I wrote this short story for my final project in my “Dante’s Divine Comedy” class at university. The story was meant as an adaptation of Dante’s Inferno and thus contains numerous references to Dante’s great masterpiece. Some references are perhaps a little difficult to understand if you have not read the source text, but I hope it is still enjoyable to read 🙂
Dana Adams was thirty-five years old, husbandless, and childless. She was half way on her path in life, so the fact that she lived alone with two cats was not something that bothered her necessarily, but it did bother her mother to no end. At thirty-five, Dana had dedicated most of her adult life to one man: Dante Alighieri. Yes, the 13th century Italian poet. You see, Dana was a Dante scholar, or rather, she was a Dante fanatic. She worked at the University of Florence, the birth place of Dante himself. In Florence, amongst the Renaissance architecture, the cobbled pavements, and the magnificent churches, Dana felt at home. This place, which had once banished the greatest poet that ever lived (in her opinion, of course), was where she felt the most inspired. Dana was not the type of person who struggled to get out of bed each morning. Nothing filled her with more glee than her work, another thing which bothered her mother to no end. Dana’s life goal, her dream, her legacy to the world, was to complete a Divine Comedy translation from Italian to English. She had already been working on it steadily for two years and was only about half way through Inferno. It would take a long time. Each word had to be chosen with care, each rhyme had to be perfect, and each canto had to feel as though Dante himself had breathed life into it from beyond the grave. Dana was convinced that she could never do Dante’s work justice, that an element of his genius would be lost in her translation, – but that didn’t stop her from wanting to try. This was her masterpiece, her gift to a world that had already been so influenced, so swept up by Dante’s journey through the afterlife. And even though her mother still had dreams of her packing up and returning to England, Dana was determined to finish what she had started, and to be revered within the academic Dante community as having written the best English Dante translation the world had ever seen. Lofty aspirations from a young English woman perhaps, but her passion for poetry, combined with her stubborn tenacity, was going to get her there…eventually.
One evening, as Dana walked home from her cramped office at the University, she was knocked down by a speeding Vespa. It was an unfortunate accident, caused by a computer error in the traffic lights – green for Dana and green for the Italian Vespa guy. Dana didn’t stand a chance. A Vespa related accident in Italy…how cliché. Those might have been the thoughts that entered Dana’s head, if she had been conscious, but she wasn’t. In moments like these, people often say that your life flashes before your eyes. In Dana’s case, however, her brain showed her a series of images which simultaneously confused and comforted her: A leopard, a lion, a wolf, a strange old man in Grecian robes. She was, at that particular moment, oblivious to the crowd of curious Italians that had gathered around her. Luckily for her, somebody had enough sense to call for an ambulance. Approximately fifteen minutes later, Dana was whisked to the nearest hospital and rushed to accident and emergency unit. The left side of her body was badly bruised from where she had hit the floor, but the main concern was her head injury. The Vespa collision had caused Dana to strike her head on the road with greater force than a skull could handle. This shock to her cranium resulted in a shut-down of some major neurological functions; Dana was in a coma for three weeks before she awoke…
Dana walked along the river Arno in her beloved city of Florence. She was looking forward to being surrounded by her books once more. Her office, tiny as it was, was a sanctuary – a place where she could think, where she could write without being disrupted. Her head still ached slightly, which was to be expected considering all the trauma she’d been through. After three weeks of unconsciousness, and several more weeks of recovery, Dana was itching to get back to work. All that time spent in hospital meant that she was behind with her Dante translation. Once in the University building, she made her way to her office and settled herself amongst the manuscripts and books that littered her desk. She immersed herself in the dark wood of Dante’s words, pushing her way through the foliage, striving towards the completion of her self-inflicted quest. Suddenly, something extraordinarily large caught Dana’s eye. She turned her head to look out of the window. It was perched on the building opposite her office: its wings widespread, human from neck to brow, talons for feet, plumage around its paunches…a Harpy! Dana started in surprise. A Harpy? How was that even possible? Yet there it was, surveying the streets of Florence with its beady eyes, flexing its massive wings in the slight breeze. Dana was completely dumbfounded. She was frozen in fear and surprise. It was then that she heard a sound. It was faint but she could distinguish words of a song that was filled with sadness and misery. She noticed the Harpy turn its head to follow the sound of woe. In an instant, the Harpy pushed itself off from its perch on the building and took to the sky. She watched it circle the building, the bright Italian sun reflecting off its sharp, curved talons before it was swallowed up by the clouds. Dana rubbed her eyes, as though trying to erase the image from her brain. What she had seen had to be impossible, yet it all seemed so real. She pushed herself away from her desk and stood. Perhaps she wasn’t as ready to return to work as she thought she was. Was it safe to assume that her head injury was still having an effect on her, after all this time? Or maybe she was just mad? Or maybe Harpies did exist, this was just the first time she’d noticed one? Regardless, Dana decided that it was time to take a break from her Dante work. She left her office and made her way down the stairs to the main courtyard of the University. She needed some fresh air; she needed to clear her head.
Walking around the courtyard, Dana allowed her mind to wander. She thought about her family back home in England, about the academic article she was writing along-side her translation work, and about her two cats, Beatrice and Virgil, who were still upset with her for leaving them with her neighbour, crotchety Mrs Rossi, whilst she was recovering. She was so wrapped up in her own thoughts that she didn’t notice Professor Pietro Bello before it was too late. Dana and Pietro collided; the papers his eyes had been previously glued to, fluttered to the floor. Dana hurriedly bent down to start collecting the papers.
