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December 31st, 1946, 8:00pm
With only four hours remaining until the New Year, the inner parts of Old Havana were not fully alive yet with festivities, which is not to say that things were not heating up despite the apparent . Throngs of pedestrians made their way to various restaurants and clubs while many more stood within the embrace of the various parks, waiting for a fireworks display over Plaza de la Catedral. The sun having set a few hours previous, a brisk oceanic breeze came in from the sea, but the gentle caress of the air was mild enough to only warrant a light jacket, if anything at all. Perhaps a bit of dancing within the Havana night life could warm the soul more than any sweater.
The beautifully decorated square was still full of markets, vendors, and tourists. The ancient and beautifully architectured Catedral de San Christ�bal de La Habana reached high above the square with uneven towers. An eyeshot away was the massive 17th century fort Castillo de la Real Fuerza, now a museum and already closed for the night, to the dissatisfaction of the few patrons who might entreat there.
The air was crisp and cool upon the woman's skin, the crowd slowly growing and milling about along whatever paths fate led them by. Tethered, as always- by la corazon de la gente, the heart of the people and of the city itself. The plaza, already the nexus of cultural activity, was abuzz even more now that it was New Years Eve, the night of combinations and of mixing. A time for satisfaction and sedation. It was a relaxing mixture, and all of the sounds and colors of a Havana night was suddenly laid to bare.
Men in suits discussed darkly at the various secluded corners- their voices somber despite the merriment of the occasion. Parrots rested at their perches, bright plumage reflecting the glow of sparkling sticks carried by mobs of gleeful children. The women throngin together and tossing about their conversational spanish, the crisp sound of Castillian mixing smoothly with the more relaxed sound of Mexicano dialects. There was warmth and vitality oozing from every stone beneath Silvia's feet, energy vibrating through the air and caressing at her spine. The sky itself was ablaze with a myriad collection of stars, a light reflected in the dark and almost ominously anticipating gazes of the Havana natives. The mafiosos, the children, the gossiping women, the merchants- the beautiful greenery.
But none of it would touch the Italian woman, in all of her gloomy discontent and loss of ambition.
Life is fundamentally unjust. Yet life is sacred. Is it a gift? A curse? It makes no difference. What matters is that it is second-hand. It is not you who chooses this gift. It is not you who casts the curse. No. The gift is given. The curse is cast. To you. On you. Whether you want it or not? � is uninteresting. There it is, in your hands, the gift, the curse. Life. Vita.
Then, why not throw it away? Why not end it? Had it only been that simple. For here lies the irony of life, the irony of suffering. The irony lies in the concept of hope. Hope is the greatest lie of Mankind. It is part of Man, hidden somewhere deep within him. It cannot be severed from him, under no circumstances does it part with him. He relies on it. Mankind relies on it. Yet what is this hope they rely on if not merely a tool of prolonging suffering? Hold on, it is said. Don't let go. But what are they for? What do they yield but for more suffering? What does the individual in pain achieve in hoping, but for more pain? And even so the idea of hope is sublime, elevated, moral, paramount�holy. It is hope that allows life to continue, it is hope that makes Man choose suffering over death. Hope is a lie. It is the accomplice of suffering, its twin.
No one chooses life. And if you find it life is a curse, the mechanisms of it will make you stay in the curse despite its horrors. Hope is the mechanism that will make you choose suffering, hope is what makes life sacred. Hope is what makes suffering sacred. Hope is the tempter. Hope is the Snake in Eden. Hope is the right hand of the Devil. Hope is the cause of the torment of Man. Yet Man praises it. Man worships it. Man chooses it. The world is twisted. Life is fundamentally unjust. You never ask for it, but even so you get it. And once you have it, you cannot rid yourself of it, for there is the hope to take into account. Because of hope, life is sacred.
Hope � so much glorified, so much a virtue � is the single cause of all suffering. And yet Man carry its weight on our shoulders with gratitude.
