Three Girls in a Hut
by Joe Giordano
Joe Giordano was born in Brooklyn. He and his wife Jane now live in Texas.
Joe’s stories have appeared in more than one hundred magazines including The Saturday Evening Post, and Shenandoah, and his short story collection, Stories and Places I Remember. His novels include, Birds of Passage, An Italian Immigrant Coming of Age Story, and the Anthony Provati thriller series, Appointment with ISIL, Drone Strike, and in June 2022, The Art of Revenge.
Visit Joe’s website at https://joe-giordano.com/
Silvia said that from some angles I looked handsome. She left me when another man convinced her she was beautiful. I ripped up her picture and put on a kettle of tea, munching a corn muffin, contemplating my fate. I’d exposed my heart like a puppy’s underbelly. Emotional involvement was the problem. I’d begin a no-female diet. I’d tone down all my relationships and avoid acquaintances whose neck veins bulged in discussions over gay marriage, climate change, or how to cultivate tomatoes. I’d develop a Solomon’s coolness in the face of thorny disputes. My wisdom was often ignored, so I’d stop giving advice. I’d be cheerful because likeability was the most important quality. My superiors would dote on me. Even better, I’d enter politics. Why sweat when I could earn money for flattery and smiles? I’d inflate others’ self-importance. Praise would be the opiate I dispensed. I’d seek people for whom no compliment was too grandiose to swallow as truth. My face would be a smiling mask, no one would see behind the image. Insult and injury would be swirled and swallowed. Like a jagged rock plunged into the belly of life’s giant mixer, I’d smooth myself into an indistinguishable shape.
I shook my head. God, I needed to get away.
The gondola swept me to the top of Monte Tamaro. I hiked to Mario Botta’s modern-architecture church and looked out from the concrete plank that extended from under a cross. Cotton clouds draped the shoulders of snow-speckled, gray-blue jagged peaks lording over groves of pine and the light and dark green patches in the valley below. The air had the redemptive chill of a baptismal plunge. I breathed in nature and thought of Silvia without angst in my gut. “Godspeed,” I said aloud, but in my mind, I hoped her new boyfriend would give her bubonic clap.
I pounded along the rocky mountainside. Crusty, dingy snow clung to the slopes and diverted me far off the marked trails. Pink, white, yellow, and violet wildflowers peeked through rocks and carpeted slopes. Water flowed down crags like silver fingers and fed a glacial blue-green stream at my feet. I knelt and plunged my hand into churned white water. I closed my eyes and slowly dripped a handful onto the ground.
“Earth Mother, accept this libation and cede to me your chthonic power as you did for great Apollo.” I laughed for the first time in weeks.
The grey goats resembled ants from a distance, scattered, standing stock-still over a hillside. I approached, and the animals watched me wide-eyed as they pressed around me like kinsmen. A clearance in the mist revealed a gray stone hut with rust-accented roof tiles built into the hill. No other structure marked the horizon. Bells tinkled as the goats followed me as I avoided broken rocks and manure. Amassed near the hut, lay a pile of jagged stones. Atop was a square chunk of limestone inscribed with a phallic symbol. I straightened. I’d seen the identical sign at brothel ruins in Pompeii. The hut had a weather-beaten, carved wooden door. Alongside, on a deep-set windowsill, a black cat squatted behind a hollow log containing white flowers. The cat eyed me, then slunk inside through a small square opening in the window shutters. A frigid gust howled down a natural wind tunnel, and I shivered. Like spectators in an amphitheater, the goats squatted on the hillside. Perhaps, I thought, I could appeal for shelter. I knocked but received no response. Through my fleece, I was chilled to the nuts. I took a breath, turned the handle, and entered.
