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A hush had fallen over the trench, and smoke slowly
rolled toward them. The Austrian
guns, for the moment, were frighteningly silent.
Then a cloud slowly appeared a hundred meters away.
"Is that fog?" Paolo asked.
“Or poison gas?”
Paolo looked up and glanced around at the other
Futurists. No one said a word.
Fog would give them cover. But poison gas? They
knew their gas masks were no better than moistened gauze.
"Must be smoke and fog," Carlo said.
"No one is screaming."
Then, with a simultaneous yelp, they were attacking.
Men were leaping up and over the wall of sandbags.
As Matteo and Gino started to climb out, Paolo said
to Aroldo, "What if I stay in the trench?"
"They'll think you're a coward," Aroldo
said, "and you'll be shot by the--"
"Calamari," Carlo said.
"Carabinieri," Aroldo said, and suddenly
Aroldo and Matteo on his right and Gino and Carlo on his left charged over the
sandbags and out of the trenches, and Paolo charged, and the Austrian
water-cooled machine guns kakakakakuh and the rifles fired flic flak
zang zang, and in a moment Paolo found himself crawling on his belly,
desperate to find some shhhhhck protection somewhere akk akk akk
and the smoke poured in all around him, and suddenly Paolo found himself alone,
and he couldn't see Aroldo or any of the others, and the Colonel had promised
them that the shelling would wipe out the enemy and seizing their territory
would be as easy as picking plak plak daisies pewww on a Sunday
stroll, and half a dozen men crumpled to the ground not five meters in front of
him, and their blood splurrrt struck the thin metal of his helmet, and
6.5-mm rounds were flying through the air, from behind him, from in ping
front of him pang, all around his feet, and Paolo thought, maybe I
won’t be killed by Austrian gunfire or Austrian cannons, but I’ll be killed
by a tiny shard of Italian shrapnel that falls a little too short, and then he
thought, but I have to survive, I have to make it back, I have to get back and
marry Giannina, but it didn't seem like that was going to happen, and the noise
organ on his back sounded hehhh eeeh haaa like laughter, and the sound
scared him, so now he was running, and he hoped that Aroldo, Carlo, Gino, ping
paw and Matteo are still alive, and Paolo tripped over the long, thin, dead
body of a noble son of Italia, whose leg was all chopped up above the knee, the
skin and cloth and flesh diced up and mixed like a tossed salad, and Paolo fell zing
zang facedown into a shell crater, into the mud, gathering the mud to
himself, embracing the mud for what little protection flic flac it might
offer, and Paolo thought, please, please, pow Lord, please let the night
come soon, because the cover of darkness will let me crawl back into my trench,
but the day had just begun, and as he flailed his legs, and his noise organ
sounded hehh eeh haaa like laughter, and Paolo tipped the muzzle of his
rifle out of the shell crater and fired plak plak plak
wildly, blindly in the general direction of the Austrian hills, and the flint
and clay exploded around him, and he wondered why he was there and plak plak
plak screamed out, "Nina! Nina!
am so unhappy. Everything is lost
to me. The guitar you gave me.
I have survived my first day of battle. But tomorrow we will
fight again, and again the next day, until there is no one left to fight. I
don’t even yet know if my friends survived today.
are now regrouping, silently marching. The
battle is over for now. But, unlike
the stories I’ve read, there has been no feasting, no sharing of bounty, no
building altars to praise God for the victory, because there has been no
now the sound of exploding shells echoes from the hills all around us.
are we doing here? What's it all
have had some small fortune of falling in with an officer, Lieutenant Ugo
Mazzini. Sometimes he confuses me,
sometimes he frightens me, often he delights me with his wit. But he has taken me under his wing. He is my anchor in the madness around me.
Nina, I am so unhappy.
Paolo scribbled the letter as he marched along in the
grim mass of soldiers.
He felt his face turning into putty.
Suddenly, a commotion arose in the front of the
ranks. Someone was rushing around,
distributing something. Could it be
No, it was newspapers. Carlo!
The young Futurist smiled at Paolo and embraced him
"I'm so glad to see that you survived!"
Paolo said. "When we were
separated, I feared the worst. And
"We are Futurists and we all survived."
Carlo said. "Of course!"
"Weren't you frightened when---" Paolo
began to say.
"Oh, no. I
have to go! There’s a whole new
project we’re working on. It’s
very important. I’ve got to
finish giving these away so I can get back to the Art House." Carlo said
and ran off, flinging papers at soldiers. “We
can work on it together as soon as you can make your way back!”
