John Domini Online

The opening of John's forthcoming novel, The Color Inside a Melon, the final piece of the Naples trilogy that began with Earthquake I.D.

The Color Inside A Melon

If in Naples, I should report this now, would they believe me, if I should say I saw such islanders?

— The Tempest


You reach a certain corner of the city, a certain hour, when you've taken a hit and there's a threat in your face, and it's something else altogether. It's not at all the town you know. This when you've learned to work its angles, even a street-market in midsummer, the stink and caterwaul and the need to squint, because a fishmonger hosing down his stall seems to cast a halo over the day's catch. You've learned the code in the echo off the stones at 2 AM, too. Could be some lonesome soul out trolling for company, could mean you should double-check the lock. You've grown accustomed to the compromises, the lurching after one stubborn aspiration or another and against the short leash of everything else. Yet you reach the right urban cranny, or rather the wrong one, where your head's burning from someone else's knuckles, where the guy's actually got a knife out — then whatever you think you know, it's a fairytale. What were you thinking? Sodom, Xanadu? Now if you've got a view, a terrazzo, a rooftop, if the attack left you facing away from the party and out over the view, then the city first appears rimed or studded with gold, that's the pain of course, and even after the hallucination fades you're left with something else entirely. Five stories below (or is it fifteen, for a woozy moment there?), the hubs and spokes wink in and out of sight. You can't rely on the streetlights. It's no longer Naples, the place a native Italian would call your "adopted home." That city's disappeared. It's gone to join the one you were born in, Mogadishu, another place that people were foolish enough to think they knew.

All of a sudden, all over again, you're the alien. You're manpower without a contract, a pair of hands. Except this time there's no one to pick you up, no boat, no truck. Risto swayed at the terrazzo wall, wondering if he'd have to fly.

It wasn't as if he could call a cop. The man who'd swatted him was a cop, or as close to it as Risto was going to find here. This rooftop was part of a club, tonight's location for the club. His assailant worked as one of the bouncers. Up here at penthouse level, the building had two apartments, and now Risto found himself pinned against the rooftop railing of one apartment by a rawboned creep who, just five minutes earlier, had been standing watch outside the door to the other. The other place still had a door. Behind the door, no doubt, they kept a whore or two. They must've had a card game going, too, the crew that ran this dance-and-drinks arrangement, this party that floated from one abandoned building to another. Whores and cards, that's what brought in the real money. The take would be paltry at what passed for a bar. Likewise, over at what passed for an entrance, the doorway without a door, the club wasn't going to get the full cover charge from everyone who made it up the building's stairs. Never mind that this apartment was the larger of the two, the place with a real terrazzo. The roof here might've held potted palms, a grape arbor, back before the spring earthquake.

They had a sweet setup, La Fenestrella, tonight. Plenty of dance floor. Still, the bar and the cover wouldn't bring in enough to keep the cops looking the other way. The club was asking five Euros, but Risto had seen a couple of girls pay no more than a smile. His friend Giussi was waved in. As for this bouncer, he might've been paid in Ecstasy. La Fenestrella floated on the fringes and paid in crumbs, and that Risto should find himself in such a place was itself a wild hair. Yet this free-handed "security" had gone off even wilder. As the man muscled Risto to the terrazzo wall, he'd kept grinding against Risto's butt. Looking to tweak his high?

Risto himself may have started tweaking, though he was cold sober and hetero. He choked out a wisecrack, You should try this on my friends. If the tough guy wanted to cop a feel, he should try Risto's pal Giussi. Giussi, working the dancers, had already made a pickup. Or the bouncer should put the moves on Risto's so-called "cousin" Eftah. Eftah would've welcomed the attention, because the men who liked men, here, tended to prefer his boyfriend. The cousin's boyfriend was a Moroccan hothouse flower, and here the crowd was mostly mushroom-shaped. Out of the sub-Sahara, like Risto.

Not that he had the chance to explain. The bouncer squelched his little quip — another wild hair, on a mission Risto would've sworn was serious. He wound up head and shoulders over the rooftop rail.

Below, the hubs and spokes winked and reeled. Was that the fish-market where they gave good weight? Or over there, was that the dome of the Galleria? Ground Zero for shoppers with real money, the Galleria and its piazzas were safe, you could walk till deep in the night, and with that thought Risto discovered he had a hand free...

Contact John Domini

John is always glad to hear from readers and thinkers: john at johndomini dot com.

He has won awards in all genres, with fiction in Paris Review and non-fiction in The New York Times. The Times praised his work as "dreamlike... grabs hold of both reader and character," and Alan Cheuse, of NPR's "All Things Considered," described it as "witty and biting."

John's grants include an NEA Fellowship and an Iowa Major Artist Award. He has taught at Harvard, Northwestern, and elsewhere, and makes his home in Des Moines.

Photo credit: Camille Renee.