Aside a deep porcelain sink, a blue and white wood-burning cookstove simmered garlicky tomato sauce in a black pot. Beyond a rear door, I saw drying rounds of cheese on shelves. To my right, a blonde in sheer-white sat sideways at the head of a butcher-block table on a chair draped with a Turkish rug. Her bare legs hung over the arm, and she swung her feet slowly while twirling a curl with a forefinger. She tilted her head at me, and I rethought swearing off women. Also sitting at the table, a girl with dark eyes and severely pulled back hair squeezed whey from curds. She raised an eyebrow at my entrance but was silent. Her right arm sleeve tattoo pictured a naked woman seductively writhing in a floral field above the words, “Fools’ Gold.” The black cat had disappeared.
Suddenly, a fulsome, flush-cheeked girl burst in from a low doorway of the side room. “Oh, hello. Welcome.” She spoke in Italian-accented English.
“Sorry to barge in,” I said, “but it’s Antarctica out there. I’m Benjamin.”
She seemed unfazed by my appearance. “I’m Cicciolina.” She pointed. “Fabienne is making cheese and Michelle,” she shook her forefinger, “must get dressed and help me milk the goats.”
Fabienne gave me a slight nod as she continued to squeeze curds in her fist, the white whey flowing down her knuckles. Michelle smiled, her tongue touching her lips.
“You’re far from the trail,” I said. “I presume you don’t have Internet or mobile service?”
Cicciolina smiled coyly. “We like our isolation.”
“Do you girls attend the University of Lugano?” I asked.
Cicciolina hesitated before responding, smiling at her friends. “We’re students of alchemy. Our cheese has a reputation for its magical qualities, so some villagers climb up to reach us. We also receive the occasional lost traveler.”
“How long have you been here?” I asked.
Cicciolina’s eyes sparkled. She avoided my question, saying, “You must be hungry. Sit, we have cheese and goat sausage.”
“Thank you. I am,” I grabbed the chair beside Michelle’s dangling feet. Her eyes were green, her fragrance musk.
“Where’s the black cat?” I asked.
Fabienne shot me a sideward glance.
Cicciolina giggled. “She’s closer than you think.”
Michelle nudged Fabienne. “He’s handsome.”
Coquettish Fabienne played hard to get, but her movements were graceful. Michelle set my heart apace, and Cicciolina had a body to lose oneself. Was a foursome feasible? Don’t get ahead of yourself, I thought.
Over my shoulder, Cicciolina placed a china plate of sliced cheese and sausage in front of me.
“I recommend the sausage,” she said. “My family’s recipe. The hickory smoke salt gives the meat a special flavor.”
“I’ve never eaten goat sausage,” I said. “Might I have some wine?”
“Of course.” Cicciolina poured me a tumbler of red, saying, “We only use males for sausage, but not the entire animal. We bury the testicles in a little ceremony.”
“That’s the pile of stones with the phallic carving?” I asked.
Cicciolina smiled her agreement.
The cheese was aged, sharp, and a delicious mix with a chunk of sausage. I gulped the wine and developed an instant buzz. Cicciolina refilled my glass.
As I finished, the women spoke like I’d disappeared.
Michelle sighed to Cicciolina. “Couldn’t you have waited before initiating the transformation?”
Fabienne said, “Be still.”
Cicciolina said, “Girls, let’s not fight.”
Michelle spoke in a sad tone. “So quick?”
“Did you hear his thoughts?” Fabienne asked. “He’s already a satyr.”
The women’s words echoed like I sat in a hollow chamber. My eye lids became heavy.
Fabienne purred. “Not long now.”
My body felt like I floated in amniotic fluid, then everything went dark.
I awoke outside among the stones, manure, and bleating goats. I breathed a lung-full of air and felt revived, like a healthy animal. Maybe that cheese had rejuvenating qualities? The bell around my neck tinkled as I exhaled a long breath and bleated, “Naaaaah.”
My eyes cast down to feet that were now, cloven hooves. A chill shot through me from tail to horn. Damn, I thought, I hope Cicciolina isn’t making sausage.
The black cat at my feet looked up. She nodded with a smile.