So many fates. Silvia Alejandra Anzini's Italian gaze passed slowly over the crowd. Blindly following their fates, at whatever path these led them by. Tethered, as always- by el dolor de la coraz�n. So much suffering. This night in particular, New Year's Eve, seemed always to bathe in the notion of hope, the air vibrating in its deceitful embrace. Now one would start anew, and surely it would all change for the better. The Italian knew it was not so. Hope was the mask of suffering. Silvia Anzini stood quite still.
Finally released from quarantine, she had moved slowly through the surges of Havana, arriving here at this piazza. It had her recall the Piazza Tasso of her hometown Sorrento, named after the poet Torquato Tasso. Just up the street lay Pastoria di Corso, and towards the sea, overhanging the road forming an open wedge from the sea into the cliffs of Sorrento, lay Ars Italia, as it had done for soon a 100 years. Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast; it was nothing like Havana. But Havana contained no memories, no shattered dreams, no personal past. The eternal myriad of stars, were they the same she had seen over l'Italia? The caressing breeze, the crisp air, were they different from the zephyr arriving from the Tyrrhenian Sea?
Clutching her suitcase in her left hand, Silvia Anzini brushed dark locks of hair away from her forehead. She wore her best gown, and a single breasted jacket held the chill away. Her remaining belongings were in the suitcase, some in the sack over her shoulder. The Italian eyed the plaza, taking in the to her unfamiliar Spanish dialects. She needed a place to stay, of course. And something to eat; she had not had proper food for weeks. It did not, however, take a lot of imagination to see that the former, and perhaps even the latter, were not as available as they commonly were. This was New Year's Eve. Both hotels and restaurants of some standard would be booked full. The Italian was also very much aware the potential consequences of her gender and looks in seedier parts of the town. Images from the past flashed before her eyes�Silvia Anzini stepped into the crowd and mingled. Discreetly she looked for a well-dressed man, neither children or women would be of any use. Still her rationality was well-functioning.
A trail of dead followed the Italian miss: mother and father, Galeazzo� Failure was her heritage. Failure and betrayal. But could a broken past be replaced? Or forgotten? Did she indeed still cling to the hope she knew would only prolong her torments? People moved by her. So many fates. But none as terrible as hers. The men, women and children- they seemed unreal and shallow. They were merely flesh and blood. Nothing touched the Italian woman.
Silvia Anzini walked alone over the foreign piazza, the past tracing to her like her shadow. There were no one else but she and her shadow. Why? Because comprehension does not equal realization. She knew the lie, yes, she knew it. Life is fundamentally unjust. But she did not comply with its inevitable demand, she did not realize its bidding. Not yet.
They were by the flock and by the drove- collared and tethered by the energy of the plaza, the center of life and of living here in Havana, much as it was in any Cuban city- a common trait among the Spanish-speaking countries in the world. The people were more integrated, more connected, than they otherwise might be. That was something endearing to the residents and doubtless uncomfortable to outsiders- forced away and slid apart from the chain that bound everyone else together, separated by cultural difference and incapability to understand things so engrained into the culture. Silvia, at least, had the benefit of her time spent in Spain-- but that did nothing to help the notion of belonging -here-, in this place.
There were men here, all of them apparently wolfish and on the prowl- moving on occasion in packs, predatorily searching for the scent of the vulnerable heiress or the woman who did not mind a jaunt between the sheets. Fedoras slanted, and the darker looking men- those who might kill someone without a second thought- were especially in this mode of behavior, searching for someone to be their siren and muse for the night. It helped, perhaps, that those who were connected to the mafia were also some of the wealthiest men in Havana, and thus were the most likely to draw women of the appropriate sort. Girls in the city liked men with power and influence, and at the moment- whatever Mister San Martin might believe- the mafiosos and crimelords were the ones in true power. The removal of Batista in free election had done much for the country, but it was only a matter of time before nepotism and corruption became common themes once again. The vultures on the sidelines, those vicious men who now stalked the plaza like so many beasts, were the ones who benefited, in the end. They were the ones who held the true strength of Cuba and her economy.
