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Thread: Auntie's Farly Flailing Tales Encore: "Little Fellas"

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    Auntie's Farly Flailing Tales Encore: "Little Fellas"

    From 2013, a re-posting -- in the spirit of the season, don't cha know.


    Auntie’s Fairly Flailing Tales # 4: Little Fellas



    There isn’t a sorrier sight than a shoemaker down at the heels. It had been so long since he had eaten real food that his stomach could have sued him for neglect. On the eve of St. Patrick’s Day, it was only through divine benevolence (and a paradoxically generous landlady) that he was able to score a good meal.

    Well, it was “good” in the sense that beggars weren’t supposed to be choosers. Mrs. Cadwallader had been so gracious, especially after his hemming and hawing about the rent, that he knew enough not to mention how he’d nearly broke one of his remaining teeth on the entree, an unchewable slab of a strip steak that could have been the first cousin of the uppers he had used to make a pair of wingtips for a smarmy stockbroker, back when business had been better.

    “More dessert , Mr. Levantino?”

    “Yes, please,” he replied, because he was still hungry. Actually, the pastry wasn’t bad: a not-overly-sweet compote of peaches surrounded by a crust almost as flaky as the hostess. “I must say you’ve created quite the taste sensation here, Mrs. C. What’s it called?”

    “Cobbler,” she chirped, and the word made her dinner guest cringe. Like an actress making a entrance, she swept across the room to turn on the lights. Before dramatically closing the drapes, she peeked outside at the street, crowded with revelers, apparently oblivious to the fact that the parade named for the patron saint of Ireland had petered out hours earlier. “They’re still carrying on out there. If it’s anything like last year, and the year before that, they’ll be raising hell ‘til all hours. It’s disgusting.”

    “Couldn’t agree with you more. All that drinking and carousing. Hardly a way to honor the holy man. As a matter of fact, I consider it an insult to my heritage.” Noticing her raised eyebrow, he forced a chuckle, adding “I know what you’re thinking – -why is the ‘o’ at the end of my last name instead of coming at the beginning with an apostrophe? My mother emigrated from County Sligo, and soon after she got over here, she married a flamenco dancer.”

    Mrs. Cadwallader’s eyebrows hopped even higher, and her ears twitched, aroused upon detecting an exotic element in his family history. “Ooh, how fascinating!” As she leaned more closely toward him, her romantic aspiration hiked up a notch, evidently side-stepping his status as a deadbeat, rent-wise, with her rose-colored blinders obscuring the fact he was a washed-up loser. What’s more the landlady had undertaken a dicey risk, possibly making herself vulnerable to heat from the municipal zoning board for flouting the ordinance against allowing a tenant to run a private business (such as it was) in a residential area. Such coddling ventured farther than the limits of thoughtful gestures from a kind person - - she had more designs on Levantino than the garment district slaps on models during Fashion Week.

    With a series of brazen blinks, she showed off her new lashes, on special this week at her favorite drug store. She must be demented, Levantino thought. Or really, really hard-up. As was he, though strictly in a financial sense. For the time being, he thanked his benefactress for the free meal, politely shrugged off her pleas that he stay for a nightcap, and retreated downstairs to his studio apartment to make an earnest attempt to get a night’s sleep.

    Earlier in his life Levantino had possessed the enviable ability to fall asleep, as the expression goes, “as soon as his head would hit the pillow.” Lately, however, the knack of settling down for a serene repose had abandoned him around the same time as the loss of a steady income. As bedtime approached, so would the dread creep into his head, already plagued with the fear and guilt of inadequacy. His soul shrank in the enormous shadow of a menacing world which delighted in making him feel insignificant and small.

    Restless with such nocturnal bugaboos, along with the bumpy second-hand piece of junk pretending to be a bed and bullying his spine, he had only managed to doze off for brief periods, the figurative stack of z’s barely reaching the height of a dwarf’s ankles. ‘Round midnight or so, an intermittent sound, strident as a cop car’s siren and louder than the rowdiness in the street, chased away any remaining hope of sleep. “Oooo-oooo.” The noise originated from the area of the kitchen sink, the site of the apartment’s sole window, left carelessly unlocked and probably a quarter-inch shy of being completely shut.

    “Oooo-oooo.”

    “All right, already! I get the hint.” He no longer needed to brace himself whenever he snapped on the wall switch, for he’d lived in the place long enough to be inured to the habitual diaspora of Blattella germanica scurrying across the cracked linoleum. Instead he was shocked –- shocked!– - when the flickering light fixture revealed the source of the howling. “Ra-ooooul! Rau-ooooul!”

