Anny Ballardini

Anthony and Scarlet and the soldier

Jargon wanted her toy back. She had thrown it away because she did not want it any more. As it always happened with her. Things lasted several hours, and then she crushed them against the wall or against whatever surface was available, and threw them away.

A company of puppeteers was passing by. Amidst the heaped up garbage a strange mechanical device shone in its broken parts. A child of the company saw it and pointed to it, started gasping in his tiny voice: "I want it, I want it…" The horses sneered, the heat engulfed them with its fierce fist, and the men made the horses interrupt their slow monotonous walking litany. The father of the kid embraced his son, almost as if in fear, got off his horse with the kid, and let him go to the toy to pick it up.

That is how the busted metallic soldier became the property of the puppeteers. Jargon in her dirty hut could not see, she was sleeping, her face made almost black by the mosquitoes, ants running around her filthy pillow. She dreamt of being the queen of pataphysical lands where people knelt in front of her, and brought her dolls and maidens and soldiers and puppets, and she took them by their arms, their legs, their heads and smashed them against the walls, the tall columns joining earth to sky, and then laughed and laughed. She was having happy dreams.

The caravan carved its way in the heat. There were about twenty people involved in the tiny job of making children smile, all related by blood ties. Their ancestors had lost whatever they were able to gather in the Big Storm that had uprooted their miserable possessions and had whirled them out into the skies. The rest was eaten down by the ocean. Some of their relatives had followed their belongings, yelling in the screaming voice of enraging winds or unable to fight back to shore, their survival instincts made numb by the violence of the dark viscous sucking waves. That is why the eldest, barely thirty, decided they had to live on the land, distant from the water, "Death by Water," he commented, and used the phrase to kill the bad on stage by letting the hated puppet drown into a cup of water. An artifice he thought would free the spirit of his ancestors and free him from the mean and from misery.

They had heard of the big Fair of Saint Joseph and that is where they were heading in search of something to eat, some coins to start rebuilding their lives, their scars well visible through the wrinkles on their faces, with their white hair and unpractical manners when joy and celebrations approached. The women on the carriage when feeding infants and children, talked of stories and stories, and the younger assembled pieces of wood and the women again clothed them with colored rags to make people believe they had a soul, and a soul they had because in the long freezing nights each one of the company in their intimacy talked to them, and told them stories, and shared dreams and wishes. When on stage the puppets introduced themselves: "I am Anthony, the musician, I love Scarlet, the lady in Red." And Anthony conquered not only Scarlet, but also the myriad of hungry kids that sat in front of the tiny stage behind which the men of the company took place, their fingers tangled with threads that once in a while broke or got twisted with the threads of another puppet, or got stuck in a protruding nail or splinters of the rough cage used as the setting for the infinite stories some distant gods had sent to the company to survive, driven by pity in front of those eyes open at night bearing concave stomachs.

The grounds of the fair were bustling with life. People were carrying cows, and sheep, and donkeys. A man had three horses, and he was saying around that he would give them away to the best offer and would wait till the very end of the fair, due after an entire week, because those were exceptional horses. And exceptional they were, black and proud they towered from their height and sneered and shitted magnificently. And a horde of women came with their children and pans and knives and fruits and small round forms of white cheese and sat down on the bare earth, one close to the other and started peeling fruits and setting ears of corn on the grate and a gentle smell of things to eat first appeared in the air, and grew and grew and people remembered they were hungry and looked for some smoke to identify the place where someone was cooking.

The company found a spot they thought was central enough to get as many people passing by interested in their show. They set up their signs, their little cages, the tent, and it seemed that indeed, many would be in joining them as soon as the sun set and the myriad of stars chilled the horizon from the burning light. And many arrived to offer their tiny dirty coins out of curiosity, or drawn by the wish of sharing emotions with the others, or to lengthen their day with another illusion before death engulfed them, many of them young, and many even younger, in its all-embracing arms.

And Anthony came out on the open stage with his story, and Scarlet, and Yellow, and Ouroborous, and Laine, and Lance, and the kids started laughing, and the adults were taken by the laughter of the children and they roared and when finally the Snake was seized in "Death by Water" as announced by the deep tenor voice of the elder, an incredible multitude of hands started clapping and lips whistling and everybody felt as if justice had blessed Earth and that from then on everything would have followed the wish of man and destiny would have subdued its course to good intentions and love and caring, and that the sun on the following day would have been graceful to them because Water had cleaned out the mean.

They performed also on the following night, and were somehow able to change their stories so that those who came back to the show would think their money was worth spending, and the story of Anthony continued that by now he had a family with Scarlet who was more and more beautiful. The child insisted that the broken soldier should appear, polished as he was by the care he had taken of him. "He has only one arm and one leg and half a broken head," observed his father. "You don't have to show him facing the crowd, insisted the kid, he can walk by the stage and meet Scarlet, he can be Scarlet's brother. Please, Daddy…" He so much did that his father finally agreed. And on that night the soldier was to appear.

When the narrow space under the tent was overfilled and children were sitting in their parents' arms and people were crammed all around, the show started. As soon as the soldier came on stage, Jargon, who had joined for the first time the audience, screamed: "That is my puppet, that is my puppet, they stole it from me!" and ran to the stage and grabbed her broken toy. But by so doing she also crashed the cage and tore the tiny rags that were used as curtains, and broke off the head of Scarlet and smashed in two poor Anthony, and stepped on the Snake, and let Yellow drop from its unstable position and a girl who was close-by picked it up and hid it into her pocket, and made such a mess that people started complaining and wanted their money back and raised their voices and the elder came out and tried to explain what had happened but nobody wanted to listen and anyhow they did not have any puppets any more and were forced to give back all what they had earned and on the following morning nobody greeted them and they had to leave. And the sun was shining high and the heat dried their words in their mouths.

Jargon went back to her putrid hut, she cradled in a corner and finally realized she had the soldier in her arms, she took it by its only leg and smashed whatever was left of it against the wall.

Anny Ballardini's new book, Ghost Dance in 33 Movements, is being published soon by Otoliths.

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