Flueric studied the crowd crammed into St. Peter’s Square. In moments his holiday could be over, and he prayed–wished, rather–that he could enjoy a few more days reveling in the delights of the city. Rome was so beautiful in the spring. He’d spent the sun-soaked morning roaming the twisted paths of the Forum, admiring the beauty of the Arco di Settimio Severo, the remnants of the Temple of Saturn, the Gemonian Stairs… Ah, the Stairs. They were his favorite part of the Forum. Over the ages, thousands had been cast down the rough stones–the condemned, the persecuted, the dishonored–their cracked and lifeless bodies left for the crows.
Oh, the memories!
A murmur ran through the crowd. They were growing restless. Flueric edged his way toward the center of the square, where the obelisk, a relic from Egypt’s fifth dynasty, towered twenty-five and a half meters over the faithful. It had been the pride of Augustus, the prize of Caligula, and the pith of Nero’s spectacular games. Those were some good men, Flueric mused. Admirable men. Men he could relate to.
When Flueric reached the center of the square, he slipped between an elderly couple studying a crumpled map of the city and a silver-haired priest clutching a Bible to his chest.
“Scusi, pardon me,” Fleuric said.
He stepped onto a narrow granite rim that ran around the obelisk, and his view improved immensely. From here he could see over the heads of the crowd, beyond Bernini’s great fascade, over the pillars and the saints that crowned the cornices of the court of St. Peter, all the way to the rooftop of the Sistine Chapel herself.
“Visiting?” the priest asked Flueric. “I can’t quite place your accent.”
Flueric looked down on the priest. Though he was clearly an older man, his smile was warm and childlike. His cheeks were freshly shaved, a spot of tissue still stuck to a nick on his neck. His eyes were cast to the side, pale, milky. The eyes of a blind man.
“In a manner of speaking,” Flueric said.
“Have you seen the catacombs?” the priest asked. “I remember how amazed I was the first time I saw them.”
“Yes,” Flueric said. “It took me a while to find them, too. They used to bury the dead there in secret. Christians.”
The priest nodded. “I haven’t been there in over fifty years. My parents took me there when I was young. It feels like yesterday.”
Another murmur ran through the crowd. This one louder. More excited. Flueric gazed back over their heads, over the fascade of St. Peter’s, to the rooftop of the Sistine Chapel. A long, silver chimney stuck up near one end. He watched it carefully, along with the thousands that filled the square. No signal, he thought. For my own sake, please. No signal. I want more time. He felt anxious. Tired. Lately, he had so few chances to go on holiday. This one had lasted only two days. The one before that had lasted only four. He was getting less and less time for himself. He wanted more. It wasn’t fair.
Suddenly, a cloud of white smoke billowed up from the chimney, and the crowd cheered.
The priest laughed. “Sounds like I’ve got to get back to work.”
Flueric groaned. “Me, too,” he said. “Me, too.”