Extract from a Young Girl’s Diary from the Island of Capri

September 4, 2022

Susan Turi (she/her/hers), Low Entropy Volunteer Writer

 

The ground trembled ever so slightly today. This morning to be precise, but no one else noticed. I asked Marcus if he’d felt the same thing and he said no.  He told me I’d imagined it, saying that if it trembled, it was likely a little sign from the Gods in anticipation of the festivities next week. The town hums with visitors like a hive in preparation of honey. I thought I heard Venetian at the market yesterday.                                        -XVII Augustus 

 

I can write freely here. It’s of more use than learning about the Empire’s conquests to the south. 

Learning Hie-ro-gly-phics with Arista today.

I wonder if they have trees in Egypt other than date palms? That’s all I want to know. 

The summer drags on- Arista makes the classes dull, and boring with her monotone voice. I learn geometry for what purpose? I’ll never be Titus’ civil engineer let alone his wife…

Ah yes, I learn to read and write to show off my privilege while the slaves live their authentic lives. Learn, learn, learn.                                                                                                                                                                               -XVIII

 

I spoke to Callista today, in secret of course. Callista’s real name I can’t pronounce, but she told me she felt the ground shake as well the other day. She says it’s an omen. Where she’s from their Gods are different: a mountain can be a divinity but not in human form!  On the contrary, they have little gremlins that steal things from their mud huts- tiny humanoid creatures who are just bothersome but have sharp teeth nonetheless.

She told me a curious story a short while ago- that she saw a flock of songbirds fall out of the sky this morning. Just like that- dropped dead out the sky and into the fishpond. You can’t eat those bad omens, they’ll never taste good.

 IV p.m.

Am so nauseated by the constant stench of fish. It permeates everything. Per-me-ates. Learned a new word in botany class today. 

The days continue to be feverish with the buildup to the XXIV Augustus. The masons have been putting the finishing touches on Pa’s commission in the atrium to promote his fish sauce. Yuk, never liked fish sauce. His mosaic is rather monochromatic. Black and white. He could’ve asked for my artistic opinion or better still, chosen a commerce that stinks less.                                                                                                – IXX Augustus

 

XX-

We acquired a new slave today. His name I can just about pronounce: “Eutyches”. He’s from Mesopotamia (is this Persia?) Eager to chat with him about his country and his Gods- if they have any. I hear they believe in only one God out east like they do in Palestine. The Empire will take care of that insolence soon.

 

XXII-

The ground shook again this evening. Quite violently this time. Arista had a headache so classes were cancelled. Pa left for Spain. 

I wonder if you can feel the ground shake from Spain? Tiberius came to me soon after- put his paw on my knee, looked at me with his big droopy eyes. He knows the Gods are up to something- A storm?

Spoke earlier with Callista about the festivities. She seemed sad and had this far-away look. She had been dusting an elephant tusk on the wall in the foyer that Ma received as a gift. She told me how much she missed the savannah, the wisdom of the elders, the value of animals- nothing wasted for entertainment or decoration. She’s right. Luckily she’ll never get to visit the arena and watch the games. Cruel, revolting- turns my stomach. Am I the only one in Pompeii who thinks so?

(Do admire Hector though. He’s so strong, handsome. He can slay a minotaur with his bare hands!)

 

XXIII- 

Marcus came to me this morning. He looked worried. He said there’s a ribbon of smoke coming out of Vesuvio. He’s never seen that before. He asked me if I wanted to take the boat down to Capri and I said I’d think about it. A bit far -a day’s trip or two- but the smell from Pa’s precious vats revolts me. Certainly, not my delicacy. I said yes only if I can take Callista with me. And Tiberius too. Went out on the veranda to see what Marcus was talking about- a pale wisp in the distance like a brushstroke drawn up from Vesuvio’s summit to the heavens- maybe a wildfire burning out. The dead songbirds have already been fished out of the pond.

 

V p.m.

How to write this on a boat while seasick. Callista gave me a sprig of sage from a secret fold in her tunic to chew on. Poseidon is at peace today- the ocean is quite calm though our boat rocks from an occasional rippling when idling. Some oarsmen sleep or play checkers, while others toil under the hot sun.

VIII p.m.

The swells have become stronger, the currents have changed with the wind. I still see Vesuvio clearly from the boat 2 hours into our sail. It’s puffing rapid little plumes of smoke like an overgrown, temperamental child. Marcus had to stay behind- take care of inventory, trapped in his hot toga. Poor Marcus. I fell asleep to Callista’s humming- an old African parable. She clicks her tongue for dramatic effect which wakes me up. The moon has risen. Apollo guides us with sure hands over a silver sea.

 

XXIV Augustus

XI a.m. 

Have arrived on Capri- good to be on stable ground. No need to powder my face or put on rouge and wear my heavy palla here. 

Dined on some figs and olives then went to the baths. I was the only one there so invited Callista to join me. Tiberius barked at us with excitement from the side. Why don’t I come here more often? Ah yes, I need Marcus’ permission.

 

I p.m.

A deafening explosion a few moments ago- the sky has split open! A thousand thunderbolts are stabbing the air! Lighting up a night that was a day, a short while ago- coal-black clouds are devouring the blue sky! The sea bubbles and sizzles with some sort of molten rock raining down! The sun is now a pinpoint of light- Is Apollo fighting Zeus?!!

Can see Vesuvio in the distance- cracked open- seeping liquid fire- its summit- headless- engulfed in smoke billowing out- furiously rushing across the bay towards us. There’s a loud roar coming from the town- is it from Vesuvio? or from those screaming- running for their lives?? What horrors have befallen us!!

Callista and I have found the nearest cellar with Tiberius close on our heels. The air is hot- suffocating- searing our throats- boiling our eyes in their sockets.

 We’ll stay here in the cool damp of the cellar until daybreak- if it ever comes- difficult to write now- my hand shakes- the thought of poor Marcus and Ma trapped in an inferno with only Pa’s vats of fish sauce for solace. 

By the light of the wrath of the angry Gods- mercy upon us!

Don’t know the time- a deathly silence has fallen upon us. Callista and I found an urn beneath the stairs filled with stale wine. We dare not go outside yet. Callista chants: “metis quod seminas” over and over.

The taste of soot is strong in my mouth. We hold each other’s hands so tightly- they’ve become bone white.

 

  Cassia,      XXV Augustus LXXIX [79 AD]

 

*****

 

References: Scaurus- Fish Merchant of Pompeii:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aulus_Umbricius_Scaurus

 

Eruption of Mount Vesuvius

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eruption_of_Mount_Vesuvius_in_79_AD

 

Summary

 

Diary extract of “Cassia” the teenage daughter of the rich, fish sauce merchant Scaurus, in Pompeii, Italy. This extract is from the period leading up to and including the eruption of Vesuvius, which buried the city of Pompeii in hot ash, killing 2 000 townspeople (79 A.D.) and 16 000-20 000 in the region. Although Scaurus the fish sauce merchant, his family, and their slave “Eutyches” existed, “Cassia ” is a fictional character – S.T.

 

 

Susan Turi is a writer, illustrator and painter living in Montreal, Canada with a degree in fine arts. She began her career as a production artist for design studios and ad agencies, before deciding to devote herself purely to self-expression through writing and painting. She is currently at Concordia University majoring in creative writing and English literature.

 

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