Copyright (c) 2017 by Randall R. Peterson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This is a work of fiction. All persons, locations and actions are from the author's imagination or have been used in a fictitious manner.
By R. Peterson
The gilded Ambrosius Lamm porcelain plate looked at least a hundred years old as it slipped from the teen’s soapy hand and shattered on the kitchen floor. “I’m so sorry,” Allison moaned as she ran sudsy fingers through her hair and turned toward the old lady seated in the living room. What a horrible thing to do her first day on the job!
“What’s wrong?” Melania Descombey asked as she motioned for the young girl she had hired as a help mate to come to her.
“I just can’t seem to do anything right!” Allison said as she wiped her hands with a towel and then stepped over the ebony Tom-cat, Melania had introduced as Simon. The affectionate feline was rubbing itself against her leg as she walked away from the sink filled with dirty dishes. Her normally bright-blue eyes were beginning to overflow with a flood of emotion.
“That plates, along with others, were purchased by my mother in 1890 … I believe they were made in Germany,” Melania looked thoughtful as if staring through more than a century of years.
“I’m so sorry,” Allison said again as she approached the old woman who had been so kind to her. “How can I ever replace something that old … and that valuable?” she added. Hopeless tears were now running down her cheeks.
“You can’t … at least not yet!” Melania smiled. “I’ve had those dishes forever,” With a wave of her hand, bits of Inchyra-blue broken porcelain flew across the Carrara Sallow-Marble floor and joined, forming a tiny whirlwind that resembled a spinning wagon wheel. The black cat leaped into the air with an arched screech and then zoomed rocket-like from the room. Seconds later, a flawless plate clattered as it spun and rocked to a stop on the expensive stonework. “This isn’t the first time they’ve been broken!”
Allison unconsciously fingered the amulet that she had found in the ashes of Melania’s burnt mansion. The house had miraculously rebuilt itself the next day but the old woman had forbidden Allison to use the charm, without her permission, after a rude classmate, Marsha Hicks, had been slightly injured in an automobile accident.
Melania was seated in an antique armchair, beside a Tiffany pole-lamp and under a soft-hued Charles Marion Russell painting of running buffalo. With the shifting of light in the room the painted bison sometimes appeared to be breathing and floating ghostlike above the western plains.
The old woman held out her arms and a still weeping and slightly giggling Allison staggered into them. “I didn’t know Simon could move that fast,” she sputtered.
“I wasn’t worried about the plate just about you,” Melania laughed with her as she hugged the girl. “What’s wrong?”
“It’s the start of my junior year and I still haven’t had a date,” Allison told her after a moment of embarrassment thinking about going roller skating with Ted Johnson and his sister. “Not a real one.”
Her voice took on a note of desperation. “I’m taking drama this year and I got cast as the teenage nymphomaniac Rachel in Back Off Boys. Miss. Wolf said I couldn’t back-out if I wanted to keep my grade. There are plenty of scenes where I have to kiss boys and first rehearsals are tomorrow… it’s just Vern Hicks this time and he has enough acne galloping across his face to start his own pimple-ranch! But what if the school’s biggest nerd thinks I’m awful and tells other people? I don’t know enough about kissing to know whether I’m sucking face or trying to steal someone’s gum!” Allison was making jokes, but she looked like she was ready to start crying again.
“Boys-is it?” Melania smiled. “That is trouble!”
Allison held onto Melania’s arm as they walked into a large library. Twelve foot high bookcases filled the room except for a long table in the center. Most of the volumes looked hundreds of year’s old, hand-bound and were covered in burnished leather.
The old woman pointed to a small book on a high shelf and blew dust off an even older wooden cover, gilded with copper, when Allison handed it to her. “La Magia di Baci... E Come Usarlo … a Juliana Hiker,” Melania read the title and then translated. “The Magic of Kissing and How to Use It.”
She opened the fragile book and a light seemed to come on in her eyes. “This was written in Italian by a close female friend of Masuccio Salernitano’s grandfather in the fourteenth century. Some say that they were lovers and that Shakespeare borrowed ideas for Romeo and Juliet from this work and later ones … but who knows?”
She handed the book back to Allison. I believe you are taking Italian as your foreign language credit this semester. Read to me and I’ll translate, my eyes aren’t what they used to be even with glasses … that way we can kill two birds with one stone …” She added almost as an afterthought a grin spreading across her wrinkled lips. “Or if they’re love-birds … at least see them successfully mated!”
Melania and Allison sat next to each other at the big center table. Allison was aware of the cat portraits that adorned the walls between the bookcases. Almost all the feline paintings seemed to be staring at her. “You really like cats don’t you?”