    The cobbler rubbed his eyes, convinced that he might still be sleeping, dreaming, nightmare-ing. The frightening figure hadn’t gone anywhere. “Ra-ooooul! Oh, there you
    are!”

    “Mother?” He’d always loved her, so the reunion should have filled him with filial joy. For the past twenty-three years, however, Raoul had been led to believe that she had blown this mortal coil. So what was she doing, screaming like a banshee in his kitchenette?

    “Ah, me son, ‘tis a sad, sad, t’ing, such a disappointment for yer suff’rin’ mot’er.” She clawed at the bottom of her knitted shawl and raised an end to blot her eyes.” Don’t be t’inking I don’t know what’s goin’ on, me own son carryin’ on with that Welsh woman –“

    “What are you talking about? She’s sixty if she’s a day!“

    “Ra-ooooul!”

    “Stop it, Ma! You’re waking up everybody in the building! You sound like a deranged wolf.”

    “–an’ all the time with nae a penny in yer kit!“

    “Just a temporary lull, Ma, that’s all.”

    She shot him a dirty look as if she could see right through him. (He could see straight
    through her as well.) “Nothin’ but blarney.”

    He sighed in the woe-is-me way that had seldom failed to spark her sympathy when he was twelve. “OK. I admit it: business is bad. No customers. Believe me, it’s not my fault. Maybe you’ve heard about the recession. But the rich folks are still doing well. As a matter of fact, they’re bypassing small retailers such as meself -- er, myself, and going upscale. Super high-end. For the middle class, handmade footwear is a luxury. When they wanna splurge, they go out and pay three hundred dollars for sneakers –“

    That Levantino was boring his own mother into a second death never occurred to him, nor had he ever speculated whether ghosts could yawn. Thus he droned on. “You’d think that the economy would have boosted the cobbling side of the trade, but no. The poor folks buy cheap stuff to begin with. When their shoes wear out, they don’t bother with repairs. They just throw ‘em away and -–“

    “Sure, an’ ye be t’inking I was born yeste’day. Hundreds were the times I warned ye about chainin’ yerself to the wrong field o’ endeavor. Bull-headed is what y’are, just like your fat’er was, Gawd love ‘im and rest his immortal soul.”

    “But, Ma – -everything’s different now. This ain’t the Land of Opportunity anymore. Lots of political careers have been built on blaming poor people for having bad luck. Like it’s a sin or something.” What was he doing, arguing with his mother’s ghost? It was insane.

    She looked down at her left wrist, as if looking at an invisible watch. “ ‘Tis time to go.” She slapped her forehead, but her hand made no impact on the ectoplasm of her face. “Begorra! I’m after forgettin’ what I was s’posed t’ be tellin’ ye now! Expect t’ree sets o’ visitors tonight. Just givin’ ye what t’ey call a ‘heads up,’ me lad. ”

    At that precise moment, the apartment door behind Levantino opened by itself, despite the impediment of the double bolt locks. Instinctively he turned round to look, and when he turned back around, his mother was gone. A haunting echo lingered, but this time it really was the wind.

    As a chill slithered down his vertebral column he trembled, but not completely from the cold. Within moments, the nervousness subsided. So much for a spike in the old adrenalin. He wasn’t certain whether he’d suffered an apparent psychological trauma, but nonetheless felt enervated, or what has been frequently described as “drained.” He stumbled across the room, collapsed upon his futon, and immediately conked out, just as he used to do as a toddler whenever his mother put him to bed with a bottle laced with Robitussin.

    It couldn’t have been much later when he suddenly sat up, with nary a trace of drowsiness. He glanced over at the faintly luminous red numbers on his no-frills alarm clock, mostly accurate (provided he had remembered to turn it an hour ahead the previous weekend.) Theoretically it was 2:00 am EDT. From the kitchen area came a startling clamor: eating utensils from the so-called “silverware” drawer clanging on the floor, cabinet doors opening and slamming shut. “Judas Priest! I’m being robbed!”

    In the few seconds it took him to walk the length of the one-room apartment, Levantino shook his head at the stupidity of thieves ignorant of the reality that he owned nothing worth stealing. “Come on, Pal– -get a clue. I’ve got squat,” he announced as he flicked on the light.

    “Ach!” A prime suspect of the alleged crime in progress jumped into the air.

    The absurd prospect of dialing the 911 operator and reciting the physical description of the apparent perp and his six accomplices made Levantino shudder. Every member of the gang stood scarcely more than a foot tall, with an oddly-hued complexion –-similar to a deep tan shade once popular for men’s sandals, the color that season having been dubbed “bitterroot” or “butternut,” the shoemaker seemed to recall –- now easily discernible on the intruders from head-to-toe, for all seven of them were uncompromisingly naked.

