"IN AN EMPTY GLASS", Short true story for the Liverpool Biennial.

In this story all things are from the ocean and hopefully I’ll be able to give you enough clues to understand why.

«... on second thought we all have some secrets to protect and cherish. Hiding a treasure, even if it's the fruit of criminal activities is not always a condemnable action, in my opinion.

For instance, I know a respectable family who has made their fortune from piracy. The father and the mother spent the first twenty years (or so) of their union looting ships and fishermen's villages until they had enough of it, by which time they had put away enough money and valuables to live in grand style for several generations.

Although their house proves their enormous wealth, they lead a simple life. They have chosen to live in a hut they built themselves in their garden. Everybody in town adores them. Their two kids are growing up quickly in the fantastic world of their parents' adventure stories that they listen to every evening. One evening after a dinner in the garden I was invited to join them in the hut for one of their story-telling sessions. The kids were enchanted and I was in shock. On my way back home I almost crashed several times for my eyes were impregnated with the scenes of ruthless violence they just had so accurately and nonchalantly been depicting. That night I had the weirdest dream. Nothing to do with pirates, though.
I was... well, I can't remember where I was, where the action took place. I only have a very vague feeling of the place, which I don't know how to describe. I'm not even sure whether it was a familiar environment or not, though I still clearly feel that otherworldly atmosphere. I was having a nap. Of this I am sure. On a sofa, maybe on a rug on the floor. This isn't too clear. Then I remember a sailboat, but I couldn't swear it was a real one. Maybe it was a toy boat on a table in the room somewhere. Maybe it was a picture of a boat on the wall. Or maybe there was no boat whatsoever and I was just under the influence of the pirate story! But this is not important. What's important is that I was somewhere and I was having a nap, or trying to. Ok, so... I was snoozing all happy, about to enter the orphic underworld, when... somebody switched the TV on and it was so loud that I almost... Hang on! Was there a TV set in the room? Maybe not. I'm not sure, but this dwarf almost gave me a heart attack... maybe he burst a balloon with his cigarette or something? Not sure! ... So, to sum it up briefly, I was almost asleep when a dwarf walked into the room and woke me up bursting a balloon. At this point the sky outside suddenly opened up and... Wait! I was not on a sofa, nor on a rug. Maybe I wasn't even in a room... maybe I was laying on the lawn outside? I remember being bitten by tiny insects and I was all wet when I got up, as if it had been raining a little! How could it be? Oh God! I'm lost!

Everything was a mess in that dream.

The following morning I was not sure I had a dream at all. In fact my head was in a complete mess. I could see images from two different stories all mixed up.

The story that I could decipher more clearly was the other one. It was set in a very large kitchen of an old apartment in a post Second World War Naples. I somehow knew it was Naples although I couldn't tell you how. Two women were getting breakfast ready for the rest of the family who, one after another, would show up and, yawning, ask for coffee. Then neighbours came to visit, which was very strange considering the early hour. It was only just dawn. A clock on the wall above the dirty cooker indicated it was 6 am. The visitors were two brothers who lived in the apartment below. One was very young and the other one so old that he could have easily been his grandfather. They were acting friendly like usual until the doorbell rang again and a horde of policemen invaded the apartment yelling and pushing people around. At this point the old brother accused the family of a homicide that had taken place the night before. The police, without any question, handcuffed all the members of the family and took them away. The two neighbours and the doorkeeper, left alone in the house, turned the kitchen upside down in search of evidence of the misdeed. It seemed they knew exactly where to look and what for. But they did not find anything. No trace of a corpse. Only at this point did they realize that no crime had happened and the older brother admitted that he had been a dream. "Incredible - he said - It looked so real!"
The three men looked disappointed at first, then laughed as a sign of relief and celebrated the end of the nightmare with a cup of ink-black Neapolitan coffee.

Which one of these two stories was the one I had just spent the night on? Was it the first one, of which I have a faint memory or the second one? And why was it so important for me to find out? I was so confused I couldn't bear the gravity of all this uncertainty. I was going nuts, so I sat down with a coffee in front of the window to try to calm down and got caught in the perfection of a flower in a vase... Here it is." - he showed me a small vase with one flower - "Please, Aimo, help me with this! What flower is it?"»


