The Boar and the Babe
The driftwood creatures chitter at the scuff and click of sandals, passing the Arno in waves. The crocodile made of washed-up olive wood has a voice like a saltwater eddy.
"I feel a storm coming."
The stag cranes his cypress antlers toward the footsteps on the bridge. He and the crocodile watch from their hollowed-out knots, as a little boy's arm bobs like a kite string, yanked along the piazza by an angry gust.
The Matchstick Man on the "No Entry" sign sets down his beam, following the path of the boy and his padre with his featureless stare. The Matchstick Man shimmies down his sign pole and sneaks along the wall. He climbs into the frame of a David replica by a handbag store on the Lungarno delle Grazie. The David gives him a side-ways glance; the Matchstick Man jabs his square hand at the man, snapping at the boy.
"You are an ungrateful child! A hateful beast. No, a beast would be a fine thing!”
The David sighs.
“Did no one tell him what the Boar of Florence will do to an unwanted child?”
He rolls his eyes into statuesque blanks until they pass.The Matchstick Man vaults the David's curls and heads for help from the Cat and Mouse in the stop sign before the Corridoio Vasariano. The man’s yell follows through the backstreets.
“Perhaps I will give your bed to a pig tonight, and enjoy some civility beneath my roof!”
The Mouse snuffles his ball-shaped nose at the noise. The Cat's ears wiggle behind the stop beam barricade. Exchanging a glance, the Mouse and the Matchstick Man squeak along the tightropes of cement to the Balloonman, hiding near a crack on the Palazzo Giorlami.
The Balloonman peers through his red rubber windows.
“Perhaps a pig will not fill his bed, but empty it.”
The Mouse scampers for the nearest hole. The determined Matchstick Man hurries ahead, tripping headfirst into the sunk Botticelli's Venus in her tank. A stream of bubbles protest from her snorkel. She smears on her spray-paint glass:
“He’ll float in the walls soon, too.”
The Matchstick Man shudders. Darting through the shadows, he scutters past Perseus, bending his sun-warmed brass; the closed eyes of The Kiss, plaster pouting from a trattoria wall; the stoic apostles, sleeping in their coves. He runs through the brickwork, the cries of the boy echoing behind, until he reaches The Boar.
The ancient brass pig turns his snout down to regard the trembling stick figure.
“I heard you were fearful of me and my ways, Matchstick Man,” the Boar grunts. “I suppose since you are a simple man of ours, and younger than so many of the artworks here, I will explain myself, and soothe your fear.”
The Boar shuffles about in his fountain, splashing wishes on the cobblestones.
“Long ago, my parents had a desperate desire for a child. They hoped and prayed, and through cruel benevolence, I was the answer to their cries: a baby born resembling a boar.
“I grew crooked, in the shame of my parents’ dismay. I grew hard and heavy as a statue - doomed by my misery. I solidified here, too sad to properly live, too stubborn to finally die.
“Decades passed, before I came to understand I had petrified into a thing of beauty. People came here to scatter their wishes at my feet, and pet my snout for luck. Would you believe it! I felt beloved.
“A century later, and the voices of the city’s art began to whisper their ways.
“I no longer lived alone; I was no longer ugly. I was beloved.
“I made a pact with the crafted peoples to share my good fortune. I promised to myself and they, that no babe of Florence would suffer the way I did; that any child of the city unwanted would become a ward of ours. We have peopled this place with them since - in the cherubs and the stick figures, the mice and the rays of sunshine that populate our walls. And they have been happier for it.”
The Matchstick Man presses his square palms together, sinking to his knees. He begs without a mouth, wishes without a coin. The Boar regards him with pity.
“I wish you’d never been born! You hear me? I wish you were never mine!”
From the shadows, the boy and his padre round the corner.
The Boar sighs. He nuzzles the Matchstick Man with his lucky snout.
“I am a granter of wishes, and an omen of them.”
The Boar climbs down off his fountain, as the boy and his padre gape, open-mouthed, at his approach.