    Seven miniature faces were now glaring at the shoemaker, as if he were the one caught red-handed smack in the middle of a crime-in-progress. The weird little ringleader hopped up on the oilcloth-covered table and said, “Guten Abend, Herr Schuhmacher. Vere iss your Leder?”

    “My what-er? “ Levantino tried to understand, extremely difficult amid the distracting circumstance of his apartment under siege by seven teeny-weeny guys with their full moons starkly shining. Finally: “Oh. You mean leather?”

    “Ja!” The septet of homunculi, like a row of bobble-head figures for sale at the ballpark, nodded in sync.

    The language barrier seemed all but impenetrable, albeit the elfin visitors were more adept
    with the englisch than Levantino who struggled with sprechend und verste’hend the Deutsch. (For the first time in his life he regretted sleeping through every foreign language class in high school.)

    Bit by bit, the bizarre plight of the uninvited guests transpired: earlier that evening a couple of hostile drunkards –- “zwei Trunkenbolde” –- had spit on the time-honored dictum to pick on someone their own size, opting instead to assail the tiny immigrants by mugging them sore and stripping them bare. Battered but undefeated, they dragged themselves to the shoemaker’s apartment. They were operating on the outside chance of setting up a mutually beneficial business arrangement whereby they would with preternatural speed produce X number of pairs of shoes to fit various sizes of human feet, whereas Levantino would reciprocate by providing seven sets of suitable street clothes for twelve-inch-tall men. The Germans were ready to deal.

    “Sounds all well and good,” Levantino remarked. “But the way I see it we got two problems. First off, I don’t have a piece of leather to my name.”

    The crew chief looked stricken. “Nein? Nicht eins?”

    “Not a scrap.”

    “Ach! Vat a pity, Herr Schuhmacher. You see, ve can verk – how you say?– miracles. Giff us chust one piece of Leder und ve can make for you many, many schoos. You haff heard of the loaves and the fisches, ja? But this time ve exchange loafers for breeches.”

    “Which brings us to Problem Number Two: I don’t think I can scare up any clothes for you guys. Even if I had some fabric around, which I certainly don’t – I’m a shoemaker, not a seamstress – how the heck could I make you anything? You know better than I do that this machine here was built for tough thread and stiff material, not for sewing tiny shirts and pants.”

    All seven little mouths drooped with the unenviable thought of braving the frigid wind in the middle of a March night while stark naked. Levantino felt himself moved to pity.

    “I wish I could do something for you, I really do –“ He stopped short, as if struck by the memory of something half-forgotten. “I think there might be - I’m not making any promises, mind you. Don’t get your hopes up, but wait right here.”

    Levantino opened his closet door and started rifling through the cluttered mass, scattering personal belongings behind him, going deep into the recesses until finally emerging with a cardboard box. “This was left here by a previous tenant.” He slammed it on the table and blew off the dust. The contents consisted of numerous miniature garments, doll clothes to be precise. He’d meant to donate them to some charity but kept putting it off. Every once in a while he’d also thought about joining Procrastinators Anonymous, but they’d kept postponing the meeting.

    Not all of the re-discovered clothes were frilly gowns and perky sportswear designed for a so-called “fashion doll.” Thanks to a brainstorm from some anonymous R&D director decades ago, the line of merchandise had featured a male counterpart (sold separately.) Marketed as the doll’s permanent escort, the boy version required a wardrobe of trendy outfits, including plastic shoes like elfin thimbles. Years ago many of them had appeared under the Christmas tree for the little girl who used to live in this apartment, and by a felicitous stroke of fortune, wound up inside a shoemaker’s closet. Ceremoniously, he took out the pieces of little apparel and displayed them, one by one, across his palm. “Here, try ‘em on.”

    Levantino fretted that a proper fit might be an issue; after all, the doll itself was anatomically incorrect whereas the living, breathing little men most assuredly were not. He had absolutely no control of the strange thoughts the odd predicament inspired, such as the faint recollection of a local hotel expanding in order to provide for an extra ballroom. Additionally, the fabric clung in some places and bagged out in others; most of the pant legs had to be rolled up a few centimeters, while the minuscule shirts were snug. The crew chief modeled his selection: a pair of fire engine red, vinyl bell-bottoms girdled with a purple cummerbund and topped by a wide-collared shirt unbuttoned from neck to waist. He looked like a tiny disco dancer.

    The laugh which Levantino tried to suppress came out as a spurts, unsuccessfully disguised as a cough. “I hate to tell you this, Guys, but these rags are hideously out of style. ‘Retro’ to the max.”

    “Ach, ve do not care if ve are fashion plates. Ve chust vant to avoid drawing unnecessary Achtung. But vat about the other end of the bargain? Vas ist das for you?”

