Faló Delle Vanitá
Lucrezia stood hooded in the corner, watching the display in front of her in disgust as the monk shook his fist and shouted for all the frenzied crowd to hear. He threw a book on the flames. The crowd roared as the flames devoured it- dancing and flickering as they reflected off his bald head. The smoke billowed around him and to Lucrezia he had the look of a crazed demon who just crawled his way out of the pits of hell.
Lucrezia did not say a word as she hid in the shadows watching the mounting spectacle. She was not completely sure why she felt she must come and witness this, but once the whispers had reached her ears, she could not keep herself away. The palazzo she knew so well had been invaded by Savaranola’s bloodthirsty Piagnoni, its treasures stripped and thrown haphazardly in carts and transported to the Piazza della Signora, where they would await a smouldering execution for offenses to the propriety of the self-proclaimed moral compass of Florence.
The palazzo’s owners had long since abandoned the city, fled to the safety of the surrounding hills, where they would await the inevitable change of tide. Life and power in Florence was never stable, and for any of the powerful families to maintain a foothold in the erratic political machine that was Florence, they must be prepared for any eventuality. Lucrezia understood all too well their desire to survive. She was smart, cunning, charming, and beautiful- but perhaps most importantly- she never forgot her place. Having been born to the streets of Florence, she understood hunger and sickness and she knew that she would endure anything to keep those wolves at bay.
For two years she had been brought into the palazzo to please the elder son of a wealthy merchant. He was smitten with her and as long as he mounted his ugly wife every ten months (or thereabouts) to produce another heir, his father paid for his every whim. He was not her worst customer. He was quick, not too rough, and always fell asleep straight after, leaving Lucrezia waiting for him to either wake up for more or summon someone to remove her. It was in these respites that she discovered the one thing that had ever made her question her existence- to feel like there was something more to this life than surviving in the highest degree of comfort one could manage. In the elder son’s room there was a painting. The first time she saw it she stopped moving and was, for a brief moment, lifted out of her body. A harsh tug on her arm brought her back to reality, and as she stumbled to keep up with her escort, she noticed the hairs standing up on her arms, felt for the first time a pleasurable tremble run through her hardened soul.
From that moment, she spent every moment looking forward to her next summons to the palazzo. She could hardly wait for her occasional lover to be done with her, so she could sit and look at the entrancing scene before her – its power over her so strong- she ceased to hear the loud snoring of her paramour, to feel the most recent bruises he had left on her delicate skin. Sometimes she would be drawn to the bathing nymphs, other times it was the goat man dancing in a small thicket of trees. Every so often she found herself looking so deep into the painted forms on the canvas that she ceased to remember they were there, so transfixed was she by the vivid colours she had never seen before in the real world. Mostly though, she gazed at the river, so lifelike she could convince herself it was moving. She imagined herself on a little boat sailing down the river to ‘Away-‘ the name she had given to the place she would one day go. Never having been out of the walls of Florence, she did not know about anything that may lie beyond the city walls, but one day she would have enough money to seek it out. For all she knew, the goat man would be there- and they would dance through the woods barefoot, occasionally dipping their toes in the crystal-clear river.
She never asked the elder son about the painting, for this would not have been acceptable. As a woman, and one of the city’s meretrice, discussions of this nature (and generally discussions of any nature) were out of bounds- and so Lucrezia never knew the name nor the painter of the masterpiece that had put a spark of light in her soul.
Savaranola lifted the painting high above his head- displaying it as the crowd of sheep baa’d their disapproval. Singular cries of ‘burn it’ came from the crowd. A few more chimed in until the mob built enough momentum to reach a fever pitch of unity… ‘BURN IT!’ Savaranola smiled his demoniac grin and triumphantly threw the canvas onto the bonfire. The multitude exploded into deranged cheers and Lucrezia turned away, imagining the river nymphs screaming in agony as the once peaceful river transformed into a torrent of flames. A single tear trickled down a hardened face that had never before allowed the touch of salt water to kiss its cheek.