“I’ve befriended more than a hundred in my lifetime,” Melania said. “They can be more exhausting than children and always underfoot.”
“Then why keep them around?” Allison said. “Is it for the company … or do you have other reasons?”
Melania closed her eyes as if thinking. “I know their language but we don’t converse that much anymore. Their stories, like me, have grown old and are mostly used up. I keep them now for the mice. Rodents can steal magic and hide it the smallest of holes. A good cat can catch things before they happen.”
“How can a mouse steal magic?” Allison’s eyes glowed with interest.
“There is magic in everything,” Melania said. “A dropped thimble, a bent spoon covering a fork, a curtain moving when a window is closed. All things have reason and purpose; the unusual and odd … even more so. That which is unseen does much more than what we see.”
There was a long silence while Allison tried to understand what the old woman had told her.
“Start your reading on chapter two,” Melania said as Allison opened the book. “The first fifty-eight pages are false praise meant to appease the Roman Catholic Church and especially Baldassarre Cossa known as Pope John The Twenty-third - now listed in church records as one of the anti-popes. Those were hard times and already people were beginning to believe that Juliana Hiker was a witch. Although shy and soft-spoken, her written words had a compelling otherworldly power that had no base in Holy Scriptures. She succumbed to a forbidden love and didn’t relish the idea of being burned at the stake in the name of a benevolent and merciful god.”
Allison sorted through the brittle pages and then cleared her throat before she began. "Nessun bacio è da prendere alla leggera per esso è la chiave che apre la porta alla creazione".
“No kiss is to be taken lightly … for it is the key that opens the door to creation.” Melania repeated the words in English.
“Why would a kiss be like a key?” Allison asked her.
“The mouth is like an entrance to something warm and wonderful and the throat is a hallway,” Melania said. “The lips are like a closed door and a kiss can make them open. Inside every living thing lives the irresistible urge to procreate.”
Allison blushed. “I knew this was going to be about sex when you read the title,” she said.
“There is more than one door to desire.” Melania laughed. “But let’s put our thoughts on the main entrance.”
Allison was still smiling when she read the next paragraph. "Avvicinarsi lentamente la bocca e assicurarsi che le labbra si incastrano... consentire un battito cardiaco di indugiare …facendo una perfetta tenuta."
Melania closed her eyes as she translated. “Approach the mouth slowly and make sure the lips fit together … allow a heartbeat’s linger … making a perfect seal.”
“Why is it so important that they fit?” Thinking about kissing was making Allison lick her own lips.
“Love has always been an unfinished puzzle. People are always looking for that missing piece. When they find the one that fits they feel a sense of joy and release that their search is over. But love must never be rushed … anticipation stores a kind of chemical energy that passion needs to ignite.”
“You talk as if love were a fire!”
“The desire that two people feel for each often burns hotter than any wood,” Melania told her.
Melania reached into a pocket and handed Allison a thimble sized metal container. “For your kiss tomorrow,” she said. “Juliana Hiker used a mixture of melassa secca e vaniglia powdered in a pedestal to lure her army of suitors before she found the one that truly fit, but I believe this will suffice for you needs.”
Allison laughed when she read the label on the tin. “Lalicious Brown Sugar Vanilla Lip Butter. Am I kissing a boy or baking cookies?”
“The right fragrance can open lips and a kiss involves all the senses,” Melania told her. “Touch and taste are but two … many things create magic when mixed properly. These two spices have been considered aphrodisiacal for thousands of years. We’ll go a little deeper into this tomorrow!” She gave the girl a wink. “After you finish vacuuming the upstairs carpets.”
Allison felt better when she left the mansion on the corner of Main Street and Galbraith and headed home. It was beginning to snow. Large flakes fluttered to the ground like dancers in a winter ballet and she thought she was beginning to understand Melania when the old woman had said there is magic in everything.
Mrs. Shanna Wolf’s drama class was the last one after lunch and Allison was so nervous she couldn’t eat. “How does she do it?” Vicky Jenkins forked her green eyes at Chloe O’Brian as Cloverdale High School’s most popular girl sat at a table on the other side of the cafeteria with Greg Johnson the captain of the football team and her cheerleader friends. She blabbered between bites of a tuna on rye sandwich. “Greg is a gift to women and everything that rich bitch wears makes her look thinner.” She looked down at herself in disgust. “No time to flirt with dreamy boys for me. I have to drive the herd of reindeer on this ugly Christmas sweater into the bottom of the south pasture to cover-up my mother’s two-car-garage butt.” Vicky stuffed the rest of the sandwich in her mouth and moaned. “What would it be like to be her … for just a day?”