«Filippo had come to my nursery to show me the flower that was of a kind I had never seen before either. He begged me to help him to find out what kind of flower it was. It seemed as if it was a question of life or death. He didn't even remember or know how it had ended up in that vase in his kitchen. We went through all my botanical books (I have hundreds of them!) trying to find the match, but in vain. I asked him repeatedly if he was sure that that flower had something to do with the story he had told me and he kept answering he was. He was starting to look ill, sweating and shaking from the exhaustion. I asked him to tell me the story once again. Maybe we didn't pay attention to something important before. Even just a tiny detail could have been revealing. He started from the beginning "...I know a respectable family who have made their fortune out of piracy..." In the meantime I would examine every single one of his words ready to catch some obscured double or hidden meaning that could lead us to the solution of the case, but didn't really know what it was that I was supposed to be looking for. Then, suddenly, I realized that he had changed his story completely. He was now talking about an android playing the trumpet!! "An android... a robot? Playing a trumpet? What's this all about? Where does it come from? You didn't mention an android before!" "I didn't!" he said looking completely lost in madness.

A few months later, I was doing some pruning and trimming around the garden at the back of my nursery when I decided to move some of the flower plants by the pond to the greenhouse. Out of the blue I made a connection between a phlox I was about to pot and Filippo's flower. And realized that that flower in his kitchen was nothing else than the most common of our flowers, a floxia! So, how, why on earth could I not recognize it when he showed it to me, that day? This is a great mystery. Inexplicable. It made me reconsider the whole story, because this time I couldn't blame it on his insanity. It was me this time, who couldn't recognize something I see every single day. Can you find any plausible explanation? Imagine all of a sudden you don't recognize you own mother!"

"This I don't know, Aimo, but I dreamt of a dwarf playing the trumpet last night!"
"Oh, that's a weird dream, too!” But in Filippo's it was a robot playing a trumpet and a dwarf bursting a balloon!

"Yeah but the sense is the same! And anyway, it also has a hidden treasure! I was on a desert island. But earlier I was on the most luxurious liner cruising unexplored oceans and rivers, surrounded by beautiful people with whom I had a great time. Every now and then the captain would announce the vicinity of a new wild island inhabited by monstrous creatures or primordial examples of the human species and we would all run up to the deck to take a look. The ship would stop for a few minutes so that we could all take photos and make videos while a member of the crew gave us a notion of the place such as the local customs, what their economy was based on, what kind of natural resources could be extracted, and so on. The rest of the time we would sunbathe and eat delicious food.

I cannot tell you why... the ship was wrecked and I found myself on this island with the dwarf and his trumpet. And... the island was covered in floxias. And the dwarf got eaten by them!"»

The apparently nonsensical story cited above is from a diary I have found in a box in the attic when I moved into the house I still live in. I found it amusing from the very first time I read it and I have since been studying it trying to make a sense out of it. For a start I had never heard about a flower called floxia and after some research I had convinced myself that it was a fictional name. There isn't a single book (as far as I know) where a flower or a plant with this name is mentioned. But then, one day doing my shopping in the street market around the corner I stumbled upon a florist stall who sold floxiaes in pots. When I asked where those plants came from he laughed and then told me that it really is a very common plant in our area. So why isn't it listed on any of the botanical books I have consulted? Not even on the Internet? That still is a mystery to me.

Then, some time later, I made, again by chance, another discovery. The story of the dream in the kitchen in Naples derived (more or less) from a play by Eduardo De Filippo, a Neapolitan. So, does that mean that whoever wrote the diary was a Neapolitan too? De Filippo isn't too well known outside his native country, which makes this very likely. The case was becoming more intriguing by the minute. Examining the manuscript, I noticed that different people have written it. At least two different handwritings are distinguishable, which could indicate it was perhaps some sort of game. So I set my investigation in that direction, but still couldn't come to any conclusions. I was becoming more and more obsessed and frustrated until one day I found another piece of the puzzle, a small piece of paper hidden in a crack in the kitchen wall. It read like this:

«The sand castle story is equally important (if not more). No one has mentioned it so far but I suggest you keep it into the right consideration, dr. Simoni. Remember the sand castle we made in your surgery? The idea occurred to us on the beach the day before. It was the five of us doing nothing else than eating and sunbathing. Each of us in our own world. A pirate ship sailed by, not far from the shore. Then another big boat approached it and they started cannonading against each other until they both sunk. It was the most spectacular thing I have witnessed in my life! ...»

This was actually the only legible part of that piece of paper as the dampness in the wall had turned the rest into a big stain of ink and mould.

I always feel like I have to justify myself for something. Now that I've forgotten all that, I spend my evenings watching tropical sunsets from my garden and some times in my garden.