Pity the Man Who Doesn’t Travel by Philip Kelly

The featured story this month comes from Pushcart Prize author Philip Kelly in The Sun magazine. It’s a masterful flash story of place and painter, Irish Mike, and footfalls across Europe. Here’s an excerpt; be sure to click at the end to read the whole story …

I ARRIVED IN VENICE in a drenching rain with five thousand dollars and three months to spend in Europe, and I went to bed that night in a high-ceilinged room of whitewashed walls that overlooked a narrow canal. Two days before, I had been a worker. Then I’d climbed down from a ladder, put away my paintbrushes, bid goodbye to Irish Mike, and deposited my last check at the bank. Now I was a traveler. I fell asleep to the murmurings of gondoliers and lovers and the slap of water on stone steps below.

The next morning, leaning from my window for a peek at San Marco, I noticed I still had paint on my elbows.

In the neighborhood of Dorsoduro I bought a postcard for a euro. It showed a fresco by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, a renowned eighteenth-century painter: A workman is falling from a wood scaffolding. A dark, stocky man in a threadbare tunic and worn leggings, he plummets to his death, there is no doubt. It is not the moment at the beginning of a fall when you still have a chance, scratching at a gutter or windowsill; nor is it the type of fall that you can turn into a partial jump and thereby land on your feet. This is someone’s last descent. His red tunic alarms us; his muscular arms stretch into thin air. It is a fall of abandonment. The worker no longer fights but gives himself heavily to it. The sight makes the spectator want to cringe and duck.

But there! An angel appears on white, condor-sized wings. She swoops, smiling gently, and reaches under the falling man’s shoulder with one arm, her other arm reassuringly on his flank. She cradles the workman, saves him.

I have come to believe that we all have within us unrealized falls, like coiled springs, waiting.

I planned to walk for months. I had a light pack, a sun hat straight out of a Van Gogh self-portrait, and a copy of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes. I had a library of maps. I spent five lovely days and nights in Venice — and a fifth of my Grand Tour savings. I knew then that Western Europe would pick me up by the ankles and shake every last coin from my pocket. The plan drawn on the job-site floor was …


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