Unfortunate Circumstances
By David Edward Nell

The harbour was close. Marco was sure of it. Soon he'd be away from war, on a nighttime boat to Brazil with his briefcase, bidding ciao to stepmother Italy, to the past. That was the plan, anyway. First he had to find his way out of the Libyan desert. Somehow. Marco took off his camouflage shirt and whipped it to the sand, where it created an anthropomorphism of il Duce, Dear Leader, and he threw a final salute before rubbing it into chaos with his large toe. What little wind there was brushed his emaciation, as though nature was hugging him in understanding. When he winked back at nature, it rebelled with no gusts. There was a mirror shard nearby as tall as he, cut perfectly upright into a desert vein. Marco stood in front of it and remarked, “Handsome tan,” ogling himself.

An array of mahogany furniture pieces was scattered all the way up and over a hill. On the other side, the remains of a downed German plane was sending smoke into the fair skies. That was Marco's first and only hit, a non-combat friendly, a casualty of a single round from his rifle. If only the boys could have seen him at work. Now he was king of the Libyan desert, master gunner. An upside-down couch appeared a suitable throne, so he rolled it onto its hind and slumped into its crevasse and massaged his feet of scabs. Mama and Papa were watching from another couch, expecting him to smile to express his victory, puncture his lip sores. If he had the energy, he would have done jumping jacks and twirly dances, too, just to impress them and have them do their entertained claps that he missed so much. There was a knock at the mirror. It was Marco's reflection no more. Drill Sergeant Fabrizzio was staring at him with those scrutinizing devil goggles, pointing at him as if to accuse.

“What do you want?” Marco said.

“Bastard. Pig dog. Son of a whore. I've never seen such a disgrace to the uniform.”

“What uniform?”

“Open your briefcase and put it back on right now.”

“Fuck off.”

“Do you want me to come there and tear out your balls? Oh, you'd like that, wouldn't you, you little pickle tickler?”

Marco sighed. “I lost it.”

“You certainly have, you incredibly worthless turd--”

To the east, a rumble of tanks sounded. Fighting over the dunes came a regiment, with them a beating of drums and a flag of Australia wavering about. When there seemed an end to their numbers, more materialized. Then they weren't ants anymore. They were surrounding him. Marco, nibbling on a nail for calcium, saw the guns aimed at his cranius, and sneezed out daisies and vaseline.

“G'day. Davis,” a child introduced himself, a boy general with a long, gray beard.

“I don't English,” Marco replied, flicking a nail at the soldiers.

“Bloody grommets. Deutsch?”

“No, no.”


“No Italiano.”

“What do you speak, then?”

“I speak the shit, Mickey Mouse.”

“Do we have any shit-speakers here?” Davis asked of his men.
“Yes, sir. I'm fluent in shit-speak,” answered a helpful private.

“Ask him what he's doing here, what's his affiliation,” Davis commanded, and a translation was communicated.

Marco listened and said, “I'm no Nazi, no fascist, just a tourist on a trip.”

“What's in the briefcase? Bomb?”

“Dream.” Marco opened it up for them. Inside was a pink ballet skirt, neatly folded and shimmering. And he noticed Sergeant Fabrizzio wearing a proud beam in the mirror, fading away, and Mama and Papa clapping their hands off. This is what they wanted, the unveiling. “I'm going to South America to become a dancer. Are you going to stop me, right when I'm nearly there?” Already he could see the golden shores of São Paulo on the horizon, smell the brine of the seas and sweetness of the markets, his senses set alight with expectation. It was a postcard come to life, and it was within a few walks, so close.

Davis cleared his throat, announced, “Give this proper man a lift.”

So they did, applauding together, journeying the Libyan desert, until, seconds later, the fringe of Brazil was in sight. Marco went thrashing about in the waves, playfully chugging more salt water than his lungs could take in, flaunting his seamless Vaganova. His plie sequences incited cyclones and rainbows to capture the sky.

“I'm so happy for you,” Davis shouted from the beach when Marco reared his head.

“Thank you,” Marco said in English.

“I have a secret.”

“What's that?”

“I'm a ballet dancer as well. Well, not anymore. Don't you remember me?”

“I--” Marco lost his smile. The world darkened. “I used to teach classes, yes. Cisternino, 1936. But I can't remember you, sir.”

“It'll come back, I'm sure, mate. Won't you teach me how to fly?”


“There's others like me.”

“I don't...”

“Look underneath.”

Marco shook his head, refusing.

“It's alright.” Davis peeled back his skin.

“Why did you do that to your wonderful face?”

“I had to,” Davis replied, and opened a jar of feathers and poured it into the water, which then turned black. Everything was becoming black. Now, his thoughts.

“What are you doing?” Marco screamed, hands pulling him down into the void.

“The universe doesn't care, teacher.”

“...doesn't care,” Marco muttered with a mouth full of granules, lying on his side, where his briefcase was splayed open. They were loose, his pets. Free, like his photographs. And he couldn't move his legs. Marco looked down, saw the pair of baby vultures picking at what was left of him.

“Fuck me,” he said, sighing.

- - -
Having spent years trying to evade the Equestrian mafia, David Edward Nell now writes from a nameless hideout in Cape Town, South Africa. By night, disguised as numerous pop culture figures, he can usually be found scouring the African plains for loving. Stalk him at http://davidedwardnell.blogspot.com, but keep this a secret.

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