Excerpt from Death In Bagheria, a work in progress
Wednesday, March 23, 1870
A maid entered with a silver tray ladened with cups, saucers, and a large cake slathered with sauce and sliced almonds. “From cook: orange cassata filled with ricotta.” She began serving.
“A tiny wedge for me, thank you, Gesuzza. And no cream in my tea.”
“Saving your appetites for tonight? Loffredo, of course!”
“That’s not it.” She wondered how much she should confide in Rosa who had an eye for the main chance and a heart of gold, but decidedly did not understand the subtler side of life—poetry or painting or the slow workings of the heart, to name three. And life in a large family, for a fourth—all the give and take, the innuendos, the jealousies, the upheavals to their daily routine—these were beyond Rosa’s ken. And recently, Serafina’s children had been through so much. First, their father’s death, the uprisings in town, Renata’s abrupt leaving and return, and last month, the arrival of Teo and his baby brother for a stay of indefinite duration. She hadn’t anticipated the difficulty they’d had in accepting the newcomers. Maria, especially. Both Loffredo and Rosa thought Serafina should have sent Teo and his brother to the orphanage. But after the horror they’d witnessed and her involvement in the case last month, she just couldn’t abandon those two boys, just couldn’t do it. Her older children had welcomed them. It was Maria and Totò who hadn’t. Her midwifery hadn’t been a problem—they’d grown up with her sudden departures in the middle of the night—but, no, it had begun with her sleuthing, that’s when she’d first felt the heft of their spirits. There were days Totò seemed absolutely bereft when she’d leave on assignment. Vicenzu, her older son who took care of the shop, said she was imagining difficulties; the household would settle soon enough of its own accord, but she didn’t think so. And from the moment Teo stepped inside the house, she’d felt Maria’s hostility and Totò’s resentment. Well, she needed to spend more time with them and she must prepare them for her trip to Bagheria. Tonight would be a family celebration, nothing to mar the festivities. Well, except for Badali: she’d seat him next to Carmela and say a prayer to her dead mother, the matchmaker. And something else: truth be told, she needed to see Loffredo before her leaving. Surprised herself with that: just popped into her head. She’d promised him a visit this evening and she had a duty, after all the help he’d given her, to keep her promise and perhaps soothe his spirits. She felt the heat beginning to rise to her face.
“Some day your mind’s going to wander off a cliff and fall into the sea.” Rosa helped herself to another large slice.
Photo: Palermo youth. Credit: gnuckx (Flickr), Creative Commons.