Tonzino and the duchess had one thing in common, they were both sticklers, you know, detail-oriented people, baaah! What a drag! I hate sticklers! Is there anything less appealing than inflexibility? Is nature inflexible? Of course not! Nature is an acrobat! It adjusts, it bends, it accommodates--but not these two! He was always fussing over every line, every brush stroke, every speck of color, and she was nagging about everything, everyone, the entire city of Florence, because, you understand, it was not grand enough for her, daughter of the King of Naples, no! Too cramped! No decent palaces, where's the pomp, supposedly she spat at the sight of her bed, too simple, not enough silk, was she expected to sleep in that?! Sticklers, I tell you. I still get agitated at the thought.
But where was I? The court yes. Tonzino's first audience, his big day, and what did he do? He showed up in tatters, late, sniffling, with the posture of an empty potato sack and generally looking like a degenerate, and doing nothing to correct that impression. Here he was, a fluke of destiny, somehow lifted to to the top of this illustrious craft he had crashed, like revelers a party, presenting his crude and repellent form, and now a duchess, perhaps the greatest in our time, deigned to speak to him, and he gawked--the insolent! Well, I assure you, Eleanor was appalled, the entire court was appalled, the way his tiny rat eyes gnawed at her. She snapped open her fan, RATATATAT, loud like a drawbridge coming down. It is a habit with her, this violent rattling open and shut of fans, and this as well as a great many other things, she always does at an excessive volume, like snapping her fingers, or even just simply talking.
The duchess, I remember, had the voice of an icepick come to life.
Cold, austere like a church in winter, but in private she was rumored to despise austerity, in private she was said to be as cheerful as a soap bubble, yes, and why blame her? She was practically a child, seventeen at most, a rich, spoiled child, and shrewd! A sharp cookie! She had a mind of her own that one, and she was going to put her stamp on this competition, she was going to invite who she liked, especially misfits like my brother. Even though no one in Florence would touch him with a flag pole, she ordered him to court, and from there things went--who would have guessed--splendidly! Not immediately, you understand, she was seething at first, her eyes small and angry, cosi, they flashed like swords in battle, zack! zack! and of course we thought: she's going to kick him out.
And anyway, Tonzino had a knack for getting kicked out.
What do you mean, you had no idea? Yes, twelve years old, he got kicked out from home, because, listen to this: he didn't want to be a butcher! That's exactly what he said, I am not a butcher, said it straight to father's face. Imagine! Twelve years old, blankly refused! Fancied himself a painter! So father put him on a diet. You don't like meat, no meat then! Bread and water. Like a convent. He was a practical man, our father, quiet, efficient, sometimes brutal. A side effect of his job I think. All the slaughtering, all the blood spilling, what do you want, it skews your perspective. But Tonzino, half-starved, stubbornly refused. When he was magro, magro like this, look, like this shriveled leg of mine, my mother tried to reason, to negotiate. Who, she asked, was going to take over the family business if not him, the elder? Eh? Had he thought about that? Tonzino indeed had thought about that. Weak and pale, he lifted a finger and pointed at me. My mother, may she rest in peace, was a lousy negotiator, frankly, it's a good thing I didn't take after her. In any case, Tonzino was sent away, dispatched to the countryside, and next thing we heard was, he'd been kicked out of Florence, and then years went by, no news, he disappeared, swallowed by the earth. And I'm not ashamed to say it, this suited me fine. I cheerfully forgot I ever had a brother.
SUGAR NEVER SPOILS THE SOUP, short story