Life at the HOUSE of JOES - or - When it Comes to In-laws, Sometimes Divorce is the Only Way Out - 16
It was our first night back at my cousin Cyril’s in Florence, and he and Nicoletta had gathered all the neighborhood characters at the house to celebrate our arrival. There was Nino and about five of this thirteen wolfhounds; Salvatore, who kept his herd of sheep on the property, and an elderly Romanian gypsy woman, Cignetta, whom everyone called Ziggy.
Ziggy was a fortune-teller. Cyril told us that she had offered to tell Joey and me our fortunes as a welcome-back gift. Joey and I were so excited to be back in Italy that we were up for just about anything, and so that night Ziggy brought along all her fortune-telling paraphernalia – candles, cards, incense – the works.
The party, which had started in mid-afternoon, was still in full swing as the sun went down, and gave every indication that it would continue well into the night. Torches and small fires were lit for warmth and light. Several of Cyril’s friends had brought guitars, and they were playing them vigorously. A light breeze was blowing from the South, and you could hear the crickets (i grilli) chirping, owls hooting, and dogs barking against a backdrop of music, laughing and the crackling of the fires.
Cignetta had arranged her cards and candles on top of a flat tree stump and herself on an old rusted folding chair. Shuffling her cards, she called out to us, “Giuseppe è Keety, vieni, vieni qui!” I took Joey’s hand and we walked over to the tree stump, each of us picking up a folding chair along the way.
I could tell that for Joey, this was a lark. He didn’t believe in psychics or fortunetellers. I held the opposite view. Too many times I had received what I interpreted as “messages.” Not extraterrestrials or communication with spirits – I believe that while we are living and even while we are transitioning from life to death that we human beings can share a kind of “energy.”
The day my mother had been murdered, Joey and I had been in Venice with Nicoletta, visiting her aunt. It was early evening, and we were walking around the city along the canals. There was a street fair, with market stalls, games, street performers and musicians. Suddenly I became aware of a dancer on stilts who was dancing very close to me. His face was painted a chalky white, and he wore a long, red, floor-length hooded robe that completely covered his wooden stilts. The dancer was lurching backwards and forwards, jerking his arms about while a small bearded man accompanied his movements on the accordion.
I looked up at the dancer. He was staring directly at me. The stark white makeup made his eyeballs look almost gray, and they had a yellow cast around the corners. I tried to break his gaze but somehow could not. As we stared at each other he started to edge closer and closer to me. I reached over and grabbed Nicoletta’s arm a little too hard because she squealed, “Ahia!” and I released my hold. It was just at that moment that the white-faced dancer loped off.
I suddenly felt a wave of nausea go through my whole body as I continued walking through the street fair. Joey and Nicoletta were walking just in front of me and chatting away without a care in the world. I decided I would soldier on, in spite of my queasiness and walked over to a booth across the way that was selling small souvenirs. I wanted to take my mind off what had just happened.
For some reason, I felt compelled to buy each of my family members a little gift. This was very odd - simply because I was not planning on seeing my family. In fact, Joey and I had only been in Italy for one month, and were starting to get settled and planned to stay. I bought a sailboat tile, a ladies fan, some tea towels, an Italian cookbook, and some other trinkets. I watched as the vendor wrapped each little item in colorful tissue paper and placed it in a bag.
Ziggy’s throaty cough startled me back to the present moment. She was ready to begin the reading. Although I assumed that Joey’s questions would most likely be about the stock market and world peace - nothing at all personal, I asked him anyway,
“What do you want to know?” I knew I would have to translate.
“How about: Will there ever be a World War Three?”
I frowned and rolled my eyes. “Right.” I turned to Ziggy and asked, “Ci sarà mai una terza guerra mondiale?”
Ziggy was still shuffling her cards and did not look up. “No, i non lo vedono.” I could tell that she was focusing on bigger stuff. I passed along Ziggy’s response to Joey. “That was quick,” he chuckled, getting up from his chair. “She must get that question all the time.” He looked at me, shrugged, and then turned away. I watched him as he walked back to the party. One of Cyril’s friends had picked up a third guitar and now some of revelers were singing along.
I was relieved. Now I could ask Ziggy what was really on my mind. There were so many things – questions about my my mother’s case, about my career, but there was something in the front of my mind that I had been fixating on.
“Is Joey…” I could feel my face getting hot. I cleared my throat. “Is Joey going to die?”
Ziggy stopped shuffling the cards and put them down in a stack on the table. She leaned forward and took my hands in hers, gripping them hard. Looking straight into my eyes, what she said to me was clear and direct.
“No, bella, lui non morrà. Non c'è morte circa lui. Ma un giorno o l'altro Lei desidererà che lui era.”
“No, lovely girl, he is not going to die. There is no death around him. But one day you will wish he had.”
Ziggy let go of my hands, picked up the deck of cards and began to shuffle them again.
“Quindi, mia bella, ha un'altra domanda?”
I was still thinking about what she had already said.
“No… no more questions right now, Ziggy. Grazie.”
What could she possibly mean? As far as I was concerned, the worst thing that could happen is that Joey would die. My Italian was far from perfect – perhaps I had misunderstood what she said. I repeated it in my head over and over again. What could possibly make me wish that Joey had died?
As I walked back towards the music and the firelight, I saw Cyril lift his glass as he leaned over Gino the guitarist’s shoulder. They were singing an old Italian song and it was obvious that Cyril did not know all the lyrics. That did not seem to have any impact on his enthusiasm, however – he just filled in the gaps with a loud la-la-la. The two boys, Nicky and Bob, were snuggled up together under a large quilt, sleeping through the ruckus. Baby Giovanna was fast asleep as well, tucked into a huge basket next to her brothers. Joey and Nicoletta were sitting together on a bench near a cypress tree, deep in conversation.
Suddenly I felt utterly and unbearably alone.