Rachel Dacus: The Renaissance Club
An excerpt from the novel The Renaissance Club
by Rachel Dacus (Fiery Seas Publishing, 2018)
A distant clang. The Swiss Guards were closing the outer doors and tourists were scurrying. Where was The Renaissance Club? In a panic, May dashed toward the Baldacchino and nearly collided with a man who stepped out from behind a pillar.
“Sorry!” she said, backing up.
“Signorina, watch where you’re going!”
The young man in black frowned and didn’t apologize. With his long, dark hair and white sleeves rolled up on muscular forearms, he looked like an art restorer. A black jacket was draped over his shoulders. He held a long wooden measuring rod, the kind used by architects centuries ago. Maybe he was rehearsing for some sort of pageant.
“Ladies are not allowed here while I’m working,” he said stiffly. He aimed the rod at the nearest column and sighted up along it.
“I know you!” she exclaimed. She knew him well.
He straightened his jacket and bowed. “Everyone in Rome knows Cavaliere Bernini. But you may not be here. I need silence. I have a very big work to complete.”
His finger pointed up at the four twisted bronze columns, where May was astonished to see no bronze canopy on top. Tons of bronze had simply vanished. She looked back at him. Bernini lifted the instrument and peered up at the nearest column. Her living, breathing idol moved to one side to get a better angle. Lean and strong, he was even more handsome than in his self-portrait.
Now he was so intent on his investigation that he seemed unaware of her and the fact that her pulse was pounding. How had she come here, and where exactly was she?
He lowered the measuring rod, framed the air with his hands, and used his fingers to make rapid computations. He stared at her so intensely that she shivered. She remembered that searing gaze in his self-portrait.
“You’re disturbing me, signorina.” He turned away, clearly expecting her to leave.
How could she possibly move? Here was her genius, his hair curled with wiry energy, materializing the restless mind under it. His prominent cheekbones gave him the Neapolitan look that had embarrassed him and made him fabricate a Florentine heritage. He made a few quick calculations and looked at her again, eyes narrowed.
“I won’t say a word,” she promised.
He was obviously contemplating how to throw her out. Bernini wasn’t much taller than she was, but he made every inch of the difference count. May stared back, as defiantly as she could, while stunned and unable to forget the many times she had imagined his powerful arms pulling her close. She stared back, asserting herself silently as his historian. Historians didn’t blink. Though most never met their subjects face-to-face.
Turning away—did that mean she could stay? —he again used the measuring rod. A sharp, unpleasant odor assailed her nose—definitely the smell of piss, coming from a large nearby urn. His century might have towering beauty, but it had no indoor plumbing. Artists working here had to improvise. They also used urine to give a patina to metal sculpture. Despite the smell, she wanted to stay. She tried not to move, but he sensed her watching and was irritated.
“Signorina, please. I cannot concentrate. Do you not have something else to do?”
His open arrogance was true to his time, an era when powerful men flaunted their status to the point of rudeness. Bernini’s fame, even at his young age, was second only to the cardinals and popes he served. His arrogance had been legendary.
“I thought the church was open today,” she said.
“It is not open to you, unless you are applying to become my assistant. But you will not be any use to me in that long skirt.”
She looked down. She had acquired voluminous folds of blue silk, a dress she hadn’t been wearing before. She felt air on her shoulders—her dropped-sleeves left them bare. “Well, not in this I wouldn’t,” she said, appreciating the rustle and texture. “But I’m not applying. I just want to watch you work.”
He said more gently, “Are you a traveler? You do not look Roman.”
“Yes. I’m a traveler. From a long way away. I’m with a group touring Rome. It’s our first day. St. Peter’s is so gorgeous, I can’t believe it. The Baldacchino is one of your finest pieces.”
Ignoring the compliment, he said, “If you are a traveler, then please travel to some other masterpiece. This church has many.” He waved her away and picked up the rod, checking the column once more.
Rachel Dacus is the author of Gods of Water and Air, a collection of poetry, prose, and drama, and the poetry collections Earth Lessons and Femme au Chapeau. Her poetry and prose have appeared in Atlanta Review, Boulevard, Prairie Schooner, The Pedestal, and Valparaiso Poetry Review. The Renaissance Club, her time travel novel involving the great Italian sculptor Gianlorenzo Bernini, came out in January 2018 from Fiery Seas Publishing. Her fourth poetry collection, Arabesque, is forthcoming in August 2018 from FutureCycle Press.
Rachel Dacus on The Renaissance Club:
“Like my heroine and the genius artist she idolizes, art is a quest for the sacred through beauty, whether it’s in direct pursuit, as in past centuries, or in the contemporary art, which rejects the ugliness of an inhumane, post-war civilization. May Gold’s story is both about the beautiful art gives her life meaning, and her quest to become of life-affirming art.”
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