“Friar Alberigo’s Bad Fruit” by Julie Simon

Today, Lise and Kolleen explore “Friar Alberigo’s Bad Fruit” by Julie Simon, submitted to Zoetic Press for NonBinary Review #19: Dante’s Inferno.

I felt the blow across my face and I
could scarce believe what had but just occurred.
My brother turned and stormed away, his hand
still clear upon my cheek. Within a day
his rage had died, but mine had not begun.

The tempest grew within my breast, each day
the wind blew more till it consumed my soul.
The argument was soon forgot, a spat
about some coins. But better men than I
could not forgive a brother’s bruising strike.

“Alberigo, you do not eat!” my maid
at last exclaimed. “I must needs fast,” I lied,
and she believed. How could she doubt a man
of God? In truth my stomach burned with hate.
All drink was poison; food was ash to me.

I could not eat. I could not sleep. I feared
I soon would die. I needed justice, no,
revenge! His crime was worse than just one strike.
If this continues I will die. He will
have murdered me. Not if I kill him first.

For days, then weeks, I paced and thought and schemed
of how to do the deed, for aged friars
such as I know nothing of such arts.
Would poison work? No, that’s no good. He must
die violently, for naught else would suffice.

“I need a certain gentleman to meet
a sticky end.” With narrowed eyes the knave
replied, “Why would a man of God like you
make such a grim request?” I tossed a bag
of coins his way. “I do not think you care.”

He grinned and bared his teeth at me. “You’re right,
good holy man. Give me a name and then
you’ll not see him again.” I shook my head.
“I want to see him die.” His eyebrows raised,
but then he grinned. “That too can be arranged.”

“My dearest Manfred, how are you? It seems
an age since we last spoke. Do come and dine
with me next week. We brothers should be close.”
“Alberigo! Of course I’ll come,” the fool
replied at once. “I am so glad you asked.”

He continued, “I had thought that you
were cross with me.” I laughed, “But why? Oh yes,
that little argument I long ago
forgot.” My flesh burned at the sight of him
but he, suspecting nothing, smiled at me.

“My son and I will see you soon,” he said.
“Your son? Of course, why not?” I had nothing
against the boy, but it was just as well.
The father’s sins must trickle down to the
infected fruit his woman bore for him.

At last we all sat down to dine. My face
hurt at the sight of them; my brother and
his boy. But neither halfwit ever dreamed
a killer waited in the dark to take
their worthless lives. The time had come at last.

“Bring in the fruit!” I called. My brother turned
and saw not figs, but death come through the door.
Before he thought to move or shout the blade
was at his neck. My knave was quick; before
I knew both man and boy were bleeding out.

The crimson pool spread hungrily, and when
it brushed my shoe I felt a ripping, like
a tear ran through my very soul. I fell
backward, but to my shock I saw myself
still standing there. A black thing rushed inside.

I saw my own face turn and grin at me.
And then I fell and fell and fell before
an iron door. Above the gate there stood
a frightful sign. ABANDON HOPE it read.
Blindly, frightened, I went through the door.

I came upon a dismal shore where souls
were gathered wretchedly. “What is this place?
Who are you all?” I cried. “If you are here
then you are dead, and God has damned us all.”
The voice that spoke was empty of all hope.

“It cannot be! I live! My brother’s dead,
not I.” The shade just turned away, for he
had troubles of his own. I stared around
in awe and fear. I looked on Hell itself.
But how could I, a living man, be here?

The ferry came and I got on. A force
was pulling down on me. I could no more
have stayed behind than stopped my beating heart.
But no heart thumped inside me now. I looked
into the water and a ghost stared back.

The boat touched land and off we got, all off
to meet our doom. I came before a beast
with tail so long he could reach out and grab
me by the throat. Instead he growled, “Now soul,
tell all your sins to me.” My tongue obeyed.

Try as I might I could not hide a crime
from him, for every evil thought and deed
came tumbling from my tongue. At last I spoke
of trusting guests and murder in my hall.
The mighty tail wrapped round and round his trunk.

Nine times it circled as he judged my soul.
“You traitor to your guests,” he snarled, “will freeze
far down below. For crimes so great it could
not even wait for your demise. Now go!”
I stumbled forward like one deaf and blind.

I passed though every step of Hell but saw
not one thing on the way. Between my sick
mind and my tears I knew not where I was.
I wish that I had looked around, for now
I cannot see. The ice has blinded me.

You cannot know nor can I say the pain
that ice can bring. Encased up to my nose
in crystal cold, I freeze until I burn.
My blood is ice; my flesh is ice; my eyes
can weep no more. My tears have frozen them.

I cannot writhe. I cannot scream. Now all
I feel besides the pain is icy wind
blow over me. So was it worth it? No,
but still I see my brother’s corpse and I
would smile in triumph if I only could.