What follows is written in response to the current "Muse" given at The Tenth Daughter of Memory. This Muse is "Rehearsing With Gods" and what follows is in response to that Muse. That said, this effort is in continuation of an earlier story, "The Catcher", though this piece is new and original material. Please note that the link given above is actually TWO links - one on each word - for each of the two elements of the previous story.
Vittorio wandered through the tents and trailers that made up the small circus that had been his life for so many years - all dark now, and silent. The crowds had long gone home, the roustabouts had sealed all the flaps, and the Midway had been cleaned and made ready for the morrow.
This evening had been his grandson's first performance as Catcher. He caught his sister and brother and cousins as if he had been up there, swinging to and fro, hanging by his knees, all his life.
He had taught him well.
Now, perhaps, his wife would give him peace - no longer prattle about his age and how he shouldn't be up there anymore. She never mentioned his daughter - but she was always there, the 'unspoken' in the conversation, a heavy presence in his mind and conscience. He had dropped her. She had died. Nothing or no one could convince him it wasn't his fault.
He sat down on an overturned bucket next to the pen where the elephant was staked out and he looked to the sky, deep and midnight black but for the soft glow of the Milky Way cutting diagonally across from horizon to horizon. He stared into its center until it was all he could see.
"Vittorio". The whisper came to his ear so softly he almost didn't hear it. "Vittorio". A bit louder. A bit more insistent. He looked to his left and then to his right and was startled to find a tall man, dark man, a man whose face he could not quite see, standing next to him, a marionette dangling from the strings tied to his fingers. The marionette seemed to speak. "Vittorio, t'is I, Profundo."
"Certainly not!!", exclaimed Vittorio. Profundo!! Not since he was a small boy had he seen Profundo.
"Ah, but it IS, Vittorio! After these many years ... I ... I ... have returned."
Vittorio remembered the many warm days and cool evenings spent learning magic from Profundo, when he was a little boy. The tricks, the illusions, the sleight of hand. He remembered, also, how his father would scold him for wasting his time with Magic. "That is not for you, my son. Your life is on the bar. You will be Catcher one day - but not if you distract yourself with this fool and his Magic."
"Profundo! Why are you here? Where did you come from? And what is this puppet?"
"Why I am here will be clear soon enough and where I have come from is not important, but the puppet ... the puppet is the answer, Vittorio."
Vittorio was puzzled. "The answer, Profundo? I do not understand."
"Your mind is full of sorrow, Vittorio. Full of questions. You want to know what is going to happen to you, now, now that your grandson is Catching. You want to know that your daughter's death was not your fault, you want forgiveness, you want the love of your woman as it used to be all those many years ago. You want to know what's next."
"Yes. A thousand times "Yes" to all those things, Profundo. But how ... I still do not understand."
Profundo's image stepped back a pace and the puppet was bathed in a circle of light that seemed to spring from nowhere, casting a strong shadow on the ground at its feet. Soft music drifted to his ear, music of the Old Country, and the puppet became a Gypsy Dancer, whirling and twirling to the sound of strings and bells, and the music changed and the puppet was a Russian Dancer from the Steppes, kicking his feet out in front of him in time to the now pulsing beat and the music changed again and the puppet was an Irish Lass dancing a Reel in time and tune with the pipes he now heard.
The performance seemed to go on for hours. It was the most amazing thing Vittorio had ever seen in his life. Dozens of different dances and costumes and the puppet just kept changing with the music - which without stop or pause, just naturally seemed to flow one song, one dance, into another.
Suddenly, there were half a dozen puppets and then, a dozen, as the music built to a crescendo and the Grand Finale was upon him and finished before he knew it.
The puppet stood before him. Alone.
Vittorio looked around, side to side, before and behind. He was puzzled, yet again, and at a loss.
"Profundo!!", Vittorio called.
"I am here", the puppet said. "I am Profundo."
"No! The tall man. He was ... I could not see his face ... but surely HE was ... Profundo." Vittorio's voice betrayed his uncertainty.
"He was an illusion, Vittorio. I am Profundo, and I am NOT an illusion. I stand before you, The Answer."
"The Answer? What is the question?" Vittorio was now lost.
"Think, Vittorio. You knew me many years ago. I am different now, no? Why? Only you can ask the question, Vittorio ... Vittorio ... Vittorio wake up!!"
Vittorio was surprised to find it breaking dawn, the Elephant Keeper shaking his shoulder.
He rose from the bucket, which the Keeper took to fill with water for the elephant. He began walking toward his trailer, and then he began to run. He burst though the door, only to give his wife a start.
"Vittorio", she cried. "Where have you been?"
"Ah, mi bella Rosa. How lovely you look this morning." He grabbed her around the waist and she blushed like a girl in the throes of an early love. He kissed her with a passion he hadn't felt in years.
Arms around her, he asked, "Where is my 'Boy Box'?"
"The small box, from when I was a boy. Do we still have it?"
"Si, Si, of course, my husband. It is in the cabinet under the bed up front."
Vittorio's face lit up like a child's.
"Good, good. I'll get it." With that he went to the front of the trailer, opened the cabinet and reached far back to find, and then pull out, his 'Boy Box'."
"What is in the box, Vittorio?"
"Things I once knew, my love. Things I once learned. Things which now will guide me the rest of my life. Things which will teach me what I must become."
Rosa walked up to him, and put her arms around him.
"What are you saying, you crazy old man?" She smiled at him, softly, and touched his gray hair and his cheek.
"When I was a little boy, I knew a man, a Magician, called Profundo. He taught me many things. Many tricks. Illusions. My father made me stop. He made me stay away. And then Profundo died. And Magic fell away from my life and I spent my life on the Bar. Not that my life hasn't been good. It has. I would not trade a minute for all the gold in Italy. But it's time for me to change. Profundo taught me that, too. My life, OUR life, isn't over. It's only just begun. All of it, all that has been, was just the First Act, the grand rehearsal for Act Two. That's where I was, last night. In rehearsal."