MINCHIATE: XI The Hermit

Misanthrope

Herman’s Hermits sang “There’s a Kind of Hush (All Over the World)” on the old turntable. Dust particles danced in the sunlight that glimmered though the open windows; birds chirped in the trees. Miss Ann Thrope bopped her head to the tune, careful not to ruin the beautiful landscape she was stitching; the kind she always wished she could have visited.

It was too late now, those pipe dreams were all flushed down the drain decades ago. Now, her dreams only came true in the form of needlework, quilting, painting and the solitary crafts of a solitary life. Over the years, she’d filled her house with castles embroidered on pillows, pictures of rivers that babbled only in her imagination, and collages of places she’d never been. She’d retreated from human contact and faded into oblivion as those she’d loved died one by one. 

The song ended, and it took her a few moments to realize it was all too quiet. Miss Ann Thrope glanced around the room, the strange hush oppressive, yet pacifying. It filled the room with an odd tranquility, palpable and engulfing. Her eyes fell on the grandfather clock, her grandfather’s grandfather clock. 

She clicked her tongue; the clock had stopped. Never in its century of existence had that clock stopped. Her grandmother often said it would only stop when doomsday was nigh.

Miss Ann set her stitching aside, reached for her crutch, and, with painful effort, hobbled to the clock. There seemed nothing wrong with it. She glanced out the window. A mist had fallen over the outside world and she wondered whether it caused the strange silence. 

She limped to the backdoor, but a sharp pain coursed through her ulcered and crooked legs. The crutch slipped on the floor and Miss Ann tumbled to the ground. She fell in slow motion, as if invisible hands guided and cushioned her fall. Not a thud or thump sounded, and Miss Ann hadn’t uttered at peep as she fell. The strange calmness hovered in the air, and far from afraid, Miss Ann thought now would be a good time for a nap. 

She closed her eyes. Florian’s alluring smile flashed, his hair waved in the wind as they flew in his shiny Roadster. He laughed; the grandfather clock chimed. Hadn’t it stopped? 

Miss Ann’s eyes flew open. Beside her lay an angel. She doubted not he was an angel, she’d never seen such beauty. Not even Florian, so reckless and dazzling, had been so beautiful. The Angel’s eyes were sapphires and his hair like sparkling diamonds. 

“Am I dying?” She asked. 

The Angel shrugged and smiled. 

“Depends on you,” he said, his voice tinkled like Heaven’s bells, “if you could correct one mistake, would you?”

Miss Ann Thrope nodded, tears welled in her eyes and a sob caught in her throat. 

“I would never get in drunk Florian’s car.”

The Angel beamed and rays of light shone out of his eyes. He ran his fingers down her face. Miss Ann closed her eyes and let the radiant warmth flow down her head, her back, her arms and through her mangled legs rendered useless since that day with gorgeous Florian, who hadn’t lived to see what he’d done. Miss Ann Thrope sighed and the painful memory dissipated with her breath. 

The turntable sputtered and crackled; Peter Noone sang “I’m Into Something Good”. Miss Ann Thrope opened her eyes and braced herself for the effort to stand. To her surprise, her body was light and her movements ginger. She gazed down at her twisted legs, those bandaged stumps, but saw only the beautiful healthy legs of a young woman. 

Miss Ann rose onto those strong, agile legs and ran to the mirror. She laughed—tears streaming down her eyes—at the young face reflected at her. 

Miss Ann Thrope reached for her dusty purse, opened the rusty door, and for the first time in years, walked out into a new life. 

THE GODDESS TAROT: King of Pentacles + Princess of Cups

Diamond in the Rough

Lisa entered the attic of her new old house. She bought it together with Jonas and planned to fix it. Jonas, a contractor, would turn this run-down building into their forever home. 

Then, Jonas announced a change. He changed his mind about fixing the house, and his life partner too. He was out the door in a flash and stuck a bewildered and hurt Lisa with the decrepit house and its mortgage. 

