Birds of Italy: pt II. Milano Gottico

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Martha Hubbard lives on an island in the North Baltic. A place of strange gods, mysteries, tragedies and wonder, it provides the perfect bed-rock for a writer of dark fantasy. Previously she has been a teacher, cook, stage manager & dramaturge ,  a parking lot company book-keeper and a community development worker.  Her stories have appeared in the Innsmouth Free Press’ anthologies, Historical Lovecraft, Candle in the Attic Window and Future Lovecraft. Last year she served on the jury for the International SFF Translation Awards and hopes to do so again.

 

Milano Gottico

“I have forgotten my umbrella,” mused Gabrielle di Bonacci. The sky above Milan’s spires and pinnacles  was a blazing cobalt. “Looks like it’s going to be a beautiful day. Maybe I’ll chance it.” This was an unusual decision as Gabrielle always appeared dressed like a proper English gentleman.
Since his return from a posting in London, Signor di Bonacci had adopted the cultural and haberdashery habits of an English banker. He ate his meals in a restaurant that provided him with steak & kidney pudding; the chef-owner privately very rude about this peculiar Italian pretending to be an Englishman in Milan. His suits were copied from Savile Row. He never appeared in public without his bowler hat and furled umbrella, until today.
During his months in The City, Gabrielle had been awed by the unceasing industry that generated so much wealth. That there were so many unwashed sleeping in doorways, extending their hands for succour, was simply a side effect of concentrating on the big picture.  Milan had its full share of beggars, pickpockets, sneak-thieves and unfortunates. Why should they not also acquire London’s financial acumen? Such were Gabrielle’s thoughts as he walked briskly through the piazza Duomo. He thought about lighting a candle, deciding as usual, he didn’t have time, hurrying on into the Galleria. He usually stopped for a ristretto, but his fine Swiss watch insisted he was late, so he kept going.
Approaching the square near La Scala where so trams many originate, he saw an unusually large, angry crowd. There seemed to be no trams. Tapping a man on the shoulder, he asked politely, ‘When is the next car to piazza Cardusio?’
“Bastardo, non ei niente!” With this and other similarly sulphurous exclamations, Gabrielle understood; there had not been any trams  – ever; that stupido! This was piazza Cardusio; and this man, personally, intended to murder the Milan-Transit Authority’s manager, his mother, sister and all his cousins.
How had he not recognised his tram stop? Maybe the loitering multitudes had made it impossible to recognise any landmarks. This would never be allowed to happen in London. He sighed. I must keep walking. Perhaps this hold-up will clear. Several trams will come along in a bunch, allowing all these people to get where they want to go.
He walked, manoeuvring  like David Beckham, as it became harder to move through the crowds. Strangely, they all seemed to be going in the same direction. Did all these people really want to go to Palazzo della Borsa? Apparently they did. Realizing there was no way he could get to work on time, Gabrielle thought to stop at Peck for a coffee. To no avail. There the press of bodies was so strong, he was caught in the undertow of people eddying towards the Stock Exchange. He could not speed up, nor slow down, nor get out of the wave.
As his section pressed into the piazza, Gabrielle became aware of an angry susurration, Nearing the Borsa, he checked his watch – after 11:00. It was closed. Impossibile! How could the greatest financial institution in Italy be closed at this hour? Retreating out to the edge of the crowd, he received another shock. All the banks lining the piazza were also closed.
“Porca miseria” Signor Bonacci never swore, but this was an extraordinary situation. He understood the crowds’ anger. If there is anything an Italian cares about more than his car, his clothes, his figura, it is his money. Today, the banks, all of them, were closed. This was intolerable.
He shivered and looked up at the sky. The brazen cobalt morning had clouded over, now presenting a face as grim as an evil magician waving a leaden cape over the multitudes in the piazza. As the first drops of rain began to descend, Gabrielle thought, I knew I should have brought my umbrella. Maybe he could squeeze into a space under one of the arcades? Not a chance. The people there were squashed as tightly as commuters on the Northern Line after a jumper on the tracks. How it used to irritate him, stuck in with all the unwashed, just because some poor unfortunate had decided to end it by leaping under a Tube train during rush hour.
Nothing to do. He pulled his collar up and turtled his head into his jacket. Maybe this won’t last long. It didn’t, in a manner of speaking. The rain turned to hail. Freezing pellets the size of golf balls bounced onto the protesting crowd. These were succeeded by clouds of black birds, wings beating helplessly as they fell and died.
Next there were rats, some dead, some not A blood-curdling shriek, made him turn his head. A buxom, bling-bedecked woman, her red lipstick smeared onto her chin, was desperately trying to bat a scrabbling creature off her head. The crowd howled their disapproval.
Dead rodents changed into coins, freezing coins, that drummed onto heads provoking more screaming.
“They came here to get money,” Gabrielle muttered. “This isn’t what they had in mind.” Soon the coins were mixed with stones that might be gold. It didn’t matter. The torrent was so powerful, so unending, no one could stoop to examine them. People were trying to run, pushing and shoving, to get away from the onslaught. Someone fell, was trampled underfoot; then another and another. Bloodied stones were covered with stinking fish and dying animals, larger and larger animals. Heaven was emptying it’s chamber pots onto this piazza.
A bellowing horse landed on a group, squashing everyone under it. A phalanx of battered old FIATs followed, bouncing and pinging through the crowd, flattening and killing all they touched.
Recognizing the intent of this awful deluge, Gabrielle began fighting like the rest to escape the square. He pushed, punched, shoved – desperate to get out of the murderous piazza. Until, tripping on a slick of blood, falling under a heavy black boot, he marveled, “No one is complaining anymore.”

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