estimated reading time: 4 minutes
I was looking at the sunset, leaning on the iron handrail next to the platform, in San Servolo. The waves, slow, long waves, crushed gently on the stone stairs a few feet from me, descending in the sea. They rode up a few steps, slipped away, on the moss, and crushed back again, at the same slow rhythm.
“Beautiful sunset, today, isn’t it?” The girl next to me took a long drag from her cigarette.
“As always,” I sighed, looking at smoke coils lazily rising in front of the burning red Sun.
Like a tired eye, slowly closing after a long working day, the Sun was sinking behind the Island of San Clemente, setting fire to the waves below, dancing like a thousand flames in the wind. The few clouds that still dared to dot such a beautiful summer sky, had become rose patches, floating around, echoing the light and beauty of the very Sun they threatened to cloak.
“Do you know…” I turned to listen to the girl, who was now leaning on the same iron handrail. She was looking in front of her, the red light reflecting in her eyes. “Do you know what makes this sunset special, what makes it different?”
I looked back at the sun, confused, “No, what is it?”
“We see the sun sets behind Marghera, and the gases that factories and refineries exhale in the sky daily reflect sunlight in a…well, in a unique way, making it so intense.”
I squinted to see the smokestacks, far from us, where sky and sea met. “Are you serious?”
The girl shrugged. “That’s what they say, I’m no scientist myself.” She took another drag, slightly parting her lips to blow out the smoke a few seconds later.
Hearing the sound of chatters behind us, I turned to look at the small crowd of tourists that were gathering there, to go back to Venice. An old man snapped a picture of the girl, smoking while facing the red sun, eyes closed. In the distance, I could hear the boat approaching, with its panting, fatigued growl, then turning in front of the platform, to dock. “San Zaccaria!” the sailor called, yelling as he did over and over in the same day, and then again the day after, and the day after that. The small crowd poured into the boat, snapping more pictures of the sunset as they slid away on the water, leaving only small waves behind, breaking one against the other.
“I read a poem about Venice, once,” she started, “and Venice was depicted as a dancer, resting peacefully at the end of the day, with her hair, black as night, shrouding her like a blanket, protecting her in her sleep. I don’t agree.”
“You don’t agree?”
“I don’t. Venice is a dancer alright, just…she never stops. Oh, would she like to stop already! She’s dead tired, poor thing.”
Shifting weight from one arm to the other I looked at her. “Why doesn’t she stop, then?”
“Her master asked her not to. And she’s madly in love, too, so she just dances and dances, swirling on the stage, smiling in her flamboyant dress, because she loves him.” She turned to the sun, almost gone below the waves, and took another drag.
She started singing to herself, softly, smoke coiling out of her mouth. “Inside my heart is breaking, my makeup may be flaking but my smile… still stays on…”
I looked again at the smokestacks. “He’ll end up killing her, won’t he?”
“Maybe, but, until the very end, even as she’s dying, the dancer will keep showing her breathtaking beauty to the world, and to her master, of course. ‘Cause, you know, she loves him, she can’t help it.”
“Why do you think he’s doing this?”
“Power, probably. That feeling of omnipotence that only holding someone’s fate in your hands can give you…they say that love is one hell of a drug, but power,” she chuckled, “power really hits in a different way.”
“Isn’t she just a dancing corpse, then?”
She stood silent for a few seconds, smoking pensively. “No one’s fate’s already written somewhere, isn’t it? All it would take is for the master to remember that overwhelming feeling of emptiness, the same feeling every time one of his dancers falls on the stage, never to get up again. He loved all of them, at the beginning. He should remember how that love felt, too.”
A wave, taller than the others, splashed my shoes.
“It’s high, tonight. The tide, I mean.”
“It’s rising, too. Let’s go inside, tonight’s gonna be rough.”
As the sky was darkening above our heads, we started walking down the main path towards our rooms. Behind our backs, beyond the dark park dotted with the eerie light of streetlamps, on the fine line between the first stars and the restless sea, stood a beautiful dancer, swirling again and again in the rising wind.