17. Fireflies

I CUT MY HAND open in Siena, climbing a wall. It was nighttime, we needed a place to sleep and we found a kind of open-air laundry for the local women with a patch of grass, just inside the city wall. It was walled in on every side, and one of the walls was low, perhaps knee height, and overlooked a kind of little valley with low-lying houses and orchards. It was Roman who'd suggested it. When we returned later that night the gate was locked, but Roman offered to give us a hand up and scramble up himself after. I went first. What we hadn't counted on were the shards of broken glass cemented into the top of the wall. Still, climb over we did somehow, the three of us, me with hand bleeding, and after a quick inspection, pronouncing it a minor wound, Roman ripped a tshirt into strips and bandaged it. He and Juanita unfurled our sleeping bags. I told Juanita i would probably not be able to sleep, so she gave me some of her red wine to drink. We settled down but the throbbing of my hand kept me awake. Soon i heard Roman and Juanita making love. I pretended to be sleeping. Listening to them fucking somehow made the pain in my hand go away for a little while, but afterward it came back even worse. It was a surprisingly cool, humid night considering how warm it had been during the day. I could feel the cold wet ground through the sleeping bag. I realised you shouldn't sleep on grass but it was too late. As Roman snored in his usual way, I shivered and watched a fog develop and a procession of little fireflies following each other in straight lines along the walls, turning 90 degrees when they reached a corner and continuing straight ahead, in a quite orderly way. As I watched them I was overtaken by the notion that they were a sophisticated security device. Or perhaps I dreamed the whole thing up. Roman woke up in a panic halfway through the night, sitting up with a shriek, which he did most nights, so in a way we ought to have become used to it, but every time it happened it filled me with a faithless horror, perhaps because I felt the same way so often, without screaming. The fireflies disappeared ( or the security device was turned off) with the dawn, which at first was a translucent blue before the sun peeked over the rooftops, although the fog lingered in the little valley of orchards below. A window opened above and I saw, or imagined I saw, a middle-aged woman frowning disapprovingly at us. As I waited for Roman and Juanita to wake up, I invented a poem about fireflies and security devices, which I then forgot as soon as they awoke. Somehow we managed to climb back over the wall without further injury and, exhausted, we devoured sweetbreads and coffee in a nearby cafe until I noticed blood dripping from my bandaged hand.