Saturday 18 June 2022

'Pasarea Paradisului (Birds of Paradise)' by Molia Dumbleton

The Signora had always been crazy, since the day she moved into the empty apartment downstairs more than twenty years ago—but she was starting to make more sense to Nunzio now that he was going crazy too. She showed him her collection of collectibles: a pipe cleaner she called Annie Oakley’s rifle; a thumbtack she called Abe Lincoln’s hat; a fingernail she called the devil’s rib. She lifted each item daily and dusted beneath it with a single ostrich feather, which she kept curled in a cookie jar, next to the actual cookie jar, which held dog biscuits. She gave Nunzio lessons on her toy xylophone—a dozen variations on “Tu vuò fà l’Americano”—and transcribed the courtroom proceedings of the neighborhood dogs.

Nunzio liked visiting the Signora, not least because she made him marshmallow sandwiches, which his wife never did because she said they made his fingers sticky and everything he touched for the rest of the day stuck to him, until he was a visual encyclopedia of the ten things he’d done since lunchtime.

Nunzio liked to sit in the garden with the Signora now too, even though he could feel his adult children and their spouses—and his wife—tsk-tsking from the second-story windows whenever the Signora sat in his lap and held his lemonade glass to his mouth for him and whispered the Romanian words for all the garden’s flowers in his ear.
            Zambilă, she said.
                                                Pa-sa-re-a pa-ra-di-su-lu-i.

Everywhere she pointed, Nunzio could see only dandelions, and the perennial dirt patches that characterized his small, bricked-in yard—but he knew that with some faith, and time, and vision, he would be able to see the rest of them with the same clarity the Signora could:
            their delicate spindles—
                        and firework pops—
                                    and deep violet lips.

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