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Last Snow


Capri | April 1

Everything comes to an end. Love, hate, betrayal. The greed of
wealth, the lust for power, the comfort in religion. In the final
moment, everyone falls, even the kings of empires and the princes
of darkness. In the silence of the tomb, we all get what we

Reassured that for him that particu lar moment is a long way
off, he boards the cramped and crowded bus at Piazza Vittoria for
the vertiginous ride down the mountainside into Capri village. The
driver's square metal fare box is closed and locked and he will not
take money for the ride. This is the Caprese version of a strike
against management for higher pay. No marches, no shaking fists, no
amplified rhetoric. Calm and considered, slow as the pace of the
island itself, the protest has been going on for three years.

The two-lane road down which the bus wheezingly careens is
steeply pitched, harrowingly twisting. Traffic whizzes by in the
opposite lane so close the trucks appear ready to kiss the bus. The
road is decorated on one side by sprays of brilliant bougainvillea,
on the other by views of the Gulf of Naples, glittering in the sun.
Occasionally, in the mysterious niches of the rock face, miniature
painted plaster statues of the Virgin Mary can be seen, bedecked
with wilted flowers. He has seen the open-air factory near the
beautiful cemetery in Anacapri where the statues are made, white
bisque with blank eyes turned out of rubber molds, ruffles of rough
edges that must be removed with a knife. Many of the passengers,
mostly the older women, touch forehead, chest, and shoulders in the
sign of the cross as they pass these hallowed places where
pedestrians were struck down.

All the orange plastic seats are occupied. Bags shifting between
bare knees. Long hair floating on a hot breath of wind. Brief arias
of Italian conversations, the loud, brutal bite of German.
Handprints on the glass, greasy chromium poles, the stirring of
silent bodies in the grip of the forces of gravity. He stands,
staring out through the window at the cloudless sky, the cobalt
water, the yachts and pleasure boats. He sees a packed hydrofoil
cutting a scimitar swath through the bay from Naples and he wonders
whether this is the one.

Watching the hydrofoil, it occurs to him that the port of
Mergellina was the last real thing he can remember. When he himself
stood on the eleven o'clock hydrofoil as it bounded across the bay,
when frenzied Naples faded into the heat haze, when the steeply ris
ing slopes of Capri had appeared as if from the deepest portion of
his memory, he had entered a land of lost time. He felt as if he
was seeing the rocky shore as Augustus Caesar had known it more
than two thousand years ago. And just then he had caught a glimpse,
high up atop the rocks, of the remains of the Villa Jovis and quite
without conscious volition had projected himself either backward or
forward in time into that palace of stone and grass and magnificent
ruined baths.

A young man in a red-and-blue checkered swimsuit, taking full
advantage of the unnaturally warm spring, dives off the bow of a
sleek teak and fiberglass sailboat into the dark water. A brief
creamy splash, then his blond head appears as he wipes water off
his long Roman nose. He waves enthusiastically to a woman in large
sunglasses and a widebrimmed straw hat who has appeared on deck.
Her feet are spread wide, one hand presses her hat to the top of
her head to keep it from whirling away. Her swimsuit is comprised
of three tiny yellow triangles.

Ten forty in the morning and already the back of his neck feels
sticky. A line of sweat snakes down the indentation of his spine.
His face itches. The bus lurches around a hairpin turn and a body
is thrown against him. He smells a light citrus scent and turns,
aware of the heat emitted from bare skin. A Caprese girl of
eighteen or nineteen in a short, unnervingly tight turquoise skirt
and a lime green sleeveless Lycra top that looks to him like
underwear. The perfect curve of a tanned arm, and underneath the
smooth hollow that leads inexorably down to the lift of the young
breasts. So vulnerable and at the same time so remote, as if she is
part of another lifetime, another universe. Which, of course, she
is. This does not stop him from staring at the intimate dewlike
sheen that licks the shadowed dell from which floats toward him the
unmistakable aroma of freshly peeled lemons. Her face is partially
hidden by the thick curtain of her long dark hair, but he can catch
a glimpse of coffee eyes, a generous Sophia Loren mouth. And her
ass. My God, the Caprese have magnificent buttocks! Even the
mothers. All that climbing up and down steep inclines. All day, all
night. Better than a StairMaster. The modern-day Romans are wrong
to disdain the Napalitanos as peasants. But when you have your nose
in the air it's difficult to appreciate the treasures that lie
close to the earth.

A sudden longing pierces him, drawing him to her as if she is a
lodestone, the very center of True North to which he has long ago
become attuned. With the tension of a biologist encountering a
potentially new species, he studies the tiny silken hairs on her
taut forearm, and at the back of her neck as she lifts a slim hand
to swing the waterfall of her hair out of the way, the long pale
sea-creature cilia at the arching of her nape.

