James LePore: Project 52/2015: Il Malocchio

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14814_1823675lImage: Winter Morning, © James LePore

The evil eye is a curse believed to be cast by a malevolent glare, usually given to a person when they are unaware. Many cultures believe that receiving the evil eye will cause misfortune or injury. The idea appears several times in translations of the Old Testament. It was a widely extended belief among many Mediterranean and Asian tribes and cultures. Charms and decorations with eye-like symbols, which are used to repel the evil eye are a common sight across Turkey, Greece, Italy, Egypt, and the Levant, and have become a popular choice of souvenir with tourists.

Mrs. Zoppi had only two upper teeth. Her face was so wrinkled it was hard to look at. Her coal-black eyes were a little scary, I admit, but she was nice to me, and always gave me extra cookies when she made them and distributed them in our apartment building. She went to mass every morning at 6AM, no matter what the weather, with her friend, Mrs. Fernicola, until Mrs. Fernicola died. Then she went alone. I never knew her first name. I was never introduced. Kids weren’t introduced to grownups in my neighborhood. She lived in the basement apartment of our building. My mother would say, I’m going to visit Mrs. Zoppi. Sometimes she would make me come with her. Mrs. Zoppi took in laundry, but my mother’s visits weren’t about laundry. They were about the evil eye, il malocchio. The corollary of kids not being introduced is that nobody paid any attention to them. I was only eight, but I got the gist of what was going on.

My father had a girlfriend, Mrs. Amato, a widow who lived on the top floor. (This was confirmed for me by coincidence when I saw him with her one night when I climbed out my bedroom window and saw them on the roof. I started going up to the roof to get away from my parents’ arguing, but then went up there just for the pleasure of it. I would lay down and look up at the stars and dream about living in the suburbs with parents who liked each other). Anyway, Mrs. Zoppi did not want to put the evil eye on Mrs. Amato. She was going to die soon and wanted to go to heaven. My mother was pissed. “P-O’d” we use to call it, but there was nothing she could do about it. Mrs. Zoppi would not budge.

One day, my mother asked me to go up to Mrs. Amato’s apartment to borrow bobby-pins. This was absurd, but I didn’t know that at the time. I did as I was told. Over the next few days, my mother sat in her bedroom for hours holding something folded in her hand and muttering. One time, she saw me watching her and got up and shut the door.

About a week later, Mrs. Amato moved out of her apartment. The talk among the kids on the street was that she started getting these really bad headaches and that these headaches made her decide to move. Of course, I knew that the bobby pins I had asked her for had been on Mrs. Amato’s head, and that my mother, insane with jealousy, had conjured up her own evil eye/voodoo recipe to put her out of commission. I never looked at my mother the same again.

My parents kept on fighting, but they stayed together. We moved to a duplex a few months later. I liked the duplex and the neighborhood it was in, but it had no fire escape and I could see that it had a pitched roof. I thought I would miss the roof at the old place, but I didn’t. When I saw my father and Mrs. Amato on that roof, they weren’t looking at the stars. They had their heads down and seemed not even to be talking. I remember the feeling of sadness that came over me when I saw them like that. I realized then that the stars have nothing to do with human beings. They are just the overhead lighting to our lives, nothing more.


About Project 52/2015: I like to take pictures and I like to write fiction. This Blog will combine the two in what I am calling Project 52/2015, one of my images mated with a piece of very short fiction each week in 2015. Enjoy.

James LePore is the national bestselling author of numerous novels, most recently, God’s Formula, which he wrote with Carlos Davis. Visit his website.

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On August 7, 2015
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