One should count each day a separate life. Seneca
A short story is a work of fiction limited in length and meant to be read in just one sitting. It is based on a plot, that is, a series of events provoked by a conflict. Generally the conflict is that of man against himself, man against others, or man against nature. The story evolves around how the conflict is affronted.
I would like to transform my diary posts into short stories. Like the short stories of Lucia Berlin. Because by simultaneously contracting and expanding the world around her, Lucia has this way of turning subtle observations into motion pictures.
Lucia’s stories are populated by The Marginalia—people who, not part of the main text, are forced to live on the edge. People who suffer from terminal illnesses such as fear, poverty, alcoholism, and loneliness. People who are loitering in their own lives. Just like the Statue of Liberty, Lucia’s stories say: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
Straightforward with bumps, Lucia says “I don’t mind telling people awful things if I can make them funny.” And in the middle of this deadpan drama, Lucia throws around metaphors as if they were carnival confetti.
The point of departure for Lucia’s writing was her difficult upbringing. Her childhood featured an absent father, an alcoholic mother, and an abusive grandfather. Lucia also suffered from sclerosis. She married three times, had four kids she raised on her own, worked numerous jobs, and continued the peripatetic lifestyle of her childhood. What else could she write about if not her own horror vacui reality. As to her auto-fiction, Lucia says “I exaggerate a lot and I get fiction and reality mixed up, but I don’t actually ever lie.”
I woke up feeling sad because, later in the day, Chloé was going back to Paris. Which meant waiting all day for her departure. Waiting is like holding your breath so we spent the day in apnea until it was time to go to the train station. It was a 20 minute walk and luckily the weather was good. The walk included visuals of the Angiolo Mazzoni Tower, the Aurelian Wall, Porta Tiburtina, the Arch of Pope Sixtus V, and some unidentified caged archeological remains. We said little on the way but our silence was camouflaged by the wheels of Chloé’s trolley that went clink clank clink clank clink clank on the uneven sidewalk.
Termini is Rome’s largest train station. Constructed mainly during the Fascists period, it has a series of arches like those of the Colosseum only severely geometrical. Mussolini was fixated with the idea of a Born Again Roman Empire and tried imitating the look.
Once we arrived at Termini, Rome’s main train station, we waited again. This time in line for the automatic ticket machine.
Many many years ago De Sica made a film there, Stazione Termini. It was about Mary, a married American in Rome visiting her sister. While walking around Piazza di Spagna, she meets an Italian teacher, Giovanni. The two become lovers but, at a certain point, Mary must return to the States. Giovanni doesn’t want her to go. He meets her at Termini in hopes of convincing her to stay in Rome. The couple walks around the station discussing their situation. They’re caught grubbing in an abandoned train car and taken to the police station for improper behavior. There the Commissioner, who undoubtedly knew much about infidelity, resolves Mary’s conflict of “should I stay or should I go” by telling her to leave Rome or risk a scandal. Forced to depart, Mary promises Giovanni her eternal love. Abandoned and overwhelmed, Giovanni leaves the station.
The film wasn’t considered much of a success. An Italian Neo-realistic film with dialogues written by Truman Capote, in my opinion, didn’t have much of a chance.
Termini has radically changed since De Sica’s film. Demographics and security measures have modified the look and spirit of the place. Once I could have accompanied Chloé directly to her train but now there are barriers and guards and ticket checks. So we said our melancholic goodbyes in front of the plexiglass barricade before she turned and left me standing there alone. My last image of Chloé is that of her walking away pulling her trolley. I watched and watched until she became a blur engulfed by other blurs.
Termini makes me think of Lucia Berlin’s stories. Both are full of transient people—some with a destination and some without. The ones without look frayed like unraveling rope waiting for the final tug.
Lucia writes about overwhelming and depressing situations with great buoyancy. But I don’t have her talent. The train station ambience just brings me down and all I wanted to do was to go home.
If it’s true that everyone has a story to tell, then Termini is a library. And today I feel like a book.
(from The Diary of Luz Corazzini, Cynthia Korzekwa ©)