Tucio knew he had made a mistake the moment he stepped onto the rope. It stretched out before him, a line in the air, twenty meters above the Piazza San Marco, all the way across to the Doge’s Palace in the distance. He could just make out the figures of the Doge and his dignitaries. They waited on a golden balcony where the line ended. He looked down and guessed at how the people far below were taking bets on the likelihood of his survival.
The rope sagged slightly, taking Tucio’s weight, as he pushed himself away from the safety of the Libreria Antica. Figures ran forward and cried out beneath him. He wrapped his feet tight, keeping them at right angles, making sure his legs were straight. He inched forward.
The wind caught him without warning, knocking him to one side and forcing him to push all of his weight into a counter-balancing movement. He bounced and swayed, alone and struggling, his arms failing. Tucio was dressed as Pierrot, the Holy Fool. His costume ballooned up in the air, making it harder for him to recover his position. He edged forward, step by step.
Ten meters out, he paused and risked a quick glance from left to right. The Basilica flashed past, a chaotic smear of gold and pink, then the palace and finally the vastness of the lagoon, empty and sudden, stretching out to the horizon. Tucio’s stomach lurched. He took one more step before he was forced into a crouch. He closed his eyes and crossed his arms tight against his chest. The crowd gasped.
“It only takes a woman to make you lose your head.”
That’s what his friends had told him in the tavern the night before. He had been drinking heavily while they urged him that she was not worth risking his life for. The whole thing had almost come to blows. She could be somewhere in the prison now, spared the sight of him crouching against his rope like an animal.
His hangover pulsated, tight and strong, fanned by the sea breezes. Pain flooded his calculations. If he just took one step to the right it would only be seconds to oblivion on the sea-washed marble below. No more pain. Simple. He pondered his promise one more time and stood up slowly.
Tucio moved carefully, breathed slowly. He was soon standing next to the huge stone lion of St. Mark. He had been ordered to touch it for luck so he turned now and reached out to it with a trembling hand. The animal was eroded and pock-marked. Tiny people surged beneath his fingers. The rope creaked. He connected with the stone.
The gull exploded in front of him suddenly, a bright flurry of shrieking on the attack, flapping, colliding with his face. Tucio just had time to register it as he arced backward in fright. His center of gravity shifted inside him, a shade too far. “I am gone,” he thought, as he rotated through forty-five degrees and left the rope.
He lunged and spun and connected on instinct. His arms snapped back in pain, leaving him hanging from both hands, with the lion above him and the people below, and no way to get back up. The breeze ruffled through his costume as he swayed. There were screams from the crowd. He saw the Doge and his entourage all stand at once, as if to the sound of a gunshot. This wasn’t part of the plan.
He dragged himself with his fingers. The rope trembled with the music of his movements as he inched along it. Tiredness surged. His muscles ached. The skin broke and bled on his hands.
And suddenly he saw that he had gone far enough.
It was time to commit.
He closed his eyes tight and let go of the rope.
As he fell, he thought of her smile and decided that it had all been worth it, after all.
There were shouts and a scream and a whisper, then nothing.
Tucio woke, a week later, in the San Lazarro hospital. As the stone room came into focus he saw that one of the Council of Ten was seated nearby, dressed in purple and watching him intensely.
“So,” said the other man, “you played your part well.”
“Where is she?” said Tucio.
“We thought you would fall too soon and be killed. But you persisted. You dragged yourself to the right place and let go. It was an improvisation worthy of the greatest.”
“Your saviors acted well too. They will be recompensed as promised. You shall be, also.”
“I need to see her.”
The other man stood.
“No. You don’t. What you need to be is happy that the Doge has his miracle. The fool fell, but death was cheated. With such symbolism in the minds of the people, Venice is safe for another year. Thanks to you, here, alive.”
“But you gave your word.”
“You fell, and we are grateful. But you still fell. We did not. Remember that. If you keep your silence, we might see fit to release her, though it will do you no good in the end. Nothing will. A man like you is always blind, never understanding.”
The other man departed and Tucio lay still. He could do nothing but ponder his actions, alone and in silence. Across the city in an underground cell, there was a cry, heard by no one and unimportant in the grand scheme of things.
Frank O’Connor, freelance thinker, is a compulsive addict in the army of frustrated writers. If he could just stop and become a moderately successful dog walker, then his life would be less erratic. But he cannot. The brain burbles. The fingers type. The dogs remain unwalked. Stories get walked instead. A whole novel recently went for a run. Frank is published in Flashquake and Insolent Rudder, among other places.