Lisa sighed and rummaged in the old attic, cobwebs in her hair and her mind racing a mile a minute. The small mortgage wouldn’t break the bank though she’d have to tighten her belt. The remodeling into livable space would chip away at her savings and devour the money she’d put away for the wedding and the honeymoon. Now that she’d scrapped those plans, she’d hoped to use that money on herself, maybe vacation to a spa, but she’d have to spend it on the house instead. 

Dust, debris and bric-à-brac covered the house and the attic which smelled musty, though not dank, like the basement. Jonas had thought the house didn’t have serious mold issues, but now she doubted everything Jonas had said. 

Something caught Lisa’s eye: a wooden box, ordinary, yet unusual. With painted swallows on its side, it stood apart and untouched among the old knick-knacks. 

Lisa tiptoed to it, careful not to topple the mountain of rusty stuff nearby. The floor creaked beneath her feet and she hoped she wouldn’t fall through the ceiling. She discovered the top of the box was a series of little drawers. When she unclasped the hinges on its sides, the set of little drawers lifted out and revealed a deep bottom box. 

Lisa smiled and tried all the drawers; the first two held nothing but the delicious aroma of cedar that wafted out upon its release. The third drawer revealed a hand-held mirror with twining silver roses around the glass. She glanced into it and saw her reflection, content, relieved. So not how I feel

The bottom box contained old photographs—tin-types perhaps—of the house as it had been during the fat cow years, pristine and majestic. Lisa glanced around the rickety attic. 

The last photo was a cyanotype of a man with a stiff high collar, mutton-chops and piercing eyes that reminded her of the realtor who’d sold her the house. The man held the mirror in his hand, its glass pointed at the camera. In his other hand, he held a small jewel or crystal that hung from a fine chain. It reminded Lisa of what hypnotists used in movies. The cyanotype was in shades of blue, yet the way the man held the jewel, in front of the mirror, Lisa discerned a bright flash emitting from it. 

“Like a prism!” She exclaimed, remembering her grandfather playing with it by the window. Every time it caught the sunlight, the rays split into many colored beams. 

“Now you can see the wavelengths of light,” her grandfather had explained. 

Smiling, Lisa reached into the box again, her fingers closed around a small trinket. It was a crystal cut into a pyramid and it hung from a delicate chain. She held it up to the attic light; it sparkled as it dangled, but the colors did not shoot out as they had in her childhood. 

She glanced at the cyanotype again and startled, exclaimed, “He winked at me!”

Yet the man gazed impassive at the camera. 

Lisa held the mirror in one hand, and, imitating the picture, dangled the jewel in front of the glass. Colored beams of light shot out of the jewel onto the rotted wooden wall. 

Lisa’s jaw dropped as the wall repaired itself where the beams struck it. She pointed the mirror and the jewel at the floorboards and, again, watched amazed as the floor polished itself. 

Lisa ran through the house, mirror and the jewel in hand, laughing and giggling as the house rumbling, squeaking and groaning, and returned to its former glory. For the finale, she stepped outside and stood before the darkened house gleaming in the starlight. The mirror caught silver moonbeams, bounced them into the jewel which projected them onto the house, and engulfed the house in rainbows. 

Lisa squealed with delight as her old, broken down home shone like new. 

“It’s a diamond in the rough,” the realtor had assured her, “you’ll love it.”

GOLDEN TAROT OF THE RENAISSANCE: 2 of Swords

Dark Strangers

The bartender watched as The Stranger stepped through the swinging doors of the old cantina; the lights flickered and dimmed, obscuring the shabbiness of the place. 

He was tall and slim and his presence commanded every man’s attention. The room fell silent. The bartender wiped the countertop and pretended not to care as The Stranger sidled to the bar. 

“Tequila,” he slapped a hand on the counter and slid onto a barstool. The old man next to him gave him a quick once-over, gulped down his drink, put money on the countertop, and left. 

The Stranger grinned and downed the shot of Tequila before him. 

