“Buongiorno signore e signora turisti”.. Bertouli called out effusively with appropriate operatic gestures with the arms.
” Welcome to my humble stall….Scusi signora, but your shadow falls on my bowls and utensils and dulls their shine….grazi!” he danced around his wares manipulating the tourists with gentle hand movements, all the while keeping up a running commentary on everything and anything..
“So, just off the train from Naples eh? have a good trip?….see here, this is an exact replica of the Emperor Caligula’s goblet,..that he would use to toast the death stroke of some unfortunate wretch! … and here, a platter very useful for the salada,..fruit..or just hanging on the wall for the decoration.“
“Now, this urn, madam, cast your eyes on the ancient Greek embossing, from the temple of Aphrodite..a fertility celebration,…you can have it cheap! What, no fertility left!…ahh! a sad fate signora,..and one that overtakes us all I’m sorry to say but then we have.. (you have the bambini?…ah! good, bene) our children, but pity those who are denied that delight signora,..ahh, madonna mio.” and Bertouli sat wearily down on a door step next to his stall and sighed,” Yes signori, many a tale can be told of couples desperate for the little bambini.”
Here he puckered his lips then raised a finger to the sky…for the day was wearing long and he had not sold many wares…and his thirst for a good glass or two of vino was gnawing at his mood…Bertouli had an idea!
“I remember one such couple in our village many years ago ” he paused. looked to the ground then raised his eyes stealthily….”but you wouldn’t want to hear such a mysterious tale”, there was a stillness in the air as Bertouli felt for their sympathy…He played his card…”..especially as it concerns three witches!” and his eyes met the eyes of the woman cunningly. “What’s that. you would!?….but no, no signora, it is much too long, the day is warm and I am already thirsty!…” he stroked his bristly chin thoughtfully. “I tell you what I’ll do, for just a little carafe of vino from the ”Bar Centuri” over there, I’ll regale you with the whole sordid story,..heh,heh,..you’ll like that, eh signora?..But quickly, quickly, presto. I thirst and the two tourists rushed off to the Bar. Bertouli sighed. The man from the next stall sidled over to Bertouli and spoke out of the corner of his mouth:
“Eh, Berto,you got a couple of live ones there,….buona fortuna!” and he moved away smiling, stopped, thought a moment then turned back to Bertouli; “If you have a little of the wine left remember your friend Alfonso!” and he tapped the side of his nose and winked.
Bertouli suddenly became motivated, he poked his head into the doorway of the house next to his stall and called ; “Signora Seneca, tre bicchieri per favore?”
“Quando ritorno?” a voice inside asked.
“As soon as we have finished the bottle!” Bertouli cried. “Pulito? yes,…clean as a whistle and I’ll dry them with my tongue! .” the last comment was spoken in a whisper.
The two tourists returned with the carafe of wine. Bertouli began his story..
“Now, amici, keep in mind that these events took place in another age. An age when superstition was to some degrees; dogma! and every village had its “Witch-doctor”. But then, that was also not so long ago! I sometimes think our modern medicine hovers on the boundry of the absurd, and in the end we all have to be our own physicians, eh?”
Bertouli took the carafe from the tourists so as to facilitate more expediently the transfer of wine from bottle to glass.
” There.” he said, handing a small glass of the wine to each..; “Salute!”
“Our little village of Castella di Luci, was part of the estate of a wealthy Padrone, who lacked in nothing save a son to carry on his name and the estate. For he was of that generation that looked to the male to become the next “Padrone” and so continue the family tradition. But that was not to be! Three girls and no boy. Then one cruel winter, his wife died of influenza….he was heart-broken, for he loved that woman dearly,…and she was pregnant when she died,…yes..a boy child that died with her. (“sigonori…un ultri? ah! si! grazi!”).
“Well, the Padrone buried them both then settled down to drink and curse his fate into an early grave. The three young girls were raised by an old retainer and her husband, the gardener. The Padrone forgot about them, so bitter was he, and continued to drink his misfortune away. And so he joined his wife and unborn child ten years later to the day!”
Bertouli slapped both hands flat on his knees to emphasize fates’ whimsical twists.