It was therefore, perhaps, not surprising when the man who would first catch Silvia's eye jumped out- a classic suit and walking stick marks of his position in society. It was the tilted fedora, at an angle- and the gleam in his eye- that would first mark him as noticeable and worthwhile by the despondent Italian. He was prowling, he was searching, and he was wealthy. That alone might have marked him as an ideal target- but it was the kind of complacent vacancy in his eyes that would truly make him stand out. His garments were the sort of grey that makes it impossible to determine if it is intended to be light or dark- that nebulous hue that implies indecisiveness or complete certainty and acceptance of things. Complexion was dark, and he wore a goatee like it were a grand garment- his eyebrows heavy and dark. He was mulatto- that much was obvious, doubtless possessing the curly hair of his black mother beneath that delightfully angled hat.
Unlike the other hunters, questiong for feminine prey, this gentleman travelled alone and apparently without worry. Already, within Silvia's gaze, she could see him sauntering across the plaza- a path that would lead him about ten paces from the Italian- toward a particularly vivacious redhead, a parrot perched upon her shoulder and a cigarette lingering between two fingers, the smoke rising lazily toward the starry heavens.
The redhead laughed, back facing toward the approaching gentleman. It was becoming immediately apparent that if Silvia wished to act, now was the time. Everyone else was familiar with this game- and the redhead, from the look of her, looked as if she had won the prize more than her fair share of the time. It was almost unfair, really, like all of life, that this undeserving and doubtless vixen should somehow get what she wanted. Her own vacancy was apparent from Silvia's angle, worn proudly and unashamedly, and doubtless part of the reason why the men of the plaza were so drawn to her.
Ignorance enjoys company.
The fates; they seemed so shallow. So simple, the innumerable fates passing her. So simple, yet so tempting in their simplicity. Alluring in their simplicity. All of them interwoven in the superior fate of Man, constituting a web so extensive and so complicated, consisting of innumerable threads comprised, twisting themselves around each other, entangling and disentangling, unravelling and elaborating, to bring forth existence. Silvia Anzini was quite convinced the mulatto with the fedora's thread was hidden deep into the web, comfortable, safe...unlike hers. Hers swayed freely on its own, on its own, leading away from all others. She wondered, was that its final lapse?
The Italian's eyes followed the particular fedora. Her left palm was aching as a result of carrying the heavy suitcase. A thin layer of sweat had the handle rest less safely in her hand. There were all sorts of people here, also those who did not hesitate in snatching a lady's luggage, but the plaza was too packed to allow for open robbery. Italy - Mussolini's Italy - had been orderly. During his reign even the mafia had been stayed. She had loved il Duce...but now- did she hate him? He had betrayed her and her dream, as had all others. The broken vision of her youth had left no remains except memories equally broken. Amor fati, they said. But how could she love hers?
Silvia Anzini could not escape the notion that Havana and Cuba was alien to her. Of course, existence often seemed alien to the Italian. Since the failures and deaths of the ones she had admired she seemed to have had moved in a vacuum, alone even if in company. But Havana was alien also on another level: culturally. It was not quite like Spain despite common language and partly common heritage. The city oozed of corruption, of continuous inner decay despite its often glittering facade. Perhaps this fedora was not so much a living incarnation of that atmosphere as were most of prowling the plaza? Or perhaps that was just what he was?
She gave a brief glance at the redhead. Then set her eyes upon the mulatto of her choice. With confident steps she aimed to intercept his path before he reached the laughing woman, arriving at the estimated intersection of him and herself well before him. She made no particular figure, and stopped quietly an arm's length away from where her fedora would pass. As he sauntered towards her she looked the other way, allowing him no glimpse of her. And just as he stepped past her, she spoke only so loudly he would just hear her words, forcing him to turn around if he was to discover to whom belonged this voice, disclosing a faint Italian accent and with a cadence hinting at - but not quite possessing - sensuality.
