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Ann Browning

© 2000

The Kiss of the Wolf
(an excerpt from a draft of a short story from a collection in progress, East Lake Street Stories)

Mr. Baccigaluppi was not a bad man. He was my landlord during that very strange spring some time ago, that spring when I realized truths about the universe, truths about the connection between mundane tasks and the divine, the spring I became, with the help of Mr. Baccigaluppi (although if he ever realized his important place in this process, he never indicated), enlightened.

It was that spring that I started staring at spider webs. It was also that spring that Mr. Baccigaluppi, normally a virtually absentee landlord, started becoming very interested in the property that I rented, a side-by-side shotgun-style bungalow off East Lake Street. His black Lincoln town car would pull up, I would imagine he glanced at the property from behind his dark windows to size up how it looked from the outside to a potential buyer, talking on his cell phone to his wife, since property prices were soaring in the Longfellow neighborhood. I would wave, not able to see if he waved back, and he would drive away.

The friendliness that seemed to be between us, the easy gestures, the way he allowed me to have various pets (since he knew I was interested in animals) especially a large dog—and I in turn never bugged him about his lack of making repairs—was jarred by the first incident of yard work he “ordered” for the house. I came home from my job at the university one day in early March of that strange spring to see that something was different in the yard, something was missing. There had been two beautiful Norway pine trees on either side of the front sidewalk, and one had been chopped down, all the way down to a stump sticking out of the ground.

For years I had fantasies of Mr. Baccigaluppi and who he was outside of his landlord persona. I know he was of Sicilian descent, my neighbor Shirley had said he went to Sicily to “get” his wife as he put it, and bring her to America for them to have a family. I had fantasized about his possible Mafioso connections. One day when I had the flu and stayed home from the university, he had come to the house all dressed in a pin-stripe suit, with a yellow carnation on his lapel and was knocking on my neighbor’s door. I surprised him by opening my door and saying hello, explaining I was home sick and if he needed to check something in the basement, he could certainly come through my apartment. He seemed quite startled, “I don’t want to bother you, Tom,” he said with his hands waving, “I just came to get Bob’s rent, he’s late.” My neighbor Bob worked construction and his pay dates were chaotic and not organized like mine from the university, so there was no reason not to believe him. That was Good Friday several springs before the spring I am referring to now. That visit actually did not make me wonder yet if he came into the two apartments when my neighbor and I were at work and made himself comfortable, read our diaries, looked at notes we had made to ourselves on the kitchen table, checked food in the refrigerator. After all, he had keys to both of our doors.