best of all at being useful. Not just flitting from point A to point B, but moving with direction and purpose. While poor Vi on the other hand, fades, every day becoming more useless, insecure and clinging.

Vi shook off this self-pitying monologue like a wet dog shakes its fur and reassured herself that of course they’d all be together as soon as she herself returned, that any wounds were imagined, on her part of course. Today’s bitter words by then long forgotten to be replaced by the ardor of absence. This reunion in three weeks’ time would be as achingly sweet, explosive and intense as all previous ones had been. She was being silly and hormonal to imagine otherwise.

Packing: Why is this so difficult? Impossible to order her luggage or thoughts. Riccardo and Sofi would return from their cross-country shoots to occupy this apartment while she was away. But if Europe was “away” did that make New York “home”? Cruel eternal Roma had always been home but Marco had made her feel like an outcast in her own country. Here, a life as scattered as the clothes on her bed. Zia Maria tanning her wrinkles in San Tropez with her even more ancient first cousin. Gia, in boarding school in Switzerland. Marco? He could winter in hell as far as she’s concerned. Laughing Stella in Bermuda, so sick, terminal in fact, yet stubbornly refusing to step over death’s threshold.

Itinerary: Duties to discharge in Rome, documents to sign, transfers of title related to sales of d’Este estate properties, then off as quickly as possible to Switzerland to snatch what little time she could over the school holiday with her daughter, then off to Etienne in London. London had sure felt like home during her schooldays, those happiest times in her life, before Riccardo. Could any of these places be called home? She laughed bitterly, enjoying the cruelness of the joke on herself.

“Al diavolo con i pensieri tristi!”

... This post continues!