“Who among you is a man?” The Stranger spoke; no patron met his gaze. 

The bartender sighed. 

“No one?”

“We want no trouble here, señor,” the bartender murmured, eyes on the countertop. 

“No one will challenge me then?” The Stranger ignored the bartender. 

“I challenge you!” A low voice sounded from the corner. A man sat in shadow, his hat hung low over his eyes. 

Both men stood with hands on their gun-belts; The Stranger sneered. 

The patrons sat and stared. No one yelled, no one ran.

Two shots rang out. The duelers fell. Blood seeped into the sawdusty wooden floor. 

The bartender shook his head and the patrons returned to their business. Only I stared open-mouthed as the bodies vanished. The lights intensified. 

“Every night, to the minute,” the bartender rolled his eyes and filled my glass. My hand shook as I lifted it to my lips. 

“Those two pendejos appear, every night, and kill one another.”

TAROT DRACONIS: 4 of Swords + 9 of Swords

Block G

“Lights out!” The guard calls.

I lie on my cot and rest my head on my hands. Years ago, I pled innocent, but, everything they accused me of doing, I did, and, on nights like tonight, I regret it. Don’t feel sorry for me, I’m not a bad person, just a victim of circumstance. 

For years I sat in the teeming prison, sharing a cell with a revolving door of inmates. Some wide-eyed and scared, others with an evil twinkle in their eyes; all innocent, yet many guiltier than me. When the prison overcrowded, the warden re-opened the ancient Block G. They transferred only a few of us here, and now I have a cell all to myself; “careful what you wish for”, Mamma always said. 

Cell Block G is small, reminiscent of a medieval jail with dank and cold stone walls, dim lights and howling echoes. It’s a disquieting place, though I relish the relative silence of it. No cussing, no gang fights. In the daytime, it’s OK, but at night…

The lights are off and darkness rules. It’s a strange darkness, incomplete, eerie, unsettling. It’s a bluish darkness. 

I roll over onto my side, my back to the wall, always to the wall. I close my eyes and hope to fall asleep before…

A scream rings out trough the prison. My eyes fly open. I sit up, gasping. 

A cacophony of voices, screams and moans, all hollow and dead—unlike those in my old block—fill the prison and send chills down my spine. 

“Help me!” Someone yells. 

A woman with a long tattered dress, a ripped corset, unkempt hair and crazed eyes runs through the bars in my cell and disappears into the wall across my cot. Two shots boom and, through the wall I hear a yelp and a thud. Every night, every damn…

Wait. 

I stand up, touch the wall and wonder. 

Was this a door? What if…

An idea flashes. 

Hope springs eternal…

TAROCCHI DELL’OLIMPO: 9 of Wands

Eagle Eye

Cleopatra Bysbys sat facing the windows of the topmost room of her house with a cup of lukewarm coffee at her side and her air rifle across her lap. She wore ancient and washed out pajama bottoms frayed at the crotch and unraveling at the hems. They stuck to her bony knees. Her breasts hung low on her chest under a ratty pit-stained T-shirt and her saggy arms looked like raw chicken wings. Her hacking cough shook the walls of her musty home. The room was a small belvedere, shaped like a cupola with windows all around it; a lookout. She called it her aerie. It held nothing but a swivel chair with moth-eaten upholstery that had seen better days and a tatty side table held together by spit and prayers.  

Christmastime had, of late, become her favorite time of the year, not because she was full of cheer and good wishes, but because the practice of stealing packages was most rampant. From her “eagle’s nest” Cleopatra Bysbys kept a watchful eye over the entire neighborhood. 

Cleopatra took a gulp of coffee, grimaced and pronounced it “pure and absolute swill.” She closed her eyes, and, using her extraordinary gift, surveyed the neighborhood with her mind’s eye. The windows of the aerie afforded her a remarkable, yet limited view of the goings-on around her, but her gift let her pry beyond the walls of her neighbors’ houses and into their daily trials and tribulations. Cleopatra Bysbys was privy to everything, the comings and goings, the conversations, and sometimes, even the innermost thoughts and emotions of people. Nothing was a secret to her; not the past nor the present, not even the future. 

