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by Salvatore Difalco

Every time Alfonsus entered a room an unearthly glowing light suffused it. I wondered if he was religious. He typically wore a cross of gold, indicating either a level of belief or spirituality, or simply a fondness for bling and flash; but on this day he was also sheathed in what looked like tin armor.

“I like your hat today,” he said. “I approve.”

“Well,” I said, touching the soft brim, “I’m happy to hear that. You, on the other hand, have worn some kind of armor.”

“I’m prepared for battle.”

“And you expect one?”

He stared at me and stroked his moustache, a gesture I found mannered. Introduced by well-meaning but myopic friends, Alfonsus and I had only known each other for a few weeks, which is saying nothing since during that time I’d come to know very little about him. That said, he was neither a man of mystery nor particularly tight-lipped. I’m embarrassed to admit that around him my mouth took on a life of its own. My God, the gibberish that poured out of it. He must have known everything about me by now.

Alfonsus smiled. “I’m vivifying a Renaissance painting this evening. It’s part of my troupe’s new show, Tableaus.”

Vivifying? One thing I knew: Alfonsus was a performance artist who belonged to Troupe Roussel—named in honour of the little known French surrealist writer Raymond Roussel, according to Alfonsus.

“Sounds interesting.”

“We’re performing at the plaza of the Inn On The Park and you’re welcome to come. I have a complimentary ticket. After the show you can join us for drinks and get to know some of my colleagues. You’ve said you like the theatre.”

“Is that theatre?”

“Well, it’s theatre insofar as it’s performative. I detect a note of negativity.”
I felt a momentarily disorientated. “Where are we right now?” I asked, wondering if I was perhaps dreaming.

Alfonsus rested his hands on his hips and looked around. “Why, we’re in a room,” he said. “Some kind of sitting room, or parlor. In the old days people had parlors. Did you cover all the furniture?”

“This is my place?”

Alfonsus touched his moustache. “Is it your place? Ha. It’s not mine.”
Of course, we were in my deceased mother’s Victorian home, with its round angles, intricate woodwork, and stained glass windows. Sheets covered much of the furniture. My mother had passed away last winter after a long battle with dementia. In the end, she was a shaking shell of herself. The thought of her misted my eyes.

“My dear,” Alfonsus said. “You don’t have to come tonight if it bothers you that much. It was a mere suggestion. Not everyone likes what we do.”

“It’s not that,” I said. “I was thinking about my mother.”

“Ah, yes. Poor woman. You told me about her demise.”

I glanced at Alfonsus. His choice of words could be galling—describing her death like the decline of some drug lord or terrorist. What was wrong with people? And where was I going with Alfonsus? More and more he was starting to seem like a waste of time.

“Perhaps this is leading to something more satisfying,” Alfonsus said out of the blue. He was adjusting his breastplate, his face obscure to me.

“Do you like me, Alfonsus?”

“Would I be here if I didn’t?”

“But what does that say about me?”

Seated opposite one another in covered club chairs, he pulled his closer to mine and with a serious expression said, “How do you mean?”

I didn’t want to spell it out—I mean, he was wearing armor—so I smiled and said nothing. I touched the brim of my hat. Quite a large thing. I removed it and held it at arm’s length to get a better look at it. A large-brimmed lavender velvet number that I could not remember purchasing. Perhaps it had belonged to my mother, though she seldom wore hats.

“My mother died when I was young,” Alfonsus said. “My father remarried a witch.”

“That bad, huh?”

“No, I mean the woman practiced witchcraft—the arcane arts. And she took it seriously.” He paused and shook his head. “You joked about it at your peril.”

I was going to ask if she had ever cast a spell on him—turned him into a newt or whatever—but I was convinced that engaging him on this subject only led to another dead end.

“You haven’t even offered me a refreshment,” he said.

“That would add another room to our story,” I said, thinking aloud. For I would have to make a trip to a kitchen—and describe at least some of it—to boil water for the tea. Would I follow myself there and back, flowing with discursive thoughts that revealed my character, or have him follow me, chirping unnecessarily and revealing his? And also, there was the question of time. How much time would you grant to Alfonsus, to this man dressed in armor?

“I gather you want to bring this to a conclusion,” he said. “I’ve offended you.”

“I don’t offend so easily,” I said. “But I think I’ve had a change of heart.”

“About me?”

“That’s right. I think that despite all your eccentricities—or because of them—I don’t find you compelling. I don’t know if I would want to go beyond a thousand words with you. That may sound mean, but a thousand words is a ton these days.”

“But there is so much more to me. I think you’re shortchanging yourself and your audience, assuming you have one.”

“As an artist you should know that not every effort works out,” I said, pulling a sheet off a green davenport my mother loved.

“As an artist I believe that there are no mistakes, that everything’s true to the artist’s effort, including the mistakes.”

“All artists make mistakes,” I said, throwing the sheet over him, “but a good one yields when the course is wrong, and moves on.”

Salvatore Difalco is the author of five books, including the story collection Black Rabbit (Anvil Press).

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