Paolo watched him go, disappointed that he did not
stay longer. Then he looked down at
the paper in his hand. The headline
read, FUTURIST EVENING TRIUMPHANT! In
one bottom corner of the page was a reproduction of Mazzini's painting of the
horse with the hundred feet and the rider with the shattered face.
In the opposite corner was a photograph of the Colonel with the caption
COLONEL DE PISIS, MAN OF THE HOUR.
Instant documentation of their own achievements!
He read the text:
a Futurist evening held yesterday over one thousand soldiers were held in rapt
attention as Lieutenant Mazzini displayed the compenetrating energy of Futurist
Rapt attention? Paolo thought.
Doubtful. A thousand?
A bit of exaggeration. I'll
bet Mazzini wrote this himself!
Lies, all lies.
There was no mention of the riot, no mention of the
demise of Nina's guitar.
Paolo scanned through the article.
Perhaps Mazzini had been generous enough to mention Paolo in passing.
Probably not, though. He
hadn't done anything remarkable.
But there it was!
His name: Paolo Pascoli!
In the third paragraph, no less!
highlight of the Futurist event last night was a stylized re-enactment of the
ascent of enlisted man Paolo Pascoli from Passeist to Futurist.
Pascoli, age eighteen, opened the evening by demonstrating the monotonous
works by Passeists Bach, Pucchini, and Giordano.
The audience politely covering their yawning mouths.
crowd's hands voiced their appreciation for the end of this torment, as Pascoli
began playing more modern music by Strauss, Wagner and Mussorgsky.
the throng exploded in delight when Pascoli assisted Aroldo Baracca in operating
noise organs for a performance of works by Futurists Luigi Russolo and Francesco
Pratella. The evening concluded
with a triumphant rendition of Baracca's acclaimed Futurist masterpiece,
"Awakening Dynamism of the Bellicose City."
he has not long been a participant in this noble war, Pascoli has distinguished
himself not only musically, but also on the battlefield.
Pascoli has received numerous commendations for dangerous missions as
both scout and courier.
Where was Mazzini getting these lies?
thought. I came to war only so that
I could return home and tell Nina's father, “I was not a coward.”
Now I can go home a hero!
was what he should send to Nina, not the pathetic, whiny little letter!
Paolo ripped up what he had written and quickly
think of you every day. You are the reason I am here fighting, to humbly lay on
your doorstep honor and glory. Already
I have distinguished myself! Show
this article to your father. He
will be proud his daughter is associated with such a valiant warrior as I. I fight on, because I love you.
I cannot wait to come home to you. That
is all I want in this world.
am alone, utterly alone without you.
He underlined his name everywhere it appeared in the
Futurist article, and with each stroke of the pen, he thought, I have Ugo
Mazzini to magnify a hundred times my most trivial achievement!
Then he posted the letter and article to Nina and ran
off to the Art House to see what new magnificent gesture was being launched from
atop Mazzini's head.
From this moment on, Paolo thought, my fate is
inexorably linked to that of the Futurists.
Now he was running, jumping over sandbags, leaping
over neat pyramids of mortar shells, rushing as quickly as he could, until he
rounded the corner by the Art House and tried to stop running.
His feet slipped and he landed in the dirt.
He picked himself up, only to realize that the Art
House was a chaos of activity.
took you so long!" Mazzini shouted. He had been crouching in front of Carlo, but how he stood up
and carelessly waved the knife in his hand. Carlo, who sat on a chair with a wad
of bandaging in his lap, nervously eyed the sharp blade.
Mazzini turned from Carlo and said to Paolo, “I
hope you like your present. I hope
it makes up for what I did to your guitar.”
“Well, sir...” Paolo thought about lying that he
loved the noise organ, but decided against it.
Mazzini dropped his eyes in disappointment and said,
“I will try again to make it up to you.”
Suddenly, he perked up in agitation and said, “I will have to add that
to my list. There is so much to be
Carlo looked up at Mazzini and the knife in the
Lieutenant’s hand and said, “Finish what you’re doing!”
"It is good to see you," Aroldo said.
"Carlo told me you survived the battle."
"If you help us, Paolo, we may be able to
complete the next project tonight!" Mazzini
"I could still use some help cutting pipe,"
“What are you all talking about?” Paolo asked.
"We're not going to finish tonight," Carlo
Mazzini said, "If Paolo helps and we work
together, we will!"
“What are you doing?” Paolo asked the lieutenant.