“Ha!” She cackled, “smart girl, Betty Jackson, tracking it on your phone!”

When she used her gift, Cleopatra Bysbys was a sight to behold. Her wide mouth gaped open and rotted teethed peeped out. With eyelids ajar, the whites of her eyes showed. Wispy and gnarled silver hair framed her withered face, and her skeletal fingers, resting on the arms of the chair twittered and twitched as if handling buttons and dials. 

“Here we go!” She sneered, opened the front window and propped the air rifle against the sill. She crouched, and looking every bit the sniper, waited with the patience of a saint, unfazed by the cold air wafting in from the window; only the ancient furnace in the basement protested. 

A blue car pulled up to the Smith house across the street. The mailman had delivered the package after the couple had left for work. A young woman shimmied out of the car and hurried toward the front door. She slipped on the icy walkway but kept her footing. In her mind’s eye, Cleopatra saw the driver growl in dismay; had she fallen, they would have sued. 

Cleopatra Bysbys took aim as the girl approached the package, glanced side to side and bent down to pick it up. A crack boomed through the wintry air. The porch pirate jumped several inches and grabbed her butt-cheek. With a crazed look in her eyes she gazed around the perimeter, sighted nothing, yet heard a phlegmy witch-like cackle. Her eyes, welling up with tears of pain, fixed on Cleopatra’s hiding place, but there was only an empty window. Sneaky Cleo lay flat on the floor, hugging her gun and giggling through a devilish grin. 

The frustrated thief limped back to the car, and with a “fuck it” they sped away; the package still on the stoop. 

Cleopatra Bysbys pulled herself up, and, scratching her bottom, shuffled downstairs to watch her soap operas. There would be three more attempts later in the day.

Ah yes, Christmas was now her favorite time of the year, and porch pirates her favorite target year-round. 

UNIVERSAL WAITE TAROT: XXI The World

Worlds Away

As he walked with no direction, Johnny tried to remember Dad’s incessant science lessons, hoping to deduce where he was. The two moons had startled him and he’d almost sat down to cry, but as he walked, his mind calmed and his thoughts cleared. 

“I am on one of four planets,” he mumbled, “the outer planets are all gas, and they have many moons. Pluto would be ice and I wouldn’t survive the cold. So, it must be Mercury, Venus, Earth, or Mars.”

Mercury would be too hot, and Dad said the atmosphere on Venus is hellish and toxic, so it can only be Mars and Earth. I’m not on Earth, so does Mars have two moons?

Johnny shrugged, he couldn’t remember. 

“Mars would be much colder than Earth, because it’s farther away from the sun,” Dad’s voice drifted into his mind, “you’d never wear T-shirts.”

Johnny stopped for a moment. He didn’t feel cold, despite losing his jacket. In fact, it wasn’t just the air, heat seeped through his sneakers. He spied tall peaks in the distance. Does Mars have volcanoes? 

“Not active ones,” he whispered. 

He pondered further.

Johnny’s knees buckled as the thought hit him, “It’s not our solar system!” 

His heart dropped and a wave of loss and loneliness gushed through him, such as he’d never felt, not even when the runes had whisked him away. Then, it had been like being on an unknown street, but in the same neighborhood. 

“Okay, Johnny, think,” he muttered, heart thumping in his ears, “this must be an Earth-like planet because I can breathe, so it must have an atmosphere. It must also revolve around its own sun. Isn’t that what Dad said? So how many suns are there?”

Billions. 

He glanced around the barren landscape. In the bright light of the moons, it seemed lifeless. Johnny gazed at the moons, both full, both rugged and cratered; identical. 

Wind blew, warm and smoky. It stung his eyes, but something caught his attention. He heard a melodious voice. 

