Too Far

“I’d like to see the Protestant Cemetery,” Tom said.  “Keats is buried there.  And Shelley’s heart.”

“People don’t come to Rome to see a Protestant cemetery,” Sarah said.  “It’s a waste of time when there’s so much else to see.  It’s an indulgence.”

Tom and Sarah sat in the small green room, the room the Dutch nuns gave them in the pensione on the Piazza Navona.  They had been married a year. They couldn’t see the Bernini fountains from their room. Out their one window all they could see were the many angles of the rooftops at the back of the cathedral.  Still, it was a Roman view and the room was cool in the late afternoon light.

“But I’d like to see it anyway.  It’s just as historical as anything else.  These people came to Italy to experience life, to write, to love, and they died here.  We could visit the room above the Spanish Steps where Keats died of TB.”

“Who would want to see that?  You’re morbid.  It’s just an act, too, to make me feel less sensitive than you,” Sarah said.  “I don’t care.”

“But I think you are sensitive, Sarah,” Tom said.

“Please don’t start this.  I don’t want to go to the Protestant Cemetery.  Not today.”

“We could walk there,” Tom said.  “It’s too far away,” Sarah said.  “How do you know?”  Tom said.

“I know you didn’t look at a map,” Sarah said.  “You just think we could walk there to get me to go.  I don’t want to go.”

“If we could walk there right now, would you go?   The guidebook says it’s beautiful.  We could walk there before dinner,” Tom said.

“You think anything that’s sad is beautiful.  That’s your problem.  Sad isn’t beautiful.  It’s nothing.”

“I think it would take less than an hour to walk there,” Tom said.  ‘It’s next to the Aurelian Wall.  I see it on the map.”

“You won’t shut up unless we go, will you,” Sarah said.  She looked out the window at the terracotta roof tiles and sighed.  She hated Tom when he got all dreamy over something like a cemetery.

“You might like it,” Tom said.

“There’s nothing to like.  It’s a cemetery.  You know I hate Romantic poetry.   I’ll go if you just keep your thoughts to yourself once we get there.  I don’t want to hear anything about Keats or Shelley or anyone else who was foolish enough to leave home and die in Italy.”

The late afternoon sun was still warm.  In the Piazza a few tourists wandered around, some hand in hand, others in small groups looking in earnest at the architecture.  An elderly man had set up his easel, painting the center fountain.

“Look how cloudy the sky is,” Sarah said.  “It’s going to rain.”

“I don’t think so.  Not yet.  Not until later this evening.  We’ll be back at the pensione by the time it might rain.”

Tom and Sarah walked in silence.  The gray sky turned cloudy.  Tom set the pace, which was faster than Sarah liked.  Tom was afraid they might not make it in time.

“I don’t want to go if we have to run to get there,” Sarah said.  “I don’t want to go at all.  I don’t think you know where it is.”

“I do know.  I checked the map.  We just keep going in this direction until we get to the pyramid, the one built by Caius Cestius.  It’s his tomb.”

“Oh God,” Sarah said.  “I don’t want to see a tomb, then a cemetery.  This is too much.”

Tom led the way along the Tiber.  They met few other people on the sidewalk.  Now and then a cat cut in front of them, seemingly from nowhere.  Tom hoped they wouldn’t meet a black one.

“We’ve been walking for nearly an hour.  Where is it?  You’re lost.”

“I’m not lost.  It’s farther than I thought.”

“Everything is farther than you thought,” Sarah said.  “It’s raining, too.  I hate you.  You’re an idiot.”

“It’s just a little further.  Please don’t say you hate me.  I want to see this with you.”

“You’re entire life is like this.  I should have known.  I did know.  I’ve always known. But to stop the whining I agreed to come, thinking maybe for once in your sorry life you knew what you were talking about.  Of course you didn’t.  I should have known.  I never should have married you.  It was a mistake.  I knew it.  Walking to this cemetery is a mistake.”

“Get that taxi.  I’m not walking another step in this rain, “ Sarah said.  “ You’re hopeless.  I don’t know why I married you. I hate you. I didn’t want to marry you.  I only felt sorry for you.”

“Don’t say that, Sarah.  I love you.”

“No you don’t or you wouldn’t be dragging me to a cemetery in the rain.  It’ too far away.  You can’t even read a map.  Tell me the truth; you didn’t even look at a map, did you?”

” I did look at the map.  It didn’t seem so far away.  I’m sorry.”

“You’re always sorry.  That’s your problem.  You shouldn’t be reading Romantic poets anyway.  They cloud your mind, what little there is.  I bet you don’t understand Shelley anyway.”

“Yes I do.  I love Shelley.  He drowned in the Gulf of Spezia and his friends burned his body on the beach.  They brought his heart back to Rome and buried it in the Protestant Cemetery.”

“You would know something like that,” Sarah said.  “Please get that taxi.  I’m not walking in the rain.”

Tom flagged the taxi and managed to ask to be taken to the Protestant Cemetery.  He knew little Italian.  They drove in silence.   “See, it’s much further away than you thought,” Sarah said.  Tom looked out the windows of the taxi, looked at the streets passing in the light rain.  The afternoon light was fading.  “I have no idea where I am”, Tom thought.  Why am I even alive? “  Then he saw the pyramid.

“Look, there’s the pyramid, the tomb of Caius Cestius,” Tom said.  “The cemetery is just ahead.”

The taxi stopped near the entrance.  Tall pines and Cyprus enclosed the cemetery beneath the high ancient walls.   The gates were shut and locked.  “The cemetery is closed,” Sarah said.  Tom looked through the gates.  He couldn’t speak.  The tombs and gravestones stood in silence in the misty rain.  No one was there.

“We should leave,” Sarah said.  ““Tell the driver to take us back to the Piazza Navona.”   She looked out of the window of the taxi, rain sliding down the windows.  She saw the moss on the headstones, the locked caretaker’s lodge, the walls, the trees, the darkening light.  She knew their marriage was over.

Tom explained as best he could where they wanted to go.  They didn’t speak.  The air was cool and moist in the taxi as they pulled away from the cemetery.  Tom watched the gates of the cemetery recede into the evening mist until he couldn’t see them at all.

Tom started to cry.  He couldn’t stop the tears from flowing.  The world closed its arms around him.  Tears ran down his face, blurring his vision.  His heart hurt, as cut from his body as Shelley’s had been.

“It’s okay,” Sarah said.  “We’ll come another time.”

Still the tears streamed down Tom’s face.  He couldn’t stop crying.  He couldn’t speak.  The taxi drove on and on through the wet Roman streets.  Tom heard nothing.  He couldn’t look at Sarah.  They arrived and he paid the fare and silently they climbed the stairs to their room.  Tom sat down on the edge of the bed, still crying.  His desolation was absolute.  No other reality existed for him.

“Please don’t cry,” Sarah said.  “It was too far away.  We could never have made it.”

Tom continued to cry.  He couldn’t stop. The tears had no meaning to him beyond the despair in his heart. He knew everything was wrong.  His life, his marriage, his hopes…all wrong.

“Tom, please.  Let’s go have dinner. ”  Tom nodded.  He tried to stop crying.  He knew this life was over, the past was past and there would be no future.

“Let’s go,” he said.

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