“Memorializing the Austrian passeists I killed
today,” Carlo said. Mazzini
turned Carlo’s face to expose the three parallel scars on the left cheek.
The marks were the same length and evenly spaced.
Mazzini measured the spacing, and then placed the knifetip against
Carlo’s skin. The cheek indented a little, but did not bleed.
Then, sure of his placement, Mazzini gave a little pressure, and a bead
of blood formed. Then he flicked
his wrist, and Carlo winced but did not move.
Once Mazzini’s knife was clear, Carlo smeared ash into the cut and
brought the bandage to his face. And
smiled a tiny smile.
Paolo was mesmerized by the sight of this ritual.
In his short time at war he had been faces smudged with mud and grease,
scalps ripped open with barbed wire, cheeks swollen from blows from a rifle
butt. But he had never seen
mutilation so purposeful and calculated. He
had seen tattoos, of course, but this was a different thing altogether.
He stood fascinated.
“Don’t just stand there, soldier!” Mazzini
shouted at Paolo. “Everyone!
Everyone! We have so much to
do! The war isn’t going to last
forever! And tonight, we have a lot
of work to do if we are to present this masterpiece to the Colonel in the
“But, sir, what are we doing?”
“Look at that beautiful thing!” Mazzini gestured
at a truck parked by the Art House door. It
had been an ambulance, and over the red cross were painted black letters
proclaiming: “War is the only hygiene of the world!”
The truck was raised up on blocks, its hood open and its engine removed.
Next to the truck were pipes of graduated size lined up on an oily
The truck did not seem beautiful to Paolo.
Perhaps Mazzini perceived it as if it were already finished, not in bits
“Can you not put two and two together?
Don’t you know what we’re doing?” Mazzini said.
“No, sir,” Paolo said. “But I will do whatever you---”
“Look at this!”
Mazzini shouted. He held up
a set of piano keys. Then he put
them down and held up some foot pedals. “Does
this help? No?”
Paolo shook his head.
“This world, this world will soon be filled with
trucks! Should they be designed by
engineers, they will be huge, awkward, honking, lumbering, ugly things.
But they don’t have to be! If
they are designed by artists, they can elegant, musical!
The very farting of the truck exhaust will pass through a series of
pipes, like a piper organ, modulated by bellows, controlled by a keyboard. The lurching, jarring experience of driving in an old truck
will be transformed into harmonies, arpeggios, and glissandos.”
Paolo stared at the old ambulance, nodding
“Later incarnations of the musical truck will make
music by themselves, like a Player piano. The
same principle could be applied to automobiles, buses, motorcycles, factory
smokestacks, even household chimneys! Everywhere
the modern man walks through the modern city, the very machines that sustain
life will create music all around him! Part
of our mission is to change the way people perceives the world.
You should perceive that a spoon scraping against a tin is the falsetto
singing of metal against metal! Part
of what we do is to actually transform the world, for those too dull to perceive
correctly without assistance. What
we are doing is no less than the transformation of the aural landscape. Nothing less than the first of many battles in the Futurist
conquest of the world. Starting
with nothing more than an old ambulance!”
They worked through the long, cold night on the
musical truck. As soon as Matteo
measured and cut a pipe, he would lay it on a bedsheet spread on the ground.
Then Carlo, moving a little stiffly, would cut a rectangular hole near
one end. Next, Gino would polish the metal to an ideal and uniform
thickness. It fell to Paolo to fit
the pipes with conical brass ends and internal baffles. All the time, Mazzini yelled at them to hurry.
On the sheet now were almost two dozen pipes of
"How many are finished?" Aroldo asked.
"Almost enough for one octave," Gino said.
"Carlo's right. We're not going to make it tonight," Aroldo said.
"What time is it?"
"Nearly eleven," Matteo said.
"We haven't even put it together, let alone
"Nonsense!" Mazzini said. "The
bellows assembly is complete. There
are still many hours before the next attack."
"Is this war nothing but an inconvenience to
you?" Aroldo said. "We
have to get some sleep."
"You sleep, then," Mazzini said.
"Pedantry doesn't sleep. Stupidity
The Futurists worked on through the night.
At midnight, Paolo slipped off to sleep in his tent.
Paolo was awoken by a loud discussion.
He sat up and opened the door flap, holding it open just a crack.
In the distance, he could see a great white horse, with Colonel De Pisis
mounted on it.
“Colonel, good morning!” Mazzini said, warmly.
“I was hoping to discuss purchasing a rank for one of my soldiers.”