This Caprese girl, fresh as a spremuta. He wishes he
was holding her hand, brushing against her rocking hips, listening
to the music of her lithe legs as they walk side by side through
the peaceful earthen aisles of the mountaintop cemetery. They would
stop and silently watch the women on their knees, plunging their
hands into buckets of soapy water, scrubbing down the carved marble
of their family grave sites, arranging freshly cut flowers in green
glass vases married to the cool surface of the tombstones by black
iron rings. How he would love that and how utterly bored she would
be. To judge by the blank look on her face, a bracing
macchiato and a spin into Tod's is more her speed.

He is close to her, his thoughts caressing her as intimately as
would a lover's hand. And yet she is utterly oblivious. Lips moist
and half open, she cracks her chewing gum. He laughs silently, at
her, at himself. How foolish fantasies are, and at the same time
how compelling. He cannot imagine anything more powerful.

He inhales her deeply, recognizing an alchemical change: His
reaction to her has released a powerful sensation inside himself.
It is both exhilarating and frightening, an eely thing dredged up
from the darkness of his youth when he wandered the debris-strewn
streets of Manhattan at three in the morning with the Outsider's
contempt for the humdrum world. How he cherished being otherÑa
lone wolf watching the sheep all moving in the same direction. And
how he feared the loneliness it brought with it. Possibly, he tells
himself, he was searching for her, just this one, this perfect
creature, but immediately he knows this as a conceit. There is no
one that does everything for you, and so you keep searching beyond
love, beyond companionship, because part of the human condition is
not being satisfied, for if you were there would be nothing left
save death. Dissatisfaction, he tells himself, is the engine that
drives life.

This girl, this fantasy needs to be belted down neat like a
triple scotch. She is there to make him forget, to help ease the
pain inside him that has become an illness. This moment in time,
this present, is for him little more than a dream. He is still
living in the moment that occurred three hours ago, but which
continues like a whipping, devastating in its excoriation.

The creaking bus turns a corner and for a moment he can see the
ribbon of road behind them, running up the steep, verdant
mountainside to the Hotel Caesat Augustus. His heart seems to turn
over in his chest like a dropped stone. Mia's final, brutal,
horrifying sentence said it all, wrapping up the last two weeks in
the soiled brown paper it deserves.

The bus, gears grinding ominously, staggers the last half
kilometer into the open-air depot at Capri village, where he
changes for the bus down to Marina Grande. Fifteen minutes later,
he arrives. The bus begins to disgorge its load into a street
clogged with people and vehicles all, it seems, needing to go to
the same place at the same time. Those seven hateful words, the
bland look on her face that revealed not a trace of bitterness or
remorse, made him want to smash her face with his balled fist. He
is filled with rage, a swamp through which he is struggling as he
swings off the bus. He hits the pavement, his heart aching, his
nerves raw.

Craning his neck, looking around for her, he feels the stir of
resentment like a hungry dog's growl, sharp and craven. He hears
Mia's closing line in his head, perfectly, devastatingly

"Don't worry about me, I'm well fucked."

This woman, moving like a siren of the sea, circles him still
like a hungry moon.

He wishes Cloe had come, because it would mean that she has
forgiven him, that she'll take him back. He imagines what it would
be like to catch sight of her through the crowd, to watch her walk
toward him. He would find it a jolt to see her here, the open arms
that the real world holds out to him in forgiveness. Yes,

He is thinking of what he will say to Cloe when he calls her
this eve ning, the new beginning that might now be his; the
betrayal that will be forgotten, because he's quite certain that
Cloe would never hurt him as cruelly as Mia hurt him. He is
imagining as if it is a film he is expertly splicing together: the
mise-en-scne of betrayal, and he begins to wonder (because all good
films are juggling acts of counterbalancing forces) what it is that
is the opposite of betrayal. He lowers himself off the bus, walking
amid the squall of people. His steps quicken, his heart pounds as
he takes out his cell phone. He'll call Cloe now, confess
everything, tell her it's all over and done with, a bad dream
consigned to history. She'll understand, of course she'll

He sees what will happen reflected in the eyes of a wisp of a
girl striding toward him, sees it an instant too late. He is still
absorbing her look of horror when the narrow Caprese van strikes
him full on and kills him instantly.

Excerpted from LAST SNOW © Copyright 2010 by Eric Van
Lustbader. Reprinted with permission by Forge Books. All rights

Last Snow
by by Eric Van Lustbader

  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Forge Books
  • ISBN-10: 0765325152
  • ISBN-13: 9780765325150