“Well, those three little children were raised by the housekeeper and her husband. The property was sold by the executors to pay debts the old Padrone had run up…all was sold except three identical cottages, side by side along the high road. These the old man had built as a sort of dowry for when the girls grew up. And grew up they did, though none too handsome I might add, and they each one lived in one of those three cottages, and as time went on and they never married, they slowly took on those inevitable eccentricities that identify bachelors and spinsters. Each had an interest in gardening, so with a small income left them from the estate they lived and thrived in their little individual worlds. “
“The first one had an interest in herbs, her garden bristled with strange, wonderous weeds which would overwhelm you with mystical aromas when you walked past. She could always be seen out amongst those tenacious plants singing and crooning soft songs while dressed in tassled cloaks and heavy woollen dresses of her own make and design, busy turning the earth with a small garden spade as she hummed…Her name was Marita..we nicknamed her : FATE. “
“The second was a light, delicate child, and indeed, she was the same grown to womanhood. Her passion was flowers. Such sweet fulsome blooms of so many varied hues you never saw the like of before and I’ll risk the future to say; you’ll never see the like of again! She too would sing while tending her beds of poppies or mughetti, rose-hedges and lilies, showers of sweet-peas would wash over the fence like a woven waterfall of dancing confetti…and when a wild wind blew, all the front yard up and leapt a-swaying and swirling like a wild tribe in the free abandon of some pagan dance!….she of the multi-coloured skirts we called : FACE.. though her name be Katrina.”
“The third sister was the more serious of them all, with her hair pulled back stern to a tight bun at the back of her head and she clothed in trousers and gum-boots, she would till the earth in her garden as though she were teaching it a lesson, so there were long beds of rich, brown soil oozing an aroma of humus and worm with a faint scent of dry straw wafting amongst the bean trellises. She grew vegetables, all types, and she grew them well, her name was Jaquelina we nicknamed her : FAVOUR.”
“So there they stayed and there they cultivated their own peculiar idiosyncrasies, we referred to them as the three sisters:_Fate, Face. Favour! And they had strange powers those sisters,…mark my words when I say that!….strange ways, strange powers! (fill my glass signor, I thirst!…huh?..you’ll second that?…ha.ha,…very good! _saluti!). I’ll tell you amici, down south here, we are still very pagan in our beliefs, very superstitious….oh si, yes….we give the saints their candles and the pope still gets his silver, but our hearts….(he leant close to whisper) our hearts are with the pagan gods! Ecco! (Bertouli cried as he leapt to his feet and spun his torso in a lithe, quick-stepping momentary dance, finishing with a “Spanish” flourish of the wrists in the air) : we pray to Jesus but dance to Dionysus!”
“The three sisters grew to be our “priests” of pagan superstition, to them we would go for visions of hope, of wealth, for cures of illness. Many mothers would burn a candle at the church for a sick child, then sneak off to Lady Fate for a hopeful cure with a concoction of herbs and secret chanting.. even for a little fortune telling from lady Face…what do I mean; “even”.. Madonna mio!, for wasn’t that their speciality?..and they would do it with riddles, with cryptic clues or even facial expressions….my word! they were not often wrong either.”
“ For instance: There once was a black marketeer; Capodolcia, his name was, a very wealthy man. then one day he suddenly disappeared….never came back (Bertouli tapped the side of his nose) he was, as they say in those old Yankee movies; “taken for a ride.” And do you know. the day before he disappeared, he comes over to my shop holding a cucumber….
” Mother Favour, she gives this to me as I passed her place ” he said quizzically.
“Did she say anything?” I asked.
“Not a word!….curious what can it mean?” he said puzzled.
“Well, I for one remember the old saying: The world is like a cucumber ; one day it is in the palm of your hand, the next it is up your arse!” The next day he goes and never comes back…a mystery eh?..but that is what those sisters were like, cryptic and mysterious. ( I can see the future now in the bottom of my glass, signor….it looks like a drought..grazie!). But there was one young fellow who scorned the superstitions, even openly mocked those ladies to the quiet mirth of his friends, though none of his companions would openly laugh at his jibes, being caught between the two worlds, so to speak. And it came about that the young man, “Sfaccio”, married. and the wedding party walked past the cottages of the three sisters from the church to the parent’s house for the reception, as was the custom in the village and as was also the custom, the three sisters would give the married couple a token each from their garden to wish the newly-weds well.
At the first cottage, that of Mother Fate, parsley was given to the bride as a sign of fertility. Mother Face gave a boquet of lily as a testament of lasting beauty..and the party then proceeded on to the third cottage.
As Sfaccio came abreast of the cottage of Favour, he, being in an extra happy frame of mind, thought for a bit of sport with the lady there in her garden. He held his hands high to stop the procession and leant over the fence of mother Favour.
“My dear Mother Favour”, he called jovially.. “pray attend to the request of the bridal party and tell, if it be in your power, how many bambini will bless their household?” and he laughed uproaresly, others ducked their eyes away, some moaned sheepishly for no-one had ever openly mocked those women before.
” Tell me oh wise mistress..how many seeds planted in our garden will germinate to fruition or will our loins be as barren as ….” and Sfaccio suddenly snatched off the hat of his father-in-law…” Pappa’s head!?” and at this everyone laughed, even the father-in-law grinned as he grabbed his hat back, for Sfaccio was friendly if a little cheeky! as the laughter died down there was mother Favour standing there at the fence with her hand out and ten seeds in the palm.
“What are these?” Sfaccio asked, the giggles dying around him.