"Mazzini, just because your parents bought yours
does not mean that everything in this army is for sale.”
The Colonel dismounted and walked around, surveying the metal pipes piled
in front of the Art House. “You
told me it would be ready this morning.”
morning is not yet over." Mazzini said.
De Pisis said, "You know I like to survey the
troops before an attack. I had
wanted to do that in your newest creation.
You knew that."
task proved more difficult than initially anticipated."
"Not good enough!" the Colonel said.
"It should be done by now. I
am getting tired of your delays."
"Sir, I respectfully request additional
De Pisis asked, "Finish it tomorrow then, by
After the Colonel rode away, Mazzini grabbed a tin
cup and started banging on it with a stick.
“Wake up! Wake up! There’s
so much to do!”
As the Colonel rode away, Mazzini squinted his eyes
and imagined De Pisis and his horse fragmented into a hundred shards the color
An hour later, Paolo sat in the trench, mud soaking
through his knees. He thought, This
time I will stay close to the others. They
know how to survive. No hiding in a
shell hole this time.
The muzzle of his rifle jiggled as a shell fell
nearby. He looked around at Aroldo,
Carlo, Gino, and Matteo. None of
their rifles jiggled. Next time a
shell falls, Paolo told himself, neither will mine.
I will embrace the noise.
Paolo considered making small conversation with them,
but decided against it. They looked
They would have a chance to talk after the battle.
When the opening bombardment began, Paolo did not plug his ears.
Instead, he eagerly anticipated the arias of siege cannons, and held his
rifle tightly, as round after round exploded, and short-range mortar trench
shells flew high in the sky as if to blow up clouds, and then fell sharply on
them. They fell close, close enough
to shower dirt and rock on him. He
could taste the gunpowder on his lips.
Then it was silent.
Paolo squirmed a little, and his noise organ sounded heh
heh haa. He
thought, I wish I still had my guitar.
Carlo frowned at Paolo’s noise organ and said,
"Quiet." His speech was
just slightly hindered by the bandages on his cheek.
At that moment Paolo realized that Carlo was the only
Futurist who did not wear a noise organ.
When Paolo asked about this, Carlo said,
"Actually, I don't aspire to music, I aspire to chaos."
Carlo put his finger to his lips and looked up into the sky.
In the momentary silence Paolo could make out some
thin wisps of sound. It was not
grenades or machine guns in the distance. It
was a bird chirping. Not a
squawking or a cawing, but a pretty, delicate twittering.
The earth had been churned over and over by blasts, beaten like batter.
Yet, through all that, this island of cheerfulness had survived.
Smiling, Paolo closed his eyes to listen to the bird, and then suddenly
he heard plak plak plak. He
opened his eyes to see Carlo with a mischievous grin on his face, smoke rising
from the barrel of his rifle.
There was no more birdsong.
Before Paolo could reprimand Carlo, a great yell
arose among the men, and as a single mass they surged over the sandbags, Paolo
making sure to stay as close as possible to the other Futurists, and when a
stench like grilled beef filled his nostrils, Paolo forgot all about his anger
at Carlo, and through the crossfire of bullets, the band of Futurists made their
way up and down and over shell holes, until a sharp little bit of something,
zipped straight through the air like a mosquito and bit Paolo in the calf, and
he yelped and stumbled, and his noise organ sounded heh heh haa
and Matteo helped him up, and because it was too early to go back to the
trenches without being called a coward and shot, and because he did not want to
be left alone, he said, "It's not that bad," though it stung terribly,
and although one foot became very warm, and his toes felt wet, he followed the
others on, and the bullets swarmed around Paolo's head like gnats, swirling
around his boots like nettles, and they kept marching until they reached the
There they stopped.
Their noise organs went silent.