    “What? Oh, forget about it. Just get home safely.”

    “Danke schön, Herr Schuhmacher. May Gott repay you a t’ousand times. Gute Nacht.”

    Just after the decently – if not quite presentably - clad visitors departed, their host inadvertently opened the door to a puzzling question: even with the nudity problem literally covered, who wouldn’t notice they were only twelve inches high? It was the kind of unanswerable conundrum that could contribute to insomnia, but the unsettling feeling beginning to tiptoe into Levantino’s skull was an entirely different kind of uneasiness.

    Within seconds, he had to sit down, suddenly stricken with the kind of wooziness such as might be wrought by Max Schmeling returning from the grave expressly to get back into the ring with the overmatched and out-of-shape Levantino. According to the shoemaker’s perversely masochistic reverie, the formidable prizefighter, who had hung on for a full century before he croaked, his pugilistic prowess still rippling through his ghost, thus retaining his ability to deliver the goods, would pummel the flinching opponent against the ropes, whereupon the spirit of James J. Braddock would arrive to assist in the humiliating defeat by delivering the knock-out punch, laying Levantino flat out and temporarily dead to the world.



    After having been down for the count, the shoemaker felt as if he’d never fallen out at all, though “refreshed” wasn’t quite the word to describe his condition, still sluggish and logy, but somehow awake. He squinted at the hazy numbers on the garage sale alarm clock. It was three-ish.

    Once again, an unusual noise emanated from the kitchen area across the room, but it was neither the caterwauling of a ghost nor the clattering of busy little workers. If it were emanating from the superannuated refrigerator, with its familiar repertoire of bubbles, babbles, crackles, and birrs, this was something new: more like a faint whispering sound, a flutter. Additionally, the shoemaker thought he heard a musical undertone – not at all unusual even at this ungodly hour for a multi-unit building in this kind of rundown neighborhood - but instead of a thumping bass beat, it was a melody, softly but earnestly sung. Despite Levantino’s merely casual knowledge of popular music, he could have sworn he was hearing a refrain from an old protest song, as written and performed by an Ochs or a Seeger: “Whose side are you on?”

    Before he flicked on the switch, the shoemaker glanced up at the cracked ceiling, dotted with an eerie luminescence, baby spots of light glowing from a trio of figures alternately flying and hovering like hyperactive lightning bugs above his head. If Levantino hadn’t known any better, he’d have believed that Spring had already arrived; it was only mid-March, yet here was his kitchenette invaded by creatures who looked for all the world like big butterflies.

    How did they get in? And now that they were here, what was he supposed to do with them? Re-open the window to release them into the frigid wind, swat them like flies,
    or capture them in a net? After the bizarre events having bedeviled him that night, Levantino himself was ready for such a net. He felt as if he were prime prey to be scooped up by-- as his sainted ma used to say-- “the men in the little white coats.”

    When the bare bulb on the ceiling sputtered on, the visitors, none-the-least-bit startled, swiftly descended to the level of Levantino’s mug, into which the trio stared in a confrontational manner. It was impossible to put a label on the manikins who could be described only with difficulty: two of them were completely identical, with all three collectively dressed in a kind of casual uniform: a wildly- patterned Hawaiian shirt, a mismatched pair of loosely-fitting shorts dubbed in a previous decade “jams,” and on the tiny feet - which Levantino’s professional habits couldn’t help noticing - sandals woven from hemp, a material which even in this enlightened era still carried a rebellious cachet flirting with illegality (except in a handful of states.)

    “Whose side are you on, Dude?” The apparent leader’s voice sounded normal, not at all squeaky as would be assumed, given his diminutive size; even more surprisingly, he spoke in the casual, laid-back drawl of a southern Californian.

    The shoemaker didn’t know what to make of it all. “I beg your pardon?”

    “What a colossal waste o’ time! Didn’t we tell ya, Danny Boy?” This came from one of the twin subalterns. “Strictly lame-o from the word go.”


    Clawing through his still-voluminous, still jet-black shock, Levantino didn’t bother looking backward to sit down, his backside narrowly hitting its target in the process. By now the three wingéd homunculi perched comfortably on the edge of the scratched-and-dented folding card table which constituted half of a downscale dinette set. Levantino held his chin under the elbows, whose slight movement caused the flimsy piece of furniture to shift. “Who are you,” he demanded, “and what do you want from me?”

    The leader stretched his shrimpy height upward as if to maximize his presence. “Unbelievable! The dude doesn’t know the mighty Tuatha de Danann when he sees us. What were ya, Dude, born in a box?”

    “The twahtha de what-an?”

    “You can call me Danny for the moment.” He jerked a teeny-weeny thumb over to his two identical companions. “My bros here are Crispin and Crispian.”

