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The Three Sisters (part 2)

Continued from Part 1

Sfaccio fronts the house of Mother Fortune …

“Hey! … ” he called out sheepishly from the gate, “hey there … Lady Fortune?” But there was no answer. He was about to leave with hands in pockets when Lady Face motioned him to come over to her fence.

“My sister is away in Brommio on business what would you want with her?”

“Ah … it is a little business between us two, madam,” Sfaccio grumbled.

“And have the seeds sprouted?” Lady Face asked slyly. Sfaccio looked up suddenly.

“What would you know of any seeds?”

“One has ears master Sfaccio. and one knows one’s own kin!”

Sfaccio grasped the pickets of the fence fiercely.

“Then tell me, if you know the curse, what have I to do to undo it?”

“Why master, who spoke of a curse? … still … one shouldn’t jest with Kaileena, she has no ear for humour and she will try hard to avenge any slight she feels … ”

“But what of this mystery of the seeds … is that not a curse?”

“Ah! … maybe, but then again the seeds may have been boiled beforehand for just such an occasion … ”

“But how would she have known the question before it was asked?”

“There you may have the “magic” master Sfaccio,” Lady Face said cunningly. “Why was she in her garden just as you passed? … But there … let it lie, and take these seeds, they are ‘Love’s heart lies bleeding’ and plant them next to the others, see, they sprout everywhere here, you will soon see a bounty for yourself and your wife.”

“What! … more seeds! … ma fungool … if I have to plant a whole pasture next!?”

“Well, young master, leave it be and go away then and none shall be the sorrier,” and she turned to go.

“Wait! … I apologise for my hastiness signora, I … I will take the seeds we have nothing to lose” he mumbled as he held out his hand.

“just one thing”, she said as she gave him the seeds,” you must first water them with an idiot’s tears!”

“What! … Madonna santissima dio boio! I’m the only idiot left here I’m sure!”

“No, there is Boffo.”

“But how am I to do that, signora?”

“That is your problem, I can only give you the solution … good day to you master Sfaccio,” and she went inside the cottage.

Boffo was the village idiot, he would be mostly idle save when required to do a little light labouring in return for food or drink. At other times he was full of pranks. Sfaccio indeed had his work cut out for him, for all Boffo did was laugh! But Sfaccio struck onto a plan!

Now isn’t it a strange thing, amici, that nothing is freely given in this world without some string attached to the tail … even God wrote a “rider” into the contract of the garden of Eden!

So Sfaccio caught up to Boffo at the Bar …

“Here Boffo, have another glass … it’s a little thing for such a hard world that we live in”.

“Ha Ha … well, and thankee, master Sfaccio. Cruel, yes cruel,” and he gulped the wine greedily.

They sat at a table in the darkened corner of the bar. “Yess … (Sfaccio drawled out) cruel … I was just yesterday thinking of old Mother Zoanetti, and her three sons.”

“Ohh! … Zoanetti … si,si … sad … so sad … tell me, Sfaccio … who was she and what of her?”

“Here, drink up Boffo, drink up!” and he filled the glass again after Buffo gulped down the last dregs.

”Ah! … it’s a worthy tale from sadder times,” Sfaccio sighed “Those were loyal people, loyal to their kindred, stuck like glue they did. Well … The Zoanetti’s were peasants farming up in the hills over Campobasso when the war was at its height. There were the father, mother and three sons. The war was raging in the north and as the oldest son came of age to fight, he was called up. Away he went, oh the sadness for a mother to see her offspring going away with rifle over his shoulder where once he carried his favourite blanket and never knowing if that child ( for we are always children in our mothers eyes, eh Boffo? … drink up!) would return. And they waved him off down the road … and he never came back … never heard a word from him, probably killed straight off as he got to the front.

Then the second son came of age and he too marched off to war with nothing but a backward wave to his grieving mother … and he too was lost in the mayhem of fighting in the mountains. Try as they would, no word came back of his fate. Ahh! the grief a mother feels at such moments when her children are snatched from her bosom and thrown to the dogs of war! The weeping, the grieving … ( drink Boffo, drink! ), still, there was the youngest, when he came of age she refused to part with him, for he was the favourite, she implored him to hide. for her sake! But to no avail, he ,himself turned up to be kitted out, for how could he shirk that duty that his brothers faced so courageously. How she wept and implored the saints as he too walked down that road. The father had to support her as she collapsed to her knees with clasped hands and weeping contorted face! (You see the situation eh Boffo? You could just see them there in the middle of the road all sad and miserable … some more?) and would you believe it? … the same again, no word, silence to every enquiry the old couple made. But then they were dying like flies up there at the front and who knew who was alive or dead.”

“Oohh … master Sfaccio … si … I myself lost two uncles at that war … oh it was indeed pitiful” and Boffo sniffed sorrowfully, Sfacio was encouraged.

