Iowa Writes

DEIRDRE LEAHY
Ernest Attempts to Find Keats' House; An extract from a novel in progress, Roma Amor


The day was hot, very very hot, and Ernest was tired. Rome was so full of people, hordes of them everywhere, crushing through the streets, gathering in gangs, shouting at the tops of their voices, it was unbearable. People were constantly trying to get him to buy something, flowers for the Signorina, even though today he was alone. A memento of il Papa for his mother, someone else roared, it was so annoying. He needed to find somewhere to sit down soon. He consulted his map one last time, yes it had to be here at the meeting of the Via Condotti and Via dei Due Macelli at the foot of the Spanish Steps, now if only he could find those infamous steps.


He was looking for Keats' house, the scene of his final hours on this planet. He had died seventy nine years ago, at the tender age of twenty-six, what a waste. Tuberculosis had claimed him in the end, what a horrible way to die, and he a trained doctor too, such a shame. Rome was certainly changed for the worse, but surely there was still some atmosphere, some sense of culture in the air. Keats had been his favourite poet since his schooldays, he knew every poem by heart, loved every word. This place was unbearable, it was "my heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains my sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk . . ."

The day was hot, very very hot, and Ernest was tired. Rome was so full of people, hordes of them everywhere, crushing through the streets, gathering in gangs, shouting at the tops of their voices, it was unbearable. People were constantly trying to get him to buy something, flowers for the Signorina, even though today he was alone. A memento of il Papa for his mother, someone else roared, it was so annoying. He needed to find somewhere to sit down soon. He consulted his map one last time, yes it had to be here at the meeting of the Via Condotti and Via dei Due Macelli at the foot of the Spanish Steps, now if only he could find those infamous steps.


He was looking for Keats' house, the scene of his final hours on this planet. He had died seventy nine years ago, at the tender age of twenty-six, what a waste. Tuberculosis had claimed him in the end, what a horrible way to die, and he a trained doctor too, such a shame. Rome was certainly changed for the worse, but surely there was still some atmosphere, some sense of culture in the air. Keats had been his favourite poet since his schooldays, he knew every poem by heart, loved every word. This place was unbearable, it was "my heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains my sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk . . ."

He squeezed through the mobs. The French church, Trinita dei Monti, was perched at the top of the steps, it tilted forward, almost, as it loomed above thousands of pink azaleas carpeting what must be the Spanish Steps. He had heard about the flowers, and he was glad for a moment to see that they were as promised, but no one warned him about the odour. "Royalty of the Garden" indeed, they certainly craved attention. It was overwhelming. Streams of the over-sweet scent flooded into his lungs, he coughed, spluttered, trying to exhale the pungent fumes, but his nose, panicking now, only inhaled more. The air around him was slowly turning pink. The azaleas, huge and soft and multiplying, were spreading out their tendrils, the petals floating upwards and filling the square. They gathered on the street and covered the surface water of the boat-shaped fountain beneath. They clung to the ladies' hair, fixed themselves onto the backs of stray dogs and were transported to the far reaches of the city.


He took out his handkerchief and held it to his nose. He inhaled the lavender which his mother favoured, but it was no good. The pinkness had won. It filled his eyes, turning his tears to rose. The azaleas clung to his clothes, the spores stuck to his pince-nez, which were certainly living up to their name and pinching his nose. He was blinded in a sea of pink, while the petals glued themselves fast to the soles of his shoes and filtered through the oil in his hair to itch his scalp.


He had come to see Keats' house, but he couldn't face it now. I must get out of here he tried to say, but pink seeds jammed his mouth firmly shut. I can't face it now. He felt his brain shrink inside his head, he was ill, it was starting again. Water, he must get home and get some water. He was done with Rome. Finished. His legs ached, it was too hot, always far too hot, it would be a relief to give up and let the city win.

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About Iowa Writes

Since 2006, Iowa Writes has featured the work of Iowa-identified writers (whether they have Iowa roots or live here now) and work published by Iowa journals and publishers on The Daily Palette. Iowa Writes features poetry, fiction, or nonfiction twice a week on the Palette.

In November of 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Iowa City, Iowa, the world's third City of Literature, making the community part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

Iowa City has joined Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia as UNESCO Cities of Literature.

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DEIRDRE LEAHY

Deirdre Leahy, from Dublin, Ireland, attended "The Advanced Novel: Through A Different Lens" course with Ashley Warlick during Iowa's Summer Writing Program 2008. Deirdre is a graduate of University College Dublin and has a Masters in Film Studies. Her short film, Uaigneas, was screened at the 2001 New York University Student Film Festival, and her television script Ten Green Bottles was shortlisted for the BBC Northern Ireland Tony Doyle Bursary For New Writing. Deirdre is the recipient of several awards from the Arts Council of Ireland. This is an extract from Roma Amor, her recently completed period novel set in Italy.

This page was first displayed
on December 12, 2008

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