“Long sculpted legs that go all the way up to her neck, breasts that could make astronauts abort a moon landing, a panther that sleeps in your room and a smile like Shea Stadium lights at an Eagles concert aren’t everything,” Allison mused sipping a Coke and unconsciously touching the amulet around her neck. If her friend only knew about the magic that Melania had forbidden her to use again … she had literally walked in Chloe O’Brian’s shoes for a day and night. “But if I ever find out what’s missing … I’ll let you know.”
Vern Hicks had also been caught in the head cheerleader’s traction beam and he tripped, spilling a tray loaded with food as he passed by their table. “Watch what you’re doing you moron!” A furious Vicky jumped up wiping spaghetti sauce off her pasture-green Just My Size stretch pants. Vern was on his hands and knees, scrambling to catch rolling and bouncing peas and scrape the spilled food back onto a broken-tray. “Gee I’m sorry Jenky,” he blubbered, then noticed Allison and began to strut. “I’m looking forward to our first rehearsal … Rachel.” Vern grinned showing a large chunk of hamburger and basil caught in his crooked teeth. It looked like it had been there for at least a day. Allison pretended to be absorbed in her food for what seemed like hours until he finally lurched away. “I don’t need rehearsals; what I need is a gas mask,” she moaned to her now smirking friend.
The stage at the front of the auditorium was crowded, thankfully Vicky had a study hour and came along to watch and lend her support. Allison was struggling to keep nerves from metamorphosing into terror. Mrs. Wolf was having members of the football team carry in painted set panels and other heavy props. Marsha Hicks hung on a curtain smiling like an exotic dancer, chewing on a script cover and showing off her legs as the jocks marched past. As an understudy for the part of Rachel, Marsha was obviously delighted at Allison’s distress … too bad her own dorky cousin had the male lead.
“I don’t expect you to have all the lines memorized,” Miss. Wolf said. “But you can read from the scripts and go through the actions.” Allison moved to the masking taped X on the floor with her name on it and the number one. Vern Hicks took his place and she noticed he was chewing gum … she wondered if she’d be able to snag it.
“I’ve been looking everywhere for you,” Vern read. His voice had the nasal quality of snot dripping into a bedpan.
“So you came here looking for me … in the girl’s dressing room?” Allison was trying to get into character, but finding it extremely difficult. “Did you expect to find me naked?”
“Cut!” Miss Wolf yelled. Allison tried to choke back a laugh; there was no film but Miss. Wolf obviously fancied herself as a future Hollywood director. “We’re going to have to change some lines,” she said taking a red marker from the top pocket of her French painter’s smock.
“I’m not sure the royalty fees the school paid for allow for any kind of script change,” Miss Wolf’s assistant told her.
“Nonsense,” Miss Wolf thundered. “Wallace Bates is a hack writer at best … a draining boil on the proud face of theatrical literature. He just happens to be the vice principal’s brother-in-law and he should count himself lucky he gets the forty-dollar a night production fee he charges for this three-act trash liner … besides the one dollar and seventy-five cents the plagiarizing embolicant extorts for each script.”
An aggressive teacher with seven-year tenure, Miss Wolf swept the now quiet stage clean of litter and dissention with a scowl and a burning pair of thick glasses before she went on. “I want you to substitute the words a la nude for the word naked. We’ll have plenty of parents here on opening night and I want them to see our production as artistic and culturally refined … not some vulgar stage exhibition.”
Several people laughed and Allison turned her head and pinched herself. Vicky Jenkins voice was a whisper from backstage, but easily carried to the ninth row of the auditorium. “Sounds like Master Bates doing something dirty to a piece of pie.”
The entire auditorium broke into howling fits of laughter and Allison stepped back just as a still wet backdrop toppled over breaking a painted-on-paper scene over Vern’s head. The red paint used to depict bricks on a wall looked like blood to Vern, and with a gasp of overacted pain and treachery he fainted dead away.
Two students dragged Vern toward the first aide office as Miss. Wolf yelled the assembly into order. “This is your fault!” She wagged a finger at Greg Johnson. “If you and your ball fumbling teammates hadn’t been so gauche … this wouldn’t have happened!”
“What do you want me to do?” he protested.
“Read Vern’s lines until the school nurse says he’s able to return to class,” she said. “We have three pages to get through today …. And we don’t have time for puerile delays.
Allison was terrified when Miss Wolf picked-up the Back off Boys script from the floor and handed it to Greg. While the drama teacher was showing Greg where to start his lines Allison fumbled in her pocket for the tin of Brown Sugar Vanilla Lip Butter and smeared a tiny bit on her lips. When she looked up the entire stage had gone quiet. Several people including Greg and Miss Wolf were scanning the room, their noses twitching. Obviously they had detected the strange fragrance but couldn’t tell where it was coming from. Miss. Wolf finally broke the silence. “Let’s get on with this,” she said and showed a befuddled Greg Johnson where to stand.