    Looking at one and then the other, Levantino could swear he was seeing double. “How in the world do you tell them apart?”

    “Duh!” Danny quipped, shaking his head at such invincible ignorance. “Isn’t it obvious? By their names.”

    As if on cue, the two twins snapped to attention, and from out of nowhere tiny objects materialized in their hands. It took a while to identify what appeared to be toothpicks attached to matchbooks, with nearly microscopic lettering on the backs -- tiny protest signs. Although nearsighted, Levantino couldn’t make out their message. That the glasses he used for distance remained out of reach on the orange crate end table was moot: they wouldn’t have been any help, nor would a magnifying glass as thick as the Mt. Palomar lens. Craning his neck closer to Crispin (or Crispian), the shoemaker squinted. Immediately the sprite darted up into a dark corner of the ceiling.

    “OMG, Dude!” the tiny creature wailed. “One word: mouthwash. Look into it.”
    From his cobweb-cluttered perch, he threw down the tiny object, which floated straight down to the table. Holding the miniature sign a mere lash away from his eyeball, Levantino barely made out the slogan: “Cows: Not to eat and not for feet!”

    The sign-holder’s lookalike translated. “Go vegan! Don’t wear leather!”

    “That’s a complete one-eighty for us,” Danny elaborated. “Centuries ago we were cattle-traders - until we saw the red light and made the switcheroo to green.”

    “Well, that’s very admirable of you guys.” Levantino was well aware that his comment was patronizing, but it was too late. “But what’s it got to do with me–-“

    The creature called Danny glared at him. “Really? What are ya, some kind of prehistoric Firbolg?”

    “I’m just a shoemaker –“

    In an instant all three touched their tiny noses with a tinier index finger. “Bingo!”

    “I make shoes, so what? Is that such a crime?”


    “If you make ‘em with leather, it is,” Danny explained. “It’s murder.”

    Levantino’s hands went up in the air, and his eyes appealed to heaven. “I’m a shoemaker!”

    “Totally,” Danny agreed. “Like the lame chef who serves rawhide or the bogus pipe-fitter who trashes a basement: the label says it all.” At that, the twin underlings nodded in synchrony. “Why don’t you call yourself a ‘cordwainer’? Maybe people would respect you.”

    “What am I supposed to use? Wood? Cloth?” Or--” he spat out the word “plastic” like an obscenity.

    “You didn’t say canvas. Scout around, Dude! There are tons of stuff you can use instead of sacrificing innocent creatures. Just be aware of what you’re doing. I’m just sayin’. ” Parting his index and middle fingers like scissors blades, Danny pointed to his own eyes and then at Levantino.

    “If that don’t beat all, getting lectured by a bunch of f–“

    “Don’t go there!” the trio yelled in unison.

    Levantino looked in all directions, as if a clue were available within the crummy confines of his kitchenette.“What?”

    “The ‘f-word,’ that’s what, you unenlightened Fomor!” Righteous indignation started to cook on the leader’s little sun-baked pan with its cheeks like two tiny red potatoes, framing a baby carrot-shaped nose that terminated with a slightly-upward tilt toward a pair of tiny strawberry blond brows. “The stereotypical term blatantly smeared on the spines of tomes forced upon little kids. The disgusting slur perpetuated by that Andrew Lang person continuing the damage already done by those clueless brothers with their märchen. ‘Grimm’ is right!”

    Danny wasn’t the only one working on a slow burn; Levantino was doing a little fuming of his own. ‘Unenlightened,’ huh? He’d show the little pipsqueak. The shoemaker cleared his throat as if he were an emcee about to deliver an Important Announcement. “Speaking of fair–, er folktales, did you know that Cinderella’s slippers were mistranslated? They were actually made of fur.”

    “No fur!” Danny shook his head-- rapidly for emphasis. “Glass–-now, that’s an option for you, Dude.”

    The shoemaker conjured up visions of himself shaping wingtips and loafers out of such a fragile and friable material, how the slivers would fly off the lathe and into his eyes or inject themselves into the defenseless skin of his arms and delicate artisan’s hands. Not to mention any potential customers who’d don pairs of such “unusual” and “trend-setting” frangible footwear without a thought of the sluggish escalator step, the jagged piece of metal on the sidewalk, the inadvisability of putting one’s foot down too vehemently, inevitably followed by the iron-clad litigation initiated by ambitious attorneys having the defendant by the hypothetical balls - that is, the accusatory balls of several bloody feet, photographed and submitted as Exhibit A.

