Serafina combed fingers through her curls. “Unspeakable rudeness! Just because he trained in Paris, Monzù Alonzo thinks he can order you about like some sort of kitchen wench. You haven’t even packed your trunk yet. Tell his coachman to sit. Better yet, tell him to circle the piazza, drive anywhere just so it’s away from here. No difference to the monzù if you arrive this afternoon or early evening.”
“We talked about this,” Renata said. “You knew I was leaving. I’ll be back in two months.”
Carmela winked at Renata. “Don’t give us another thought. Make those delicious pastries for Prince what’s his name and when his merrymaking is over, go to another villa and create your wonders there. You have a gift. Don’t let us spoil it.”
Serafina said nothing. Funny how her mind played tricks: they were gathered around the table, Giorgio pouring wine into her glass, his laughter tumbling over them like a benediction. Carmela and Carlo must have been what, five or six. Vicenzu and Renata were toddlers, Maria and Totò not yet born—the days of plenty. Her reverie faded.
Renata threw words over her shoulder as she ran out of the room, “I won’t be long. Get this man some caffè while he waits.”
The driver rocked back and forth, holding a Phrygian cap in his hands. Demitasse clinking in her grasp, the domestic shuffled over to him.
Serafina heard a distant bell chime the hour. Giulia sewed on while Carlo exchanged a look with Carmela. Totò played with his wooden soldiers and drooled onto the planks. They cared not a fig what we ate. Vicenzu’s abacus whirred. Thank God for him. After the accident, he became interested only in the shop and conserving coins. And Maria? Well, she was different. When Maria was two, her aunt had hummed a melody into her ear as if signing her with the voice of God and the child played it back on the pianoforte, note for note, feet not touching the floor. Since then, Maria wanted only music and her precious scores and that despicable Brahms. Better to do without honey and pay for her lessons, that’s what Giorgio would say.
If he were here, he would whisk away her sourness, saying she must glory in the dreams of her children. She swallowed. Come to think of it, she loved to sit among them; she must remember that, yes. Only a year since his death and the memory of his visage, the stretch of his seams as he bent to kiss her, these had faded. She heard the horn of a steamer. Her toes were frozen. “Carlo, light a fire. The caretaker’s day off.”
“Can’t spare the log. Anyway, almost spring. Put on another shawl,” Vicenzu said, but Carlo flapped him a hand. Blowing away a cloud of ash, he stabbed at half-charred splinters and struck a match.
Photo: Termini Basso. Credit: Antonio Llardo (Flickr).