Who has not wished for something that they think they would do anything to have? At least that is what they say. However they soon start to eliminate what it is that they will actually do. But offer them an opportunity where they don’t hurt or make anyone suffer and believe they can easily give in exchange when the time comes, then many people jump at the opportunity.
That is my job: to make them the offer. I am, in short, a salesperson. I deal in desires and souls.
Most people readily agree to the price but at the time for the final payment they quibble. I work on a hire purchase plan: I let you have that which you most desire, that that you would sell your soul for, for a period of time, interest free mind you, and then I expect the payment in full. My terms are plain and simple; there are no ambiguities in the language. I am therefore not only surprised but extremely annoyed when they start bartering at the point of payment despite having had all the benefits of the purchase.
Take Lucida as an example. She was as beautiful as you could ever imagine. She was the Helen of Troy who launched a thousand parties. People loved her for what she gave and hated her for what she took. She was fortunate in almost everything: coming from a good, Lucchese family at a time when that counted if you were to have a good life. She had wealth. She married for love and then married again to further increase her wealth and position. The only thing that marred her life was the death of her beloved first husband, Vicenzo, within months of the marriage. But she was really a mere child, so it was simple to arrange for her to remarry.
Oh how Lucida loved life, especially her own. How she loved beauty, again especially her own.
When we are young, age and all that comes with it, seems so far away. We believe we will be young forever. Time stands still despite the evidence: the endless tick-tock and chime of clocks, the surrounding older faces of parents and friends, and, in Lucida’s case, her elderly husband. Lucida was no different.
Then one day, as usual endlessly fascinated by her flawless beauty, she saw a tiny line that signified passing time. Springing back in horror, Lucida cried out and dropped the mirror that crashed and cracked on the hard marble floor.
“Who placed this mirror here: this mirror that lies?” The maid trembled. Her mistress’s temper and cruelty were well known. She offered another mirror and then another and another. Each told the same story.
All that day Lucida locked herself away, refusing to leave her chamber. She paced the floor, wringing her hands, calling to the frozen image of her beloved husband, Vicenzo, he whom she married for love, captured in the guilt frame that hung in her dressing room, hidden from her second husband, Gaspari, ageing more quickly since his marriage.
“Oh my beloved, I made an oath that we would be reunited in time, each of us as we were when you were killed. Remember, I whispered it in your ear when I gave you my last kisses on your unresponsive lips and cold forehead. I promised and have fulfilled the promise to live as you would have wanted me to: fully, deliciously and never to give my heart to another. But now this,” and she tried to brush the offending line away. “What can I do to fulfil my honour to you, my love, my dear, dear one?”
Time for me to make an entry. I stepped down from the frame as if I were Vicenzo. She recoiled. I bowed.
“I can help you,” I said.
“Who are you?” She looked at me closely. “Vicenzo? No, your face has none of his softness, gentleness or beauty.”
I smiled despite the insult. ” I can help you fulfil your promise to your beloved husband.”
“How? Do you have potions, oils, some elixir?”
“No, something more powerful; I can halt time for you alone. I can play with time. I can remove that line, that faint line of age and let you live unblemished for thirty years.”
She looked at me disbelievingly. “You can? How so? What cost?”
She might have been a noble but let’s remember, her family were also traders. She knew everything had a price.
“My soul? My soul!”
“Even you, milady, despite your cruelty, your lack of love, your dismissal of other people and their desires and lives, have a soul.”
“I know my soul.” She looked towards Vicenzo.
“Take it or leave it,” I said, “your unchanged beauty for thirty years in exchange for your soul.”
“Let me understand this clearly.” She understood the importance of a clear, unambiguous contractual arrangement. “I will not age, my face and figure will remain youthful, my skin will be as unblemished as it was before this line appeared for thirty years, after which …?”
“After which I return and claim the price. The price is your soul. Your will not see me until that time. You can live your life unmarked by the passage of time for thirty years.”
“I will remain youthful for thirty years and then you will come for me.”
“Not for you, milady, for your soul.”
She paced the room. She knelt before Vicenzo. I became impatient but knowing that every customer needs time to understand the agreement hid it. She stood up, and gazed into the mirror, gently stroking the line as if hoping she could stroke it away. She turned to me.
“Thirty years.” She paused before offering me her hand. The contract was sealed.
So there you have it. There was no ambiguity: she knew the terms of the contract exactly. It was therefore disappointing when thirty years later to the minute, that she seemed surprised to see me.
“You!” She exclaimed. I have to say that she was as beautiful as ever. There was no trace of her selfish, dissipated life in face or figure.
“’Tis I, milady, as promised.”
“Thirty years passes so quickly when you are having fun,” she said wistfully.
“I’m sure they do.”
“There can be no extension?” You see, she knew the contract and its terms.
Stupidly I hesitated. I am not a malicious person but I am firm so why did I suggest an extension of one and a half minutes for every year given? I thought the extra half minute a neat touch.
“That is not much of an extension.”
“It is more than I give others.” There, my old self reasserted itself.
“Forty five minutes more and then you return and I give you my soul.”
“That is the contract extension.”
“I understand.” She curtsied and I bowed. I left.
Lucida called all the servants. Every clock in the palazzo was to be stopped on pain of death. They scurried away. She looked out the window. In the moonlight she saw the Torre delle Ore rising out of the mists and the huddle of palazzos and houses. She saw the minute hand slowly moving toward the hour. She gathered up her skirts and ran from her palace to the Torre. Shaking off her shoes she pounded up the narrow stairway leading to the clock and belltower. She must reach the top and stop the hand, stop the chime of bells, stop time.
I was waiting. She ran straight into my arms. She scrambled and struggled, clawing at my face as if to blind me, but I held her firmly. I stepped from the belfry with the struggling froth of silk and ribbons and leapt into my waiting carriage, gleaming fiery red in the moonlight, my stamping ebony black horses ready to leap forward at my command. The carriage plunged forward but still she struggled. In the struggle she caught sight of her face in the shiny woodwork, black spots slowly revealing themselves on her cheeks and forehead. I felt her shudder with horror. She gave a thin, piercing cry that resounded along the walls of Lucca and then she lay still and whispered, “Take it.”
The clock struck midnight.
I had no use for her body so I threw it out the carriage. It plunged into a pond. I saw her body sink through the carpet of lotus leaves. I saw the small fishes follow her.
If you like you can see her image in the pond at midnight when the moon is full. She is as beautiful as ever lying in the pool gazing blankly upwards through the water where the turtles swim gently stroking her face.
I removed the plague spots once she willingly sealed her side of the contract. Understand, I am not a bad man – just a fallen angel.
Legend of Lucida Mansi: 7 March 1606 – 12 February 1649.