(This story is set in Italy, in one of the old towns on a hill that have been there since the Middle Ages.)
Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been--let's see--five months since my last confession. I know I'm only 12 but I done a real bad thing and I need to make up for it.
You probably know my papa, he owns the ristorante down the road from here, near the old town gate but before the steps up the hill. Yes, that's the one. Our family has owned that restaurant for over a hundred years, and business was good until June.
It was in June, you see, that the new restaurant opened across the street. The Cat's Kitchen, it was called. A silly name. The sign showed a picture of a calico cat with a little chef's hat on its head, in front of a mixing bowl that had a wooden spoon sticking out of it. It was hand-painted, and you don't see hand-painted signs much on a new store nowadays.
Papa laughed. The foolish young lady from out of town had opened up the competition by the best restaurant in this part of town! "She won't last a week, boy, you'll see."
But by July, the Cat's Kitchen was doing a brisk business, and our customers got fewer and fewer. And Papa was so angry, and he was a lot readier with his belt than usual. Mama and I did our best to stay out of his way when he was in one of his moods, but you know how it is.
Anyway, he sent me to talk to the woman who owned the Cat's Kitchen, to ask her how she was doing so well. What was her secret, you know.
So I went into the restaurant, and I asked the lady, "Signora, how come you got so much business already? My papa, he wanted me to ask you your secret."
And she said, "I'm a strega"--a witch, can you believe that?--"and I put a little bit of good magic into every dish." She offered me a bit of bread, on the house, but I didn't want to take food from no witch. There could have been any kind of spell on that bread.
So I went home and told Papa what she said. "A strega, indeed!" Papa cried. "She pulled the wool over your eyes, boy! She clearly has some secret ingredient that she doesn't want us to know about. Some rare spice, maybe. You gotta go in tonight, find out what she has that we don't got, and take some for me."
I didn't want to steal from the witch, honest I didn't. I knew it was a sin, and a crime, and I didn't want to make a strega angry at me. But Papa and his belt could be very persuasive, you know? So I sneaked in through the window that night, with a little jar in my pocket so I could pour some of the secret ingredient in, yeah?
There was no alarm that went off, at least I didn't hear one, and I got good ears. I took out my flashlight and started looking around. I was careful not to touch anything so I wouldn't leave no fingerprints.
It wasn't hard to find the secret ingredient. It was right there next to the herbs on the shelf, and it glowed a little bit, like one of those cheap glow-in-the-dark toys that doesn't really glow all that bright. It was like, basil, oregano, fennel seeds, glowing jar. Like it was just any other thing, there, and not a golden-brown powder with a glow to it.
Well, I still didn't want to steal from the glowing jar, but I had no choice, you know? I opened it, and the stuff was whispering--I swear to the Virgin I'm not lying, Father--but I couldn't make out what it said. Then I took out the little jar in my pocket and I poured a little in. And the whispers changed, and clear as day, the powder was whispering stolen, stolen, stolen...
I jammed the tops back on the jars and got out of there as quick as I could. I brought the stolen magic to my papa and I say, "This is the only thing she has that we don't got." And he looked at it, and took a pinch of it and tasted it. "I don't get it," he says. "I don't taste nothing." But the next day he had a fever and couldn't work, so I had to help Mama run the restaurant, and he's never gotten better. He got medications from the doctor and everything, and the fever won't clear up, but it doesn't get any worse either.
And yesterday, the witch at the Cat's Kitchen saw me and she called me over. She said "I know what you took from me." And I lied, Father, I looked at her and told her I never stole nothing from no witch in my life. So now I got sins on top of sins. And she pulls me into the office next to the kitchen and she shows me a grainy black-and-white tape of me breaking in. So she didn't use a crystal ball or a magic mirror to see me, but just a regular camera. I felt almost cheated, you know? Like I wasn't good enough to her for her to use magic to find me or something.
Anyhow, she says I gotta make amends for what I done, or Papa won't get any better. I gave her back the rest of the powder, but that didn't do it. So I came here.
Father, I'll do anything you want me to, say as many Hail Marys and Our Fathers as you want, and pray to every saint there is. But please, you gotta take this curse away. The restaurant is doing even worse with Papa gone, and I heard Mama say there won't be new coats for winter, and I don't want to be scared of getting sick like Papa no more.
No Father, I'm not telling tales, honest.
Oh, and I cursed at my sister Angelina this week. The other sin was so big I almost forgot to confess that one. But I'm sorry for that, too.