    They’d gotten inside Levantino’s head, these three little twerps, infecting him with magical thinking. Oh, he needed magic all right, but not this kind. For a few moments, he began brainstorming in an attempt to tap into the trio’s supposedly supernatural powers. Maybe
    he could catch the sprites off-guard, get them as mad as Rumplestilzchen so they’d spill their secrets.

    But it seemed that Danny was already way ahead of him. “Not pretty are they, Bro, those gruesome images? You can never justify inflicting pain and just because it’s inadvertent is no excuse. Maybe next time you’ll remember.”

    The shoemaker threw his hands up in the air.“Ok, ok. I hear you. At least about exploiting animals for my humble trade. What I can’t understand, though, is why you’re so touchy about the ‘f-word.’ I mean, it’s not like I’m calling you –“ pausing to come up with an inoffensively appropriate term -- “Oscar Wilde’s spiritual brothers.”

    “What makes you think we mind the association? All of us are brothers, Dude. If the ‘f-word’ hurts them, it hurts us.”

    “But what if I use it in – whatd’yacallit – context? It’s just like the word “queen.” I mean, if I’m talking about the one in England, everybody knows I don’t mean -“ Levantino sensed the hole that he’d inadvertently dug for himself growing exponentially deeper. “Aw, damn it! Don’t get me wrong - I have the deepest respect for those guys. They were my best customers, back when business was still good.”

    Dismissing this with a way of his arm, Danny’s eyes sharply glinted. “Yeah, right, some of your best friends. You’re un-blooping-believable. “ All three sprites snickered as they rolled their eyes and shook their little heads.

    “No, really!” Levantino argued. “I’m all for equal rights for everybody. For them. For you. Even marriage--”

    Danny’s face scrunched up as if some putrid odor had suddenly contaminated the entire building. “Marriage? What’re ya talking about? We’re Irish!”

    In the tiny spots of the kitchenette where the creatures hovered above him, three puffs of iridescent powder instantly appeared in the air, spontaneously accompanied by a sound like an electronic device suddenly switching off-- poof! Levantino had hardly noticed their swift departure when a rapid onset of fatigue buckled his knees and knocked him to the grimy linoleum. It was if somebody had slipped him a mickey.


    An hour or two later Levantino woke up amid the gray light which, thanks to Daylight Savings Time, signaled the slightly-premature dawn. In the background he heard a musical number just loud enough to thwart a final round of sleep. This time the selection was an instrumental performed by a traditional Celtic combo of harp, flute, and whistle executing the ditty while not completely observing the rhythm provided by the intermittent pounding of a bodhran. (Pipes were conspicuously and fortunately absent, contrary to their ubiquitous presence at the contemporary funerals of stiffs whose once lively selves had carried an exiguous trace of Irish blood. Although the predominant half of his family tree legitimately stemmed from Gaelic ancestry, Levantino nevertheless vowed if that should anyone blow a single note of a bagpipe at his own send-off, he’d come back to haunt every last mourner till Kingdom Come. Such was the depth of his loathing for the wheezing and panting of the quaint wind instrument: a hatred which made the nearly-universal disdain for the accordion seem like a quirky item on a “What’s In/What’s Out” list.)

    Still, the band made a heroic attempt to stay together through the off-kilter strains; thus, from Levantino’s point-of-view – now that the prospect of going back to sleep had vanished - it was tolerable. The specific melody struck Levantino as vaguely familiar, though he could neither identify the song or a single word of the lyrics, which of course drove him crazy.

    The pull of habit yanked him off the imitation bed and pushed him toward the kitchenette where with any luck he might be able to scrounge up a serviceable if vile-tasting morning beverage from vestigial crumbs on the bottom of a instant coffee jar or a dusty tea bag. In the time it took to slip on his scruffy loafers and to take the few staggering steps across the apartment to the kitchen area he became aware that another strange noise had begun to accompany the tinny music: a staccato sound of rapid and regular tapping. In the pale twilight the shoemaker’s determined squint revealed a squatty shape atop his rickety table. Whatever it was, it was moving its legs up and down as if dancing a jig.

    “Oh, good Lord, what now - a pooka?”

    When the shoemaker spoke, the visitor did not seem at all startled, but one of his silver-buckled brogans stomped down, stopping the impromptu dance short. The performer was a fubsy guy, most of whose height could be measured with a yardstick, for he couldn’t have been taller than what the Europeans call a “meter.” Yet for a short guy, he dressed nattily in a three-piece suit- every stitch a bright green. A mere twitch of his eyebrows popped off his top hat, adorned with a buckle matching the ones on his shoes, and with the pizzazz of razzle-dazzle showmanship, he comically coaxed the lid to scamper like an animated character down his sleeve to be caught between two of his nimble fingers, immediately followed by a theatrical bow. His thin lips cushioned by a fluffy reddish-orange beard curved upward in an impish grin as he introduced himself “Eamonn O’Flattery, at yer service.” The voice was a caricature of a brogue, with echoes of Barry Fitzgerald and the spokes-leprechaun in the Lucky Charms commercial, along with a diphthong or two direct from Flatbush. “Now, is that gum on yer shoe, or are ye just glad ta see me?” He waited a moment or so before adding, “Well, aren’t cha goin’ ta look?”