"Amor fati, it is said. But to always follow it blindly, taking the platitudinous path?" The shadow of a smile touched her lips.
The human ear is a funny thing. It can manipulate the actual sounds it hears, inserting every little nuance it wishes to hear and disrupting the patterns of those noises it finds discordant. It is one of the best deceptions, not so filled with schadenfreude as the false belief in 'hope', likely, but just as chilling in the consequences it can inflict upon the human heart. Perhaps that is all that anything was, really- a nest of lies that people tell themselves so that they might feel better about their own isolation in the universe. It was indeed possible that the world was inhospitable and unkind- uncaring of the ultimate fate of humanity as a whole, but sometimes, there were too many coincidences and connections for it all to be meaningless...
There came a moment of sudden balance, as Silvia spoke, the man suddenly placed on the precipice between vixens and sirens, his body practically shaking with the indecisiveness for the briefest of instants. Seduction weighed itself against the temptation of something better- another of those lies that people tell themselves, that the grass is always greener on the other side. In the end, the fellow swirled toward the sound of the perhaps sultry voice, head cocked at the words spoken. Eyes focused on the Italian girl, almost sharklike in their predation, those orbs tracing up and downthe young woman's form as if determined to absorb the very essence of what it meant to be Silvia. He drank her form, as any man might be tempted to do, head shaking as if awakening from a dream- tearing itself from that vault of a graceful neck.
Really, the poor fellow had no chance.
"Do you believe everything that the poets say, my dear? It makes more sense to strike into the jungle and make one's own desires..." apparently appearances were deceiving- or else this was a practiced line- for this fellow was certainly not speaking as a nitwit was liable to do. Even so, he was intimately enraptured, under the spell of Miss Anzini as surely as if she had whispered an incantation of the heart with her presence. "But there is something to be said for following where the rivers lead, isn't there? Sometimes, that voice that whispers out of silence is the only thing telling the truth- if one would but listen. Hableme, chica bonita- necesito que oir.**"
He took a few steps toward Silvia, predatory as ever, softened by his apparent poetic license. He was only a few steps away, and still as allured as the moment he had set his eyes upon Silvia in the first place. "What's your name, my dear? Perhaps Aphrodite? Or Venus?" A wink and then he settled himself into his familiar position of implied control- arms crossed as he regarded the Italian woman.
Brown eyes did not waver from the mulatto's amorous stare despite the temptations it openly and voluntarily fell victim to, the liberties it took without concern. Immediately the Italian concluded him superficial and hollow, but she was not in search for a thinker, this particular fedora would do fine.
Her mouth remained a faint disguise of a smile. She did not visibly react to him. Pulling away from him would be playing, commonly initiating a game of attacks and rejections ending with acceptation of his company for the evening to whatever dinner he would take her; acting forwardly was cheap, and no less promising for him than the previous. Both were overused, both where shallow...platitudinous. One of the two were what the prancing redhead was liable to, indeed certain to apply on her choice. Enticing neutrality, passiveness, yes, ignoranza; that was different, that was something else. And so it was with the unfulfilled smile. The promise of a smile was ever more propitous than was the smile itself. A general phenomenon perhaps, the promise of something better - a lie - inducing hope - another lie.
Silvia Anzini had no intention of smiling to this man.
"Should I? Should I believe in the words of the poet? You seem to think so...se�or...already you have utilized several of the treasured tools of the poet: metaphors, a rhetorical question, allusions to mythology. Tell me, if I am Aphrodite, then do you believe yourself Hephaistos?" There was no doubt the fedora was experienced with donne. Donne like the redhead. For him, she suspected, a woman was prey, and she was usually easy caught. However, the more difficulty trapping her was, the more satisfactory was victory. Failure, on the other hand, was loss of honour. Failure was a thorn in an otherwise unblemished self-assurance. The mulatto had already committed himself to her, if he lost her now, it would be a deep wound in his egocentric superiority. The young Italian had assigned no tone of subjection in addressing him se�or, it was the very fact that she had dared label him so without the respect usual following such wording that made her different and interesting.
