John Domini’s fourth novel, The Color Inside a Melon, is forthcoming June 11, 2019 from Dzanc Books. This is an excerpt from the novel, after a brief introduction of The Color Inside a Melon from the publisher’s website.
From the publisher: “A disastrous earthquake has Naples reeling. While the government scrambles to maintain appearances, poverty and anarchy rack the people on Italy’s margins—the illegal immigrants out of Africa, known as the clandestini. One of whom has just been horrifically murdered.
Enter Risto, a rare success story. A refugee from Mogadishu, orphaned in his teens, he’s now married the Neapolitan Paola and is the proprietor of a celebrated art gallery. The murder recalls the deaths of his loved ones years ago in Mogadishu, a trauma Risto can’t outrun.”
The Communists had the best writing on the arts.
Risto hid his eyes. His wife didn’t need to know the risks he’d taken last night, not yet at least, and he busied himself instead with his foam mustache. Then there was the coffee pitcher between them, Vietri ceramic with a rooster decoration, all beak and claw. Wasn’t that enough trouble for one morning? An angry bird, scratching away at his hangover? Wasn’t it time for their laptops? Risto didn’t care for handheld devices, not with his big picture-hanging paws; when he studied the arts blogs he often wound up opening multiple tabs.
For the gallery’s upcoming show, Tuttavia’s latest set of photos, a lot of the chatter turned up on an anti-immigrant blog. They’d posted a rant. Terrorist whore… For 3000 years our artistic patrimony has stood unrivaled, but now… a traitor to that heritage, a white woman famous for pictures of the blacks… the illegal wetback scum… What sort of an Italian space glorifies the vermin out of Africa? The virus that could bring down all of Europe?… This whore from the North has a black pimp, a refugee out of Somalia… God knows what crooked deals lie behind his…
Quite the diatribe, though nothing the gallery owner hadn’t seen before. He knew his Warhol, too: don’t read the words, measure the inches. Attention like this was a gift, especially on the verge of vacation season; the money leaving town in August had everything to do with the timing for the Expo. Besides, for the Fascists’ blog, the visual was one of the photographer’s more innocuous pieces. They used the promotional postcard for the upcoming show, a dance shot that brought out the couple’s different skin tones. The woman’s grimace smeared black on black, but the crown of the man’s head was burnished almost to gold. Still, Risto had more arresting pieces. He’d hold those back till Friday night.
Paola, across the table, was searching the same combinations. With both keyboards going, out on the balcony it sounded like rain. The wife browsed Il Manifesto; the Communists had the best writing on the arts. The Monday columnists again proved friendly, as Paola posted an item from her lap to his. Only a tweet, but it used the word “visionary.” Then at some point the wife changed the subject. All she did was tongue something off her thumb and finger, slowly, and Risto met her gaze, waiting. She reiterated that they had to talk, though she could wait till after lunch, when he’d be back for riposo.
“Visionary,” she said, “eh. I know you’re no Superman.”
He couldn’t duck her for long, no. Nevertheless he found her round face a relief, after the cagelike lines on the screen.
He tried to grin, reassuring. In a djellaba like his, the least breeze could tickle. But now the Bay had caught his eye, and the water bore a dark overlay. With the sun so low, the city cast shadows: rectangles and spires, the shapes of graves. He needed a shower. Under the water, too, he followed Paola’s advice, putting in extra work with the loofah. Hashish clung to the skin more fiercely than tobacco.
Likewise Risto lathered his head with extra gel, aromatherapy. He arrayed himself in a winning outfit before he put in the call confirming that morning’s appointment. One of his most reliable buyers, old money, the sort of raccomandazione that made a difference. The man was sounding reluctant, though, sleepy, as though the call had woken him up. Risto paced inside the balcony doors with the phone in his fist, while his wife, still out on her lounger, couldn’t have looked more relaxed. Sometimes when she showed a lot of flesh like this, she set him thinking of white things luscious to the touch, of orchids and silk. Yet she wasn’t so white, not nearly, rather Napoli D.O.C., dusky even in midwinter. Her hair suggested an olive thicket. But in her the shadow and kink rounded off into bells and curves, lovely. A dollop of ricotta.
When she kissed him goodbye, however, she was a thinking woman. Risto found himself fishing for approval of his outfit. He’d gone with another mashup, the rainforest over Soho, working down from a golden earring. He’d tied on a Senegal wrap, lime, banana, and plum, over black jeans fashionable enough for Tuttavia.
Paola assured him he’d done a good job.
How about with his head, his shaving? He could’ve sworn he’d missed something, a spot that kept itching.
“You’re fine,” she said.
Besides, if the gallery owner did have a patch of gristle up top, that could be useful. Around the shop, you wanted something like that. For Risto all it took was a hard stare, since his possessed a touch of the volcanic, almost crackling flinders. Could be this made him a cliché, a naked black head and a fiery gaze. Could be the Europeans got a perverse kick out of dealing with a Mau-Mau. Risto of course kept it clean: teeth and fingernails, collar and cuffs. Nonetheless, this morning as he walked down towards the Bay, the gallery, he couldn’t help but reconsider the man reflected in the storefronts. The windows had gotten their sponge-down, and when he glimpsed himself amid the rainbow stipple, his head could’ve been a dum-dum bullet, with a notch at the earring.
He’d developed some palaver about his look. White folks tended to ask about the shirts, the wraps, and he would offer a geography lesson. His homeland, he would explain, was on one coast of the southern continent, while tops like these came from the other. From a country like Senegal, you know? The give and take struck Risto as dubious, in the marketplace you never stopped playing Charades, yet he couldn’t deny the payoff. The ultimate question, now that he knew his gimmicks worked, was why? All right, he’d learned to play these folks up North, but then you had to consider the game itself. In the arts, you never wanted to abandon the Mau-Mau entirely. Roughage clung to winning work, like a notch hacked in a bullet, a grit that resisted the sleek functions of supply and demand. The gallery owner knew those functions, all the knobs and levers for closing a sale, but he had another touch as well, one sensitive to the scruffy baseline of any piece he chose for his walls.
So which of these drove his vocation? Was his a story about playing Naples or knowing the arts?
John Domini’s novel, The Color Inside a Melon, is available to pre-order.
This excerpt appears with permission of Dzanc Books. Copyright 2019 John Domini.
About the Author
With The Color Inside a Melon, John Domini has four novels in print and three story collections. Other books include selections of criticism and poetry.
John Domini has published fiction in Paris Review and Ploughshares, non-fiction in GQ and The New York Times, and won a poetry prize from Meridian. Grants include a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. He has taught at Harvard, Northwestern and elsewhere, and makes his home in Des Moines.
See also “John Domini // The Cagibi Express Interview.”
Cagibi Issue 6