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Image by Bailey Hall

Crimson Earth
RG Pagano

In the past few years during early autumn, Luca rented a cabin in Soprabolzano with a view of the Dolomites. A mix of good visibility and nice weather provided ideal conditions for hiking, the initial draw. Soon the whole experience became a kind of tonic.

          This year he extended an invitation to Mimi. They had met at a gallery where she was exhibiting abstract paintings. In one image, reddish petals fell from a turquoise sky towards the horizon, orange across the canvas above crimson earth. The movement captured Luca’s attention before it shifted to her petite frame and then back to the painting along with a discussion on the interaction of color.

          Their connection was immediate, from a previous life Luca imagined.

The cabin had not changed since his last visit. The cathedral ceiling allowed for an open, contemporary space, which Luca preferred. Bay windows let in a wide view of the Alpine highlands, the high plateau of Renon with its rolling hills and vineyards.

          He spent the evening reading about mindfulness and how that aspect of meditation can lead to insight. At the moment he began to rest his eyes, light streamed through the cabin windows. Luca was stunned by the brightness. When it was over, he went outside and looked up at the stars, glistening between the clouds.

Mimi arrived the next day. The wind drew attention to her light brown hair, its wavy and asymmetric neck-length cut. They stayed in Bolzano for most of the day. At a café, Luca described the events from the other night.

          She stared at Luca, at his dark, almost black eyes and how they contrasted against his graying hair.

          “Well,” he said.

          “Something to do with the weather.”

          Before heading up to the cabin, Mimi wanted to see Ötzi. Luca had only read about this ice preserved mummy from more than 5000 years ago and had been meaning to visit.

          Like a space alien, Luca thought.

          The porthole into the cold room allowed visitors to see the mummy. Ötzi’s arms were frozen in some defensive pose, stretched out by the pressure of glacial snow. Luca was surprised to learn that the Iceman had tattoos on his body, mostly black vertical lines on his spine and one crisscross on his knee.

          It was near sunset when they reached Soprabolzano.

          On their way to dinner, they discovered a circle of burnt grass pressed down into a meadow. A counterclockwise impression created the circle, ten meters across and several down, deepest in the center.

          “Reminds me of those crop circles,” Mimi said. “Like the ones from the English countryside. An art installation that can be seen from space.”

          Sulfur dioxide rose from the circle and a faint glow not yet perceptible in the light.

          At dinner, Luca confessed that he wasn’t sure if inviting Mimi to a place he thought of as a refuge would work. She listened while sipping Lagrein wine, pleased to know that he was happy to share his experience with her. A rush of plum and cherry flavors flowed from the wine glass to her palate.

          “Light exploded all around us without making a sound,” they overheard. “The saucer flew straight up, then sped into the clouds.”

          Luca and Mimi exchanged glances. Mimi stood by her weather explanation, a temperature inversion she explained to Luca, how warm air trapped under cold can reflect light to cause the illusion.

          Vertical rain lines from beyond the Dolomites advanced.

Around midnight, lightning strikes closed in. Thunder rumbled through the high plateau.

          “What’s wrong?” Mimi asked.

          “I can’t sleep.”

          “It’s bad out there. I had a dog who would always end up in my bedroom.”

          “It makes me think of the searchlights, their intrusive beams…”

          “So, the lightning is a trigger.”

          “And there’s this dream,” Luca said. “I see figures in some trance, their blank expressions which makes me wonder if they are even human. A heaviness bears down and wants to pull the life out of me.”

          Luca looked downward as his eyes filled with water. He brushed the water away and gazed at Mimi.

          Mimi was an old soul, Luca thought.

The next morning, they heard more about the UFO sightings.

          Witnesses saw a white light move at fast speeds across the night sky. One man described how the light hovered over Mount Sciliar.

          The two retraced their steps back to the circle of burnt grass. Inside the circle, the grass had wider blades now.

Luca’s mind swelled with another kind of disruption, an overwhelming feeling of loss every time he thought about his inability to remember much less find his birth family, like reaching up into the night sky.

          “Too young but…”

          “What?” Mimi asked.

          “The lights, the less than human figures.”

          “What’s that on your arm?”

          “A birthmark.”

          “A tattoo. A number.”

          “A birthmark is a better story.”

          “Why invent?”

          “To cope. Evidence of another sort. More along the lines of burnt grass than a temperature inversion. I can put the searchlights out of my mind and yet those memories still seep into my dreams. I can stop those dreams but then I wake up feeling hungry and cold and weak, a dying kind of weakness.”

          Mimi hugged Luca.

          “They say that I am a child survivor of Auschwitz.”

         

Farms, meadows, and lakes could be seen along the trails. Eagles soared above. Freud Promenade became a favorite for them. Vista points showed peaks of mountains, Sciliar, Catinaccio, and Sassolungo.

          On their last day, they walked with llamas to a sacred place. Earth Pyramids, clay columns naturally formed from glacial rock, extended across the green landscape. Their elongated shapes captivated Luca, who paused to meditate. He closed his eyes and envisioned Mimi’s painting. The reddish petals came into view. As they fell from the turquoise sky, Luca reimagined the petals as his feeling of loss and let them be until they disappeared into the field of color.

Bio

RG Pagano lives in Newton, Massachusetts. His writing is sometimes lyrical and often visual but always in the direction of meaning-making. He resided in Italy for a period of time and frequently travels there with his wife, drawing on those experiences for his creative work.

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