“Alondra!” He yelled. 

Silence.

  Then it started again, and Johnny, overjoyed, ran towards it. 

Up ahead he glimpsed a figure, tall, thin, graceful and woman-like. He distinguished the shock of fire-red hair. 

“Alondra!” 

The figure watched him. As he neared it, the figure caught his gaze with eyes bright as diamonds. It then swirled into a flame which sprouted fire wings and flew away. 

Johnny tripped and fell. 

Sharp pain; hazy vision. 

Then, darkness. 

ALEISTER CROWLEY THOTH TAROT: XI Lust

Sinister

Arachne spat. The bones told her he had failed; the little minx had gotten away, and he was not coming back. She snarled, baring yellow and rotted teeth. 

“Useless! Just like your father,” she hissed at Dagan, who lounged on the high chair across the room. The memory of that bumbling man churned her stomach.

“But you won’t fail, Dagan,” she cooed, “you’re better than your brother.”

Dagan smirked, his leg draped over the chair arm, and swirled blood red wine around the glass. He was as ugly as his brother was handsome and had the sensitivity of barbed wire. Alastor was sensual and charming, Dagan devious and cruel. The dim light cast eerie shadows on his unpleasant and pockmarked face. 

“No Mother,” his voice was thick with venom, “I’m not like Alastor. I don’t have to seduce every poor innocent bitch that comes along. Look what that got him.” 

“Hassle, and an early grave,” she croaked, “couldn’t even choose the right minx.”

Arachne gazed into the shattered mirror which fractured her haggard and willowy hair, and wagging her finger, continued,

“He liked her strong, he said, ‘I can subdue her,’ he said, ‘it’ll be more satisfying,’ he said.”

Arachne screeched. She paced the floor of the darkened room, careful not to step on the bones. She ignored Dagan, who observed her with his suspicious glare.

“I will summon the coven,” she squawked, “yes, we’ll find her and bring her back. No more niceties, no more seduction, Laura will return.”

Arachne smirked, her wrinkled face twisted and her eyes shone bright with hatred. 

“To see Laura in your grasp, Dagan, now that’s satisfaction!” 

“Don’t you mean our grasp, Mother?” Dagan leered, “whatever I do is nothing compared to what you have planned for her.” 

Arachne cackled, and Dagan chuckled. She picked up the bones she’d strewn on the floor, put them in her little pouch and sneered. She turned to the dense shadow in the corner.

“Soon the little minx will be yours, My Lord. Once we have her, nothing will stop you, not even death.”

The shadow laughed. Arachne and Dagan gazed in reverence. 

OLD ENGLISH TAROT: Seven of Swords

Nigel

Nigel opened his eyes, bare branches above him, icy ground seeping into his bones. He took a deep breath and rose to a sitting position. He grimaced, expecting the sharp jabbing pain in his back and the crack, rattle and crunch of his joints. Major Creaks he called himself nowadays. Yet he found the movement painless. 

He gazed at his hands, and though chapped, he missed the familiar veins and age spots that had appeared over the long years. Nigel twiddled his straight fingers and marveled at their ease of movement; he moved his legs and stood up. His knees didn’t pop. Once standing, his hip didn’t jut out to the side and there was no stabbing pain down his back. 

Nigel beamed as he realized he was young again. He looked down at his feet, covered in heavy combat boots and shook the snow off his army-issue overcoat. He glanced around the dense, snowy forest. 

“Oh, I’m here again,” he whispered with dismay. Yet, the sensation of youth was so real, he was happy, even if he was back in the Ardennes and the horror of it had haunted him through the years of peace, prosperity, social revolution, consumerism, internet boom and the much-celebrated Millennium. 

“He fought in the Battle of the Bulge,” his neighbors often whispered with huddled heads, as if to explain away his somber and aloof behavior. 