Indeed, his fate lay comfortably in the great web, looking nowhere but straight ahead, daring nothing. She was quite sure. Had he at least some substance? She could not know yet. His answer to her question was likely to tell.
Silvia Anzini's fingers ached, but she did not change her grip on the suitcase. Havana was new to her, yet so far she felt it was all the same as Europe, no? Comprehension and realization were not equals, for in between lay the feebleness of hope.
Drawn into her elegantly crafted web of denial and flirtatiousness, the man's gaze drifted from her face to decidedly more souther locations, temptation immediately setting him upon Silvia's hook- she had him before she even replied. Hope, ever the deceitful minx, brought about so many improbable lies to the front of the mulatto's mind, and they were almost pathetically visible upon his countenance. His lips spread in their own arc, desperate to make this girl happy and to seduce that little bit of happiness from within her shadowy mien. Captured, as ever, by that desire for togetherness and the central need for belonging- the false pretenses that humanity tells themselves so that they might sleep at night without fearing the breath of morning.
Oh, Silvia was good- she was very good indeed, feeding into every little desire and hope of the typical man, drawing him in even as she played him for the fool. The tool all intelligent women knew of, even if far too many were ashamed to use it, was wielded within her grasp like a surgeon's blade, slicing at heartstrings and singing a siren's song at once. Oh poesie, oh thou nymph reserved, those words echoing from Silvia's lips- pouring like endless rain.
"Hephaistos? No no no... I think you misunderstand me..." the man seemed alarmed, somewhat, at the girl's lack of willingness to concede to his cleverly crafted pickup lines, but that only served to feed his desire to convince her. Hope, dangling on a string, like slow-spinning redemption. "Perhaps I am not Hephaistos, perhaps I am instead Ares. I'm a lover, but that is not to say that I'm not also a fighter." Another practiced line- perhaps having just enough experience with the fairer sex to know the way around some of the common caveats of his plans, or maybe he was smarter than he seemed. Whatever the case, the fellow was at least trainable- like a bloodhound whose senses are all trained upon Silvia. There would be no releasing her, now that he desired her- his friends were doubtless watching from across the plaza, and there was no way for him to concede the encounter without loss of face. No man worth his muster would give up even an inch of his reputation if he could but help it.
Fedora was lifted softly, lightly, and that grin turned almost into a sneer of predation- they both knew the game they played, but only Silvia knew how deep it really ran. For the mulatto, everything was trapped amid delusions of possible outcomes and the fragile hope- that ever-present lie- that he might somehow emerge victorious, at the end of the night.
"But perhaps you reject the notion of being a goddess? Entonces d�me, mi amor, como te llamo**?" The command was soft and sweet- a bit vulnerable, but even that bit of vulnerability was doubtless a masquerade for the sake of drawing women closer- another guise for cruel hearts so that they might better pretend to be connected.
Only an ignorant initiated a contest he was not a 100% sure to win. But it was only uno sciocco who had not the wits to pull out of the contest - to retreat with his honour still more or less intact - as early as possible, but who continued playing in the puny hope that somehow he could still win. Or perhaps this sciocco actually did believe his helpless polemics combined with his random knowledge of Greek mythology was enough. Again, the hope. Vain hope, but still hope, leading nowhere.
She did not take her eyes off him, his eager eyes. "Then, Ares, where is your sister Eris and her golden apple, she who is said to always follow her brother?" Italy had once been a vast empire: the Roman Empire, embracing the Mediterranean from all sides. Why should not the Italian once again possess his Mare Nostrum? The proud heritage of the Italian had been elevated into a proof and a reason for the coming expansion of il Duce's Fascist Italy during this one's reign. It followed that all Italians with respect for themselves knew the Roman mythology forwards and backwards, and consequently also the Greek on which the former is based. Silvia Anzini was no exception; she knew the ins and outs of Olympia as if the arcana had been branded on the very walls of her mind. "Not inviting her, that is, Eris, has traditionally yielded...unfortunate consequences."