“So one day the father says: ‘Wife, you’ll have to manage the farm, I’m going to the front to find my sons” and sad as she was, she rejoiced that at last they would at least get some answers to their worries. So he joined that circus of fighting to see what or where his sons were. If he found them no-one ever will know for he too failed to return, till there, all alone with her grief, mother Zoanetti vowed to search the mountains and battlefields till she found her family. The courage of those mothers was something to reckon with, eh Boffo?” Boffo’s eyes were brimming with tears, Sfaccio was overjoyed, his plan was working!

“Ahh! My own mother … ah!” Boffo nodded his head sadly. Sfaccio took out a clean handkerchief ready to capture those tears and then to wrap them around the seeds given him by Lady Face.

“She was a sturdy peasant so it wasn’t hard to disguise herself as a journeyman labourer, and in this guise she shouldered her pack of essentials and with one last glance over her shoulder at the old farm that had given them so many memories, she headed down the road and do you know, Boffo? … she-never-came-back!” Sfaccio finished his story with a sad drawn out sentence and Boffo sat there drunk and maudlin with tears running down his cheeks.

“That is the saddest story master Sfaccio …” and he sniffled and snortled.

Sfaccio held out the handkerchief:

“Here, my good friend Boffo, wipe your tears with this.” He offered the cloth generously, Buffo looked wide eyed at the crisp clean handkerchief.

“Why … grazie, signore Sfaccio … grazie,” he said softly and he took it so very gently in both hands as if it would break and raised it to his face in wide-eyed wonder, ( as was also the anticipating Sfaccio) then suddenly put it to his nose and blew with such force it fluttered as it filled with his gruesome snot!

“Stronzi!” cried Sfaccio and he swung his fist to knock Buffo flying, but too late, for Buffo was to his feet like a shot and out the door baying like a donkey, for such was his laughter. Sfaccio ran to the door yelling abuse after him to no avail, for it was his own misery that he was abusing.

“Why curse the fool? Sfaccio,” one of the men standing there asked.

“Ah … nothing,” Sfacio answered and stormed off, but not without hearing as he went:

“Even a well-dressed donkey cannot hide his ears,” and then followed light laughter. He decided on another more direct way to get those tears from Boffo. A fortnight later, Sfaccio bailed up Boffo in the street.

“Hey! Boffo … give us a hand will you?” Boffo approached with caution.

“You’re not … not going to attack me are you, Sfaccio?”

“No,no … what’s done is done, no use crying over spilt milk! but I do need a labourer for a small job.”

“What job?”

“See, I have a little work up at the grotto of Saint Felice, I need you to help me take this material up there.”

“It’s late in the day to start work Sfaccio, its near dusk already … and there’s a storm coming on.” “Yes,yes … but this is for tomorrow … so I can get an early start in the morning … a meal and drink for a little help … OK?” Boffo thought for a second:

”OK, master … I’m your man.” So Boffo took up the wheelbarrow and Sfaccio the tools and they set off up the hill. It was dusk when they reached the grotto, a stiff wind was blowing off the mountains and rain-heavy clouds rose toward them from the south. Flashes of lightning and soft rumblings of thunder echoed in the distance. They placed the gear in the grotto.

“Well, Sfaccio, we’d better hasten back if we don’t want to get drenched.”

“Why hurry, Boffo? The storm is a while away and I have some wine to refresh us after that long hike,” and he pulled out a bottle of wine and a small bag of food from his sack.

“Ah well then, as you say, master, why rush?” Boffo squatted down on the earth and licked his lips in anticipation. And there they sat in congenial comfort while the weather closed in on them. They had been there a while passing the bottle and bread and indulging in small-talk when Sfaccio let out a sigh.

“Ahh! Boffo, Boffo … I’ll have to let you in on the real reason I lured you up here tonight.” Sfaccio spoke in a wistful! way. Buffo took the bottle and drank a swill.

“What’s that, master? … lure? … reason?”

“You see these seeds? … here … well, lady Face says I have to plant them tonight, and need your assistance.”

“Ahh! … the seeds, yes I have heard of them that did not grow … You have more? … How many bambini do you want, Sfaccio? … You will need a whole province if they all grow, ha, ha!”

“I have only ten, Boffo, but the lady said that ‘Boffo must plant them,’ and I dare not disobey.” Sfaccio held the seeds out in the palm of his hand.

“Such a small thing, Boffo will be glad to help you.” Boffo took the tiny seeds into his hand.” Where will we plant them?”

“Out there by that boulder is the spot.” Sfaccio pointed to guide Boffo.

They both went outside. The wind was wilder now and sudden little squalls of rain whipped up the valley, the storm was upon them.

“Here,Boffo, dig a little hole here and plant them. Boffo scraped at the earth with his fingers while behind his bent form stood Sfaccio with a long-bladed knife he had secreted in his belt! Boffo dropped the seeds into the earth,

“Now, Sfaccio, do I cover them up?”

