Tuesday, October 9, 1866
Serafina’s wardrobe wasn’t extensive, never expensive, wouldn’t do, not for her class. The dress she chose to wear this morning, made of watered silk trimmed in velvet, was designed and crafted by Giulia, her middle daughter, in a style dated by a year or two. For daytime, she wore a single petticoat, not too full in front, with an undergarment of unbleached silk ruffled at the collar. She fastened the ivory brooch her mother gave her, rouged her lips, and called for Assunta to help with her hair.
“Not too busy, something simple,” she told the domestic.
After Assunta left, she tied an embroidered net over her hair, just like Queen Maria Sofie would have worn. “Ready,” she called out to the air in the room.
There was a rattling at the window panes. The candles flickered. Serafina felt the rush of air. A new smell, sharp, like shaved citrus and lavender, flooded the room.
A cloud appeared, faded, and, in its place, a specter, vaporous at first, almost invisible, a frescoed glaze upon the cushions of Giorgio’s overstuffed chair. It grew more distinct, taking on the shape of a woman. Serafina saw her mother, Maddalena, crimson cheeked, skin moist, clothed in a gown of viridian deep. She’d forgotten how much like her own hair her mother’s was, at least before hers started to fade. Her mother was younger than Serafina herself.
Maddalena’s head turned in Serafina’s direction, but gazed through her, at something beyond. Wrinkling her nose, she turned her attention to an object in her lap, a midwife’s satchel. Her hands fiddled with the clasp. Her lips moved. She shook her head.
“Can’t you say hello to your own daughter?” Serafina asked.
Hunching her shoulders, Maddalena plunged one arm into the bag. She rattled objects inside, as if stirring old bones.
“Carmela’s gone and you do nothing. All alone, she is, knowing not of my death, nor of her father’s. You must find her.”
Maddalena stopped, lifted her head, wary and still, like a cat about to pounce. At the sound of footsteps, she vanished.
The doorknob turned.
“Are you coming? I’ll be late for my lesson.” Maria said. Her arms were full of schoolbooks and musical scores.
The Duomo’s bell chimed the hour. Seven o’clock and Serafina’s head ached.
Photo: Castelbuono, garden. Credit: Antonio Llardo (Flickr)