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Statues of Saints Long Dead
Joe’s hands fidgeted at his side, constantly feeling for a vibration from the silver iPhone sitting in his pocket. He stood at a street corner, looking left to right, straight ahead, then left and right again. He was careful, especially in a city like Rome. He knew that the streets were dangerous, but then again, he supposed just about everything could be dangerous, like a friendly dog held too long from home.
He didn’t like Rome at all, not really. For one, barely anyone could speak English, and he could hardly find his way around the metropolis. History ran through the city like massive veins of gold through quartz. Joe found everything beautiful, but hard to navigate.
To either side of him stood tall buildings, six or seven stories high, the one on the left covered in an obnoxious orange that made him want to hurl, the other covered in a red that also made him want to vomit. He swore under his breath as he continued to fumble with his phone. Joe couldn’t understand why she wouldn’t send him anything.
In front of Joe rose the Basilica of San Giovanni, a massive cathedral. He could only see the front, but he imagined it stretched at least hundreds of yards back. Not that he really cared. He couldn’t care less about its marble columns, or the statues that immortalized San Giovanni. He couldn’t care less about the statues of saints holding crosses. He couldn’t make out a single one. They were all dead men, long gone and long forgotten to Joe.
Joe’s kept on fingering his phone as he waited at the light, watching for the green flash to let pedestrians cross the street. Joe’s mind often wandered; if he focused, he’d have remembered that he left his phone on silent, and that waiting for a reply did him no good. He’d left it on silent, because he’d heard about the pickpocketing in the city, and he would rather not have would-be pickpockets hearing his phone ring. But mostly, he both did and didn’t want to talk to his wife. He just needed some distance, he thought, but he couldn’t keep his mind off of her.
Either way, he found himself in Rome, and he regretted that every day. He had to get away from his life, true, but Rome engulfed him in even more frenzy than that of New York City, and Joe hated frenzy. Still, he wouldn’t trade less frenzy for his favorite vase, broken because he had managed to duck after his wife threw it at him. He wouldn’t trade it for a little note left by his son, written in red and green crayon on blue construction paper, left on the kitchen table the night his family left, that read, “I hate you daddy” with a little mean face, one eye green and one eye red, with a crooked frown and angry slants as eyebrows.
Joe tapped three fingers to his pocket, again and again. Why couldn’t his wife leave him a message, any message, so he could crawl back to her and promise he never stopped loving her? He could beg for his kids back, for his wife back, and maybe end the living hell. He didn’t even have a family anymore.
All he really had anymore was his silver iPhone, flickering in his pocket with a message from his wife.
A woman passing behind him saw the little flickering light in his pocket. She wrapped her shawl more tightly around her head, stepped toward him, and quickly snatched the flickering iPhone from his pocket, leaving it dark, without a flicker of anything.
Feeling a movement in his pocket, Joe took a step forward into the street, thrusting his hand into his pocket. His grin turned to surprise, but only for a moment. No one had warned Joe about the drivers in Rome. Especially not the ones who speed around corners, far faster than he could register.
The black Mercedes minivan looked like a sinister box as it slammed into him. He never had a chance to react, but the dead saints on the Basilica all witnessed the Mercedes emblem emblazon itself on his side, leaving a gash from his hip to the bottom of his ribcage. His hip and bottom rib shattered as the impact flung him into the air. He flipped once, his gash watering the asphalt with his own, hard-earned life. He turned crookedly in the air once, another rib snapping under the torque of his flight, and then hit the ground, hard, skidding and almost skinning the front half of his body. The Mercedes van sped up, thudding over Joe’s body first with its front wheels, then with its back wheels. Joe made no movement or sound as he lay in the streets in a pool of his life.
But the dead saints watched that woman, shawl wrapped tightly around herself, steal away with Joe’s flicker of hope. To her, it might buy her food for a week. To Joe, it wouldn’t have mattered. In his hands or hers, it could have bought him so much more.
Not that it mattered much, anyway. The dead saints claimed Joe as their own; another face gone, another statue with a name none bother to learn.