Something glinted by a tree trunk and Nigel, curious, stooped, his once rusty knees bending like rubber. It was a long sword, a Claymore perhaps, he thought, and picked it up as if it were a feather. How wonderful not to feel the arm buckle under its weight! The fingers clasped around the hilt, painless, strong and straight as arrows. 

A roar cut through the trees, shaking the snow off the bare branches. Nigel heard the wood creak and the falling snow sounded like maracas. It had been years since he’d heard the sounds of the forest, however muffled in snow. 

Nigel, unafraid, headed in the roar’s direction. The forest, quiet under its freezing blanket, seemed to wake and give a startled yawn before sleeping again. Yet something odd remained in the air. He sniffed and perceived a hint of acrid smoke.

Boom! The forest exploded into a blaze of fire and Nigel dropped to the ground as he’d done decades ago. The trees shook, and though Nigel attributed the explosion to an air raid, he thought tanks rolled, not stomped, like he perceived underfoot. 

Another roar, so close it almost split his rejuvenated eardrums. He stood up and found himself face to face with a dragon, its wings wide, nostrils ablaze and tail pointed upward, scorpion-like. It smelled of burned flesh; he gagged. 

The dragon spotted him, and Nigel, sword at the ready, caught his gaze. They defied one another. 

The dragon hissed and a fireball spit from his nose; Nigel ducked. He moved through the trees like a cat and soon was close enough to strike the scaly beast. Metal clanged on the hard scales, but Nigel noticed they broke. He struck again and again until the beast gave a piercing scream. 

Flames surrounded him. Fire burned his flesh and ash blocked his vision. He drove the sword into the raw skin he’d hacked. Blood poured from the wound. His clothes caught fire, and the flames engulfed both beast and man. 

***

The fire department could not find a clear cause for the fire that had reduced the house to cinders. They believed the ancient wiring in the wall behind the bed was at fault. 

The strange old man hadn’t stood a chance; maybe he hadn’t even woken up. 

A rumor spread through the neighborhood children. It was spontaneous combustion, they said, because no one found the charred remains.

MINCHIATE: XII The Hanged Man

Waiting

“Can I get you something else?” The waiter asked, his expression full of sympathy, yet amused. I’d been at the table for almost an hour and Kyle hadn’t yet arrived. The restaurant boasted a century of continued service.

“More water, please,” I smiled.

I glanced at my wristwatch. Kyle is often late, but he’s never stood me up. He’s my brother, I know what to expect. 

I gazed out the big floor-to-ceiling window and watched the people and cars zipping by in the rush-hour bustle. 

My cell phone lay on the table, by the dim Tiffany stained-glass table lamp lit up in hues of reds, greens, yellows and blues. My eyes darted from the window to the phone’s dark screen. No news is good news, I thought. 

A brand new 1920s black Cadillac stopped in front of the restaurant. I frowned, confused. Something felt odd about the car, its shiny newness seemed real, not like the restored hot-rods at the antique car shows Kyle likes. 

The doors opened. Two men jumped out. They wore three-piece suits, one dressed in gray, the other in a pinstriped navy blue. Their hats hung low on their heads. My heart raced as they pulled out a submachine gun each. 

They stood legs apart, pointed the guns at the window and fired. I heard the rat-tat-tat of the machine guns, and saw them blazing, yet the glass remained intact. No one on the street screamed or ducked; no one in the restaurant panicked. In the line of fire, I was unscathed.

The men climbed in the car and sped away.

Was I dreaming? A car honked somewhere and brought the restaurant itself back to reality. 

I glanced around, wondering whether others had seen the gangsters. For the first time, I noticed a line of bullet holes on the back wall, gaping in the ancient and faded wallpaper. These were not recent, but no one had bothered to cover them.

“Hi, so sorry I’m late,” Kyle slid into the chair; he was flushed and sweaty and out of breath, “what did I miss?”

“Al Capone’s gang just shot up the place.”

“Wait, you saw them?”

“What do you mean?” 