“Not just yet, there is one small thing that must be added.”

Sfaccio suddenly grasped Boffo’s hair and pulled back, at the same time brought the knife around to his throat! Boffo yelped in surprise and anguish.

“Now Boffo!! I must have your life!” Sfaccio cried. Boffo howled with fear as he heard these words.

“Why! master, Why?” he whimpered.

“So I am instructed; ‘The blood of Boffo must fertilise them’ she said.”

He brought the knife out so Boffo could see it glimmer and flash in the lightning, like ice in the heart! Boffo howled with fear.

“Stay, master, stay, I am just a poor fool with no home,” he wailed. Sfaccio pulled Boffa’s head hack and called out. to the heavens;

“By all the saints in the heavens, I’ll have his tears or I’ll have his blood!” cried Sfaccio to the breaking storm (Bertouli stood glass in one hand, the other raised to emphasise the action) and the heavens opened up and a shaft of lightening struck the side of the hill upon which they were and the crack of thunder shook the very ground upon which they stood … such was the sudden tempest that Sfaccio loosened his grip on Buffo so that in a flash, he twisted out of his grasp and sprung to his freedom out of Sfaccio’s reach as quick as the lightening that just struck the hillside!

Sfaccio gave a desperate cry to the heavens when he saw that his last chance to have an idiot’s tears fertilise the seeds was now running, arms flaying in consternation, down the hillside track … and at that moment it was as if time suddenly stilled, the wind dropped as if out of breath and the storm ceased in its tumult while thunder drummed into the distance the very heavens held its breath … and then, Sfaccio dropped to his knees and broke into a piteous sob and his wretched face rubbered into the most horrible twist of sadness and big tears rolled down his dirty cheeks and dropped, jewel-like into the soft, damp hole that held the seeds … dropped, dazzling like diamonds onto those tiny seeds. Sfaccio gasped and trembled with lost hope wrapped around his heart and with every tear that touched the earth and those seeds, a clap of thunder shook the mountain and lightning whipped across the apron of the sky!

His face, sheened with rain and fear, quivered and shook with grotesque sculpture and it couldn’t be said who wept the most: the stormy sky from a thunderous rain, or Sfaccio from despair. Sfaccio dropped the knife and wept.

Sfacio had no fears that Boffo would make trouble for him, the story would sound too ridiculous to be believed and besides who would believe an idiot! No, Sfaccio stayed mesmerised to the little hole scraped in the earth which held the seeds. He covered them gently anyhow and patted the soil down then went back to the shelter of the grotto to pray. (Ha!, there! One moment a pagan, the next a Christian!) and so he fell asleep in the grotto to wake to a fine dawn and a clear sky.

Sfaccio rubbed his eyes when he woke, he couldn’t remember falling asleep. But he slowly got to his feet and stumbled out to the dawn. He stretched and yawned, then , remembering the events of the night before glanced quickly to the spot where the seeds were planted, imagine his surprise when he saw there, miraculously just pushing through the topsoil, tiny shoots of seedlings! Their tender tips just penetrating to the air.

”Blessed Lady!” he cried dropping to his knees and quickly crossing himself … and so the kind sister was correct in predicting that the tears of an idiot would have to fertilise the seeds … and it was when he saw the fragile, sprouts, that he realised that all along … he was the idiot …

“Fool am I!” he cried in a mix of shame and ecstacy …

He rose and walked backwards, never taking his eyes off those seedlings. Stumbling clumsily toward the path, he turned suddenly and ran whooping down to get Primula to show her the good tidings. Indeed, it became one of those minor miracles well known in the district and many people gathered that day to witness that marvellous event. However, the next day, those seeds where just yesterday there were ten, the next day there were just six, though that in itself remained a mystery, I know old Signora Rauni who had ten children herself, had pinched off four of those shoots ,

“Ten bambini are four too many Bertouli,” she told me, shaking her head.

And that is how Sfaccio and Primula came to have six beautiful children and grey hair before they were fifty! Allora signori, there is little that people will not do to be blessed with heartaches and happiness! And while The Three Sisters are with us no more, now those who wish for children will go to the grotto of San Felice, and there plant some seeds of “Loves Heart Lies Bleeding” (that they can purchase from my cousin, Sergio, for a few lira) as a gesture of desire … so that now the statue is more one of Pagan worship than Christian! … But enough, there is wine for all!

”Alfredo! Biacchio!” come here and drink , don’t be shy, the good people have been listening to my story and now we celebrate! Alfredo smiled weakly at the two tourists, took a glass and called; ”Saluti!”, then turned to Bertouli and spoke in dialect; “My god, Berto, you’re the longest winded bullshit artist between here and hell, saluti!”

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2 comments

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  1. Anne Byam

    Very much enjoyed that wonderful tale. Look forward to reading more of your clever, and witty writings.

    Cheers ~ ( or should I say – Ciao )

  2. David

    Gawd. Must be apocryphal.

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