“What’s this word?” Rosa asks, handing me her newspaper.
“Calumny,” I say.
“It’s a lotion, no?”
“Not exactly,” I say. “It’s false and malicious misrepresentation of the words or actions of others, calculated to injure their reputation; libellous detraction, slander.”
“You make it sound horrible,” the madam says and quotes, “‘The shrug, the hum or ha, those petty brands that Calumny doth use …’ We’ve all done it.” She straightens her halo.
“Speak for yourself. Cheap tricks of the worst sort. Think Iago or Scarpia,” I say. “Calumny used to be considered villainous. If a person committed calumny, he self-flagellated or went to confession, one of those. Now, well . . .”
“Well, what?” The madam slams her cloud. “I hate it when you do that!”
“Stop in midair. At least flap your wings or do something—anything to indicate you’re still with us.”
“Now, well . . . we arrange political campaigns with calumny as the centerpiece.”
“Despicable! I won’t attend—not unless they serve dolci.”
Photo: 100 Horses Chestnut Tree, Sicily. Credit: In2ShФФT (Flickr)