    “I’ll take your word for it.” Levantino hooked his ankle around one of the legs of the flimsy chair and pulled it away from the table; then, using his hands to determine his bearings, he managed to sit down safely, all the while keeping his gaze upon the little visitor, from whom he never averted his eyes, not even for an instant.

    Eamonn shook a pudgy index finger at him. “ ‘Tis not polite to stare, me boy-o.”

    “Ha! You’d have to get prrreeetty early in the morning to put one over on the likes of me, little man! What time is it anyway?”

    “Aw, begorra! Forgot me watch. Why don’t cha check your wee radio clock over there?”

    Levantino shook his head. “I’m not taking my eyes off you. At least not till you give me your pot o’ gold.”

    “Me what?” The little man slapped his hands on his hips, tossed his head backward, and roared. “Use stereotypes much?”

    “Look who’s talkin’! You look like a cheap souvenir from last night’s parade!” Levantino was short of breath, panting, though he was less in need of an inhaler than a good cup of joe. “What am I doing?” he asked. “You’re just a hallucination. Just a bad reaction to whatever poison that biddy fed me last night. Maybe she spiked the cobbler with Spanish fly or whatdycallit. Viagra. ”

    “Tsk-tsk. Let’s be civil, me lad.” If Eamonn’s message was a reprimand, it was delivered in soft, muted tones. “Would it be killin’ ya to be nice to the dear old soul now? But look at yerself, sittin’ around all sorry for yerself likea little Aschenputtel. You had a company comin’ and goin’ all night long, ye did, and what have ye learn’d from ‘em? Not a blesséd t’ing.”

    “That’s not true. The fairies-- I mean those height-challenged sprites-- taught me about compassion.” Levantino argued, his steely gaze upon the little man still unwavering.” And I scared up some duds for that pack o’ elves–-doesn’t that make me ‘resourceful’? And ‘charitable’ to boot!”

    “You were just tryin’ to be rid of ‘em, like they were Jehovah’s witnesses on your doorstep.”

    “Well, I’m not trying to get rid of you!”

    Eamonn rolled his eyes and sighed. “If it’s the pot o’gold yer after, fuhgeddaboutit. Lost it all in Ought Eight when Bear Stearns went belly-up. Ye hear me, boy-o? There’s no pot o’ gold. Now, would ya kindly cast yer eyes away so I can at last take me leave?”

    “No dice.”

    “Couldn’t cha at least be thinking it over, me lad?” Eamonn sighed. “All right. Tell ye what I’m gonna do for ye, as a professional courtesy, shoemaker-to-shoemaker. I know this fella– -he designs footwear. For the ladies, don’t cha know. Those pumps with the big chunky toe-boxes and the heels like giant railroad spikes. He lines the outside soles in red satin and puts his initials on ‘em, so they can be seen every time the lassies kneel, though not, I daresay, so often in front of the Communion rail –-“

    Levantino’s eyes grew wide, though he continued to stare. “You mean, I can emboss those
    pricey shoes with my own initials? An ‘R’ on one and an ‘L’ on the other!”

    “Don’t be ridiculous, me lad. ‘Tis unlikely you’ll be startin’ at the top. Besides, the ‘R’ would be on the left foot and the ‘L’ on the right, which would confuse the bejeezus out of those poor lassies, don’t cha know. Anyhow, the guy owes me a favor.” Eamonn snapped his fingers magician-style. “Here’s his card.”

    The business card felt bumpy, as if it had raised lettering. As a matter of fact, Levantino’s thumb felt a gritty sensation on the surface, as if it had been covered with glitter.

    “Well? Aren’t cha gonna read it?”

    “I’ll look at it later,” Levantino replied, as he continued to stare.

    Eamonn stared back. Suddenly he jumped his entire height into the air. “Jaysus!” he shrieked, quickly adding, “By the saints in heaven! The biggest cockroach in creation –-“
    swiftly pointing to the floor– “there!”

    Levantino leapt out of his chair, turned to look, and instantly turned back. There was no giant cockroach in sight; no Eamonn either.

    He made a fist and pounded it on the table, which shivered and shook. The business card
    bounced up into the air and sailed around the kitchenette before floating down in front of the door. When Levantino bent down to pick it up, it scooted itself under the door out into the hall. Grabbing his threadbare parka, he followed the card down the stairs, outside the building.