“I came here once on a date,” he took a sip of my water, “I was looking at the street when an old Caddy stopped. Two old-fashioned gangsters pulled out their Tommy guns and shot at the window.”

My jaw dropped. 

“No one else saw a thing,” he said.   

BRUEGEL TAROT: Knight of Pentacles

The Puppeteer

The puppeteer wheeled his rickety cart onto the town green. 

“Come one, come all!” He yelled in a heavy Italian accent, “The Great Rigattini will tell a tale of love and courage!”

Children gathered around and sat on the grass; the grownups stood in a circle behind them. 

“The Great Rigattini will present the characters!” 

“Rigattini! That’s pasta!” A boy yelled, and the crowd laughed. 

The puppeteer’s cold smile showed through his heavy handlebar mustache and gave his face a devilish smirk. 

I didn’t laugh; I knew the heckler, and I didn’t like him. He always mocked my little brother, who was born a simpleton. Willy scooched closer to me and his plump, fluffy body, like a stuffed toy, warmed me. Willy didn’t like the heckler either. I put my arm around him and turned my attention to the puppeteer. 

He opened two small doors in his cart and revealed a stage; the background painted with bright stars over a mountain landscape. 

“The story takes place at night, as our hero, Marcello, traverses the mountain,” he pulled out a beautiful marionette clad in red armor with leather boots. It was a true marionette of the Old World, like the ones my grandfather once crafted. I turned to Willy and smiled. 

The puppet show continued, and at every instant possible, the heckler yelled out abuse and mockery. At first, some in the crowd laughed, but soon, the jokes went too far, and the crowd murmured uncomfortable. The puppeteer persevered; he was an excellent puppet master and the marionettes, all exquisite, moved with such ease it was easy to forget they were on strings. 

Willy leaned against me with his head on my shoulder. He laughed, oohed and aahed at the right moments, enjoying the show. Only the heckler seemed determined on ruining it for everyone. I glanced at him and his ridiculous smirk. He always ruined everything for everyone. 

Despite the mockery, the puppeteer drew us into the story. The crowd burst into raucous applause when the show ended. People approached him and put coins into a hat by the cart. With each clink, the puppeteer smiled with a grateful crinkle in his eyes, and bowed. The crowd dispersed. Hand in hand, we sidled up to the puppeteer as he put the marionettes away. 

Grazie,” I said and dropped money into the hat, “I loved the show.”

The puppeteer beamed, and the curly ends of the mustache almost reached his eyes. 

“You speak Italian?”

I shook my head, “only a little.”

“My nonno made them,” Willy spoke in his soft lisp.

“Did he?” The puppeteer’s warm gaze fixed on Willy’s dull eyes. 

Willy nodded. 

“He came from the Old World. He had a workshop there.” I explained. 

“Ah, then perhaps I should deliver this to you,” the puppeteer said and reached into his cart. He pulled out a stunning marionette of a young prince, hand-carved and hand-painted, its clothing so intricate only the best seamstress could have stitched it. He handed it to Willy. 

“Oh, Mister, we can’t…” I was mumbling an excuse when I noticed the engraving on the marionette’s foot. Nonno’s initials and insignia!

“Perhaps one day this marionette will bring you all the good luck and fortune it has brought me,” the puppeteer said, “it’s yours, take it.”

As he locked away his cart, I heard running footsteps behind me. I turned just as the heckler pushed me to the ground, kicked me, then ran away. Willy looked about to cry and clutched the marionette to his chest. 

The puppeteer raised a hand, fingers in a claw, as if he’d tied the strings of a marionette to the tips, and stared at the heckler as he ran. His face drawn and gaze intent, he twirled his fingers and twitched his wrist. The heckler hovered off the ground, his feet still moving, and fell hard on his backside. He screamed and cried, but no one minded him. The puppeteer flicked his wrist and turned his gaze. His features relaxed and their warmth returned. He offered me his hand and helped me stand. 

Si,” he smiled, “this marionette brought me many good things.” 

He winked and wheeled his cart away.