Crouching down, the band of Futurists drew from their
packs the shears they had been issued--really nothing more than cheap gardening
scissors--and cried out, "Hurry! Hurry!" as they snipped and jabbed at the wire, and
Aroldo was firing on the oncoming Austrian soldiers as they emerged through the
smoke, and Paolo turned to see an overweight Italian soldier lying face-down in
the mud with half a dozen bullet holes in his overcoat, and from his twisted
posture, he could tell that the soldier's last gesture had been trying to free
his cuff from the wire, and Paolo saw an Austrian emerge from the smoke, with
his rifle-mounted bayonet pointed straight at him, and Paolo said, please,
please, Lord, please forgive me, forgive me, and he aimed at the Austrian and
squeezed the trigger, and the Austrian fell back with a twisting motion, his
body and head falling one way, his nose the other way, and Paolo thought, I'm
going to be punished for this, and he glanced down and saw that Carlo was
clipping at the barbed wire with undue ferocity, his expression turning to such
anger that fresh blood appeared on his cheek bandage, but Paolo knew it wouldn't
make any difference, they were not going to make it through, and Paolo thought,
Oh Nina, Nina, Nina, I am going to die here right now, and I'll be just a single
line on someone's list saying "Paolo Pascoli, killed at the barbed wire
during a battle of the Isonzo," and Aroldo was scanning, the barrel of his
rifle sweeping back and forth, and as Aroldo fired, the sound cracked against
Paolo's ear, and just over Matteo's shoulder, Paolo saw an Austrian carrying a
machine gun, perhaps ten meters away, and though the Austrian was walking away,
Paolo shifted the bolt to reload his rifle and aimed and said, oh, please,
please, Lord, please forgive me, and he squeezed the trigger, and the cartridge
jammed in his rifle.
Paolo struggled with the bolt, but it wouldn't move,
even as he was pushing and shoving and slapping it with his palm, and he
panicked and forgot he had a bullet extracter in his pack and a loaded sidearm
dangling from his belt, and he poked at Aroldo and gestured wildly at the
Austrian, and as Aroldo turned to fire, his noise organ sounded with a crackling
sound, which the Austrian heard, and suddenly Paolo was looking down the barrel
of the machine gun and as he was frozen in panic and fear he began thinking, oh,
please, please, Lord, please let make his machine gun jam, please--that would be
fair, wouldn't it, Lord, if all our guns miraculously jammed and we had to call
the war off--and as he thought that, the Austrian was running toward Paolo and
the bullets came at him at almost ten per second, and Paolo found himself
screaming as he watched a hard-cased lead pellet glance off Gino’s unstrapped
helmet, putting a one centimeter-deep dent in it and knocking the helmet
spinning from his head, just before a second and a third bullet simultaneously
pierced Gino’s naked forehead, the impacts against mud-caked skin and hard but
thin bone fragmenting the casings and stripping them from the lead cores, the
cores themselves flattening and deforming before passing through the back of
Gino’s head, which split open like a calzone hot from the oven, steam rising
up from the yawning crack, and Paolo screamed No No this isn’t right it’s
not supposed to happen this way and then he watched in horror as pointed, boney
shards of Carlo's shoulderblade flew through the air and rang against his own
helmet, and he screamed I’m not seeing this we are Italians we are Futurists
we are invincible no no no and when he saw a bullet hit Matteo in the neck,
staggering him, toppling him from the mental shock of being hit, and Matteo
grabbed his throat, but the blood splurted out from between his fingers, and
then Matteo fell on Paolo, knocking him into the mud, newly decorated with
rivulets of red, and then Paolo stopped screaming when hot, twisted and deformed
metal fragments, emerging from an exit wound in the fleshy part of Matteo's
thigh, and traveling through the air only a few centimeters, so they still
formed a tight cluster, caught him in the center of his face, and as he lost
consciousness, he thought, I’m not a hero, I am so sorry, Nina.
“What do you think?” Mazzini asked Azari, the
young surgeon’s assistant.
“He will live.
But the reconstructive surgery...” Azari trailed off.
“Do you have any pictures?”
Mazzini asked, taking the folded sheet from his
Azari unfolded the portrait and held it in his hand.
His fingertips were red, and the blood mixed with the red ink on the
“This will be difficult, but we can use skin and
muscle and bone from elsewhere.”
“Can you do it?” Mazzini asked.
I’ve already arranged a special room in town for the operation.
You’ll have more privacy there. I’ve
arranged special nurses, too. Can
you do it?”
“I’ll try my best, sir.”
The sound of something semi-solid striking the floor.
The sound of breathing, the mouth slowly filling with
liquid. The sound of gulping air,
as by a goldfish in stagnant water. The
sound of a surgeon’s assistant scraping out a bedpan. The sound of the silent sheets.
This is what Paolo woke to hear.
When he opened his eyes, at first he thought he had
been left outside the hospital, because all he saw was an enormous mound of
white snow. Left outside, with the
others who were too damaged to be saved. As
his vision cleared, he realized that the whiteness was actually bandages two or
three centimeters thick heaped over his nose.
He realized he was inside. A
"How do you feel?" Mazzini asked.
Paolo's head throbbed, his arms were stiff and his
calf stung. He tasted blood on the
inside of his mouth.
