'Cor! I'd slather myself in honey just to have Francesco Carrozza lick it off.'
'Good grief, that's a bit rash!' Tripping over his father's brogue, Charlie Chance untangled himself from the cord and took the telephone out to the balcony. Swinging a leg over to straddle the warm stone balustrade, he set it on his lap and tucked the handset underneath his chin. 'Think of the bees, Iggy.'
'I wouldn't give a rat's arse!' he heard him snipe down the line, muffled by the sounds of his rummaging. 'Think of the joys, Charlie.'
'You could end up receiving more stingers than you bargained for,' he snorted, scratching his heel against the concrete. 'After weeks of nothing but a postcard from Mykonos, this is what you telephoned to tell me? What's that racket? What are you doing?'
'I'm packing—well, I've set luggage out on my bed and threw in some socks, so now I deserve a break and a snack,' he drawled; Charlie distinctly heard him drape himself dramatically over his chaise lounge. The theatrical offspring of an archaeologist and a naturalist, Iggy was what the bright considered effeminate, whereas the dim thought of him as camp as Christmas. As flamboyant and as lithe and as fair as a nymph with pink rosebud lips, and as narrow and as gangly as a hairy javelin, Charlie envisaged him lying down consciously with a hand to his forehead as though posing for a painting.
'Why is everyone so crazy for Carrozza? The newsletter christened him "Eton's Trident" last term because of his prowess in rugby, cricket, and rowing. Can you believe that hogwash?'
'Wholeheartedly,' Iggy replied.
'Is having a nice face truly more important than'—Charlie glanced around helplessly until his eyes fell on the front page of his father's newspaper, squinting through the glass doors and his cigar smoke—'say, those twenty-two Provisional IRA members being sentenced to a total of four thousand years at a Belfast court today? When you think about it, and I mean really think about it, does his appearance really matter that much in the grand scheme of things?'
'Yes, Charlie. It absolutely does,' the sniper's nightmare responded. 'But thank you for bringing to my attention yet another bloody Irish thing for Ciarán Quinn to kick up a stink about.'
'Don't you find this extravagant obsession with one mortal boy quite strange? You'd think he was King Arthur's rightful heir, a rowing paddle his Excalibur. They all pander to him as though he's the last descendant of Jesus Christ or a Buddha in decent nick.' Looking down below, a scholarly boy, wearing black and reading a book in a gondola, tugged at a dusty thought left forgotten at the back of Charlie's mind like something mischievous in the subconscious, foreboding his return to Eton in three weeks time. Revelling in the last morsel of summer's freedom, he pressed his head against the Baroque-style building and closed his eyes, the hot foreign sun bloodying his eyelids. September was due to arrive again, but here, whilst England was grey and cold and rainy, the clear cerulean sky above still bore the fruitful joys of aestival in the air. 'Well, I suppose the way that lickspittle lot carry on back at that godforsaken school, he could order those subordinates and sycophants to hurl themselves into the River Thames for him to hop across their backs and perform a Christian miracle.'
'And I would be waiting at the end of that bridge of bodies with arms and legs wide open,' Iggy stated, lighting a cigarette.
'Despite his many, many misdemeanours, have you noticed how he's hardly ever dogged with punishment? For goodness' sake, the boy is practically covered in tattoos, yet they might as well be invisible ink.'
'I heard he cited freedom of religion.'
'It's all very mysterious, his dodging discipline, which is evident in the amount of imaginative rumours that hover persistently over Carrozza like flies around the dead; it brings to mind those ghost stories plaguing Green Rose, that old manor that's been left derelict out in the countryside.'
'Well, it's no wonder: that's the sovereignty of the Carrozza fever.' Iggy sighed longingly. 'To wander Eton means to embark on a pilgrimage through the aisles in a house of worship dedicated to him and his apostles. His accomplishments decorate the halls like Stations of the Cross, campaign and gallantry medals awarded to him for defeating the pastures, waters, and hills that had been his Jerusalem. Eton stands as testament to his blaze of glory—a shrine, a monument.'