“Melon seeds” Favour answered,” Take them to the grotto of San Felice, plant them in the shadow of her smile and there count your bounty.” and she turned away with no more to say.
Well, Sfaccio made to cast them aside but his bride held his arm.
“Hold thy patience love, plant them for but the novelty and we will try to match their number.”
“And should all ten sprout?” Sfaccio laughed.
“All the more arrows for thine quiver.” His bride smiled. (ah!, amici, it is true that the women have a closer tie to the gods….and the devil!) Sfaccio held his arm up with the seeds in his fist and gazed deeply into his bride’s eyes, but those same that once mesmerised him were now shrouded in mystery! (a wine, signore, a wine!) and he lowered his arm, put the seeds in his pocket, he then called an over-exagerated..: “Addio! Mother Fortune.” and the party moved on.
A week later they passed my shop walking up the hill.
“Ah!” I called out jovially “the newlyweds surface! and where are you two off to on such a crisp day?”
“We are off to plant some seeds, Signore coppersmith.” Sfaccio called back
“What!.. and thou has been idle for the last week!?” I laughed.
“Ah!..but this time we plant them under the nose of the blessed Saint Felice!” Sfaccio waved his right hand in a swirling motion.
“Well at least cover her eyes with your cloak lest she get jealous, the saints can’t abide with happy humans!” and the two laughed together and trudged off up the hill.
Now , Franco ,the shepherd-boy just happened to be with his flock there near the grotto, and while he saw and heard them, they were oblivious to his presence, particularly as he had hidden himself most cunningly behind some rocks. This is what he heard:
” Now, Sfaccio, we are nearly there….where did she say to plant the seeds?”
“In the shadow of Saint Felice’s smile, wherever that is..but, my love, I confess, I have forgotten to bring them!” and Sfaccio raised his hands in mock apology.
” It’s alright, I took them myself…..lest thou fail to remember..Now….where can be the shadow of her smile?”and she gazed around the base of the grotto. Sfaccio’s shoulders dropped with his arms.
“Dear Primula (for that was the wife’s name) this is foolishness to pursue, such a sweet day was made for embracing, not grovelling on a fool’s errand!”
“Ahl” Primula cried”There.. Sfaccio, look!” and she pointed to the ground. Poor Franco was nearly exposed as he gaped over the rocks to see what it was..
“Oh. of course…I see it, mio stupido….dirt!” Sfaccio mocked.
“Don’t be silly, there, the shadow of her statue on the ground, and there, her lips at the base of the boulder. Here, the seeds, plant them. Sfaccio!”
“What!…not I dearest….why.”(.and he turned to look in every direction)”what if someone were to see me?”
“There is no-one here save the saint and thee and me.”
“Those look like Franco’ s flock, he could be hiding, watching us this very minute.”
“What fearest thou from his tongue?”
“You know these people, they see you doing any little strange thing why, if one was to fart in the village of Brommio. by the time you reach Castella di Luci three kilometri hence, the word is already about that you shit yourself!”
But Primula took no notice of him, such is the stubbornness of women.
“Just plant the seeds quickly and it will be done and we will not linger. The longer thou speech…”
“Alright, alright, it is done!” he said vexed and suspecting that he had been conned, such are the remaining feelings of a woman’s persuasive logic. And I tell you amici, none of those seeds sprouted, and also…no bambini! (look signore! no more wine ,presto per favore..to the Bar Centuri”…and the tourists trotted off to get another carafe).
“Bertouli!..Bertouli!” Alfredo called from the next stall..”You talk too much and too long, remember your friends!” Bertouli looked over and there was Alfredo and Biacchio both wide eyed rubbing their hands together. Bertouli schussed them with pattering hands as the tourists returned.
“Ah!..new wine, new friends, new day!” Bertouli cried effusively..and then continued..
“At first Sfaccio dismissed the delay as bad luck then, as the cycles came and went, they both grew more alarmed….no bambini!..and what is it that possesses the Italian heart, even more than love?..ah!…the family, the bambini!…the little children that drop to earth from God’s lips…il piccilo baci di Dio! Secretly, Sfaccio was seen to visit the grotto of Saint Felice to check if those seeds had sprouted, for little by little that idea had got hold of him, so do we all grasp such thin straws in times of despair. But no seedlings, and allora…no bambini.”
“ The people of the village had not failed to notice either, not for nothing is it written: “and the eyes are not satisfied with seeing, nor the ears filled with hearing..” and I might add: “and the mouth emptied from talking!” so the chatter did the rounds of the village, one gossip to the next and worst of all, Sfaccio and Primula heard not a word of it! which made them all the more anxious, for they suspected the substance of those rumours. Finally Sfaccio could stand no more ,so he fronted the cottage 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 Jacquelina, 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 idiots 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.”
“00hh!..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.”
“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 fertilize 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 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 fertilize 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” 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!”