Mazzini looked at Paolo sadly and said, "The
portable noise organ I gave you didn't make it. It had to be destroyed.
But you can count on Lieutenant Ugo Mazzini to make it up to you."
"Sir, am I going to die?"
“Paolo, you'll be fine,” Mazzini said.
“We’ve got the best doctors here, all patching you up."
“I don’t feel fine.”
Paolo turned his face to the hospital window.
Through it he saw only blackness, until the glare from explosions
momentarily lit up the falling snowflakes.
Tum tuuumb tuuummb.
Mazzini followed Paolo's eyes out the window and
said, "If it keeps on snowing, we will have to call a halt until
Oh, wonderful, Paolo thought.
Then I can go home and marry Giannina.
That’s all I want to do.
He smiled at the prospect, until he remembered those
who would not return home.
"Lieutenant, sir..." Paolo said.
"What about the others? I
Mazzini nodded like a proud father and handed Paolo a
ITALY--Three Futurist artist-musicians were killed in action yesterday while
attempting to cut through barbed wire in heavy fighting near the base of
Austrian-held Mount Carso. Carlo
Scarlatto, age 20, Gino Crali, age 19, and Matteo Balbo, age 21, each served
bravely and made the ultimate sacrifice in the struggle against bigotry and
three fine men were admired by all, and everyone who served with them was
ennobled by the experience.
grand Futurist conflict continues the liberation of the world from the wearisome
ownership of land, women and thought. The
forces of clotted brutality and heaviness, although mortally wounded--
Paolo stopped reading and put the flyer down.
"What is wrong?" Mazzini said.
"Sir," Paolo said, "there is so little
here about Carlo, Gino and Matteo..."
"What else could I say?
They were martyrs for Futurism. Honor
enough for any man."
"It just seems a little
disproportionate..." Paolo said.
"Sometimes the idea is more important than the
Paolo stared at the flyer without reading it.
"And not a mention of Aroldo?" he said.
"Ah," Mazzini said, "an unforgivable
oversight. Aroldo was a hero."
"Did he actually do something heroic?"
"He carried you to safety on his back."
Paolo said, "He must have shot that Austrian
with the machine gun..."
"He should receive a medal."
"Where is he now?" Paolo asked.
"Back at the front."
"Fighting for honesty and individuality?"
Mazzini nodded and said, "And you, Paolo, you
must rally yourself. We must finish
the pipework. We have much to do if
the world is to be conquered."
The next day Paolo awoke to the sounds of dripping
and coughing and choking and moaning. He
awoke to the terrible itching under the bandages on his face.
He awoke to hear Austrian explosions far behind the
Italian lines, and he hoped for a heavy fall of snow.
Early that morning, Aroldo came to visit.
"Oh my dear boy!" Aroldo said.
"I wanted to save all of you...
All of you... I tried to carry Carlo back, too, but it was too much."
"What happened to Carlo?" Paolo asked.
"He had been shot, too, but I couldn't carry
both of you. After I got you back
to the trench, I went back for Carlo..."
Aroldo put down his head in shame.
"It's not your fault..." Paolo said.
"I was lost," Aroldo said.
"There were so many new shell craters..."
"It seems like such a waste," Paolo said.
"No good-byes, no chance for last words..."
"Actually, Carlo had a chance for a last word,
in a way."
"Really? What did he say?" Paolo asked.
"When I was wandering through the battlefield,
looking for Carlo, I couldn't see him, but I could hear him.
He was singing."
"Through all the sound of bursting flint, Carlo
No I'm not scared
By explosions at night.
They light up the air
So I can see the spike.
"I don’t know what this meant, but he was
singing it over and over. Despite
all the shouting and machine gun noise, I could hear him singing.
But when I finally found him at the wire, he was dead."
"A Futurist to the end," Paolo said with a
For a moment, Paolo thought he saw a tear forming in
Aroldo's eye. Before it could drop,
Aroldo excused himself to return to the front.
When Mazzini came to visit later that day, young
Azari dropped his mop and ran toward him. The
lieutenant handed him a thin bundle of papers and a small envelope.
Azari studied the papers for a moment and frowned, shaking his head.
Mazzini offered him another envelope.
Azari seized the envelope from Mazzini's hand, mumbled, "War is the
only hygiene of the world," and then stomped off to complete his chores.
Then Mazzini came to sit at Paolo's feet and said,
"Do you feel well enough to finish recuperating at the Art House?"
"I don't think so, sir."
Mazzini nodded and said, "So much to do...
