Excerpt of A Thread of Grace by Mary Doria Russell
(Page 3 of 5)
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"I didn't know! As a general rule, however, courtesy has much to recommend
it in any language. This is a small port, but many of us have a working
knowledge of German," the man continues, deflecting the conversation ever so
slightly. "We've done a fair amount of business with Venezia Giulia since
1918. Pardon! No doubt you would call the region Adriatisches Küstenland."
"Mus' cost a fortune for new stationery every time the border moves,"
Schramm remarks, offering the brandy.
"Printers always prosper." The Italian raises the flask in salute and
takes a healthy swallow. "If you won't be needing me anymore . . . ?"
Schramm nods, and the man strolls off toward an alcove, pausing to admire a
fresco of the Last Judgment that Schramm himself finds unnecessarily vivid.
Searching for a place to sit, Schramm gets a fix on some pews near the
confessionals, takes another sip from the flask. "No retreat!" he
declares. Probably aloud.
The tourist's slow circuit of the church is punctuated by murmurs of dismay.
A fifteenth-century baptismal font is damaged. A colorful jumble of shattered
glass lies beneath a blown-out window. "Verdamm' Tommies," Schramm
mutters. "British claim're only bombing military sites, but Hamburg is
rubble! Dehousing the workers, that's what they call it. Terrorflieger, we
call it. Leverkusen, München. Köln, Düsseldorf. Rubble, all of them! Did
you know that?"
"We hear only rumor these days, even with the change in government," the
Italian replies, declining comment on Mussolini's recent fall from power.
Schramm waves his flask at the damage before taking another pull. "RAF
pilots're so fugging inaggurate" Schramm tries again. "They are so .
. . fucking . . . inaccurate." Satisfied with his diction, he swivels his
head in the direction of his new friend. "They call it a hit if they aim at
a dock and smash a church!"
"Very sloppy," the Italian agrees. "A shocking lack of professional
Slack-jawed, Schramm's skull tips back of its own accord. He stares at the
painted angels wheeling above him until his hands lose track of what they're
supposed to be doing and the flask slips from his fingers. He aims his eyes at
the floor, where the last of the liquor is pooling. "Tha's a pity," he
mourns. Laboriously, he lifts first one foot and then the other onto the pew,
sliding down until he is prone. "Fat ol' nun," he mutters. Pro'ly
never committed a sin in her whole life . . .
A sharp noise awakens him. Coughing and crapulous, Schramm struggles to sit
up. His confessor hasn't arrived, but chunks of stone have been neatly
stacked by the door. Sweeping shards of colored glass into a pile, the Italian
flirts gallantly with the novices. The pretty one flirts back, dimpling when
Schramm slumps over the back of the pew in front of him, cushioning his brow
on folded arms. "I'm going to be sick," he warns a little too loudly.
The Italian snaps his fingers. "Suora Fossette! The bucket!" The newly
christened Sister Dimples scrambles to deliver it, and only just in time. "Allow me," the gentleman says, courteous as a headwaiter while Schramm
pukes into the dirty water.
Swiping at his watering eyes with trembling hands, Schramm accepts the
proffered handkerchief. "Touris', translator . . . now you're a
"A man of endless possibilities!" the Italian declares, setting the bucket
He has a face off a fresco: bent-nosed and bony, but with a benign expression.
Old enough to be tolerantly amused by another's disgrace. Someone who might
understand . . . Schramm wants to tell this kindly stranger everything, but
all that comes out is "I was tryin' t'make things better."
Excerpted from A Thread of Grace by Mary Doria Russell, pages
9-16. Copyright © 2005 by Mary Doria
Russell. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random
House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced
or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.