Great Uncle Tadeo Salvestro

He never knew he’d be spending a night in a graveyard of things past. Not a graveyard of bone and decaying clothes and wooden boxes. It was another kind. Here it was of torn rusted metal and frayed wires. Still it made him shiver. Those things there were as dead as corpses, but had ghosts of their own. The owner of the junkyard had given him the key to the padlock. It wasn’t necessary, there were so many holes in the chainlink fence that he could have stooped and found his way in in a hundred places. The summer had cooled to the first frosts of October, the leaves signaled their deaths in flares of orange and yellow. The moon had filled itself with all the light it could collect, making shadows half alive unlike their full bodied cousins of the day. Sandro thought of those ancient shades of the Underworld. Then he thought of his Great Uncle.

Great Uncle Tadeo Salvestro with his long stretch from toe to head, a dark tower above all others, his black and gray pinstriped suit gave him that extra pull and to top it all off, he topped his head with a sable top hat. He stepped from a past long gone, but that’s what everyone wanted and waited for each June 10th to September 15th when the Ye Olde Carnival rolled through the those island villages floating between the corn and soy stalks. Dollars rolled in summer sweaty palms reaching up to get ten tickets to be spun around, shot high into the air, tossed on a track. When their stomachs were filled with the air of cotton candy, stale buttered popcorn, corn dogs dripping fat on their sticks, and sudsy sodas—-they knew it was time to avoid those rides that made your organs move in unnatural ways. They turned to the house of mirrors to distort themselves in all the ways they might look. Thin as a stick, fat as a hog ready for slaughter, oversized head of an alien left on the twig of a neck. For the brave there was the Haunted House with its large Dantean sign: Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate. Those words in Italian were a conjugation of fear. No one really knew that it simply said: Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter Here. Sandro knew the whole story, his Great Uncle had given him ‘The Divine Comedy’ with the illustrations of Doré when he was only ten. The road to Hell was always something scary.

But there was always hope in that haunted house. We never realized how walking on knees wobbling with our new pubescent leg hair standing on end (you had to be over twelve to enter there) helped us to face fear. The boys pushed each other on, each as scared as the other, but never ready to admit it. As they left the last ghost howl, they slapped themselves on the backs and in a bravado: We did it! The girls screamed and held hands, hugged and reassured each other they’d make it out alive. When they left the last dark tunnel, they giggled and whispered to each other: Let’s get our boyfriends to take us through, they’ll hold our hands and maybe even give us a kiss.

As the nights neared midnight, Great Uncle Tadeo Salvestro stood at the gate and lifted his top hat to each one of the guests and wished them a good night filled with sweet dreams. It was a magic he had that lasted for years and years. Then, as happens with all things, that long body of his began to curve and bend. His head could no longer hold that top hat. His pinstripes were no longer straight, his suit a second skin as loose as the one it covered. The wheels of the carnival rolled no more. It could not be sold, no one wanted a carnival anymore. Great Uncle Tadeo Salvestro needed the money for his last days in the home. He sold it all for scrap metal and parts.

Then he died.

So far away from those corn and soy fields, Sandro received the letter with the last will and testament. He got into his car and drove those long miles. His Great Uncle had asked that he spend one night in that old haunted house before it was torn to pieces. Sandro was in the sleeping bag he had brought with him and awake in the bed chamber of horrors. The light tap of rain on the tin roof sounded like spectral tears. He felt his own roll down his cheeks. There was a noise of feet shuffling into the room. He heard a moan.

“Is that you, Uncle Tadeo?”

There was no answer, only a tapping under the artificial bed. A tapping that became louder and louder until he looked under where he was sleeping. There was a box, cylindrical and worn.

A voice, “Open it…”

Sandro did what he was told and he saw an old sable top hat.

“It’s all I have left to give.”

Then the night was still again.

Sandro opened the volume he had brought with him. Paradiso. He flipped open to the last canto and read aloud to the night:

But already my desire and my will

were being turned like a wheel, all at one speed,

by the Love which moves the sun and the other stars…

With the hat held on his chest like some strange formed teddy bear, Sandro slept that night with the sweetest of dreams.

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