by Steven Hunley
They call Rome the Eternal City, and because of that it’s also one of the world’s largest open-air museums, and the Coliseum sits in its center like a faceted jewel made of bricks set in an antique setting.
Unlike many museums there seemed to be no ticket window, entrance gate, and certainly no guards. Even so we never planned to steal it. It just happened. We picked an arch and walked in. The sun was overhead but the wind was blowing around puffy white clouds, plunging the ruins into darkness, and then merging them into the dazzling light of day.
The place was ochre, olive and brown. There was one large piece of shining white marble carved with a V. It hit me that much of it had been white marble at the start. One by one the smaller pieces had disappeared and were now dispersed to the far corners of the world. It made me jealous. Every tourist, even the counts and countesses, even the barons, and viscounts, even the lords and ladies, earls and dukes and duchesses, the whole raft of them, Bryon, Shelly, every one of them lowly thieves.
We climbed the stairs to take a better look. A dust devil swirled violently, blocked out time and space, forcing us to close our eyes.
I, always in the past, thought I heard voices. In one ear I heard squeals of awe and delight, in the other ear screams of fear and pain.
Kristina, always in the present, smelled ancient dust being lifted by still more ancient rain. We were both right, it all had been or was.
A steel-grey cloud overhead began to spit heavy rain drops.
I pressed her back under an archway.
We were close. We’d always been close. Each had qualities the other wanted. I was educated, reserved, and cautious.
Kristina was an ingénue, spontaneous and daring.
We desired what each other possessed, and in sharing mutual needs became close.
She held her hand out, palm up. “It’s stopped. Come on. Let’s dash to the top.”
She took my hand. We took the stairs two at a time. A short marble pillar sat nearby, the broken-off top of a stately scrolled column.
She sat on top. “Take my picture,” she said, “smiling.”
I did. As we walked away she ran her fingers carelessly over the wall, like a pig-tailed schoolgirl dragging her fingers across a picket fence on the way home from school.
“It’s loose, “she said.” It wiggles!”
She rocked it back and forth.
“Let me see,” and carefully grabbing a corner I pulled it out.
No alarms, no laser beams, motion detectors, or infrared. I just put it in my pocket.
After we got back later that night we made sandwiches on the table in the hotel room. It’s funny but as cheap as hotel rooms in Rome can be, if you listen to Frommer and know where to go, they all have plenty of marble. All kinds, all colors of marble. The bed frame was antique, but the marble was even antiquer, if you know what I mean.
She fell asleep. I wanted to, but thoughts were keeping me up. I couldn’t stop thinking about the brick. I worried about it. I was concerned. If some Corsican bandit had burst through the door just then with a brace of pistols and a plumed hat, the brick was the last thing he would have taken. It looked like a doorstop. But I knew better.
In the year sixty-six Vespasian first saw the Coliseum in a dream. He had plenty of time to dream, having been banished to Sicily by Nero for falling asleep during one of his poetry readings. Now he was keeping bees. Later he would be keeping all Rome.
In the year two-thousand nine this piece of Italian clay, first pressed by prisoners taken during the sacking of Jerusalem, then fired by slaves who washed their hands in the Tiber, had ended up with me. It was in my care, and wrapped up in plastic hidden in the back of the closet under a pile of dirty socks.
I got up, walked over, sorted through the pile of stink, and tore off the bag. I would give Vespasian’s dream room to breathe and handle it carefully, show it some respect.
A Roman emperor’s dream now rested daintily between my fingers and thumbs. Never mind the two thousand years. Time was fleeting. The brick was in my hand. I could feel its ancient weight as if it were soaked in the blood of a thousand Christian martyrs eaten by lions and a thousand gladiators murdered in mortal combat.
I mean, who did I think I was, to steal from an emperor, a common thief? I should be thrown to the lions.
I decided right then to return it. Maybe in a few years. Maybe….never.
This was written about an event that occurred when I was twenty-four. The girl and I explored the world like children with no concept of social responsibilities. Now I’m mature and ready to start out again. It’s with you now I’d like to explore the world, and it is you I’d like to discover. You, Barbara, and no other. . I want to touch, physically, emotionally, you, Barbara, my sweet incomparable multi-faceted jewel.
©Steven Hunley 2013