I hate these people. How I want nothing more than to tip this boat and let them drown. But they can’t drown if they’re already dead. Day in, day out, I carry them across these waters. My name is Charon, and I am alone. This is my story.
O Sole Mio… Sta 'nfronte a te…
There’s nothing much like Venice in the summer. The water is warm, the wind is cool, and the people are happy. The entire town comes alive, and tourists flock to see the wonder of the city that just won’t sink. My name is Alberto Charon, and I am one of many. I am a Gondolier. Day in, day out, I carry people across these waters. It is how I get around, it is how I make my money, and it is how I met her.
Her name was Bianca Sansouci, or it would be soon. She was to be wed to the Duke Gremio Sansouci, and she was very much in love with him. On the day he asked her to be his bride, he took her on my gondola. Now, I have seen many men propose to many women, but never before had I seen a couple so much in love. His eyes always on hers, her hands always in his. I stood there, singing my operas, watching them. She was far too beautiful for one like him – hers was a beauty I had but read about. Her hair, black as the night, black as the darkest depths, shifted in the wind. Her soft hands, those dainty, delicate hands I would dress only in the finest silk, held hostage by his hard fingers. What I remember most is the way she smelled – the finest lilac breeze, with a hint of rose, and a dash of passion. I was more than jealous; I was infatuated.
Our ride lasted no more than an hour. They sat, huddled together, enjoying the sun, until Gremio, in the darkness under a bridge, knelt before her and begged for her everlasting love, ‘til death do them part. They kissed, and sat together once more, watching the world go by as I pushed them along, all the while singing, singing my operas. At the end of their ride, Gremio leaned forwards and reached into his pocket for a purse of coins, which he threw up to me with a smile.
“Keep them, keep them all! I am to be wed!”
At that, he rose and leapt to the pier, extending a hand for Bianca. I leaned forwards, took her hand, and led her to her husband-to-be. I caught one more breeze of that lilac rose, and I dropped my purse of coins. They fell, scattering, half into my boat, half into the water. I stared into the murky depths, watching the gold shimmer until I could no longer make them out.
“Take these!” laughed Gremio, throwing me a second purse. “There’s always more money! Always more money! I am to be wed!”
Taking Bianca’s arm, he turned, all the while laughing that laugh of his. “I have what you want”, it said, “I have what you need.”
Venice is a strange city. Most of the people who ride my gondola disappear into the masses of people on land, never to return again to my home on the water. As I watched the beauty and the beast stroll off down the pier, past the merchants, and over a bridge, I felt a strange sense of loss, as if I had ever had something. “I’ll never see them again,” I thought, a strangely terrifying and comforting thought at the same time.
Ma n'atu sole… cchiu bello, oje ne'.
In a tavern in the eastern corner of a piazza, several years later, I caught a breeze of lilac and rose. There, sitting in the corner, nursing a large glass of wine, was my Bianca. No Gremio, I noted, rising from my seat to move towards her.
“Bianca, right? Charon. You rode on my gondola.”
“How can I forget?” She said, drearily. Her eyes never rose from her drink.
“Are you alright?” I asked, setting my drink on the table and sitting down across from her.
“Where is your husband? Gremio, right?”
“Yes, Duke Gremio Sansouci. Gremio is going to be gone for a while. A long while.”
“What did he do?”
“There was always going to be more money, he said. I should never worry. No matter how much my dresses were, or our houses, or our slaves, Gremio always pulled out another purse of coins. Never, I never thought to question where they were from. It was six months ago that the men came for him. We were eating our dinner when there was a loud knock on the door. The next thing I knew, I was alone. He had been stealing from the Church. Gremio, my Gremio, had all but robbed the Church blind. I haven’t heard from him since, and I don’t care to.”
We were silent for quite some time. Then she rose, and collected her things.
“I must be off. I’m staying with family in Florence, and it’s a three day’s journey. Goodbye.” At that, she rose, paid the bartender, and blew out the door, leaving only a hint of lilac and rose.
I sat thinking for a few moments, when a thought struck me. I grabbed my things, and ran out the door. There, down the alley behind the tavern, she walked into the distance. I ran towards her, and stopped her.
“Stay with me.”
“Your life is here. I have two rooms, and am but man enough to live in one. Stay with me.”
She moved in later that day.
Che bella cosa na jurnata 'e sole
I was a man in love. And she loved me. She loved me. She loved me. She loved me. Together, we were happy. When she left early in the morning to pick up some fruits at the market, I would wake and still smell her lilac rose. Everything I did, I did it for her. I worked all day, just to come home and be with her, surrounded by the lilac air and silk. I kissed her hello, I kissed her goodbye, and I kissed her as often in between as I could.
Life was perfect, but as they have a way of doing, things became more and more complicated. She wanted finer dresses, a nicer house, sweeter wine. I gave her everything I had. Eventually, I began to understand why Gremio had to steal.
Lots of things began reminding me of Gremio. I would walk to the pier, and down every alley, I would hear his preposterous laugh. In every window I saw his face, and every purse of coins I had was handed to me by his hard fingers.
Then one night, just as he had left, he was back. I came back from a long day in my dark waters, expecting to find my darling Bianca waiting for me, covered in silk and lilac. Instead, all I saw was blood. Her body, still warm on the bed, mangled and twisted, greeted me as I opened the door. I took two steps forwards, and suddenly the door slammed shut. Gremio, covered in blood, those hard hands clutching a knife, the fire in his eyes burning at me.
“But you’re dead!”
“No, my friend. I was imprisoned. They don’t kill Dukes. They do, however, kill murdering gondoliers.”
He stepped towards me, holding out the knife for me to grab. I saw my chance, and I took it. I grabbed the blade. Gremio walked over to Bianca’s still warm corpse on the bed.
“I won’t die for her,” he said, with fiery resolution.
“That’s where you’re wrong.”
I stepped towards him, thrusting the blade towards his chest. He sidestepped, the blade merely grazing his skin.
“Silly boy.” And he laughed. He laughed that evil laugh, and I hated him. He came towards me, arms swinging, my head getting jostled about like the waves to a boat.
I regained some control and I shoved the knife into his side.
“Argh!” he shrieked, and pulled the blade out. With lightning-fast movement, he stabbed me in the heart. Everything went black.
Ma n'atu sole… cchiu bello, oje ne’…
'o sole mio… sta 'nfronte a te!
I am on a long, dark shore. I can hear the water splash against the sand, and I look around me. There are people here, but they have no definition. They are but shadows against the dark background, and I cannot make anything out. A breeze of lilac and rose hits me. She’s here, I know it.
“Bianca!” Nothing. No one pays me any attention. Suddenly, as if pulled by invisible strings, everyone seems to be moving towards the water. There, I see, sits a large gondola. We get on, crowded and cramped, and all manage to find a seat, but the ship won’t move. A light on the opposite shore acts as our destination, I know it. I rise from my seat, and move to the back.
I can’t control my arms. Suddenly, the boat is moving, and I am driving it. The journey is quick – the darkness hides the true width of this river. We pull up on shore, and everyone begins filing off. But not me. I can’t move. My hands are frozen on the pole, my feet glued to the boat. I know my role, and I know my place. I smell nothing but lilac and rose, and as the boat goes back around for another pass, I begin to sing.
Che bella cosa na jurnata 'e sole,
n'aria serena doppo na tempesta!
Pe' ll'aria fresca pare gia na festa...
Che bella cosa na jurnata 'e sole.