“I’m so sorry!” She gushed in fluent Italian. “I wasn’t looking where I was going.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Pietro replied, “I was a little preoccupied myself.”
He bent down beside her to help, flashing her a charming smile as he did so. Dana felt her face flush crimson. She had had a secret crush on Professor Bello ever since she arrived at Florence University two years ago. He was olive skinned and handsome, with honey coloured eyes and dark curls perched delicately atop his head. He taught Latin and Classic Studies at the University, so Dana and he frequently bumped into each other – enough times for her to develop and maintain her lustful feelings for him.
“I heard you were back,” Pietro continued. “How are you feeling?”
“Oh you know, still a little sore, but Dante waits for no one,” Dana joked.
Pietro chuckled. It was common knowledge among the faculty that Dana was a little obsessive about her work, so it wasn’t bizarre that she was back at it so soon after her accident. Dana briefly entertained the idea of telling him about her Harpy encounter. It was still playing on her mind, and so maybe talking to a colleague, one who was so well versed in mythology, would help. But she nipped that in the bud pretty quick; she didn’t want him to think her strange. All of a sudden, an unnatural swirling wind blew across the courtyard causing the remaining papers to whip around like a tornado. Dana and Pietro were pushed into each other by the force of the wind. It chafed them grievously, engulfing them completely, rolling and clashing around them. The starlings that usually roosted on the University buildings around the courtyard were startled from their perches. Their teeming flocks took to the sky and were borne along by the ferocious gale. Dana was afraid. She had never experienced such powerful weather before and she wasn’t quite sure why it had started in the first place. It was all very strange: first the Harpy and now this formidable wind. Just as Dana was starting to contemplate the perplexing absurdity of the situation, the wind stopped. Dana and Pietro stepped away from each other; he was still clutching a few sheets of paper that hadn’t been completely lost to him in the gale.
“What the hell was that?” He exclaimed, looking completely baffled.
“I honestly have no idea,” she replied. “It just came out of nowhere!”
Pietro shook his head slightly, as if to clear his mind.
“Well, I don’t know about you,” he said, “but I’m going to head inside before it starts snowing or something.”
Dana laughed nervously. “Sounds like a good idea to me,” she retorted, “I think I might just go home.”
“Of course!” he said. “It’s probably a good idea to take it easy for a few days.”
He leaned forward and embraced her.
“Just concentrate on getting better,” he said. “I’ll see you soon.”
And with that goodbye, Pietro walked across the courtyard towards the doors of the University. As Dana watched him go, she felt a strong breeze lift the ends of her hair and tug slightly on her clothes. Afraid that the terrible wind would start again, she hurriedly left the courtyard and started to make her way home. Her first day back at work had not gone as smoothly as she had planned; maybe she just needed to give herself some more time to recover. She was sure that being at home with Beatrice and Virgil would instantly make her feel better. She just needed to relax and not think about Dante for a while, however impossible that sounded. Walking along the street, Dana heard a sound, almost like wailing. She stopped, bewildered, in her tracks and looked around she was alone. She continued on her way, warily pricking up her ears in case the sound started again.
“Why do you ignore us? Is there no living pity in your heart?”
Dana jumped in surprise. The street was completely empty save the trees which flanked the side of the road. So who had spoken? The leaves in the trees rustled loudly, the branches they were attached to bended forcefully in a non-existent wind.
“You must help us!”
It was at that moment that Dana realised the sounds were coming from the trees. They were the things that had wailed and talked! She carefully walked towards the nearest tree.
“Umm, how can I possibly help you?” she asked, feeling completely ridiculous that she was talking to a tree!
“It depends,” the tree replied. “Can you prevent us from being cut down?”
At those words, the other trees began their wailing and moaning again. They swayed mournfully from side to side. Dana was confused – both by the fact that trees were supposedly talking to her, and also by their request.
“What do you mean?” she asked.
“They want to uproot us,” the tree answered. “Once we were magnificent and mighty. We’ve now become dry sticks.”
Dana felt an intense pity for these trees. They were innocent and didn’t deserve to be plucked out of the ground, disposed of as though they were insignificant. Then she snapped out of it.
“Trees don’t talk!” she forcefully told herself. “This is all a figment of your imagination!”
She started to continue walking down the street, the sounds of the wailing increased and the trees shivered more dramatically, but Dana just ignored them; she didn’t have the time or the energy to have a conversation with a tree! She turned a corner and the noise stopped. Dana breathed a sigh of relief and hurried on her way, hoping and praying that nothing else peculiar would occur before she reached her flat.
Once home, Dana shut the door behind her, hoping that she had also shut out the madness that had followed her around all day. Harpies, freak weather, and talking trees, all in one day, was too much for her to handle. Her head ached and she was tired. She busied herself in the kitchen for a while, preparing dinner. Her nerves were calmed through the repetitive motion of cooking, and she was beginning to feel like her old self again. After dinner, she made her way to the front room to settle in for the evening. Beatrice and Virgil hopped up on the couch beside her; the sound of their purring calmed her and she relaxed completely. But, before long, she found herself thinking about the strange events of the day. She couldn’t help but be aware of the, what she thought to be, quite obvious Dante connection. “I think I’ve got Dante on the brain” Dana thought to herself. Usually, to unwind, Dana read cantos from Dante’s masterpiece. That night, however, she decided to forgo her usual reading in an effort to ensure that the day’s events would never be repeated. So she picked up Borges instead…What could go wrong there?