So much to do... Of all the Futurists, Aroldo alone must go to the front, and
I alone must plan the Futurization of the world."
"Sir, as soon as..." Paolo began to say,
and then stopped. His face ached
"I had a meeting with the Colonel this
morning," Mazzini said. "He
was displeased with the constant lack of progress made by our artillery.
I volunteered to confer with the battery commander to help redesign the
firing pattern of the heavy guns.”
“How did you re-design it, sir?” Paolo asked.
“A very astute question!” Mazzini said. “Actually,
Aroldo helped, in a way. It was
kind of a tribute to his genius, actually.
You may have noticed that Aroldo’s musical composition had several
movements in it---”
Ah, Paolo thought.
So Mazzini was not as ignorant about music as he seemed.
“---and some parts had more... well, notes, than
others.” Mazzini stopped talking for a moment, as if distracted.
Then he resumed: “Where was I? Ah, yes.
I’m sorry. I lose my train
of thought easily these days. Parts, yes. Some
parts were faster, others slower, more quiet.
And, best of all, some had more explosions than others.
What I have done is re-orchestrated the firing pattern of our main
batteries to repeat the general motives and movements of Aroldo's musical
composition. The artillery fire booms and crashes like drums and cymbals... I
call my technique 'cymballistics.'"
“What did you do, sir?” Paolo said.
“Did Aroldo have this in mind when he wrote the piece?”
“Oh, no, translating it from noise organs to
artillery was my idea. And there
had to be some adjustments of course...”
"The Colonel approved this?"
Mazzini smiled mischievously and whispered, "He
approved the plan, but I do not believe he fully grasped the Futurist
underpinnings. When we present him
with this, the first major victory of the war, only then will I tell him that
this is what Futurism has accomplished. This
is how I generally get his approval."
"Sir, I'm not sure that--"
"Don't you see?" Mazzini said.
"War itself is music, beautiful music."
"Listen!" Mazzini said and opened the
window. Then he closed his eyes and
waved his hand back and forth.
Paolo watched Mazzini without speaking.
All Paolo heard was gurgling and moaning and coughing.
Only when he had tuned those sounds out did Paolo hear the howitzers and
trench mortars blasting men into bite-size pieces.
But he heard no music.
Mazzini was standing by Paolo's bedside when the next
influx of wounded entered. Paolo
was worried about Mazzini. His face
was flushed, and there was a smell of alcohol on his breath.
He had never seen Mazzini drunk before.
As a pair of stretcher bearers went by the window,
Paolo heard a cry: "Lieutenant!"
"It's Aroldo!" Mazzini said, and climbed
out the window.
Paolo sat up in his bed to watch the two stretcher
bearers lay Aroldo on a dirt path outside.
"I saw you in the light..." Aroldo said,
and began to cough.
"This man is a Futurist!" Mazzini said to
the stretcher bearers. "Why
are you leaving him here?"
"There's no more room inside," a stretcher
bearer said. "The doctor said
that this one belongs here." They
pulled the stretcher from under Aroldo. "Along
with the others who cannot be saved."
Mazzini carefully removed the portable noise organ
from Aroldo's back and clutched it tightly in his fat fingers.
"We were pinned down at the base of the
cliffs," Aroldo said, gasping. "We
thought we had protection behind sandbags...
But every time they fired at us, they hit the rocks behind us, and
fragments flew everywhere..."
"Aroldo, be still, you'll be all right,"
Mazzini said. Aroldo's chest was
chopped up like a mixed salad.
"They didn't even have to be able to see us to
hit us..." Aroldo said. "We
had no cover... No smoke screen...
"You had no artillery?" Mazzini asked.
"But I could hear it!"
"It was all misdirected...
Even the rolling barrage," Aroldo said.
"It wasn't heavy and hard enough.
It was supposed to clear the area just ahead of us, and as we moved
forward, the barrage was supposed to, too.
But it moved on too quickly and was too light.
The infantry couldn't keep up. And
the Austrians just waited until the barrage passed them, and then came out of
their holes and slaughtered us. Whoever
planned the firing was an idiot."
"An idiot?" Mazzini shouted.
Mazzini said, "I planned that barrage.
Along with Colonel De Pisis. Do
you still think the attack was idiotic?"
Aroldo was silent for a time and then said,
Mazzini was turning red with anger.
"Don't you see what you've done,
Lieutenant?" Aroldo said. "Carlo...
Aroldo convulsed slightly and said, "Why did you bring us here?"