'This is what we're left with: usurpers and false gods.' Taking a long gulp of bitter, lukewarm coffee, Charlie recalled seeing students pacing the corridors of the Frankie Carrozza museum from time to time, half-hoping to catch a glimpse of his apparition at the end of the hall. 'Perhaps we hear less and less about canonised Marion apparitions because they've forsaken us for erecting pantheons in honour of mere mortals.'
'I highly doubt Frankie's ever anything merely,' Iggy claimed. 'You know, many theorists—or, rather, conspiracists—insinuate that the boy has had dalliances with bedfellows from all walks of life. Perhaps it is only a crusade to romanticise him further with the grandeur of mythical idealism that made idols of Achilles and Patroclus, Hyacinth and Thamyris, Pausanias of Athens and the poet Agathon, Alexander the Great and Hephaestion, Hadrian and Antinous—to give to him a Roman reign. Or, perhaps, it had initially began as a stratagem to besmirch his reputation, instigated by shadowed rivals, insidious peers from the classroom, an envious teammate, a foe in the form of a friend, or an attempt to calumniate the boy by sportsmen from opposing towns still feeling the sting of being bested. Yet, his liaisons with that sordid, rambunctious sport has been palliated, too. Whether true or false, the hearsay of his bailiwick backfired—or succeeded, depending on your interpretation of the whimsical concept—and made him all the more curious, attaching strangeness and mystery to his aeonian rise.'
'That's just it, why doesn't anybody know anything verifiable about Frankie Carrozza aside from the tales Eton can tell?' asked Charlie. 'Out of all the angels, only Lucifer found cause to disguise himself.'
'Because he is a rather mesmerising masterpiece, a desideratum sent by God to electrify our mundane, humdrum existence.'
'Well, he's not rather mesmerising.'
'No, but he is ridiculously enthralling.'
'Well, he's not ridiculously enthralling.'
'No, but he is very handsome.'
'Well, he's not very—'
'For once, I'm very glad that you're very far away,' Iggy snapped waspishly. 'True, Xavier Valentine may be the most beautiful boy at Eton, but he has as much personality as a noose; Frankie has that inexplicable quality about him, that indescribable idiosyncrasy, that screen presence, that certain oomph that marks him as the better candidate to have filthy fantasies about. He's a toothsome bowl of Eton Mess, and more fool you if you wouldn't leap at the chance to dip your spoon in.'
'No offence intended, my friend, but I'm sure Carrozza wouldn't give a rat's arse about you—or any of those who drowned for his miracles, for that matter,' said Charlie, tapping a cigarette out of the carton. 'Besides, he'd be much too concerned about rushing back to be reunited with his one true love: the mirror.'
'You barely know the boy, and certainly not well enough to judge him; he mightn't be narcissistic at all, oblivious to how blessed his face truly is; in fact, he could be cursed with a punctured ego that I could help nurture and mend by lovingly blowing—'
'Please, for the love of God, for the love of me, if you bear me no ill will, do not finish that sentence. And come off it, Iggy! Vainglorious Carrozza struts around the grounds as though he rules Eton and all of its surrounding lands with an invisible crown wedged onto his head. If he even thinks his toes are ugly, I'll drown myself,' Charlie groaned, swatting a mosquito off his red running shorts. 'I hardly know him? For goodness' sake, that's rich coming from you, since you only found out that "Frankie" was a nickname for Francesco two months ago. You might think he strikes a remarkable mien, but even the feet of Eton's Trident can smell—if not his especially for his athleticism.'
'Of apricots!' Iggy shrieked, as though Chance had blasphemed. 'Not to alarm you, Charlie, but you sound ... jealous.'
'Jealous?' He transitioned the handset around to the other ear. 'What is there to be envious of?'
'Before I've even thought to mention his graciousness, relevance, reverence, and notoriety, I already know that I could go on for days.'
'Alright, feet on the breaks,' Charlie grunted. 'It's just absurd how most of our schoolfellows have became members of the Carrozza cult. Queen Victoria probably didn't look half as ostentatious during her time in Buckingham Palace. It can't just be his face that has them fixated like art fanatics marvelling over the Mona Lisa. Imagine, who knows what Hitler might have achieved had he been handsome?'
