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Under Roman Sky

Keep Your Heart Ablaze

By James U. RizziPublished 12 months ago 6 min read
Under Roman Sky
Photo by Dawid Zawiła on Unsplash

Authors Note

This piece was submitted for a contest that required the incorporation of a sunset and the author’s interpretation of what blazing hearts meant to them. During the time of the contest, I was reminiscing with my family about our deep, arduous, and delicate past. We spoke of some of my grandparent's tribulations in a war-torn German-occupied Italy back during World War II and the haunting tale of survival. With that being said I chose the topic as a point of interest for this story The following is a fictional prose-like tale with some recountings of those past occurrences. (Some of these things actually happened) I hope you enjoy it.


Finché c’era vita c’era speranza.” (as long as there was life there was hope) something Nonna would always say to help ground me as I’d constantly wrestle with the fate of the indirect intangibles, wading through waters of trouble. Peering at the future on the horizon, laced with golden spotted patches between the clouds. Written in its radiance was a sign of things to come, contradictory to its beauty, my perpetual gift to witness pessimism in the hereafter saw a lingering doom sprawled in the sky over the ancient city.

Before the days of darkness I’d galavant through the factory with Giacomo, hiding behind the smooth drapery, trailing the milky thread with my tiny fingers. All a painted flicker of a memory as the warehouse my family was built upon would soon be withered to ash. Fabricated silk dripping, falling in drops of molten flame onto the floor, the foundation that held the echoes of a greater time passed, had crumbled.

I’d marvel at the wealth we’d harbored, a labyrinth of untold riches, cultivated from the delicate hands of my deceased parents. Carried on in the heart of my Nonna. “The penthouse that silk built.” Giacomo would always say, playfully. Finley sculpted charcoal colored lions, statues made of marble frozen in a defiant roar at the front steps flanking the entrance. One for me and one for my brother, my friend, my tether to what we held sacred.

Jewelry, antiques, laden and crumbled in the wake of destruction. Gone in the blink of an eye. Evil had no bounds on the limit of carnage, only blinded by their cold, unrelenting hearts. “Keep yours ablaze,” Nonna would say, “melt the ice that would seize your love.” Keep the fire alive. The fire is your family. Finché c’era vita c’era speranza.

But how, how do I stoke the flames when all I had was to be lost? The Nazis invaded. I was to run, leave all I knew behind. The cold crept around my soul.

Locked in the mountains, below a war apportioned canopy, with a single fried egg to be divided between Nonna, myself, Giacomo, and my three younger sisters. The youngest of them all would be the first to leave us. Maria passed in her sleep, burdened by the onset of pneumonia. A blanket of snow lay thick on our shivering bodies during the night. The frigid air was too much. She’d be the first, but not the last. How would I keep my heart alight when those around me would fade?

Racing back down the crystal studded sediment for the tender hope of reprieve in the home we once knew. “mettili qui, mettili qui." (put them here, put them here) Nonna would holler, shivering. Trying to save our bare feet from being bitten by the frost, warming them in her soot covered apron.

We returned, but to what? A wreckage, a valley of twisted stone, peaked marble hills stamping the background of the Italian sky, the same sky in which I saw the threat of dismay to come. Flaxen morning sunrise, set to black by the exhaust spewed from metal dragons. Grey was to be painted amongst the heavens, and the auburn glow wouldn’t show for some time. Nonna hoped to quell my fear still, like she had done in my nervous stutterings as a child. “non lasciare che la fiamma si spenga.” (Don’t let the flame go out) but how could I? After losing Rosa and Sofia from starvation, my heart was black.

We’d taken back what little we had. Shuffling through the streets of wounding ruination, we’ll reap the lost and forgotten. We’ll reunite with our people. Rome, my family under the stars.

All I had now were Nonna and Giacomo. We’d meet a small giant of a man, who was to be our savior. General infantry from the Italian Army set out to lead us to shelter. My heart trembled with a warming destain. For all we'd lost, all I had left was to be safe again. The hero of the day led us to a trellis castle untouched by wickedness. Flowing like the garden of eden, vines snaked around the slotted timber. A small island, a paradise. Captivated by the shine of the prevailing produce, he paused and climbed the rickety wood one step at a time.

Forbidden was the fruit he wished to capture. A snag of a wire unleashed a magnifacant veracity of power, a volcano flashed right before our very being. The condottiere wilted in the blast of smoke and debris. My family caught the rest, torn from each other in a ball of inferno.

I dreamt of Giacomo in the infirmary. I dreamt of a time before all of this. Before the damned would forsake all I held dear and sweep the known world. I dreamt of that day after supper, under the glinting moonlight, a speckled sky. The chill dampened from the warmth of the communal oven, the day you said to “me non sei solo mio fratello, sei il mio migliore amico ,“(you're not just my brother, you're my best friend). “Chi altri se non me fratellino.” (who else but me, little brother?)

Who knew the last I'd see of you would be in my wading consciousness. Separated after the bomb, we lost each other.

I’d spend most of my days after the war as a painter in France. Here’s where I'd put Nonna to rest. Blanket by the dreariness of her lessons, reminders of the times she flooded me with her graciousness, when I would travel in seas of trouble. The stories, the gifts. That loosely threaded twine she looped around my neck. A skeleton key of worn brass swaying in its center. Pressing it to my chest to halt its momentum, she’d speak through her touch. “When all of this is over, and it will be over.” The words bonded by her eyes. “Take this and go back to la nostra casa (our home). There, you’ll find a box buried deep in the rubble. Open it, it’ll have what you need when you need it most.” Guided by the light of a shining comet, you’d leave this world. I’d have no family left. The fire in my heart was all but snuffed. It was time.

I was back, back where I'd left every bit of myself, back where I had seen it all vanish by the weight of trampling boots. I was back home. Refurbished and flourishing, with the songs of chatty locals and mischievous children. The aromas of wine, fresh rising bread, the scents of my childhood. All had been lost, but not all was gone.

Sure as she said it, the box was there, kept safe by its new resident. “I knew someone would come back for it.” The young lady with the sunny eyes would say.

I took it to the hill, the hill I dreamed of, the hill where we’d spent most of our nights. I cracked the lid open. Its hinges sang. Nothing at first but dusted shadow. Inviting the light hastened the tragedy. It was empty, nothing but cherry wood lining. I collapsed the lid, and the disillusionment overcame me. I was to be lost by the burden of it all. My heart, doused by sadness. Before I lent myself to the calming hands of sorrow, that’s when I heard him. Giacomo, crunching the grass as he waded up the hill. I turned my head to him, tears wisping in the wind. She had given each child a key, I’d learn, hoping we’d all go looking for what we needed. In his arms once again, me crying on his shoulder, him in mine, I realized the treasure Nonna wanted us to find, was each other. Finché c’era vita c’era speranza.


About the Creator

James U. Rizzi

I cant wait to see what I can create here.

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  • Asif Ali12 months ago

    amazing skills

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