(1991) Pinocchio in Venice

Free (1991) Pinocchio in Venice by Robert Coover

Book: (1991) Pinocchio in Venice by Robert Coover Read Free Book Online
Authors: Robert Coover
Tags: Historical fiction, General Fiction, Italy
PHILOSOPHICAL WATCHDOG
        
        The benumbed wayfarer lies, swaddled in newspapers, blankets, and old rags like a wizened parody of the Christ child from a rigid Trecento nativity, on a bed of wood chips and sawdust under the umbrella of a corrugated tin roof, his back against an overturned gondola, his bundled feet pointed toward an old rusty barrel in which a fire is being stoked by the boatyard's watchdog, Melampetta. "Come Monday, they'll give me a rogue's thumping for letting thieves steal the firewood," she growls, "but cosě va il mondo, as the philosopher said, if it wasn't the poet - destiny's not to be tampered with unless the Party takes a hand in it, and the Party's hand nowadays is in its pants. So, nothing to do but face whatever comes with a good heart and stout buttocks, and if the evil beggars get carried away, the devil take them, I'll piss on their sandwiches." "That's letting them off easy," Alidoro rumbles from out on the lip of the old dock, where he is rummaging through a snowy heap of broken tiles and glass, bricks, rusted pipes, old paint tins and plastic bags, chain links, bottles, gas cans, and stiff old socks for any burnable bits of wood, rag, and paper. "You should piss in their wine, Mela, hit the tyrannical swillpots where it most hurts." "The wine they drink, cazzo mio, piss improves it, they'd be beating me for the profit in it," she replies. " 'When the masters drink pee and call it claret, the wretched of the earth must grin and bear it; but when the masters drink claret and call it pee, then hang the bastards from the nearest tree!' I think it was either Pliny or the blessed Apuleius who said that, or else it was Saint John of the Apocalypse."
        "She's a quarrelsome old bitch, who fancies herself something of an argufier and a heavy thinker, she's got a mouth like a brass band, as they say, and a cunt like a mailbag, but she's a good compagna for all that, and I believe she will not shut us out on a night like this," Alidoro had explained on the way over, a way that was, in the end, too long for the collapsing traveler. Almost too tired and ill to know what he was doing, he had signed a general denunciation of the thieves, the police offering to fill in all the names, surnames, descriptions, alleged villainies, and formal criminal and civil charges back at the Questura, then he and Alidoro had hitched a ride in one of the patrol boats, Alidoro stealing a blanket as they got under way and stuffing it under the professor's coat, pretending to be buttoning him up. En route (and, yes, the railway station was just two steps away from the fraudulent hotel, that charlatan had taken him in circles: the police, annoyingly amused, promised to add this to his list of complaints), the old mastiff was the forbearant butt of a lot of more or less friendly banter about all his presumed mistresses, one or more of whom they were apparently about to visit, so the professor was alarmed to learn, when they were dropped off at the San Barnaba traghetto stop and the police had roared away, that the poor brute was broke and homeless ("I'm on the straw, old friend," he apologized with a woeful gaze, snow drifting down around his ears, "you've caught me between head and neck, to put it plain, I'm flat, I'm dry, I've neither bone nor bed. The last woman who, more in pity than in passion, took me in was on the prod and caught the plague from one of the fiendish instruments, sad to say, so I've been bedding down on my wits, what's left of them, ever since…"), and that their best hope was an old gondola repair yard at the backside of the island where he knew the watchdog.
        So Alidoro wrapped the professor up in the blanket they had stolen off the patrol boat ("How did you recognize me?" he asked, and the old mastiff, cope-and-cowling him, replied: "You're the only one I've ever known, my friend, who gave off the smell of holm-oak." "So you've noticed then…" "Noticed -?") and they set off to

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