By Matthew Frank
voice opens like the lid of an ancient hope chest, rides its dusty remnants
and long dead dreams on the rain. If I were to look inside this voice
I’d expect to find centuries-old taxidermy, owls with shellacked eyes
and sawdust in the feathers. I hear it again, this time in triplicate.
I have no reason to think it’s directed at me, but I turn to face a tiny knuckle of a man, dressed all in white, head so perfectly circular it could have been designed with a compass.
“Hey! Viene qua!” the frump calls to me from behind his fruit stand.
I turn and point behind me, my forehead certainly a mess of wrinkles. People cascade in circles, not one of them standing still. I turn back and touch my chest.
“Io?” I ask.
“Si, si,” he creaks, “Tu.”
I move forward and, as if stepping on a hidden button in the cobblestone, I activate this man to produce a baseball-sized fig from his fruit pile, bust it in half with his thumbs, and shove both bowled sides into his mouth at once. As if a magician waiting for applause, he, less than a second later, waves the cleaned purple fig skins at me as theatre curtains.
“Wow,” is all I can muster.
He holds a fat palm open to me. I freeze into position. He turns and retrieves another intact fig, this one even larger. Again, with his cigar-stub fingers, he breaks the fruit in two, its swampy sweet cilia waving yellow at my nose like a sea anemone. Soon, his hands are in mine, wet with warm rain, rolling the fig halves into my drenched palms.
“Prego,” he offers, but it could easily have been, “Abracadabra.”
I want to match his magic, so I shove both halves into my mouth. The music of the fruit shrieks soprano with cherry and yeast, the texture of limp comb teeth. This is a fig to resurrect the dreams of a great-great-grandmother. This is a fig to make her a little girl again, stretch her hair from stiff gray to blonde braided pigtails. I think of the tango and pull the stripped skins from my mouth. The frump actually applauds, laughing.
“Bravo! Bravo!” he bellows.
I laugh knowingly with him, having shared in his secret bag of wizard’s tricks.
into my pocket, expecting a string of scarves, but produce only my wallet.
When I flash a few coins, he shakes his head, a bowling ball on shoulders,
and turns to help another customer, a middle-aged woman with a faux-snakeskin
has previously published or has work forthcoming in Bellingham Review,
Pleiades, Northwest Florida Review, Folio, Roux, Rosebud, Miller's Pond,
The Madison Review, So To Speak, Rhino, Epiphany, Ellipsis, Cairn 38,
Montage, and Strange Blue Shark. He was the recipient of the Folger
Adam Jr. Prize for Poetry in 1997, and the Kerker Quinn Award for Writing
in 1998. He was the first runner-up in Bellingham Review's
49th Parallel Poetry Award 2004, judged by Lucia Perillo. He has been
Coordinator of and a Featured Reader at Northern Arizona's Tontozona
Writers' Retreat. He ran a tiny breakfast joint in Juneau, Alaska, worked
the Barolo wine harvest in Italy's Piedmont, drowned his sorrows in
Key West, and designed multiple fixed-price degustation menus for Julia
Roberts's private parties in Taos, New Mexico. He is currently teaching
English at Arizona State University and editing for Hayden's Ferry