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by Lily Prior
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Gleefully the peddler pocketed the cash and ran off before the olive grower could change his mind. But he need not have worried. Arcadio Carnabuci was delighted with his purchase and couldn't wait to change his life. Nobody could have predicted the way things would turn out, but I will faithfully record it all in these pages, for I myself was intimately involved with everything that happened.
Yes, responding to the irresistible surge of nature, Arcadio Carnabuci sowed the seeds of his love early in the spring, when the short days of fleeting February were hurrying into March, and already the earth was coming alive. Mists hung around the skirts of the hills like tulle, and on the plains tiny figures became visible, muffled against the cold, sowing the crops where the snow had melted.
Arcadio Carnabuci spent the daylight hours on the rungs of a ladder, pruning the olive trees that had been in the care of his family for one thousand years. But his mind was not on his olives. No. It was on love.
In the crisp air that clouded with his breath, he could feel the tension, taut like the twigs that snapped beneath his knife. Overnight, the almond trees poured forth their blossoms. Not to be outdone, the cherry trees followed; so, too, did the persimmons, the chestnuts, and the pomegranates. The sticky buds on the willows gave forth curly catkins, and the meadows exploded into a blaze of spring flowers: lily of the valley, dwarf narcissi, bluebells, crocuses, and irises formed a carpet of dazzling color. Wild asparagus and sweet-smelling herbs perfumed the newborn air, and up on the mountains, rhododendrons bloomed.
Arcadio Carnabuci could feel the earth's energy through the soles of his stout boots. This effervescence bubbled up into his legs and made him dance in spite of himself.
"Look, I'm dancing," he cried to no one in particular, all the more amazed because he had never danced a step in his life before. And he started to laugh.
And so he was. Slowly at first, but as his confidence grew, he threw himself into the rhythm of the dance. His arms joined in; his feet, usually leaden, became weightless. They bounced off the hardened earth and soared into the air. He dipped and dived like a swallow. He gyrated his hips. He flung his head about.
Those that saw him turned up their coat collars and examined their mittens to cover their embarrassment. Arcadio Carnabuci, always strange, was growing stranger. That day my colleague Concetta Crocetta, the district nurse, received seven separate reports calling for Arcadio Carnabuci to be interred in the manicomio at Cascia for the benefit of all in the region. Yet when we trotted past the olive grove to witness Arcadio Carnabuci's antics, we saw it was nothing more than high spirits connected with the coming of spring. Smiling indulgently, she gave me a tap with her little heel to encourage me. Back then she was never rough with my tender flanks, and we set off again for home.
The impulse that was tickling away at Arcadio Carnabuci was not confined to himself and the plants. No. Animals felt it, too. The spiders in their spangled webs yearned for love and spun sonnets of a fragile and unbearable beauty, glazed with tears of dew. Scorpions in dark corners clipped their castanets in courtship, then curled up in pairs in discarded shoes, snug as bugs. The mice in the rafters scurried about gathering wisps of stolen cotton, torn paper, and bits of fluff and formed them into cozy nests from which they subsequently brought forth blind babies the size of peas. The humble newts in the waterspout sung out in deep voices. The frogs and the toads joined in with them, and soon a chorus of magical croaking was filling the air. The music they made was so beautiful it made those that heard it weep and yearn for the life of an amphibian so they could unlock the secret of the song. Already the beady-eyed blackbirds were busily building their nests, watched slyly by the cuckoos, who were broadcasting the news, for those that didn't already know it: spring had sprung. Deep in the oak woods, the wild boar grunted his serenade, while, in the sty, his domestic cousins spooned. Deer frolicked, hares chased. High up in the mountains the wolf howled his suit, and the shy brown bears hugged in their caves.
Arcadio Carnabuci could not help but succumb to the rosy glow that wrapped itself around the region, and his loins hummed with a cruel expectation that in his lonely circumstances he could do little to fulfill. But he had faith in his love seeds, and in this fertile climate their promise would surely come to fruition.
It was then that he sowed them. He picked the moment with
care. In the watery sunlight, frail but willing. Under glass. To
keep them warm. They were more beans than seeds. Pleasantly
plump, and a palish pink in color. Little crescent moons. He
could feel a tingling in the beans; like jumping beans, they possessed
the same energy as everything else around him. He held
them for a while in the palm of his hand, familiarizing himself
with them, scrutinizing them through his half-moon glasses,
behind which his eyes seemed enormous, and every pore and hair follicle was magnified a thousand times. Even the beans
could feel the strength of his hope, and the plucky little creatures
were determined not to disappoint him.
Excerpted from Ardor: A Novel of Enchantment by Lily Prior. Copyright © 2004 by Lily Prior. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.