'Do you fancy Frankie?' Iggy asked slyly.
'Not in the slightest. Personally, I find the idea of perfection tedious, and he's the quintessence of conventional beauty. It's like looking at the pretty colours without the landscape; in fact, that's all he is: just scenery. As fetching as he may be, he's not beautiful, as beauty can only be seen by the heart, not the eyes. And I'd imagine that a significant amount of substance has probably been knocked out of him onto the rivers and pitches.'
'Do you mean to say that you're attracted to Hitler?' Iggy gasped.
'I'm beginning to regret answering this phone call.'
'Oh, come off it yourself, Charlie! "Not in the slightest", he says. Just who do you think you're fooling?' he giggled. 'Or is it you're trying to hoodwink your first and last interaction with the heir of Eton? That is, if you can even call it that.'
As "Words" by F.R. David slung itself over the balcony, hiding an unseen smile, Charlie struck a match to light a cigarette. Abiding—by God's will, it seemed—on the very outskirts of each other's lives in the years they attended Eton together, spinning out of the other's orbit to become just as divided as summer days and winter nights, at last, the two boys had finally spoken on their final day before the summer holidays—alas, sort of.
Once Iggy had departed for west, Charlie went to the library to await his train north with Peter Pan propped open before him. Sensing a stare, Charlie had lifted his own from the book: Francesco Carrozza, the Adonis, the demigod, leant on his counter, peering down over his desk with his head cradled in his arms. When the very air from Charlie's lungs had surrendered to that face, it had shattered the words in his mouth. All Frankie had asked was if he knew when the next train south was due, yet Charlie couldn't form the answer, but it was not for want of trying: spluttering like a tractor stuck in mud, he'd uttered the beginnings of various words that he prayed were from the English dictionary.
'Sometime today!' a boy called from the next desk over.
'Sometime today,' Charlie had parroted to Carrozza, 'which is exactly the answer I was trying to give.'
The same interceptor had then mercifully recited the times from behind his cubicle. A slight incline of his head to offer his gratitude to the other student, fingers tousling loose curls as brown and as unruly as rose bush bramble, Frankie remained looking down on Charlie. Emerald eyes flickering between the book and the boy, a cheeky grin embedded those heart-rending dimples into his jaws, before the sun-kissed boy swivelled away to return to his otherworld, leaving Charlie spellbound by the spot he'd left vacant and taking with him his opportunity to dissect the gravitational pull of his allure.
Iggy asked, 'I assume from this pensive quietness of yours, dear, that you're recollecting your memory from the bottom of the canal after it fell out of your arse?'
'Actually, I was thinking that if I'd a time machine, I'd go back to two years ago, to 1981, and knock thirteen-year-old me out with a brick before he can sneak off midway through the wall game on St Andrew's Day to have tea and rewatch Brideshead Revisited with an abominable creature known as Ignatius Perkins so as to nip the friendship in the bud before it has a chance to blossom.'
'Oh, kinky,' Iggy cooed.
'I said bud, not butt.'
'Anyway, how's Venice? Oh, what are the boys like?'
'Just as I imagined,' Perkins replied dreamily. 'What are you doing? Actually, don't tell me; you're probably wasting a month overseas surrounded by exotic delights by reading some silly little children's book.'
'I am not. I'm'—Charlie glanced down at his copy of The BFG on his lap—'talking to you on the telephone. There's a boy named Elio, a gondolier, who—'
'—you watched from afar and only envisioned a love worthy of a thousand sonnets with?'
Bathing in dreamy languor, Charlie chose not to reply, exhaling smoke underneath a sun as golden as a royal's crown. Restless, he stretched his elfin body out along the balustrade, knobby bones like knots on a bole pressing against skin with a sheen as silvery as ivory, a youthful blush flushing his lips, his cheeks, his nose, his knees, his elbows, his knuckles. Chewing on the collar of his green t-shirt, he swept back tangled hair that sweat had matted to his forehead and temples, wild and uncombed and dark brown like the woods.