Indeed, it might seem an apple like that of Eris had landed at the table of Silvia Anzini's. The mulatto was only one fedora among many, Silvia Alejandra Anzini there was only one of, or so it seemed. Did she envy the simple fates of men like the mulatto? No. It was the wrong question to ask. She had come to Havana not to laugh bitterly over a broken past, but to find a future. But she could not escape the idea that she was a disillusioned Sisyphus. It was said that the more pressure that was put on your will of life, the heavier your burdens, the freer and happier you will be in resisting it, not allowing fate to make a victims of you. But why was Silvia Anzini to roll the stone up the hill yet another time? It was the hopelessness of hope.
The Italian watched the mulatto unravel, reading his confusion; she saw how he could not control his gaze, how he succumbed to standard lines. Did she envy such a life? Was it perhaps possible to find a meaning in your own life through observing the lack of any proper such - any worthy meaning of life - if such a thing existed? Was any meaning better than another? Or would any meaning do, however shallow it appeared? The size of one's goal in life - its scope -, was perhaps uninteresting, the critical matter was that you had one. Per se, the Italian had not. For now she survived in a glass house of hope, and for the moment, that included seducing the mulatto before her, one fedora among them all.
"Silvia," continued the Italian donna, her native tongue shining gently through her Spanish. "Call me Silvia, se�or..." She trailed off, awaiting him to fill in with his name.
He was a fool, and fools were inclined to enter contests which they had no chance of winning, if only for the chance to prove their foolishness. Perhaps he had not met a woman so equipped as Silvia, or perhaps he simply did not truly recognize the degree of her expertise in this field. Whatever the case, he did not seem especially vexed that his honeyed words without real substance had not caused the woman to melt into his hands. Rather, the mulatto man smiled wickedly, in an almost predatory fashion.
Men such as this were ever easy to enrapture, with their captivation and fixation upon the notion of victory and achieving the goal. Sometimes, as Silvia had doubtless learned during her tenure, the goal was not the only important thing. Some might call it risk assessment, but to the experienced person it was simply common sense-- do not risk more than the profit is worth. Economists had known this for years; it was then fortunate, perhaps, that this fellow did not appear to be an accomplished financier.
"Eris... my sister, with her apples of discord..." he seemed to be searching for a clever reaction, under the pretense of being profound and brazen. "... she is doubtless weary from casting tensions between the nations of the world for the past few years. Even the feet of the divine do occasionally tire, it is said, and my sister has been walking for far too long. Wouldn't you say that she is owed a break?" Pleased with his reaction, the mulatto's smile widened just a hair, attention never leaving Silvia's face-- aside from the occasional masculine dance downward under the pretense of glancing about the plaza-- fascinated by her apparent fascination.
The fedora-wearing fellow's eyes glittered like chalcopyrite, under the loom of approaching night. Small golden flecks spun within them, dancing to the rhythm played by Silvia's siren call. What man was there that could resist such allure? Such obvious worldliness without any of the cosmopolitan sexuality that so often co-inhabited those who had seen much of the universe. What a lithe little coquette was Silvia, and how completely did she have this man ensnared.
"Silvia, is it? Such an elegant name. Si deseas, me llamas Alejandro Grau San Martin, se�ora. Pero mis amigos me llaman Jandro**." Obviously the name meant something, or else the surportion would never have been given-- only the first was required, but perhaps this young mulatto thought he could impress with the dropping of a... rather important name. Of course, anyone with a bit of culturing would recognize the surname, though most would be more intimately familiar with the more esteemed "Ramon" than with the little-known Alejandro.
Some people were fools, and would throw every card into play just to achieve the smallest of victories. It was fools of that sort who could be most easily deceived and stymied.