    The sun had risen, but had yet to show its face, kept hidden behind the clouds. It wasn’t raining, but for a barely-detectable mist, and the air seemed to be warming up by the minute. The streets, however, remained covered with a thin coating of snow which gently covered the debris from the parade of the previous day. Here and there a scrap of glittering green foil - the remnants of a hat, a pinwheel, or a party horn - would peek out from beneath the whiteness, or a partially deflated balloon would flap around the lamppost its strings had gotten tangled on. Empty beer cans and bottles littered the sidewalks, the curbs, and the gutters along with clear plastic cups, some of which still held amber-colored dregs or a similar liquid dyed green. None of the leftover litter impeded the route of the enchanted card, which seemed to have a destination in mind.

    Levantino felt like a damned fool, but something compelled him to follow. A brief breeze lifted the business card and plopped it atop a stack of Sunday newspapers waiting outside the front door of a bodega, still an hour or two away from opening up. When the shoemaker went to grab the card, a second gust blew the card away and scattered the sections of the newspaper on top of the pile. The papers fluttered around him like wings from demented birds, and one of the pages stuck to Levantino’s shoe, where -- what do you know–- a stubborn wad of gum had been stuck.

    It took considerable effort to separate the piece of newspaper from his sole. The majority of the page ended up in shreds, except for one salvageable piece, from the employment section. Just out of curiosity, Levantino gave it a look-see. “Purchasing Agent,” the ad stated. “Experienced person to manage, supervise, and lead the large-scale purchasing and possible custom-manufacture of sneakers and athletic footwear for the youth in the county’s orphanages and disadvantaged students in its school district. Must be self-starting, resourceful, compassionate, and imaginative. Apply in person at the County Office Building, Monday after 9 am.”

    At that moment, the earworm which Eamonn had planted in Levantino’s head, the loop that had been playing all morning long to the point of madness, returned, with its lyrics fully restored: “Oh, I got shoes, you got shoes, all God’s children got shoes. . .” He hummed the tune happily on the walk back to his apartment, and, as he crossed the street in front of his building, stepped over a puddle. Its oily surface glistened with a tiny rainbow.

  2. #2
    Registered User DATo's Avatar
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    I like the style in which you wrote this. Some of the background narrative reminded me of William Sydney Porter. I also very much appreciated the inclusion of dialect. I know from experience that this can be very hard to pull off well, but I think you nailed the Irish mother's brogue to a tee. I loved reading that.

    A nice effort which is certainly befitting the season but I would maybe have left out the seven Dutch dwarves and the three PC guys and found a way to keep it entirely Irish. A trifling criticism to be sure. Beyond that it was a very entertaining read and I thank you for sharing.

  3. #3
    On the road, but not! Danik 2016's Avatar
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    I loved this narrative, particularly it´s humour as it´s imaginative situation. It goes to my preferred ones together with the one of the lady preparing the Thanksgiving turkey while the kitchen was being destroyed and the one about the couple that collected pet bottles to survive.
    Like Dato I also enjoyed the inclusion of the different dialects and ways of speaking, but no (sorry, Dato) I wouldn´t take out the seven dwarves on any account. The Brothers Grimm are all over the place.Thedwarves are absolutely hilarious.
    Just one suggestion about their German:“Nein? Nicht eins?”="Nein? Kein Einziges?"
    "You can always find something better than death."
    Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, The Bremen Town Musicians

  4. #4
    Registered User DATo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Danik 2016 View Post
    I loved this narrative, particularly it´s humour as it´s imaginative situation. It goes to my preferred ones together with the one of the lady preparing the Thanksgiving turkey while the kitchen was being destroyed and the one about the couple that collected pet bottles to survive.
    Like Dato I also enjoyed the inclusion of the different dialects and ways of speaking, but no (sorry, Dato) I wouldn´t take out the seven dwarves on any account. The Brothers Grimm are all over the place.Thedwarves are absolutely hilarious.
    Just one suggestion about their German:“Nein? Nicht eins?”="Nein? Kein Einziges?"
    Oh, I totally agree with you regarding the way the dwarves were written, very funny and well-written indeed. I just have a problem reconciling German dwarves with St. Patrick's Day but once again I thoroughly enjoyed the excellent use of dialect in that instance as well.

  5. #5
    On the road, but not! Danik 2016's Avatar
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    Actually I don´t know the real meaning of St. Patrick's Day which, I notice, is a very important holiday in US, especially for the Irish and their descendants. I have to look better into it.
    However, the fun of this story, and of others of these I think, is this playfully jumbling of narratives, dialects and references.
    "You can always find something better than death."
    Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, The Bremen Town Musicians

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