The worth of a face, Charlie mused, looking to his own reflected in the large glass door behind him, navy eyes staring back at him darkly from a mother-of-pearl pallor. Flowers will be pretty—until they die.
'You're gone very quiet,' Iggy acknowledged. 'Has Italy made a philosopher out of you?'
'I've become very cultured, very couth, very refined during my time here.' Charlie dropped the remains of his cigarette into the nearest flowerpot and lit another. 'When a porter approached to ask something or other earlier, I was able to blink at him foreignly until he walked away.'
'Are you having a cigarette with mummy and daddy so close-by?' Iggy asked. 'Perhaps you're not as pusillanimous as I once thought.'
'You know what they're like: I could swan dive off this balcony and Byron Chance would keep behind his newspapers until he read about the incident—well, I'd plummet into the Grand Canal, but that's beside the point. And Vivienne would just stare in an unblinking daze. Beyond the glass. Beyond the balcony. Beyond the smoke. Beyond the boy. Beyond the fall. Beyond the canal. Beyond the city. Beyond Italy. Beyond the sky. Beyond life. Beyond—'
'Very good,' Iggy cut in sharply. 'Does Byron still call me Icky? He must think my name is Icarus.'
'Yes, that must be it,' Charlie lied.
'Frankie's father is Italian, isn't he? Maybe he's in Venice at this very minute, too! Go and look for him. If you happen to find him, tell him I send my love. What are your plans for today, anyway?'
'I'm drinking coffee, smoking a cigarette, overlooking the Rialto Bridge, and reading a book.'
'Reading a what? You're hopeless.' Iggy hung up the phone.
Smiling fondly, Charlie crossed to the cast-iron table and set the telephone down. Beside his hand was a brochure for Eton College, reddened with alpenglow, the front page capturing the stonework of the old school amongst the rugby pitches and cricket fields. Floreat Etona, cried the motto: may Eton flourish. Once he overhung the canal, Charlie caught himself searching for a familiar face rowing or lazing in the boats, sitting in the chairs outside the restaurants and cafes, laughing and drinking wine on the balconies and rooftops, or strutting across the walkways and bridges, perhaps: a boy in an oversized, often mustard-coloured jumper, dangerously tight black jeans, and a patterned hair scarf that co-ordinated painstakingly well with his clothes, wrung tight and wrapped like a headband over the fringe of his thick, curly hair.
Though forewarned of complacency and hubris by a loved one, Charlie recalled how Icarus had flew much too close to the sun. Perhaps the young boy found the heat of it much too compelling after such a long isolation; to feel only the sensation of winter, what one would endure when summer was a given gift. Perhaps Icarus caught the scent in the wind of the feathers searing, writhing in the warmth and whispering his destiny. The wax bubbled until it dribbled, flowing hot down his chest and dripping between his fingers and toes. In the end, mayhem was a seductive mistress and a fascinating master. Freedom found beyond captivity. As a feather slipped free, broken from the mass to dance with the current by his ear before it plummeted towards the rocky ocean surface, tantalising temptation may be too inviting and the sun too fleeting. Higher, higher, higher still—skyward, he soars. A hand reaches out towards that dazzling gold coin perched in the heavens, a child's grip snatching for magic as the wings split asunder.
The sunset is a murderous red: Icarus is falling; Icarus has been felled.
The cold sea rises to greet his young body. The scream birthed on his lips due soon to die is a long-drawn, lulling hymn. Death is imminent. Mourning a life not yet truly lived, he is sorrowful that it has come to this—yet, a heart is joyful that it will not die having hesitated. Oblivion approaches: it is ice and stone and cold and wavering. He bathed in the glorious day; night may come.
Once Charlie pitched the cigarette over the balcony to bury it like a maiden's secret in the water below, a fiery streak spraying embers until it fizzled out, he opened his first journal and wrote on the first line: Frankie Carrozza. In defiance of my demurral, he'll live on as legend, and legends never dare die.