"How long have we been together?" Mazzini
said. "How many years have we
been proclaiming that war is the only hygiene of the world?
When war finally came in all its glory, how could we not live our ideals
"Perhaps then," Aroldo said, sarcastically,
"it is war that has betrayed us."
"Blame this war, perhaps!
If you don't like it, there will always be another.
But do not blame war itself!" Mazzini
said. "Or else blame me!"
"Then I blame you," Aroldo said.
"It is all a conceit, a mockery.
I never perceived who you really are, but Matteo told me.
He said you were one of those who shout and wave their hands, and pretend
to be rebellious and angry, but really aren't angry about anything."
"I'm not angry?" Mazzini shouted.
"What do you have to be angry about?"
Aroldo asked. "That you never
had to hold a job? That your father
and mother left you a fortune to squander on your Futurist doodling?
When have you ever suffered at the hands of passeists and
“My parents were the greatest bastions of stupidity
and pedantry the world has ever known!” Mazzini shouted.
"If I squandered their money, it was to insult them.
You don’t know what I endured as a child at their hands.
I have suffered!"
"You’ve always sought out suffering,"
Aroldo said. "You bring it
upon yourself. And upon us!"
Aroldo coughed up a clot of blood. "Carlo... Gino... Matteo...
It is your fault that they are dead.”
“We would have followed you anywhere.
Why did you bring us here? Why
did you kill us?"
Then he looked up at Mazzini's face and died.
My Aroldo! You... you...
detestable... you contemptible... You
imbecile!" Mazzini was
circling Aroldo's body, waving his fist at it.
"Have I taught you nothing?"
The nurses left their stations and stood at the
windows to see who was shouting. They
saw Mazzini lift his boot, point his toe and kick Aroldo's dead body in the
A surgeon stood watching, horror on his face.
"No hero's burial for you!
I loved you, but now I’ll compose no lines for you, I’ll paint no
canvas to honor your memory, I’ll cast no death's mask to remember your
face!" Mazzini kicked Aroldo
in the eyeballs.
Three large orderlies were sent to subdue the
"You say I am not angry!" Mazzini shouted.
"Now I have something to be angry about!
You’re no martyr! I’ll
drag you around the camp. I’ll
leave you to putrefy in a shell hole. Even
the rats from the trenches won’t want to eat your flesh!"
Mazzini grasped Aroldo by the ankles, but finding the
body too heavy, Mazzini stumbled and fell.
Then he shouted, "You will be mocked and then
The orderlies were now struggling with Mazzini.
As he flailed in the mud, Mazzini shouted, "I am a Futurist!
Take your hands off me!"
The orderlies held him down firmly, until, panting,
Mazzini said, "All right, all right, I will... go... quietly..."
As the two orderlies led Mazzini past the hospital
door, a doctor stopped them and said, "Let him go.
I don't believe there will be any more disturbances tonight."
"I go only if Paolo comes with me," Mazzini
"Very well!" the doctor said.
"Shouldn't Paolo stay a bit longer..?"
Azari mumbled to the doctor.
"Don't either of you come back into my hospital
Mazzini and Paolo walked somberly across the camp
toward the Art House. As he carried
Aroldo's portable noise organ, the only one to return intact from battle, Paolo
tried to sort out what had happened.
"Sir, what do we do now that there are only two
of us left?"
The Austrians had been shelling the entire camp very
heavily that night, and each time a shell exploded, Paolo flinched and the noise
organ jiggled in his hands.
"Don't be afraid," Mazzini said.
"We are Futurists."
"What do we do?" Paolo repeated.
“What do we do?”
Mazzini shouted. "What
do we do? The traitor has been
vanquished, the heroes mourned. They
are all so selfish. My plans...
My plans... They have left
us so much work to do."
The shells were falling very closely now.
"We'd better get into the Art House," Paolo
said, "there's more protection there, sir."
"Yes!" Mazzini said.
"We can work on the pipes in there.
The beautiful, musical truck... All
I wanted was beauty... To show the
world beauty... Yes, the truck. Only a few small pieces are yet to be polished, and then the
assembly can be--"
At that moment a shell came down on them.
Paolo knew it would be close.
He was standing perhaps three meters from Mazzini, and there wasn't any
cover nearby, so he dove at the ground, and as he landed, he hit his knee at
stone very hard, and pushed his right kneecap far to one side, and as he
screamed in pain, the shell exploded not more than five or six meters away.
IF THE GESTURE BE BEAUTIFUL
PART 1 - PART 2 - PART 3 - PART 4
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