“I’ve been looking everywhere for you,” Greg said. His voice was a rich baritone and not the ridiculing mockery for the benefit of his teammates that she had expected. Allison noticed he wasn’t even looking at the script and his gorgeous blue eyes seemed to be peeling her clothes off and taking their time doing it. Her throat was dry and she didn’t even know if she could make a sound let alone read the script. She was surprised when, as if listening from a distance, she heard herself speak the lines. Her voice had a rich seductive sound almost like a late night whisper coming from a bed chamber. “So you came here looking for me … in the girl’s dressing room?” Allison felt like she was swimming in a shimmering lake filled with desire as she stared into his eyes. “Did you expect to find me … a la nu?” The last word trailed off which somehow gave the line the sexy yet subtle impression of succumbing to unbridled passion.
It was time for the kiss and she felt the delicate fragrance of brown sugar and vanilla drawn her to him and him to her like a shaft of sunlight to an opening flower. Tingling ambiances flowed down her legs and exited from the tips of her toes and then doubled, beginning again and again until they became raging rivers of desire threatening to overflow her banks of chastity. She wanted to gasp … but she couldn’t breathe. The words of the fourteenth century text echoed in her mind from the depths of her soul. Approach the mouth slowly and make sure the lips fit together. They were close now and she turned her mouth so that the fullness of her lips all but brushed the corners of his. As the ancient witch’s only apprentice she was trusting in her instructions and understood, if only on an intuitive level, that the first sensual touch between two people had to be complete and without flaw, a perfectly formed cap of craving if the appropriate magic was to come about.
She moved closer until she could feel his breath demanding haste as the edges of their lips became the thinnest of fractures just before an amorous sealing. Allow a heartbeat’s linger. The pause was a hammer that stiffened time as the frozen countdown clock of delightful expectation shattered, flew outward beyond the galaxy and became icy, floating stars … flickering pieces of eternity lost and drifting on the tides of the solar wind.
Making a perfect seal. The instant their lips touched, all the lights suddenly became dog-stars, searing the vast area of the stage and the dimly-lit High School Auditorium with the brilliance of sunlight on white sand. A fractional moment of intensity lingered that promised forever … and then with a tremendous bang that echoed as if they all floundered in a hollow drum emptied of passion … teacher and students were all plunged into withering darkness.
“Must have blown a fuse,” Vicky Jenkins husky voice came from offstage as red emergency lights flickered on and illuminated silhouettes floating in the dim glow and a reeking smell of ozone. Greg Johnson had dropped to his knees and was struggling to stand. Allison stepped back, suddenly wary of an ancient power that had been unleashed and that she didn’t know if she could control.
“That’s all for today,” Miss. Wolf yelled. “We’ll try again tomorrow … after the maintenance contractors have a chance to explain and elucidate their wiring to the school board.”
The sound of melodic slamming lockers and chatter stilled as Allison ran down the school corridors. Boys and girls all stopped what they were doing and turned as the previously unnoticed student flew down the long hallways. She could feel Vicky Jenkins behind her struggling to catch up, but Allison didn’t slow until they were safely outside the building.
“You don’t think that perhaps Miss Wolf might choose me for your understudy …” Vicky gasped trying to catch her breath. “Say if Marsha Hicks happened to get ran over by my father’s hay truck!”
“Why would you want anything to do with this … nightmarish high school tragedy?” Allison glanced over her shoulder still shaking with fear. The students all seemed to be looking in her direction as they filed out of the school.
“That kiss with Greg had to be the most wonderfully passionate thing I’ve ever been close to,” Vicky gushed, beaming a shamelessly orgastic even though unrequited, smile at her best-friend. Vicky’s eyes closed and Allison could see them roll back in her head. “I would sell my soul to Vice Principal Adams and even my anatomically-correct collection of nasty Barbie dolls to his licentious brother the shower-peeping janitor … if I could only have a small part in whatever it is you’ve discovered.”
“What’s with everyone?” Allison turned. She was suddenly annoyed. Students were still filing out of the school. Small and large clusters had congregated on the icy, leaf-strewn lawn and the overflowing parking lot. All of them were staring … at her.
“It’s you!” Vicky gestured toward the flimsy ski-coat, sweater and jeans Allison was wearing … her voice singing with wonderment and a touch of jealousy. “You’re glowing … you have become the fire of desire! My God … you’re burning!”
TO BE CONTINUED …