In Prague, where Gina died, pigeons perch on orchid carts like clergy, cloying dispensation on unabashed passersby.
Autumn last, her affair with Gregor ended, Gina instructed me to abandon the dowdy innocence of our flat above the abattoir, and travel with her eastward. Dutifully, I gathered our belongings, embraced my beloved, and together we tiptoed past the moldy, dank, windowless room shared by Gregor, a renowned psychopath, and our sleeping children.
“I did not love him,” she confessed, both to me and to her new companion, Gurgich Von Clapp, retired General, carriage driver, and gypsy troubadour. Moments earlier, Von Clapp enraptured her with poignant strains of a gypsy classic. “Ah, the Middle Ages,” he crooned, “Shall we never see a time like that again?” Predictably, Gina swooned, then instructed me to maneuver the carriage, so as to relieve Von Clapp of the dual burden of executing his contracted duties and completing his serenade.
To this day, it remains fiercely contested—-in taverns, pubs, boardrooms, brothels—-whether the General may have secured her affections, had he but chosen another gypsy classic, and had the carriage not, at that very moment, been under siege.
“Save yourselves!” Von Clapp bellowed, distracting us from a mad rush to save ourselves. In times of peril, one can concede to fate, resist her, or serenade her. “Ah, the Middle Ages,” I began, “Shall we never see a time like that again?” “We shall not!” our captor lamented. “But what do you know of this?” Here, I turned to Von Clapp, and his disquietude revealed all. These were not mere road agents, but a roving band of rival troubadours come for the gypsy-general.
“You have what you want!” I exclaimed. “Release us! You have Von Clapp!”
“You have Von Clapp!” the general repeated, with some derision, as we watched our captors depart with our carriage, our clothing, and with Gina.
After a quaint repast, an inspired duet of “Ah, the Middle Ages,” and a brief constitutional, Von Clapp and I settled on a plan to rescue my beloved. Here, I did not hesitate to enlist Gregor to our aid. Cuckoldry or no, it is plain foolish to have access to, and not utilize, the resources of a psychopath. Graciously, he made no inquiry into my departure from the flat, my disregard for the children, or my present nudity.
The plan was simple. Von Clapp would position himself at some remove from the troubadour lair, then, at my signal, explode from the canon, sail above the thoroughfare, and land squarely on the rooftop. For my part, I would engineer the surface distraction: a cadre of bonobo apes, rhesus monkeys, lemurs, meerkats, and as many three-toed sloths as practical under the circumstances. Gregor, we agreed, when the moment presented itself, would ring the doorbell.
“How will you signal?” queried Von Clapp, as he lowered himself into the canon. “Don’t be ridiculous!” I scolded. “Obviously, I will wave my arms frantically in three upward thrusts, then shout your name three times. The third shout, as even small children know, will be your mark. Goodness, Von Clapp! Have you never been shot from a canon before?!” He had not.
Meanwhile, Gregor had not rang a doorbell before, and required instruction on the practice. Of his prospects, I was skeptical, but he showed great promise–so much so, he garnered something of a following. Teeming masses trailed at his heels in gleeful anticipation: Which bell will he ring? Which finger will it be? Will he use his toe again? Within moments, odds-makers appeared, then tourists, then merchants. In mere minutes, the economy of the region, and the future of the monarchy, rest entirely on Gregor’s left index finger and his right pinkie toe. “Do you know him?” I was asked. “Yes,” I beamed, “he is my protege.” To considerable fanfare, flanked by several foreign dignitaries, Gregor approached a squat, unassuming villa, pressed the bell, and Gina appeared.
“I remember you,” she offered, along with a cup of tea. “Yes,” I confirmed, “from this morning. We were kidnapped together, and,just before that, married.”“Has it been so long?” she reflected . “After that dreadful business with the carriage, then the sea voyage, the hot air balloon, the Kandinsky affair, the method acting troupe, it’s all a bit of a blur. But that’s not important right now. I seem to have poured an extra tea. Wait, where is Von Clapp?” Here, Gina rushed into the thoroughfare and, before I could arrest her, waved her arms frantically in three upward thrusts, and shouted, “Von Clapp! Von Clapp! Von Clapp!”
As he flew overhead, Von Clapp managed a wave, and something of a smile, before he sailed clear over the rooftop and out of the story altogether.
“I did not love him,” Gina confessed. “After the sea voyage, the hot air balloon, the Kandinsky affair, and the method acting troupe, I realized my true love was right before me all along,” she said into the mirror. “But, Gina!” I protested. “Not Gina,” she corrected. “I have reclaimed my birth name: Madame Mona de Beauvier a Catalan y Sazon.”
To this day, I wonder if I may have persuaded her, had I expressed my thoughts more plainly, and had the villa not, at that very moment, been under siege.
“I am your employer!” I exclaimed, futilely, to the marauding cadre of bonobo apes, rhesus monkeys, lemurs, meerkats, and three-toed sloths. “This was not our agreement!” “Gregor, do something!” He didn’t. Here, Gina and the larger of the sloths embraced, curtsied, then bounded from the villa, and from my life altogether.
Weeks later, as we foraged for supper behind the abattoir, the children asked after Gina. As the prophet says, one achieves true clarity only when bare-footed, waist-deep in a trough of discarded meats. “My dear children,” I began, ”when you abandon your dowdy innocence, you may one day encounter Madame Mona de Beauvier a Catalan y Sazon, but Gina, unabashedly, has died.” Just then, in Prague, a pigeon cloyed.
Jamal Johnson is a freelance writer and award-winning procrastinator from Vallejo, California. He is currently working on several pieces of short fiction, a screenplay, a four-panel comic strip, and a stage-play: a horror, comedy, romance, musical, thriller, with a heart and also science-fictiony. You can find more of his work ensconced in his cerebellum.